End of Watch by Stephen King (Review)

Note: Contains Mild Spoilers. This post is also available on my Good Reads page.

I find iEnd of Watch by Stephen Kingt increasingly difficult to put a Stephen King novel down. Despite its over 400 pages, its shifting perspectives, and its relentless thrills throughout, 2016’s “End of Watch” the third book in the Hodges/Mr. Mercedes trilogy is a solid and satisfactory conclusion to the series.

The novel opens with a vignette style flashback to the night of the Mercedes Massacre, where the now catatonic Brady Hartsfield drove a Mercedes into a crowded job fair line, killing several people and injuring countless others.

Following this, the story flashes forward to 2015, where our hero, Bill Hodges, awaits the results of a medical test, a terrible, biting pain gnawing away at his side. As he sits in the waiting room, Hodges receives a phone call from his old police partner Pete about a murder/suicide. The reason for the call: one of the injured victims of the City Center Massacre.

Thus, begins the final chapter of the Hodges storyline. A theme of perseverance and healing permeates the story. The reader can see it in the way Hodges acts, in Brady’s evil schemes, and in Holly Gibney’s actions and evolution as a character.

As the story unfolds, the suspense growing with each mini chapter, we see a gradual shift of character attitudes. The bonds of the protagonists strengthen significantly over the previous book. King always writes good characters. These are people you probably know from your own life: your shy cousin, your intellectual friend, your older, nice neighbor, or your slightly snotty doctor. The portraits of modern life painted by King can certainly draw you into the story.

King’s villains are also great. The villain experiences growth and learns from his mistakes, albeit in a supernatural capacity. He does not simply stagnate and become the ‘big, bad, evil guy’ that only exists to further the plot. Brady is a creature of habit, with strong personality traits and a goal. We have a run-in with several characters from previous books and King expertly ties all the threads together by the end of the story.

The themes of depression, loss, and suicide all appear throughout the book as well, with the goal to prevent them. Some interesting technology (the Zappit Commander sounds familiar) and a bit of a critique on the smart phone junkies of the world round out the story.

The prose is conversational and cohesive, but a bit long for what it is. The language also follows modern culture, which lends a certain human quality to the story. There are a few parts that are a bit on the grisly side, though, but if you’re reading a Stephen King book, then you are probably already expecting such things.

Reading this novel is like having an old friend tell you a compelling story on a cold, rainy night, when the power is out. There are certainly some terrifying moments, but at the end of it all, you can merely close the book, satisfied with the experience. “End of Watch” is a fitting conclusion to the trilogy and I would highly recommend it for this year’s reading list.

That’s it for today.  Until next time, don’t forget to pour another cup of coffee and play yourself some music! Follow me on Twitter, if you’re into that sort of thing.

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A Brief History of Dungeons & Dragons as Interactive Media

Dragon Fight.jpg
Do you play games like world of Warcraft, Diablo 3, Neverwinter or other massively multiplayer online games?  How about older titles like Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy?

All of these great games are based upon what we’re talking about today: dungeons and dragons, which I’ll be referring to as D & D for the rest of this presentation. D & D was and still is for many, an early form of interactive media. I’ve been playing for about 20 years and still run a weekly game. I even like to paint miniatures.

Recently, I created and presented a Pecha Kucha presentation for my MCCNM 336 class on the history of D & D as Interactive Media, which can be seen here: The History of Dungeons & Dragons

It all began in the 1970s when the fathers of d & d, Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, created a way to enhance his table top miniatures wargame, Chain mail by adding dice and a role playing element to it.

This led to the creation of TSR, who took the game in new directions. Since then, the game has changed companies (WoTC), gone through five editions, hundreds of novels, several board games, numerous video games and a popular mmorpg. Then there’s the virtual tabletop.

The core rulebooks of the Players Handbook, Dungeon Masters Guide and Monster Manual allowed interaction on a level rarely seen before. A game referee or dungeon master would describe a scene through interaction with the tables and rules presented in the manuals.

The players, having created characters by using the players handbook, would then react to the setup and often would need to reference tables, charts or passes in the phb.

The game eventually led to a series of novels and role playing books as well as two publications, Dragon (a magazine that featured suggestions and gaming culture) and Dungeon, such featured, well, dungeons.

The books, however, made things much more interactive. These books were very much like choose your own adventure, except that you played a character on an adventure or quest. You’d actually roll dice to handle combat and keep track of your character on a piece of paper. Some of the best modules, like the tomb of horrors, expedition to barrier peaks and temple of elemental evil came out during this era and are beloved by players today, with Tomb of Horrors even being used as a central plot point in Ernest Clines virtual reality novel, Ready Player One.

In the 80s, the game did run into some controversy with certain religious groups, but maintained it’s momentum with more books, a 2nd edition, a Saturday morning cartoon show, miniatures and interactive computer games.

With the release of computer games like pool of radiance and curse of the azure bonds, dragonstrike and dragons of krynn, d & d became a fully interactive computer game. You could create a party of characters, Dungeon crawl in real time, fight the monsters and play the entire adventure through simple commands on your computer. Unlike early BASIC games such as Zork, the D & D games had full color, VGA, joystick and keyboard support and played on both Apple and PC. Some of my favorite games of all time are what are referred to as, “the gold box games,” all of which can be purchased and run on modern hardware.

A suite of Core Rules software was also released for the 2nd edition of the table top game, compatible with DOS, windows 3.11 and Windows 95.

Later came Eye of the Beholder (Released for PC and Super Nintendo) featuring a much more graphical interface, seen today in games like The Keep for the Nintendo 3DS. Later, came Bulders Gate and eventually Neverwinter, D & D’s own mmorpg.

With the introduction of 3ed edition, a movie was released and Wizards of the Coast purchased TSR, thus acquiring the D & D game. During third edition, http://www.wizards.com created an entire web presence for the game, which continued into fourth edition. I never actually played 4e, so my knowledge of it is limited to checking out the books once from the library.

Additional websites, play by email games and chat rooms dedicated to playing the game emerged during the mid 90s as the web became more widely accessible.

D & D board games emerged prominently during fourth edition, with Castle Ravenloft, Wrath of Ashardalon, the legend of drizzt and the temple of elemental evil.

Fourth edition also saw an increase in users and content for the D & D Online mmo, which is still going strong today.

Finally, the current (5th) edition of the game arrived in 2014 with a new set of Core books and Adventure Paths.

Recently, there have been services such as Roll 20 or Fantasy Grounds which provide virtual table tops for players who may not be in able to actually meet in person. In a VTT setting, players sit at their computer with a microphone and headset. There will usually either be interaction with over players and the dm though skype or video chat.

With d & d having completed its move into the digital age, its popularity can only grow. It has already begun finding its way into popular culture through shows like Community, Critical Role and Stranger Things. All these years later, D &D is so much more than just that nerdy game you played in your basement.

-DB