Reader Beware: Syndicate (Tales from the Twisted Eden Sector) by Lyle S. Tanner

I am a huge fan of the Urban Fantasy genre.  The Dresden Files is one of my favorite series of all time.  There’s just something about the mix of magic and mystery that intrigues me.  Perhaps it’s because I love both magic stories and mystery stories.  Putting the two together is a match made in heaven for me.  It is because of my love of urban fantasy that I took a look at Syndicate:  Tales from the Twisted Eden Sector by Lyle S. Tanner.

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Syndicate isn’t really a novel in the traditional sense.  Instead, it’s a collection of short stories brought together because of recurring themes, characters, and places.  The stories, in one form or another, all revolve around the Syndicate.  The Syndicate is a seemingly government run organization that deals in magic, both in protecting civilization from magical shenanigans and protecting the secrets of magic from the overall populace.  Each story within this anthology deals with a different situation, while still seeming to follow a coherent narrative for the entire book.

You may remember that I’ve talked about this author before.  Indeed, the short story I’ve talked about before from this author is the first short story presented in this anthology.  The main draw of this book is the world in which these stories take place.  The world and the atmosphere throughout the book are very gritty and magical.  Honestly, I was reminded a lot of the Dresden Files in terms of this book’s atmosphere.  The mix of the big city setting and dark magics behind closed doors felt very similar to those stories.  Then again, this could be just a product of the book’s Urban Fantasy bend.

Despite the book having many different characters, each of them feels completely unique.  Each story has its own voice ad personality, even down the the writing style of each story.  I found it extremely creative and it felt like I was reading a book from a different author every time the book switched characters.  From a purely technical standpoint, this book is fantastically written.  Personally, my favorite characters were the Terror Twi… Uh… Di and Ezra.  I felt like their characters were fantastic fun.

My biggest problem with the book had to do with its plot lines.  That’s not to say that I didn’t like the plots of each story.  In fact, I found them creative and, at many times, full of suspense.  However, I feel that the characters sort of disappear once it seems like their stories are over.  The stories lacked closure for me.  One character is shot in the head and we never really found out why.  If this is an ongoing series, I understand why the stories feel like they still need to be finished.  However, as a stand alone book, this just felt jarring to me.

Despite that problem, this was a very good series of short stories.  I would even call this a novel, as there definitely seems to be an undercurrent of a bigger story throughout all these smaller stories.  If you like when magical stories take place in the big, dark city, you’ll definitely enjoy this.  Until the next time, I’ll be eagerly waiting for the next series from this author.  If only there was some sort of spell to make time go faster…

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My Top 10 Favorite Video Game Franchises

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a gamer.  The first console I remember owning is the SNES and the first game I remember playing is the Duck Hunt/Super Mario Bros. combo game.  (And yes, I want to shoot that Duck Hunt dog right in the eye just like many of you.)  Nonetheless, as I’ve played more and more games over the years, I’ve developed certain gaming tastes.  For example, I am not a fan of First Person Shooters/war games.  Still, I have come across certain video game franchises that I have grown to love.  These are my Top 10 Favorite Video Game Franchises.

10.  Pokemon

I remember when their were only 150 of you.  Well, technically, 151 if you are counting Mew.  But I digress.  I guess I spent the best years of my little life playing these games.  I wanted to be the very best like no one ever was.  To catch them was my real test.  To train them was my cause.  While Pokemon will always hold a place in my heart, I feel like the franchise has gotten a bit bloated and stale.  Nintendo has tried to add things to Pokemon (like the characteristics, beauty contests, and such) that I just don’t like.  Plus, each game just feels the same to me.  Catch Pokemon, train them, fight a boss, move to the next town.  Rinse and repeat as needed.  Still, there’s no other games quite like the Pokemon series and it will always be remembered as a big part of my childhood.  Pokemon, what happened to you?

9.  Portal

Portal is one of the most interesting and creative puzzle games I’ve ever come across.  Honestly, I’ve only ever played the second game myself.  However, I have seen multiple Let’s Plays of the first game.  And I have loved what I’ve seen.  The puzzles are all intriguing and get tougher (but still fair) as the games go on.  I always have a sense of great satisfaction when I find the solution to a particularly daunting puzzle.  Of course, the games are also very well written.  I find the second game hilarious and the characters are particularly well developed and always are entertaining to watch.  Now and forever, I’ll be thinking with portals.

8.  Soul Calibur

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Soul Calibur is my favorite fighting franchise, bar none.  Really, the reason stems from a fond memory I have regarding a cruise ship arcade.  Soul Calibur 2 was the most popular machine on that ship and I would play it as often as I could.  The characters for the games are very creative, along with their stories of trying to find the cursed sword that the series is named for, Soul Calibur.  I also love that each new game in the series has added popular characters, like Link, Darth Vader, Yoda, and Spawn.  In case you’re wondering, my character is and always will be Nightmare.  His design is awesome and I just love playing as him.

7.  The Super Mario Bros. platformers

As I said above, Super Mario Bros. is one of the first games I remember playing as a kid.  I have fond memories of sitting on the couch and passing the controller back and forth with my dad.  Even to this day, I love the new games coming out, including the 3D platformers.  Heck, Super Mario 64 is probably my most played Nintendo 64 game of all time.  I think I’ll always find these platformers fun.  Yes, Mario has expanded to other games.  Tennis, board game parties, puzzle games, and the like.  For me, though, nothing will ever beat his platforming roots.  They’re challenging, fun, and easy to pick up and play.

6.  Prince of Persia

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How do I define Prince of Persia?  Action platformer?  Action adventure game?  Action game with puzzle elements?  How about all of the above?  The Prince of Persia games are a perfect blend of platforming, puzzle, and action elements combined with an interesting story.  If I had to pick a favorite element of these games, I would have to say the platforming segments.  There’s just something so satisfying about climbing around obstacles and up walls like a monkey.  The action elements, while fun, are at times frustrating, especially if you’re out of sand, low on health, and you have to get past THOSE DAMN BIRDS WHO WONT LEAVE YOU ALONE.  I’M JUST TRYING TO CROSS A BEAM HERE, YOU LITTLE… Ahem.  Still, it’s a fun series that makes me really want to take up parkour.

5.  The Rayman reboot

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I wasn’t really into Rayman as a kid.  I never even really played the original games.  However, when Rayman Origins came out, I was hooked from Press Start.  The artwork for both it and Legends is bright, colorful, and extremely bizarre.  Right up my alley.  The platforming gets so much harder as you progress through the game.  Honestly, it gets frustrating as heck.  However, that just makes it all the more satisfying when a level is beaten.  The series has also been very creative so far with its level design.  For example, I absolutely love the musical levels of Legends.  They are without a doubt my favorite part of the franchise so far.   I can’t wait to get more fun from this little… aardvark?  Dog?  Rat?  Well, whatever he is, he’s one awesome… one of those.

4.  Batman:  Arkham

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What’s not to love about the Batman:  Arkham games?  It’s got stealth elements, fighting elements, puzzles, fantastic characters, intriguing and compelling stories, a wonderful sandbox game feeling.  These games have it all, AND Batman.  The first game, admittedly, felt a little too linear.  For the second game, though, the developers really pushed the limits and let the players really feel like the Dark Knight.  Plus, the voice acting is absolutely phenomenal.  It’s one of the only franchises I feel really makes you feel like your favorite hero.

3.  Sly Cooper

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Out of all the classic cartoon platformers (such as Crash Bandicoot, Ratchet and Clank, Jack and Daxter, etc.), the Sly Cooper franchise is my absolute, all time favorite.  The artwork is sleek, cartoony, and fantastic.  The characters are funny and loveable.  This game, when I was younger and still today, really make me feel like a thief.  The stealth elements are done very well, making me almost hold my breath while trying to pick a thug’s pocket.  The villains are all very creative, having their own personalities and designs.  It is just an all around awesome game.  The first trilogy was so good that I went so far as to buy the HD collection when I bought a PS3.  It’s one of the only series I would ever intentionally buy twice.  I think that definitely counts for something.

2.  Professor Layton

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Professor Layton is a mostly text driven series of hand held games and probably the best—

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Ah, yes, I almost forgot.  Entry number two is a tie.  It’s the Professor Layton series and…

2.  The Ace Attorney series

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The Professor Layton games and the Ace Attorney games are very similar to me.  They are games that rely heavily on stories and (simply fantastic) characters, they involve a lot of reading, and they rely on the players using their knowledge and wits to win the game.  Honestly, the best parts of these games are the stories and characters.  Absolutely no other game has a story quite like these.  They are very smart, intriguing, and simply mind boggling.  I am certain you’ll never see one of the many twists and turns coming.  And, honestly, that makes for a very interesting and compelling mystery series.  I had to put these both in the number 2 spot because I couldn’t talk about one without the other.  And, yes, I VERY much want to play Phoenix Wright vs Professor Layton.  BRING IT TO AMERICA, CAPCOM, PLEASE!

1.  Kingdom Hearts

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Are these the best made games?  No.  Do they tell the most coherent story?  No.  Do I love them?  With all of my heart.  (Ah?  See what I did there?)  Kingdom Hearts is my favorite franchise of all time, and that’s due in no small part to my love of Disney.  When I heard that a game was coming out that would explore multiple worlds from the Disney movies, I just had to check it out.  And what I got was an action packed, emotional, and awesome story.  Admittedly, the story is a bit convoluted, especially as the series has gone on.  But I still get extreme satisfaction when I board my gummi ship and head for a new world filled with characters from my childhood.  And getting to summon the Genie and Stitch, two of my favorite Disney characters, as helpers in battle?  Well, that was just icing on the delicious cake.  Kingdom Hearts is a wonderful treat for any Disney fan.

That’s the end of my list.  I’m sure there are different opinions out there.  Please share some of your favorite franchises in the comments.  Perhaps your ideas will give me new games to check out.  Until next time, I’m off to play some old, familiar favorites.

Flicking Through Netflix: Todd and the Book of Pure Evil Episode 1 (Todd the Metal God)

I never noticed this before but apparently “teens save their high school/home town from supernatural forces” has become sub-genre of horror comedy shows in the last few decades.  Don’t believe me?  Here’s just  a few examples:  Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Big Wolf on Campus, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, The Zack Files, So Weird.  And those are just shows from the 90s.  Knowing that I’m a fan of this type of show, I decided to check out the Canadian TV series Todd and the Book of Pure Evil.

If you recognize the shows I said before, then you know the basic premise of this show.  Teens get into supernatural shenanigans and have to stop whatever the monster of the week is to save the school/town/world.  Here’s the full premise as told by Netflix:  “High school stoner Todd Smith and his friends are the only people who can stop a menacing Satanic spell book from triggering the end of the world. As the Book of Pure Evil wreaks havoc on their town, the kids clumsily keep the dark forces at bay.”

As I said, the basic plot of this show is very similar to other shows in this genre.  This show, however, takes all the worst things about those shows and cranks the Annoy-o Meter to 11.  The characters are all generic high school stereotypes:  the stoner, the weird kid, the goth chick, the jock, all present, all annoying.  The show also has a skewed sense of humor.  It seems like every 5 seconds, someone swears.  It feels like the show is trying to be offbeat and mature when it comes off actually being grating and horribly immature.  In other words, this show is childish, generic, and completely annoying.  It has all the requirements that would normally make me stop watching after the first episode…

And yet…

There’s something within me that’s willing and even eager to continue watching this show.  Something inside of me is ignoring the generic characters, sub-par acting, and grating sense of humor.  A part of me is really curious about where this show is going to go with its premise.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect this show to get any better.  In fact, I expect it to get worse.  A LOT worse.  However, I have the feeling that it’s going to become a very interesting kind of bad.  I did some research and I saw that there’s an episode down the line about a giant killer penis.  Call me crazy but I have to know what in the hell that’s… No, I just have to know what in the HELL?

I can’t recommend this show.  It’s not good.  The premise isn’t original, its far too immature to really carry out the “constant swearing” humor, and the characters would be more fleshed out on the back of a cereal box.  I only recommend it if you’re just too curious for your own good.  If you’re only intrigued by the premise, trust me, there are much better examples of this genre.  I, being a fan of schlocky entertainment, am curious to see what kind of bad cheese I get from this show.  Let’s hope I survive this.

Flicking Through Netflix: Lockout

A lot of things have been on my mind lately.  It’s a new year, I’m engaged, and I’m waiting on news that may change my life.  (Job news, nothing really that spectacular.)  That being said, I just don’t have it in me to talk about anything too complicated.  I just wanted to clear my head today with something simple.  What better way is there to do that than to watch a mindless action movie?  Luckily, when it comes to “mindless action movie,” Lockout pretty much hits the nail right on the head.

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This movie has such a basic plot that it can be summed up in a single sentence.  I’ll allow the Netflix summary to do the honors:  “A former government agent wrongly accused of a crime gets a shot at freedom — if he can engineer a high-risk mission to outer space in order to rescue the president’s daughter from a prison where the inmates are in control.”  When it comes to “mindless action movies,”  you just can’t get more generic than that.

The word of the day today is “generic.”  Everything about this movie just feels very “middle of the road” average.  The plot felt like every other “prison break/building under siege” movie ever made with half the creativity and none of the enjoyment.  Where other movies might take chances or throw curve balls, this movie just checks off every item on the action movie check list.  Crazy inmates?  Check.  Very important woman in trouble?  Check.  Only one guy can do it?  Check.  He’s the most badass badass that has ever been a badass?  Double check.  Badass and woman in trouble eventually hook up despite hating each other at first?  Triple check.  It just felt so predictable while watching it.

The characters were nothing special.  The “woman in trouble” this time was the daughter to the President of the USA, played by Maggie Grace.  The character was really just bland, not all that exciting in the least.  The badass was Snow, played by Guy Pearce.  He was the usual blend of cockiness, action hero, selfishness, and flirty-ness.  He was a bit annoying at times with his cocky attitude, but I never cared enough about him to really get mad.

You know what’s worse than having horrible things to say about a movie?  Having absolutely NOTHING to say about it.  This movie was just very bland.  It wasn’t bad.  It wasn’t good.  It was just sort of alright.  It’s worth a look if you’re curious enough and in the mood for a generic action movie.  Otherwise, it’s nothing new or fun.  It’s one big pile of generic nothing, the cinematic equivalent of eating buttered toast.  Sure, it tastes alright, but it’s just not enough.