Familiars (Edited by Denise Little)

Most of the stories here are at least adequate. A couple fall into the category of cute but not mind-blowing, like the very first one where magicians' familiars are repeatedly going missing, and the person who finally puts a stop to it is a relatively weak apothecary because unlike the more powerful wizards he was attentive enough to notice his cat missing right away. My favorite story might have been the one about a saleswoman whose rival was killed in a car accident then reincarnated as a rat and sent back to help her with her sales figures. Another strong one is about an ancient Egyptian village being tormented by a darkness working through a corrupted priest until an army of cats rises up against it, which does result in a lot of... let's say casualties, but given the context I didn't get too angry over it.

As for the bad, the basis of one is that the Clintons' cat, Socks, was actually a demon sent from Hell to influence the Clintons and spread chaos through them. Look, you won't hear any disagreements from me that the Clintons are a family of dumpster fires given human form, but leave the cat alone. Another is about a witch-man (which I think is technically a "warlock", but the story calls him a "witch") whose magical mischief draws the attention of a witch hunter. He swaps bodies among himself, his dog, and the witch hunter and gets the dog with the witch hunter inside it hanged while he skips town, and afterwards I was all "... wait, so the bad guy won?" And the one about all the animals in the world killing themselves to rejoin "the original animal" just put me in a really foul mood.

The final story is 90 pages when the collection is 319. Yeah, one story takes up over a quarter of the entire book. While it's not the worst story in the collection (that would be the dog-hanging one), it's the most incoherent. It's about a virtual reality MMORPG, and this girl ends up with a dragon that manifests in the real world, and it's actually a program needed to combat a virus that can bring the global network down, or something? About the only thing I could comprehend was the very end where the kids are battling through some security systems as their MMO personas, if only because of how cliched that is.

Going back to the animal genocide one, a running plot device in the story is comic books; the main character and his mentally handicapped nephew bond over comics, and the animal god, Fame, talks to the nephew through a comic book that writes itself. Fame is said to protect an alternate world called Modoc, which if you're a massive nerd like I am you'll recognize as the name MODOK, that giant head guy from the Marvel universe, went by before he went kill-crazy. I don't know if this was intentional.


Mega Man X3 (SNES)

For the longest time I considered X3 my least favorite of the SNES trilogy, though still a competent game. Now I'm not quite sure where it sits in my mind (though I still think the soundtrack is the weakest of the three).

In the past I thought all the extra content made it feel a little bloated; as well as armor and health upgrades you have the mech capsules and Zero's Saber to find, the chips might have been an interesting idea if you actually had to choose one and couldn't just snag all four anyway in the form of the Gold Armor, you can play as Zero for a third of a level if you want but probably won't, and a couple bosses in the final levels change depending on actions taken in the main boss stages*. Now, eh, I'm just glad that nothing in X3 pissed me off as bad as the rematch with Serges in X2. And hey, the secret upgrade you get for having everything else is actually useful here.

* For what it's worth, on this playthrough I killed both Bit and Byte, but not Vile because I fell through that trick floor in Crush Crawfish's stage and into the Vile fight before I even had either weapon that could kill him.


Thor: Ragnarok (PG-13)

This was the most enjoyable of the three Thor movies. Granted, the first film was mostly setting up the mythos and I barely remember The Dark World, but Ragnarok takes Thor in a goofier, more light heart-direction, and is all the sweeter for it. The twenty or so minutes between Thor's fight with Surtur and him getting to the garbage planet feel like they're playing on fast forward and it's pretty jarring how Thor's four war buddies from the previous films are unceremoniously axed with only Hogun getting any dialogue, but once Thor gets to the garbage planet it becomes a joy. Ftom there we get a giant rock man with a polite, almost baby voice, Jeff Goldblum as the charismatic sleezebag running Sakar, Hulk and Thor beating the snot out of each other, and Thor doing a Raiden lightning twirl through a group of zombies to a cheesy metal soundtrack. Additionally, Loki's been reworked into Thor's partner in crime rather than the antagonist, and the two play off each other perfectly.

Then after all the lulz, Rangarok nails you with a dark ending. Apparently it gets even darker with Infinity War, but we'll see when I get ahold of that film.


Darkmouth (Shane Hegarty)

Odd story with this one; back in 2015 I was browsing Hasting's and came upon a book with a cover depicting a knight in blue armor and a girl running away from a toothy monster. But it was only available in new hardcover, and $18 felt a bit steep so I passed on it. Well, I forgot the title of the book, only the vague image of the cover (hell, I thought the girl was a princess wearing a pink dress), that it was about a town plagued by monsters and the knight in charge of defending it was either lazy or incompetent, and that it was roughly around the J's on the store shelf. When Hasting's was having its going out of business sale in 2016 I tried to find the book again but couldn't. Every so often I'd try and fail to find it, although my thinking the book was called "Dungeon/Castle of XYZ" wasn't helping my search. I tried asking about it on Twitter and an old message board, but no answer. After a while I kind of resigned myself to the fact that the title of the book was lost in 2015.

Out of the blue one day back in May, somebody on Twitter had posted to the effect of "Hey, I found this book called Darkmouth that matches this description, whoever was asking."

So, how's the actual book? It's, uh, not what I was expecting. I thought it was going to be a fantasy comedy about a monster hunter in over his head, sort of like if Rincewind was a knight instead of a wizard. To begin with, the main character isn't even a knight, he's a teenager in the modern day, protecting a modern town from monster attacks while trying to live up to his father's expectations. So yeah, it's one of those kid's books about dealing with overbearing parents, and the monster hunting - you know, the part I was actually interested in - is mostly a backdrop. There's also this plot thread that implies Finn is so bad at monster hunting because his mother wasn't a monster hunter so he's "half civilian", which is... troubling, to say the least.

Although when it gets away from Finn's family and becomes about the monsters, or "Legends" as they're called here, it's a little more interesting. Some of the deviations on the various species about have an entertaining, Pratchett-esque bite to them, and even their side of the story is more entertaining to read about than a kid with daddy issues. The monsters keep attacking the human realm because their world is a fetid dump and they would rather not be living in a fetid dump, and the human realm is their "promised land." There's a human who sided with them in their plot to take over the human realm, and who wants to bet he's going to say something in a later book in the series to the effect of "Humans are destroying the world, how could the monsters run it any worse?"

Bit of an underwhelming conclusion to a mystery that bugged me for three years, no?


Will Save the Galaxy for Food (Yahtzee Crowshaw, Audiobook)

Mogworld is still my favorite of Yahtzee's novels, but this was better than Jam, at least. Well okay, stuff actually happens in this while Jam was fourteen hours of stupid people being stupid, but this one actually had something to say. A running theme through it is how clinging to the "glory days" of a dead past will only bring you pain, and there's an observation on how a hero's ultimate purpose is to render themself obsolete.

Will Save the Galaxy for Food is about a space pilot put out of a job by the advancement of technology. I don't remember his real name because he's enlisted to pretend to be a famous author named Jaque McQuone-Or-Something-I-Don't-Know-How-It's-Spelled-Because-It-Was-Audio to entertain a corrupt business mogul's son on his birthday, and that's all I remember him being called. But then the mogul's assistant whose name I've legitimately forgotten decides she's tired of being the mogul's assistant and kidnaps the main character, the idiot son, and his girlfriend, who incidentally is the daughter of Earth's president. Woopsy daisy!

A problem Will Save the Galaxy does share with Jam is some truly obnoxious characters, but at least I didn't hate the entire cast this time. I was rooting for the spoiled dipshit son to get killed by the alien goblins at the climax, and the best part of the book is around the third quarter where he's absent and the other three characters are stranded on a planet populated by sloth-like aliens (though it's not just the relief of kicking the most irritating character to the curb, this subplot also ends with a delightfully surprising reveal). Also, the female assistant is basically the American secret agent from Jam, but somehow even more grating because her answer to every problem is to secretly call her boss - you know, the one she's on the run from - to bail them out. I wanted to say Yahtzee is incapable of writing a woman who isn't either either catty or ditzy, but on reflection Jemima (the idiot son's girlfriend) is written as one of the more level-headed characters, and it's just the way Yahtzee reads her lines slowly and with an airy inflection that causes her to come across as a bubblehead.

Also, Monty Python and the Holy Grail ending on an anticlimactic "screw you" was a subversion that could really only trick the audience once, and trying to replicate it with your own anticlimactic "screw you" usually just ends up being an anticlimactic "screw you".