January 23, 2013

#17 Why I'm Afraid of Bees

Judging a Book by its Cover:
Why I'm Afraid of Bees. Gee, why could it be? Are they Africanized killer bees? Radioactive bees? Giant bees from mars? Oh wait, no, the cover ruins the whole damn thing. Clearly he is afraid of bees because he turned into one somehow. They couldn't just show a swarm of menacing looking bees and leave it to our imagination? They gotta ruin the plot? Lame. Plus I don't think the cover even looks that good. It's overly simple. I did have that exact haircut when I was a kid though. The hair on the head, not on the legs or thorax.

The front tagline asserts that, "He's no ordinary human bee-ing...." while plot spoiling I do appreciate the groanworthy pun. That's what I expect outta you Stine, no more, no less. The back tagline is "Right Brain. Wrong Body." So wait, is it only his brain that gets put on a bee or is it his whole head? Well color me intrigued now! Lets jump on in.

Getting Goosebumps

Gary Lutz is a klutz. I am almost positive RL Stine named him Lutz to trot out the clever nickname, "Lutz the klutz." He gets picked last for sports. They even have a special rule when he plays baseball that he gets 4 strikes instead of 3 to even things out. Naturally he strikes out anyway. He is also afraid of everything. The dark, his sisters cat, and bees. Nothing bad has even happened yet and he's already afraid of bees. Why is he afraid of bees? Because he has fears of everything. Story over. Anyway, it's a bad coincidence that he's scared of bees and his neighbor is a bee keeper. Even though he's afraid, he likes to watch his neighbor tend his bees. How does his neighbor respond? By cultivating his interest and turning him into a bee lover? Perhaps a future beekeeper even? Nope, he scares the crap out of him by covering himself in bees. Reasonable adult behavior. I'm sorry BEEhavior. Ah hah hah.

Still Gary is the average tween boy and tries his best impress the ladies. The way to impress ladies when you are a tween boy? Ride your bike with no hands. The way not to impress ladies when you're a tween boy? Almost crash into a car, swerve and hit a lamp post. He went with the latter, and thus was laughed at. At that moment he felt like switching lives with anything that doesn't get laughed at, a plant, a bird, a bug... I bet that's not foreshadowing anything at all.

Shunning the outside world Gary goes inside to use his computer and in my favorite early 90's reference to date in a Goosebumps he signs on to a BBS. Now if you're too young to know what a BBS is, it's a Bulletin Board System. People would log on with their old-fangled dial up modems and post things, play games, download stuffs and so forth. Gary himself was looking for advice on a game he was playing. Instead what he found was an ad to "Take a Vacation From Yourself." Somehow, apparently you trade places with people for a week. This was apparently spam before the era of "male enhancement" pills. He writes down the address in the ad, because surely other lives are better than his bike crashing, getting beat up by bullies, Lutz the Klutz life.

The next day he goes through with it and investigates the company. The worker there informs him that they don't just switch places with people, they actually have a machine that can make you switch bodies! With such an amazing piece of technology, they choose to pander to 12 year olds on a BBS apparently. No secret government work for this. Vacations for 12 year olds. She doesn't even mention price. How are they staying in business? Anyway, Gary isn't sure about it until he gets beat up on the way home. Clearly anyone else's life would better.

After a few days Gary finally gets a call from the body swap folks. Apparently a cool cat named Dirk wants to switch bodies because he needs a smart guy to take his tests for him. He seems unconcerned that perhaps someone is just looking to use his body for a week long binge of heroin and buggery. That's what I'd be worried about. The body swapping lady sets up her machines in the kitchen where it is sure not to attract any attention or questions from his family, and she goes about swapping his body. Unfortunately there were bees in the kitchen that kept freaking Gary out. Soon, he would be freaking himself out, looking at his bee-self in a window reflection. Something went wrong and he turned into a bee instead of into cool guy Dirk! Gary frankly tries to get the vacation from yourself employee's attention, to no avail. He only gets swatted away. His dad swats him away too, and his sisters cat almost eats him. Meanwhile Dirk is busy living his nerd life in his nerd body, buddying up with his new parents. Beekeeper neighbor finally comes and rounds up Garybee with his net. That seems odd, I am pretty sure beekepers don't keep track of each individual bee with such detail. Regardless, Gary finds himself amongst the horrors that are bees up close. Finally he finds his way out of the honey comb and vows to find the vacation place and somehow get switched back to himself.

Trying to talk to people doesn't work, they just hear him as a bee. He tries to type a message to Dirk in Gary's body, on the computer but he turns the computer off before reading it. Then he decides to go to the Person to Person Vacations building and talk to the worker. He doesn't really have a plan of how to communicate, but he'll figure out something. And something he does indeed figure out. She talks from behind a pane of glass using a microphone, so he lands on the microphone and talks to her amplified. Somehow his bee vocal chords can make English, fascinating. Anyway, good news is she understands him. Bad news is, Dirk wants to stay in his body. Apparently there is nothing she can do about that. She vows to think on what to do during the evening, but it's Friday and she wont be back until Monday!

Then Gary visits Dirk's home. Dirk's body's home that is. It, naturally, was acting like a bee and thus was no help. Left with only one choice, he visits Dirk. Dirk in Gary's body. Turns out Dirk can actually understand him due to some bogus sci-fi mumbo jumbo but doesn't care, he's keeping the body for no particular reason. Why he thinks being in this new family is so much better than his old one is anyone's guess, but he's hear to stay. Dirk swats him out the window, and then some bee's start chasing angrily after Gary. They follow him in a swarm, and that gives him an idea. He stirs up the entire hive and leaves them into Dirk's room. Dirk seems mildly concerned, but ultimately not afraid of bees. That's when Gary decided to sting him on the nose! But wait, bees die when they sting people! Oh what a cruel fate... An intriguing way to end a Goosebumps book though with the main character dying in an act of futility...

Nah, just kidding Gary comes to in his own body. It's never explained how that happened. Dirk's back in his body too and for good measure they become friends. Stine's lame endings strike again.

What I Thought:

First and foremost, this was an interesting new situation. It's always nice to have new situations to read about in a series so vast. Swapping bodies with a bug is a new and potentially interesting experience. He did spend some time in the hive, but it was mostly confused and terrified which I suppose is accurate. I felt like Stine read a pamphlet about bees and included a few details, but some things I question the accuracy about. I suppose scientific accuracy isn't the greatest concern in a children's scifi-"horror" book though.

Ultimately I had to keep reminding myself that this is a kid's book. They probably don't care that there is no reasonable explanation for Dirk to want to keep his new body and life situation. There is no reasonable explanation why the technology to swap bodies would be kept hidden on a local BBS and used for 12 year olds. There probably isn't a way to come up with a reason, so he doesn't even try. And kids probably don't care. But I suppose part of the fun of reading them as an adult is looking at them with a new elderly attitude.

Strong points include the details from a bugs eye view, the details of Lutz's Klutziness, and the general fun that is had from swapping places with something unusual.

Weak points are the general lack of detail had from everything, and the usual cast of stock family, bullies, and so forth. Also, enough with the trying to scream but having no sound escape. How about actual screaming? That would be an interesting change.

Rating: 3 out of 5 bees

Up Next:

Monster Blood 2: Slimy Boogaloo. I'll be honest, I barely even remember what happened in Monster Blood 1 and I read it just a year or 2 ago. Something about an evil cat-witch and some diabolical silly putty? I am most interested in seeing if this follows the same Characters as the last book, or merely introducing someone new to the Monster Blood. We shall see!

January 4, 2013

#16 One Day at Horrorland

Judging a Book by its Cover:

Look at that horny monster clutching the bloody sign. Is it part of the sign? Or is it an actual monster? Who knows! Also, why are dead trees so spooky? I suppose it's like a plant corpse. Imagine if these illustrations were littered with human corpses instead of tree corpses, now that would be scary. Anyway, presumably Horrorland is some fright based amusement park. Aren't ferris wheels terrifying enough already? Jeeze.

Honestly though, I like this cover. It's ominous and foreboding  while in the cartoony style and the color scheme is nice. It's another rare time when the dual colors of the border compliment the drawing. There is a nice bluey-lavender thing going on. I dig it.

The taglines add to the foreboding but don't offer much in the way of bad puns or lame jokes which is a disappointment. The back asserts, "the next ride might be their last..." While the front beckons, "enter if you dare...." Do I dare? You bet your ass I dare!

Getting Goosebumps:

The desert surrounds the Morris family as they cruise around in a little Toyota looking for the Zoo Gardens Theme Park which is apparently 3 things wrapped up into one. If you love zoos, gardens, and theme parks well then this is the place for you. Unfortunately for Lizzy her parents can't seem to find it. And her brother Luke keeps horsing around with his best friend clay doing manly things like pinching declaring "the mad pincher strikes again." None of this would be happening if Dad didn't forget the map! The best they can do now is turn around and try and find some place to ask for directions.

Eventually they get to a not so desert-like area and pull over to see if there is a map in the glove-box. It just so happens they pull next to a sign for Horrorland, that of course causes Lizzy to try to scream but no sound comes out. All the kids push to go there instead of Zoo Gardens. Mom and dad finally relent. They get there and immediately after getting out of the car, it blows up. I honestly did not see that coming. Since this is in a pre-cell phone everywhere society they are at the mercy of the employees of Horrorland, known as "The Horrors." These Horrors assert that everything will be "taken care of" and that they should just enter the park. I know if there is one thing I want to do after I almost die in a fiery explosion it's to go down a wicked sweet roller coaster. Dad is naturally concerned but Mom thinks the kids should wander around this death trap alone while they figure things out. Makes sense!

The kids see lots of The Horrors around. There is a wolf that even looks like a real wolf and growls like them! Also, oddly there are No Pinching signs which is a shame because Luke is a pinching fiend. They go on The Doom Slide. There are several different numbered boards you can take down the slide. They are warned that one of them is the DOOOOOOM SLLIIIIIIDE that will make them slide FOREVER! It's pretty rad and Lizzy comes out at the bottom with her brother, but they realize clay isn't there. He didn't come out the entrance either. They decide he must have gotten the Doom Slide and thus they must take the same one down. It does raise the question, if the slider on the board slides forever how does the board get back to the top. Do they have an unlimited number of boards? Doesn't that get pricey? Well sadly it does have an end but it is much longer and scarier than the standard slide they had before. At the end they do find Clay who is trying to hide his fright. Now they are in an entirely different part of the park.

In this new area one of the Horrors confronts Lizzy and urges her to get out while she can. Normally a plea such as this in a horror park would go unheeded. When your car blew up just 20 minutes ago in the parking lot, maybe you should be concerned. Naturally, the brush it off. They decide to go to the hall of mirrors which even has mirrors on the floors because if you aren't worried about lawsuits from exploding cars why would you worry about lawsuits from skirt wearing patrons? They all get separated and when the unite the realize the are actually in different rooms separated by glass. Suddenly the walls start closing in on them and Lizzy groans "Graaaaarrrrg!" Wait no, that was Chewbacca. Wrong story. They groan and fight but to no avail. Just when the think the are going to be crushed the floor opens up and they fall outside. Luke loves it, but this proves to be too much for Lizzy and Clay who begin wondering if you can in fact die of fright.

Finally it was decided it was time to seek out their parents. Though Luke seemed to be loving it Lizzy and Clay had had enough and the parents were probably looking for them. They walked trough a path with tree snakes, and through a barn with bats that scared the bajeezus out of Lizzy before finally getting back to the area with the Doom Slide. Mom and dad were nowhere to be found. The asked one of the Horrors if he'd seen them and he assured them he did. They left a half an hour ago. The left a message though, "Goodbye." That doesn't raise their moods! They find themselves near an alligator pound when suddenly someone grabs Lizzy to push her in! Wait nevermind, it's just her dad greeting her.

Now that they have their parents it's time to see about heading out. They do want to ride at least one ride before they go, so they go into a coffin canoe ride as it heads towards the entrance. The float about in coffins and it's actually rather relaxing until the lids slam shut! Everyone understandably loses their shit and thrashes about screaming. Eventually the caskets open and they all agree that it was a little too much. It's time to leave. But none of the ticket windows are open. They don't have a car to leave as theirs is freshly exploded. Also the gate out is padlocked shut. Just as they are really worrying all the horrors of the park show up and thank them for being on their hidden game show on Monster TV! But as there are still several chapters left there has got to be more....

The are ushered into a room where an announcer says they have a minute to make it out alive. Monsters of all sorts rush at them. Awful birds, "furry snakes", manbearpigs, and other such horrors. Everyone is terrified, and convinced it is the end until finally the timer winds down and it is revealed that 3 out of 5 of them survived! Correction, 5 out of 5. Then in Mr. Stine's favorite contrivance the floor comes out from under them and they are face to face with the MC Horror. Dad chews her out, and Lizzy tries to rip off her mask. But it's not a mask! The are REAL monsters and Monster TV is real. It's a channel FOR MONSTERS! Oh Shit! The monsters corner them against a purple pond and assure them it is time to leave, and going into that pond is the only way out. If they don't go willingly the will be pushed. Drowning in purple goo isn't perhaps the most menacing threat, but I suppose it gets the job down.

Lizzy however has a last ditch effort in mind. She remembers all those strange no pinching signs so... THE MAD PINCHER STRIKES AGAIN. And it works. I shit you not it works. Pinching these godless abominations DEFLATES them. They pinch all the can and make a run for the exit. But wait, there car is exploded! Time to steal a bus conveniently sitting there with the keys in it. The gun it and make it out of the park, celebrating the whole way home. When they get home the realize there is a horror stuck to the back of the bus. He has their free passes for next year, DUN DUN DUUUNNNN!

The end.

What I Thought:

Lizzy, like almost of Stine's characters is pretty nondescript and generic. Her sibling like almost all the siblings is kind of a jerk. Her parents are generic parents. Now I know these are kids books meant to appeal to a broad range, but it's getting underwhelming experiencing these flat characters over and over again. I am pretty sure it's possible to create a relate-able children's character with some personality. I guess asking for it 60-some books in a row is pushing it...

Still, this Goosebumps entry like the rest does offer some fun. In fact, it may have more interesting situations being that instead of taking place a suburb over several days it all takes place in one afternoon. An afternoon at an amusement park at that! Still he could have gotten a tad more inventive than "Slide of Doom" and "Bat Barn."

As usual though, the topic staring me in the face is the ending. I wonder what 9 year old me would think of this ending. I have to admit, the Monster TV idea is kind of clever. The pinching however? Seriously? Pinching? It makes the Wicked Witch of the West look like a badass by comparison for being thwarted by a hefty bucket of water. And why deflating? Are the monsters full of air? Could you pop them? How do they have mass enough to push the kids around? Could you use them as a floatation device in case of emergency? Am I thinking about this too much? Yes. Still, why pinching? For God's sake, WHY PINCHING?

In conclusion typical depth-less characters, fun romp through exciting spooky amusement situations, and really dumb ending. Also, someone tried to scream but couldn't. Goosebump book achieved.

Raiting: 3 out of 5 spooooooky ferris wheels (with extra spookiness)

Up Next:

Why I'm Afraid of Bees. It is a strong contender for my least favorite Goosebumps cover ever. You'll see. The little I remember is that his neighbor is a bee farmer, and somehow he turns into a bee. Will there be an homage to classic horror movie, and horror movie remake The Fly? I don't know, because I haven't seen either of those movies. Catch ya on the next blog!