Thursday, March 18, 2021

Austin 3:16: 316 Facts & Stories about Stone Cold Steve Austin

Austin 3:16: 316 Facts & Stories about Stone Cold Steve AustinAustin 3:16: 316 Facts & Stories about Stone Cold Steve Austin by Michael McAvennie
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Austin 3:16: 316 Facts & Stories about Stone Cold Steve Austin is a collection of facts and trivia about wrestling's Steve Austin, as the title indicates.

ECW Press hit me up with a review copy of this. At the time, Steve Austin wasn't my favorite wrestler but as time passes, I see he was one of the last important personalities in wrestling so I agreed to read it.

As the title indicates, this book contains 316 facts and very short stories about Steve Austin. It's mostly trivia, like Steve Austin's mom going to the same high school as Virgil "Dusty Rhodes" Runnels. Others are stats, like how many times Steve Austin won the Royal Rumble, the combined number of days he was WWE champion, and things of that nature. The longest sections were given to transcripts of some of the god awful WHAT? promo segments. Seriously, fuck the WHAT? chant.

This is a pretty breezy book with as many as three segments on a page, meaning the 316 facts and stories fit into much fewer than 316 pages. It's a fun book for the most part, like reliving the best bits of the Attitude era without being subjected to the more cringe inducing moments. My main gripe is that the segments aren't in chronological order.

Austin 3:16: 316 Facts & Stories about Stone Cold Steve Austin is more fun that getting hit with a five pound metal bed pan. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Nitro: The Incredible Rise and Inevitable Collapse of Ted Turner's WCW

NITRO: The Incredible Rise and Inevitable Collapse of Ted Turner's WCWNITRO: The Incredible Rise and Inevitable Collapse of Ted Turner's WCW by Guy Evans
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Nitro is the story of the creation of Monday Nitro, the spark that set the Monday Night Wars ablaze, and its downfall.

As I've said before, I'm a wrestling fan from way back. Some of my earliest memories are of watching Wrestling at the Chase on Sunday mornings after church with my dad. Aside from the occasional indie show within a reasonable driving distance, I don't watch wrestling anymore but I'm up for pretty much any wrestling book that comes along so I was glad when my wife nabbed this one for me.

I was never a huge WCW fan when I was young. Even though the in-ring action was frequently better than the WWF's, the production always looked bush league and half assed to me. When Nitro premiered, I was skeptical but pleasantly surprised.

Anyway, this book deals with the creation of Nitro, the weeks it beat WWF in the ratings, and everything in the downward spiral after that. A lot of it has already been told in documentaries and other books. This one has statements from prominent people who were involved and paints a picture of constant chaos and backstabbing behind the scenes.

That's all well and good but this is a long ass book and a lot of it deals with behind the scenes dealings at Turner. I like the business side of wrestling but this is the business side of the business side of wrestling and I didn't find the corporate stuff terribly interesting. Part of it may be that I spend my working hours in a corporate setting and don't much care to read about meetings where they discuss wrestling using inane buzzwords.

Another part of my dislike for this book was the timing. We're so far removed from the death of WCW that most of the stories have already been told over and over. Nitro adds some wrinkles but I would have been more interested ten or fifteen years ago, when the wounds were still fresh. By the end, it was like being at my high school reunion for longer than I planned on and just wanting to go home.

All that being said, I did enjoy the wrestling bits quite a bit and the downfall of Vince Russo was enjoyable / infurating. Infuriating because an asshat was given the golden ticket and proceed to wipe his ass with it and enjoyable because he failed so spectacularly. WCW fans didn't want the WWF. That's why they were WCW fans. If the suits would have grasped that, WCW might still be around today. Bischoff is also a sleaze but at least he had some grasp of what wrestling fans wanted.

Even though it's a decade and a half past it's expiration date, I still found Nitro to be a pretty good read. Three out of five stars.

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Saturday, January 9, 2021

The World According to Dutch

The World According To DutchThe World According To Dutch by Dutch Mantell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The World According to Dutch is a collection of mostly true stories by wrestler Dirty Dutch Mantell.

This has been on my radar for years despite my being able to count the number of Dutch Mantell matches I've seen on one hand. My wife grabbed this for me for the anniversary of our first date.

Dutch Mantell has a reputation for being a great storyteller and this book proves it. Dutch muses on his life in the wrestling business, wrestling a bear, working and booking in Puerto Rico, and mentoring future superstars like Steve Austin and The Undertaker. The book also covers some 3000 mile weeks working for Bill Watts, having the shit kicked out of him by Akira Maeda in UWFI, and various other wrestling misadventures.

Dutch's writing feels like sitting on the porch, listening to a disreputable uncle's stories over the cheapest beer imaginable. The 270 pages went by in a blur. Fortunately, there's a second volume to look forward to.

The World According to Dutch is a fun wrestling book from one of wrestling's last great storytellers. Four out of five bullwhips.

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Thursday, January 7, 2021

North American Lake Monsters

North American Lake MonstersNorth American Lake Monsters by Nathan Ballingrud
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

North American Lake Monsters is a collection of nine short stories by Nathan Ballingrud.

I'm not a short story fan and whatever made me throw this on my wishlist is lost in the Swiss cheese that is the mind of a father of a toddler. My wife bought me this for Christmas and I have now read it.

These stories are heavy on atmosphere and there are feelings of desperation and loss in all of them. I wouldn't exactly call them horror stories, more like human stories that are horror adjacent. A man deals with the aftermath of werewolf attack and the destruction of his business, a man fresh out of jail deals with his home life while there's a dead lake monster not far away. A man blames himself for his son's kidnapping even as he's gazing upon the corpse of an angel. I could go on.

The writing reminds me of Laird Barron's with some very poetic descriptions amidst the horror. I imagine they have some of the same influences. "... her hangover as heavy as a mantle of chains" was my favorite simile but there were countless others.

I'm not normally a fan of short story collections but I enjoyed the hell out of North American Lake Monsters. Four out of five angel carcasses.

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Saturday, January 2, 2021

Ripley's Believe It or Not! Sideshow and Other Carnival Curiosities

Ripley's Believe It or Not! Sideshow and Other Carnival CuriositiesRipley's Believe It or Not! Sideshow and Other Carnival Curiosities by Ripley's Believe It or Not!
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was a fan of the Ripley's Believe it or Not series starring Jack Palance in the 1980s so this looked interesting. My in-laws bought it for me for Christmas.

This is a coffee table book about sideshow performers from the 19th century through today. It's loaded with photos and reproductions of old sideshow posters. Each performer is given a page or three of text and a couple photos.

Some of the entries, like Robert Wadlow, Jo-Jo the Dogfaced Boy, and Joseph Merrick, are fairly well known. However, there were a host of thin men, conjoined twins, and sword swallowers I'd never heard of. It's an entertaining book but it's also a little sad that some of the people's only livelihood was in exploiting their conditions.

Ripley's Believe It or Not! Sideshow and Other Carnival Curiosities is an interesting look at sideshow performers from the last 200 years. 3 out of 5 conjoined twins.

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The Old One and The Sea

The Old One and The Sea (Hardback)The Old One and The Sea by Lex H. Jones
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When an earthquake thrusts a strange black reef to the surface off the coast of Innsmouth, young Howard Phillips goes to investigate...

My wife and I have been accumulating odd children's books since before our son was conceived and I'm always on the lookout for new takes on the Cthulhu mythos so this was right in my wheelhouse.

The Old One and The Sea recasts Cthulhu as a misunderstood monster. The setup reminds me of Iron Giant or something of that nature. Boy befriends monster and the adults want it dead.

I like what Lex Jones does with HP Lovecraft and Cthulhu here. Cthulhu's like a big dumb dog with godlike powers, befriending little Howard. Howard, a little boy without a father, quickly grows attached, just in time for the adults to come fuck things up.

The artwork is cute but not nauseatingly so. There's still a hint of creepiness lurking around the edges. My favorite piece of art is after Cthulhu alters Howard so that they can venture beneath the waves together.

The Old One and The Sea is a charming new take on the Cthulhu mythos. I'll read it to my son when he's older and the stars are right. Four out of five Cyclopean monsters.

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Thursday, December 31, 2020

Dungeons and Dragons Art & Arcana

Dungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana: A Visual HistoryDungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana: A Visual History by Michael Witwer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Dungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana: A Visual History chronicles the history and evolution of Dungeons & Dragons, specifically the art.

I was a heavy D&D player from ages 14 to about 25 so this piqued my interest. Fortunately, my wife bought it for me for Christmas.

This weighty tome chronicles the history of Dungeons and Dragons, from the original pamphlets printed up by Gary Gygax in the 1970s through the most recent edition. It's not an in depth history, focusing more on the look and feel of the art over the years, from high school chuckleheads Gygax knew in Lake Geneva to heavy hitters like Larry Elmore and Erol Otus and beyond.

I knew most of the behind the scenes stuff from other books up until 3.5. Fourth edition's resemblance to World of Warcraft makes a lot more sense now. Is fifth edition still hung up on using miniatures? This book wasn't clear...

Anyway, the art is the star of the show, as it should be in a book of this type. The book is easily two thirds artwork spanning the lifetime of the game. Some of it was new to me but other pieces were as familiar as a ragged character sheet. I recently watched Eye of the Beholder, a documentary covering a lot of the same territory on Prime Video. I recommend watching that as well.

To be honest, my only gripe with this book is that it could have easily been 1000 pages bigger. There are a lot of memorable pieces from 2nd and 3rd edition that didn't make the cut. Hell, Spelljammer and Planescape got 2-3 pages apiece and Dark Sun fared about the same.

Dungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana: A Visual History is an essential coffee table book for any longtime Dungeons and Dragons fan. Five out of five dragons.

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