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Geeking Out: Heart-Shaped Box, Jonestown, and Vampires

Mike Bracken's picture

Time for another installment of Geeking Out—the blog that people occasionally read when they want to know what I'm reading/watching/playing or just a cursory update on life here at Casa de Bracken.

Before we get started, here's something I'm not Geeking Out over:

The Transformers movie: Seems like all my fellow nerdlings are excited about this flick, but not me. First off, I was never into the Transformers as a kid. I don't know why—I just wasn't. I liked my Star Wars action figures and my He-Man stuff, personally. I never really understood the allure of robots that could become trucks. Secondly, this is a Michael Bay film, and Michael Bay might be better recognized if we called him by his true name: Satan Incarnate. I've never met a Michael Bay movie that I liked and this one doesn't look to break that trend. They're already talking about sequels...

Now that we got that out of the way, onward and upward.

Heart-Shaped Box: No, I'm not talking about the Nirvana song (which is arguably my favorite song of theirs), but instead Joe Hill's haunting novel. For those not aware, Hill is the son of none other than Stephen King—and proves that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. HSB is a ghost story at heart, but not one of those victorian tales featuring chain-rattling spirits and things going bump in the night. Judas Coyne is a rock star with a penchant for the macabre. He owns a genuine snuff film, John Wayne Gacy drawings, and Aleister Crowley's chess set amongst other things. So, when his assistant shows him an online auction for a dead man's suit (complete with the dead man's ghost), he jumps at the chance to acquire it. Big mistake. I won't divulge any more of the plot here, but I will say that the book zips along at a breakneck pace and is filled with well-developed characters, genuine scares, and a satisfying resolution. In a lot of ways, reading it was like reading the old King—back in the days Salem's Lot and The Shining, before every book he published bloated to over 700 pages. Hill is certainly a writer to keep an eye on.

Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple: I don't know why, exactly, but I have a strange fascination with the story of Jim Jones and the mass suicide/murder of over 900 people at his Peoples Temple in Guyana. I think, by this point, I've seen every documentary on the subject, but I remain morbidly intrigued by the whole situation. This documentary (from director Stanley Nelson) is the most recent and one of the most incisive on the tragedy. Nelson interviews many of the survivors of the massacre and the portrait they paint is a chilling one. It's interesting not only to hear from people who were there, but people who knew Jones intimately and could shed light on what the man was really like—both early on in his life and in those insane last few days. What emerges is a picture of a potential paradise lost, Jones as a sadistic sexual predator and megalomaniac, and a lot of people who bought into a dream and paid for it with their lives or the lives of those they loved. Filled with archive footage (of Jonestown, of Jones' first temple in San Francisco, and of Jones as a child) and interviews with Peoples Temple members who haven't spoken in other films on the subject, it's a fascinating look at one of the 20th century's greatest tragedies.

Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines: I'm still playing a lot of World of Warcraft (I'll spare you the details), but I've managed to fit in some other gaming in the downtime. I picked up Vampire the Masquerade a month or so ago, after reading a lot about it a few years back. It wasn't easy to find, but I unearthed a copy in the ever-dwindling PC game section at a local Electronics Boutique. Despite being several years old (which shows in the graphics) and extremely linear, Bloodlines is still a solid RPG. Breaking from the norm (Tolkien-esque fantasy settings), developer Troika has crafted an RPG based on White Wolf's Vampire the Masquerade series of tabletop games. The results are interesting. Players take control of a new formed vampire and work to complete a number of different quests while leveling up and unraveling the mystery of the game's central story. Playing a vampire is fun. Dependent on which family you chose, you'll have access to different abilities and skill sets. Some families are filled with melee brutes, while others rely on their silver tongues to get what they want. The game isn't overly long and is very linear in terms of progression, but the different clans and their unique abilities all but guarantee you'll run through the title a second time to see how things change with a new character. While certainly showing signs of age, this is still a good RPG for anyone looking for something that breaks from the norm. Good luck tracking down a copy.

Check back next time for another installment of geeky goodness. 

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