Literary Sins: Cujo Is Not About a Killer Dog

I still feel bitterly guilty that I haven’t read every single book that Stephen King has written, so yes, I’m calling it a sin that I just barely got around to reading Cujo.

I was rather hesitant to pick up Cujo, which is completely out of the norm for me when it comes to devouring Stephen King books. I read Stephen King more easily than I breathe sometimes.

But Cujo is about a dog, and I love dogs.

I was more than a little reluctant to plunk myself down and read hundreds of pages about a killer dog that terrifies a small town, which is what I thought the book was going to be about. I mean, who else thought that? “Cujo” is a name synonymous with “giant killer dog” the same way “Pennywise” is synonymous with “giant killer clown.”

Imagine my utter surprise upon finishing Cujo and realizing that the book is less about a monstrous canine creature and more about the terrifying nature of pure happenstance.

That’s right, folks. Cujo is less about the dog and more about how downright terrifying the notion is that a series of events happening in a precise manner can lead to the worst day of your life.

I haven’t felt this lied to since I finished Moby-Dick.

The big difference this time is that I’m not upset over how many whale facts that I had to suffer through.

I’m delighted.

Low-key horrified after reading the last page, but delighted with the experience overall.

If you have any intention of reading Cujo, DO NOT CONTINUE READING AFTER THIS POINT. I’m about to just deep-dive into spoiler territory. It’s the only way I can gush. But just know that I was impressed with the novel, and I would recommend it not as some kind of monster book, but more as a slice-of-life horror novel.

Cujo starts with two families: the Trentons and the Cambers.

Donna and Vic Trenton have a very young son named Tad. He’s an imaginative little tyke who is terrified of a potential monster in his closet, but a good kid nonetheless. Donna and Vic are going through a rough patch. Donna cheated on Vic with this guy named Steve Kemp. She called things off with Steve, but in a fit or revenge, Steve sent a letter to Vic (a very not-pleasant letter) making him aware of his trysts with Donna. Vic is made miserable by this information, but has to depart to New York for a meeting that could potentially save his business. Donna is left alone at home with Tad and a car that needs to be taken to a mechanic’s.

Joe Camber is a great mechanic, but a bit of a rough husband to his wife, Charity. They and their son, Brett, live in the boonies, out at the end of a country road. Charity does not want her son to end up a deadbeat mechanic at the end of a country road, so after winning the lottery (literally), she negotiates a trip to her sister’s with Joe as a way to introduce Brett to a better side of life. She buys Joe a fancy piece of equipment in exchange for allowing this, leaving Joe behind to take care of the family dog, Cujo.

What then follows is a sequence of events that leads to tragedy.

  1. Cujo chases a rabbit into a cave that has some bats and gets nipped on the nose after startling them with his bark. This gives him rabies.
  2. Donna’s car breaks down on a grocery shopping trip, so she decides to take it in to a mechanic that Vic recommended the next day, i.e. Joe Camber.
  3. Charity and Brett leave to visit her sister, with Brett noticing that Cujo is behaving oddly the morning that they depart.
  4. Joe decides to take advantage of Charity and Brett’s absence and plans to go to Atlantic City with his neighbor.
  5. His neighbor, in a drunken state, is attacked by a fully rabid Cujo. He is killed.
  6. When Joe goes to pick up his neighbor, he too is also killed at the neighbor’s house.
  7. Tad does not want to be left alone at the house with a sitter while Donna takes the car to Joe Camber’s. He begs to go with her and she relents.
  8. Just as they arrive at Camber’s garage out in the middle of nowhere, the car finally breaks down for good.
  9. Cujo attacks them, but they are able to safely retreat into the vehicle. However, they are stuck there, with no one living close by for miles. (The closest neighbor is dead.)
  10. Steve Kemp, Donna’s former lover, is so incredibly steamed she broke things off, he decides to confront her at her house. Seeing no one is home, he goes around breaking things and ejaculating on the bed in the strangest fit of rage I’ve ever read.
  11. Donna and Tad are stuck in the car for an entire day at this point because no one knows they went there and Vic, her husband, does not think it too odd that they have not called yet. He is also consumed with thoughts about saving his business.
  12. Donna hopes to wait for the mailman to come along and then honk for help, but it turns out that Joe called ahead of time to hold his mail for his pending trip to Atlantic City. She and Tad spend another day in the car. (Cujo is being preternaturally watchful of their vehicle and has attacked several times.) It is summer. It is hot. They have no food or water to last them.
  13. Vic, finally nervous that his wife hasn’t called him or answered his calls, calls the police to check on their place. The cops think he is just being overly worried, but they change their tune when they get to his place and find it trashed. Vic heads home.
  14. After examining the wreckage and the ejaculate, Vic knows for a fact that it was Steve Kemp who did this, and everyone assumes that Steve abducted Donna and Tad. The one thing that is odd is that her car is missing, but given the abundance of evidence that Steve was in the house, he is the prime suspect.
  15. Donna tries to make a run for the house to get to the Cambers’ phone, but she is tired, dehydrated, and hungry. Cujo attacks her and is able to wound her leg and stomach before she is able to escape back into the car. Tad starts having seizures. He is having severe heatstroke.
  16. The police find Kemp, and he admits to breaking in but swears he had nothing to do with kidnapping Donna or Tad. The police learn from Vic when he arrives that Camber’s garage is a place she might have gone to get the car fixed. A cop is sent there.
  17. The cop arrives and sees Donna’s car. Instead of calling this in immediately, he gets out of his car first. He sees them inside, but is attacked and killed by Cujo before he can relay this information to others.
  18. The next day, Vic has an epiphany after seeing that his son’s “monster words” (a paper used to protect him from the monster in the closet) are missing from his room. He connects this with the fact that Joe Camber has a really big dog at his place, and hey, maybe that’s where they are after all.
  19. Donna makes one last-ditch effort to escape to the house after Tad has another seizure. She actually succeeds in killing Cujo just as Vic pulls up.
  20. Vic runs over to help, but by the time he has gotten there, Tad has passed away from heatstroke. Everyone was just too late.

And…well…there you have it. That’s the basic plot to Cujo.

This is Stephen King at his finest, if you ask me. He does excel with B-movie horror and Cthulhu mythos type stuff, but I really feel like he has total mastery over the many wiles of human evil and random chance.

More than Cujo’s brutality, you fear Steve Kemp’s outbursts or Joe Camber’s grim abuse. And you also fear the just insane amount of randomness that led to Tad Trenton’s death.

As I turned every page, my jaw dropped not from shocking scenes but from the sheer suckiness of how one person’s decisions could lead to someone being stuck in a car in the middle of the country in the middle of summer with a rabid St. Bernard patrolling outside.

So many little choices led to Donna and Tad not being found in time.

And that was goddamn terrifying.

More than the poor pooch who got rabies.

I rate Cujo a chilling-book-that-is-less-about-canine-terror-and-more-about-how-random-events-can-just-fuck-you-up.

Pixar Still Surprises Me: Luca Review

Pixar has an almost unparalleled pedigree of success. I struggle to think of a franchise, brand, or company that equals Pixar when it comes to churning out quality content on a consistent basis.

Am I figuratively gobbling Pixar’s knob right now?

Maybe, but can you blame me?

Year after year, movie after movie, Pixar releases touching stories about the importance of family, getting in touch with your emotions, and the meaning of life, to name a few themes.

So whenever I hear a Pixar movie has come out, I make it a goddamn point to watch it because we all need some heartfelt stories in our lives.

Luca, Pixar’s latest film that released on Disney Plus, surprised me in many ways. While I wouldn’t rank it up there with my all-time favorites (Wall-E, Up, Toy Story 3), it was far better than I expected it to be.

Luca is a young sea monster who spends his days herding fish. His parents warn him about going up to the surface, but Luca’s imagination, curiosity, and chance meeting with a free-spirited fellow of the same age spurs him to seek adventure above the waves.

Luca and this newfound friend, Alberto, spend days on the surface, reveling in the freedom they can experience as humans. The only catch is that if water is splashed on them, they revert to sea monster form, and the people living nearby have a hankering to hunt down monsters.

But Luca and Alberto have big dreams to own a Vespa and travel the world, so they sign up for a contest that could earn them some money to pay their way to freedom. What then follows is a hilarious adventure that drives home what the real meaning of friendship is.

Even more so than the typical Pixar movie, Luca is gorgeous. I would rank it up there with Finding Nemo in just how beautiful the world looks. Plus, Luca daydreams an awful lot, which means these imaginative sequences where he touches the moon or travels the world on a Vespa are wonderfully realized. These images coupled with the stellar soundtrack make the narrative twice as uplifting as it already is on its own.

True, the story follows a predictable path, but just because you can guess what will happen next does not mean it isn’t satisfying. I mean, I still teared up regardless when conflict arose (and when it was resolved).

Luca also features plenty of Italian cultural quips that probably went right over my head. I would almost compare it to Coco in how steeped the movie is in culture. But while I could easily comprehend the humor (the true and real and accurate humor) of Miguel’s grandmother ensuring he ate more tamales than his stomach could handle, I think some of Luca’s went over my head.

And while following your dreams is a fairly tired theme narrative-wise, Luca is less about the pursuit of your dream and more about the people around you who see you reach it. Luca hammers home that true friends and family will be the support you need to accomplish anything, even if they get left behind in the process. Acceptance is also a huge part of Luca, from accepting your child’s choices in life to accepting the differences that set us apart.

When I first approached Luca, I thought I was going to get A Bug’s Life level movie, which is by no means bad. But after watching it, I would actually place Luca a step or two above that, closer to Ratatouille, after finishing it.

Side note: None of these comparisons and rankings will make any sense unless you agree with my taste in Pixar movies. I am so sorry.

I rate Luca an endearing-story-about-friendship-and-dreams-that-will-have-you-silencing-your-inner-Bruno-and-have-you-leaping-after-your-own.

Fighting Inner Demons – Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice Review

Finishing Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice presented me with a strange conflict.

On the one hand, the experience of Senua’s journey is undeniably one of the most powerful I’ve ever experienced in a video game. By far, it’s one of the most immersive game narratives out there.

But on the other hand, the combat and some of the puzzle sequences were an absolute drag.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

On my never-ending quest to try experiencing every game that Xbox Game Pass offers me without getting distracted by Risk of Rain 2 yet again, I decided to play Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. I had heard nothing but good things about it, and the trailer for its sequel looks amazing as heck. Gritty and dark and hauntingly beautiful.

So one evening, when I had slumped off of my computer chair from work and felt marginally up for playing a new game, I booted up Senua’s Sacrifice, put on headphones (because the game specifically recommends you do so), and got a bit of coffee to see me through the evening.

Holy heckin’ heck, I did not need the coffee for long.

Story

The story follows Senua as she travels to Helheim, the Norse version of hell. Her lover was murdered during an attack on their village while she was away, so she carries his wrapped-up head on her belt with her so she can reunite it with his soul in Helheim.

Right off the bat, you start hearing voices, and these are voices that Senua hears too. Constantly, these various voices will whisper derision, praise, advice, and warnings that you have to either ignore or heed. Senua suffers from a mental illness, and these voices are a part of her daily existence.

When you use headphones, the power of these voices are doubly effective. They sound like they come from behind you, next to you, or far away. Sometimes they will shout at you to turn back. Other times they will call you an idiot.

I cannot understate how incredible these voices are utilized to put you in Senua’s shoes.

In addition to that, light from fires and such will distort your vision, and if Senua is in the dark, her fear can potentially cripple her and have you restart from a past checkpoint.

During her journey to Helheim, she battles various creatures, but you are not entirely sure which of these are real foes or which come from her own head.

Puzzles

Senua progresses through some areas by solving puzzles, many of which involve perspective. You have to find shapes and symbols in the environment, standing at the perfect spot in order to line up rock formations or tree branches.

There was this one puzzle where I had to find a symbol made of light, and the entire area was covered with them. I had to walk around for about an hour looking for the place to stand to focus them.

Later on, there is a puzzle where you have to use hearing alone to avoid enemies in the dark, and if you are not wearing headphones, expect to mess up multiple times.

I’m not overly fond of these types of puzzles where there is little to no explanation for how to solve them, but on the bright side, you have ample time to figure them out. And Senua’s Sacrifice’s environments are so gorgeous, it soothes your irritation.

Though, erm, I did have to look up this one raven puzzle online. And I can hand-to-my-heart say I would not have solved it otherwise.

Combat

When phantasmal enemies attack Senua, she pulls out her sword and you enter a combat encounter. Despite my initial, wild swings, I learned that combat should not be a frenetic affair in Senua’s Sacrifice. Instead, it should be slow and measured.

You can either strike, parry, or dodge, and you should never spam any of these buttons. You have to read what your opponent is going to do using their body language and then respond accordingly. Senua automatically locks onto targets during combat encounters, so you are always facing an enemy.

There are only a small variety of enemy types, unfortunately. Fighting them over and over again gets stale fast. In addition to that, the locking-on mechanic prevents you from easily being able to address the phantoms that appear behind you.

So even though the voices in your head will shriek, “Behind you!” there is nothing you can do to face that opponent in time.

The latter half of the game throws groups of enemies at you at the same time. This ups the difficulty of combat immensely, and I got frustrated each time tight corners, unwilling lock-ons, or ill-timed dodges made me lose a fight.

Combat was my least favorite aspect of Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, and I audibly groaned every time.

However, overcoming obstacles is all part of what the game is trying to show you.

Themes

Senua’s Sacrifice covers the experience of suffering psychosis. This is based on what I’ve read about it and what the game itself states before you play it.

But that is not all that the game covers thematically. Senua is grieving for her lost love, the one person who made her feel safe in a world troubled by intolerance and shadows. Her whole journey to Helheim also has her confronting this grief and her low self-esteem.

Though you may not suffer from the same mental ills that plague Senua, her story is one that can reverberate with anyone who has felt misunderstood or alone.

It’s this more than anything that makes Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice an unforgettable game. Its ending is so moving, I don’t even want to describe what happened, which I’ll admit is a bit of a cop-out. But I think it’s something that should be experienced for yourself.

The game leans more toward a walking simulator than the action game you might have been expecting, but it accomplishes immersion in a way that only a video game can.

I rate Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice a trip-through-the-mind-that-helps-contextualize-the-struggles-some-go-through-in-a-way-that-is-simply-beautiful.

Rolling a Natural 1 – Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance Review

I’ve related my Dungeons & Dragons misadventures here before. From ill-timed invisibility to challenging monster fights, my band of D&D friends and I have gone through quite a bit together. Truly, we have run the gamut of hilarious D&D escapades a group campaigning together can go through.

However, despite my positive experiences playing around a tabletop with my friends, I haven’t really explored the world of D&D when it comes to video games. None of them really called to me, especially because my favorite aspect of Dungeons & Dragons is the downright goofiness that can occur when fails happen. (Failing in a video game the way I fail in D&D would be gutting.)

So when I found out that Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance would be available to play on Xbox Game Pass, I thought it would be nifty to grab a friend and give it a whirl. ‘Why not dabble in a D&D video game?’ I thought to myself.

It’s disappointing. That’s why.

Dark Alliance is an overall letdown, and I’ll tell you why in just a sec. I first want to admit that I only played around two sessions of the game, each of which lasted maybe a few hours. I did not complete it, and maybe the game has more to offer down the road. All I know is that it did not offer enough to make me want to continue playing it.

Dark Alliance pulls its characters and some of its story from the Forgotten Realms campaign setting. I am only loosely versed in its lore. However, noteworthy character Drizzt Do’Urden is one of the four characters you and your friends can choose to play as during missions.

If you are familiar with the gameplay structure of Left 4 Dead or Vermintide 2, you will know what to expect when booting up Dark Alliance. You and up to three friends go through these fairly linear missions, fight off monsters you find, and complete rudimentary objectives.

If you’ve played those two games I mentioned, then you know that this formula can be very successful. However, Dark Alliance messes it up in multiple ways.

For one thing, the characters feel very uninteresting. It sucks because they each have a backstory that fans of the Forgotten Realms universe will know about, but the manner in which this is conveyed to you is either through dry narration or through these one-liners the characters will occasionally speak during a mission. And the snippets of cutscenes you see at the start and end of missions don’t inform you much on the characters or the events at large.

If only the story itself was lacking, I would be fine with that. But the gameplay itself leaves a lot to be desired. I played as the character Wulfgar during one session, and Cattie-brie in the next, and no matter which I played as, it was not fun.

Any action in the game felt unresponsive. Whether I was swinging my hammer or firing my bow, there was this laggy, molasses feeling that persisted. Even picking up objects from the ground took an age and a half. And I don’t think this was input lag on my controller’s part. I would swing at a rock outcropping to get some loot, the hit would connect, and then two seconds later, the rock would crumble. It was that slow.

And the enemies were uninspired at best. They would always be clustered by some door or square-looking area, arranged like stodgy chess pieces, and sometimes they would not even react when you hit them. They’d take it, slowly turn to you, and only gradually start to attack you. This is a far cry from when I played Left 4 Dead 2, and zombies would rush at you from every which way, and certain special types would attack in a specific fashion.

In addition to that, cooperative play was unrewarding as heck. My coworker friend and I felt like our characters did not interact with each other in a meaningful way at all. They had a few abilities that could be beneficial for a group, but it did not feel like an impactful interaction.

Lastly, the bosses felt laughable. They are appreciably difficult in comparison to regular enemies, but each encounter feels similar. Do some damage, roll away, do some damage, roll away, do some damage, roll away, do some damage, roll away.

Playing Dark Alliance made me hunger for the simplistic artistry of Risk of Rain 2.

Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance was disappointing because it wasn’t fun. One of the basic tenets of D&D (for me at least) is that no matter who my DM is, who my fellow party members are, or what story is being told, the game has to be fun. Dark Alliance did not hold up to this standard.

I rate Dark Alliance a poor-representation-of-how-much-fun-D&D-can-be-and-a-sucky-game-at-launch-to-boot.

What Is the Point of Zack Snyder’s Justice League?

I get it, okay?

Sometimes, a movie comes out, and you’re not happy with the results. I have more than once been irked by a movie that got on my nerves for how awful it was. For your reading pleasure, here is what I thought of Wonder Woman 1984, here is what I thought of Cats, and here is what I thought of Alita: Battle Angel.

As you can see by these examples, I am no stranger to vitriol.

But never in my life have I thought to myself, “Hmm, that movie was so bad. I hope it is redone, made twice as long, but still retains the same plot points.”

That’s basically what Zack Snyder’s Justice League is.

When Justice League first came out, there were good bits and there were bad bits. I enjoyed the movie for what it was (a rushed attempt to capitalize on the Marvel Cinematic Universe trend of mashing up heroes in one movie) and got on with my life.

But then I started hearing whispers about how “the Snyder cut is the true vision of what the film could be” and other such stuff. I never thought anything would come of it.

And that’s right around when the Snyder cut was announced.

I like 300 and Watchmen as much as the next person, but some of Zack Snyder’s fans talk about him like he is the filmmaking equivalent of Jesus. And I just don’t understand it, especially after watching the four-hour-long version of a movie I already saw.

The plot remains largely the same. For those of you who saw Justice League, rest assured that the Snyder cut only offers a few meaningful differences. The one aspect worthy of attention in this bloated movie is Cyborg’s story. Man, this character got shafted in the first one if this was his original intended storyline. I appreciated the expansion of his history and his inclusion in moving the film along. He actually plays a more important role and gets some much deserved screentime.

However, the rest of the film felt stuffed with unnecessary chaff.

I don’t need to see someone’s disturbed expression for thirty seconds after something upsetting happens.

I don’t need to see measured stares between characters that last way longer than they should.

And I don’t need to see slow-motion walking for no goddamn reason.

I mean, criminy, a quarter of the Snyder cut is made of slo-mo scenes. I don’t even think I’m exaggerating. And it’s one thing if I saddle myself up for a stylistic movie like 300, where I am aware of what I’m getting myself into.

But it’s like Justice League tried to be both stylistic-artsy-fartsy and MCU-generated-popcorn-fluff. PICK A LANE, PEOPLE.

And don’t get me started on the “ancient lamentation music” that played nearly every time Wonder Woman was on the screen.

Snyder fans might hate me for not liking this massive movie, but I swear, I like other films he has done. It’s just…

This one feels so unnecessary. I can’t comprehend why people were so hyped for it.

And I guess maybe part of my displeasure stems from that. If people hadn’t been praising the heck out of it like it was the neatest thing since sliced bread, maybe I wouldn’t be so irritated after watching it and finding out it was as absurd as canned bread.

I rate Zack Snyder’s Justice League a zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Doing Dune Justice

Dune is an epic adventure that I’m a bit ashamed to admit I read rather late in life. While I read The Lord of the Rings when I was eight years old, I read Dune when I was already in my twenties.

With the Dune movie coming out soon, I thought it would be the perfect time to recommend this classic to my favorite Above Average readers, i.e. all of you.

Dune is a sci-fi book that combines high-tech escapades and ideas with a mystical flavor. It does so with dense political history, religious ideologies, and risky thematic overtones.

I’m usually hesitant to recommend hefty sci-fi tomes to people because there is so much diversity in the genre. Even if someone says they like it, there’s no telling what part of it they enjoy. For example, someone who enjoys a realistic tale like The Martian might not like the zany humor of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

In addition to that, sci-fi books are usually a huge time investment to read, and they’ll put forth downright weird notions that can prove difficult to swallow.

So when I say I recommend you read Dune, know that it will take a decent time investment to read it (especially if you want to read its sequels), it has an occasional bout of weirdness (like strange marital practices and cannibalistic tendencies), and it focuses on a mix of predestination, heightened mental awareness, ecological consciousness, and space politics.

The story follows the young Paul Atreides as his family moves to the desert world of Arrakis. They have been relegated there from their lush homeworld of Caladan thanks to the political maneuverings of the Emperor. Different families rule the galaxy, like a sci-fi aristocracy, together under this one Emperor, and the Emperor is not supposed to show favoritism to one family over another.

Unfortunately for the Atreides, this Emperor has decided to ally with the Harkonnen family in an attempt to eradicate them from the galaxy. (The Harkonnens and the Atreides have this epic feud going on between them.)

Paul and his family have to contend with this betrayal while trying to survive on Arrakis. While Arrakis is a dry dump of a place, it is home to a valuable spice that is worth a lot to the ruling families of the galaxy, including the unaffiliated Guild, who needs the spice for their trade.

Arrakis has a population of native Fremen who protect and harvest the spice, but the Fremen are hiding a secret that Paul must uncover if he hopes to have the Atreides line survive. Not only does he have to deal with this, he has to contend with these amazing mental powers bestowed on him by his mother’s Bene Gesserit training. (Think something like telepathy plus hyper-analytical thinking, bordering on precognition.)

The whole book culminates with a revolution on a planetary scale.

I’m rather fond of sci-fi stories that don’t hold your hand. Dune is that kind of book. While it does come with a helpful glossary at the end, it does not do much to introduce you slowly to its world. It just dumps you into it and you have to get used to using context clues to figure out what’s going on.

I have to be in the mood to read these kinds of books, so be sure you’re up to it yourself if you pick up Dune.

The book strikes an awful middle ground with its female characters. Most of the ones you meet are all incredibly powerful in their own way, especially those who have been trained as Bene Gesserit. This group of women has intense skills when it comes to controlling their minds and their bodies, so much so that they can easily manipulate other people.

However, even the most powerful female is subservient to men. Influential Bene Gesserit exist to serve male leaders. The most prominent female character is Paul’s mother, and she is a concubine to Paul’s father because he has to remain marriageable if he wants to continue to negotiate with other ruling families. The whole system of every society we encounter in Dune is patriarchal in nature. This is something I sincerely hope they change in the new movie.

In addition to that, it sometimes seems like emotional moments, moments that would make for a deeply impactful, character-development kind of scene, are just skipped. For instance, there is a death of a person whom you would assume is very close to Paul, and in the book, you don’t even see it. It’s told to you that it happened.

These leaps in time can be confusing if you’re trying to follow the emotional beats of the story, but Dune seems to prefer to focus a hell of a lot more on the aspects of fate and precognition that it sets forth from the very beginning of the novel.

But when it comes to detailing mental processes, Dune excels. There is nothing I like more than reading through Paul’s thoughts before he makes any decision. It makes you believe in the power of positive thinking, if that makes sense.

I rate Dune a decent-read-that-was-groundbreaking-in-its-day-for-its-ecological-themes-and-is-still-fantastic-even-though-it-is-showing-its-age.

Fragile Packages Don’t Exist: Totally Reliable Delivery Service Review

That’s me on the left

If I do say so myself, I make a fantastic delivery person.

I only break every other package.

And all of my experience comes from playing Totally Reliable Delivery Service.

For those of you who haven’t heard of this delightful cooperative game, Totally Reliable Delivery Service is a goofy good time, full of goofy good fun. You may not learn any real delivery skills whatsoever, but you will have a riot just reveling in how not-seriously the game takes itself.

The premise of this little title is as simple as it sounds. You deliver packages from point A to point B using a variety of methods at your disposal. You could take it in a delivery truck, fly it by chopper, use a boat to carry it, or just walk it over like a plebeian.

While the goal of the game is incredibly basic, the execution is unforgivably hilarious. My little character is the most unwieldy and awkward thing I have ever controlled in a video game. It sometimes feels like they have their own center of gravity, and driving a car is more impossible than sending a real life space shuttle into orbit.

However, don’t let this put you off from playing! The jankiness of the controls is all part of Totally Reliable Delivery Service’s charm.

Players are dropped onto this open world of interconnected islands, and these areas range from beach-side resorts to snowy mountain peaks to a downtown city block. Each area is peppered with an assortment of vehicles you can use to help you in your deliveries.

Deliveries are typically straightforward affairs, tasking you to either deliver a package within a set amount of time or to bring it over as undamaged as possible.

However, I remember the first time I played Totally Reliable Delivery Service with my coworker friend, we maybe completed a grand total of two deliveries in the span of three hours.

Why so little?

Because we spent the rest of the time just messing around with all the game had to offer!

One of the highlights of Totally Reliable Delivery Service is how it gives you total freedom to go where you want and do what you want when you want. If you want to ignore every delivery on the map and ride on a Ferris Wheel, you can!

When my sister and I played the game, we spent hours just trying to drive up the mountainside in go-karts. Alya could not control her vehicle at all, and she kept sliding down after making too sharp a turn.

When I played with my friend Andreya, we tested how high we could go in the hot air balloon before the game told us no. (It never did.)

There is no pressure to complete objectives, and the game excels in how much freedom it offers. Also, from experience, this is the kind of game that is best played with a few friends beside you (or online) and a handful of drinks at the ready.

Side note: I have never giggled so hard as when my friend missed jumping on a trolley while we were in the city, and I got to stare at their little character huffing and puffing after it, trying to leap onto the moving vehicle, while I watched in mirthful comfort.

And the game has practically no limits to what your character can do. The only big one is swimming. Do not, I repeat, do not take your character for a dip because stepping into water is automatic death. For some reason, you just can’t swim in this game.

But other than that, the game pretty much lets you do what you want.

That’s not to say that it is without shortcomings.

Honestly, I think the game feels pretty unplayable without friends. It doesn’t require co-op play, but just roaming around the world being silly by yourself does not hold a tenth of the appeal as doing it with friends.

The vehicle controls truly are terrible, and they take a while to get used to. If you’re trying to actually complete deliveries, you will hate any that involve aircraft.

In addition to that, Totally Reliable Delivery Service is good for maybe 3-4 hours of fantastic fun before you get tired of the environs, the controls, and the never-changing gameplay loop.

So it’s definitely not a forever game or a must-buy by any stretch of the imagination.

However…

…if you just so happen to have Xbox Game Pass and a few friends you can call on for a raucous time, then I would not miss out on Totally Reliable Delivery Service. It might not be a polished, triple-A experience, but it definitely delivers on a good time.

I rate Totally Reliable Delivery Service a totally-reliable-game-that-is-clearly-meant-to-inspire-goofy-fun-with-friends.

Side note: I should mention that the game’s soundtrack gets very repetitive. Almost to the point of insanity. You’ve been warned!

It’s a Wonderful Book: Wonder Review

I don’t mean to brag, but I’m a huge reader.

Like…a huge huge reader.

Anyone who knows me knows that I lug around a giant book bag filled with a multitude of books that I read simultaneously. It is an encumbrance that I am notorious for. Whenever I travel places, it is a whole other bag I have to take with me.

I read so much, there is usually a never-ending supply of books that I can recommend to my sister, who is also a big reader. I basically introduced her to all of Stephen King.

I think it’s apt to say I’m a more voracious reader than her, but my god, sometimes she just floors me with how awesome her reading selection is.

To give a perfect example, she is the one who introduced me to Game of Thrones.

Alya also introduced me to Wonder, a delightful book that is easy to read and absolutely touching to finish.

Wonder is about a young boy named Auggie with a disfigured face. He has lived most of his life being supported by his family with little interaction out in society, but the story covers his first trying year attending a public school. With a sense of humor and realism about his situation, Auggie navigates both the cruelty and kindness of other human beings.

I thoroughly enjoyed Wonder. It is without a doubt a feel-good story, even though it deals with sore themes of humiliation and public disdain. The book is parceled out into different sections, each section narrated by different characters, whether it’s Auggie, his sister, or one of his classmates.

This shift in perspective allows you to draw sympathy for varying characters that you might not have otherwise sympathized with. However, it did make me wish to linger a while longer with POVs I enjoyed. It sometimes felt that certain perspectives could have been expanded upon. The steady shift in narrators often left things unsaid.

That said, that is probably my only complaint with Wonder. It is seriously an uplifting book, even though its subject matter might come across as depressing. I know it made my sister cry on more than once occasion. As for me, I think I only cried at the ending, when there was a really sweet moment. A moment of unexpected kindness caught me completely off guard and I choked up. (It was the blatantly uplifting ending the narrative needed.)

Wonder’s chapters are very short, and the book as a whole makes for a fast read. This is the kind of book you could take with you on a holiday and finish in one go. I don’t read these kinds of books often enough, so I really treasure them when I do.

There is a movie based on Wonder, but I haven’t seen it. I would be very interested in watching it. As a matter of fact, I think I should get together with my sister and we could watch it together. Not only would it make for a great follow-up movie review post (yikes, I sound so mercenary), but it would be a nifty feel-good movie to watch with my bestest friend.

I would recommend Wonder to anyone who enjoys a heartfelt story that is straightforward and not overly sentimental. I’d only note the fact that it can be binge-read in a single evening and that the narrator changes from time to time.

I rate Wonder a wonder-to-read-and-a-joy-to-finish.

Sit Down and Watch Some WandaVision: WandaVision Review

I’m a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as is most of the globe at this point. (Is that an overgeneralization? Maybe. But I’m making it anyways!)

So no matter what the MCU elects to churn out to the masses, I’m going to watch it. I’m going to immerse myself in the trailers and the lore discussions and the review videos afterwards. It’s a whole process.

When I first saw the trailers for WandaVision, I was mightily intrigued. The show appeared to be doing something it had never tried before. Both Wanda Maximoff and the Vision were seen in these sitcom roles from various eras of television. This would be mystifying enough if it weren’t for the fact that the character of Vision was considered dead at this point.

What follows is going to be a spoiler-free review on the off chance you haven’t seen the show yet. (Though given that it’s been about a month since the last episode released, you really should have checked it out by now.) And yeah, I know I’m covering the show way later than I should. But, I mean, I am a Below Average person. It’s part of my descriptor. Might as well cover shows in a Below Average fashion, right?

WandaVision uses perhaps the most interesting vehicle I’ve yet seen to tell a Marvel Cinematic Universe story. It follows the familiar structure of sitcoms to tell its tale, so much so that you might not understand what’s going on at first.

Any fan of the MCU will enjoy this show as it offers a unique perspective into certain events that were never really explained in the films, and the sitcom angle is really quite fascinating. Newcomers to the MCU should definitely not start here, as the appeal of many moments in WandaVision rely heavily on past occurrences in the movies.

However, the people who will truly appreciate WandaVision are those who both love the MCU and have a deep-seated affection for a good sitcom. WandaVision is an homage to the art of the sitcom, and even though I’m not overly familiar with every sitcom on the block, even I could recognize the trends and stereotypes it was poking fun at.

Character development in WandaVision could have been something that was washed over thanks to the shiny appeal of the sitcom trappings, but several fan-favorite MCU characters get to display how the events of both Infinity War and Endgame have affected them. I’m just going to go right out and say it: Wanda in particular is the one to watch.

Unfortunately, and this is perhaps one of the most prevalent MCU weaknesses across the board, the “villain” suffers from rather unclear motivations and power mechanics. You are introduced to their story in a single episode, and no big explanations are provided.

The most intriguing aspect of WandaVision is how it sets up Wanda’s future in the MCU. The implications are major, and if you’re a fan of the universe, you will feel the potential ramifications of the show’s ending ripple throughout your mind more quickly than a snap of Thanos’ fingers.

Personally, I enjoyed the show, but it’s not my favorite outing into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s not something I will go out of my way to rewatch. That said, I heartily appreciate what the show set out to accomplish. It went for something new, and I think it largely succeeded.

Besides, I love campiness and I love super heroes, and WandaVision has both in spades.

I rate WandaVision a bewitching-good-time-that-spells-an-interesting-future-for-the-MCU.

Revisiting the Major Suckage of Twilight with Good Humor: Midnight Sun Review

Okay, feel free to make fun of me for going out of my way to buy Midnight Sun as soon as it came out. But let me just remind you that I have proven to have fairly discerning literary tastes over the course of this blog (I hope), so if I want to go through the book equivalent of discount sugary cereal, I am totally within my rights.

Besides, Midnight Sun was one of the most hilarious things I’ve read in a while. I think I cackled more than a hundred times over the course of reading the whole thing.

For those of you who don’t know, Midnight Sun is just the latest installment in the infamous Twilight franchise. However, instead of covering new territory, it retreads the same ground as the original book. This time, instead of reading through the story from the human girl’s perspective, Midnight Sun gives us a tour of the same story through the eyes of the vampire boy.

Or should I say man, since the dude is over a hundred years old at this point?

When I found out the plot of Stephanie Meyer’s latest book, I knew I had to get my hands on it. I mean, it sounded like comedy gold. And I was not wrong.

Just in case you’ve never read Twilight, here is a brief summary.

  1. Human Bella moves to a new place to live with her father very grudgingly and falls in love with an elderly vampire who lives there too, named Edward.
  2. The two of them spend a lot of time talking and trying to overcome the biggest obstacles in their relationship, one of which is the fact that Edward wants to eat her (and not in a fun way or anything like that he seriously wants to fucking kill her and drink her blood).
  3. Bella’s life gets put in danger because obviously she’s chilling with vampires on a regular basis and that’s not good.
  4. After a harrowing experience where she nearly dies but Edward saves her, the two of them go to prom.

Yeah, that’s seriously the story.

And Midnight Sun is the exact same plot as told by Edward.

I’m going to be completely honest, there were some good parts to the novel. For example, Edward is a special vampire that possesses telepathy. In Twilight, when you’re reading from Bella’s perspective, Edward either tells her what he senses from other people’s minds, or Bella has to make educated and convenient guesses as to what he’s “hearing” based on his expressions.

In Midnight Sun, we get it from the horse’s mouth. And I’m a total sucker for telepathy in books. Stephanie Meyer does a good job detailing what it’s like to hear people’s thoughts, so any time that happens, it’s an ameliorating experience.

One of Edward’s vampire siblings, Alice, has the ability to see into the future, and that too is also fun to read about.

However, one of the best things about reading Midnight Sun is for those cringey moments you remember from the first book. They are made even more cringey (and thus more hilarious) in this one.

I remember when I first read Twilight, I always thought Bella came across as an insanely selfish person who was constantly directly characterized as being selfless. For instance, she makes the move to live with her dad as a bit of a sacrifice play to help her mom out. However, her treatment of her father is nothing short of abysmal. She looks at him as an annoyance and often does not seem to stop and consider how he might feel about things.

She also treats purported friends as hindrances. Other people are stepping stones to get to what she wants. Aside from Edward, she never goes out of her way to think about what another person might be feeling.

But in Midnight Sun, we now have Edward coming along, showcasing left and right how he believes Bella is a phenomenally generous and giving person.

I don’t buy it.

Another thing that sucks but is funny is how the book maintains that incredibly unhealthy notion that you can find your one true love in a matter of months and then think it is okay to die for them. Or to be absolutely devastated if they leave you. I mean, don’t you think you shouldn’t necessarily base your life around another person? Shouldn’t your happiness stem from yourself?

The book also does a poor job of trying to explain plot holes that are apparent in the first. When Bella’s life is in danger, the vampires have to take a car to get to her, but one of the things we are frequently shown in every novel in the series is that vampires can move faster than a human can see. Even if it is daytime and they might sparkle if they stepped outside, you would think Edward and his family could have super-speeded to go rescue Bella without anyone noticing.

In my opinion though, the most hilarious thing about Midnight Sun is how it seeks to pull back from some of the troublesome content it included in Twilight.

As a pseudo-erotic young adult novel, there are moments in Twilight that play into these dominant-submissive stereotypes. However, if these moments were to occur in real life, they would come across as some severely messed-up behavior. Edward stalks Bella and watches her sleep at night without her knowing. Edward tries to control Bella’s actions, even going so far as to physically man-handle her to prevent her from doing things he doesn’t want her to do. He also has a tendency to order Bella to do things he does want her to do, no pleases or thank yous.

None of these things sit well with me given the context of the novel.

And how does Midnight Sun seek to rectify these mistakes?

By giving Edward intense anxiety in his inner monologues.

Every time he says something that could be seen as problematic, he instantly second-guesses and berates himself in his mind for doing so.

This is absolutely side-splitting to read.

One second Edward is displaying a terrible temper to Bella, the next he’s mentally horrorstruck at his own audacity.

I got whiplash reading Midnight Sun trying to keep up with Edward’s mood swings.

Now, as my totally Above Average readers, you’re probably wondering whether or not you should buy this book. I’ve simultaneously bashed and praised it in equal measure. Therefore, I have constructed a guide to help you determine whether or not you should pick up Midnight Sun the next time you’re in a bookstore.

Loved ItHated It
If You Have Never Read TwilightIf you have never read Twilight, but you think you might like the type of hilarity I’ve described, I’d recommend reading Midnight Sun only if you read Twilight first.If you have never read Twilight and loathe the notion of the story, don’t pick up Midnight Sun. You will hate it.
If You Have Read TwilightThere should be enough in Midnight Sun for you to love if you are a hardcore Twilight fan. Go right ahead.Pick up Midnight Sun only if you plan to read it with good humor and wish to really poke fun at how hilariously bad the first book truly is.

I don’t mean to bash on you if you do enjoy Twilight by the way. Everyone can like whatever they want. You’ll get no judgment from me if you like to immerse yourself in the series. My personal opinion is that the story is pretty flawed, but clearly I still draw enjoyment from it.

So in all seriousness, Midnight Sun builds on the strengths of Stephanie Meyer’s writing style, but that also means it falters when it rests on the foundational weaknesses of her first book in the series.

I rate Midnight Sun an absolute-riot.