Tuesday 9 November 2010

Book Reviews

The Sounds of Star Wars
Ben Burtt & J.W. Rinzler
Simon & Schuster

Available Now - £30.00 (Hardback)
Review by Brad Harmer

The story of the sound effects created for the Star Wars films featuring a state-of-the-art sound thingummy with more than 250 sounds. In 1977, when Star Wars - Episode IV: A New Hope hit theatres, moviegoers were blown away by a cinematic experience unlike anything they had seen - or heard - before. A young man named Ben Burtt was behind the revolutionary sound effects and went on to develop the sound design for all of the Star Wars films. His trademark was using "found sounds" along with electronic manipulation to give the film an authentic and many-layered effect. In The Sounds of Star Wars, we find out the origins of many of these pioneering sounds.

Warning: You will lose hours to this book.

Foley work makes, in my opinion, for some fascinating behind the scenes work, and with a film and TV series as loved as Star Wars, then you’re onto a winner. The back story behind the dialogue and sound effects is simple, but engaging, and there’s never so much tech-talk that you feel lost. It’s very much designed with the casual movie fan in mind; and that’s a good thing.

The sound module is awesome, and I now have the ability to do a Tusken Raider roar whenever I feel like it. My girlfriend very much appreciated that the publishers thought to include a headphone jack in the side. She wasn’t so appreciative when I demonstrated that “headphone” means the same thing as “external speaker”, and I own a PA system.

An ideal Christmas present for the Star Wars fan in your life. But buy them some headphones to go with it.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Some lightsabers and blasters.
Sex/Nudity: None.
Swearing: I think one of the Tusken Raiders says something Anti-Semitic.
Summary: An awesome idea pulled off wonderfully. Every Star Wars fan will want to own this, if only so they can pull off of a perfect sound effect when they need one. 10/10
Odd and the Frost Giants
Neil Gaiman
Bloomsbury Publishing
Available Now - £9.99 (Hardback)
Review by Rob Wade

Odd's luck has been bad so far. He lost his father on a Viking expedition, his foot was crushed beneath a tree, and the winter seems to be going on for ever. But when Odd flees to the woods and releases a trapped bear, his luck begins to change. The eagle, bear and fox he encounters reveal they're actually Norse gods, trapped in animal form by the evil frost giants who have conquered Asgard, the city of the gods...Can a twelve-year-old boy reclaim Thor's hammer, outwit the frost giants and release the gods? With Neil Gaiman's wit and style, this story transcends the everyday and becomes a humorous, rich and layered tale of a life lived courageously.

Neil Gaiman, if nothing else, is known for being one of the true masters of fantasy in modern literature. Pretty much everything he touches turns to gold, if you believe the readers of stuff like The Sandman. Brad’s got a really good way of putting the appeal of Neil Gaiman: “He’s the best thing you’ve ever read, until you read other things.” Ultimately, Odd and the Frost Giants has a little of this to it as well.

The story is entertaining, with a tremendous nod to classic Norse mythology which at the same time feels like something more original. The characters are recognisable while at the same time sufficiently developed as it pertains to this story. Odd himself as a main character is about as engaging as you might expect from what is essentially a children’s book. Smug little bastard, though, always bloody smiling. Some might argue that he’s a cheerful sort who isn’t letting his grave misfortune colour his life. I think differently.

Where this book falls down is mainly on the value of the package involved. You get just over 100 pages, which took me all of around forty-five minutes to read (and I am not by any stretch a fast reader normally), for a recommended retail price of £9.99. The value for money just isn’t there in this case. As a children’s book, there are far better value propositions available for a younger reader. If this was cheaper, the score would be considerably higher.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Violence: None, the smug little bastard smooth-talks his way out of every potential issue.
Sex/Nudity: Nope. The Frost Giant is probably naked, but it’s never stated.
Swearing: None.
Summary: An enjoyable book, though a little on the pricey side. 6/10
DC Comics: The 75th Anniversary Poster Book
Quirk Books

Available Now - £24.99 (Trade Paperback)
Review by Brad Harmer

DC Comics: The 75th Anniversary Poster Book celebrates 75 years of DC comics history by showcasing hundreds of their most famous covers - including 100 full-size posters that are perforated and ready-to-frame. Arranged in chronological order, each poster honors a milestone in DC Comics history with a full-page perforated poster of a famous cover-like Action Comics #1, easily the most sought-after comic book of all time. The reverse of the poster features brief commentary along with smaller images of related covers, concept sketches, and other archival material.

This book is a lot larger than you expect, measuring over 13” x 10”, and the artwork looks great for it: the covers have all been cleaned up really well. There’s a great wealth of material here, from Golden Age material, right up to the death of Bruce Wayne, as well as some landmark non-superhero comics like V for Vendetta and Preacher along the way.

The trivia/biography accompanying each piece is informative and interesting, but I couldn’t help but feel that there was a lot more than they could have done with it. With these massive page, there’s a lot more room for detail and history and it feels like a little bit of a waste.

Although, of course, this book is about the artwork, and it’s (for the most part) brilliant.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
Some punching, shooting and exploding.
Sex/Nudity: None.
Swearing: None.
Summary: A fantastic coffee table book for the comics fan in your life, and a great Christmas present. Even Marvel fans can find plenty to enjoy here. 9/10
Brain Camp
Faith Erin Hicks, Susan Kim & Laurence Klavan
First Second

Available Now - £10.99 (Trade Paperback)
Review by Brad Harmer

Neither artistic, dreamy Jenna nor surly, delinquent Lucas expected to find themselves at an invitation-only summer camp that turns problem children into prodigies. And yet, here they both are at Camp Fielding, settling in with all the other losers and misfits who’ve been shipped off by their parents in a last-ditch effort to produce a child worth bragging about.

But strange disappearances, spooky lights in the woods, and a chilling alteration that turns the dimmest, rowdiest campers into docile zombie Einsteins have Jenna and Lucas feeling more than a little suspicious . . . and a lot afraid.

Brain Camp could have made quite a good short story or novella, but as a graphic novel, it’s pretty horrible. The story itself isn’t great, but it could have been awesome and with a panel-flow like this still have been unreadable. There’s no sense of motion at any point, and you’ll often find yourself re-reading segments in order to make sense of what just happened. The editing is abysmal too, leaving you wondering what happened in major scenes that just take place “off camera”.

If you can see through this, the story isn’t bad – it’s not great, either, but it should keep kids entertained enough. Pick up a cheap copy if the story appeals, but don’t expect to be blown away.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
Some grappling and scuffling.
Sex/Nudity: None.
Swearing: None.
Summary: An entertaining enough kid’s horror/adventure story let down by some shark-jumping and some terrible editing. 5/10


Never run out of scenario ideas again. This book contains 100 generic horror plots for you to use with your horror games. Each plot consists of a premise, three twists and an epilogue. Some can be strung together, others could form the basis of campaigns.

Thanks to our friends at Cubicle 7, we've got a copy of 100 Horror Adventure Seeds to give away! For your chance of winning, send your name and full postal address to horrorseedsgiveaway@yahoo.co.uk before midday on Tuesday 16th November. The first name out of the electronic hat grabs the prize!

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