Monday, February 1, 2016

Current Media - 2/1/16

Current reading material:
Audiobook - Mary Poppins
E-book  - The Man in the High Castle (though I'm putting this aside as reading at work is too hard lately.  Will pick it up after I finish the below book)
Physical book - Books of Blood Vol 1 -3

Marvel Comics Series:  (Yeah, haven't found much time for comics lately either.  Hoping to improve that this week)
Current issue date: Jan - Mar 2003
X-treme X-men
X-treme X-men Mechanix
Soldier X
X-Statix
Uncanny X-men
Exiles

Current TV Shows I'm watching:
The Muppets
The Grinder 
@Midnight
Lupin III Series 3
Key & Peele
American Horror Story (about halfway through S4)
Phineas & Ferb
The X-files (current mini-series, may start a re-watch when it's done)
Legends of Tomorrow
Lucifer
Agent Carter

Podcasts I'm listening to fairly regularly:
Nerdist
Gilbert Gottfried's Amazing Colossal Podcast
Jay & Miles X-plain the X-men
Serial
Judge John Hodgman
Cracked
StarTalk Radio

Video Games I'm playing:
Disney Tsum Tsum 
Rock Band 4 (trying to play at least once a week to practice singing)
Suikoden
Final Fantasy Record Keeper

Stuff I finished since last time:

The Confidence Gap - Probably one of the most realistic self help books I've ever read, and therefore amazingly helpful.  No fooling you into thinking you're going to eliminate all negative thinking, or that the work you need to do to improve yourself is going to be easy.  Just straight talk, a change of perspective, and a reminder to live in the moment rather than focusing on the thoughts in your head.  Highly recommended.

Deep Web - A documentary that I first heard about because it was directed by Alex Winter, and he has his friend Keanu do the narration as well.  But regardless it's an interesting look at anonymity on the internet focused around the Silk Road site and the arrest and trial of Ross Ulbricht in relation to it.  Recommended if privacy and anonymity are things you're interested in.

Hamilton (Original Broadway Cast Recording) - Finally broke down and gave this a listen and I am in love.  The hip hop blends well with the classic musical stylings to make it something interesting to listen to and super catchy, and the story is fascinating.  Brings your understanding of Alexander Hamilton from "$10 bill guy shot by Aaron Burr" to so much more. I first listened on Friday, and have come back to it in pieces every day since, frequently singing bits of it to myself in between.  I am frequently resistant to things getting a super amount of hype but in this case I feel the hype is very much deserved.  Highly recommended to at least give it a chance.  If you don't like it, it's okay, we can still be friends.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Current media - 1-19-16

Current reading material:
Audiobook - The Confidence Gap
E-book  - The Man in the High Castle
Physical book - Books of Blood Vol 1 -3


Marvel Comics Series:
Current issue date: Jan - Mar 2003
X-treme X-men
X-treme X-men Mechanix
Soldier X
X-Statix
Uncanny X-men
Exiles


Current TV Shows I'm watching:
The Muppets (on winter hiatus)
The Grinder
@Midnight
Lupin III Series 3
Key & Peele
American Horror Story (will start S4 soon)
Phineas & Ferb


Podcasts I'm listening to fairly regularly:
Nerdist
Gilbert Gottfried's Amazing Colossal Podcast
Penn's Sunday School
Jay & Miles X-plain the X-men
Serial


Video Games I'm playing:
Disney Tsum Tsum
Rock Band 4 (They finally let me import RB1 songs this week, still waiting on RB2 and Green Day)
Suikoden
Final Fantasy Record Keeper


Stuff I finished since last time:


Final Fantasy 14 - More accurately I gave up trying to play it.  It may be a nice game but I'm just not interested in paying a monthly fee for an MMO.


American Horror Story season 3 - Jessica Lange is a good actress, but I'm not as interested in her sex life or desire to stay young and beautiful as the writers of this show are.  But I liked all the younger witches in the season and the flip flop nature of their loyalties and who is betraying whom. 


Serial season 1 - Similar to Making a Murderer, it's an interesting look into our criminal justice system and the mistakes that can be made.  It also really rang home for me that "a jury of your peers" is basically impossible to find, particularly since most of us really, really hate jury duty.  This one does not take a side as strongly as Making a Murderer did, which just helps to highlight how difficult it can be to truly know the truth in these situations.


The Introvert Advantage - A good book for people on either side of the introvert/extrovert spectrum who want to know more about introverted nature and what it does and doesn't mean.  Also contains a lot of good coping tips for us introverts who are forced to do more extroverted things at our jobs or social occasions.  It's certainly not one size fits all, but I found some good stuff in there.


Fit in 50 Days - I would only recommend this book if you are doing no fitness work at all, and if you have enough money to introduce a gym membership or lots of home equipment into your budget.  As someone who already tracks what I eat (at least semi-regularly, I'll admit I slip sometimes) and exercises regularly, what I mostly gained from this is that it's also important to stretch and maintain your balance on top of cardio and strength training, to help prevent those times when you go reaching for something on a high shelf or bend over to get something and you pull something and end up in pain for a week.  Not that you'll never ever have those instances again, but well roundedness will help prevent it.  He tries to remain vague on exactly what fitness routines to do as he knows they cannot possibly be one size fits all, but he still seems to expect you to have a whole lot of free time and money to do all these things. He's also super judgmental of overweight people or people enjoying a good snack. 


The Wonder Years - I watched this show regularly growing up, and I was happy to see that most of it holds up really well.  It was also really cute to see so many younger stars make an appearance on the show before they went on to bigger things.  The show manages to touch on some really universal things about growing up while also providing some nostalgia for the then adults when it aired.  The fact that my dad was only slightly younger than Kevin Arnold would have been back then, and that he and my brother are also Kevins, and that Fred Savage looks almost exactly like my brother, do add up to a certain fondness for this show that others may not have.  But I noticed this time that the parents in this remind me a lot of Jak's parents as well, so something tells me that anyone watching this could probably find some kind of parallels, they just did a good job of making them an every-family in any-town.  The show loses some momentum when Kevin goes from junior high to high school, losing all the teachers that came before and changing some of the dynamic.  When he begins to act like more and more of an idiot when he turns 14, I started to nod and smile, realizing that most boys are in fact little shits around that time.  The show is also pretty aware of how asinine he's being, with the narration adding in a level of comedy that highlights his obliviousness.  But three seasons of him being a jerk get a little tiring, and the Kevin/Winnie romance dwindles into nothing more than the two of them sitting in a car at lookout point and him grumbling that she won't put out.  It's no big surprise that the show didn't get renewed after the bland sixth season.  That said, there's no denying this show was influential to what came after, particularly in other nostalgia based shows like That 70's Show and Freaks and Geeks.  Definitely recommended for those who want to revisit it or even those who have never seen it before.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Current media 1-11-16

I'm still reading all the same books as last time, scroll down if you missed that.  I also haven't had a chance to read too many comics this past week.


Shows I finished since last time:

Ultimate Spider-Man - While I didn't like this season as much as the previous seasons, I enjoy that this series continues throwing in more and more Marvel heroes.  I enjoyed most of the "Web Warriors" introduced, though the multipart ender Contest of Champions was really boring to me.  The biggest thing I enjoyed out of it was suddenly realizing that the guy voicing The Collector was doing the same voice he did for Xan in the first Baldur's Gate video game, so when he got super pessimistic I started quoting appropriate Xan lines every time after he said something. 


Making a Murderer - this became a minor obsession for last week.  A very well done documentary that slowly unfolds the information in a way that allows you to react to it, and therefore forces you to question your own snap judgments about people.  It's infuriating from the perspective of seeing how our justice system is and how little we can do to change it, but also really essential viewing.  Reminded me very much of the Paradise Lost docs, and I can only hope there's some kind of happy ending for these guys too eventually.


Movies I watched:


The Dwarves of Auschwitz - Found this short (45 mins) documentary while scrolling through Netflix.  It's hosted by Warwick Davis and covers a set of 7 brothers and sisters who were saved from death at the camp because of their dwarfism and the fact that they were performers.  It contains an interview with the youngest sister, and her smile is so warm and joyful that it helps temper the more shocking images you see from the Holocaust.  Recommended.


Ant-Man - I held off on watching this one because of Edgar Wright's departure, and at least for me, that departure was still sorely felt.  There were comedic moments in the film that came off really bland and uninteresting, which at least to me felt very much because they were written by him but handed to a director who either didn't have as much skill at comedic timing, or listened to Marvel who told him to tone it down.  It also makes me question why Rudd was even used for the part, as he barely gets to use his humor.  This film really should have been closer to Guardians of the Galaxy in tone and embracing the absurdity of the nature of Ant-Man's powers, and instead it just became a by the numbers Marvel movie.  It wasn't bad, I certainly don't think my time was wasted, and I enjoyed Hope as much as everyone else seems to, it just felt like it could have been so much better. 


It's probably also worth noting  that I'm experiencing a bit of superhero movie fatigue that seems to be resulting in me returning to how I felt about comics in the 90s - Excited for X-men and only vaguely interested in everything else.


All other TV shows besides the above I'm still watching, though I'm now about halfway through American Horror Story season 3.


I just finished listening to the latest episode of Masters of Carpentry, and I added Serial to my podcast subscription list because people are making comparisons to it and Making a Murderer.


I didn't play Final Fantasy 14 like I wanted to, but I did record a commentary track over Jak's playing of Pony Island.  I didn't like the game very much, but you'll have to watch to hear how.  We enjoyed the process so you may see more of those videos popping up in the future.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Current media 1-6-2016

With the beginning of the new year I'm in this spirit of wanting to organize and plan but not having anything in particular to plan for at the moment.  So in the absence of planning, let's do lists!


Current reading material:
Audiobook (generally listened to while exercising, sometimes in the car) - The Introvert's Advantage: How Quiet People Can Thrive in an Extrovert World
E-book (read at work primarily, where it's much easier to carry my kindle around) - The Man in the High Castle
Physical book (kept on my end table, where I read a little before bed) - Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
Technically a Book (but designed so that you read about one page a day) - Fit in 50 Days: Creating Habits That Will Keep You Lean for Life


Marvel Comics Series:
Current issue date: January 2003
X-treme X-men
X-treme X-men Mechanix
Soldier X
X-Statix
Uncanny X-men
Exiles


Current TV Shows I'm watching:
The Muppets (on winter hiatus)
The Grinder
The Wonder Years (in the midst of season five)
@Midnight
Lupin III Series 3
Key & Peele
American Horror Story (finished S1, decided to skip S2 because it was too intense/cruel, will try S3 soon)
Ultimate Spider-man
Phineas & Ferb
Making a Murderer (started last night, currently in the middle of episode 2)


Last movie I saw in the theater:
Star Wars: The Force Awakens


Next movie I see in the theater:
Probably Deadpool, unless I'm forgetting something else coming out before then


I can't remember the last movie I watched at home, though I've got plenty sitting in my Netflix/Amazon queues waiting for me.


Podcasts I'm listening to fairly regularly:
Nerdist
Gilbert Gottfried's Amazing Colossal Podcast
Penn's Sunday School
Jay & Miles X-plain the X-men


Video Games I'm playing:
Disney Tsum Tsum (this addiction does not seem to ever end)
Rock Band 4
Peggle 2
King's Quest
Final Fantasy 14 (sort of.  I created a character and keep saying I'm going to come back before my free trial ends but haven't yet and I've only got about two weeks of that left now.  I'm hoping to play this weekend.)


With any luck I will continue to post whenever I finish things or start something new, but you know how these start of the year project ideas tend to go.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Best Taco Night So Far

Allow me to completely do a recipe blog wrong by offering you no pictures whatsoever to prove I made these tacos or what they look like.  All I can tell you is that after a few weeks of making tacos, being super disappointed to discover the taco shells we had bought were all broken, and experimenting with seasonings, Jak declared these tacos so good that I better write the recipe down, even if I thought I remembered it.  So while I was writing it down, I figured I may as well share it.

Best Tacos So Far

Ingredients:

  • White corn tortillas (we used 10, feel free to make as many as you want to eat)
  • approx 1 lb lean ground beef
  • 1 medium and 1 small jalapeno
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1/2 small sweet onion
  • 1/2 small red onion
  • heaping tbsp minced garlic
  • taco toppings (lettuce, cheese, sour cream, whatever you like)


Instructions:

  1. Prep your jalapenos, onions, and bell pepper for putting into a food processor, chopper or ninja blender.  I keep a bit of the ribbing and seeds for the jalapenos because we like a bit of heat.  If you have cloves of garlic rather than pre-minced, stick that in there too.  Pulse like crazy.  I was trying to get some of the pieces that were stubbornly trying not to get chopped up, and ended up making it all borderline mushy.  This does not look appetizing, but I sense may be part of the reason this came out so good.
  2. Put your pan on low medium heat, spray it with nonstick spray and dump those veggies in there.  Stir them around to spread them out, and make some space to dump your ground meat.  Start breaking it up furiously with a spoon.  When it's broken up nicely, bring the heat up to medium high and continue to break it up and stir it together with the veggies.  Starting with the lower heat got me as close to Taco Bell consistency of meat as I've ever gotten with ground meat.  Keep stirring and cooking until your meat is nicely browned and everything smells incredible.   
  3. Make sure your oven racks are nice and clean, then preheat your oven to 375.  Wrap your tortillas in a damp paper towel and microwave them for 30 seconds, or put them in a hot pan and turn them once just to loose them up.  When the oven is fully preheated (seriously, do not put them in early or you will end up with unpleasantly chewy shells) drape your tortillas between the bars in your oven rack.  Unless you have skinnier bars than me, you're going to end up with wide mouth stand on their own shells, but that's okay because you want to put a lot of that awesome meat on them anyway.  If they seem like they are bowing out too far, don't worry, they'll fall straight downward as they cook and even start to bow in a little eventually.  Keep them in there about 11 minutes, adjusting accordingly if you know your oven is stronger/weaker. You're basically looking for them to start to brown a bit.  Carefully use some tongs to take them out of the oven.
  4. Load up your shells with meat, and top with whatever toppings you like on your tacos.  

I'm referring to these as "so far" because I figure inspiration may lead me to change them somewhere down the line, but for now I'm sticking as close to this as possible.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

A quick note

As of right now, the last proper review I posted was done at the end of April 2015.  At that time, I found myself simply not enjoying writing blog posts anymore, not liking the idea of throwing my opinions out there with no guarantee of getting any kind of response.  And who am I that my opinion really matters all that much anyway?

I still post my opinions on things, but in much shorter form on twitter.  It feels right, and also seems a better way to find like minded people to discuss it with you.  People just don't really blog like they used to, and "Never read the comments" has become gospel for so many that they certainly aren't going to leave any either.

I left blogger in March 2014 for my own personal site, but with my lack of interest in doing reviews, podcasts, videos, etc, I see no more reason to continue to pay for that site.  As such I've backed up the posts I had over there here, back dated to when they were written.  The sad part is there's no good way to import the comments over there on to here short of copy pasting them.

Is this the absolute end of my writings?  Time will tell, most likely when another Stephen King adaptation gets released and I see whether or not I feel like doing another Castle Rock Companion piece on it.  Or maybe some day I'll be looking to write a more personal journal entry, and I'll come here.  Who knows.  I'm an introvert, and writing things down has always been part of my nature.

Until then, if you've stumbled upon this site looking for something to read, I hope you find something you enjoy in the archives. I've tried to tag them as best as possible to help people find things.  And there's the archive of my other projects in the banner at the top as well.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Castle Rock Companion - The Dark Tower VI: Song of Susannah and VII: The Dark Tower


Song of Susannah

When you came right down to it, how did anyone know they weren’t a character in some writer’s story, or a transient thought in some bus-riding schmoe’s head, or a momentary mote in God’s eye?

Much like what happened when I finished reading The Waste Lands, the abrupt ending of Song of Susannah left me feeling like I had little to say on the matter at hand and more like it was just time to move on to the next book.  Regardless of length, Song of Susannah is really just a lot of set up for what comes in the final book.

It feels incomplete, having hit the ground running from when Susannah left at the end of the last book and finishing with us still waiting for the birth of the demon child she's carrying in her.  Leaving poor Jake, Oy, and Callahan outside The Dixie Pig in particular, about to enter a battle where the stakes are high and casualties likely is a cruel thing to do to anyone who can't get their hands on the next volume immediately.  A lot of Susannah's struggles with Mia, the demon who has inhabited her body and wants to raise the child, also feels like a lot of wasted effort and stretching for time so that Roland and Eddie can go have their story and not miss out on the big events that will occur in the next book.

And really Roland and Eddie's story of going to Calvin Tower and purchasing the lot also feels like it should have been done sometime before hand.  I really do love this series, but this second look is making it very apparent to me that King really should have taken some more time to map things out and figure out exactly how many books he needed to tell the tale.  I also wonder if too many other authors could get away with making these as incomplete as the individual novels feel.

An author inserting himself into his work is also a very difficult balance to get right.  More often than not, they can end up looking full of themselves.  Not satisfied to provide a Deus Ex Machina from their pen, they have to insert an image of themselves into the story as well.  Your mileage may vary, but personally I enjoy the rather self depreciating version of Stephen King who appears in The Dark Tower series.  I also feel like his appearance just makes sense, given the nature of the story and the various worlds our characters can go between, why not also show up in the "real world" as well?

The Dark Tower

 I’d have you see them like this; I’d have you see them very well. Will you? They are clustered around Suze’s Cruisin' Trike, embracing in the aftermath of their victory. I’d have you see them this way not because they have won a great battle—they know better than that, every one of them—but because now they are ka-tet for the last time. The story of their fellowship ends here, on this make-believe street and beneath this artificial sun; the rest of the tale will be short and brutal compared to all that’s gone before. Because when ka-tet breaks, the end always comes quickly.

Say sorry.

The final book is definitely epic in scale, and the stakes are high straight from the start.  Six characters who have appeared in previous volumes die, seven if you also count The Crimson King, who has at least been heavily discussed if never truly appeared before.  Being with these characters for as long as we have up to this point, it's a difficult read.  Again and again it's been stressed that Roland would have to give up nearly everyone and everything he loves to achieve his goal, but it's far more painful because by this point we have to lose them too.

One of those deaths was the most painful character death I've ever experienced.  The first time I read this book and I reached the point where Eddie was shot, all I could do was put the book down and sob.  Much like Susannah, it was a struggle for me to go on.  Eddie's journey from a strung out, insecure junkie to capable gunslinger with a chosen family who was much better to him than the one he had been born into meant a lot to me, and he is certainly my favorite King character, possibly one of my top favorite characters in all of fiction.  I couldn't bear to lose him.  And of course, when I did finally pick up the book again the next night, I had to weep all over again as Eddie lay slowly dying in bed, muttering things that didn't make sense.

This time around I was prepared for it, though I dreaded every moment leading up to it.  Strangely, while I also remembered Oy's death being painful, I completely forgot Jake died yet again.  I could joke and say this must be a different go 'round of Roland's journey than the last time I read it, but I'm guessing the reality is that Jake's death comes so soon after Eddie's that I was probably still reeling and just forgot all the details exactly.  It's a tender moment regardless, to see Roland bury the boy who for all intents and purposes was now his son.

One death I was disappointed in for very different reasons was that of Flagg/Walter.  As a character who has been built up for so long, not just in this series but also in The Stand and Eyes of the Dragon, he deserved a little more than to just suddenly be eaten by Mordred.  I suppose it's supposed to be one of those moments where we find out just how dangerous this new foe is, but the fact of the matter is he's not.  Mordred largely seems to exist to tie Roland to King Arthur and very little else. He's a perceived threat that ends up being nothing, who literally would have died in his own time if the characters had never interacted with him.  I would have greatly preferred to see a showdown between Walter and Roland around that point in the book instead.

Beyond that, I do enjoy the journey over all.  The end of the book is interesting, as it ends with Roland approaching the tower, followed straight to an epilogue where we see where Susannah has ended up.  I love that epilogue.  Some may say it's a bit cheesy or silly but the fact is that Susannah, Jake, and Eddie all deserve a happy ending after everything they've been through, and it's good to see that on at least one earth they can have something very close to it.

What I don't agree with is the beginning of the coda that follows the epilogue, where King begs you to stop reading.  He insists that the journey is everything, and that knowing what's inside the tower will only lead to disappointment.  But to me, seeing what's inside the tower is anything but disappointment.  In a story where we've seen infinite possible worlds and characters moving between them, it makes perfect sense that the top of the tower is truly nothing more than a reset button which sets Roland back to the beginning of his quest all over again.  Perhaps it's because I see life constantly moving in cycles, but I love the idea of Roland being forced to repeat his journey and hopefully learn something more each time.  Will he save Jake from falling at the beginning?  Would that prevent Mia possessing Susannah and giving birth to Mordred?  What else could change?  This is the best possible way to keep your readers guessing and wanting more.

It also largely suggests that any and all changes made in adaptations they do for the screen will mean that they are just a different cycle for Roland.  I just saw a recent blurb that said development for an adaptation is on yet again.  I'm not holding my breath at this point, but I do look forward to seeing whatever they come up with.  More than anything  I will probably be critical of casting choices.  At this point I'd prefer unknowns in nearly all the major roles.  If this series really lasts all the way until the end, then you need people who will inhabit these characters completely rather than you sitting there thinking about the actor behind them.  Though I do think it would be neat if they could get Joe Hill to play his dad in 1977.

Technically, I would still like to re-read Insomnia and the two books King co-wrote with Peter Straub, The Talisman and Black House as they all tie into the series, but at this point I feel like I need a break from King.  This series can take a lot out of you.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Castle Rock Companion - The Dark Tower V: Wolves of the Calla


He saw the Tower itself in the burning folds of the rose and for a moment understood its purpose: how it distributed its lines of force to all the worlds that were and held them steady in time’s great helix.

I'm continually surprised by the abrupt endings these books tend to have.  It lends itself to King's suggestion that like the Lord of the Rings, this is in fact one very long novel, but must have been infuriating for people who had to wait for the next book in the series to be released.  Wolves of the Calla is a stronger and more interesting book than Wizard and Glass was for me, but there were moments where I struggled to keep paying attention.

Unlike the last book, the flashbacks here are the strongest part.  I remember being very surprised to discover Father Callahan here, and it was a very pleasant surprise.  His journey from his abrupt departure in Salem's Lot to the Calla is a great story.  It also guarantees that "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" is going to be stuck in your head for pretty much the whole time you're reading this book.

The story on the Calla itself isn't bad, and the idea that these evil creatures are taking one from each set of twins in a small town is a fascinating one.  The characters are interesting and believable, and Andy the robot is a fun character.  But mostly it takes far too long to get to the point, and then that moment is over and done super quickly.  I know that's a part of what King is stressing, that the build up is always longer and worse than the battle, but there's only so much "old important man in town doesn't want to fight" that I really need to read before I'm asking him to get on with it.  If it wasn't for interesting bits like Andy and the Sisters of Oriza, it would be even more painful.

Perhaps the most infuriating is that a lot of this is just build up for the next book.  From the very start we're presented with the knowledge that Susannah is pregnant with a demon baby, and Roland knows but he's not telling, then he tells Eddie but no one else, then Jake knows but they still don't tell Susannah, then it's out in the open but Susannah keeps lying about her alternate personality trying to emerge.  These people are ka tet, supposed to be able to sense each other's thoughts and feelings, so their lying to each other and hiding things is so much worse.  Oy's about the only one of them I don't want to smack some sense into.

The other bit of story left hanging is their quest to protect the rose that exists in New York, purchasing the lot from Calvin Tower before the Crimson King's men can instead.  This hanging thread is a little less annoying, but it does feel like something that could be simply answered in another chapter or two rather than making us wait for the next book.  I can't help but feel like King's choices on where to end these novels is a bit misguided, and I don't envy anyone who was trying to adapt them to film.  It seems like you'd almost have to cut the stories in different places than where he does to make satisfying films.

That said, this book is important to the series as it drops a lot of important knowledge and lore on us.  This is our first real introduction to the Low Men in the story proper, along with the vampires and breakers, and we get some more details about the Crimson King and what he wants.  I just wouldn't recommend pulling this one out to read on its own.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Castle Rock Companion - The Dark Tower IV.V: The Wind Through the Keyhole


Do decimals work the same in Roman numerals?  There's something I didn't consider when I started to title these.  While The Wind Through the Keyhole is the most recently published of the Dark Tower novels, in the foreword King states that it should be considered 4.5, coming after Wizard and Glass.  It's a fairly brief novel, and when you consider that it is a story within a story within a story, it's almost more like three short stories bound together.

If you are a familiar with the series and hoped this new novel would bring you more tales of Eddie, Susannah, Jake, and Oy, you would probably be disappointed.  They are there, but you're not going to gain a whole lot insight into their characters or any new knowledge from this adventure.  The book picks up very soon after Wizard and Glass ends, where upon their journey towards the tower, they run into a powerful windstorm that has them seeking shelter.  While there, Roland tells a tale from his younger days, one that happens chronologically not long after the flashback he tells in Wizard and Glass.  For these reasons, this book really does belong where King suggests in the reading order.

In this new flashback story, Roland is set on another gunslinger's task, to investigate a small town and a fabled "skin man" that is torturing them.  Skin men have the ability to turn themselves into various large animals, which can differ in species but always seem to be large predatory beasts.  Unlike werewolves, they seem to be in control of when they can change.  In the midst of investigating this mystery, Roland meets a young scared boy, and he tells him a kind of fairy tale, from which the novel gets its name.

The actual story of The Wind Through the Keyhole reminded me greatly of Eyes of the Dragon, and not just because it features a dragon and even at one point a very special napkin.  It just has that same fairy tale quality to it, of a young boy set upon a quest to become a man.  He overcomes a lot of challenges and meets some interesting creatures along his journey.  Of the three stories set within the book, it's definitely the strongest, and I found myself very fond of the young boy Tim, wanting him to survive his ordeal.

Perhaps the only issue I had with it is that Roland says that this is a story his mother read to him as a young boy, and King even says that Roland begins to hear her voice in his head as he repeats the words to the young boy beside him, but this isn't truly written like a story you would tell to young children.  Parents die and get replaced by stepparents all the time in fairy tales, but those tales don't include explanations of how the surviving parent weighs all their options and whether it's right to marry just for money instead of love, nor do they include moments where the child can hear the parent being raped by the stepparent in the other room.  They may be hinted at, but never stated so bluntly.  But perhaps we're meant to believe that Gilead is a harsher world where people are more frank with their children?  Or maybe King just knew he wasn't writing for kids here so he didn't tone things down.

Adult as it may be, it's a good tale, and the flashback story isn't bad either.  I doubt Jamie DeCurry will be anyone's favorite character of the Dark Tower series; he plays so little a role in the story as Roland's companion.  But after the constant wisecracking Cuthbert and solemn Alain from the last adventure, his silent demeanor was a bit of a welcome respite.  The story of the skin man holds a lot of ties to King's novel Desperation, and maybe be better appreciated by people who have read that one.  As a story in and of itself, it's alright, but also very brief.

For the main wraparound tale, there isn't much to be said.  While there's a bit of an intro, once the skin man flashback is over, we only get a brief moment of our main ka-tet before the book ends.  I don't know that I would call this book something that was needed for the Dark Tower series, but it's still a good book in and of itself.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Castle Rock Companion - The Dark Tower supplemental: The Little Sisters of Eluria and Everything's Eventual


After finishing Wizard and Glass, another break can be taken before continuing through the series.  The main recommendations I saw for reading before continuing on are the two short stories "The Little Sisters and Eluria" and "Everything's Eventual," both of which can be found in the short story collection titled Everything's Eventual (back to back no less) as well as the novel Insomnia.  If you've never read Salem's Lot or Hearts in Atlantis, now would also be a good time to cover those as well.  As for now, I'm putting off Insomnia, which doesn't entirely connect to the series until book 7 anyway.

The Little Sisters of Eluria

This is a story about Roland's encounter with vampire nuns in a deserted town while following the Man in Black.  So it technically happens before The Gunslinger, but makes so many references to the story that Roland tells in Wizard and Glass that it makes sense to read it here rather than before The Gunslinger. It's fairly short, but the characters are vivid, both the frightening older vampire women and the reluctant young one who is part of their band.  It's a fairly brief tale, and not entirely essential to understand the series, but a good one worth reading.

Everything's Eventual

On the surface, this doesn't seem like a Dark Tower tale, and could very easily be taken on its own.  Dinky Earnshaw has a strange special ability - when he writes a bunch of strange symbols down along with something familiar to the person reading it, they suddenly want to commit suicide.  The symbols are so strange and foreign that the average person has no idea what they are, and he can literally get away with murder.  He uses it very infrequently, only to silence the mean dog who pesters him on the way to school, or to get rid of the equally pestering bully who torments him.  But then one day a man shows up to offer him a job, and if you've read Hearts in Atlantis, you may recognize him as one of the Low Men.

Dinky is given a house, a car, and seventy dollars a week, along with a whiteboard in the house where he can write down just about anything he could ever want, and it will be delivered to him along with his groceries.  There are a few catches - he can't contact his friends anymore for one.  The strangest, on the outset, is that any amount of that seventy he doesn't spend every week must be thrown away or destroyed.  In exchange for this easy lifestyle, Dinky sends emails and occasionally hand written letters to whoever the company wants him to.  Eventually Dinky starts to question whether or not the people he's killing are really the "bad guys" as the company told him.  It becomes clear to him that the whole reason he's required to toss his money is because they don't want him making an escape, and he makes a plan to fix it.  Whether or not he's successful isn't revealed within the story.

With the Low Men connection, it isn't hard to guess just who Dinky might truly be working for.  It's also just a good short story, as King does a good job of introducing us to this young man and the way he is paid for his job first, then slowly revealing all the stranger details later.  It helps to keep you interested as the story goes on.  Wikipedia tells me that Dinky will appear in the regular series eventually, and I have to admit I don't remember where or how, but I'm looking forward to it now.  He's an interesting character.

Edit now that I've finished: Dinky shows up in the last book in the series, so you could technically hold off on reading this one until then if you wanted.  His story here is not exactly contradictory to where he ends up in the series, but does leave me wondering just how he got there from here.  Once again, this story isn't essential reading to understand things by any means, but it is worth reading if you have a copy in easy reach.
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