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Category: Book Reviews

Various books I’ve read

Ancient Ethiopian Transformation Magic

Ancient Ethiopian Transformation Magic

Magic was outlawed in Ethiopia in the 15th century. Presented here and stored in the British Library, is an ancient Ethiopian manuscript with prayers to perform magical transformations (such as turning into a lion or other creatures). Curator Eyob Derillo describes what is in the text and how historians study it to understand ancient African magic beliefs.

Just looking at the text, it appears to be beautifully illustrated. I wonder if you can get downloaded scans

No End House

No End House

NoEnd House is an amature creepy-pasta short story from a few years back. It tells of a haunted house that has 6 progressively scarier rooms. Supposedly nobody who has made it to room six has ever been seen again.

The short story has a great premise, but many argue that Channel Zero’s version is an even better telling of the story. The six part series starts with them finding out about the haunted house and taking a visit. What happens next is some good story telling, but I thought the final chapters were a bit weaker than the first ones. The first few episodes are definitely worth a watch.

On a tangent, I think this is what Hollywood should be doing these days: taking promising but flawed ideas and working them into great ones. I understand why studios rehash tried and true IP’s like Star Trek, Star Wars, Marvell, etc. They always sell. But it doesn’t demonstrate any real talent to try and reboot old classics with tropey time travel, alternate universe takes, harmful revisionist cannons, or even political/social agendas. Most of the time they only succeeded in ruining critical themes, diluting, damaging, and turning classics into distasteful cash grabs. Lets wake up here Hollywood – there’s lots of great ideas out there if you have the eyes to see them.

Clue: A Novel by Michael McDowell

Clue: A Novel by Michael McDowell

The movie Clue wasn’t a great hit when it came out. It wasn’t until much later that it became popular. This initial flop had unfortunate side effects on the other items that came out with the move – especially the books. The lackluster movie performance meant that the books were quickly discontinued and forgotten.

Two books that came out with the movie were Clue by Michael McDowell, and Clue: The Storybook. I got a copy of the storybook via inter-library loan a few years back. It’s a fairly short picture book, but does reveal a much-hinted at secret 4th ending that was never filmed. The Clue novelization by Michael McDowell, however, is much more of a standard length paperback.

While I have a lot of nostalgia for the movie, watching and quoting it endlessly, the McDowell book …. well…. leaves a lot to be desired. The writing isn’t very good honestly and it certainly doesn’t capture the fun of the movie. You won’t learn anything new and it pretty much follows the movie shot-for-shot. Still, for a fan, it’s worth a casual read.

I have a copy of the novelization, but prices have been getting stratospheric lately. Running as much as $200-$400. I have considered scanning my book for posterity, just like I did for Clue: The Storybook.

But until I get to that stage, you can actually listen to an amatur reading of the un-abridged version via the above youtube video. Read by Austin Curry (sp?), he does mispronounce words on occasion, but it’s more than good enough to give a listen.

Best Favorite Scary Stories for Fall

Best Favorite Scary Stories for Fall

One of my favorite pastimes is reading and listening to classic spooky stories. There’s no better time for curling up with a spooky story than a cold, fall evening in front of the fire.

Here’s a collection of my all-time favorite scary stories by the best readers I could find:

Scary-comedy

This is a unique group – and old stories of this genre are very heavy on dry British/deadpan humor and often require a little bit of understanding of the times in 1800’s England. I highly recommend.

Plays/Dramatizations

Good general scary classics channels on YouTube:

Books

Oxford Book of English Ghost Stories – Michael Cox, R.A. Gilbert

Playlists:

Links:

Fighting Fantasy

Fighting Fantasy

I’m a huge fan of the Fighting Fantasy book created in 1982 by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone. I still have a good collection of them, but my first and favorite had to be Deathtrap Dungeon.

ChrisC has a nice Youtube channel with a few good playthroughs of some of my favorite adventure books. He does a good job on his walkthroughs and is a nice, calming listen. Honestly, I don’t know why more Twitch streamers don’t read old adventure books like this and let people vote on the next choice. Perhaps there’s an idea there…

Deathtrap Dungeon: Livingstone, Ian: 9780440917175: Amazon.com: Books

Back to the topic. My first introduction to the books was as a middle schooler and I can’t tell you how many times I checked out this white-cover Dell version of Deathtrap Dungeon. I soon found the City of Thieves, Warlock of Firetop Mountain, and many others. Before the internet, one had to visit many libraries to find more of them. There is even a great fan site that has lots of details about each bookincluding interesting errors.

They did a reprint series a few years back, but that has ended as well. The books can still be had on ebay, or if you’re interested in a more professional production, Eddie Marston was hired to do an interactive video series that’s had much higher production values.

The Pirates of Somalia 2017

The Pirates of Somalia 2017

LOS PIRATAS DE SOMALIA (THE PIRATES OF SOMALIA, 2017)".

This movie was MUCH better than I expected. It was extremely real and held a depth that the truth does more than standard formulaic Hollywood story telling. I highly recommend it as some solid telling of a real person’s story.

Warning: spoilers below.

The Pirates of Somalia tells the true story of Jay Bahadur, a young Canadian trying to make a name for himself while living at home and working as a questioner for supermarket product placing. In a chance meeting with his journalist idol, Seymour Tolbin, Tolbin inspires him with some wisdom. He says that the reason journalism is a pile of garbage today is because real journalism can’t be taught – it’s innate. Tolbin says his famous war reporting (that gave him shrapnel in his back) wasn’t by using his head, but following his instincts on the story. Tolbin tells Jay that if he wants to be a big journalist, you gotta go somewhere crazy. Somewhere western reporters would consider it too dangerous to go – and write about it.

In pondering this later, Jay thinks back to a paper he wrote about Somaliland. It’s a place no western journalist would go after the brutal civil war of the 1990’s (made even more infamous by the Black Hawk Down incident). Jay then sees a news report on the famous hijacking of Richard Phillips’ ship by Somali pirates. Taking a completely blind leap, he contacts their diplomatic office via email, is accepted to come, and flies there with almost no money.

The majority of the movie is a very realistic and humble telling of Jay’s adventures. He meets the pirates – but even more so in the telling of his struggles and relationships with the people of Somalia. Along the way, Jay learns some great life lessons – lessons I think are universal:

  • Boyah is a lower Somali pirate that sees himself as the Robin Hood of his people. He says he is only defending his country’s waters and just extracting the taxes due his people from illegal fishing. Jay starts shooting cans that are ‘the size of a man’s heart’ with Boyah. The pirate tells him to shoot the cans not as if at an enemy, but as if it’s his lover’s heart. When Jay finally hits one, he says the heart was that of his ex-girlfriend. Boyah is disappointed and says that it was a waste of bullets – because there was “no joy in your victory, only revenge.” While certainly not a Christian ethic of ‘turn the other cheek’ and forgiveness – he has a lot more insight than many. Even when we’re fighting for something, are we fighting for good – or just revenge? Is the aim of our activates to spread evil/vengeance/revenge – or to follow one’s heart to joy. I think it’s a something here about how one can still maintain their focus on true joy/vision/path while even in the thick of the worst evils.
  • At the end, Jay is brought in as an expert to speak with various western generals who ask him what he thinks is needed to stop the pirate hijackings. Jay remarks on Somali’s amazing bloodless election in 2002 in which the minority clan won the election – yet the transition of power happened without a single shot fired. He told of the fact Somalians used to settle disputes and wars using poetry – not guns. Jay sums up that, “A fledgling democracy doesn’t make headlines like pirates do. You guys wouldn’t be sitting here talking to me if I just wrote a book on a fledgling democracy. All I’m asking is that you guys start to look at Somalia in a different way, not so much as them vs us, but rather look at Somalia as us, when we were young.” This spoke to me in several ways. First is how shallow our journalism is – and that we, nor our style of sensationalistic journalism, really cares about the everyday struggles that actually matter to the lives of most people. It reminded me never to discount anyone. Game designers have a saying, “Every winner was once a beginner”. Every great person was once broken or needed help. It’s reminds me of the way of Christ – that is to enter into the often broken realities of every person with love, respect, and dignity. And to walk that path of redemption with them. That real conversion happens when we forgive and walk with our enemy.
  • If you have a natural gift, follow the innate leads it directs you towards. I found some of the lessons Jay got were the same as mine. Jay started following his dream of being a journalist. I found that I had a gift and natural drive towards computers and programming. I followed that gift throughout elementary school through college – despite the fact my pursuit of it lead me down strange paths. I taught myself to program when I was in elementary school. I bought my own computer when others were buying their first cars. I spent my money on programming books and devoured everything I could find at local libraries. Later, I entered programming contests and won more often than I imagined – even winning a trip to Japan to work with big corporations. Following instincts that weren’t the established path turned out to have opened countless career doors, experiences, and relationships I would never have had. Something I think Jay would agree with. I sure may not be easy at times, but following your instincts can be life-changing.
New Deathtrap Dungeon FMV game?

New Deathtrap Dungeon FMV game?

It’s no secret that I love the old Fighting Fantasy adventure gaming books. It’s a series that had the perfect mix of choose-your-own-adventure and D&D stories. It was something I discovered around 10 years old – and now have collected almost every book in the original series.

One of the best of the series was Deathtrap Dungeon. Turns out, Eddie Marsan is narrating a new FMV version of the original Deathtrap Dungeon book. Wireframe has a writeup on the new effort, and a short clip gives a teaser:

In reading that article, I found out about something equally cool. Knightmare was a British children’s adventure game show that ran on from 1987-1994. A team of four children – one who takes on the game by donning a sight-blocking helmet and the other three acting as their guide and advisers – attempting to complete a quest within a fantasy medieval environment, traversing a large dungeon and using their wits to overcome puzzles, obstacles and the unusual characters they meet along the journey.

The show is most notable for its use of blue screen chroma key to put the child into the dunngeon, use of ‘virtual reality’ interactive gameplay on television, and the high level of difficulty faced by every team.

I had no idea this show existed. I would have loved to watch it as a kid.

Update: 03/2022
The game is out and you can watch a full walkthrough here:


Clue: The Storybook

Clue: The Storybook

It’s no secret that I love Clue the movie. But there were also some books written from the screenplay. Unfortunately, the movie wasn’t a big commercial success so the books were quickly discontinued and forgotten. This means that getting your hands on one of them is rather difficult – and expensive.

Thanks to an inter-library loan, however, I recently acquired a copy of Clue: The Storybook and did a page by page scan. I then combined them into a convenient PDF. I was actually surprised the in-book pictures weren’t actually the best quality, but the book itself is a fun, albeit abbreviated and simple, read.

Probably the most interesting part of the book is that it reveals a secret 4th ending that had been rumored at, but never filmed.

Give the book a look here.

Details:

Clue: The Storybook
by Ann Matthews (Storybook Adaptor), Johnathan Lynn (Screenplay), John Landis (Story)
Published Dec 1, 1985
ISBN: 0671618679
ISBN13: 9780671618674

  • ISBN-10: 0671618679
  • ISBN-13: 978-0671618674

Crossing the Sahara in the 14th century

Crossing the Sahara in the 14th century

I have been fascinated with early stories of people trying to climb mountains, have early adventures through vast foreign lands, or cross the great unknown and deserted barrens.

Yet no stretch of land is so isolated, bare, and desolate as the Sahara desert. It’s hard for us to imagine the realities of traveling during the early centuries of modern civilization, but fortunately we have some documents from those periods. Some of which have been summarized and collected in a book called ‘The Golden Rhinoceros: Histories of the African Middle Ages‘, by Francois-Xavier Fauvelle.

First off, there were your guides. You had to travel in groups for safety from bandits and injury. Guides at the journey’s port cities had to be purchased to lead you across the desert. Deserts they knew fairly well because when not guiding, they might be the very raiders that would kill you on a different trip. They were often a shady lot that had little patience for the unprepared.

While today’s travelers complain about $4 bottles of water at the airport, the water situation was different for earlier Saharan travelers:

Then there was the problem of water. It would be even better to say the problem of thirst, your constant companion during the crossing. All travelers, all geographers say the same thing: the water is sometimes “fetid and lethal” and, Yaqut al-Hamawi humorously reckons, “has none of the qualities of water other than being liquid.” Such a beverage inevitably generates intestinal pains that make life difficult and sour the memory of the trans-Saharan experience. In good years, when there had been plenty of rain, water filled the rocky gullies, and people could drink and do laundry. In bad years, the burning wind dried out the water in the goatskins; consequently, a camel’s throat had to be cut and its stomach removed. The water it contained was drawn off into a sump and drunk with a straw. In the worst-case scenario, one could kill an addax antelope and follow a similar procedure to extract greenish water from its entrails.

We complain about uncomfortable airline seats for 8 hours while crossing the ocean at 30,000ft. Earlier travelers endured countless days/weeks of far worse inconveniences.

And then there were the small, but numerous and in the end obnoxious, daily inconveniences: the omnipresent fleas, which you would try to drive away by wearing cords soaked in mercury around your neck; the numerous flies everywhere there was a rotting carcass (i.e., precisely around the wells and the camps); and the snakes.

And then there was the ever present danger of dozing off, lack of attention during a stop, or just getting turning around in the maze of dunes to realizing you were separated and probably lost in the desert to die.

The caravan tempers these harsh conditions with strict discipline; it diminishes them through distractions. You will put distance between yourself and the column only at your own risk, the Berber leader must have said. Those who paid for the crossing would amuse themselves hunting addax, letting their dogs run free, and riding a bit ahead of the caravan to let their horses graze and to enjoy the invigorating wait. But the games, the intemperance of the city-dwellers, could cost them dearly. Even though caravans could be made up of hundreds, sometimes even thousands, of camels, one could quickly lose sight of them behind a curtain of dunes. A few centuries later, on the same stretch of desert, but from the opposite direction, a caravan of pilgrims lost two of its members in a row and yet noticed only a day and a night after they disappeared. Nobody dared go back to look for them for fear of being lost themselves. The author of the story concludes philosophically: “But our conscience was clear because we had warned them of the risks they were running by not abiding by the rules of the caravan.”