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AWESOME-tober-fest 2015: Smoke (1995) – Donald Westlake

Posted in books, Halloween, holiday, monsters, movies, pop culture with tags , , , , , , , , on October 22, 2015 by Paxton

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Donald Westlake is a famous crime novelist probably most known for his series of novels about relentless professional thief, Parker, written under the pseudonym Richard Stark.  Westlake is also well known for his comic heist novels about charming master thief John Dortmunder.  Parker debuted in The Hunter in 1962 and Dortmunder debuted in The Hot Rock in 1970.

In 1995, Westlake took a break from straight up crime novels and wrote a comedic crime novel with sci-fi elements called Smoke.


I was aware of Westlake before I discovered Smoke when researching “invisible man novels” for this Halloween. I’d seen the movies based on Westlake’s “Parker” character (Payback in 1999 and Parker in 2013) and I’ve had my eye on the first Dortmunder novel, The Hot Rock, for a few years now.  So, I thought Smoke would be a great opportunity to read Westlake to see if I like his style before committing to either the Parker or Dortmunder novels.

The gist of the story is that Freddie Noon, a small time thief burgles a research lab late one night and is caught by the two research scientists that live there. They are testing two melanoma formulas and they blackmail him into testing one of them. Freddie mistakenly takes both formulas and then escapes the research lab and makes off with a bunch of the doctors’ equipment. Later, Freddie discovers that the formula has turned him completely invisible. Freddie, along with his girlfriend Peg, has to get used to him being invisible, attempt to continue stealing and fencing goods in his new condition and stay one step ahead of the shady organization that had employed the research lab in the first place who want nothing but to exploit Freddie for their own gain.

This book is sort of a spiritual cousin to HF Saint’s Memoirs of an Invisible Man which was published about 7 years prior to this.  Similar plot lines, only a few details are different, but the tone of the books are completely different.  Saint’s book is a taut suspense thriller from beginning to end.  Westlake’s book is a comic caper with a very light, humorous tone.  The characters are funny and interesting for the most part, but I prefer Saint’s edge of your seat thrill ride to Westlake’s easy going pace.

I’d mostly recommend this book, but if I’m picking my favorite, HF Saint’s Memoirs is a much more satisfying read.

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Also, check out the blog Countdown to Halloween for more Halloween-y, bloggy AWESOMEness.

AWESOME-tober-fest 2015: Fade (1988) – Robert Cormier

Posted in books, pop culture with tags , , , , , on October 20, 2015 by Paxton

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In 1988 Robert Cormier published the novel Fade. It is about a boy named Paul who discovers that he has the ability to turn himself invisible, or fade.


Since this book’s publication it has consistently been on the American Library Association’s list of Most Challenged Books for it’s depiction of violence, murder and incest.

The book begins in a small town outside Boston called Monument during the late Depression era.  As a teen, Paul is fascinated by tales of his uncle and this mysterious photograph from which everyone says the uncle was there but he isn’t in the photograph.  When that uncle visits, Paul learns his secret.  Certain male members of his family gain the ability to fade. It is typically passed down from uncles to nephews.  His uncle has it, and so does Paul.  This ability has been kept a strict secret.  Only the individuals with the power actually know about it and never reveal it to the rest of the family.  Or anyone else.  The uncle warns that it is not the gift it appears to be.


That’s the basic setup in the beginning, but the book is structured very different and goes several different places than you would expect from the first 100 pages or so.  It took me by surprise.  There are essentially 5 parts of the book, each focusing on a different character and each part jumps around in time forward many years into the future and then back again.  And honestly, for the first 2/3 of the book, the ability to fade is almost incidental to the story.  The story is really about Paul and his relationships with his family and especially his Aunt and how these relationships affect him later in life.

While using his ability, Paul finds out the fade can actually be a curse when he witnesses things he shouldn’t.  And it becomes apparent to him that the fade may be creating in him thoughts and urges he wouldn’t have otherwise.  This sets up what happens later in the book as we fast forward into the future.  There are other aspects to the fade that are interesting.  Paul can somewhat control the ability at first, but it sort of takes on a life of its own later.  Also, unlike other invisible men, Paul’s clothes become invisible when he fades.  Which is doubly interesting because other physical objects he’s touching, like a knife, won’t turn invisible.

Did I like the book?  Yes.  It was definitely not what I was expecting, but the characters were interesting as was the aspect of fading.


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Also, check out the blog Countdown to Halloween for more Halloween-y, bloggy AWESOMEness.

AWESOME-tober-fest 2015: Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1987) – H.F. Saint

Posted in books, Halloween, holiday, monsters, movies, pop culture with tags , , , , , , , , on October 12, 2015 by Paxton

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In 1987, H.F. Saint would write his first and only book, the sci-fi thriller, Memoirs of an Invisible Man.

memoirs of an invisible man

It’s essentially a more modern, comedic take on HG Wells’ classic story.  The book had great success after it was first published and subsequently Saint would receive an unusually high sum for the movie rights in the early 90s.  This lead to Saint deciding he would rather retire than write a sequel that potentially wouldn’t live up to his first book.

Like most everyone else, I was aware of the 1992 Chevy Chase movie of the same name, but not that it was based on a previous book.  I have thoughts on that movie that I’ll reveal in a separate review, and, consequently, I was a little reluctant to start the book because of those thoughts about the movie.  But I sucked it up for AWESOME-tober-fest 2015.

So, the plot.  Essentially, like I said, this is a new, more modern take on the concept of the invisible man.  Nick Halloway is an investment banker.  He travels with his sometimes gal pal Anne to a scientific demonstration at MicroMagnetics Labs and becomes caught in a massive explosion and wakes up several hours later completely invisible.  While sealing off the area, a shady government agency discovers that Nick survived the explosion, and is invisible, so they do everything they can to capture him.  Now Nick must stay one step ahead of his pursuers led doggedly by Colonel David Jenkins who seems to be several steps ahead of Nick who only narrowly escapes being caught on several occasions.  Can Nick keep from getting captured and becoming a lab rat/covert government agent for the rest of his life?  He’ll certainly try.

Memoirs of an Invisible Man

The book, to put it bluntly, is pretty damn awesome.  Luckily, I haven’t watched the movie since it was in the theater, so I went into this book mostly blind.  The events take a while to setup.  It’s about 60 pages before the lab explosion.  It’s over 100 pages before Nick escapes the labs of MicroMagnetics and goes on the run on the streets of New York.  Throughout this book HF Saint really dives into explaining the unique problems Halloway encounters because he’s invisible.  Not just the physical stuff like seeing through your eyelids, watching your food digest and walking without any visual body references.   Most of this stuff gets mentioned briefly in the original HG Wells book as well as the Universal Invisible Man movie.  No, it’s living on the streets as an invisible man where Saint really digs in.

How would Nick find a place to sleep?  Sneak into one of the many Manhattan men’s clubs?  Or vacant apartments?  What about food?  How do you walk the crowded streets of New York without bumping into other people and revealing yourself?  How do you shed your previous identity and acquire a new one when you are invisible and can’t provide ID or show up to meet anyone?  There are lots of problems Nick has to overcome which would be hard enough even without a determined government agency out to capture you at all costs.

The book has periods of Nick living rogue within New York and how his whole “system” works (how he acquires places to live, food and learning about the nature of his invisibility).  And then the government agency finds him and we have quick, thrilling periods where Nick is all of a sudden forced to drop everything and go on the run again.  It’s a roller coaster ride and one I thoroughly enjoyed which had me guessing and anticipating how it was going to end.

Another thing I like about this book is the way it’s setup.  It’s written by the main character sometime in the future.  He’s relating the events of the book to us as they happened in the past (like the title states, it’s a “memoir”).  This allows the book to drop small hints about how things turn out in the future.  Now that the book is over, I wish HF Saint would have continued with Nick Halloway’s adventures.

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Also, check out the blog Countdown to Halloween for more Halloween-y, bloggy AWESOMEness.

AWESOME-tober-fest 2015: Comic adaptations of HG Wells’ The Invisible Man

Posted in books, Classic literature, comic books, monsters, pop culture with tags , , , , , , , on October 5, 2015 by Paxton

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I’ve always been a fan of comic book adaptations of classic literature.  The most famous versions of this are the Classics Illustrated line of comics from the 50s and 60s.  But several other companies jumped on that bandwagon over the years.

The original HG Wells novel was adapted several times in comic book form. Here are a few of them.

Superior Stories #1 Superior Stories 01 interior
In 1955, Nesbit Publishing released Superior Stories #1 which featured an adaptation of Wells’ novel. Art and inks were done by Pete Morisi.  It was a mostly faithful adaptation except that they ended the story with the death of the lead character and did not include the epilogue from the novel involving the character of Thomas Marvel.  Nearly ten years later this exact adaptation would be reprinted in Fantastic Adventures #18.

Classics Illustrated Invis Man cover Classics Illustrated title page
In 1959 Classics Illustrated #125 would feature an adaptation of the Wells novel with art by Geoffrey Biggs.  As in the last comic, this adaptation also ends with the final fate of the invisible man and completely cuts out the novel’s epilogue.  It makes me wonder if these comics were actually adapting the Universal movie instead of the book.

Marvel Comics would adapt the Invisible Man novel twice.

Marvel Supernatural Thrillers 01 Marvel Supernatural Thrillers 02
Marvel Supernatural Thrillers #2 from 1973 would feature an adaptation of Wells’ novel. It had a script by Ron Goulant and art/layouts by Dan Adkins and Val Mayerik.  The art looks pretty great in that early 70s Marvel style that I love so much.  Unlike the Classics Illustrated adaptation above, this comic features the epilogue.

Marvel Classics Comics 25 cover Marvel Classics Comics #25 title page
In 1977, Marvel Classics Comics #25 would again adapt the novel but this time with art by Dino Castrillo and Rudy Messina and a script by the great Doug Moench.  I’m surprised they didn’t just reprint the Supernatural Thrillers adaptation from four years earlier in this issue, but the art and layouts are great here as well in that 70s Marvel horror style.  And yes, this adaptation also includes the novel’s epilogue.  Not sure why the first two comics omitted it.

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AWESOME-tober-fest 2015: The Invisible Man (1897) – HG Wells

Posted in books, Classic literature, monsters, pop culture with tags , , , , , , , on October 1, 2015 by Paxton

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Yesterday, I talked about one of the very first uses of invisibility in literary fiction. Today, I’m going to discuss probably the most well known use of invisibility in literary fiction.  I decided to go ahead and lead with this book because so much of invisibility in pop culture is derived either from this novel or from Universal’s 1933 movie adaptation, which I’ll review tomorrow.

The Invisible Man was HG Wells’ fifth novel after such classics as The Time Machine and The Island of Dr Moreau. It was originally serialized in Pearson’s Weekly in 1897 but collected into a novel that same year.


Surprisingly, I had never read this book. I thought I would have been assigned it in high school or college, but that can also be said for several other classics I recently read for AWESOME-tober-fest like Frankenstein and Dracula.  Due to this I, again, have to thank AWESOME-tober-fest for manufacturing a reason for me to shoehorn this book into my reading list.  Let’s see if it was as good as Frankenstein or as bad as Dracula.

The book is certainly well written.  It begins with a mysteriously bandaged man arriving at a boarding house in the small English town of Iping.  The bandaged man not only looks mysterious, he is a very impatient man.  He immediately starts rubbing everyone the wrong way and eventually is kicked out of the boarding house when he can’t settle his bill.  This leads us to discover that he was a scientist who invented an invisibility serum and tested it on himself.  He was trying to work on a reversal serum when he arrived in Iping.

While down and out, he tries to rely on several people for help, but can’t seem to get it together.  All the while, he’s slowly going crazy from the chemicals he’s used on himself and fashions the idea that he’s going to take advantage of the invisibility and start a reign of terror to take over the country, starting with the citizens of Iping.  Will he succeed?


The story is very well told.  I like the “mysterious stranger” beginning of the novel (despite that the mystery is completely dissolved by the blatant title of the novel).  Seeing Griffin arrive, begin behaving strange and treat everyone so contemptuously is a very in your face way to start the novel.  And I like it.  Eventually, the events that precede the novel are discussed at length about two thirds of the way into the story and by then, you are ready and anxious to hear how Griffin got to where he was.  And HG Wells doesn’t disappoint with the “science-y” talk.  While much of it might be well sounding gibberish, it certainly sounds impressive to hear Wells explain the invisibility science through Griffin.  And there were several disadvantages to invisibility that Wells mentions that I didn’t expect to be brought up like not being able to sleep because you can see right through your eyelids, or that you can see food digesting in your stomach for an hour after you’ve eaten.  Even down to the weather like rain or snow collecting on your head and shoulders making you visible again.  Or dirt and mud collecting on your feet and fingernails also making you visible.  I had expected these things to have come out of later novels and movies, but not this original story.

Things I didn’t like.  The book seemed a little long.  It felt like Wells was padding out the pages a little.  Especially during the scenes where Griffin is discussing what he did before the beginning of the novel.  Some of that stuff is great, but it also felt a little too long.  And some of the side characters have crazy dialects.  It’s supposed to be English countryside dialect, and I can’t speak to the accuracy of that, but it’s damn near unreadable.

But those are small nitpicks, honestly.  I would recommend this book.  Is it as good as Shelley’s Frankenstein?  No, but it’s definitely a good, fun read and I’m happy to say not complete garbage like another classic monster book I know (looking at you Dracula).

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Also, check out the blog Countdown to Halloween for more Halloween-y, bloggy AWESOMEness.

AWESOME-tober-fest 2015: What Was It? A Mystery (1859) by Fitz-James O’brien

Posted in books, Classic literature, Genres, Halloween, holiday, horror, monsters, pop culture with tags , , , , , , on September 30, 2015 by Paxton

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And we are off! So, I had planned on beginning AWESOME-tober-fest 2015 on October 1, but I got excited and I’ve decided to start one day early. Today. So, enjoy everyone, my discussion of all things invisible man begins NOW.

Usually with any discussion of invisible men, ground zero is assumed to be HG Wells’ 1897 story, The Invisible Man. And yes, that is probably the most important work on invisibility to date. And yes, I am going to review that book (check back tomorrow). However, Wells’ story wasn’t the first to feature invisibility, or an invisible man.


In 1859 Harper’s Weekly published a short story by Fitz-James O’Brien titled What Was It? A Mystery.  O’Brien is considered to be one of the forerunners of science fiction.  And this particular short story is considered one of the earliest known uses of invisibility.  It predated HG Wells’ story by nearly 40 years.

I was doing research on invisibility for this month and discovered an anthology from the 70s that included stories about invisibility.  It was called Invisible Men and it’s edited by Basil Davenport.


I looked through the list of stories included. There is one from Wells himself, but not the titular Invisible Man.  It’s another story entitled The New Accelerator. O’Brien’s short story was also included. Doing a little more research I discovered the history behind O’Brien and this particular story and decided that I should give it a read.

It’s a very interesting and atmospheric story.  It’s based in an old apartment building and features several of the renters.  One of them is attacked by an unseen force one evening.  The unseen force is captured and tied to the bed.  The renters try to figure out what it is and even take a plaster cast of it.  But the invisible being dies before they can discover what it is.  That’s the long and short of it.

It’s structure is very similar to a lot of Lovecraft’s early stuff.  The story is told by a narrator from the present who is relating events that happened in the past.  The events are never really fully explained and it leaves you with an uneasy, creepy feeling.  Another similar story that comes to mind is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s short and creepy The Ring of Thoth as well as Lovecraft’s Out of the Aeons.

And that is What Was It? A Mystery, one of the first uses of invisibility in literary fiction.  It was a fun and interesting read.  Especially to set the table for the movies and books to come this month.

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Also, check out the blog Countdown to Halloween for more Halloween-y, bloggy AWESOMEness.

High Fantasy Month is back to slay some dragons

Posted in books, pop culture, reviews with tags , , , , on February 16, 2015 by Paxton

High Fantasy Month

The last time I did this was back in July, so I thought it was time to knock out a few more fantasy books.  Next time, I may switch up the media and do High Fantasy movies instead of books only.  I’ve been sort of dying to see Sword & the Sorceror.

Anyway, recently I bought a few fantasy books I’ve been eyeballing during a fire sale on Google Play and Amazon. So let’s see how I did.

The Wise Man’s Fear: The Kingkiller Chronicle: Day Two (2011) – Patrick Rothfuss – I read the first book in Rothfuss’ series, The Name of the Wind, back in January 2014 and I enjoyed it. It was very story heavy with lots of characters with weird names but the book is well written and I was very interested in the world that Rothfuss had built.  So, when I found the sequel on sale for super cheap a few months ago on Google Play, I snatched it up. It continues the story of Kvothe, a legendary arcanist (ie magic user) who is relating the unbelievable events of his life story to a scribe.  Overall, this book is good.  However, it’s LOOOOONG.  The eBook is 875 pages long.  And it feels every bit of that length.  And I didn’t realize this, but it’s also a road book.  The main character, Kvothe, is sent out on a journey that lasts FOREVER.  He finishes the initial task on the journey and then goes off on an interlude. And then another interlude.  And another.  To infinity.  I was ready for the book to end.  But the book is written very well and is set in an interesting world with an interesting take on magic.  I just think, since we KNOW this book is continuing into a third book, that Rothfuss should have ended it a little sooner.  And I feel this is a gripe I have with many books in the fantasy genre.

Troll Mountain: The Complete Novel (2014) – Matthew Reilly – I’ve read most of Matthew Reilly’s books. He’s a great action adventure author who’s most famous series involves a special forces officer code-named Scarecrow.  So, this was a bit of a genre departure for Reilly.  It’s a junior fantasy adventure.  Very simple.  Short.  The novel is in three parts and each part is only about 50 pages long.  I actually liked it quite a lot.  It reminds me of L Frank Baum’s fantasy stories.  Like this could have been a lost fantasy fable found in his papers after he died.  It has that type of heart and charm with a touch of morality and lessons to be learned.  The story involves our hero, Raf, who has a sister that has fallen ill to a disease that is plaguing the land.  There are trolls living in a nearby mountain that have an elixir that will cure it but they require a high payment.  Raf, who is poor, decides to travel to Troll Mountain, sneak into their vault and steal the elixir in order to save his sister.  It’s a pretty fun, quick and light read that I highly recommend.

Mistborn: The Final Empire (Book 1) (2006) – Brandon Sanderson – I’ve had my eye on Sanderson’s Mistborn Trilogy for a while.  Finally Amazon put the Kindle versions on sale for a song (all 3 books for less than $6) and I snatched them right up.  So, I read the first book in the trilogy and it’s pretty damn good.  The world Sanderson creates is interesting and he has filled this world with interesting characters and a very interesting system of magic.  And the setup is similar to something you’d see in another fantasy series I like, The Lies of Lock Lamora by Scott Lynch.  It’s a group of thieves and cons who are hired to perform an impossible heist.  Exactly the type of plot I love.  I will definitely continue this trilogy.  However, I have a similar gripe about this book that I had with the first book in this list.  The book is a little bit too long.  The first book in this trilogy is nearly 700 pages.  Knowing there are two more books in this series, reading through to 700 pages starts to get a little tiring.  And slightly annoying.  Even when I enjoy the characters and subject matter, story fatigue sets in around 600-700 pages.  However, that being said, I really did enjoy the book and would recommend it.

The Second Book Of Swords – Fred Saberhagen – You’ll recall during my last High Fantasy Month that I read Fred Saberhagen’s First Book of Swords. I actually have the compilation of all three of the original swords books, so I thought I’d pick up the book and read the second book in the series.  But, alas, I didn’t get much further than 4-5 pages.  I just couldn’t get into it.  I kept glazing over reading the pages and nothing would stick.  Not sure what was wrong.  I’m close to saying I’m not reading this series anymore, but I may give it a few months and try again.  When I couldn’t finish this book, I started to read Mistborn instead.  And you see how that turned out, so clearly it was an issue with this story and not with me getting tired of reading fantasy books.


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