Chaos Walking: The First Trailer

A few years ago, I read a book called “The Knife of Never Letting Go,” by Patrick Ness. It’s not the greatest title, but immediately it was one of my favorite books. It was written in a way that was bizarre and interesting, and I was captivated from the beginning. The book is the first in a trilogy called “The Chaos Walking” trilogy. I read the entire trilogy as quickly as I could, and while the first book is by far my favorite, the entire trilogy is good.

The film adaptation of these books is coming out on January 22, 2021 (that is of course assuming things don’t get changed in the wake of the pandemic). As far as I can tell from the trailer, which was released today, the film will be adapting the trilogy as a whole and not the first book, and I’m not hating that. Here’s what I think about the upcoming adaptation, and the books, along with the trailer.

Before You Watch the Trailer

I don’t want to say much about these books, because I do think this is a situation in which going in with as little info as possible is going to enhance the experience. The trailer does somewhat spoil some of the secrets of the first book. I think that because of the way they are—necessarily—changing the telling of the story, the reveal of the first book would make absolutely no sense, but if you’re planning on reading the books before seeing the film, I strongly recommend reading at least the first book before watching the trailer.

The trailer shows you glimpses of events past the big reveal of the first book, but I don’t think there is much that is going to be ruined if you’ve read only the first book.

What Can I Tell You Without Spoiling?

Here is one of the things that I think if you pick up the book at a book store, and literally flip through it you would learn, so I don’t feel bad spoiling for you. This book doesn’t follow a layout the way pretty much every novel I’ve ever read has. This book, along with House of Leaves, are the only two books I’ve read, where margins and orientation are inconsistent, and messed with as a part of the story telling.

In this book, (minor spoiler here) we meet Todd, a boy who lives on a planet where everyone’s thoughts are projected aloud into the air for all to see and hear. The constant bombardment of these thoughts to the characters is reflected in scrawling text, sometimes looking like a notebook which has been writing has been written over.

This factor of the world is not a minor aspect, but affects seemingly everything that happens in all three books, and so when I read that the book was going to be adapted, I was genuinely curious as to how it was going to work. Based on what I’ve seen in the trailer it looks like they’ve come up with a pretty cool way of selling it.

Three Books—One Movie?

I could be wrong on this, but based on the trailer, I think they’re telling the whole story in one film, I think it’s a smart decision. In a world in which most novels are better translated into shows than films, I think this book series doing the opposite makes a lot of sense.

The three books while running high on page counts, don’t tell long stories. In fact, it’s very much three acts of the same story. A lot of the page count is dedicated to style and world building, and I suspect that on film both will be done much more efficiently than the novels. I’d rather see the whole story told well over the course of one film, than poorly over the course of three or four.

Ready for the Trailer?

If you’ve read the books already, or you’re thinking that you’re not going to, go ahead and watch the trailer. But this is your last warning. Watching this trailer will spoil what was personally one of my favorite aspects of the book. So I won’t tell you what to do, but like any good parent, I will guilt trip you and just say “I think you know the right thing, I just hope you choose to do it.”

It looks pretty awesome, right?

BOOK REVIEW: The Man From The Train:The Solving Of A Century-Old Serial Killer Mystery (Reviewed by Tim Cuff)

Hey guys, I just want to make a quick comment because this is the first time we’ve had him write an article for the site, but this is an excellent book review by Tim Cuff, who is of course my cohost on The World’s Best Podcast with Paul & Tim. Tim is a great writer and this is a great review. Enjoy!

– Paul

THE MAN FROM THE TRAIN Written by Bill James

(Reviewed by Tim Cuff)

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If you’re familiar with Bill James, it’s more than likely because of baseball. He is the father of sabremetrics (basically, the use of statistics and analyzing real data to draw conclusions, as opposed to using gut feelings and eyeball observations). Anyone familiar with modern sports is aware of this word, a word that Bill James invented. Currently he is the Senior Advisor of Baseball Operations for the Boston Red Sox. Luckily for Paul, however, this review isn’t about baseball. Bill James and I have another passion, darker and less mainstream than baseball: serial killers.

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Photo of Bill James

The Man from the Train deals with an extremely prolific (100+, yes not a typo, 100+ murders) serial killer that most of us have never heard of. This is mostly because he committed crimes in the early 1900s, which I will elaborate on in a later paragraph. His modus operandi is as follows: he would take a train to a random small town, find a house extremely close to the railroad tracks, find an axe on the family property, hide in a barn or other out building, break in through a window in the middle of the night, and kill the entire family while they slept (usually saving a young girl for last). Once completed he would hop back on the train, and would be hundreds of miles away by the time the bodies were discovered. He was methodical, vicious, but most importantly random. This randomness helped him in a time where there were no criminal profilers and no one had heard of the term “serial killer.” One small town would almost never hear the news from another small town 100 miles away, and it took many years for anyone to connect the murders.
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Photo of an actual murder site taken shortly after the murders

The book focuses on two major aspects of his crimes: the crimes themselves, and the shockwaves resulting from the crimes. The former can be tough to read about. However Bill James makes no bones about it: this guy is a scumbag. James doesn’t try to get in his head, or imagine what it is like to be him, or speak about his methodology in almost admirable ways. James repeatedly states what a disgusting monster he is, and in an interview mentions he is “glad the sonofabitch is dead” as the publishing of this book would likely give him pleasure. But the Man from the Train wasn’t BTK or Zodiac. He didn’t want to be caught, he didn’t send taunting letters to the police; he just wanted to kill people. James doesn’t elaborate on the more ghastly parts of his crimes. He sort of glosses over the gory details, and more importantly he doesn’t discuss at length the sexual nature of the crimes (the killer seems to have a fascination with young girls I won’t go into here).

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Photo from a logging camp. James believes the murderer was a logger, hence his propensity to use an axe.

Some of the more interesting parts of the book, however, are how society reacted in the early 1900s. Police investigations were extremely limited. A small town police force in Kansas from 100 years ago isn’t exactly chock full of Frank Pembletons (kudos to anyone who gets that reference). Most of the time local police would have to hire private investigators, who were for-profit detectives that could be anywhere from intelligent, to inept, to out-right conmen. In 1910 no one could seem to wrap their brain around the idea of a serial killer with no motive. Almost always a neighbor, or family member, or local nutcase, or local minority (almost always black) would instantly be blamed for the crime. Even when some of the murders finally were linked, police still searched for some sort of personal connection with at least one of the victims. Some of the resulting stories and trials following a murder are nothing short of ridiculous. Many people were imprisoned, executed, or lynched due to false accusations.
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Most importantly, though not a spoiler, James (by his own admission) accidentally discovers who the killer is. James spent 7 years researching the crimes. He didn’t seek to write a book such as Jack the Ripper: Case Closed by Patricia Cornwell. That book was solely written for the purpose of solving Jack the Ripper. James had no intention he would be solving anything, until he discovers mistakes the killer made. Eventually working his way backwards he finds “the first crime,” a crime of a not-yet-experienced murderer. Mistakes were made, he was identified, and narrowly escaped the police. This escape unfortunately led to the deaths of 100 more people.

The downsides to this book, if there are any, is that it is quite long (I read it on a Kindle so it’s hard to tell, but I believe it’s over 400 pages). For a nonfiction book that can be quite a row to hoe. Reading about the 30th murder (almost all of the murders are discussed at length), for example, can be a little tedious. Eventually I felt, “Okay I get it. He killed this family too, in the exact same fashion. Let’s move on.”

If you are a fan of true crime, especially serial killers, or have a historic interest in our criminal justice system, I highly recommend this book. I admire James’s no-nonsense writing style. He will state his opinion and not be afraid to say, “This is my opinion, though I could not convince a skeptic of this.” It definitely is of a darker nature, and isn’t for everyone. If this isn’t the type of story for you, I recommend the more upbeat Curious George and the Birthday Surprise, for which I will have an upcoming review.

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GREAT READS: The Dresden Files

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There is nothing better than kicking back with a great book. One of the things that I set out to do when I created this website was to try to get people to read more by recommending great novels and comic books. I’ve been a big advocate for comic books because I feel like they’re an underappreciated medium. But I love a good novel, finding a new author or a great new series can be magic. There’ve been new books that had me just as excited as any new movie coming out. I would say that most of my personal downtime is spent reading. It’s my favorite way to relax and unwind. And just like comic books, movies, and TV shows, I love how a good book can transport me to another world. I’m sure it’ll come as no surprise to anybody who reads this blog that my favorite books tend to be fantasy and science-fiction. I have a great recommendation for you guys. This is one of my favorite book series and the new entry is always an absolute blast to read. I’m talking about Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files.

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(Harry and a whole bunch of the heroes and villains from The Dresden Files)

Now, if that name sounds familiar it’s possible you may be thinking of the abysmal Syfy channel TV adaptation of the book series from about 8 years ago. This show was a real piece of shit. I don’t know what the fuck they were thinking. They took one of the coolest, most fun urban fantasy stories and just turned it into a pile of diarrhea. So stay the fuck away from that television series! Though in a world where we get TV fantasy adaptation masterpieces like Game of Thrones, it would be really cool to see The Dresden Files made into an HBO TV series one day.

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(Our hero: Harry Dresden)

So what’s this damn series about? Like I said these books are a blast. It’s what is commonly known as “urban fantasy”. A story that takes place in a modern urban setting, but features supernatural or magical elements. Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings are just “fantasy”. Though this analogy doesn’t quite work, something like Buffy The Vampire Slayer or even better it’s spin off series Angel are closer to “urban fantasy”. But again that’s an imperfect analogy.

Anyway, The Dresden Files follows Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only Wizard listed in the phonebook. Seriously, he’s in the phonebook, he’s got an ad and everything (Harry’s WAY behind on the times when it comes to things like the Internet). Really though Harry is more like a private investigator of the supernatural. A P.I. for the unexplained. If you’ve got a ghost, monster, or a witch problem, Harry Dresden is the man to see. Sure, Harry will take a normal P.I. job, like taking pictures of a cheating spouse. The guy has to pay the bills after all. But his specialty is what goes bump in the night.

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Most of Harry’s jobs come from working as a consultant for the Special Investigations Department of the Chicago PD. Special Investigations is where cases get kicked down that aren’t exactly normal. If a body is found completely drained of blood, but not a drop of it is at the crime scene it get sent to SI. If a family says that their little girl’s been kidnapped, but it was a giant troll monster that took her, SI gets to handle that too. Basically Special Investigations is a career dead end for most cops sent their. It’s a punishment. It’s the place they send the cops that piss off the wrong person. After all it’s not like any any of these cases can really be solved. How the fuck do you write a police report about somebody who got mauled by a ghoul? So any cops that get kicked down to SI have their careers waste away or they just get drummed out of the police force altogether. That is until Lt. Karen Murphy came along. Murphy is Harry’s best friend and got made head of SI after a case of her’s went particularly bad. Instead of despairing, she tried to keep an open mind about the spooky stuff they had to investigate. She got the bright idea of hiring a consultant who may know a thing or two about the occult and the other weird shit that goes down in Chicago on a fairly regular basis. So, she hires Harry Dresden and lo and behold he’s not a complete whack job and they actually start solving some of these cases together. Murphy ends up becoming one of the only successful cops to run SI in the history of the department (with Harry’s help of course).

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(This picture of Murphy pretty much tells you everything you need to know. She’s a badass)

At least in the early books, as much as Harrys able to help Murphy out, there’s only so much he can tell her. There’s a vast supernatural world living just out the corner of our eye and sometimes it’s what you do know that can get you killed. In addition to the monsters, creatures, and other dimensional Lovecraftian horrors, there are a lot of other people who use magic. Anyone born with the ability to practice magic falls under the purview of The White Council. Basically, if you’re a Wizard, you’re a member of The White Council whether you want to be or not. They may technically be the good guys, but they’re more or less a huge group assholes. This isn’t Hogwarts. These guys are the most gifted and dangerous magic users on the planet. Some of them are centuries old and they don’t fuck around. There are laws of magic and The White Council enforces them. These are not the type of rules you want to end up breaking, because if you do it usually means your ass. The problem is that The White Council doesn’t exactly actively seek out young people who’ve been born with the ability to do magic. So if they have no training and unknowingly break one of these laws, some kids end up dead meat.

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(One of those White Council pricks about to get eaten by vampires)

Unfortunately for Harry something similar happened to him too, which brings me to Harry’s backstory. Harry’s father was a normal human stage magician and his mother was a gifted witch with a reputation for leaning towards the dark side of The Force. Unfortunately, both of Harry’s parents died mysteriously when he was young and he was taken in as an apprentice to a wizard named Justin DuMourn. Justin practiced black magic and over time he was trying to turn Harry into one of his evil foot soldiers. When he was a teenager Harry found out what Justin had planned for him (basically being Justin’s dark wizard, mind controlled slave). Justin tried to kill Harry when he tried to runaway and in the process of defending himself, Harry killed Justin using magic. Killing people with magic is a big fucking no, no to The White Council. Usually you’re pretty much fucked when you break that Law. The number one Law of Magic is do not kill humans with magic. The White Council has no problem with murdering someone literally any other way, just not magic. And feel free to kill anything that isn’t human with magic all the live long day. But considering the somewhat gray circumstances surrounding Harry’s situation and the fact that a very respected wizard stuck up for Harry, he was given a stay of execution. Which meant they let him live. But if Harry fucked up at all, if came anywhere near even bending one of The Laws of Magic, they’d cut his goddamn head off. Literally. So, Harry went off to live with the wizard who stuck his neck out for him, a good man named Ebenezer McCoy who’d become Harry’s life long mentor, and finished his training as a wizard. Years went by and eventually Harry set up shop in Chicago as a P.I.

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One of the best things about this series is the mythology and rich world building. Each book builds on the ones before, so each novel opens up Dresden’s world a little more. This universe has everything from vampires and werewolves to fallen angels, Lovecraft’s Outsiders, dark elves, gods, and a million other cool monsters and creatures. And Butcher has created some of his own badass things that go bump in the night. Butcher always has a unique take on classic monsters and myths. Most of the supernatural creatures have sort of organization or government. A lot of the things Harry comes up against aren’t just lone monsters, they’re often part of different factions or “Courts”.

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(Don’t worry. Harry’s totally got this)

For example there are different kinds of vampires in this universe: Red, White, and Black. The White Court consists of the sexy, Ann Rice, Twilight archetype and feed off sexual life force. The Reds look human, but are really giant Bat-like monsters, their true form comes out when they’re feeding or fighting. Finally, The Black Court Vampires who are kind of like the classic Bram Stoker vampire, they’re by far the most physically powerful and look like the desiccated corpse version of the person they used to be. One of the many fun little details that Butcher adds to his stories, is that The Black Court vampires are nearly extinct largely due to Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The White Council of wizards makes their business to protect mankind from supernatural threats and they were the ones that made sure that novel went into wide circulation because it’s pretty much a manual on how to kill a Black Court Vampire. It’s stuff like that, these cool new takes on classic monsters that make Butcher’s world feel really unique and cool.

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(Harry trying to kill a Red Court Vampire)

The best part of these books is that they’ve got one hell of a hero. Harry is crazy, stupid, and ballsy enough to pick fights with these nightmares if they start trouble in his territory, Chicago. Harry subscribers to the views of the great philosopher and writer Stan Lee, who wrote “with great power comes great responsibility”. All of this almost gets Harry killed dozens of times in each book, but Harry’s a stubborn son of a bitch. Most wizard just try keep their head down and use their abilities for money or really whatever they want (especially because wizards have natural life spans of hundreds of years). Harry also has tendency to be a wise ass, which always end up getting him into more trouble. Harry also has an excellent cast of supporting characters, like Murphy and Ebenezer. Harry’s friends and enemies are just as fun and interesting as he is. Even though this is a fantasy novel, the characters feel real and story can be both extremely funny and surprisingly moving.

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(From left to right: Harry’s sometimes reluctant ally and Chicago’s kingpin of crime “Gentleman”  John Marcone, Harry, Harry’s apprentice Molly, and Harry’s faithful supernatural dog Mouse)

With each book the threats become more deadly and the mythology keeps building. There is an overarching story and mystery that’s planted as early as the first book. Each book functions as a story about one of Harry’s cases, but also continues the larger narrative and continuity. Their have been 16 “case file” books so far with around 5 or 6 more planned, before a trilogy of books that will apparently be a giant, fantasy, apocalyptic epic that will wrap up the story or “Saga” of Harry Dresden.

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(There’s a good reason Harry’s naked here, but I can’t remember why. Sometimes you don’t have time for that shit killing frog demons?)

Up until the most recent book, there would usually be a new Dresden novel every spring or summer. But it’s been a few years since the last book. Mainly because Butcher started a new book series in a completely different genre. The first book is called The Cinder Spires and it’s sort of a sci-fi, steampunk meets Master and Commander. It’s excellent and you should definitely check it out if you like the Dresden books. Butcher is pretty consistent with putting out content as we wait for the next Dresden book. There are usually at least three or four short stories every year that take place in the Dresden universe that are published in fantasy anthologies. Also, there are great continuing original graphic novels that are kind of like Dresden stories between stories.

So, you’ve got a very well written, addictive series with a phenomenal protagonist and a rich compelling universe. Obviously this type of thing isn’t for everyone, but if you’re into sci-fi and fantasy and enjoy things like Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel, Game of Thrones, Supernatural, Harry Potter or superhero stories, you’ll probably really dig The Dresden Files. I hope you guys give it a shot because it’s one of my favorite series.

As always, thanks for reading!

– Paul

P.S. To be clear, this is a series of NOVELS, not comic books. All the art in this article is either from the graphic novel spin offs that I’ve mentioned above, or fan art I found online.

Here’ a full list of the books in order (not including graphic novels:

Dresden Files Novels

Storm Front (2000)
Fool Moon (2001)
Grave Peril (2001)
Summer Knight (2002)
Death Masks (2003)
Blood Rites (2004)
Dead Beat (2005)
Proven Guilty (2006)
White Night (2007)
Small Favor (2008)
Turn Coat (2009)
Changes (2010)
Ghost Story (2011)
Cold Days (2012)
Skin Game (2014)

Dresden Files Short Story Collections
Side Jobs (2010)
Working for Bigfoot (2015)