Book Review: HONESTLY: My Life and Stryper Revealed

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honestly my life and stryper

Michael Sweet
Big3 Records
2014

  • “Honestly” coincides with the release of Michael’s log awaited solo album “I’m Not Your Suicide”. Michael Sweet, in this – his first autobiography – chronicles his life as the founding member, songwriter, singer, and guitarist of the pioneering Christian rock band Stryper. The first Christian rock band to see chart-topping success on MTV, Stryper went on to see over 10 million albums and has sold out arenas all over the world. Sweet gives and honest an moving account of the unexpected highs and lows throughout his tumultuous path to success. It’s especially fitting to find the intensely personal nature of these musical expressions supplementing the vastly thorough and revealing subject matter of the book Honestly, titled ever so poignantly after the chart-topping Stryper song of the same name. Not only does Sweet delve further into his rarely discussed youth, but offers a full array of rock n’ roll antidotes, plus several surprises from his family and faith journeys.

I, like many others I would presume, first discovered Stryper by way of the Top 40 station I listened to back in 1987. They were doing the nightly “Top 10 At 10”, and their song “Honestly” debuted that night. I remember not being too into it (it was, after all, a ballad, hair metal power ballad or not), but did think the lady singing had a pretty voice. Obviously, later on I discovered my faux pas, as well as really getting into Stryper after obtaining a copy of the album that song appeared on, To Hell With The Devil, a year or so later.

What I’m trying to say here, is that I’m a massive Stryper fan. Sure, I hopped on with what many will argue is their peak album; but, I’ve stuck with them through the dark times, through the breakup and consequent dry period, up to the reunion at the Stryper Expo, through being at their set at Cornerstone (I didn’t make it to the stage, that place was packed out…I did manage to hear some of their songs from the distance, though), to their first album release in over a decade, to their show in Omaha back in 2016 for the anniversary tour for the album that got me into them in the first place, to now.

So, you would think that I would have immediately devoured the autobiography / memoir of the band’s singer / guitarist / founding member Michael Sweet the moment it was published and released. And I would have…only, at the time I didn’t have a Kindle account, and my reading cue was already pretty impressive. Really, reading this only five years after the fact isn’t that much of a stretch considering my reading habits. Which is ravenous.

Anyway, Honestly: My Life and Stryper Revealed is the autobiography of Michael Sweet. Pretty obvious, but I needed some way to segue into the review of this book. Within the pages, he relates his early days growing up in California and his early forays into music along with his brother Robert, playing gigs in High School, paying the dues with Roxx Regime on the Sunset Strip in the 80s, and finally leading up to the formation of Stryper and the ups and downs of the initial success, his leaving the band in the early 90s, his solo career, and what lead up to the unexpected revival of Stryper in the new millennium. All of this is presented from his point of view, his thoughts on what happened, along with some surprising tidbits and amusing anecdotes along the way. For instance, apparently the day they were at the Enigma Records offices to get signed, the staff there was celebrating Aleister Crowley’s birthday. I’m surprised this is never brought up by those anti-Christian rock crusaders I’ve come across in the ensuing decades.

Overall: Honestly: My Life and Stryper Revealed was a fascinating journey through the eyes of Michael Sweet. There was information in there that I didn’t know about, and I pride myself in being a thorough Rock+Metal-ologist. But, that’s what a good memoir is supposed to do. Mind you, it’s been a few years since this was released, and a lot more has happened since the events ending the book, so maybe there will be an updated edition some time in the future. Until then, this is recommended.

Book Review: TOXIC FAITH Experiencing Healing From Painful Spiritual Abuse

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toxic faith
Stephen Arterburn / Jack Felton
Shaw Books
1991 / 2001

People in pain have enough problems without some well-meaning folks trying to short-circuit the grief process by declaring that everything is a good event sent from God.

  • When religion becomes a means to avoid or control life, it becomes toxic. Those who possess a toxic faith have stepped across the line from a balanced perspective of God to an unbalanced faith in a weak, powerless or uncaring God. They seek a God to fix every mess, prevent every hurt, and mend every conflict. Toxic Faith distinguishes between a healthy faith and a misguided religiosity that traps believers in an addictive practice of religion. It shows how unbalanced ministries, misguided churches, and unscrupulous leaders can lead their followers away from God and into a desolate experience of religion that drives many to despair. Toxic Faith shows readers how to find hope for a return to genuine, healthy faith that can add meaning to life. In the words of the author, “I want to help you throw out that toxic faith and bring you back to the real thing.”

In my 30+ years of following Christ Jesus as Lord and Saviour, it would be safe to say that I’ve experienced my fair share of spiritual abuse at the hands of other professing believers in the faith. And I’m not starting this off by playing some kind of sympathetic victim card, here: Looking back, there were many times when I was the one doing the abusing, as well as being the recipient of the abuse as well. You point an accusing finger at someone, and there are three fingers pointed right back at you from the same hand, and all that. While the thumb is looking down, like its embarrassed, or saw something shiny on the ground, or something.

Anyway, the topic of spiritual abuse from churches and church leaders, and the healing from said abuse, has been one of the top issues I’ve found myself working with in the past few years. I’m no psychologist, and any and all of my learning about anything has been completely from a layman’s perspective (extracurricular, if you will). I won’t go into the details; let’s just say that, church splits suck, and there’s always more rot dwelling beneath the thinly whitewashed surface that comes to light, whether you want to acknowledge it or not. To which books like Toxic Faith has proved itself extremely valuable in the journey of healing and growth from something as traumatic as spiritual abuse.

Originally published in 1991, and co-authored by Stephen Arterburn–the founder of New Life Ministries and a noted psychologist–and Jack Felton–a licensed therapist and ordained minister at New Hope Christian Counseling Center and founder of Compassion Move Ministries–Toxic Faith really dives into the psychology behind why some leaders abuse their spiritual authority, why the victims never really recognize what’s happening to them, some of the tricks used to maintain that power, and most importantly how to break the chains of abuse and heal from it, going beyond offering empty platitudes and Christian-isms. All the while, they contrast church abuse with the Bible’s many examples of true spirituality and leadership, and really challenges the reader to examine their own motives in light of Scripture, calling anyone who is perpetrating the abuse to repent, submit to Jesus, and let the Holy Spirit heal and restore.

Toxic Faith is one of those books that I have to recommend everyone to read, not just the ones that are in spiritually abusive church situations. The stories and examples here really hit home for me, not just as a victim, but also being something of an abusive type back in the day. I’m not proud of it, but it’s something that the Holy Spirit is constantly working on to this day. In the end, we need something like this to not only shine light on our deeds, but also stick a mirror in front of all of us, whether or not we like what we see staring back at us. Highly recommended.

Book Review: HOLLYWOOD MONSTER

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hollywood monster
Robert Englund w/ Alan Godlsher
Pocket Books
2009

This may sound pretentious and over-analytical, but I believe that Freddy represented what looked to be a bad future for the post-boomer generation. It’s possible that Wes believed the youth of America were about to fall into a pile of shit – virtually all the parents in the Nightmare movies were flawed, so how could these kids turn out safe and sane? – and he might have created Freddy to represent a less-than-bright future.

  • When Robert englund first appeared as the razor-fingered, fedora-sporting, wise-cracking killer Freddy Kruger in 1984’s box office smash A Nightmare On Elm Street, he knew he’d created something special. Little did he suspect–with seven sequels and a TV series yet to come–that Freddy would become the horror icon of the decade, and Robert Englund the cult star of one of the most successful franchises in film history. Now, in Hollywood Monster, Robert peels away the mask to look back on his unusual and amazing career. Packed with insider savvy self-depreciating gallows wit, and a generous helping of never-before-revealed A Nightmare On Elm Street trivia, Robert Reveals how a self-confessed working stiff brought to life one of cinema’s most enduring villains.

I’m usually not a fan of autobiographies. No particular reason, other than I’m not generally in the mood to read someone ramble on about themselves, unless their work happens to coincide with any of my interests. And even then, there’s nothing quite like a good televised documentary to kill time with.

In this rare instance, though, I was haunting the shelves at the local Half Price Books (as I am want to do), and spotted this particular memoir by the very embodiment of my favorite horror movie icon, ever: Bill Gartley from The Mangler. I hear he’s done other characters as well.

In Hollywood Monsters: A Walk Down Elm Street with the Man of Your Dreams, Robert Englund writes about his start in the business of show and his work through the years, starting with the movies Eaten Alive and Galaxy Of Terror, his part as the nice alien on the V mini-series and television show, getting his iconic role as Freddy Kruger in the first Nightmare On Elm Street movie, his shot at directing with 976-EVIL, headlining the 1989 version of The Phantom Of The Opera, as well as a wealth of behind-the-scenes facts and anecdotes that come off more like your Great Uncle telling tales of their past adventures and such.

Overall: Hollywood Monster was a pretty good and entertaining, if somewhat breezy read. It’s not very long as memoirs go, and only took a few hours reading through it. Though, I did get a lot from it, as a fan of the character Freddy and Robert Englund in general. This isn’t a book slinging mud, dishing dirt, or the rants of a premadonna; Hollywood Monster is a grab a beer and let me tell you a tale about my career type of books. Recommended.

Book Review: SPURGEON’S SORROWS Realistic Hope for those who Suffer from Depression

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spurgeon's sorrows

Zack Eswine
Christian Focus Publications
2014

“There comes a time in most of our lives in which we no longer have the strength to lift ourselves out or to pretend ourselves strong. Sometimes our minds want to break because life stomped on us and God didn’t stop it.”

  • Christians should have the answers, shouldn’t they? Depression affects many people both personally and through the ones we love. Depression is not new though, indeed the “Prince of Preachers” C.H. Spurgeon struggled with depression and talked openly about it. Here Zack Eswine draws from Spurgeon’s experiences to encourage us. What Spurgeon found in his darkness can serve as a light in our own darkness. This is not a self-help guide, but rather “a handwritten note of one who wishes you well.”

When it comes to the subject of depression, it’s no secret that I’ve had a proverbial dog in this race for quite some time–I remember it first manifesting regularly when I was 9 years of age. After years of psychiatric therapy, it eventually turned out that the depression was a part of a bigger mental health condition, a chemical imbalance that I won’t go into detail here. This is just a book review, after all. I became a (for lack of a better term) born-again Christian when I was 15, and the long and short of it is that, at no point did I think that doing so would automatically negate the depression that came with my mental condition. Oh, there were plenty of other well-meaning Christians who were quick to tell me that this shouldn’t be, that I shouldn’t have this depression and have suicidal thoughts at times; that I obviously have some kind of secret sin that I need to confess and get right with God, or some kind of demon infesting my mind that needs to be cast out in faith, or the inevitable questioning the authenticity of my faith to begin with. Those are always amusing.

The point is, I’ve been a Christian for 30 years as of this writing, with depression and mental health issues being a part of my mortal life for over 35 of my 45 years of existence. During that time, I’ve come to three conclusions: 1) My depression is the medical result of the fallen nature of my physical body, and not a punishment for some secret sin or whatever, 2) my faith in the Lord has gotten stronger and deeper the more I confront my depression head-on, and 3) I really suck at trying to explain all this to my fellow Christians who don’t deal with clinical depression. Fortunately, there’s books like Spurgeon’s Sorrows to help put into words the very things that I can’t express goodly.

For the Obligatory History Lesson: Charles Spurgeon was an English Reformed Baptist preacher who lived in the 19th Century (between 1834 to 1892), and was nicknamed the “Prince of Preachers”, having influenced many Christians from many differing denominations throughout the years. The pastor at my church has been known to call me “Spurgeon” as a kind of term of endearment; I always thought it had to do with my beard and method of Bible study. Turns out, it had a lot to do with the fact that Spurgeon also struggled with depression as much as he upheld the faith.

In Spurgeon’s Sorrows, author Zack Eswine not only goes through the historical background and theological musings of Charles Spurgeon, but sheds the light and investigates his own struggle with depression and anxiety, and how the method of dealing with it ran contrary to the common response to depression and mental illness in Victorian times–namely, that Spurgeon saw it more as an opportunity to grow in his faith in Christ Jesus, rather than despair thinking that this somehow was a sign that God had rejected him. That, again, is an overly simplistic explanation for the purposes of the review; fortunately, Eswine does go a bit further here, presenting Spurgeon’s writings, Scripture references and, most of all, presenting hope that this goes deeper than the standard “maybe you have a secret sin that you’re not confessing”/”get right with God” type of answer that seems to be thrown around a lot without discernment.

Overall, for those Christians out there who are struggling with clinical depression, and are afraid to bring it up with others for fear of getting misunderstood and a pat “Just have faith and cheer up!” type answer, Spurgeon’s Sorrows is a must-read. It will help you to face depression for what it is, and do so in a way that will strengthen your faith rather than question it. Highly, highly recommended.

Book Review: The CHRISTIAN CULTURE SURVIVAL GUIDE

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1-22 - Book Review: The CHRISTIAN CULTURE SURVIVAL GUIDEMatthew Paul Turner
Relevant Books
2004

By taking a hilarious look at the peculiarities and churchisms that have been added to this thing called Christianity, The Christian Culture Survival Guide leaves you with a knowing smile and the reassurance that true faith is only found in Jesus…not in the gift aisle at the Heaven Sent Christian Bookstore.

One of the greatest gifts that the Holy Spirit hath bestowed upon me is the ability to find satire and parody within the Christian culture in which I haplessly dwell. I hate to say it, but we do tend to make it rather easy, almost self-parody at times. And it’s hard enough trying to remain graceful to my fellow followers of Christ Jesus, and still point out the utter ridiculousness we produce in the name of Sanctified Pop Culture. But, as much as we want to confess otherwise, we do have our own sacred cows, and I happen to find they make the best cheeseburgers. And I’m really not the only one.

Which brings us to Matthew Paul Turner’s first publication, The Christian Culture Survival Guide. I first discovered this in an add within the pages of Relevant Magazine back when it was first released. The title and description struck me as being by someone who possibly shared the same sense of humor I have about these things. And, as it turns out, yeah he does; I just didn’t get around to picking up this book until years later, when I stumbled across it in the shelves of the oft-mentioned Half Price Books. By then, I was well acquainted with Turner’s blog, Jesus Needs New PR, and have read his memoir Churched. So I nabbed the copy, and proceeded to read the entire thing in a few hours.

Yeah, The Christian Culture Survival Guide isn’t what you would call deeply theological, but that really isn’t a slam. It’s a complement, actually; Turner writes in a very accessible conversational style, telling stories and observations about the topic at hand, having been involved within CCM and witnessing things first-hand, showing a wry sense of humor that’s playfully biting but never nasty. There are several side-bars and notes within the chapters, as it’s layout is one of those hip hyper-kinetic styles that leaves me wondering if it was intentionally trying to ape the style of those youth group workbooks that I’ve seen back in the 1990s.

In any case, The Christian Culture Survival Guide is funny, spot-on and something everyone should read. At the very least, it should be issued to every kid in every youth group in America.

Book Review: SOUND OF THE BEAST- The Complete Headbanging History of Heavy Metal

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1-20 - Book Review: SOUND OF THE BEAST- The Complete Headbanging History of Heavy MetalIan Christe
!t Books
2003

In this first-ever atlas of the heavy metal phenomenon, Ian Christe delivers a bird’s-eye view of this dark and forbidden music. The ultimate head-banger history, Sound of the Beast reveals tales of concert hysteria, courtroom drama, and musical triumph with: Interviews with Black Sabbath, Metallica, Morbid Angel, Megadeth, Twisted Sister, Kiss, Slipknot, and many others; Genre boxes explaining black metal, power metal, thrash metal, nu metal, and more; More than a hundred rare and unpublished photos; A thirty-year graphic timeline of metal milestones, hilarious metal lists, and the twenty-five most original recordings of all time.

One of the limitations of publishing a book with the phrase “The Complete History Of…” in the title or subtitle is that, given the nature of time itself, it never really is the complete history. Sooner or later, you’re going to have to revise things, and even then, that’s not going to truly be the complete history. Unless the world blows up and society as we know it crumbles at the very moment the update is published, and whatever theoretical alien archaeologist that comes across a somehow preserved copy of it can claim it really is the complete history…

…and once again my brain has hijacked a perfectly good intro to another book review. My apologies, my tender dumplings.

All pedantic speculation aside, being a \,,/METALHEAD\,,/ as well as a general pop culture history junkie, running across a copy of Sound Of The Beast was a rather nice find in that Fremont, Nebraska Hasting’s store that one afternoon several years ago, browsing for nothing in particular, but snatching this up when I saw it there.

As a history of the only music that really matters in life, Sound Of The Beast is one of the better tomes written. It’s written more in a traditionally journalistic style, rather than the coffee table book style; and by that I mean, it’s doesn’t rely on a whole bunch of pictures with the wordy bits put in there scrapbook style. It isn’t a glorified magazine; this is an actual book, giving a well-written detail on the early roots of Metal, and exploring the origins and history of the various differing genres under the great Metal umbrella. Everything is covered here, the good, bad and ugly: Heavy Metal, Pop Metal, Thrash Metal, Death Metal, Black Metal, Hardcore/Crossover, Grindcore, Alternative Metal, Industrial Metal, and all points in between. And yes, there are pictures in here, rather interesting supplemental pictures, as well as side-bars recommending certain albums from the particular sub-genre of the chapter, as well as appendixes. My particular copy that I purchased happens to be one of the updated copies that includes a chapter on metal from the Middle East.

Overall, Sound Of The Beast is perhaps one of the best books published on the wide-covering topic of Heavy Metal I’ve read. This is one I’m going to be keeping in my personal collection for some time. At least, until I can justify upgrading to an “updated” complete history. Highly recommended.

Book Review: LORDS OF CHAOS- The Bloody Rise of the Satanic Metal Underground

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1-13 - Book Review: LORDS OF CHAOSMichael Moynihan / Didrik Soderlind
Feral House
1998, 2003 (revised)

At the close of the last millennium, more than 100 churches in Europe were torched and desecrated by adherents of Black Metal, the most extreme form of underground music on the planet. In an escalating unholy war, Black Metal bands and their obsessive fans have left a grim legacy of suicide, murder, and terrorism that continues to spread from Norway to Germany, Finland, America, and beyond… Written by two journalists with unique access to he hellish demimonde, the acclaimed cult bestseller Lords of Chaos has now been revised and expounded, with startling new revelations. This award-winning expose’ features hundreds of rare photos and exclusive interrogations with priests, police officers, Satanists, and leaders of demonic bands who believe the greater evil spawns the greatest glory.

My interest in the highly controversial \,,/METAL\,,/ style known as Black Metal began exactly the same way as my interest in Death Metal: by way of a Christian artist under the guise of Horde. Which seems counter-intuitive, really: if there’s any kind of metal that Christians shouldn’t be involved in, it should be Black Metal, right? Yeah, that’s adorable. But, that’s a story for another blog post. Right now, we’re looking at the book that remains in my library of \,,/METAL\,,/ learnin’: Lords Of Chaos.

Purporting to be the history of the rise and development of Black Metal, Lords Of Chaos seems to be a book that has gained its own sort of notoriety in the so-called Black Metal underground for…reasons. Let’s face it, the rhetoric that can be spouted by those who take the lifestyle so seriously can boarder on hilarious. Since none of these detractors have produced any kind of counter-point to this in a rational manner (i.e.: NOT resorting to phrases like “CRUSH YOUR BONES IN HELL!” in all caps, etc.), and this book has been given an updated version and is still in print, I’m guessing it holds a bit more journalistic weight.

The book starts with the history of black metal’s early progenitors, from bands like Venom, Celtic Frost and Bathory, who were more proto-black metal that inspired the isolated youth in Norway to bring about the infamous Second Wave, with bands like Burzum, Hellhammer, and–the main focus on much of the later chapters–Mayhem, among others that were part of the so-called Black Circle.

Much of the book is dedicated more to the nefarious extracurricular activities that gained notoriety in the early Nineteen-Nineties, from church burnings, to feuds between bands, to murder and the fallout. And while that is very much part of the culture of Black Metal, it made the overall feel of the book more sensationalist than it should have been. Otherwise, with its bit of music history, several essays, interviews and news reports, as well as pictures and a look at the development of Black Metal in other countries outside of Norway and Scandinavia, Lords Of Chaos is a rather interesting look into a subgenre that has come a long way since it was birthed in the cold darkness. It’s worth checking out, if anything to get a detailed look at the early eras.

Book Review: NIGHTMARES & DREAMSCAPES

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1-1 - Book Review: NIGHTMARES & DREAMSCAPESStephen King
Viking / Signet
1993

Nightmares & Dreamscapes is Stephen King’s third collection short stories released during his career (both Different Seasons and Four Past Midnight being collections of novellas than short stories, if you want to argue the point), originally in 1993. This was the period in my life where I was denouncing any kind of reading of fiction as “not what a good Christian does”, and having gotten rid of my rather extensive Stephen King collection along with the rest of my fiction literature that I deemed not worthy my time anymore the summer prior, when this one was published, I pretty much ignored its existence for a good decade, until I got back into enjoying fiction without that pesky self-acquired guilt that comes with self-righteous hoop-jumping. Long story. In any case, I came across a hardcover copy of Nightmares & Dreamscapes for a couple of bucks at a local Goodwill one early Fall afternoon in 2005, and dug into this rather massive tome not too long after that. And here’s my blow-by-blow of the thing:

“Dolan’s Cadillac”
A widower gets revenge on the mob boss that had his wife killed…it’s rather cathartic for him, really…

“The End of the Whole Mess”
A scientists discovers a chemical that reduces aggressive tendencies in people; only, too late after the fact, do they realize that it does the job too well…

“Suffer the Little Children”
A third grade teacher begins to suspect that the phrase “little monsters” may be less figurative than she thought…

“The Night Flier”
A reporter is chasing down a serial killer who thinks he’s a vampire…because vampires don’t really exist, right?

“Popsy”
A child abductor for human trafficking abducts the wrong kid…let’s just leave it at that…

“It Grows on You”
An old house in the town of Castle Rock seems to be taking on home upgrades all by itself…

“Chattery Teeth”
A guy buys a pair of novelty wind-up walking teeth and a hitchhiker, then proceeds to have a very bad, very weird rest of the day…

“Dedication”
A hotel maid has an encounter with an eccentric writer…then something weird happens…

“The Moving Finger”
A Jeopardy! enthusiast discovers a human finger poking its way out of the drain in his bathroom sink. Wackiness ensues.

“Sneakers”
A recording studio exec discovers that the pair of sneakers he’s been seeing in the adjacent stall in the work restroom belong to the ghost of a drug dealer killed by the studio exec’s boss. I can’t believe I just wrote that sentence.

“You Know They Got a Hell of a Band”
A couple get lost driving around Oregon, and happen upon a town called Rock And Roll Heaven, which may be a bit more that just an eccentric town name.

“Home Delivery”
A young and pregnant widow lives on a small remote island called Gennesault–“Jenny” for short–when an alien thing orbiting Earth at the South Pole causes all the dead to reanimate and attack the living. Again, I can’t believe I just wrote that sentence.

“Rainy Season”
An out-of-town couple rent a summer vacation house, and discover that it probably wasn’t a very good idea.

“My Pretty Pony”

An elderly man decides to give his grandson the gift of a pocket watch and an existentialist lecture, in that order. Fans of the precursor of the My Little Pony toy line will be sorely disappointed.

“Sorry, Right Number”
Originally a teleplay written for an episode of the Tales From The Darkside television series, this is the script form which tells the tale of a lady who uses a phone to talk to her long-dead husband years ago on the night of his death.

“The Ten O’Clock People”
A smoker tries to quit his habit, and because of that chemical imbalance has a They Live! experience…

“Crouch End”
Two London police officers discuss a case where an American woman’s husband disappeared one night, when the town turned into a Lovecraftian nightmare.

“The House on Maple Street”
Four children arrive back after Summer vacation to discover that their house is slowly turning into some sort of space ship. They then decide to use this to deal with their tyrannical stepfather. As one would do.

“The Fifth Quarter”
More of a hard-boiled crime story, written and published under the pen name John Swithen in the 1970s, this is the story of a crook getting revenge on the death of his friend after a botched caper.

“The Doctor’s Case”
A Sherlock Holmes mystery written for the 1987 collection The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, this one finds the legendary detective’s investigation into the murder of a sadistic British lord waylayed by a bunch of cats.

“Umney’s Last Case”
A 1930s Raymond Chandler-style private investigator has a very, very bad day.

“Head Down”
This is a non-fiction essay about Stephen King’s son Owen’s little league baseball team.

“Brooklyn August”
Another baseball-themed piece, this one a poem that waxes nostalgic for the so-called American national pastime.

“The Beggar and the Diamond”
Kind of a re-telling of an old Hindu parable, a beggar is kind of down about his situation in life, when he happens upon a shiny object that changes his life.

Overall, Nightmares & Dreamscapes is a rather decent collection. It showcases King’s ability to write beyond the label of “horror fiction”; and while that dark undertone of personality is always there, it just serves as a flavoring for the stories, no matter what kind is being written about. Fortunately, for all of you dark fantasy horror types, the stories are mostly of that variety. Maybe pick up a good mass market paperback of this and enjoy.

Book Review: CHOOSING DEATH: The Improbable History of Death Metal & Grindcore

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choosing death book coverAlbert Mudrian
Feral House
2004

In 1986, it was unimaginable that death metal and grindcore would ever impact popular culture. Yet this barbaric amalgam of hardcore punk and heavy metal would define the musical threshold of extremity for years to come. Initially circulated through an underground tape-trading network by scraggly, angry young boys, death metal and grindcore spread faster than a plague of undead zombies as bands rose from every corner of the globe. By 1992, the genre’s first legitimate label, Earache Records, had sold well over a million death metal and grindcore albums in the United States alone. Choosing Death: The Improbable History of Death Metal & Grindcore examines the rise, fall and resurrection of death metal and grindcore through the eyes and ringing ears of the artists, producers, and label owners who propelled the movements.

I first discovered the brutal goodness that was death metal back in the wee hours of the morning on the second day of the year 1993, when, on a long trip from Texas back to Nebraska, someone lent me their cassette of Mortificaiton’s self-titled debut album, after noticing I had a Vengeance Rising cassette in my collection. Certainly, you could argue that Vengeance Rising was doing a grindcore thing on Destruction Comes, and Mortification’s self-titled was really more thrash-based than actual death metal…but, I’m not doing this review to argue the finer points of genre-placement. Just giving you an idea of when I first became addicted to this form of brutal music goodness.

Choosing Death: The Improbable History of Death Metal & Grindcore showcases an interesting history of two of the more extreme forms of metal. Starting off with a rather amusing introduction by the late, great John Peel, we’re lead through the history of the early days of the grindcore scene that mutated out of the hardcore punk of the early 1980s, with bands that strove to be the fastest, hardest and brutal. From there, the evolution of the style through the Thatcher/Regan years, the emergence of specialty record labels and culture, through to the development of death metal and all the wackiness that brought about.

Outside of oral histories and personal stories from the front line of the movements, we also have some lists of definitive grindcore and death metal albums, as well as a list of where former artists are at now and what they’re doing, and a list of those who have fallen to the great equalizer of mankind: Death. Not the band, either. That robe-and-sythe sportin’ Swedish dude. You know the guy. Has a thing for chess.

As of this writing, a fully revised and update edition of the book has been released. The copy I found was the original pressing; if I were to urge you, though, it would be to buy the updated version, which I’m probably going to be doing myself if I happen upon it. Otherwise, Choosing Death is essential to have in your \,,/METAL\,,/ reading.

Book Review: STAR WARS vs STAR TREK

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star wars vs star trekMatt Forbeck
Aadams Media
2011

Who rules? Captain Kirk or Han Solo? Could a Jedi Knight use his light saber to deflect a beam from a phaser? Could a Cardassian beat a Chazrach in a fair fight? Would a Federation ship making the Kessel Run crack the Millennium Falcon’s record of less than twelve parsecs? And most important…in a fight between the Empire and the Federation, who would win? Ever since the first Trekkie walked out of Star Wars in 1977 and said “Meh!”, fans of the two stories have gone head to head over these questions. Now you can line up—side by side—aliens, technology, story points, weaponry, and heroes from the two greatest SF sagas of all time. Whether you can pronounce “Heglu’meH QaQ jajvarn!” (that’s “Today is a good day to die!” in Klingon) or can recite all the names of the members of the Imperial Senate (which meets on Coruscant), you’ll want the detailed information Matt Forbeck has compiled about both universes, as well as trivia, quizzes, quotes, and information drawn from these two iconic settings. So phasers on stun and light sabers at the ready! It’s on.

I came across this extended bit of bathroom reading material at one of the Bargain Priced book kiosks at a local Barnes & Noble, and thought the title was intriguing enough to pick up. At the very least, it would prove an amusing distraction. And it was…for about a few hours, as I happened to breeze through the entire book, cover-to-cover within a day. Which is not a bad thing, mind you; it speaks to the book’s easy accessibility.

Star Wars Vs. Star Trek takes the ever-popular “Who Would Win In A Fight Between…?” debates that are prevalent within the various geek subcultures, and crafts amusing scenarios that pit them against each other to determine the outcome in a surprisingly logical manner. After a couple of forwards written by Jeremy Bulloch (the original Boba Fett) and Tim Russ (Tuvok from Star Trek: Voyager), and a brief introduction to set the stage for the bits to come, we’re given a list of sections that explore every aspect of both the respective universes to see which side comes out superior, from the weaponry and technology, to the alien cultures, to how bad the villains are, to the ultimate showdown between the iconic characters themselves. Stats are given for the advantages and weaknesses of each character/type, and then a brief showdown write-up is made, providing an outcome and a winner which you may or may not agree with, but at least it’s given some thought beyond the “I prefer this, ergo it will win, neener neener neener.” argument.

Star Wars Vs. Star Trek worked best as bathroom reading material, or as a distraction while riding the bus or train or whatever. I don’t see reading this more than once, though. But, just in case you were wondering who—or what—would win in a showdown between these two iconic worlds, well…it’s worth a look-see.

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