This is Carl's Brain
Game of Thrones: Stormborn


Whereas last week’s episode was a table setter, Stormborn had a battle at sea that popped out of nowhere.  Not only that, but it will have major ramifications going forward.  Euron Greyjoy got his revenge on his family members and reeked some serious havoc in the process.


Sam Tarly


Sam was practicing amateur surgeon, trying to rid Ser Jorah Mormont of his greyscale.  Undeterred by the fact that the maester who had tried this procedure may have cured his patient but wound up dying of greyscale, he got down to some serious surgery.  This was one nasty, revolting scene as Sam had to chisel through the scale into a milky, pus-field interior.  Yum.


Arya Stark 


Arya meets an old friend in the form of Hotpie.  She is vastly changed from the last time they met, but Hotpie hasn’t changed much and is still making pies.  When Arya hears that Jon Snow is the King of the North she reverses her course from her poorly thought out journey to kill Cersei.  I was surprised to find her old dire wolf reject her, but it makes some sense since Arya tossed the dire wolf to the curb way back in season one.


Jon Snow


Against advice to the contrary, Jon decides to take up Tyrion’s offer to go to Dragonstone to meet with Daenerys, but not before foolishly threatening Little Finger.  Jon’s pretty awesome but he’s not in Little Finger’s league as far as cunning, and Sansa is a big girl who should be able to fend for herself.  Jon’s looking for dragon glass and allies.  Dany wants him to bend the knee.  There’s no way that will happen.  I can only imagine how the scene will go.  “Hello, Aunt Danerys.  Thanks for the invite.”  Dany: “Hi nephew.  Check out my new castle.  How about we get married?”  Jon: “Sure thing.  Incest is pretty common here in Westeros.”  Yes, my prediction is that aunt and nephew will wind up getting married.  Hey, it’s a Targaryan tradition.


Cersei Lannister


Cersei is trying to recruit the lords of Westeros to fend off the eunuchs and savages that threaten their shores.  Sam Tarley’s dad isn’t buying that.  Meanwhile, Cersei has a new weapon to fight the dragons—a spear that she tested out on a dragon’s skeleton.  Yeah, I’m not buying it.  Good luck using that against real dragons.


Tyrion Lannister


Tyrion proves to be a sound strategist as he devises a plan that will bring down Casterly Rock, while taking King’s Landing with a minimal amount of bloodshed and casualties.  It looks good on paper, but it’s all thrown for a massive loop  in the climactic battle scene.


Euron Greyjoy


I really didn’t see this coming at all.  Just when Allaria Sand is about to get it on with Yara Greyjoy, much to Theon’s disgust, all hell breaks loose when Uncle Euron pays a visit.  This battle was a flat out slaughter.  Just when it looked like Theon would get some redemption, he turns complete coward.  Theon is my least favorite character on the show along with Sansa, and I was vindicated in my assertion that he is a complete coward and a worm.  I’m not sure where they can possibly go with his character because he is beyond redemption.  With this, Euron will finally get his wish—Cersei’s hand in marriage.

10 Questions with Jeff Strand

1.  How did it come about that a group of high school students are adapting The Greatest Zombie Movie Ever and do you see the irony in that?


It really was as simple as me getting an e-mail from the writer/director, Gianluca Spezze, asking permission to make the movie. (He’d already written the script!) It wasn’t technically a school project, but it was done under the guidance of their Advanced Video Production teacher, Pavel Vogler.

It’s high school kids making a movie about of a book about high school kids making a movie…but I think it’s more “meta” than “ironic.” What appealed to them about the project is that, as high school filmmakers, they could relate to the subject matter!


2.  Who was the greatest competitor in the history of the television show Survivor and why?

Boston Rob

I’m going to eliminate Boston Rob because he’s too obvious of an answer. So I’ll say Kim, the winner of Survivor: One World. Not only did she dominate in all aspects of the game, but she did it while frequently having to clean up strategic messes caused by people in her alliance. If they ever do Survivor: The Players Who Don’t Necessarily Have The Most Dynamic Personalities But Are Best At The Game, I think she’d win.


3.  If you could choose between being a New York Times #1 Bestseller or getting an Oscar for a screenplay that you wrote, which would you choose?


Since I consider myself a novelist and not a screenwriter, I feel like “New York Times #1 Bestseller” should be the easy answer. That said, I dunno…an Oscar would be pretty sweet. Way more people are #1 bestsellers than have screenwriting Oscars. I’m going to go with #1 bestseller, but it was a very difficult hypothetical decision.


4.  With it being far easier to make a movie today than it has been in the past, do you feel that the lowering of this barrier of entry has watered down the overall quality of movies, or has it opened up quality movies that would not have been made otherwise?


Both! I’d guess that if you were insane enough to try to watch every horror flick that came out, you’d find that the percentage of bad movies has gone up. But the number of GOOD movies out there is higher than ever before. And it’s easier to filter out the bad stuff; when I first became a horror fan, I often had no information about a movie beyond what was on the VHS box. At events like the Nightmares Film Festival in Columbus, Ohio and the Nevermore Film Festival in Durham, North Carolina, you can watch new micro-budget movies for three days straight with an amazingly high hit-to-miss ratio.


5.  How is it that you could write a novel entitled The Greatest Zombie Movie Ever without any zombies being in the novel?


Because “kids making a zombie movie are forced to use their knowledge of the undead when the REAL zombies arrive!” is too obvious of a premise. (And, yes, my then-agent did say, “So, then real zombies show up, right?”) There was never a point where I considered turning it into a legitimate zombie novel. It’s a wacky comedy about kids making a movie!


6.  Why have you decided to hang it up as the Master of Ceremonies for the Stoker Award banquet?


StokerCon 2018 will be my tenth time as emcee, which seems like a good stopping point. I can’t do this forever! I was really happy with how the ninth one went, and I’d rather step down while the job is still fun, instead of waiting until I start walking off the stage muttering, “Boy, was THAT a dud year!” I’m looking forward to enjoying the Bram Stoker Awards banquet as a civilian.


7.  How has it been working on various movie projects with your wife, Lynne Hansen?


With her adaptation of my not-yet-published novella Cold Dead Hands, the lines of power are clear: the book is mine, the movie is hers. I’m not really working on it with her; I’m basically just smiling and nodding while she makes all of the decisions. On her film Chomp, where I’m credited as Associate Producer, I did lots and lots of manual labor. She’s the boss.


8.  Out of all of the authors you have had an opportunity to meet, who left you the most awestruck?


My first horror convention was one awestruck moment after another, but if I had to pick a single instance, it would probably be many years later when Peter Straub came up to me and said that he was fascinated by the idea that I wrote horror/comedy.

I had an after-the-fact awestruck moment not that long ago when I was walking down the hallway at a convention, and Jack Ketchum (who I’ve talked to many times) was going the other way, and we just did a quick “Hi, how’s it going?” as we passed each other. And it later hit me that I can do a casual “Hi” with Jack Frickin’ Ketchum (!!!) without soiling myself in amazement.


9.  Who has been your biggest influence as a writer?


I can’t narrow it down to one. I can narrow it down to two, if necessary: Douglas Adams and Dave Barry. That leaves out a few people, but I think readers of my work would not be surprised by either of those influences.


10.  If you could create a Mount Rushmore of the four greatest humor writers who ever lived, who would you choose?

Mark Twain

Douglas Adams, Dave Barry, Mark Twain, and P.G. Wodehouse.

Game of Thrones: Dragonstone

The Hound

Ah yes, the greatest television show in the history of the small screen is back with Dragonstone.  This is the type of episode that I would describe as a table setter.  There wasn’t any big action or reveals or any OMG moments, but it nicely set story lines for the upcoming season.  This was an episode I enjoyed, if not for the greatness of the episode, then for the mere fact that I get to watch Game of Thrones again


Sam Tarly


I don’t think any of the characters quite have it as rough as Sam.  He’s serving food, putting books away, and cleaning chamber pots.  To be honest, I could have done without this scene, or at least lessened the amount of feces in it.  After about fifteen seconds, I got the picture.  And then his revelation about the dragon glass being in Dragonstone was anti-climactic.  Stannis already told him and Jon that there are tons of dragon glass there.  I’m not sure why this was such a revelation.


Arya Stark 


I suppose that this was the one big action scene, but for me it was a complete let down.  From the moment I saw Walder Frey addressing his men I knew exactly what was going to happen—Arya was wearing a false face and was going to poison all of the people in the hall with the wine that they drank.  Because of that, this mass murder had no impact.  It would have been far more impactful if they never showed the scene at the end of last season when Arya kills Walder, and instead have this scene, and then perhaps do a flashback to her killing Walder.


Jon Snow


In this episode, Jon Snow shows how he is capable of leading the houses of the North because of the person he is and not his birthright.  Sansa, on the other hand, has the birthright but nowhere near the charisma and leadership skills that Jon has.  Instead of penalizing House Umber and House Karstark for siding with Ramsay Bolton, he gets the young children who lead those houses to pledge fealty to him, whereas Sansa wanted to strip them of their land.  Jon points to Ned Stark as his moral compass, while Sansa indicates that she leans toward Cersei’s leadership style.  Meanwhile, more seeds are sown.  It’s clear that Littlefinger is going to try to lead her to betray Jon, and based on her weak character, I think she will betray him.


Cersei Lannister


Cersei is surrounded by enemies on all sides, and the only person she can truly trust is Jaimie, but her brother is having some serious doubts about her, and for the first time is seeing Cersei for the monster that she truly is.  Even with Euron Greyjoy pledging to use the Iron Fleet to help her, there is no way that anything other than her getting crushed by Daenerys will be the final outcome.  She is about to blitz Cersei with overwhelming force.


The Hound


The Hound is quickly becoming one of my favorite characters on the show.  I love his surly nature and his overall nastiness.  Deep down, a lot of good resides in him, as shown when he buries the farmer and his daughter, whom previously he had stolen money from them when he was roaming with Arya because they were weak and wouldn’t survive.  I guess he was right.  With the Hound’s vision of the White Walkers, my guess is that he and his band will be venturing North to join the Wildlings in what should be an epic battle at Eastwatch by the Sea.


Cool episode.  Lots of good stuff.  By the way, I absolutely love every scene where Brienne and Tormund are in.  Their mannerisms and facial expressions are priceless.

The Greatest Zombie Movie Ever by Jeff Strand

The Greatest Zombie Movie Ever

Despite its title, The Greatest Zombie Movie Ever doesn’t have a single zombie.  Not one, lonely, solitaire zombie.  You would think a novel that has zombie in its title and yet doesn’t even have one itty-bitty zombie wouldn’t be any good, but you would be wrong.  Instead, this young adult novel is filled with the comical musings of Jeff Strand, and if there’s anything better than zombies, it would be Strand’s fiction, which has me rolling from beginning to end.


Besides humor, the one thing that Strand is exceptionally skilled at is getting characters in seemingly innocuous situations and turning the situation into something really terrible for the characters.  And just when you think this bad situation can’t get worse, Strand makes it worse.  And just when you’re certain there is no way that the author can find a way to make it worse for them, the evil genius somehow manages to make the character’s situation even worse.  You get a lot of that sort of thing in this novel.  My only conclusion is that Strand really, really hates his characters.


This novel is a quick read.  I finished it in about three sittings, which is refreshing given the length of some of the novels in today’s marketplace.  The pace is just where it should be, and the characters are well fleshed out.  The entire time I read the story, I kept thinking there’s no way these kids are going to pull off the task of making this awesomely epic zombie movie.  I won’t spoil if it worked out for the Justin and his two friends, but the journey was well worth it.  If you haven’t read Strand’s fiction before, The Greatest Zombie Movie Ever is a good place to start.  Buy your copy on Amazon.

Movie Review: Spiderman Homecoming

Spiderman Homecoming

The best way I can describe my feelings toward Spiderman: Homecoming is lukewarm.  It certainly wasn’t a bad movie.  It had some decent entertainment value, but when I compare it to the last two movies that I saw in the theaters: Wonderwoman and Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2, it falls short.


I guess my biggest criticism is that I’m not a big fan of the actor they cast as the newest Spiderman.  He’s not nearly as good at the role as Tobey Maguire (my favorite Spiderman) or Andrew Garfield.  Tom Holland comes off as being a bit immature for the role.  The Spiderman character itself seems less capable than the previous iterations.  It also didn’t make sense that the Vulture’s crew of blue collar workers would be able to engineer alien technology, something that would seem better suited for let’s say a team of MIT engineers or NASA scientists.  There was also some very obvious product placement for Audi in the movie.


That’s not to say that there weren’t things that I enjoyed about the movie.  The overall action and effects were pretty cool.  I enjoyed Iron Man’s involvement in the movie.  I also liked the casting of Michael Keeton as the Vulture.  He really fit the role well as the hard-nosed blue collar business owner turned criminal.  He humanized that role and was even sympathetic and turned out an A+ performance.  Without trying to spoil things, there was a great twist when Spiderman took his date to the homecoming dance that was my favorite part of the movie.  In the end, I was entertained by the movie but somewhat underwhelmed.

The Orphan Choir by Sophie Hannah

The Orphan Choir

The Orphan Choir fails from the very beginning and has no chance at succeeding because the protagonist, who is in every scene of the novel, is inherently unlikeable.  Louise Beeston is utterly neurotic and annoying.  She is constantly complaining about everything and anything, from her neighbor’s loud music, to her unsympathetic neighbors, to government officials who won’t listen to her.  She is like one of those protestors who protests all of the time that it eventually becomes background noise, and the reason for the protest is lost.  The most egregious aspect of her character is her constant complaining that the school, which is some choir boarding school, is stealing her son, even though she agreed to let him go to the school.  I grew so tired of Louise that I could barely finish reading this.


Louise continues to hear a choir that only she can hear.  It was so ridiculous how insistent she was that her sinister neighbor was behind the ominous choir, even when it would have been absolutely impossible for him to have been responsible for it.  The novel was short, yet still hard to get through.  The twist at the end wasn’t bad, but by that point I just didn’t really care anymore and wanted it to be over.  This novel is a prime example that a story simply can’t succeed if the main character is an unlikeable bore.  Therefore, I would advise staying away from this book.

Tower Hill by Sarah Pinborough

Tower Hill

Set in a small university town in rural Maine, things go haywire when an imposter priest and a university professor arrive.  Both the students and faculty of the university, as well as the townspeople fall under their spell and act like mindless zombies.  Only Liz and Steve, as well as a couple of the residents are unaffected by the hypnotic effects of the two newcomers, who have seriously nefarious plans that involve the resurrection of the children and grandchildren of Adam and Eve.


Every time I read a Sarah Pinbrough novel, she delivers, and Tower Hill is no exception.  She creates a desolate and bleak setting that really creates a sense of foreboding and puts the reader in just the right mood for this horror novel.  At first, it seems as if the stakes in the novel are not big enough, however as the plan of the two strangers unfolds, it becomes clear that what they are trying to do would not only have major ramifications in this small town, but the world at large.  The characters are well crafted, with the exception of Gray, who comes off to me as a bit of a mustache twirling villain.  There is a strong buildup and a good climax.  The horror elements are well done, although there are some elements of the story that stretch believability, and are used strictly as convenient plot devices.  You could do much worse than picking up this fine horror novel.



Movie Review: Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman

DC just can’t seem to make a good movie, especially when compared to their counterparts at Marvel, who have put out an impressive string of movies over the last decade.  DC, meanwhile, has put out dreck like Suicide Squad, and have done silly things like cast Ben Affleck as Batman.  And then comes Wonder Woman, a movie that throws that narrative for a complete loop.  In my humble opinion, this was the best movie ever made featuring DC characters.


First of all, I liked that they gave the Wonder Woman origin story, which hasn’t been done in film or TV before.  She just appears as an already established superhero in previous iterations.  Going back to World War One was a nice touch.  Overall, the setting enhanced the movie.  The casting was also a key in making this movie a success.  Gal Gadot was tremendous as Wonder Woman, and Chris Pine was well cast in the leading male role.  I also liked the casting of Ares, the villain in the movie.  Wonder Woman totally kicked ass in this movie.  They did a fine job of incorporating CGI and special effects to really make her character look impressive.  Her cache of weapons was pretty cool.  I liked the freshened look that they gave to her costume.  The plot was well-crafted.  In fact, I can’t really think of anything negative to say.  Even if you’ve written off the DC universe as a flowing miasma of terrible movies, this one will change your mind.

The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan

The Last Werewolf was a painful book to read, or listen to as was the case with the medium I chose.  It was tedious, slow paced, and loaded with scene after scene of gratuitous sex.  Jake Marlowe is the last werewolf (not actually but it is the title of the book).  The werewolves have been hunted down to near extinction, and after a couple of hundred years, Jake is tired of living.  He is reminiscent of so many of the self-loathing, oozing with fatigue of being alive, squishy vampires in fiction.  The only difference is that he’s a werewolf.  This character was such a bore that it was hard to take, and more than once I wanted to stop reading, but somehow I soldiered through to the bitter end, although I lost interest about half way through the book.  Apparently, in this world, werewolves have to have sex all of the time which is the reason for all of the gratuitous sex scenes.


I think the author was going for gritty, but for me it came off as hollow.  Marlowe kept flip flopping from wanting to live, to wanting to die, and back again that it was hard to tell what his motivation.  It would have been easier to swallow if there was a single antagonist, but there were multiple bad guys and nobody I could root for. I’d like to give some positive feedbck, but I can’t really think of anything.  I would advise skipping this novel.



Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold

Captain Vorpatril's Alliance

Ivan Vorpatril is a bachelor who comes from a powerful family and has a fairly important job, but lacks any serious ambition and enjoys his bachelor lifecyle.  When his cousin convinces him to use his bachelor prowess to charm Tej Arqua in an effort to find out who she is, the situation unravels and he marries her to save her and himself from a load of trouble.  That’s what sets this narrative in motion, and while his relationship with Tej grows from a marriage to escape trouble, it morphs into something more.  Meanwhile, Ivan’s problems only get more complicated.


This was a fun novel with some interesting twists.  I liked both Ivan and Tej as characters, and found characterization in general to be a strong point.  Although nothing particularly Earth-shattering took place in this story in terms of plot, I did find it to be an interesting narrative.  The real downsides for me were about pacing.  I thought at times the novel got bogged down in unnecessary backstory and going on about characters and events that were not pertinent to this novel.  As a result, I thought it was overly long and could have stood chopping off about fifty or so pages.  That would have made for a tighter read that flowed better.  Having said that, I still found the novel to be enjoyable.  This is the first novel by Lois McMaster Bujold that I have read, and I think I will read some more.