Stack Overflow: The Word of the Day Is ‘Random’

Books Columns Geek Culture

Well, summer’s over and the kids are back to school… and I’m sitting here staring at a tower of books that Jack could climb to go and find the Golden Goose and another stack that my kids could use to build a pretty cool fort. I think many of my fellow Geekdad writers can back me up on this — the sheer volume of books that arrive on my doorstep make it all but impossible to write individual reviews. I try… I really do. Thank goodness that fellow Geekdad Jonathan Liu created the Stack Overflow. I hate declaring ‘book bankruptcy’ and just starting over, so below is my attempt at offering up some books I enjoyed reading over the last few months but haven’t yet been able to share with our readers. There’s no overall theme here unless you consider James-Has-No-Free-Space-On-His-Desk a valid one. I sure do. (And a special thanks to ALL of my publishing contacts for being so patient as I dig myself out of my office.)


Sherlock Holmes vs. Cthulhu: The Adventure of the Deadly Dimensions by Lois H. Gresh

Cthulhu Casebooks: Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows by James Lovegrove

Cthulhu Casebooks   Deadly DimensionsLovegrove and Gresh both had me at Holmes and Cthulhu. Honestly, two of my favorite subjects from two different authors starting up two new series. Yes, there have been other books that pitted Holmes and Watson against HP Lovecraft and his Mythos, and I’ve read and enjoyed many of them, and I’ll never so no to more.

Gresh’s new on is party of a trilogy that will continue in 2018 with The Adventure of the Neural Psychoses. With The Adventure of the Deadly Dimensions, Sherlock and John Watson are following a series of murders involving strange symbols, ancient writings, and unusual spherical bones. And there’s a strange machine in London that no one can seem to shut down as it continues to attack and maim and even kill as if it has a mind of its own. The investigators move from London to the countryside as they trace the clues that lead to a group of cultists trying to awaken an ancient evil. Just pure, good trippy fun for any fan of Sherlock and the writings of HPL.

Lovegrove starts everything over again with his Shadwell Shadows, upsetting the Holmes canon when a set of notebooks is discovered containing the true stories of how Holmes and Watson met and the dark mysteries that were considered to upsetting to release to the general public. Some Holmes fans might not like this twist on their favorite detective, but it’s all in good fun to imagine how Holmes and Watson might have mixed it up with those things that should not be mentioned. The next book in the series (Nov 2018) will be The Miskatonic Monstrosities and I cannot wait! (Miskatonic University? Go Cephalopods!)

Both books were extremely enjoyable (I read both during a beach vacation), but again… strict Holmes fans who do not enjoy the Cthulhu Mythos might be warned off if they’re looking for a traditional detective tale.

Firefly: Back From the Black by Joey Spiotto

Back to the Black Cover      Back to the Black Cover Hide N Seek     Back to the Black Cover Target

How might Mal and the crew of Serenity handle day-to-day life on modern day Earth? What kind of mischief might they get into? From Jayne trying to get through airport security with his weapons (hidden and otherwise) to River trying her hand at fortune telling, to Wash and Zoey heading to the dinosaur exhibit and Inara’s Yoga class and Shepherd’s hairstylist… artist Joey Spiotto offers up some amazingly simple examples of our favorite scoundrels in some more relevant situations. Some of the images are blatantly obvious… others you’ll have to ponder a moment or two for the secret wink. Fans of Firefly will find major and minor characters scattered in the 160 pages of full color artwork, reminding us again that while the show was just getting started, its characters were already deeply developed and loved.

Star Wars Made Easy: A Beginner’s Guide to A Galaxy Far, Far Away

     Battle of Hoth

Before Episode VIII hits theaters, parents may find one or more of their children have reached the right age for them to experience Star Wars. Of course, here at Geekdad we recommend starting with Episode IV, but you know your kid(s) best, so we’ll understand if you have a different idea. Whatever your chosen order (not Order, right?), you might want to grab a copy of DK’s latest book that fills 200 pages with full color images from all existing films and answers all the right questions that your kids are likely to hit you with before, during, and after.

The book is incredibly detailed and well organized — it begins with Star Wars: The Basics and 47 pages covering questions such as who created SW, where do the stories occur, what are the differences between the Light and Dark sides, and just how many types of stormtroopers are there? From there, the book follows the chronological release of the films, from 1977’s Star Wars up to the upcoming Episode VIII where young readers are given some hints on what to know and what to watch for.

A Glossary and Quotes Everyone Should Know are later sections, but it’s the Pronunciation section that may be most enjoyed by both young and old. (Although I completely disagree with Ay-tee-Ay-tee. It’s at-at… you know, like Fat Cat.)

The book is filled with plenty of sidebars and quotes and questions with short but accurate answers. Famous battles and vehicles are discussed, along with almost all the major characters. As Darth Vader would say… Impressive.

Star Wars: On the Front Lines by Daniel Wallace

Star Wars Front Lines   Battle of Hoth

For your favorite Star Wars fan (or yourself), you might want to consider this 128-page full color coffee table book — it is FILLED with stunning artwork and discussion of eleven key battles that took place over The Clone Wars, The Galactic Civil War, and The New Conflict. Each battle is described in an amazing level of detail, and broken down into three categories: Prelude to Battle, Tactical Analysis, and Aftermath. Key figures in all battles are provided as beautiful paintings that you might see hanging in a castle. Combatants sections display two or more different types of soldiers in full uniforms with a summary of their overall duty and/or function in a battle, and the Tools of War cover the technology, vehicles, and weaponry. The “I Was There” sections provide first-person stories from the field and Tales of Valor focus on key warriors who gave their all.

The book’s art is provided by four artists — Adrian Rodriguez, Thomas Wievegg, Fares Maese, and Aaron Riley. So much of the full-page art is worthy of framing, but it’s the two-page spreads (such as the Battle of Hoth one shown above — actual size is approximately 26″ x 10″) that are sure to cause many fans to purchase an extra copy of the book so they can carefully remove and frame the oversized images of battle.

For those needing the exact battles, here you go: Battle of Naboo, Battle of Geonosis, Battle of Christophsis, Battle of Ryloth, Battle of Coruscant, Battle of Scarif, Battle of Yavin, Battle of Hoth, Battle of Endor, Battle of Jakku, and Battle on Starkiller Base.

The Art of the Film: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets by Mark Salisbury

Valerian Cover   Valerian Spread 1   Valerian Spread 2

I absolutely loved The Fifth Element, so I’ve anxiously awaited something from Luc Besson for years that would match the awe I felt when I first saw that film. I know that Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets was not received well by the general public, and I agree with many of the criticisms of the film. But that’s not a discussion to have here. Instead, what I want to share with you here is just how blown away I am by this oversized full-color hardback that contains hundreds of behind-the-scenes collections of sketches, digital artwork, stills, and more. Books like this one are a cosplayers dream, but they can also useful to fans and critics of the movie who are looking for the nitty-gritty details that may or may not have been missed or even cut from a feature film.

The book is extremely thin on discussion. Don’t be looking for pages and pages of interviews and thoughts and explanations. In its place, you’ll find instead nothing but detail after detail on locations, weapons, suits, aliens, ships, vehicles, and much more. It’s a real shame that the film didn’t do as well as I had hoped, but having this book has helped ease the pain a bit because until the Blu-ray is released in November 2017, I haven’t been able to examine any of the things I caught as a glimpse in the movie. One of the complaints about the film was the overload of detail and the ‘busy-ness’ of the surrounding landscapes. If you’re someone like me who wants to pause and zoom on so many of a film’s details, this book will easily cover just about anything and everything you want to know about the movie.

Fortune & Glory: A Treasure Hunter’s Handbook by David McIntee

Fortune & Glory

My oldest is quite fond of history and archaeology — especially anything of Egyptian origin. Indiana Jones? Loves the movies and LEGO videogames. I could actually see the disappointment in his face, however, when he discovered that much of what he sees on film or in video games is not based on fact OR what he reads about in history books has already been discovered.

During a recent examination of all the wargaming books available from Osprey Games, I found a title in their library that won me over with its description:

So, you’ve decided to give up the rat race for the life of an international treasure hunter, but you’re not quite sure where to start? Well, then, this book is for you! Fortune & Glory holds all the knowledge you need to become the pistol-toting, fedora-wearing international tomb raider you’ve always dreamt of being! Discover lost locations such as El Dorado and King Solomon’s Mines. Reap the glory of unearthing the Holy Grail or the Hanjo Masamune. Live a life of luxury after claiming hidden Nazi gold, pirate treasure, or the riches of the Copper Scrolls. With this book and a bullwhip you’re already halfway to a life filled with fortune and glory.

I ordered it and read it and LOVED it. My son is reading it now and he cannot believe that there are still secrets to unlock on this planet and treasures to be discovered. He’s 10, and the realities of the working world can wait. For now, I love seeing him read these histories and consider just how much fun (or danger) could be had in searching out some of this world’s last remaining mysteries. Over a dozen mysteries are found between the covers, and my son’s curiosity and interest in history has been stoked again. Thanks, David McIntee!

Dead On Arrival by Matt Richtel

Dead on Arrival

Flight 194 lands in Colorado and the pilots immediately know something is wrong. There’s no movement, no lights… nothing. Taxiing to the terminal, the crew spots a body on the ground. Dr. Lyle Martin, specialist in infectious diseases, is called to the cockpit. And then another passenger is heard banging on the cockpit door. Once inside, she lets the crew know that all the passengers are dead. There’s no communication with the tower or the world at large. The plane is low on fuel and battery power is running out… and so is the internal heat.

If that doesn’t hook you, I don’t know what will. I read the first few chapters of the book and knew I had to buy it to figure out what was going on. What followed is tale that’s reminiscent of the best of Michael Crichton. And that’s all I can say (except — this is NOT a zombie story), because anything else would ruin it for you.


Notes from the Upside Down: An Unofficial Guide to Stranger Things by Guy Adams

Upside Down

I love Stranger Things. It hits all the right notes for me — 80s nostalgia, kids playing D&D, a mad scientist and his lab, quirky characters, and a wicked music score. With Season 2 fast approaching (at the end of October), I thought it would be fun to re-watch the entire 8 episodes with this little resource. It has great episode synopses, quizzes, backgrounds on the actors, excellent coverage of the entire soundtrack, and homework (mainly watching old 80s movies or listening to certain bands or hunting down obscure things). It’s filled with footnotes of a humorous sort, and the writer is someone I’m familiar with from his Sherlock Holmes stories (although he’s written much, much more).

If you’re a fan of Stranger Things, you’ll definitely want to watch all eight episodes again before Season 2 rolls around, and with this great little guide you’ll find all sorts of things you missed the first time around.


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