Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Book Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One
READY PLAYER ONE - Ernest Cline - Cover Image
By Ernest Cline

It is the year 2044, and the end of the world may be very quickly approaching. The environment is shot, the population is fighting for survival, and perhaps worst of all, the 1980s are making a comeback.

The reason for this last part is because reclusive billionaire and techno-genius James Halliday has passed away, and willed his vast fortune and control of his corporation to whoever can solve a series of riddles and locate the Easter egg that he has hidden in his immersive virtual reality world the OASIS, where pretty much everyone in the world lives out the majority of their waking hours. Halliday was a pop culture geek obsessed with the 1980s, the decade of his youth, and so now too are the Egg hunters (or "gunters") who are desperate to complete the quest and seize control of the OASIS before it falls in the hands of an evil corporate conglomerate who wants to pervert the virtual world to make a major profit.

Our hero here is Wade Watts, an underprivileged outcast who finds himself thrust into the limelight when he is the first person to make any progress in the hunt. His online avatar, named Parzival, becomes a celebrity overnight, and suddenly the whole world seems within his grasp. But there are literally thousands of other gunters right on his tail--some friends, some foes, and some of them willing to commit murder both real and virtual to find the egg first.

Ready Player One has been called a "nerdgasm" by science fiction author John Scalzi, and that pretty much sums it up. It is packed to overflowing with references to movies (the work of John Hughes, Ladyhawke), fiction (Kurt Vonnegut, Philip K. Dick, Tolkien), famous geeks (Gary Gygax, Wil Wheaton), comic books (Spider-Man, X-Men), music (Led Zepplin, Devo), television (Star Trek, School House Rock), and of course video games. Lots and lots of video games.

Now, I'm a geek, but I've never been much of a gamer, so I admit that a number of the more esoteric references were lost on me. Still, it was a lot of fun to catch as many of them as I could, and the book wasn't so smarmy that those that went above my head depleted my enjoyment of the book as a whole.

Jam packing a decade worth of geekery into a sci-fi scavenger hunt story is, admittedly, something of a gimmick. However, it is a gimmick that worked on me. I was reeled in from the start and had to force myself to stop reading to perform menial tasks like eating, bathing or going to work. I couldn't wait to see how it all turned out, but I didn't want to see it end, either.

This book will definitely be more attractive to those of us who lived through the 80s than those who didn't, but there's still bound to be something of interest here for geeks of all ages. The OASIS is every geek's dream come true, but the year 2044 is still a very long ways away. Until then, we'll have to make do with Ready Player One, and as far as compromises go, that ain't half bad.


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Winsor McCay's Dream of a Rarebit Fiend: Nightmares on the Funny Pages

When you think of comic strips, a few different genres come to mind--fantasy/adventure (Prince Valiant), superhero (Spider-Man), and humor (Calvin and Hobbes). What doesn't come to mind is horror. You don't see Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers stalking their way across the funny pages on Sunday morning (though I sure wish you did).

But back in the early, early days of the comic strip, there was one particular series in which Freddy Krueger would have felt right at home. A full year before he launched his famous Little Nemo in Slumberland, cartoonist Winsor McCay debuted Dream of the Rarebit Fiend. The basic conceit of the two stories are the same--after a brief but fantastic adventure, the star of the strip awakens to find that it was all a dream--but whereas Nemo's adventures were full of flights of fancy and whimsy in a magical dreamscape, the characters in Rarebit (they were different every time) suffer disturbing dreams or nightmares, brought on by consuming Welsh rarebit, a dish of melted cheese poured over toast.

These nightmares often explored the darker side of the character's mind, exposing their fears and innermost secrets in increasingly surreal and bizarre ways. If Nemo had grown up full of self-doubt and neuroses, this is probably what his Slumberland would have become.

Check out a small sampling below.

An amateur boxer destroys any and all comers...

An alcoholic finds himself devoured by an enormous python...

A man finds himself in hell, tortured in oceans of melted cheese...

A man watches his own funeral, and is seemingly buried alive...

A man's heater transforms into a demon and pursues him...

And the nightmares just go on and on and on...

Winsor McCay's work has fallen into the public domain, so they can be viewed for free online HERE.  If you like what you see, however, and have a pile of scratch lying around, you may also want to check THIS out, which collects all nine years worth of the strips into what seems to be a gorgeous hardcover.

Watch out for that cheese, hipsters!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Comic Review: House of Whacks (Eh!, Charlton Comics)

In 1953, Charlton Comics released the first issue of Eh! (Dig This Crazy Comic), a humor book in the vein of Mad. The first issue is manic and relentless, with visual gags shoved into every nook and cranny available (just look at the splash page below!). Surrounded by the other generic and forgettable stories is one called "House of Whacks", which while it's nothing too special today, is exactly the sort of thing that would have thrilled me as a lad.


Elmer Vampire is a young boy who comes from a very prestigious vampire family, however he is the black sheep. He's not frightening, he's not dangerous, and he's not a very quick study. This results in him getting kicked out of Vampire School. His parents, concerned about the family image, quickly enroll him elsewhere.

First in Ghoul School, to learn how to murder and consume flesh. When that doesn't work out, they enroll him in Monster-Werewolf School, only little Elmer is no better at being a werewolf than he was at being a vampire.

HOUSE OF WHACKS - Elmer at the Wax Works

Elmer is finally disowned by his family, and he strikes out into the world on his own, arriving in the Big City. He tries his hand at a number of different careers, but finds that he is not cut out for any of them. He finally lands a job at a wax works which, through a comedy of errors, leads to him becoming an actor in horror films with titles such as:

The Worms Crawl In
One Short Bier
The Stripped Crypt
The Little Red Ghoulhouse
Bring Me The Hatchet, Grandmaw, I Want To Be A Cut-Up!

In the end, he becomes a huge success, and he regains the love of his parents. But at night, when nobody else is around, Elmer acts normal. "Because first, last, and always...he still is a very nice vampire!"

As a special, added bonus, there were a few beatnik-esque gags that cropped up in some of the panels.

HOUSE OF WHACKS - Beatnik #1HOUSE OF WHACKS - Beatnik #2

To be truthful, the artwork is a little rough and the pacing is all over the place--the page count is far too long for the content--but it still makes me nostalgic for the earlier days of my youth...even though I wasn't born until 26 years after this comic debuted.

EH! #1 can be read in its entirety, free and legally, at the DIGITAL COMICS MUSEUM.


Friday, June 7, 2013

Last Chance To Win A Free "The Purge" Tee-Shirt!!!

Heya, Hipsters!

Today is your last chance to win a free The Purge tee-shirt and mask prize pack from Midnite Media in association with Universal Pictures.  The contest ends at Midnight tonight, so click HERE to enter!

The Purge - Prize Pack - Universal Pictures & Midnite Media


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Movie Review: The ABCs of Death (2012)

The ABCs of Death
THE ABCS OF DEATH - Poster Image

Can a collection of short films be considered an epic? After watching The ABC's of Death, I would have to say yes. Twenty-six directors from around the world were assigned a letter of the alphabet and asked to make a short, death-filled film regarding a subject starting with that letter. There was no limitations placed on the content of these shorts...and it shows, because there is some crazy shit on display here.

As with any anthology film, there are going to be entries of varying qualities--some highs, some lows. A few of my favorite segments:

THE ABCS OF DEATH - D is for Dog Fight

"D is for Dogfight", wherein an underground fight club gets nasty when a killer canine is brought into the ring. I don't know how it could be done, but I would gladly watch a feature-length version.

"L is for Libido" is a sick and twisted story of gambling on masturbation. It gives a new definition to to the term torture porn, and if it continued any longer, it could have rivaled A Serbian Film for pure sexual fucked-uppedness.

"Q is for Quack" takes the concept and goes meta with it as director Adam Wingard and his crew struggle with how to film a horror short about the letter Q. Their solution? Duck snuff.

"X is for XXL" is a grotesque body horror tale that comments on the pressure women feel to be thin and attractive in modern society. It takes it to the extreme, of course, but definitely gets its point across.

THE ABCS OF DEATH - F is for Fart

The low points for me were :F is for Fart" and "K is for Klutz", both of which relied on sophomoric toilet humor; and "H is for Hydro-Electric Diffusion", which was an almost-inexplicable live-action cartoon taking place during WWII.  Others were too artsy for their own good, which made both the highbrow and the lowbrow seem similarly ridiculous when viewed alongside each other.

THE ABCS OF DEATH - H is for Hydro-Electric Diffusion

Overall, it was a hell of a lot of fun--though extremely uneven.  I enjoyed the experience of watching the work from multiple directors in a shorter format. Clocking in at more than 2 hours, it requires a bit too much of a time commitment for me to put it in regular rotation, but I'll gladly pull it out on occasion to watch with some like-minded friends.

Be sure to check out my special Facebook exclusive Bonus Feature to go along with this review: An Alphabetorium of Alternative Horror.

Special thanks to Magnolia Pictures for the screener!

Not Rated
123 Minutes
Multiple languages/English subtitles


Monday, June 3, 2013

You Can Win The Purge Prize Pack

Heya, Hipsters!

Universal Pictures is teaming up with some horror fans across the blogosphere to bring you a prize pack for their upcoming film The Purge, and Midnite Media was lucky enough to be included.

First, a little about the film:

If, on one night every year, you could commit any crime without facing consequences, what would you do?

In an America wracked with crime and overcrowded prisons, the government has sanctioned an annual 12-hour period in which any and all criminal activity--including murder--becomes legal. The police can't be called. Hospitals suspend help. It's twelve hours when the citizenry regulates itself without thought of punishment. On this particular night in 2022, plagued by violence and an epidemic of crime, one family wrestles with the decision of who they will become when a stranger comes knocking.

When an intruder breaks into James Sandin’s (Ethan Hawke) gated community during the yearly lockdown, he begins a sequence of events that threatens to tear his family apart. Now, it is up to James, his wife, Mary (Lena Headey), and their kids to make it through the night without turning into the monsters from whom they hide.

And here's what you can win:

So how can you win?  Simple.  In a world in which the Purge is a real, what steps would you take to survive the night?  Just tell me in the comments section below, and be sure to include your e-mail address so that I can alert you if you have won.  Can't think of a good survival plan?  No problem.  Take the quiz below and see how well you fare, then post the results instead.

Want an additional entry?  Then head on over to my Facebook page and 'like' me!

The giveaway is unfortunately only open to U.S. residents, and the deadline to enter is midnight on Friday, June 7th.  That's the day of The Purge, and quite frankly I might not live to announce the winner past that.

Will YOU survive the night?

Stephen King's Joyland drops TOMORROW!

The new Stephen King novel from Hard Case Crime drops tomorrow.  Who's ready for Joyland?

JOYLAND by Stephen King - Hard Case Crime - Cover Image
Set in a small-town North Carolina amusement park in 1973, Joyland tells the story of the summer in which college student Devin Jones comes to work as a carny and confronts the legacy of a vicious murder, the fate of a dying child, and the ways both will change his life forever.
If you're a die-hard technophile, you're going to have to go analog to get your hands on this puppy.  It's available exclusively in paperback.  Why?  Just ask Mr. King.
"I love crime, I love mysteries, and I love ghosts. That combo made Hard Case Crime the perfect venue for this book, which is one of my favorites. I also loved the paperbacks I grew up with as a kid, and for that reason, we’re going to hold off on e-publishing this one for the time being. Joyland will be coming out in paperback, and folks who want to read it will have to buy the actual book." – Stephen King
Click HERE to order the book on Amazon, or better yet, stop being such a shut-in and go to a real live bookstore!


Sunday, June 2, 2013

Denver Comic Con 2013: A Recap

We arrived at the convention center around 2 pm the first day, and found that we had to wait in line to trade in our tickets for badges. This wouldn't have been a problem, had the line not wrapped around a city block one-and-a-half times. Luckily we were sandwiched between two groups of reasonably-personable people (nice enough to share a few comments with on occasion, but not so nice that they talked our ears off), and had plenty of crazy cosplayers to gawk at, because it took nearly three hours to get inside.

We had missed the first two panels that we had wanted to attend (a comics in the classroom panel for the wife, and a Peter "Chewbacca" Mayhew panel for me), but got inside just in time for Chris Ware, who was number one on my wish list.

Ware suffered a few technical difficulties at the start of his presentation, but once he got it all worked out, it was an amazing multimedia experience. He discussed his work on the Acme Novelty Library, Jimmy Corrigan, and Building Stories. Even the wife was impressed.

After that, we ventured upstairs to the madness of the exhibit hall, where we each purchased a tee-shirt, and I bought a couple of bargain books--hopefully a bargain only in price, not in quality. A little more browsing around, and we decided to call it a night 30 minutes before the convention shut down. We were hungry, tired, and wanted to escape before the mass exodus.

Day two started earlier and it started faster. With our ID badges, we only had to wait about 10 minutes to get inside. We started off with the George Perez panel, then went back to the exhibition hall to spend some more money. I met a number of awesome indie comic folk, and had them autograph the books I purchased from them. I decided to skip waiting in line to meet the Big Boys and spend my time interacting with the Little Guys.  I got to connect with them on a slightly more intimate level, didn't feel that I had to hurry along so that the next person in line could get their turn, and I got some fantastic books I would have never otherwise known about.

We then made our way to the Jim Steranko panel, but sadly had to duck out early, as the line for übergeek Wil Wheaton was filling up fast--and as Wil Wheaton was somebody that my wife had actually heard of, it was important that we attended. We made it in, and he was a riot.

By the time Wheaton let out, the exhibition hall was closing up (despite the fact that panels were still running for another 4 hours), so we killed time until the showing of the infamously horrible Masters of the Universe film, which was expertly lambasted by the folks of Mile High Sci-Fi, sort of a local MST3K organization composed of stand-up comedians. We laughed like lunatics. By the time the closing credits began to roll, it was after 10:00 PM, and we were officially done for the evening.

Day three of the Denver Comic Con started with a 10 or 15 minute wait in line, and then my wife and I transferred to a second line for another hour wait. We had so much fun at the Wil Wheaton panel the day before that we decided we had to go back and see him again, this time alongside geek princess Felicia Day. Another fun panel that was well worth the wait.

Then it was back upstairs once again to blow the rest of my money, and chat some more with one of the creators that I had met the day before. Halfway through the final day, my wife was conned out and I was broke, so we called it quits.

Overall, it was a hell of a lot of fun--even if, logistically, it was a pretty poorly planned event. This was only the second year of the convention, so hopefully they figure out what the hell they're doing in time for year three.

A couple of people I strongly encourage you to check out, whose low-key comics I have fallen in love with: Ted Tintorcio from Head and Torso, and Sam Spina of Spinadoodles. I bought a bunch of their books, and they were some of the best purchases of the con.

My swag from Denver Comic Con 2013
Just a sampling of my purchases


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