Book Review: BRIEF CASES (The Dresden Files)

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brief cases dresden filesJim Butcher
ACE
2018

It’s been three years since the last book in the Dresden Files series was released. Three long years without our favorite Chicago-based wizard detective to experience exciting supernatural wackiness vicariously through. Fortunately, there’s been a recent publication of another short story collection by Jim Butcher, something that will tide me over until the next book in the series comes out. Loves me some Dresden Files.

Anyway, yeah, Brief Cases was recently released through ACE Books, collecting several short stories that Butcher wrote for other publications, plus one that was only released on this collection, if I have my information correct. Let’s dive in and see what we got, shall we?

  • “A Fistful Of Warlocks”

We take a trip back to the Wild West of the 1800s, where the warden Anastasia Luccio rides into the town of Dodge City, hot on the heels of a warlock, and teams up with a deputy sherif named Wyatt Erp to take on the warlock’s posse and their zombie horde.

  • “B Is For Bigfoot”

Harry Dresden takes a case from a Bigfoot named Strength of a River in His Shoulders (River Shoulders for short) to check up on his son, who goes to school in Chicago. The kid might be being picked on by bullies; only, it turns out to be more than that.

  • “AAAA Wizardry”

Dresden regales a class of young wardens in training with a tale of when he took on a case involving a boogeyman to illustrate the five “A”s of wizardly investigation.

  • “I Was A Teenage Bigfoot”

Once again, Dresden takes a case from River Shoulders, this time to check up on his son — who is now a teenager and attending a private school — and find out why he’s sick. On account of, the son of Bigfoot shouldn’t be getting sick, let alone lain out in the infirmary. It might be black magic afoot…but you’d never guess for what ends.

  • “Curses”

Dresden is hired to try and get a curse put on Wrigley Field in 1945 lifted so the Cubs can actually win for once, darn it. This takes him deep in the realm of the Tylwyth Teg, to speak to the caster of the curse. Who knew the creatures of folklore were big baseball fans?

  • “Even Hand”

A story told from the point of view of John Marcone, the Chicago crime lord that’s a perpetual thorn in Dresden’s side. Here, Marcone is best upon by a rather nasty member of the Fomor — Cantrev Lord Mag — who’s there to collect a baby that was stolen by the White Court’s human servant Justine. Things go boom.

  • “Bigfoot On Campus”

One last case from River Shoulders, and this time he wants Dresden to check in on his now college-age son due to a premonition of danger. Which may hold some water, as Dresden discovers that the kid is dating the daughter of a White Court vampire.

  • “Bombshells

Told from Molly Carpenter’s point of view, from her post-wizard apprentice days, due to Dresden still being considered dead at this point; she takes a mission to infiltrate a Swartves stronghold to rescue Dresden’s half-brother Thomas Raith; only, she discovers things aren’t as cut and dried as they seem. To be fair, they never are.

  • “Cold Case”

Another one from Molly Carpenter’s point of view, this time as the newly-minted Lady of the Winter Court. She is charged with collecting a long-overdue tribute from the Miksani. After arriving at the small Alaskan seaport, she discovers the reason why they’ve been so tardy, and teams up with the young Warden Ramirez to get things back in order.

  • “Jury Duty”

Harry Dresden is summoned to jury duty in the case of a former bodyguard for a crime boss accused of the murder of a man one year prior. It seems fairly cut and dried only Dresden has that inkling that something’s not quite right. So he goes investigating, along with one of his werewolf friends. Wackiness ensues.

  • “Day One”

A story told from the perspective of everyone’s favorite polka-loving, Sword of Faith-wielding mortician, Waldo Butters; this one concerns Butters’ first case as a newly-minted Knight of the Cross, which involves a rogue baku that’s feeding off the fear of the children in a hospital ward.

  • “Zoo Day”

The final story in this collection has Dresden taking his ten-year-old daughter Maggie and his dog (and current guardian of Maggie) Mouse on a daddy/daughter/doggie day at the zoo to look at some animals. This one takes turns with the point of views, starting with Dresden, who encounters a young warlock; Maggie, where she faces off with some nasty haunts that are possessing other kids at the zoo; and finally Mouse, where he meets a dark figure from his past. Also, there’s french fries.

Of the stories in this collection, I believe I enjoyed “A Fistful Of Warlocks”, the three involving Bigfoot and his half-human, half-bigfoot son (especially the “Bigfoot On Campus”, as things really go boom there), and “Zoo Day”, as we not only get a good story involving Dresden trying to be something he’s not accustomed to — being a father — but also the three points of view, one being the ironically named Mouse. That was great, there.

Mind you, all the rest of the stories contained are all top-notch, containing the quality type of action, mystery and humor that comes with this series, only contained in easily digestible bite-sized pieces. I’m afraid I went through my Kindle edition of this a bit too fast, as per usual. It was that kind of engrossing. Recommended.

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Uncle NecRo Watches: READY PLAYER ONE

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UNCLE NECRO WATCHES

ready player one

Uncle NecRo just watched the ode to late 20th Century childhood nostalgia, Ready Player One, and he’s joined by Brian from the Will Code For Beer pubcast. What did they think about it? You’ll have to listen to find out…spoilers ahead, folks…

necrosarx@gmail.com
willcodeforbeer.wordpress.com
willcodeforbeershow@gmail.com

::END TRANSMISSION::

Movie Review: BRIGHT

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brightNetflix
2017
R

“This is like a nuclear weapon that grants wishes.”

In an alternate present day, humans, orcs, elves and faeries have been coexisting since the beginning of time. Two police officers, one a human, the other an orc, embark on a routine night patrol that will alter the future of their world as they know it. Battling both their own personal differences as well as an onslaught of enemies, they must work together to protect a young female elf and a thought-to-be-forgotten relic, which, in the wrong hands, could destroy everything.

When discussing with my friends movies of the past that are remembered fondly, but would agree could probably do with an updated redux, one that always springs to mind is Alien Nation. One of my many favorites from my youth, it’s a buddy cop sci-fi flick in which a human cop and a space alien cop who find themselves caught in the midst of shenanigans between other humans and the space alien refugees who are acclimating to human society. Yeah, it’s pretty heavy-handed with the social commentary, but I love it, and think it should be redone, especially in this political climate.

The reason why I bring this up is because I was getting some serious Alien Nation vibes while watching the Netflix original movie bright. I hate to say this, but Bright may be the closest we’ll get to a modern retelling of Alien Nation (sorry, District 9). And this one doesn’t even have space aliens.

Pause for a moment…is it bad that I feel the need to specify space aliens, and not just say “aliens”? I digress…

Bright takes place in a modern society where the folklore creatures of old have always existed, and dwell side-by-side with humans, giving rise to a different kind of class struggle, but still similar: the Elves are the rich upper-class, the Orcs are the lower class, while the humans are somewhere in the middle. And since the social commentary is about as subtle as a wrecking ball with the word “SUBTLE” spray painted on it, the regular prejudices between species abound.

So, anyhoo, the story of Bright involves a couple of LAPD cops–one human that’s just got back from leave after being shot by an orc while on duty, and the other an orc rookie–who come across an Elvin Bright and a magic wand. A “Bright” is essentially any being–human, orc and elf alike–that can wield magic and, most importantly, can hold a magic wand without being immediately atomized in the process. Now, the two cops who don’t really like each other to begin with have to survive the night protecting the elf and the wand from crooked cops, gang bangers, orc gang bangers, renegade elf cultists and the Magic Feds. Wackiness.

So far, since its release, Bright has been getting some divisive reviews, from those who praise it as a great gritty urban fantasy movie, and those who deride it as the worst movie to ever be released in 2017, if ever. I have yet to stumble across a review speculating that perhaps Brightis threatening The Lord Of The Rings as the most ambitious fantasy movie of the 21st Century, but then again the group of online reviewers and vloggers of movies is kind of limited. Anyway, let me throw in my paltry two cents on Bright.

I rather enjoyed Bright. Sure, it comes off as if someone just took two random genres and smooshed them together — “What if, like, Training Day or Lethal Weapon had, like, orcs and elves and other fantasy creatures?” — but for what it is, it’s a well-made multi-genre smooshing. Yes, the story follows the same beats as the other police drama thrillers that David Ayer has made — S.W.A.T., Street Kings, the aforementioned Training Day — and Will Smith once again plays Will Smith as a fill-in-the-blank. And did I mention the not-so-subtle social commentary? But, despite all this, the movie works on a level that I don’t think anyone was expecting. The dynamic between the main characters Ward and Jakoby works, as they don’t really like each other, but find themselves in a situation where they have to have each other’s backs. Mind you, the story is rather predictable, but at no point did things get stale along the way. Admittedly, at first I thought this was another adaptation of a comic book series, as the premise does seem custom-made for one. But no, this was an original script (in a matter of speaking). By far, my favorite character is the orc Jakoby, who refuses to succumb to stereotypes and try to do some good in a world that doesn’t seem to care for his type.

Overall, though the flaws are evident, I would recommend checking out Bright. You may like it, you may not, but it’s definitely not the worst thing ever to come out of 2017.

Movie Review: BEFORE I WAKE

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movie-review-before-i-wakeRelativity Media
2015
PG-13

“No one ever really goes away. Not completely. Because they live in our minds, and in our hearts.”

Foster parents Mark and Jessie welcome 8-year-old Cody into their home. The boy tells Jessie that he’s terrified to fall asleep, but she assumes it’s just a natural fear for any young child. The couple becomes startled when their dead biological son suddenly appears in their living room. To their surprise, Cody’s dreams can magically become real but so can his nightmares. Mark and Jessie must now uncover the truth behind Cody’s mysterious ability before his imagination harms them all.

I heard about Before I Wake from a co-worker, who told me it was a very scary movie and I should check it out. Considering that I have very different ideas of what constitutes a “scary movie” than most Normals, I did the standard smile-and-nod and filed the suggestion into the darker back-regions of my brain for possible future reference. Which didn’t take too long, because I then got ahold of a viewing copy to watch, and popped it in one Sunday evening.

Doing a bit of research on this movie, it appears that Before I Wake was plagued by a some studio issues, causing it to be delayed in its official release. It was finished and ready in 2014, and was originally supposed to be out in May of 2015, but was then delayed due to Relativity Media–the US distributor of the flick–going into bankruptcy. It happens. Also, apparently the movie was originally titled Somnia, but was changed to its current title over director Mike Flanagan’s objections.

Speaking of Mike Flanagan, he also directed previously a certain little favorite in mind-bending horror of mine called Oculus back in 2013. Here in Before I Wake, his atmospheric style is very apparent, with a palpapal sense of underlying dread and dark foreboding spread on like peanut butter. Although, I would really classify Before I Wake as more of a dark urban fantasy rather than straight horror; the story itself seem more in the vein of Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, incorporating kind of a dark whimsy along with the horrific coloring.

The movie starts off with a clearly disturbed father about to shoot his young foster son while the lad is sleeping, but gets distracted by…something. So at least we’re spared a potential child snuff film. Some time later, we see the young boy being placed with another foster couple, who take in the boy to help not only him, but also in hopes to heal from the unfortunate death of their own son. While they’re settling in, the couple discover that their ward is able to manifest his dreams in reality…which also includes a recurring nightmare.

I have to give this movie props: in lesser hands, Before I Wake could have easily become a run-of-the-mill creepy child with creepy powers flick. Fortunately, the cast is a good one, who manage to get the majority of the unease and dread atmosphere from the more natural sense of mourning due to the loss of the characters’ son and trying to move on with their lives. This helps to magnify the supernatural events that start happening, compounding the nightmares that result due to the child’s powers. The characters are flawed, lending to a depth that’s more than just archetype.

The effects here are very effective, especially with the fantastical nightmare elements that were very, very creepy visually speaking. I do have to say, though, that the ending was a bit weak; while I understand the explanation as to the why behind the nightmare that manifests itself, how it was ultimately defeated caused me to groan out loud.

Overall, while it didn’t necessarily blow my mind, I did find Before I Wake to be a better-than-average slow burning dark urban fantasty that doesn’t tie things up as easily as it could have. It will definitely have you thinking a bit more about it by the time the end credits roll. Worth a look-see.

Book Review: SKIN GAME (The Dresden Files)

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skin-game-the-dresden-filesJim Butcher
ROC
2014

Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard, is about to have a very bad day. Because as Winter Knight to the Queen of Air and Darkness, Harry never knows what the scheming Mab might want him to do. Usually, it’s something awful. He doesn’t know the half of it. Mab has just traded Harry’s skills to pay off one of her debts. And now he must help a group of supernatural villains—led by one of Harry’s most dreaded and despised enemies, Nicodemus Archleone—to break into the highest-security vault in town so that they can then access the highest-security vault in the Nevernever. It’s a smash-and-grab job to recover the literal Holy Grail from the vaults of the greatest treasure hoard in the supernatural world—which belongs to the one and only Hades, Lord of the freaking Underworld and generally unpleasant character. Worse, Dresden suspects that there is another game afoot that no one is talking about. And he’s dead certain that Nicodemus has no intention of allowing any of his crew to survive the experience. Especially Harry. Dresden’s always been tricky, but he’s going to have to up his backstabbing game to survive this mess—assuming his own allies don’t end up killing him before his enemies get the chance…

So, here we are at the fifteenth book in the seemingly never-ending Dresden Files series. The latest one, and as such am waiting for the next book to come out as I’m writing this. To recap, I came across reading this series due to a friend insisting that I read this, then promptly loaning me all 16 books (including the short story collection) to do so. I managed to binge read them all in a handful of months, not just because I’m an old hand at reading things in a rather timely manner (it helps to come from a family of readers), but also because I found the series to be a fantastic way to get lost into another world, and thus all those multi-hundred pages goes by rather quickly. You can keep your Harry Potter; I have a favorite wizard right here. Anyhoo…

Over the course of the series, Dresden has crossed the paths of some very big names in bad-assery. All those names pale in comparison with the Lord of the Underworld himself, the ruler of Death and Darkness, and inspiration for many a garage metal band in existence: Hades. And Dresden finds himself borrowed out to the fallen angel Nicodemus to pull an Indiana Jones and fetch the Holy Grail from the vaults of Hades himself. As you may imagine, trying to get in there and then out without getting hit with a fate presumably worse than death isn’t easy. Let’s just say, not only wackiness ensues, but plenty of subterfuge, twists and action going on. Then the whole thing ends with Butters getting a level up in his game and acquiring a possible copyright infringement.

Overall, Skin Game could be considered a “filler episode” in the Dresden series. It didn’t really forward the overarching journey, but it was a pretty good (if not a bit derivative, but what urban fantasy isn’t, really?) story.

Book Review: SIDE JOBS (The Dresden Files)

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side-jobs-the-dresden-filesJim Butcher
ROC
2010

In between the publication of the several novels of the Dresden Files series, author Jim Butcher also wrote a bunch of short stories featuring his put-upon wizard detective; some for various magazines, some for short story collections, all a little bit of story that mostly takes place in-between the regular novels, sometimes filling in some continuity. Either way, short stories are fun, so let’s take a look at this collection, shall we?

“A Restoration of Faith”
Harry is on the case of finding a runaway, only to learn upon finding her that the parents are planning on accusing Harry of kidnapping her to save face. Then they encouter a troll that has taken up residence under a bridge they need to cross. Wackiness ensues…

“Publicity and Advertising (Vignette)”
Harry and Bob the Skull have a discussion on how to properly write a Yellow Pages ad. Um, that’s it, really. No wackiness to ensue…

“Something Borrowed”
Harry is getting ready as best man at the wedding of a couple of the Alphas, when the Bride goes missing, and the Groom being tricked into marrying one of the faeries of the Winter Court. Wackiness ensues…

“It’s My Birthday, Too”
On his White Court vampire half-brother Thomas’ birthday, the vampire-themed LARP (just go with it) is interrupted by a jilted former member of the LARP who has been turned into a Black Court vampire and is filled with NERD RAGE! Wackiness ensues…

“Heorot”
A newlywed woman is kidnapped at a local beer fest, along with a keg of microbrew. Turns out it’s a descendant of Grendel, who needs mead in order to breed a child of his own. Wackiness ensues…

“Harry’s Day Off”
Harry has a rare day off, and he plans on spending it on a date. Oh, la-la. Only, these carefully laid plans of mice and men are interrupted by his apprentice wanting to bone up on some potion-making, and by a couple of the Alphas needing a magical flea-dip to get rid of psychophagic mites. Wackiness ensues…

“Backup”
Entirely told by the point of view of Harry’s half-brother Thomas Raith, as he helps out Harry with locating a kidnapped child while keeping Harry unaware that he’s actually helping out. Wackiness ensues…

“The Warrior”
Someone is targeting Michael Carpenter’s family in a bid to get ahold of the Sword of the Cross that Michael no longer wields. The attempts at stealing the swords fail, and then one of Michael’s daughters is kidnapped to try and force their surrender. Kidnap the daughter of a former Knight of the Cross? Bad idea…

“Last Call”
A spell is placed on MacAnally’s famous homemade beer by a maenad to control people attending some kind of sporting event. Wackiness ensues…

“Love Hurts”
After a series of bizarre double-suicides, Harry and Karrin Murphy investigate the source at a carnival outside of Chicago. Turns out it’s the work of a Red Court vampire, casting love spells because they wanted to stick it to the White Court vampires. Um, yeah…

“Aftermath”
Taking place immediately after the events in Changes, Karrin Murphy doesn’t accept that Harry is really dead, on account that his body wasn’t found. She moves on with her life, continuing on the fight against the supernatural evil in Chicago while maintaining her standing as a policewoman…

Overall, Side Jobs is a nifty collection of bite-sized Dresden stories that pack in the humor, mystery and excitement of your standard Dresden story while keeping things brief yet satisfying. Mostly. “Publicity and Advertising (Vignette)” is just that: a vignette rather than a proper story. But still, rather amusing. In any case, very much worth checking out for a nice suplament companion collection to the regular novels in the series.

Book Review: COLD DAYS (The Dresden Files)

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cold-days-dresden-filesJim Butcher
ROC
2012

After being murdered by a mystery assailant, navigating his way through the realm between life and death, and being brought back to the mortal world, Harry realizes that maybe death wasn’t all that bad. Because he is no longer Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard. He is now Harry Dresden, Winter Knight to Mab, the Queen of Air and Darkness. After Harry had no choice but to swear his fealty, Mab wasn’t about to let something as petty as death steal away the prize she had sought for so long. And now, her word is his command, no matter what she wants him to do, no matter where she wants him to go, and no matter who she wants him to kill. Guess which Mab wants first? Of course, it won’t be an ordinary, everyday assassination. Mab wants her newest minion to pull off the impossible: kill an immortal. No problem there, right? And to make matters worse, there exists a growing threat to an unfathomable source of magic that could land Harry in the sort of trouble that will make death look like a holiday. Beset by enemies new and old, Harry must gather his friends and allies, prevent the annihilation of countless innocents, and find a way out of his eternal subservience before his newfound powers claim the only thing he has left to call his own…his soul.

Here we are, the fourteenth entry into the Dresden Files, and we’ve seen our hapless wizard detective warden take on vampires, werewolves, rogue FBI agents, dark wizards and warlocks, various members of the Nevernever, cantankerous teenagers, unrequited love, and even death itself, to name but a few. Now, having been brought back to the land of the living, Dresden is now taking on perhaps the greatest challenge in his life: fulfilling his duties as the new Winter Knight in service to the Winter Fae without losing his humanity in the process. Does he succeed? Like it’s going to be wrapped up in the course of one book, silly human.

Dresden has been back in the land of the living, and has spent considerable time recuperating in the Fae Court of Winter, preparing for his official inauguration as Winter Knight. Of course, this being the court of the Winter Queen, things aren’t really as cut and dried as a formal party. The festivities include several attempts to kill Dresden, set up by the Winter Lady Maeve, which Dresden takes care of with the help of his physical therapist and Kris Kringle. I’m not making that up. Thus, Mab gives Dresden his first directive as the Winter Knight: kill the Winter Lady. You ever try to kill an immortal? Not as easy as it sounds. But, thanks to some advise by Bob the Skull, there’s a chance…on Halloween, which is a mere few days away. Also, Demonreach–that mysterious island that Dresden is spiritually tied to–is building energy and may be in danger of exploding. This may be due to the various supernatural entities entrapped underneath in a kind of metaphysical prison. In the meantime, after some consulting with various individuals, turns out Maeve may be quite insane (well, more-so than normal…whatever that amounts to), which leads to an obligatory showdown at Demonreach, which ends up with some unexpected promotions.

Tell the truth, it’s a bit rough trying to follow up Changes, but as with Ghost Story, Cold Days doesn’t really concern itself with top that one, and instead forge ahead with a story all its own that continues the journey that Dresden is making. And logically, we’d have to see how he handles his new title as the Winter Queen’s enforcer, which seems to be better than the previous Winter Knight had handled things. Dresden may be operating within the belly of the proverbial beast, but that just helps enhance the delicious mystery that he has to figure out. He’s come a long way from a mere wizard trying to get by as a supernatural detective in Chi-town, and by the time we get to the end of the book, the changes to some of the key characters in Dresden’s life come as quite the surprise. At least to me; I have a tendency to get so wrapped up in the story I’m not paying attention to how things may end. Recommended, as always.

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