Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Pulp of the Week - Joyland by Stephen King

Joyland is Stephen King's new novel from Hardcase Crime. This paperback original tells the tale of Devin Jones, a college student who gets a summer job at a small seaside amusement park (the titular Joyland) in South Carolina. This being Stephen King, there is a lot going on, something beyond the unexpected and heartbreaking exit of his girlfriend who is transferring to another school and ultimately to another man.

There is a single, lone dark ride at Joyland, a ramshackle car in the dark called, The Horror House. Years before, a young woman was savagely murdered there by her date. People say the ride is haunted by the girl that was butchered there. The killer was never found. In the back of his mind, Devin would love to solve this horrific crime, and his sympathetic college friends pitch in to help. They are the mostly off stage research assistants.

Despite being sullen and withdrawn, Devin can't help but notice the boy in the wheel chair that sits out in the yard of a magnificent home along the beach. A boy that is whisked away at the sight of strangers by an attractive young woman. There is a moment of opportunity and the boy engineers a meeting with Dev.

 As the weeks go by his relationship with the boy grows, Dev learns how to play by the young reluctant mother's rules. He also learns how to be a carny, and speak like a carny. And, despite it being forced on him, loves his new found role playing the park's mascot. Hiding behind the mask sets him free and the kids love him.

This being a King book, not everything is as it seems and there is something odd going on in Joyland and with the people Dev meets. Something that lurks in the dark places of the heart. This story has a lot of magic to it, and a bit of 'the fog of memory' in its telling. Joyland is a really good book and I highly recommend it. Joyland is a quick read and it's funny how fast you can read a book when it is really good (and not 1500 pages long.)

While Joyland is short for a King novel, its length falls in line with the majority of books on my shelf—books accumulated during the 70s, 80s, and 90s—books I think of as a regular size, around 250 to 300 pages. I realize that those days are over and now books are much longer, but his is the length I like. Maybe that is why I am drawn to pulp and YA novels like Leviathan and The Hunger Games. The stories are fast and to the point. King fits everything needed in this book. Love. Loss. Joy. Sorrow. Longing. Redemption.

The setting along the shore reminds me of the childhood vacations at Cape Cod mashed up with the carnivals and thrill rides of the old quaint Euclid Beach Park or the early Cedar Point, before it exploded into a mega coaster mecca.

Thanks, Stephen, for still writing great, personal stories and for supporting a brand like Hard Case Crime. I'm not sure when Hard Case went to trade paperbacks (or if they always were), but despite the larger size, I still love paperbacks. The package that they have put together is outstanding, from the juicy titles and cover copy to the lurid and fantastic Glen Orbik art.

I give Joyland an 9 out of 10.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Pulp of the Week - Doc Savage: Skull Island

Doc Savage: Skull Island
by Will Murray
Based on a concept by cover artist Joe DeVito

The new Doc Savage novel by Will Murray contains a record number of authorized firsts for the character. Murray digs deep into the Savage family history, Doc's relationships with his father and grandfather, and Doc's personal journey toward becoming the man we know.

This book starts in 1933 New York - most likely just a few months after the events of "The Man of Bronze" and "Land of Terror," but the story soon spins into an extended flashback to over a decade earlier as Doc tells his five friends of the tale when he and his father went on a quest to find Doc's grandfather, Stormalong Savage.

Stormalong is a sailing captain of the old school and his ship has vanished in the vast South Indian Ocean. Doc's father is a sailor as well and summons Doc to join him on the Orion, the very ship he was born on. Captain Clark Savage, Sr. is a stern man with a crew of Mayans that make the trip in search of Stormalong's ship, the Courser.

The journey to Skull Mountain Island involves much adventure as well as sailing for many uneventful days. Doc spends his time tinkering in the small machine shop, learning Mayan from the crew, and getting on his father's nerves. In the shop he is adapting a service automatic to fire full auto.

Deluxe Hardcover wrap around jacket
Soon enough Doc arrives at Skull Island and clashes with island natives, dinosaurs, and other denizens of the island, all leading up to Kong. While there is quite a bit of plot about a band of headhunters stalking Kong, we all know that they won't get him because Kong is in New York at the start of the book. Thus, the suspense with Kong's life is lessened.

There is also a smaller, white ape (like the one in Son of Kong) whose presence is not explained and in fact is a bit confusing considering its fate.

Stormalong is a wonderful character and I wouldn't mind reading a Murray novel or two featuring him. He's crotchety and set in his ways and fun. Clark, Sr. is a bit of a stick in the mud and Clark, Jr. (Doc) questions him about sending a child (Doc himself) off to live with professors and scientists instead of taking care of the young boy himself.

It is this material, the family stuff that is the heart and reason for this story. Dinosaurs, headhunters, the voyage, and Kong himself are secondary, but fun, parts of the book.

Will Murray has done a fine job with this book and I commend him for expanding the canon. The cover by Joe De Vito is terrific as is the presentation as a whole. I'll give Doc Savage: Skull Island an 8.5 out of 10. 

There has been a lot of fan interest in this match up for a long time. There is a lot of material at Rip Dagger's Dojo blog. Doc Savage cover mashup expert Kez Wilson did a great one on his blog, mashing up two James Bama paintings.

And more art...

Next up - Doc Savage meets Tarzan? Doc and The Shadow? Doc and the Avenger?

Wednesday, June 19, 2013


Cthulhu Wars!

Cthulhu Wars is a game of epic struggle as the Great Old Ones clash to determine which one rules the Earth. No matter the outcome, it seems that humanity loses. The game is currently on Kickstarter with more than 2 weeks to go and it is way past the funded level and will be made. The figures are all sculpted in the standard miniatures game scale of 28mm. The monsters are quite large.

The game is designed by Sandy Peterson, a guy that knows a thing or two about Cthulhu, having written the classic pen and paper RPG Call of Cthulhu.

The Kickstarter has options to just buy the figures by Faction, special 1st player marker sexy figures, sculpted gates, custom dice, posters, t-shirts, and additional factions. You could just buy in on a faction and play with your friends using your own figures, or use the figures for horror RPGs. As minis go, these are a good value, look great and should paint up well.

There are lots of extra factions and choices including additional Great Old Ones. They are planning 13 additional Factions. These are $48 each. The first is Yog Sothoth. Others planned include: Tsathoggua, Ithaqua, Azathoth.

There are also 3 map expansions including the Dreamlands with a new maps and plastic pieces. These are $40 each.

Cthulhu Wars is played on a huge world map (ala Risk) and each player gets a unique army led by one of the Great Old Ones. The base game factions are: Cthulhu, Nyarlathotep, Shub-Niggurath, and Hastur. Other figures are listed in the complete list below.

I am quite impressed with the figures and the game design itself.

One of the interesting features of the rules is how first player and turn order are determined. The player with the most power goes first, but they get to choose if the round is played clockwise or counter-clockwise around the table. Neat. Power is determined by how many people and gates the player controls. This includes cultists captured in the turn before! Those guys are then killed and returned to their player's off board unit supply.

On your turn you may do one of the following:
Recruit a single Cultist (get more dudes on the map)
Move your dudes (spending 1 power for each) to an adjacent territory
Create a Gate (a portal to bring in Monsters) (only one per territory)
Capture Cultist - your monsters can help recruit your enemies forces to your side
Battle - fight enemy units in the same territory
Summon Monster to a territory where you have a controlled gate
Control Gate
Ritual of Annihilation
Awaken Great Old One

Players recruit Cultists and summon monsters and gain power and Spellbooks until they have enough power to win.

I will probably always think of this as Cthulhu Risk and to me that is a good thing. A 15 page text only rulebook is posted on the Kickstarter and I think it reads pretty well and the components are great. With Sandy Peterson involved, this is likely a pretty good game. But the price - $150 for the base game. Woah.

Here are the factions in the base set:

The game includes the following (quoted from the rulebook pdf):

Player Hints & Tips
Mapboard of Earth (in two pieces, printed on both sides)
4 Faction Cards
4 Power markers (faction-specific)
4 Doom track markers (faction-specific)
1 Ritual of Annihilation Marker
Starting player tile (circular)
24 Spellbooks (6 per Faction)
~12 Desecration markers (yellow sign)
16 Gates (cardboard, large)
30 Elder Sign chits (two-sided: one side has the Elder Sign, the other has a number – either 1/2, 1,
or 1 1/2)]
· Thus, a third of the Elder Sign chits say “1/2”
· A third read “1”
· A third read “1 1/2”
20 six-sided dice
24 cultists, six each in four colors; BLUE, GREEN, RED, YELLOW
5 Great Old Ones; Cthulhu (GREEN), Nyarlathotep (BLUE), Shub-Niggurath (RED),
Hastur (YELLOW), The King in Yellow (YELLOW)
4 Deep Ones, 2 Shoggoths, 2 Starspawn (all GREEN)
3 Nightgaunts, 3 Flying Polyp, 2 Hunting Horror (all BLUE)
2 Ghouls, 4 Fungi, 3 Dark Young (all RED)
6 Undead, 4 Byakhee (all YELLOW)
Total types of figures: 18
Small figures = 39 (cultists, deep ones, nightgaunts, ghouls, undead)
Medium figures = 14 (shoggoths, flying polyps, fungi, byakhee, King in Yellow)
Large figures = 7 (starspawn, hunting horror, dark young)
Huge figures = 4 (Cthulhu, Nyarlathotep, Shub-Niggurath, Hastur)
Total figures: 63 + 16 Gates