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The Books I Read: November – December 2022

Fairy Tale by Stephen King

Look, I don’t think I’m making any grand statement when I say that King can write. We all know that. He’s been writing since the 1970’s and I’ve statistically proven his books have never gone down in popularity or quality, even after getting sober, even after getting hit by a truck, even after being shoved out of a tree by his son Joe Hill.

But we’ve all known that King is not sophisticated. He’s not Proust. He’s not “Where the Crawdads Sing” or “The Goldfinch”. Which is fine. King writes for the masses. And that’s fine. I want to write for the masses. I’m just saying that with a title like Fairy Tale you might be expecting epic beautiful prose and elaborate imagery like in female-written fantasy. Nope. King just tells it like it is, but somehow comes up with enough detail that never lets you down.

In fact, you get 26% of the way through the book before anything fantastical happens. Before that, it’s just about a boy and his old man. But I’m still here for it, because the characters are awesome. We’ve got a funny old crotchety man and a kind teenage boy who’s just trying to keep a promise.

This is King’s Covid-19 pandemic story. It’s what he wrote when he was depressed and locked in and just wanted to write something fun. And he has done just that, though with a streak of King darkness running through. It’s not the story of the year–some might complain that a book so epically thick and titled something as foundational as Fairy Tale would be so, but it’s not 11/22/63. And that’s fine by me. It’s the story it needs to be and I thoroughly enjoyed it. You have to set your expectations that it’s going to be long and settle in for it. I try to avoid doorstops, but this one is worth it.

How to Take Over the World: Practical Schemes and Scientific Solutions for the Aspiring Supervillain by Ryan North

Ryan North is a comic book writer. So he’s spent a lot of time figuring out how a supervillain’s mind works — what they want, how to get it. That’s gone through the food processor of his mind and come out in this book — how someone could really take over the world and do supervillain-ish things within the realm of reality. Want to take over a country like Dr. Doom? You can do that. Want to make a dinosaur? That’s possible with the proper science and enough patience. Need to drill to the center of the Earth? Here’s how.

Of all the books I’ve read where they put the science into science fiction, this is one of the better ones. Maybe because of the premise, maybe because of the style. But all the tips are fun and delivered with panache. Like I’ve said before, I love when comic book writers write prose. They’re always better at it than they think they’d be. And all of the research found within is sound and useful. I plan to use its material in my next book. Better than “Putting the Science in Science Fiction”.

My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix

First of all, this cover is excellent and it gives me all the feels. But it also lets you in on what you’re in for–nostalgia, 80’s girl power, cheesy horror, and big hair.

I’ve read two other Grady Hendrix books, so I went back to his first. This is as excellent as all the others. But it being set in the eighties makes me wonder if that will turn some readers off because it’s not an era they were born into. Does that make this historical science fiction? Is that a thing? But does that make it only for forty-year-old fuddy duddies like me?

I don’t care. It was capable of making me feel emotion. It’s probably the best book to jump into some Hendrix because it’s shorter than his others. But they’re all good. It’s just fun, and we need fun books in our lives, like good horror movies.

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

This book blew up in the late 1980s and I don’t know why. I guess it broke ground on generational trauma/immigrant trauma. I can’t even call it a novel. It’s not, it’s just a set of fictional essays from different kinds of Chinese immigrants and their daughters. There’s no uniting story here.

I simply don’t need to read this. It might have been big when it came out, but we’ve got enough stories that sprung off in different flavors that I’ve had my fill. It may have set the template, but I need to read today’s best sellers, not yesterday’s. And I simply can’t relate to stories like this anymore, not unless they’re reworked. “An Immigrant’s Tale” often turns out to be the same story over and over. Stories like Turning Red, Encanto, Spider-Man, Everything, Everywhere, All at Once, Game of Thrones, Adventure Time, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and even King of the Hill all cover the same material with less shock value.

I’m also sick of all how these stories emphasize how “tough” these women had it, how much it sucked in their homeland and how it sucks now. So much keening about how oppressed we were and how good we have it now and how no one appreciates it. Well, which is it? God forbid you move to some other country and you have the nerve to get offended if your daughter absorbs some of the culture.

There are hundreds of stories that involve parents putting unrealistic expectations on their offspring because they suffered so much and they’re afraid of spoiling the good fortune they’ve gained. Seen it, been there, got the t-shirt.

Slaying the Dragon: A Secret History of Dungeons & Dragons by Ben Riggs

I haven’t read any other books documenting the rise and fall of Gary Gygax’s brainchild, but this was a fascinating look at the business practices of TSR before it sold Dungeons & Dragons before it became Wizards of the Coast’s property. It’s written by someone who was a journalist for Geek and Sundry (Felicia Day‘s brainchild) who took his articles and turned them into a thorough book telling us what exactly went wrong. The author has no skin in the game, so it’s an impartial look.

It’s not surprising that such a company might lose business in the age of the Internet or as time drags on and attention focuses elsewhere. But that’s not what happened. The actions that TSR took that drove them into the ground are really bizarre and worth being noted (for example, trying to make Buck Rogers happen again).

There’s also some stuff about creatives (like writers and artists) and their business of writing licensed stuff and how that worked, which I’m particularly interested in. They were actually treated well before someone else took over and treated them as disposable.

If This Book Exists, You’re in the Wrong Universe (John Dies at the End, #4) by Jason Pargin

Pargin’s most accessible and comprehensible book to date. Which is saying something because this one involves time travel and causality loops.

Usually these stories are pretty ADHD, bouncing from one strange thing to another without a connection to anything. It feels like Pargin started taking medication during the writing of this book.

But make no mistake, it hasn’t hindered his ability. It’s still a genre-busting horror-comedy with equal parts humor and gore. Like if Kevin Smith wrote The Evil Dead.

Eric Juneau is a software engineer and novelist on his lunch breaks. In 2016, his first novel, Merm-8, was published by eTreasures. He lives in, was born in, and refuses to leave, Minnesota. You can find him talking about movies, video games, and Disney princesses at where he details his journey to become a capital A Author.

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