Tag Archives: novels

Geek Book Review: This Book Is Full Of Spiders: Seriously Dude, Don’t Touch It

spidersI haven’t read John Dies At The End, but I got to see Don Coscarelli (director of Phantasm) talk about it and show a trailer for the film two years ago at Fantastic Fest.  Well, the sequel is out just in time for John’s film debut this January!

This Book Is Full Of Spiders: Seriously Dude, Don’t Touch It is the second book from Cracked.com columnist David Wong (a pseudonym for Jason Pargin). It follows lovable (?) slackers John and Dave (and Dave’s girlfriend Amy) and all the crazy stuff that happens to them when orifice-invading, zombie-making spiders from space attack (think Stephen King’s Dreamcatchers).  It starts out weird even without that, as thanks to taking hits of “soy sauce,” a drug from the first book, the guys are in tune with the land of the supernatural and bizarre, which their home town has in spades – freaky occurrences, mystical portals to porta-johns, etc.

There’s a lot I could say that would ruin some of the twists of the book with spoilers – suffice it to say that this is not a straightforward zombie story by any means, and the sophomoric (though funny!) humor of the book lies alongside a very intelligent look at zombie hysteria and the dangers of human nature in a way more subtle than the usual “the asshole in the cellar is going to let the zombies in to get us eventually” style.

The book is funny, but about halfway through it takes a turn from the zany to the pretty dark, and carries in some honest-to-God psychological horror and depression stuff for the last half. Surprising, but good.  I had just read a collection of modern zombie stories that tried to be edgy (“21st century dead”) and frankly this book beat all those stories twenty ways to Sunday.  I strongly recommend it, and am gnashing my teeth waiting for John Dies At The End to come to theaters January 25th! It’s actually available to stream from several outlets now, but I still like the big screen better.

They even have a trailer for the book (odd, but…):

Bonus trailer for John Dies At The End:

Pathfinder Tales – Plague of Shadows and Prince of Wolves

In the second in my series of book reports from my vacation in Bulgaria, I thought I’d review the two Pathfinder Tales novels I managed to lay my hands on.  These things must be popular because I’ve been waiting for them to show up at Half Price Books and it’s taken a long time.  (I don’t buy paperbacks at full price…)

I’m a big Pathfinder and world of Golarion fan, so I wanted to see how the novels treat it. I enjoyed them both.  Neither is going to become part of the Western canon or anything, but they were better than, say, every Greyhawk novel ever. (Rose Estes is the worst RPG novel author ever, and Gary Gygax, God love him, isn’t as bad as she is but he isn’t the best either.)

Prince of Wolves, by Dave Gross, covers the adventures of Pathfinder and Chelish nobleman Varian Jeggare and his erstwhile tiefling companion Radovan wandering about in Ustalav.

Plague of Shadows, by Howard Andrew Jones, details the attept by elf-raised-by-humans Elyana to save her old adventuring buddy/lover, the now-married and now-Lord Stefan.

The Good

Prince of Wolves had an interesting conceit, where the chapters alternated being from the perspective of Jeggare and Radovan respectively. They get separated early (well, the book jumps back and forth in timeline a little) and then go about their own solo adventures till they join back up about 2/3 of the way through. In general the action progressed nicely, though there were some repetitive parts. It was well written and engaging in general.

Plague of Shadows was a little weaker in the writing department. I was feeling “meh” about halfway through but then there were some big twists and I was interested through the end. I liked the initial setup where it was an adventuring group that had grown apart and was coming together much later, and not all as friends. I had a 2e campaign that was like that, and it gives a feeling of a lot of rich history.

Both novels used Golarion to good effect.  Plague of Shadows did a lot with Galt and the French Terror-esque revolution there, and Prince of Wolves used the gothic nation of Ustalav and the gypsy-like Sczarni. They illuminated the world nicely.

The Bad

Both of the novels suffered from D&D.  Or from Pathfinder.  Mainly the magic system.  They use the game system’s rules too obviously in their fiction. “Time to rest to regain my spells!” “I don’t have that memorized today!” Suck. And they kinda went that way with the magic items too, though Shadows was a little more clumsy about that than Wolves. The mechanical wonkiness of D&D spells do not good storytelling make – Jack Vance used it but these guys are no Jack Vance. At least these authors don’t do like Gygax does in his Greyhawk novels where his storytelling is dictated by the combat rules too (seriously, Gord got 3 attacks every 2 rounds, and he let you know it), but the D&D magic system – for all its in-game merits – invariably comes off as lame in fiction.

And a small nit – I didn’t like the big Golarion glossary in the back. If your writing doesn’t stand on its own, definitions aren’t going to help you. I think it’s much more interesting to wonder about parenthetical references than have them defined for you – hell, that’s how Lovecraft and Howard and those guys’ prose captured the imagination. I am sure they’re trying to help, but cut that out of future novels please.

Conclusion

Both were better than most gaming fiction. I’d give Wolves 4/5 and Shadows 3/5, maybe. Fans of Golarion will enjoy them because of how they showcase the world, and normal fantasy fans should find them diverting enough. I definitely plan to hunt down the rest (though am not inspired enough to start paying full price for them).

Book Reports

Ah, I’m back from two weeks of hanging out on the beach in Bulgaria.  Didn’t know there were good beaches in Bulgaria?  There are!


I got a lot of book reading in.  I read scarily fast, so I went through 11  books by my count. As with everything else in life, I mine the books I read for RPG related insights, so I thought I’d report in and give you some thoughts.

A Game of Thrones

First off, I read A Clash of Kings and A Storm of Swords, books two and three in the Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones, as you might know it).  I’d read the first book but hadn’t picked up the others till now. I was lucky to find them at Half Price Books, the HBO series has emptied the shelves pretty well.  Each one is 1000 pages of murder and betrayal.

Game of Thrones has some interesting similarities to RPG campaigns.  The resolutions of plotlines, and life or death of major characters, does seem like it’s at the whims of fate – some characters that seem like “made men” get murderized like the lesser men. Some people feel that character death in RPGs “ruins the story.”  These novels are an object lesson in that not being the case.

Also, the story does drag on like many a fantasy campaign I’ve been in (and run, to be honest).  Things do keep happening, but sometimes you want to say “Yes yes, could we progress a little bit more here please?” I’ve tried to take that to heart, because even though session after session might be engaging, there is such a thing as too slow of a pace at a high level.

The books also highlight how prudish the RPG community is. Every deviant behavior you can think of is in these books, from incest to dwarf sex to rape to torture to slavery. There’s not even a warning label on them, gasp.  But in the RPG realm, when people start talking about “should sex be in an RPG” or “how much is over the line and ‘squicky’” they seem to be using some kind of 1950′s neo-Victorian standard that other art forms aren’t subject to – these aren’t fringe works, this is the most popular fantasy series in the world and has spawned a TV series.  Get your head out of your ass, RPG community.

Dresden Files

I wanted to pick up some of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files books and some of Charles Stross’ Laundry novels, but all I could get from three Half Price Books was Fool Moon, book 2 of the Dresden Files.

It was pretty good.  I assume you all know the general setup – Harry Dresden, modern day wizard/detective. I read some of Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe novels recently and this definitely owes them a debt. This one had everything from werewolves to bikers to chronically naked chicks to dream sequences.

Anyway, these novels have good insight into how to run a supernatural-in-the-modern-world game (like any of the White Wolf oeuvre).It’s funny, most of those games stress the active hiding of the supernatural.  In Dresden’s world, he’s really open about being a wizard, just no one believes him. The supernatural is a small enough part of the world that it’s just not all that relevant to  Joe Sixpack.

The hard part is that Dresden (like Marlowe) spends large portions of the story totally beat to shit. But he rallies and does stuff.  This is hard to model in most RPGs, especially ones like the DFRPG where you get progressively large minuses to do anything when you’re hurt (the “death spiral”). Having Harry powerless for a bunch of the story is OK, but when it’s your character it tends to be less enjoyable. Heck, the couple times I had villains beat up on the heroes in a supers campaign I ran, even though it was genre appropriate, the players went into open rebellion.

Next time – Pathfinder Tales! And then, the wonderful world of travel writing.

Catching Up

Between going to SXSW and my college roommate coming  into town, I haven’t had much blogging time, as I always prioritize real gaming over talking about it! Luckily for you things are calming down, so there is a rash of session summaries coming this week. Once I’m through the backlog, I’ll try to do something else interesting.

In other gaming related news, I’ve been reading a lot of good stuff with gaming take-aways.  American Gods, by Neil Gaiman, is brilliant, and is basically Unknown Armies, the novel! The ancient gods are real, and there are “instances’ of them in America, but as they’re not worshipped any more they largely live among us and work in Quickie Marts. It’s must read material if you’re running any modern occult game.

I’ve also been reading both C.S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower novels as well as their sci-fi stepchild, David Weber’s Honor Harrington novels. You know, sometimes you think “What, novels from the 1930s?  Must be lame!” but these rock.  Weber’s novels are interesting too – they manage to make SF space combat interesting in a tactical sense, which is a refreshing change, even if his interpersonal writing is a little too “Heinleiny,” as I think of it.

These are giving me loads of inspiration for my Admiral Ken Takashi character in the Lighthouse campaign!  I’m becoming more of a Navy prig with each novel.  Inspired by these books, I sent an unprovoked email to our GM the other day, reading:

Request to Convene Officer Selection Board

From: Admiral Ken Takashi, Commanding Officer, Verge Alliance Starship Lighthouse
To: Verge Alliance Lords of the Admiralty
Subject: Request to Convene Officer Selection Board

1. I would like to respectfully request that an Officer Selection Board be convened with the purpose of evaluation of Commander Martin St. John’s fitness for promotion to the rank of Captain.

2. I would like to further submit the following information for consideration in addition to the Commander’s record on file.

a. Commander St. John has served under me with distinction aboard the Lighthouse for many years and enjoys my personal confidence and recommendation.

b. His record for command and bravery as well as discretion is without question, and includes the recent rescue of Admiral Rastaad from the occupied Hammer’s Star system.

c. He has led ships during a number of spaceborne engagements with hostile forces including the pacification of pirates in the Corrivale system and destruction of numerous klick vessels in the Hammer’s Star system.

3. The exact date of the Lighthouse’s return to Bluefall is unclear due to the exigencies of the current conflict, but I respectfully request that such a Board be scheduled for the earliest possible opportunity.

4. I sincerely believe that Commander St. John’s record indicates the highest standards of excellence of command and request that the board deliberate these when deciding upon the Commander’s selection for promotion to Captain.

Signed,
Adm. Ken Takashi

I’m sure he thinks I’ve flipped my lid. But I can’t wait to tell one of the other bridge officers to “Please convey my compliments to Commander St. John on that last missile barrage.”