I love October. Leaves falling. Longer nights. The crisp October air. Halloween season. Baseball playoffs! So imagine my excitement when I found out that Stephen King wrote a horror book related to baseball. I thoroughly enjoyed Stephen King’s It and 11/22/63. So I had high hopes for The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. Did King hit a home run, strike out or land somewhere in-between?
THE BOY WHO LOVED RAY FOSSE
Earlier this week, the sad news came out that Ray Fosse died after silently battling cancer for 16 years. Ray Fosse was the color commentator for my favorite team, the Oakland A’s, for 35 years from 1986-2021. I became a fan of the A’s in the mid ’90s when I was about 10. Ray also played for the Athletics during his 12 year MLB career. The news hit me hard, as I grew up listening to Ray Fosse. His personality and stories always made me laugh or taught me something about baseball (or even life in some cases). I invited him into my home 6 days each week from April to September. I will always think of Ray Fosse when I think of the A’s. Thanks for the memories, Ray. You’ll be missed!
The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon is about a nine-year-old girl named Trisha McFarland. She is a huge Red Sox fan. More specifically, she is in love with relief pitcher Tom “Flash” Gordon. She goes on a hike on the Appalachian Trail with her older brother and recently divorced mother. The horror begins when she gets separated from her mom and brother. It may seem a little far-fetched at first… after all, how the hell do you lose your nine-year-old daughter on a hike? But the sad truth is these things do happen from time to time, and is certainly more realistic than killer clowns and vampires (as seen in two of Stephen King’s most popular novels — IT and Salem’s Lot).
As I said, I’m an A’s guy through and through. Never cared for the Red Sox, especially in 2003 when they ousted my Athletics in the ALDS in dramatic (and painful) fashion. In fact, my A’s have carved out some traumatic playoff blunders over the past 20 years. At any rate, the Red Sox are currently battling the Houston Astros right now in the ALCS, and I find it fitting to review this book. It was nostalgic to come across some old familiar baseball names such as Mo Vaughn and Nomar Garciaparra. That was definitely a great team.
Nothing says the ’90s like Surge soda. Oh yeah, this book will remind you of how ’90s things are.
Castle Rock! A little easter egg for King fans as the man has written about the fictional Maine town of Castle Rock in over 12 of his books. Hell, it’s even got its own TV series on HULU.
So we have a nine-year-old girl lost in the woods, with not much else but some Twinkies, Surge and her Walkman radio. This is where the Red Sox/Tom Gordon baseball elements come into play.
I got a chuckle out of this V.C. Andrews shout out. V.C. Andrews was infamous for her teenage/young adult horror novels. Walk into any used bookstore (like Half Price Books) and browse their horror section. I guarantee you that V.C. Andrews will litter the front end of that section. Followed by Dean Koontz, Stephen King, Anne Rice and John Saul.
I liked the father-daughter relationship and how they bonded over baseball. More specifically, how their love for the Red Sox/Tom Gordon gave them an extra avenue to connect. I’m an old baseball romantic — fuse baseball into any medium (books, movies, games) and I’m usually there.
“Handsome yet evil Yankee shortstop, Derek Jeter.” Great line, ha! You can feel Trisha’s love for baseball bleeding off the pages. Her hopes for survival seem to hinge on Tom Gordon’s shoulders as much as anything else. If Tom Gordon could seal the save, SHE too would be saved. Hope. It’s such a vital thing to have, even when it comes from the strangest source. Blind hope in this case, sure. But hey, a nine-year-old girl’s got to hang on to something, right?
I guess Stephen King didn’t like Tino Martinez much, because he went out of his way to call Tino awful, awful. I like how Darryl Strawberry was simply referred to as the Straw Man.
Throughout the book, Trisha is “hunted” by some ominous being. Is it an evil person or something supernatural? I won’t spoil it but it is revealed in the end.
I was really hoping to like this book. It started out promising. I enjoyed the various baseball bits littered throughout. I was disappointed that there wasn’t more. Most of the book is about a nine-year-old girl navigating the Appalachian Trail by herself. A lot of goddamn trees and brooks. It got a little boring after a while, and then I felt like reading this became somewhat of a chore. I also felt that Trisha didn’t act like a nine-year-old girl. She felt more like early teens? Maybe King should have made her 12 or 13. It took me out of the story a little bit. Honestly, it was a dry read. I was quite disappointed. The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon has its fair share of supporters and fans, but it simply didn’t work for me. I came pretty close to not finishing it at several points, but I powered through to see the reveal of the “sinister entity” at the end of the book. The premise of this story had me sold, but the execution left a lot to be desired. A booming smash double off the Green Monster? More like what looks to be a home run only to sail past Pesky’s Pole. Oh well. You can’t win ‘em all. As baseball fans know, there’s always next season.
Readers who grew up in the early-mid ’90s loving monsters and all things macabre often cite R.L. Stine as one of their favorite childhood authors. But even before Mr. Stine cranked out Goosebumps month after month, there was good ol’ Bruce Coville. If that name evokes nostalgic memories of cozy reads from ages ago, you’re not alone. I feel he’s been kind of forgotten over the course of time, so today, on the eve of October, I’d like to cast the spotlight on the author largely responsible for introducing me (and many others) back in the early ’90s to the fascinating world of sci-fi. His all-around strange stories were often times bewitching and mystifying. Without further ado, let’s take a stroll down memory lane and look at some of his most memorable work.
MY TEACHER IS AN ALIEN SERIES
Before Covid-19, there was “Coville-89″ (sorry). Bruce Coville had some other work published prior, but I feel it was really My Teacher Is An Alien, published in the summer of 1989, that put Bruce on the map. At the time I was only six, so I was too young to read it. But I remember my brother, two years my senior, reading it in the fall of ’89. Even though the book was clearly beyond my reading level at the time, the cover haunted me for years. Coville wrote 3 sequels, and you couldn’t help but spot them everywhere throughout the early ’90s. They were an absolute hit series with kids before Stine released his first Goosebumps book, Welcome to Dead House, in the summer of ’92.
I ran across these bad boys at a second hand bookstore in 2019 and was greeted by a tidal wave of nostalgia. It was like stepping into a time machine and remembering that warm feeling of entering a classroom only to find the latest Scholastic book order buys waiting for you, sitting pretty on your desk. In some ways, it was like a mini Christmas morning.
Let’s talk about the art! They had a very distinct sci-fi flair that never left me. If I close my eyes, I can still see them as though they were right in front of my face.
Looks like a dinner date with the Grinch and SpongeBob SquarePants! There was always a fantastical element to the illustrations found in Coville’s books that did well to transport you to a different planet.
They were also a bit creepy! Stuff like this stays with you for a lifetime…
Credit John Pierard for these imaginative and provocative illustrations! Later works would be illustrated by Coville’s wife, Katherine, although Pierard would pop back in here and there. Both did an amazing job accentuating Bruce’s madcap stories.
If it wasn’t already readily apparent that Bruce was obsessed with aliens, the fall of 1993 provided further confirmation with the release of Aliens Ate My Homework. This was a brand new series with new characters. You gotta love the artwork on those covers. Super ’90s! With, dare I say it, a hint of Lisa Frank but for boys.
That age-old excuse “My dog ate my homework” was a huge line in the early ’90s, even though it originated many decades prior. So it was brilliant that Mr. Coville would adopt and modify it to Aliens Ate My Homework. It was an easy and instant gateway to another quadrilogy of zany sci-fi shenanigans.
The artwork really added a lot of life to the books and made them even more fun to read.
I remember some of the illustrations were pretty creepy and gave me the heebie-jeebies!
The most disturbing thing about this picture is probably the adult diaper that the alien is wearing. There was definitely some legit “nightmare fuel” in some of the artwork.
When the pictures weren’t mentally deranged, they took on a delightful and whimsical feel. Very adventurous, indeed.
Looking back on it, the art in Coville’s books was truly amazing. The kind of stuff that any 10 year old kid would eat up.
You can almost hear the crickets chirping the night away. You can almost feel that warm gentle summer breeze lightly brushing the back of your neck.
Bruce Coville’s books always did a great job of capturing that magical mix of blending whimsical adventures with just the right amount of creepiness and heart.
THE MAGIC SHOP SERIES
My Teacher Is An Alien wasn’t the only Bruce Coville book to hit stores back in the summer of 1989. The Monster’s Ring kicked off yet another quadrilogy for Mr. Coville. They weren’t as well known as his two aforementioned series, but they were still a blast.
I love the depiction of the old shopkeeper. Decrepit and slightly hunched over, he’s smaller than even the kid. He’s definitely seen a thing or two. Who knows what skeletons are hiding in his closet…
Michael J. Fox and 1985 called — they want Teen Wolf back!
CAMP HAUNTED HILLS
The first in the Camp Haunted Hills trilogy, How I Survived My Summer Vacation, was published in the summer of 1988 (a full year before even My Teacher Is An Alien). This was followed by Some of My Best Friends Are Monsters in 1989 and The Dinosaur That Followed Me Home in 1990. Monster of the Year is a standalone, but I had to throw it in there as it’s classic Coville. You could always count on him to conjure up stories of monsters and the macabre.
MONSTERS, ALIENS, GHOSTS — OH MY!
Beginning in September of 1993, Bruce Coville released the first anthology in a longstanding spooky series that would span 12 volumes. The first was called Bruce Coville’s Book of Monsters: Tales To Give You The Creeps. Coville curated various selections from different authors, ranging from veteran horror writers such as Joe R. Lansdale and Al Sarrantonio to beloved authors Jane Yolen and Jack Prelutsky. Of course, Coville made sure to include 3 of his own stories in this collection of 13 chilling tales. It was a no-brainer day 1 buy for me, and I must have read my well worn copy 50 times over. I haven’t read it in damn close to 30 years, so I’m not sure how well it holds up, but I certainly endeavor to find out one day soon.
It covered everything: monsters, aliens, ghosts, nightmares, magic and spine tinglers. The 12th and final volume, Bruce Coville’s Book of Magic II: More Tales To Cast A Spell On You, was published in the summer of 1997. I fell out of reading by then, and I have only ever read the first books in the Monsters and Aliens edition. So I have a lot of catching up to do! I’m looking forward to it.
I love how the sequel’s cover sees a role reversal. Callbacks and clever changes like such always score high in my book, no pun intended.
I quickly snatched up Bruce Coville’s Book of Aliens: Tales To Warp Your Mind when it came out in February of 1994. The cover art is just so badass. The color scheme, the huge bulky alien creatures, and the look of fear etched on the boy’s face as he knows danger is lurking right behind him… it hits all the feels! The sequel’s cover art — not so much.
Really digging that wavy font on the GHOSTS portion of the title. Also enjoy the feature story of each volume being highlighted in a nice sleek yellow box. They definitely nailed down the aesthetics.
Spine Tinglers, eh? I see we’re starting to run out of ideas but no matter. I’m still a sucker and will always be down for a mutant spider story!
I’m not sure what the difference is between Nightmares and Spine Tinglers, but the more the merrier! That skeleton there does 1980s Zebra horror paperbacks and Ruby Jean Jensen proud.
As if we haven’t jumped the shark already, here comes the Magic editions. These are probably more fantasy-based rather than horror-based, but I had to buy them anyway. Like I said, I’m a sucker.
PAINT ME A PICTURE
Like most Coville books, these anthologies had some really neat artwork. Since I read the first volume numerous times as a child, a lot of the images are burned in my mind. Just very spooky, eerie and imaginative illustrations that captivates as well as creep out…
Although R.L. Stine stole much of his thunder, Bruce Coville was always one of my favorite writers when I was growing up in the early-mid ’90s. His writing was a bit more sophisticated than Stine’s. They’re quite different actually, if memory serves me right. Coville cranked out a number of memorable series and books. I haven’t read any of his works in close to 30 years, so I’m not entirely sure how well they hold up today. But his stuff will always hold a special place in my heart. It’s so wonderfully nostalgic and a reminder of a simpler time in my life. My favorite of his is the Book of anthology series. I’ve only read 2 of the 12, so there’s no telling how good (or bad) the other 10 are. But that’s all part of the fun when you get a chance to watch, play, listen to, or in this case read stuff you missed out on back in the day.
Bruce Coville is thankfully still alive as of this writing. In the unlikely chance that Bruce sees this… I just want to say thanks for all the fun and spooky memories. I hope you come out with one last final Book of volume. It would be entry #13. A fitting number, indeed. But I already know what you would say. “Actually, I did write a volume #13 but alas… the aliens ate it.” Touché, Bruce. Touché.
This past November the Super Famicom (SNES as it’s known over in Japan) turned 30 years old. But on the North American side, it was on this day 30 years ago (August 23, 1991) that the Super Nintendo made its debut. Naturally, you’re going to see a lot of tribute pieces and articles praising the system’s amazing library of games, as well as plenty of retrospectives sure to bring a virtual nostalgic tear to your eye. Heck, you might even see some Top 30 or Top 100 lists floating around in celebration of the big 3-0. But I’m going to do something a little different. As great as the SNES has been these past 30 years, I can think of more than a few games that never made it to the SNES that would have made the console even stronger had they been. Specifically, I’m talking about 20 arcade ports the SNES should have received but, for one reason or another, never did.
Arcade gaming in the ’90s was a magical thing to experience as a young kid. There was something intoxicating about being in the thick of an arcade hall, with the flickering lights and glowing screens all vying for your quarters, iconic gaming sound effects galore blasting your ears, the alluring aroma of a cheese pizza wafting through the air. It was a social playground and THE place to be on Friday nights and weekends. All you needed were a few friends and a few quarters and you had a one way ticket to gaming nirvana.
But it was impossible for all my favorite arcade games of my youth to make the home leap. For many, it was like two ships passing in the night. Never meant to be, never saw the light of day. However you want to put it, these ill-fated arcade greats never made their way home to a Super Nintendo. But first, let’s examine the thrill of arcade to home ports back in the early-mid ’90s…
THE MAGIC OF 16-BIT ARCADE PORTS
One of the best aspects about growing up as a gamer during the early-mid ’90s was hyping yourself up about all the arcade ports that companies would develop for the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo. Playing the arcade game, loving it, dreaming about a Genesis or SNES port, then reading a few pages (sometimes less) about said port in EGM or GameFan Magazine (or both), and letting your imagination run wild as you studied the small grainy screenshots 20 times over. Rinse and repeat. It was a tried and true formula of that era! You knew both systems lacked the horsepower to replicate an arcade-perfect translation, but you were ecstatic if the home port captured the essence and spirit of its arcade counterpart. And sometimes, there was just enough magic out there in the moonlight for that to ring true.
The gaming world changed when Capcom unleashed Street Fighter II on the SNES in the summer of 1992. Capcom blew everyone’s minds by how well the home port looked, sounded and played. Sure it wasn’t arcade perfect, but it was more than good enough. It was, for its time, phenomenal. It truly felt like a piece of the arcade game was right there in your very own living room.
As a kid I remember telling my best friend Nelson, “Man, a quarter per play? If we play the home port of so and so at least 240 times, we’ll match the value of what my mom paid, and eventually get more than her money’s worth!” Because SNES games cost around $60 and 240 multiplied by 25 cents is $60. Ah, the innocence of youth…
Arcade ports on the SNES, especially those of arcade fighting games during that Golden Age of 2D fighters, became all the rage in the early-mid ’90s. Gamers couldn’t get enough and wanted more and more. If you played a game in the arcade circa 1992 or ’93, chances were that a 16-bit home port was inevitable the following year.
But that wasn’t always the case. There were many awesome arcade games that never saw a Super Nintendo conversion, for one reason or another. Here are my top 20 arcade games that sadly never saw the light of day on the Super Nintendo.
HONORABLE MENTION: TIME KILLERS
What would a list be without an honorable mention? I’ll keep it to just one this time, however. Time Killers, admittedly, wasn’t a good game even in its original arcade form. I’m not citing it for its quality of play. This is based upon pure curiosity and nostalgia.
Released in November of 1992, Time Killers is a weapons-based fighting game with buckets of blood for days. Players can aim specific body parts and cut them off. It didn’t play very well but it was like a 9 year old boy’s perverse dream come to life.
Almost every fighting game back then had your prototypical Ryu clone, but Rancid was in a class of his own. A punk rocker type wielding a chainsaw. Yeah, he was my guy whenever I plopped a quarter into this vile game.
A Sega Genesis port was planned but scrapped. Then in 1996, for some inexplicable reason when the Genesis was on life support, Time Killers finally came out. It received overwhelmingly negative reviews (EGM gave it scores of 5, 3, 3 and 3). As bad as the Genesis home port was, part of me still wanted to see a Super Nintendo conversion.
James Severin from Michigan City did as well!
According to this response, it appears as though there MIGHThave been plans for a Super Nintendo release but alas, it was never meant to be.
#20: THREE WONDERS
Released in May of 1991, Three Wonders features, not shockingly, 3 games in 1. The winner of the lot is easily Midnight Wanderers. It’s so good that it could have been a standalone game.
Midnight Wanderers is one of Capcom’s best lesser known games for my money! There was a Sega Saturn version of Three Wonders released, but only in Japan. Still, I would totally have loved this on the SNES!
The same protagonists return for a shooting game in the vein of Gradius. Chariot is fine but nothing special.
The third and final game in the package is a puzzle game by the name of Don’t Pull. It’s definitely NOTDon’t Play as it is perfectly playable and entertaining, but much like Chariot it’s nothing particularly memorable. Three Wonders didn’t make this list for the last two games. Consider those two as the appetizers and the main course being Midnight Wanderers (which has got to be one of the most underrated badass video game titles of all time).
Speaking of never seeing the light of day, Nightmare Busters was clearly inspired by Midnight Wanderers. Sadly, its planned SNES release was canned and even sadder, it’s an incredibly disappointing game. Although never officially released, there are ways to experience this game. You can if you want out of wild curiosity, but I was crushed by the broken mechanics of this game.
#19: SHOGUN WARRIORS
One of the earliest arcade games I can recall playing, Shogun Warriors is a massively nostalgic game for me. It features 8 generic characters who don’t even have proper names! They simply go by Geisha, Samurai, Ninja, Sumo and so on. I love the game’s exotic Japanese atmosphere. I was obsessed with Kappa, the green turtle-like creature who could stretch his limbs like Dhalsim and hurtle himself into a rolling attack like Blanka.
Developed by Kaneko and released in April of 1992, Shogun Warriors was one of the earlier Street Fighter II clones to hit the market. And it plays exactly like how you would expect a fighting game from early 1992 to play. 8 characters, all with 2-3 special moves each, bonus rounds and 4 bosses to battle. There’s a certain charm to how simple this game was. It certainly was inferior to Street Fighter II but I always appreciated the underdogs and had a good time whenever Shogun Warriors and I linked up.
I remember hoping that I would be able to play this game on my SNES either by Christmas of ’92 or spring of ’93 by the latest. Sadly, as is the case for every game on this list, that wasn’t meant to be. And unlike some of the other games on this list, there’s absolutely no question the SNES could have handled a very spot-on port of this arcade game.
Instead, Kaneko gave us Power Moves on the SNES in early 1993. It was bleh. Should have given us Shogun Warriors! But I digress…
#18: MARTIAL CHAMPION
For years Capcom and Konami battled it out for supremacy. Both companies were wildly beloved, produced seemingly an equal amount of fan favorites and were often cited as the top two developers in the industry. Konami dipped its fingers in the fight game with the release of Martial Champion in early 1993.
The year was 1993. Every week it seemed as though a new fighting game came out. It was the very height of the 2D fighting game boom. Martial Champion was one of my guilty pleasure favorites that year. I say guilty pleasure because deep down I knew it wasn’t the best. It was decent, but nothing special. I really dug how huge the fighters were, though. And the bright vibrant visuals were always catchy whenever I walked by the arcade cab. I just think it would have made for a fun SNES home conversion. But Konami clearly had other plans.
I was all about Titi — I know that sounded funny but how can you NOT love a Chinese hopping vampire?! Honestly, I wanted a home port just so I can play as him.
Never seen a hopping vampire movie before? You’re missing out! I highly recommend Mr. Vampire (1985). It’s essentially the one that started it all, and has never been outclassed. To me it’s the Halloween (1978) of hopping vampire films.
A home port of Martial Champion was released, but only for the PC Engine. It looked drastically different from the arcade game. I like to believe a Super Nintendo port would have been more faithful.
Instead of working on a port of Martial Champion, Konami gave SNES fans Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters. That game rocked, but I still wish we got Martial Champion as well. But if I had to pick one, Konami made the right call for sure.
#17: WORLD HEROES 2 JET
For a long time, if you’d asked me for my all-time favorite gaming franchise, my answer would have been World Heroes. Both SNES ports of World Heroes and World Heroes 2 were top-notch. So when World Heroes 2 Jet hit the arcade scene in April of 1994, I figured I would be playing it on SNES at some point in ’95. Nope!
Yes, I’d argue it was the sleeper hit of 1994. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who felt that way, as seen above. But despite the positive reviews and desire for a Super Nintendo translation, it never materialized. Possibly it was because it would have been released a little too late in the system’s life span — the 32-bit “next gen” consoles were fast on the move by 1995. The other reason could be perhaps sales of World Heroes 2 on the SNES indicated diminishing returns.
It’s a shame it never came out because Jet introduced faster gameplay (hence the name), 2 new playable characters (Jack and Ryofu) and brand new special moves for certain fighters. Janne for example now has a stunning phoenix attack. Jack, by the way, was based off the infamous serial killer Jack the Ripper.
For fans of Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Ryofu was based off legendary warlord, Lu Bu.
World Heroes will forever hold a special place in my gaming heart. Oh, and oddly enough, there WAS a port of World Heroes 2 Jet… on the Game Boy of all systems!
The fighters have adopted a cute chibi look. Surprisingly, all 16 characters remain intact. For a Game Boy port, it plays amazingly well. It makes me only wonder even more how great a Super Nintendo port would have been. But hey… technically… you can hook this game up to a Super Game Boy and play World Heroes 2 Jet on a Super Nintendo. Fact: I have done that before and it is quite a damn good fighting game. I just wish it received the full 16-bit SNES treatment!
#16: TOP HUNTER
A delightful 2 player romp, Top Hunter is unique among its peers for a few reasons. The first being that you can execute special moves with Street Fighter II-esque commands. There are also super special moves because it was 1994 and why not? Another cool feature is the ability to switch between the foreground and background. These aspects added some depth to what would have otherwise been another side-scrolling co-op action platformer. Oh, and some of those bosses are crazy!
The SNES has its fair share of fun co-op games; Top Hunter would have fit in beautifully. The graphics are quite detailed so there definitely would have been a dip there. But I like to think the SNES could have handled some version of this game in a satisfying manner.
It did come out in the summer of 1994 though, and that period seems to be a cut-off point for the SNES. By virtue of the fact that by the time a port of a mid ’94 arcade game is ready for release on the SNES, it’d be spring or even summer of 1995. By then the 32-bit monsters were already gnawing at the door. Perhaps developers and publishers alike knew it did not make sense from a cost-effective perspective.
Whatever the reason may be, I think we can all agree Top Hunter would have been a welcome addition to the Super Nintendo’s amazing library!
#15: BUCKY O’HARE
As a kid growing up during the peak of Saturday morning cartoons, I was lucky to witness many fantastic shows. From Transformers to ThunderCats, I gobbled them all up like a sugary bowl of frosted cereal. There were many lesser known and underrated cartoons that flew under the radar, however. In late 1991, I was introduced to Bucky O’Hare. Based off a comic series in the mid ’80s, I fell in love with the quirky characters and space-based battles. Not surprisingly, like many cartoons during that time, someone snatched the right to make a video game out of it.
Even better, that company was Konami. In such reliable hands, Bucky O’Hare was a terrific 4 player shoot ‘em up that would have been great on the SNES, even as a 2 player game. But, we all know how that turned out…
Curiously, Konami did release a Bucky O’Hare game on the 8-bit NES in early 1992. It’s often cited as one of the system’s best “hidden gems.” While I’m happy Konami gave us that stellar game, I’m also a bit saddened that they never made a Super Nintendo version of any kind. Bummer indeed!
#14: WILD WEST C.O.W.-BOYS OF MOO MESA
They say the only things certain in life are death and taxes. Add to that Konami making badass games out of cartoon IPs during the early ’90s. The cartoon series made its debut in September of 1992; the arcade game came out only 2 months later. I remember watching the cartoon. It was one of those shows I always wanted to like more than what I actually did. The arcade game, on the other hand, did not disappoint whatsoever.
With up to 4 player simultaneous mayhem, Wild West C.O.W.-Boys of Moo Mesa was a rollicking good time. It plays similarly to Konami’s other run and gun, Sunset Riders. Some people even see this as sort of a spiritual successor. Alls I know is it’s yet another stellar Konami game from the early 1990s. What else is new?
The fact that Sunset Riders (September ’91) received a SNES port (October ’93) and a DAMN GOOD one at that… makes this omission a harder pill to swallow. But it makes sense when you factor in that the show went off the air in late ’93, and a port would have been released no earlier than ’94. Unless it’s a super popular IP, such things can have a short shelf life with only a small window to capitalize.
“This town ain’t big enough for both of us,” the old saying goes. That rang true as only Sunset Riders saw a SNES home port. Forced to pick one, I can’t argue with Konami. I just wish there was room for both.
#13: BASEBALL STARS II
One of the most beloved baseball games of all time, Baseball Stars II is loads of fun. Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball is my favorite baseball game of all time, but Baseball Stars II gives Griffey a run for its money.
We could only imagine how awesome a 16-bit port would have been. Sadly, that was a swing and miss… [I see what you did there -Ed.]
#12: CADILLACS AND DINOSAURS
In the early ’90s Capcom could seemingly do no wrong. That continued with Cadillacs and Dinosaurs, a wild beat ‘em up that, much like the name suggests, affords you the opportunity to drive fancy Cadillacs and beat up agitated dinosaurs. It was simple and so, SO ’90s. It was perfect.
There are few things I enjoy more than some classic run and gun action. Contra was always one of my favorite NES games. And Contra III: The Alien Wars was perhaps even better! Cyber-Lip is definitely no Contra, but man would I have loved to play this in the comfort of my living room back in the early ’90s.
Released in November of 1990, this is the oldest game on my list. The Super Famicom just made its debut over in Japan during that time. Imagine Cyber-Lip as an early launch title to go along with the Super Nintendo in North America circa September 1991! The units it would have sold… what a missed opportunity.
Featuring some of the most memorable and craziest looking bosses I’ve ever seen, Cyber-Lip left a definite impression on me. More than 30 years later, some of those unforgettable visuals are still vividly seared in my mind. Seriously, whoever created that boss design above is one sick and twisted individual. There are better examples of this type of game out there, but to me few are as nostalgic!
Ever since playing NES games such as Rygar and Yo-Noid, I’ve always been a fan of games where your main weapon is either a yo-yo or a boomerang-like weapon. Data East’s Spinmaster satisfied that itch and more!
I couldn’t help but stop and gawk at this game anytime I came across it in the arcades back in late 1993. The graphics were so rich and colorful. It looked like a Saturday morning cartoon come to life. There’s something about the aesthetics of Spinmaster that really speak to me. And it just looks like the kind of game that would have fit perfectly on the SNES! Toned down of course, as was always the case with arcade conversions, but still capturing the essence of the arcade original.
Data East was a solid company back in the ’90s. They weren’t on that magical Capcom or Konami tier, but you could almost always count on them to deliver something worth your precious quarters.
While Spinmaster may not top many people’s minds when talking about favorite arcade games from the ’90s, it’s one of those games that I always had to plop a quarter (or two) into whenever I spotted it in the wild. Be it some random pizza joint or even a laundromat, it was always fun to play especially with a friend fighting the good fight right beside you.
#9: NIGHT SLASHERS
Speaking of the devil Data East, in early 1993 they combined two of my most favorite things: horror and beat ‘em ups. And it was, as you can surmise, glorious. Who didn’t want to dispose of rotting zombies and various monsters of all sorts? It was bloody, brutal and simply splendid.
Unfortunately, like all games on this list, Night Slashers and the SNES were like two ships passing in the night. This was before Nintendo loosened up on their family friendly image circa mid-1994, allowing SNES games to take on more of a violent nature if need be. What a shame too, as this would have been a hell of a fun game to play at home with a friend.
One of my favorite arcade games in 1991, Vendetta by Konami is often times the game I have in mind whenever I think about beat ‘em ups. To me there’s just something quintessential about Vendetta that warms my beat ‘em up loving heart. For one, I love being able to play as either the clone of Mr. T or Hulk Hogan. Right off the top, you simply can’t beat that.
Another huge win for Vendetta were all the cool weapons littered throughout that you can use to even the odds. Knives, guns, spiked baseball bats, wooden crates, garbage cans, whips, beer bottles, chains, barrels, hell even bags of flour! As a kid it blew my mind the insane number of weapons available at your disposal. Vendetta was all about having a good time.
Up to 3 friends can join you for the mayhem and destruction. A Super Nintendo port would surely have been reduced to just 2 players, but it still would have been a blast. I loved all the locales too, with my favorite being a goddamn grocery store of all places. That’s the kind of ingenuity I want in my beat ‘em ups!
#7: SUPER PUZZLE FIGHTER II TURBO
Arriving in arcades in May of 1996, the SNES was already nearing life support in North America at that time. So one might think a conversion of Puzzle Fighter to be highly unlikely. I would agree had it NOT been for Capcom releasing an amazingly competent port of Street Fighter Alpha 2 on the SNES in late ’96. I could easily envision Capcom doing the old 1-2 punch combo releasing BOTH titles that holiday season as one last hurrah, but perhaps they decided instead to put all their SNES eggs into one basket. Puzzle Fighter pits Street Fighter and Darkstalkers characters against one another, all in the name of gem smashing supremacy.
Each of the 8 characters have their own gem patterns, which added to the game’s strategy and replay value. Chibi renditions of the fighters stand center stage and perform their special moves on one another when players execute big combos. It all added to the fun and charm of Puzzle Fighter. It’s one of those simple games that is easy to pick up but hard to put down.
And not being a particularly demanding game in terms of graphics and specs, I’m sure Capcom could have easily converted this for a quick buck for those still clinging to their SNES that holiday season of 1996 (surprisingly more people than you think because some were not ready, for one reason or another, to move on to the 32-bit systems just yet). I sure wish that were the case, because Puzzle Fighter would have given Tetris Attack a good run for its money as best puzzle game on the SNES!
#6: SAMURAI SHODOWN II
Samurai Shodown (known as Samurai Spirits in the Land of the Rising Sun) made waves when it landed on the arcade scene back in the glorious summer of 1993. Similar to Shogun Warriors (featured earlier on this list at #19), Samurai Shodown is set in feudal Japan with a focus on weapon-based combat. It caught many an eye with its unique aesthetics and atmosphere. The sound effects of swords clanging and slicing flesh were haunting! Even the smallest details, such as the whipping wind sound effect of Haohmaru’s tornado projectile, is seared in my memory bank nearly 30 (!) years on. A scaling effect had the camera zoom in when combatants were in proximity of each other, and would pull back to show the scope of the battlefield when the fighters were farther apart. Either view was awe-inspiring and further helped to separate Samurai Shodown from the rest of the fighting game pack.
With a fantastic foundation already in place, the sequel blew the door off the hinges with 4 new fighters, more special moves (including super special attacks with the RAGE meter), advanced techniques such as ducking and rolling, and easter eggs just to name a few. Samurai Shodown II was the pinnacle of fighting game nirvana in late 1994. That was around the same time the SNES received a decent (but not spectacular) port of the first Samurai Shodown. Gone was the scaling and humongous fighters. The fighters were sadly reduced to a pint size, and some censorship issues marred the SNES port. Still playable, but definitely missing some of the key aspects that made the arcade original so fun and special.
But as we saw with the SNES ports of Fatal Fury 2 and King of the Monsters 2, there are some examples of mediocre (or even awful) first ports in a series that received a far superior sequel port. I am of the mindset that Samurai Shodown II would have been one of the best fighting games on the SNES. Alas, the world shall never know.
#5: ELEVATOR ACTION RETURNS
Most of us who grew up gaming in the late ’80s are likely to remember Elevator Action on the 8-bit NES (although it began its life in the arcades in 1983). An interesting game in theory, I never quite liked it as much as I was hoping to. More than 10 years later (1994), Elevator Action Returns rectified all of the previous game’s shortcomings. The game I always pictured in my mind wanting the NES version to be finally came to fruition, and it was nothing short of amazing.
Taking on a grittier atmosphere, as one of 3 agents you navigate the various stages shifting elevators, blasting bad guys and blowing shit up. The game tickles the imagination in a way that most games can only dream of doing. Among the many things I love about this game are all the little touches, such as graffiti sprawled on the walls. My favorite being CRUSH THE OLD ORDER!!It really transports you to a far-flung dystopian world that’s corrupt beyond repair, dripping with evil and decay at every nook and cranny.
Few things are as satisfying as blowing up a box of explosives in a hallway and seeing a bad guy come out of the door right on cue, thereby setting himself aflame. Even better? Seeing his friends follow suit one after another, lighting each other up like a trail of birthday candles! Elevator Action Returns has a subtle sense of dark humor that adds to the overall enjoyment and really elevates it (sorry) above the rest. Who knew crushing enemies underneath an elevator could be so much damn fun?!
Best of all, you can save the world with a friend in tow. Each of the agents have their own strengths and weaknesses, as well as a special attack, to increase replay value. The game is short and sweet, and one I often revisit. Sega Saturn owners were lucky enough to receive a flawless port. It’s one of my top 10 Saturn favorites — I replayed it so much in the early-mid 2000’s and still play it once in a while to this very day.
Still, I would have loved to play Elevator Action Returns on the SNES back in the ’90s with my gaming pals. There aren’t enough quality 2 player run ‘n gun experiences on the SNES, and EAR would have been a much welcome addition.
#4: WWF WRESTLEFEST
I grew up watching the WWF religiously with my uncle, brother and best friend. I loved the larger than life characters and the zany circus world of professional wrestling. In the summer of 1991, we were graced with the presence of WWF WrestleFest at our local arcade. The huge sprites, the insanely colorful visuals and the ability to play as the heroes of my childhood (such as Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior) made WrestleFest a damn near religious experience.
WrestleFest quickly took on sort of a mythical status within my gaming crew in the early ’90s. As ardent wrestling geeks, we poured countless quarters into the machine as we punched, kicked, scratched and clawed our way to the top. It’s one of those special games that’s definitely in my Mount Rushmore of “Oh man, how I wish this came out on the SNES!”
It has some of the greatest aesthetics I’ve ever seen in any game, ever. The wrestlers were big and beefy just like they were in real life. The blue mats with the classic old school WWF logo really popped, and the short yellow energy bars (with red indicating the damage inflicted) made it visually very satisfying to look at. It’s exactly how I picture a WWF arcade game to look like (don’t get me started on the crappy aesthetics of WWF WrestleMania: The Arcade Game…)
Sadly our hopes and dreams were crushed when a home translation never materialized. Instead, SNES owners were “treated” to the very forgettable WWF Super WrestleMania. Some small form of redemption appeared in 1993 with WWF Royal Rumble and WWF Raw the following year, but neither could hold the jock strap of WrestleFest.
A Super Nintendo port would come with much (graphical) sacrifice, but I bet it would have been a competent effort easily worth one of our birthday or Christmas bullets. Alas, CARD SUBJECT TO CHANGE…
#3: THE SIMPSONS ARCADE GAME
In 1991, both The Simpsons and Konami were on fire. Neither could seemingly do any wrong. So when the two mega brands joined forces, you knew the end results would be nothing short of phenomenal. And that’s exactly what eager arcade goers got with (un)arguably one of the most memorable arcade games of all time.
Playing as one of either Homer, Marge, Bart or Lisa, The Simpsons Arcade Game perfectly captured the zaniness and wacky appeal of the popular cartoon show. Few things could rival corralling 3 buddies and bashing your way through Springfield.
I can’t tell you how many quarters my friends and I wasted lovingly spent on this game. It was just one of those games that whenever you saw the arcade cab, you JUST had to play it. There’s an instant pick up and play factor to it that reminds you of why you love video games so much. At their core, video games should be fun distractions that help to take your mind off the real world and transport you to a magical land where clogged six lane highways and bills don’t exist. Few did that better than The Simpsons Arcade Game.
Obviously, a SNES port would require some scaling back. No 4 player mode. Less animations. Lower quality of sound and visuals. All perfectly acceptable. My buddies and I were ready for the “inevitable” home port. Therefore, a small part of us collectively died when it sadly never did.
As much as never being able to play this on our SNES crushed us, there was another Konami brawler based off another highly popular IP that cut us even deeper…
In 1991 my friends and I were absolutely obsessed with Marvel’s 1991 trading cards. We bought packs like crazy at a local card shop by the name of Triple Play. Each pack, costing only $1, contained 12 cards. It was awesome because $1 was easy enough to wrangle from your parents on any given day. Then you’d head to Triple Play, buy a pack or 2, check out your new goodies and negotiate to trade away your doubles for that elusive card still missing in your ever growing collection. This, mind you, was all conducted while waiting excitedly for the Street Fighter II line off in the corner to die down. It was a foolproof recipe for a perfect lazy Sunday.
In early 1992 Konami dropped yet another gem, this time featuring the incomparable X-Men. To say that my friends and I were over the moon would be the understatement of the year. Up to 6 players can team up and take out Magneto and his vile lackeys. My ride or die character? Colossus. Always Colossus!
Confession time: There was a time in 1992 when I was being an outright prick. My friend and I used to cruise the arcade hall, and whenever we saw a little kid playing X-Men, I would walk right up to his control panel and spam the special attack button. This unleashes a powerful attack BUT at the expense of a little health. So I would basically drain the poor guy’s health bar to zilch and then he’d die in quick fashion. I remember doing this maybe 2 or 3 times, and laughing with my friend as we ran off. I don’t know why I did that — I’m certainly not proud of it and usually was a goody two shoes by all accounts. I guess it was a phase I went through and I just had to get it out of my system. To this day I can still see Colossus spamming his special attack. Poor kid. If you’re reading this, I apologize for being an asshole. I know it’s an apology 30 years too late, but yeah.
So I’ll take ownership and full responsibility. My terrible actions led to some bad karma, which then nixed any chance of a Super Nintendo port. At least Capcom gave us X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse in late 1994. It’s nowhere the same as the X-Men arcade game in terms of quality, but it was at least pretty solid in its own right. Hey, sometimes you gotta take what you can get, right?
The year was 1994. I was in the 5th grade and at the height of my childhood prime. Fighting games were still on top and my love for monsters and all things macabre were at an all-time high. So it was a match made in heaven (er, hell?) when Capcom released Darkstalkers in the summer of 1994. Featuring 10 monstrous characters, ranging from clones of Dracula to Frankenstein to a werewolf and more, it was a true monster mash of epic proportions.
To simply label Darkstalkers as “Street Fighter II but with monsters” would be doing it a gross disservice. It has its own distinct feel that made it so fun and unique to play. The visuals and aesthetics were all top-notch as we came to expect from Capcom in the ’90s. Hell, I can still hear the memorable music and sound effects loud and clear in my head to this very day.
Like many of the other games on this list, a SNES port would have been scaled down by a great degree. Fewer frames of animation, less vibrant colors and other sacrifices would have been necessary to fit it all on one tiny 16-bit cartridge. But I believe it could have been done successfully. The monsters would be smaller and the speech samples would have less impact but man would I have loved to play this on my SNES in 1995!
Some of the more gruesome parts, like Bishamon slicing his opponent in two, would need to be cut (sorry, no bad pun intended). But especially knowing what Capcom managed to pull out of the SNES with their stellar port of Street Fighter Alpha 2, Darkstalkers would have been a cinch for the Big C.
Capcom didn’t do much wrong in the ’90s or on the Super Nintendo, but never releasing a Darkstalkers port tops my very short list of things they misfired on. But given all the great SNES titles they bestowed upon us, this glaring omission is a forgivable sin. Still, a competent Darkstalkers port would probably have been one of the top 5 fighting games on the SNES.
Thankfully, many of the games on this list has been made playable on the Nintendo Switch. And there are few, if any, imperfections. Still, there’s no accounting for how priceless it would have been if all these games came out on the SNES when we were kids in the ’90s. Because even though all Super Nintendo ports of arcade games had some degree of flaws and warts, a good number of them managed to capture the feel and essence of what made their arcade counterpart so much damn fun to play. And it was that special feeling of bringing them home from the rental store (or Toys R Us) for the first time and being blown away that you were playing a variation of the arcade game you loved so much in the comfort of your very own living room. There was something pure and magical about that. It’s a time capsule to what is a very nostalgic period of our lives for many of us reading this. So long as the home port represented the arcade game moderately well, we were as ecstatic as vampires crashing a bloodmobile. So here’s to 30 years of the Super Nintendo kicking ass and taking names. What a damn fun journey it has been. But as great as it was, it would have been even better had these 20 games come out. Yet for all the great home ports we missed out on, let’s remember how lucky we have been over the past 30 years. To this day, the SNES for my money still boasts one of the best gaming libraries ever assembled. Happy 30 years, SNES!
Being that it’s Friday the 13th as well as the fact that summer is quickly winding down (I resume teaching on Monday for the first time in-person since that fateful Friday the 13th of March 2020 when COVID-19 shut everything down), I can’t think of a better time than right now to review Summer Spirit. This book will always have a special place in my heart for 3 reasons. 1). My wife bought this for me as one of my birthday gifts in late July. 2). It marked the first graphic novel I’ve read, which was something I wanted to do since I got back into reading in early 2019. 3). Fittingly so, it marks the first graphic novel review on RVGFanatic. So without further ado, let’s dim the lights, bust out the Ouija board and take a closer look at this quirky and creepy coming-of-age graphic novel…
Summer? Check. Spooky supernatural shit? Check. Coming-of-age tropes? Check. Yep, the moment I saw this book in the store for the first time I knew I had to get it. The pastel colors and unique art style really drew me in. It’s not like many of the other “me too” graphic novels you typically see lining up the shelves at your local book store. There is a distinct and fun flavor to this one!
Louise is looking forward to spending another lazy summer at her grandma’s house with her cousins. Reading endless stacks of comic books, chilling at the beach, feeling the sand and water between her toes. Yup, this was going to be another awesome summer. Little did she know that she would get way more than she bargained for!
Some interesting subplots involving the grandma are hinted at, although never fully explored. Admittedly a bit of a missed opportunity. My imagination filled in the gaps, but I wished that the author had flesh out grandma a little bit more.
There are quite a bit of boxes where there’s no text at all. Elizabeth Holleville did a great job at creating an unsettling and uneasy atmosphere. You could just feel that something off was lingering in the air… perhaps wafting around the corner just beyond the scope of your vision…
A sense of mystery and creepiness pervades throughout the story. You’re just waiting for that shoe to drop!
There’s definitely something disturbing about all those closeup shots that focus on some rather iffy artifacts. It’s like I know something just ain’t quite right…
Slumber parties and summer go together like ghost stories and a campfire. This stuff will take you right back to your adolescent years. It personally brings back a lot of fond memories as my friends and I spent countless summer nights regaling one another with tales of the macabre.
Oh damn, say no more. The Koreans know their horror shit for sure!
A how-to guide to seeing ghosts, eh? Go on… I’m listening…
That’s very true… and quite unsettling when you think about it. Even more so when there’s a creepy ass figure right behind ya!
This is the kind of thing that you’ll never forget. It’s like one of those urban legends one of your friends shared back in the ’90s that sounds plausible enough to the point where you don’t want to test it out… in fears that it just might come true.
What did she see? I can’t spoil that for ya… you’ll have to read it to find out. One of my favorite things about Summer Spirit is how surprisingly spooky it all is. I almost wish they went even further and made this a graphic novel with an adult audience in mind.
I absolutely adore the artwork in this graphic novel. It’s very striking. Louise and her cousins are heading out to town for a nice little girls’ night out.
Ah, how I love the summer time. Those peaceful idyllic summer nights are simply unbeatable. Crickets chirpings, stars out in full force, the calm serenity of a summer evening. No school, no homework and just all the time in the world to play video games and watch horror movies galore with your best pal. But I digress…
Fair warning by the way… Summer Spirit shockingly has a few risqué scenes. Definitely not for kids! The picture above is one of the tamer ones, actually. The more explicit scenes totally caught me off guard as I thought this would be a coming-of-age “bubbly” story with supernatural happenings. It’s actually quite dark and dour. I mean, it’s not hardcore horror by any means, but it’s not suitable for kids under 13, either.
I read Summer Spirit in one sitting. It took me around an hour to zip through the book’s 262 pages. There are a lot of pages with very little text or none at all, so it makes for an extremely fast read. Sometimes I wished the author had fleshed out some details a bit more. Other times I loved the minimalism. The artwork catches the eye and I love the pastel-y look. The story moves in some interesting directions. A few moments where it does feel a bit disjointed knock it down a peg or two. But overall, I quite enjoyed it. It was a fun summer read with more than a hint of uneasiness permeating throughout.
Best of all, Summer Spirit does what a good book should: it tickled my imagination and transported me to a fantastical world different from my own. I’ll read many more graphic novels to come, but I’ll never forget this one for all its weirdness and a foreboding sense of impending dread. It’s got its share of flaws but I could easily see myself revisiting this book several times down the road during those glorious summer seasons. A lot more unfolds after Lisa and Louise meet. Find out for yourself! As for me, I’ll enjoy the last bittersweet remnants of summer while I still can. Farewell once again, summer. Until we meet again…
45 years ago, during that very hot summer of 1976, Night of the Crabs was published and Guy N. Smith’s life would never be the same. Although he had a few horror novels published prior, it was Night of the Crabs that truly put Mr. Smith on the map. As one can surmise from the title, classic literature this ain’t. Oh no, it’s pulpier than hand squeezed orange juice and cheesier than grated Parmesan. And therein lies the beauty for those who are not opposed — or, better yet, inclined — to reading some B-Movie level pulp horror fiction.
In a 2017 reprint, Guy N. Smith reflected on that scorching summer of ’76.
Sadly, Guy N. Smith passed away on December 24, 2020. He was 81. I’m sure he’s looking down, smoking his pipe and grinning at the fact that his little book is now celebrating 45 years!
Guy’s hilarious dedication. Jean’s his wife and clearly, she “has to put up with it all.” Whatever that entails!
RIDING THE WAVE
Peter Benchley’s Jaws was published on February 1, 1974. The movie was released on June 20, 1975. Both the book and film were huge successes. The Rats was published in November of 1974 and was a massive hit for James Herbert. These books no doubt inspired Guy N. Smith to write about giant mutated murderous crustaceans. Heck, the front cover of Night of the Crabs proudly declares, “In the tradition of THE RATS.”Just in case anyone thought otherwise.
IT ALL BEGAN WITH AN INNOCENT SWIM
As so often was the formula for many horror books, the first page introduces 2 characters whose eventual and unfortunate demise becomes the start of a nasty chain reaction. The 2 unlucky victims here are Ian Wright and Julie Coles, a pair of hormonal teenage lovers. On a side note, I can’t help but love the British lexicon — “holiday-maker” gets me every single time. Good ol’ Guy.
Buddy, you wish it was just a cramp! The crabs are craving some soft tender human flesh…
Compared to some of Guy’s later works, Night of the Crabs is fairly tame by comparison. Although, Ian Wright might say otherwise — if he could, that is.
We soon meet marine biologist Cliff Davenport, Ian’s uncle. Ian and Julie work for Uncle Cliffy, who becomes increasingly concerned when they fail to show up for work. He begins to fear something more than just “sexual procrastinations.” Perhaps they were involved in some sort of road accident. Before his mind can race to another scenario even worse, there’s a rapping at his door. A pair of officers. Oh bloody hell…
This part is such a heartbreaker. The stark contrast between the relief of the officers and Cliff’s real emotions behind closed doors is so jarring. The air of finality that closes this chapter is crushing. And thus begins our protagonist’s journey at uncovering the truth…
It isn’t long before Cliff meets Pat Benson. Not surprisingly, the two become more than acquaintances with a shared mission. They discover the giant crabs and know that no one will believe them without any proof. It’s time to concoct a plan to secure said proof. I love that this was written in 1976 and not 2021. Had it been the latter, acquiring proof would have been as simple as whipping out your phone. Imagine, mutated killer crabs on TikTok! But back then, with far less technology, things were a lot harder! There’s a palpable sense of struggle and danger that exists because it was written in the age of long ago.
Guy’s writing… it’s not Hemingway but I do find there’s a certain charm to it. His sex-related scenes are perhaps a bit clumsy, admittedly. But he redeems himself with paragraphs like the last one above. I’ve read a lot of crappy to below average horror writers — Guy N. Smith is easily better than the dreck that tried to capitalize on the horror boom of the ’80s.
King Crab, being even bigger than the other crabs (who are said to be the size of cows), is the leader of the cast. Smith portrays King Crab in particular as being a crafty, sentient creature. As if a pissed off giant crab in command of an endless army isn’t bad news enough, now you add brains to the equation and things quickly become catastrophic. And as you can see from the picture above, King Crab is absolutely vicious. Yikes!
Will Cliff Davenport and Pat be able to save the day? What fate will befall King Crab and his minions? Read the book to find out! Guy N. Smith went on to write EIGHT sequels, with the last being The Charnel Caves released in 2019. It’s his most popular series and this first entry is arguably his most (in)famous book. I had a good time with it and zipped through it in just a few days. It’s nothing spectacular, just decent mindless fun. If you’ve never read Guy N. Smith before, know that he’s very direct and to the point. He wrote in a day and age when horror books were not yet stuffed with background detail nor did they have to be 300+ pages. Guy gets you in and out. It makes for a super fast read that you don’t have to commit a lot of time to, or clear out your calendar for. Night of the Crabs is far from his best work but being the book that really launched his career and put him on the map, it’s a must read for any Guy N. Smith enthusiast. Night of the Crabs is the equivalent of a popcorn B-Movie. Or, in the literary world, a “beach read.” How fitting. Now, only eight more Crabs books to read…
2 summers ago on eBay I stumbled upon — quite by happenstance — a trashy horror novel by the name of CANNIBALS. The cover art was so wildly compelling, graphic and politically incorrect that resistance proved futile. Luckily, I was the winning bidder and devoured Cannibals (no pun intended) as soon as it arrived. It was my first foray into the twisted and macabre mind of Guy N. Smith, who upon further research I discovered was a rather prolific writer of pulpy horror fiction. Mr. Smith thrived in the ’70s and ’80s when paperbacks from hell were at the peak of their powers, and Cannibals became the first in a long line of Guy N. Smith books that I soon started collecting. Sadly, Guy N. Smith passed away at the age of 81 on December 24, 2020. Similar to Richard Laymon, Guy N. Smith was one of the biggest driving forces in my horror fiction fandom. It’s only fitting then to highlight some of his work and commemorate the man who had one hell of a career. Whether he wrote about killer animals or doomsday plague-infested nightmare scenarios, Guy N. Smith was a true master of the macabre.
CRABS R US
Born on November 21, 1939, Guy Newman Smith has published approximately 4,000 articles and wrote over 120 books during his prolific career. His first horror novel, Werewolf By Moonlight, was published in 1974. However, it was Night of the Crabs, released in 1976, that gave Guy N. Smith his first big hit. Based off James Herbert’s The Rats (the cover admits as much), Night of the Crabs would go on to spawn no less than SEVEN sequels. The last of which was published on June 22, 2019 as The Charnel Caves. Talk about milking a series based on killer mutated crabs!
Night of the Crabs was re-released in 2017 with a new introduction penned by the legend himself.
Guy’s hilarious dedication in Night of the Crabs. Jean’s his wife and clearly, she “has to put up with it all.” Whatever that entails!
MORE THAN JUST CRABS
Although perhaps best known for his Crabs series, Guy N. Smith wrote about more than just murderous crustaceans. Take, for example, his brutal take on cannibalism with the aptly (and creatively) named Cannibals. Do not read it before eating! Trust me on that one.
If rain-soaked creepy carnivals and possessed evil wooden dolls float your boat, you might want to check out Guy’s Manitou Doll. Personally, I found it slightly disappointing but your mileage may vary. Undeniably striking and amazing artwork, though!
According to the summary on Goodreads, Bloodshow is about “a ruined castle in the Highlands that serves as a blatant tourist trap. Its dungeons are stuffed with fake horrors. The Werewolf, the Cannibal, the Torturer, the Executioner, the Vampire… all are worked by electricity for cheap thrills. At first. But real evil has lurked for centuries beneath the vaults. Now the Laird of Benahee, Satan’s undead henchman, rises to take his revenge, using tricks to inflict ultimate horror in all its forms. And in this domain of the damned even death is not the end…” Sounds absolutely vicious and bonkers. In other words, sounds like Guy N. Smith.
I just bought this book the other day! Can’t wait to read it. The Festering sounds like a classic B-Movie in the best way possible. One of those trashy VHS horror movie boxes you couldn’t help but gawk at while perusing the horror section at your local rental store back in the late ’80s. “For Mike and Holly Mannion, the tumbledown cottage in a quiet country village seemed the ideal retreat from the rat race. But when a team of contractors is hired to drill a water-well, a deadly plague is unleashed — a macabre, terrifying entity that had lurked in the bowels of the earth for centuries. The Festering Death had risen from its burial place.” Sounds like a fun lazy Sunday afternoon read!
When it comes to “when animals attack” stories, Guy N. Smith was pretty damn reliable. From the ones I’ve read thus far, most of them hit the mark. Some of that stuff is legit nightmare fuel! I haven’t read Abomination yet, but I’ve heard this is one of his better works.
Alligators is currently my second favorite Guy N. Smith book, trailing only Cannibals by a small margin. That book is relentless, sadistic and demented. That one scene with the family stuck in bed with the little leaping snapping baby alligator haunts me to this day. Snakes, on the other hand, was the first Guy N. Smith killer animal book that didn’t quite work for me. It’s not bad but it felt a little paint-by-numbers, especially when compared to Alligators. Still decent, but definitely more middle-of-the-road fare.
The savagery continues in Throwback, where much of the population is somehow reverted to more primitive means, with a few “lucky” unaffected trying to survive the mayhem. Carnivore flips the script — the hunted now becomes the hunter. Wildlife gets its revenge on a cursed estate.
The Island is about a haunted island plagued with a sordid history. 200 years later, a lonely widower moves there and all manner of madness hits the fan when the past comes barging back.
Thirst follows the exploits of chemist Ron Blythe, the man responsible for creating the world’s deadliest weed killer spray. While being transported in a huge lorry, it accidentally crashes into a local reservoir, poisoning the entire water supply of Birmingham. “Now with thousands of people suffering and dying, his conscience forces him to find an antidote. Unfortunately, he gets stranded inside Birmingham, now sealed off, and full of anarchists, escape criminals and weed killer-poisoned sufferers from the Thirst, all of which turn the city into a hell inside England.”
I love the back covers for these old nasties! Thirst was originally published in 1980. You won’t find novels like this in book stores today.
One of his earliest efforts and arguably his most (in)famous novel outside of the Crabs series, The Slime Beast is what sleazy pulpy horror fiction is all about. The summary is enough to evoke nostalgic memories of staying up late as a kid watching low budget monster horror movies. “Professor Lowson is searching the Wash for King John’s lost treasure. Instead he awakes a reptilian creature buried in the mud, which seems to have arrived on this planet in a meteorite. It starts wandering around, killing and eating anybody it comes across. Lowson wants to capture it alive but his companions want to kill it before it kills anyone else. Soon the locals are involved — there can only be a catastrophic finale.”
The Sucking Pit sports a proud blurb in which Stephen King once deemed it “the all-time pulp horror classic title.” This is, admittedly, a bit of tricky advertising. Title can easily be interpreted as book, as in this is a classic book. But King literally meant title. The Sucking Pit. A great title, indeed. But a great book? Your mileage may vary.
It’s as suitably ridiculous as the title would suggest. Good ol’ Guy. His seedy material would never fly in today’s politically correct world. These sadistic stories serve as mini time machines, transporting the reader back to a relic age when there were no restrictions and no holds barred. A fair warning though, and this goes for Richard Laymon as well: after reading any one of Guy’s works, I find I need a palate cleanser. Don’t read his stuff back to back because you may tumble down a rabbit hole and never resurface. His twisted tales can get pretty damn depraved. Don’t say I didn’t warn ya…
In 2019, while rummaging at a local Goodwill, I came across a Guy N. Smith book. But it wasn’t a horror book… oh no… it was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs!
Yes, believe it or not, in addition to his horror novels, he also wrote various Disney adaptations. What a funny guy, that Guy!
On March 27, 2020, Guy N. Smith wrote an interesting post on his website. It related to the Corona Virus and his old 1978 book, Bats Out of Hell. Take a look…
Wow. Please, may none of Guy’s other horror novels ever come to fruition. If I ever see a giant crab clicking its way to shore, I’m booking it. Screw that shit!
This is the comment I left him on that same post. Sadly, a day before Christmas 2020 Guy N. Smith left the world due to a UTI and complications related to COVID-19. Mr. Smith was 81 years old. So sad at the irony that COVID-19 would take him out.
Guy N. Smith’s legacy lives on. He was huge on crafting books about apocalyptic plagues and killer nasties. For better or worse, no one churned them out at the rate quite like he did in the ’70s and ’80s. It was a unique time in horror history, one in which we’ll probably never experience again. Thankfully, we can still experience them by going through the incredible backlog of books that he has afforded us horror hounds. I currently own 17 Guy N. Smith books, and have not read most of them yet. It will be a (guilty) pleasure to go through each of them in the years to come. His books do pop up on eBay frequently, so check some out if you’re into pulpy horror fiction. He isn’t the greatest horror writer who ever lived and probably not even close, but he sure was damn entertaining. Not a bad legacy to leave behind, really.
Remember the simple days of childhood when books such as TheBailey School Kids, Magic Tree House and Goosebumps were a constant staple at your local libraries and book stores? I love longstanding series that stretch on longer than a summer’s day. There’s always another book to consume, another adventure to embark on and another chapter to be read. Earlier this year, by a random stroke of luck, I stumbled upon a UK kid series known as BEAST QUEST. Written by various authors under the pen name of Adam Blade, Beast Quest made its debut in 2007 with Ferno the Fire Dragon. Amazingly, Beast Quest rages on to this very day, with new entries scheduled for the summer of 2021 and beyond. As of this writing, the series spans over 150 books and has sold over 20 million copies! Off the top of my head, I don’t know if there’s a chapter book series more prolific than Beast Quest. It certainly warrants a closer look, so let’s delve right in.
WHAT IS BEAST QUEST?
Beast Quest follows the adventures of young Tom and his friend, Elenna. They live in the land of Avantia, which was once guarded by 6 beasts. But peace never lasts very long. For a jealous and evil wizard roams the land, seeking his chance to rule with an iron fist. Malvel’s black magic has corrupted the guardians, turning them against the denizens of Avantia. It’s up to Tom and Elenna to free the beasts and save Avantia.
Each book in the main series is a little over 100 pages and can be read in an hour or less. The Special Editions hover around the 190 page mark. Admittedly, Beast Quest is rather unoriginal and full of tropes. But it does serve as a perfect gateway and introductory point to the world of sci-fi fantasy and quasi horror for younger readers.
DISCOVERING THE SERIES
Earlier this February I was browsing Target.com for a book with the name “beast” in it. It led me to these badass Beast Quest covers. I’d never seen it before, so I did a quick Google search to find out more. I was sold and suddenly found myself on eBay. Out of wild curiosity, I did a completed items search. I almost wish I hadn’t…
Earlier that SAME evening, someone bought this for just $45! It was a Buy It Now, and the seller listed it earlier that day. I missed it by mere hours! I even messaged her to let know I was interested in buying it if the buyer didn’t come through. She said she’d keep me in mind but I knew it was futile. The buyer paid for it and that was that. Man, if only I had discovered the series a little bit earlier that day!
But life has a funny way of working out sometimes. A few days later I went back to the completed search and found an auction selling 80 (!) books that ended in December 2020 with 0 bids. I sent her a message, figuring it couldn’t hurt to ask. Turns out she took the auction down because shipping was too costly. I offered to buy 60 of the 80 books (#19-78 — I recently bought #1-18) and asked if she could fit them in 2 medium or large priority mail boxes. As luck would have it, they were a perfect fit in 2 medium boxes. Best of all, she gave it to me for only $50!
Opening this felt like Christmas morning! I love what a snug fit they were and how the bright colors bounce off the box like a shimmering treasure chest full of shiny gold coins.
She even threw in Special Editions #1 and #2 for free. Because what does a series with well over 100 books in the main lineup need? Spin-offs and side entries, of course. Even better, the books still had the collector cards tucked in at the back. Most tear the cards out, so imagine my shock and joy when the books arrived in very good condition AND still had their trading cards intact. I truly lucked out. So glad I missed the first auction by mere hours! I’ve had some crazy memorable eBay dealings in my day; this one definitely ranks up there.
GOTTA CATCH ‘EM ALL
Each book comes with 4 trading cards (or a bookmark and 2 cards) tucked in at the back of the book. Like I said, if you’re buying used copies then odds are that the cards will be missing. So be aware of that. Also, some later entries stopped featuring cards (bummer).
Cards highlight the big baddies, secondary foes, fellow allies, places of note and even weapons and items. The cards aren’t anything to go wild about (there is nothing on the back — a small missed opportunity), but they’re still a fun bonus that I’m sure as a kid I would have loved immensely.
Also note that the US editions came with no cards. Only certain UK editions did.
Just another reason why the UK imprint is far better than the North American one!
This is exactly the kind of cool shit I would have loved peddling with my friends on the school playground before the morning bell rings.
This is most likely what you’d find when buying these books second hand. Torn out cards at the back. It’s a damn near minor miracle when they’re not. To receive 60 books with their cards intact was a pleasant surprise!
THE ART AND SOUL OF BEAST QUEST
But even better than the cards are all the amazing illustrations littered throughout each book. There’s cool artwork every couple pages or so. This makes it a super easy read and the pictures — especially those of the beasts and monsters — add a lot of charm and quality to the overall package.
Most of the art is quite striking, containing a pseudo anime style. Although not credited anywhere within the books, the illustrations were drawn by Steve Sims. With pictures like this and the collector cards, it’s no wonder this series was/is such a smash hit in the UK. It’s almost everything a 7 year old could ever want from a book series.
I’m 37 and the kid in me absolutely loves this. I can only imagine how much more if I were 7!
An ancient scaly sea dragon raging war with a prehistoric killer mutant shark? TAKE MY DISPOSABLE INCOME!
Of the 3 books I’ve read thus far, the prose is decent enough. The writing isn’t the best in the world but it’s not overly simplistic, either. The art, however, is what makes Beast Quest truly stand out.
“What a shame there were no toys as well,” said no parent ever.
Beast Quest does remind me a bit of Monster In My Pocket from the early ’90s.
Shoot, with all the different monsters they created, they could easily have had their own Beast Quest action figures.
Beast Quest also reminds me slightly of one of my all-time favorites, Battle Beasts. Hard to believe that was almost 35 years ago now!
Come to think of it, a weekly animated series would have been a smash success as well.
THE VIDEO GAME
Although they never capitalized on a toy lineup or a cartoon series, there is a Beast Quest video game. Released originally in 2016, the game is available on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and Steam. The Switch version goes for $29.99 but I’ve seen it on sale for $10 from time to time. Might pick it up down the road once it hits $5. Reviews aren’t too favorable but your mileage may vary.
USA VS. UK
Scholastic published the first 24 books in North America from March 2007 to October 2012. If you want book #25 on, you have to buy the UK editions. But my recommendation is to skip the US editions altogether. The UK entries are far superior in every which way. Not only do they come with trading cards (if they weren’t already yanked out), but the illustrations are night and day…
See what I mean? It’s not even close! But the biggest offender of all…
SPECIAL EDITIONS AND MORE
As previously mentioned, there are books in the series that deviate off the main path. You have Special Bumper editions, Battle of the Beasts (only 3 were written) and even a Choose Your Own Path spin-off.
There are also books highlighting the beasts and a special Ultimate Story collection that features color pictures.
I own the first 110 books (Series 1-21) but am missing some entries from Series 21-25. I never buy them new so it’s just a matter of waiting to fill in the gaps. I also own most of the 24 Special Editions. #25, Arkano the Stone Crawler, is set for release on July 27, 2021. This is, pardon the pun, a beast of a series with no end in sight.
Another look, but with the box sets flipped around. I also own the spin-off series, Sea Quest. That series retired after “only” 39 books. It features entirely new characters and its own universe. But yeah, definitely just an excuse for “Adam Blade” to mass produce more easy to sell books to young children. I haven’t read Sea Quest yet, but one dad on Goodreads and his son said that they actually like it a lot better than Beast Quest because of “better world building and some nifty gadgets.”
It’s insane how many books are in this series. It’s almost like The Simpsons of the chapter book world in that there is simply no end in sight. It’s very possible that the quality dips and fluctuates over the course of time (inevitable with so many ghost writers in the series). I’m sure there’s bound to be a point of fatigue and saturation but this series scratches my OCD itch to collect ‘em all. My wife is probably shaking her head as she reads this
So far I’ve read the first 3 books (only 228 left to go!) and honestly, I had a blast with each one. Granted, it’s only the beginning so everything is still novel at this point. Although I can already see there’s a certain formula. It opens with the titular beast causing havoc, then shifts to our main protagonist, Tom, and his quest to conquer the beast — which he does each time, shocking, I know! And when Tom does defeat the beast, he gains a special item, skill or ability that comes into play in the following book. Like I said, classic literature this ain’t, my friend. But if you’re looking to introduce a fun book series that features sci-fi fantasy and scary monsters to a reluctant young reader, Beast Quest does well to scratch that itch. In fact, I bought the series with the hope to one day read it to my future kid(s). Boy or girl, they’re going to love hearing it read aloud to them around 5 or 6. And by 7 or 8 start devouring on their own before moving on to more advanced, complicated stories. Man, if only this series was around in 1990 when I was 7. Maybe I’ll be able to live vicariously through my future child while helping to cultivate their sense of wonder and imagination. One can only hope so.
When I rediscovered my love for books and reading back in early 2019, I was originally on the hunt for vintage horror paperbacks and kids’ chapter books that I missed out on in the late ’80s to mid ’90s. I didn’t care for today’s middle grade chapter books. Somewhere along the line though, my mind was opened to them and I’m so thankful that happened. As much as I adore the classics from long ago, a lot of them are very dated and not all too relevant today. Nowadays you have books featuring characters from all walks of life learning all kinds of different lessons in ways that are very relatable to present day issues. It wasn’t long before I discovered John David Anderson, who wrote Ms. Bixby’s Last Day and Posted, two highly touted middle grade books. I instantly fell in love with the cover of Finding Orion and did something I rarely do — I bought it brand new. Sometimes you see a cover, read a summary and you just know. You just know that the book will resonate with you and speak to you somehow. Now sometimes that doesn’t always happen and you end up being sorely disappointed, but I’m happy to say that was definitely not the case for Finding Orion. John David Anderson is a talented writer. This is a simple but beautiful story about family and the ties that bond us. It’s also about finding yourself as well as keeping an open mind. Because when you do, anything is possible. Such as forgiveness… and redemption.
I was already sold by the hauntingly atmospheric cover and the classic coming of age premise, but a blurb praised it for evoking The Wonder Years and Willy Wonka had me ready to plop down the full $8 asking price. The Wonder Years is my all-time favorite show and I always loved Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, so for me it was a no-brainer. Finding Orion is definitely more Wonder Years than Willy Wonka (80/20 I’d say), but the comparison is justifiable.
WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE CIRCUS
Rion is your typical 12 year old boy, but his family is anything but. Their last name is conveniently Kwirk (and oh how quirky they are). Ri’s dad concocts fried chicken jelly beans for a living. His oldest sister, Cass, is a dramatic fencing thespian. His youngest sister, Lyra, is a walking dictionary, thesaurus, encyclopedia and atlas all rolled up into one. Yes, these are tropes. And in lesser hands, it could easily be an eye roller. But John David Anderson somehow makes it work.
That line wasn’t meant to be creepy, but it’s way creepier than “There’s a family in our driveway.”
Turns out the clown is a friend, not a fiend. His name is Chuckles McLaughsalot. And he’s here to deliver a good old fashioned singing telegram from beyond the grave…
Papa Kwirk was definitely the quirkiest of Kwirks.
The story is told from Rion’s point of view; it’s in these poignant moments Finding Orion feels a LOT like The Wonder Years. It touches on some pretty deep topics, as many modern middle grade books tend to do. It’s one of the many reasons why I love middle grade fiction so much. They’re easy to read but can delve surprisingly deep.
Loss is a natural part of life, and everyone copes and grieves in their own unique way. Rion is very honest about his conflicted feelings. Life, as well as death, can often times be messy.
Dad’s relationship with Papa Kwirk was… strained… to say the very least. Finding Orion is as much about Rion’s dad and his relationship with Papa Kwirk as it is about Rion and his dad. I love the multigenerational aspect of this story.
It quickly became apparent that Papa Kwirk was huge in his community and touched many lives in different ways that the Kwirks were not fully aware of. It seemed as though everyone knew who Frank Kwirk was… except for his very own family.
But before the Kwirks can head home, Aunt Gertie drops a bombshell: per Papa Kwirk’s final wishes, his ashes have been hidden in various places and must be collected before he can be properly (and wholly) sent off. This leads to an outrageous scavenger hunt!
Rion’s reflections are the best part of the book. You can almost hear Daniel Stern’s voiceover.
Ri and his sisters are far from best friends, but they have their bonding moments throughout that just makes one go, “awww.” And may very well conjure a few childhood memories of hanging out with your siblings on a nice quiet summer evening…
Manny, Rion’s best friend and stand-in for Paul Pfeiffer, appears throughout the story in the form of phone call conversations.
I love how some of the chapter titles are far out there, but make perfect sense after reading them.
Lyra’s vast vocabulary leads to moments like such.
The unrealistically uber intelligent little kid trope is way overdone but as I said earlier, John David Anderson manages to pull it off with some charm. Besides, you do learn some cool random facts along the way!
There are some nostalgic ’80s callbacks sprinkled throughout the book. Dad is sometimes known as Optimus Prime, for example. One of the Kwirks’ pit stops on their quest to find Papa Kwirk’s remains leads them to an old timey ice cream parlor. And suddenly, the name of this chapter makes perfect sense.
I appreciated the various Garbage Pail Kids references in the book. Talk about nostalgic!
That’s one mighty tough challenge. Are the Kwirks up to it? Hopefully none of them are diabetic.
Humor can fall flat sometimes in a book. Like the author was trying too hard. Or the jokes simply miss. Finding Orion is humorous in all the right ways when it needs to be, and is more introspective when the occasion calls for it. It’s a solid balance that keeps the book light-hearted enough while tackling some pretty heavy topics with the sort of gravity that such issues deserve. I can picture a lot of the scenes, like the one above, as if it were a family movie trending on NetFlix.
It gets a bit silly at times, but that’s exactly how kids behave. And even though a lot of these moments have an air of “I’ve read or seen something like this 100 times before,” it still remains charming and somehow feels fresh, if that makes any sense. It speaks to John David Anderson’s ability to make the reader feel invested and above all else, entertained.
I won’t spoil the rest of the book, but I have to share this last one. I could just picture this in my head like a movie scene. It actually made me chuckle a bit, rather than just garner a smile. Good stuff.
Finding Orion starts out a little slow at first, but quickly kicks into gear. And from there, you have a quirky fun-filled family adventure. It’s got a bit of a road trip vibe to it, loads of scavenger hunt shenanigans and a ton of heart. Whether it was making me chuckle or ponder about my own relationship with my pops over the years, Finding Orion was a joy to read. It felt like a modern day Wonder Years episode in many ways. Family is a huge theme, as well as forgiveness and teamwork. As it is in real life, forgiveness often leads to redemption. If reading any of this made you feel like this book would be right up your alley, then I suggest strapping in with the Kwirks. And remember, when in doubt, follow the stars. They will always lead you back home.
Often considered one of the greatest American writers of classic literature, John Steinbeck is an author I made a point to finally read in 2021. He’s most well known for writing The Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden and Of Mice and Men. I might have read the latter in high school, but I can’t remember if I truly did or not. Weighing in at a scant 107 pages, it’s more of a novella (a short novel or a long short story) and was the perfect candidate following my reading of Stephen King’s 1,000+ page tome, 11/22/63. Not to mention Of Mice and Men was referenced in 11/22/63. Combined with my desire to start going through Steinbeck’s catalog, the decision was easy. The cover you see above was published in the fall of 1993, but Steinbeck wrote it in 1937. It’s a classic for a reason, and because of how brief and to the point it is, it’s one of those timeless books I can see myself rereading every couple years or so.
Taking place in California’s dusty vegetable fields during the Great Depression, Of Mice and Men follows the journey of George Milton and Lennie Small as they travel from place to place looking for work. Steinbeck does a fantastic job exploring the themes of loneliness, isolation and pie-in-the-sky dreams that may or may not ever come to fruition. It’s a harrowing look at how fast things can snowball and how the line between hope and delusion can quickly blur before you know it.
The story sets the mood right off the bat by painting a picture in the reader’s mind of rolling hillsides, green pastures, sparkling brooks and woodland creatures milling lazily about. The land is beautiful, holding much potential to cultivate and harvest, but you also get this niggling sense that the land is so vast that man can easily become lost in its grandeur.
We quickly learn that George runs the show while Lennie is a dim-witted giant who doesn’t know his own strength. George knows he’d be better off without Lennie dragging him down — Lennie’s constant lapses in judgment has gotten the two of them in plenty of hot water before. At the same time, George cares for the big lug and Lennie’s reliable companionship perhaps overrides whatever better lifestyle George could muster if he were on his own. George accepts this burden, for better or worse. He sure as hell isn’t shy to let Lennie have it, as seen above!
Lennie is well aware of the fact that he is a burden on George, even threatening multiple times to leave George once and for all so that George can be free and live the kind of life he deserves. But deep down, no matter how much trash talking and tongue lashing George does, he has a soft spot for the big guy and doesn’t want to go on without him.
Their chemistry and back and forth bickering leaps off the pages. They’re like an old married couple! The dialogue somehow feels real and relevant, even 80+ years later. A truly remarkable feat that speaks to Steinbeck’s talent. And I love the little description at the end there. Really paints a beautiful picture of the landscape in the cool of the evening. You can almost feel that little night breeze on the back of your neck.
George is constantly sticking up for Lennie and fighting his battles. He’s every bit Lennie’s guardian as he is his companion — if not more. When the boss wants to hear Lennie speak for himself, rather than George being his mouthpiece at every turn, George lies and tells the boss they’re cousins. Later in that same chapter, Lennie says to George, “You said I was your cousin.” To which George hilariously replies, “Well, that was a lie. An’ I’m damn glad it was. If I was a relative of yours I’d shoot myself.”
Curley’s wife is soon introduced, a floozy willing to put out for anyone with two legs. Lennie is a bit smitten by her, George quickly recognizes this and some entertaining dialogue ensues.
The theme of loneliness and isolation is well explored here, as George admits he ain’t got no one. How he sees so many guys up and down the road, just traveling by themselves, that they get so lonely and mean and want to throw fists all the time. He also admits that while Lennie is a nuisance more times than not, he wouldn’t know what to do without him. “But you get used to goin’ around with a guy an’ you can’t get rid of him.” With the underlying implication that he wouldn’t want to get rid of Lennie, even if he could. Some deep, powerful stuff there.
Slim asks George what happened in Weed, and George lets his guard down to tell. Yep, Lennie is no stranger to fucking up.
This is one of my favorite scenes from the book. The part where Crooks starts talking. It’s incredibly introspective and self-aware. And once again, the theme of isolation and loneliness pops up.
Crooks and Lennie share a poignant moment while George and the rest of the boys go to town. Lennie shares his dream of living off the fat of the land with George, and Crooks gives him a piece of his mind. Saying that he’s seen far too many guys walk this well beaten path before. Big delusional dreams that always amount to nothing. Melancholy is an understatement! Damn, Crooks, don’t hold back none now…
Eventually Curley’s wife pops by. Of course, she’s nothing but trouble with a capital T. Lennie tells her that George promises to let him tend the rabbits. The Jezebel has the audacity to say, “Well, if that’s all you want, I might get a couple rabbits myself.” OH! Zinger! I jumped in my seat and cried out, “GEORGIE BOY, WHERE ARE YOU WHEN WE NEED YA!?” Now that’s a sign a book has got you hook, line and sinker.
Crooks does his best to step in, but Curley’s wife quickly puts him in his place. Still, you can’t help but admire his effort. You also can’t help but feel bad for Crooks when he sits down, closes up and a deep resignation sinks in. There’s nothing more that he or anyone else can do to help Lennie. They all become prisoners of the moment, and the one in charge is a five year old toting a fully loaded gun. What happens next? If you haven’t read this book yet, I’ll leave it to you to find out on your own
I read Of Mice and Men in one sitting , completely entertained and enthralled from beginning to end. The relationship dynamic between George and Lennie had me hooked from the beginning. The dialogue is a blast to read. Although a very simple and straightforward story, it is also quite deep and profound in many ways. Steinbeck wrote this masterpiece over 80 years ago yet it still resonates with countless readers to this very day, in spite of the changes that have occurred over the past 8+ decades. Some things, like loneliness and isolation, still affect (and plague) us in 2021 as much now as it did back then. It’s no wonder Of Mice and Men has this timeless feel to it. What is the fine line between hope and delusion? Does hope keep us going, even if it’s false hope? What happens when we chase something we know deep down will likely never come to fruition? Are we all just hamsters spinning endlessly in a wheel? The book is open for interpretation and discussion. I’ll leave it to you to form your own. I can’t wait to read Steinbeck’s other works, but I have a sneaky suspicion Of Mice and Men will be difficult to top. An all-time classic that begs to be read, and somehow remains relevant almost 85 years after it was written.
During the quarantine last year, when much of the world was forced to shut down, I managed to cross off two firsts simultaneously. Number one, I read my first Stephen King book. And number two, It was the first 1,000+ page book I’ve read. It was an arduous journey — 1,153 pages to be precise. Something I never thought I would do, but I did it. It took me exactly 3 weeks; each day I read roughly 55 pages. It was a satisfying experience. In my daily midnight to 3 AM excursions, Stephen King transported me to the dreary town of Derry where several kids (and later adults) were haunted by a sinister entity. I knew it was only the beginning of my Stephen King reading experience. Earlier this month, I finished my second Stephen King 1,000+ page tome, 11/22/63. Prior to reading it, I’d read a bunch of horror paperbacks so I was feeling the need to switch things up. In addition, I had heard many great things about 11/22/63. It’s about a guy who travels back in time in an attempt to stop the John F. Kennedy assassination. But that’s just scratching the surface. There’s so much more to the book than just preventing one of history’s most infamous moments. King filled every nook and cranny with lots of heart and drama. It’s NOT a horror book, by the way, so don’t expect any creepy clowns… although… well, I’ll get to that later…
A BLAST FROM THE PAST
Right away we find out that Jake Epping, our main character, is divorced in large part because he was unable to fill his partner’s emotional quotient.
The story quickly kicks in gear when Al Templeton, the owner and operator of Al’s Diner (home of the Famous Fatburger), buzzes Jake. Lung cancer is now on the menu, and he requests Jake’s presence that very night at the diner. Not one to turn down a dying man’s last wish, Jake heads over…
Al’s Diner is home to more than just the Famous Fatburger, for deep in the pantry one might stumble across a magical wormhole. Each time you step through, it always takes you back to 11:58 AM on the 9th of September 1958. Al requests Jake to try it himself, as if traveling through time is as nonchalant as trying on a new pair of shoes. I love how King portrays Al’s desperation. “I need you to do this.” Obviously, there are more stakes at play here than just “Hey bro, check out my magical pantry! Travel back to 1958 for shits and giggles!”
After Jake returns to present day 2011, he has so many questions swirling through his mind. He cracks the code on Al’s Famous Fatburger, and how Al has been able to sell it for so cheap for so long…
Al starts going through the benefits of traveling back to 1958. He proposes that one would have to wait 43 years to prevent 9/11, and that Jake would be pushing 80 by the time 2001 rolls around. But 1963… 1963 would be less than 5 years away… manageable enough for one, hypothetically speaking, to prevent a certain assassination…
Due to Al’s lung cancer, his time is up. Jake’s time, however, is now (or then, as it were). The reason for this “social visit” becomes readily clear; Al wants Jake to go back in time to save John F. Kennedy. King pierces Jake’s soul, as well as ours, with these four haunting words: “John Kennedy can live.” Instant goosebumps!
A hell of a sales pitch indeed! Al pours it on, highlighting the ramifications beyond just saving JFK. A domino effect can also include saving Martin Luther King Jr., stopping the race riots and maybe even stopping Vietnam. After reluctantly accepting the challenge, Al gives Jake the keys to the kingdom as well as his notebook documenting key notes during his various travels to the past. This sets up the rest of the story and Jake’s journey into the great unknown.
Love King’s Easter eggs in this book!
Jake quickly learns that 2011 lingo doesn’t quite jive in 1958. It could even possibly land him in some hot water if used in the wrong circle, so Jake has to adapt to his new (old) setting and be extra careful. Similar to Marty McFly, no one can know that he’s a visitor from the future…
Another fun callback is when Jake Epping visits good ol’ Derry, the principal town in Stephen King’s It. Fans of that book will definitely recall the uptight owner, Norbert Keene.
Jake encounters several of Derry’s denizens. Part of It takes place in 1958, so how convenient for Mr. King to merge these two worlds momentarily. It’s the closest we’ll ever get to a sequel in book form.
One of the best parts of 11/22/63 is the brief interaction Jake has with Richie Tozier and Beverly Marsh. Oh Mr. King, you sly devil you. What a clever way to bring back two of your most popular characters ever created.
Richie and Bevvie weren’t the only ones to jump when Jake said “Clowns joke around a lot, too.”There are moments in any form of entertainment, whether it’s sports, movies or books, where you’ll gasp or jump in your seat out of excitement or satisfaction. This was definitely one of those moments. The Stephen King multiverse is in full effect here! Beverly follows up with a question regarding a turtle (readers of It will understand). Jake doesn’t get it, and there’s an amusing reference of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
The second paragraph in the picture above shows what kind of writer Stephen King is capable of being when he is in the zone. Just beautifully stated.
Before trying to stop Lee Harvey Oswald from gunning down JFK, Jake goes on a side mission to stop someone else. I liked how he laid out the options and then broke down the pros and cons of each one.
Another callback to Shawshank
As I said, 11/22/63 is not a horror novel but it does get a bit creepy whenever Derry is front and center.
King really sells the seediness and wretchedness of Derry well.
Those descriptions of Derry…
One of the most haunting scenes from It is referenced here. If Mike Hanlon were around to read this, he would suffer a massive episode of PTSD!
I minored in theatre arts in college (holy crap it’ll be 20 years this August since my first day of college). Jake teaches in 1958 at a high school to kill time, and he also directs the school’s play, Of Mice and Men. These passages of what it’s like to be involved in a school play is, to my experience, super accurate. It makes me wonder if Stephen King was a bit of a thespian in his own day. It certainly wouldn’t shock me as these parts are written by someone who seems to have first hand acting experience. It is pretty loose early on during the earlier rehearsals. Then opening night comes and wow, everyone is running around backstage like a chicken with its head cut off. Fun times. Reading about all this certainly brought back a wave of fond acting memories. How ironic that King took me back to my own past for a bit there…
Jake Epping is flawed, yet you can’t help but root for him as he plays “Mr. Good Samaritan From the Future.” A book is only as good as how much you care about what happens to the main characters, and the ones in 11/22/63 definitely held my interest.
Love this part! What a perfect and fitting way to close the chapter on Derry in this book.
#37 made me grin. The answer is E, because Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote The House of 7 Gables, not tables. You’ve got to be shitting me, indeed.
Ah, The Catcher in the Rye. I loved it when I read it back in high school some 20+ years ago. It’s definitely on my to read again list, along with other classics such as To Kill a Mockingbird, The Old Man and the Sea, Across Five Aprils, Where the Red Fern Grows, and Lord of the Flies.
Although our protagonist soon falls in love with living in the past, King doesn’t romanticize the “good old days” of the late ’50s and early ’60s. You see a lot of the ugliness that plagued the people of that time, such as segregation and racial tension. It’s not done overtly, but it’s definitely there, and I appreciated that King did that.
One of my favorite parts!
Speaking of The Simpsons, I’ve noticed recently that the writers of that show clearly had a thing for JFK. Is that Homer there, or Jake Epping? In fact, ya know, I’ve never seen Homer and Jake at the same time. Hmmm…
Jake’s brutal honesty with himself is inspiring. Captivating. He admits he’s disgusted by this woman but quickly acknowledges that she is a prisoner of her time (as well as her choices). It’s a simple insight but a powerful one. As I said earlier, it’s not all rainbows and unicorns in the distant past. King wasn’t shy to remind the reader about that.
King is absolutely a fan of Ray Bradbury. Often considered as one of the greatest American writers to have ever lived, Ray’s classic short story, A Sound of Thunder, is often credited as the origin of the term “butterfly effect.” That’s a chaos theory in which the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in one part of the world could create a hurricane on the opposite side of the globe.
See, King’s no doubt a Bradbury fanboy
King’s afterword also reveals his affinity for Jack Finney.
So King endorses Time & Again as the greatest time travel novel of all time, eh? [You’re fired -Ed.]. We’ll see about that, good sir! Naturally, I bought a copy immediately after reading King’s afterword. Naturally.
Speaking of time travel, after finishing the Pocket edition of 11/22/63, my copy was a bit beat up. I traded it in to a used book store, knowing that I wanted to get a good copy of the original bigger edition. The cool thing about the original big edition is the cover. Flip the front cover and you’ll see…
One day I was at a somewhat local Friends (of the Library) Book Store. If you consider a one hour drive “somewhat local,” that is! [More like somewhat very loco! -Ed./the wifey]. Most towns have a Friends of the Library store; they’re awesome because you can get books for really cheap, or relatively cheap anyhow. They had the big edition of 11/22/63 in mint condition, but it was $10 and at the time I hadn’t yet made up my mind to get the bigger edition. Fast forward a month, I finished reading my Pocket edition and had decided to trade it in. So I drove back to the Friends store in hopes to pick up the mint copy I had seen a month prior.
Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. I made a beeline for the Sci-Fi section where I last saw it a month ago. Its hulk of a spine was missing from the shelf, and I was overcome with regret that I didn’t pick it up earlier. I asked the clerk if they had another copy in the back or if it was moved to another section (I was really grasping at straws at this point). He said no and that someone purchased it just an hour ago. He rubbed salt in the wound by saying, “Yeah, that one was in great condition too. You really gotta snatch it up when you see stuff like that. They don’t come around too often.” If only I was able to come the day before, or even a few hours earlier! Talk about wanting to travel back in time to right a wrong! OK, so my situation isn’t nearly as dire as the one Jake Epping faced in 11/22/63, but that’s some fascinating synchronicity there, no? Then, a few weeks later I checked their online inventory and saw that another copy of the big edition came in. I was so excited to go pick it up. This time there will be no hesitation to pull the trigger. My wife and I made the long one hour drive and as it turns out, it was nowhere near the “very good” condition the website claimed it to be. I refused to settle and bite the bullet. Thankfully I didn’t buy it, because a short week later I was at a Goodwill and found a much better copy for just $2! How’s that for some “good will” (sorry) from the universe?!
Simply put, 11/22/63 is an amazing piece of literature and probably one of Stephen King’s best. Although this is only his third book that I have read to date, I very much doubt there will be many others I will end up liking more than this one. It’s more than just a story about a guy from the future going back in time to save John F. Kennedy. There are so many themes interlaced and at play here that it works like gangbusters. Even though it’s a mammoth book clocking anywhere from around 850-1,090 pages (depending on the edition you pick up), the story moves fast and there were few lulls. I love the parts about Derry, and revisiting with Richie and Bevvie from It for a few pages was so freaking cool and awesome. Jake’s journey is captivating and you’ll root for him every page of the way. Will he save JFK after all? You’ll just have to read it to find out on your own!