Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Series 2000 #20 Be Afraid-- Be Very Afraid!

Series 2000 20 Be Afraid-- Be Very Afraid!

Front Tagline: There's a new beast on the block...

Brief Synopsis:
Connor Buckley and his friends are bored. So bored. The reader knows they're bored because Connor keeps saying he's bored, over and over again. Sometimes he switches it up and puts it in the present tense:
Sometimes he gently reminds the reader of his boredom:
Did I mention we were bored?
And sometimes he tells us something we could have already guessed:
We were so bored, we were turning stupid.
Connor decides to quell his boredom by dragging his friend Emily Zinneman to neighborhood grouch Mr. Zarwid's yard sale. Costa-Gavras would be proud, as the book is a celebration of "Z"-- besides the characters' last names, the book's action also inspires more than a few ZZZZs in the reader. Hey maybe the book should have been called Z Afraid-- Z Very Afraid! Wait, no it shouldn't have, that's a horrible idea.

At the yard sale, there's nothing but a bunch of junk and tattered clothing-- Be Frayed-- Be Very Frayed! The lack of anything worth stealing doesn't stop Mr. Zarwid from accusing the children of trying to steal something. Connor decides to teach the old man a lesson for falsely accusing him of stealing by stealing something. They've stopped turning, they're there.

The pilfered item is a deck of cards-- though as anyone who has ever been to a garage sale knows, you never ever buy something that contains multiple removable parts like cards or puzzles. Though maybe there can be an exception made for stealing them? The cards are medieval themed, but less Round Table Medieval and more Empty Lunchroom Table Because All the Losers Who Would Have Sat There At the Empty Table Are Reading Those Really Thick Fantasy Novels In the Library During Lunch Period Medieval. Man, six months gone and I still got it! Yes, there are dragons and elves and other creatures competing for space in the dork deck. But wouldn't you know it, the faux-Magic deck is, um, magic.

All the trouble starts when Connor, Emily, and Kyle sit down for a game of Be Afraid. It's like any other game of cards until an excitable dwarf magically appears in their kitchen. Could have been worse, it could have been an excitable Dorf:

As more cards get played, more terrible things happen. Drawing a Knight card produces a group of havoc-wreaking knights... in their neighbor's yard. So, really just a mild inconvenience for the players at that point. In a terrifying scene lifted directly from the very similarly-themed Robin Williams film, one of the kids draws the dreaded Enema Bulb As Clown Nose card. Before more fantastical hijinks can occur, Connor's parents come home and start needling him about the damage done to the house next door. Connor decides not to tell his folks about who caused the mess, though as big Hoosiers fans, surely his parents would have believed a story about an angry Knight.

Mr. Zarwid shows up in a Gorton's fisherman jacket and tells Conner he knows what he did last summer: Not steal his deck of cards, because he saw Connor steal his deck of cards just yesterday. Connor denies it and I'm sure that's the last we'll see of that gruff neighbor!

That night Connor has a dream involving the card game. Like all dreams in Goosebumps books, it is so retarded that it would literally break the internet were I to summarize it. I think someone turned into a dragon or something. That's as close as I'm willing to get. The next morning Connor finds "hundreds" of muddy footprints all over his room, which even within the already tenuous logic created within the world of this book makes no sense and is never mentioned again.

Connor comes down to the kitchen the next morning to find his friends waiting for him. He may have missed out on breakfast but he still manages to waffle when he discovers his pals want to continue the dangerous card game. He tries reminding them about how knights destroyed his neighbor's house but they chalk that up to a coincidence. At no point is the excitable dwarf brought up. Those of you who are concerned about whether or not these characters will continue playing a card game can rest easy as the kids keep flipping over cards, inadvertently summoning a dragon outside. The dragon smashes some cars and tosses back a few knights the kids somehow send in to handle the situation. As things look their direst, Conner gets a brilliant idea: He'll just put all the cards back into the deck. Finally, a horror novel willing to tackle the terror of 52 Pickup.

Once the dragon disappears, the kids swear off playing mythical-creature-conjuring games for good. Connor proclaims that he'll only play Go Fish from that point on. Although, based on how Zarwid was dressed, maybe Connor's already in the middle of a magical version of that card game too. The children decide to give the deck back to Mr. Zarwid. However, around this point they also decide to look at the deck again and subsequently discover that Mr. Zarwid too has a card. He's dressed as a wizard and one of the trio realizes, "Hey, 'Zarwid' is an anagram for 'wizard.'" Wait, does that mean "Drab Barf Aid? Aye, If Ever!" is the real title we're supposed to take away from this book? Connor keeps the card in his shirt pocket in case he ever has to stop a really really really really really really really really weak really bullet.

On the way over to Mr. Zarwid's house the next morning, the kids pass his unopened newspaper in the driveway. Now, I understand why the paper is unopened: The guy's a wizard. He can probably summon the news on his own. But why is he subscribing to a newspaper that he doesn't have to read? ***SPOILER ALERT*** I guess the reason newspapers are floundering all over the country is because all the wizards have already been murdered by plucky child bandits.

The house seems empty, so of course the children break into it and then subsequently appear shocked when Mr. Zarwid interrupts their B+Eing by being mildly annoyed at their trespassing. Instead of embracing the kids for their assorted crimes, Mr. Zarwid throws their cards at the children and transports them into the magical world of Fake Medieval Times. Nary a serving wench is in sight, but plenty of made up things are around them in the dark, made-up world. The kids are very upset at being thrown into another world, but I don't know why they're surprised by their tormentor's actions. I mean, I always knew Mr. Wizard had something malevolent going on:

The kids walk around and discover a whole new world, a new fantastic point of view. No one to tell them no, or where to go, or say they're only dreaming (Although...). But after an exciting action sequence involving hay, they do meet up some creatures called Jekels who want to eat them. Now, it's been a long time since I was in sixth grade, but I don't recall being taught anything about cannibalistic creatures that don't exist. However, Kyle keeps chiming in with facts about their new mythical overlords. So the reader gets bon mots like "Jekels always kill their food before they eat it"-- which admittedly sounds like common sense for creatures both real and imagined, but still. The Jekels ask the kids if they are sorcerers, and Connor corrects them-- They're not sorcerers, they've been conjured into the Jekel's world by a sorcerer. A, this answer doesn't go over very well with the Jekels and B, can you by this point see why it took so damn long for me to actually bother reading this thing?

The Jekels serve up a steaming hot cup o' poison to Connor as a test. If he drinks the poison and dies, he's telling the truth about being a "kid." If he floats, he's a witch. Before Connor can be poisoned, a dragon shows up and distracts the Jekels. The cup of poison is jostled away from Connor's mouth. Connor licks his lips afterwards, begging the question: Why would anyone ever lick their lips after narrowly avoiding a poisoning?

The kids make their escape and run through a cornfield. I know what you're thinking to yourself: "How am I supposed to suspend belief long enough to accept that someone who looks like Olivia Wilde would ever go through the work of becoming a doctor?" But you might also be thinking: "Why are there cornfields in made-up medieval land?" And the answer to at least one of these thoughts is, there aren't fields of corn stalks. No, there are fields of Stelks.


Creatures called Stelks.
Who look like stalks.
And are well-known by Kyle.


If you, like me, think this would be a good time to stop reading the book, I have good news for you: The book ends here. Sort of. See, and this is what some of you were warning me against, on page 86 (Which is too clever to have been intentional) the story grinds to a halt with the following bolded text:
And now the book gets really half-assedly meta as the reader is introduced to another male-female platonic duo, Mark and Amy. Mark has just read the first 86 pages we read and is very upset at being forced to use his imagination. In what might be the single stupidest moment in the history of literature, Mark discovers an entire pack of cards hidden behind the back flap of the book's dust jacket. "Stelks" sounds pretty damn clever now, doesn't it?

Amy and Mark decide to play the card game he just read about. To the surprise of (God willing) no one, these two are also transported into the made-up medieval world. They get caught in a net and are almost shoved into an oven until Mark grabs one of their aggressor's dogs and threatens to throw it into the fire. Man, now that's what I call a frankfurter! These kids escape and meet up with the other kids Mark had previously only read about. Mark mournfully laments the fact that he wasn't reading any other book.

A massive group of mythical beasts start chasing the quintet of kids and the children eventually find themselves led on a death march towards a steep cliff. As they near the end of their journey, Mark remembers reading about how Connor put the Wizard card in his pocket. Since they can't put the cards back in the deck to take them home, maybe they can break the spell and beat the wizard by destroying his card. Um, don't they realize that nobody beats the Wiz?

Before Mark can destroy the card, it gets picked up in a gust and goes over the edge of the cliff. Mark naturally dives in after the card and somehow falls faster than the object that was dropped from the same height. Did RL Stine really forget the only science lesson anyone even remembers from elementary school? Wait, don't answer, because...
But the Finish is:
Yes, a third platonic duo is introduced. Ross is upset that the book he just read didn't have an ending. His friend Brenda suggests he just take it back to the garage sale where he bought it. Ross does exactly that and Mr. Wardiz offers to trade him a deck of cards for the incomplete book as an exchange.
Ross goggled at the deck of cards and suddenly remembered he was in an RL Stine book.
"Why couldn't you have put me in one of the Monster Bloods so I could hang out with Andy," he asked the sky.
RL Stine suddenly appeared from behind a parted cloud. He rode down from the heavens on a gilded yacht, his vessel steered by eight werewolves and one dog who it turns out used to be a child or something. The author's vehicle hovered over the small boy, who let out a cry of shock.
"Why are you so scared of me," the author asked his creation, "I haven't even provided this encounter with my requisite twist ending yet. Are you merely anticipating the thrills and chills my next book will contain?"
"Oh you have another book coming out? There's a shocker."
RL Stine grinned a grinning grin, as he did not understand jokes made at his expense. "Yes, and one day my number one fan Troy Steele will give it the proper cultural context it deserves!"
"So... what's your next book about," Ross asked.
"Oh I don't know, it's not due at my editor's until Thursday."
"But today is Tuesday."
"I know, Frasier's on later."
"But two days? How can that possibly be enough time to come up with your next book?"
"What happened to that cowering in terror thing you had going on," RL Stine asked. "That was a lot better than this question stuff."
"I'm just saying th--"

But the Twist is:
And then the cave wash cost five dollars.

the Platonic Boy-Girl Relationships:

Questionable Parenting:
Connor's parents are so concerned with whether or not Connor heard the destruction next door that they forget to offer any help to their stricken neighbors.

Inherit the Wind Alert:
The children suspect that the caged monkey kept by Mr. Zarwid was at one point a human being, but Zarwid insists that the monkey was always a monkey. So, what is that exactly, Reverse Evolution?

RL Stine Shows He is Down With the Kids:
In the grand tradition of video games and gardening, card games can finally take their rightful place in the pantheon of horror.


Memorable Cliffhanger Chapter Ending:
Hall of Fame Cliffhanger Chapter Ending:
Ch. 2/3:
Kyle freaks out because something is horribly wrong. Only... gotcha! That's it, he just says "Gotcha!"

Great Prose Alert:
The Krel has called together an army of two thousand elf fishermen.

Finally, a Goosebumps book for those who found Legend of the Lost Legend too cerebral.


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Anonymous said...

To be fair, I wouldn't mind if the updates were monthly and not weekly anymore. But there have only been two updates for this whole year, like others have said.

Even when there is a new entry, the same pattern will just start again after THAT entry.

Anonymous said...

What does anybody remember about The Haunted Car? I don't think it was the only time Stine pursued the easy-to-learn, tough-to-master "possessed car" theme - wasn't there an entire sub-series of the Fear Street books about one?

All I can remember about it was a vague "John Carpenter's The New Adventures of Old Christine" feeling. :/

I don't think there's an actual word for that feeling yet, so I admit it's not as concise as it could be.

Anonymous said...

Thank you!

bob said...

You win.....nothing!

Anonymous said...

Troy, would you ever consider making a Twitter for BloggerBeware?

Anonymous said...

morbidiculous, I believe there was indeed an entire sub-series of Fear Street books about a haunted car, The Cataluna Chronicles; I've read reviews of them and they sound... characteristically odd. The Haunted Car I just remember being kinda generic.

Groggy Dundee said...

I never read The Haunted Car.

Elizabeth said...

I've been meaning to ask - what are some things that irritate you guys most about Stine's writing?

Anonymous said...

What irritates me about Stine's writing? Well, in HorrorLand, he didn't take his ideas far enough - he had all these situations with great potential and he didn't milk them due to his stupid 120 page limit.

Elizabeth said...

I agree with you, Anonymous (about all the situations with great potential that didn't get taken far).

What annoys me the most, at least about the teen/young adult books, is the way Stine has four or five characters that briefly appear two or three times in the book. Then it turns out that one of those shallow "filler" characters is the villian/killer.

I know that not everyone likes Christopher Pike, but at least the reader gets to know most of his characters, so if any of them are the "bad guy" at the end, it can actually be surprising. I'm not saying that Pike doesn't have some ridiculous plots, though.

Groggy Dundee said...

Nothing really irritates me except perhaps his pathetic attempts at deliberate humor. I enjoy all of his quirks, flaws and foibles immensely, especially his bizarre, oft-inappropriate word choices.

Ken said...

Troy, it's kinda sad. I've been frequenting the blog for a year, and I don't feel like a regular here because I've only seen you update maybe five times. IT makes me sad, Troy, it really does.

Anonymous said...

What weirds me out is that comments clearly keep on being deleted, as the outside count is 410 but inside here it's down to 392. At least someone else has a shot at 400th comment now.

Anonymous said...

Hahaha after I submitted that comment, I got zapped to a blank page for comments "401-392 of 392." Oh, machines.

Thrasher said...

The age of machines is upon us, and one day toaster ovens will destroy us all.

Celtic Guardian 7 said...

Maybe the Stelks were long-lost monsters from The Scarecrow Walks at Midnight, what with all the corn fields mentioned. Though I am kind of reluctant to admit corn stalk rip-offs are 'monsters'. Only way I can see that being true is if you show them to a kid with braces.

Can't wait for your next entry!

commander melander said...

im a slobbering dickface

Paul Davis said...

kermits last name is ross im pretty sure(quote)
acctully thats evans last name kermits last name is majors

Groggy Dundee said...

I received and read this book today. Troy, I do not blame you for taking so long - this may very well be the worst book ever written.

Anonymous said...

Uh, the comment about the Elementary School Science experiment was drastically wrong. Said experiment, IIRC, always starts off with a demonstration of an uncrumpled piece of paper falling slower, then later an explanation that this is due to high air resistance.

Isn't... isn't a playing card pretty much the same?

crayola~waves said...

My greatest question remains unanswered...Why is there an Aerodactyl on the cover???

crayola~waves said...

My greatest question remains unanswered...why is there an Aerodactyl on the cover???

Anonymous said...

This is the most beautiful thing I've ever seen.

Troy, never leave us.

Revengeofevan said...

Many times in Goosebumps horrorland 12:The streets of panic park,Characters utter the titular line,you guessed it,
monster blood iv.

And billy deep turns into smoke,along with carly beth,robby shwartz turns invisible,lizzy turns into a dummy,michael turns into a twist-a-head monster and some other shit,i dunno.
Be afraid,be v e r y afraid of reading this book.You may not survive.

Anonymous said...

Totally loved how you referenced The General and the Indiana Hoosiers.

MJN SEIFER said...

I feel like I'm ruining a joke by asking this, but is the cave thing really how the book ends? Sorry, I realize this is an old entry.

Pat said...

Sorry to say, the kid falling faster than the card makes perfect sense. Wind resistance, tummler.

Usagi Tsukino said...

Okay this is the funniest review I've read on this blog. I lost it at "and the cave wash cost five dollars"

emily said...

this shit bordinnn

Anonymous said...

shit werd

CuppaBro said...

the Platonic Boy-Girl Relationships:
Mark and the first story, who disappears halfway through the book.

Harry Manback said...

Holy sweet batshit insanity. I know that 400+ comments deep no one may ever see this, but Jesus Christ, I made the mistake of attempting to take a drink right as I got to the "Stelks:Stelks." part. That did not go over so well. Troy... you are a mad genius, my man. Please, take all the time you need to recover from whatever fatigue or whatever caused you to go on hiatus, but just PLEASE come back to us some day at least! And, update your community! We just want to have your genius poured into our eyeholes, is all.

Anonymous said...

I know you're on another break again, so I'm not sure you'll get a chance to read this; but thank you... thank you for this blog and for weathering little 'gems' like this.

You must be some kind of masochist because even through your brief synopsis this book comes off as physically painful to trudge through.

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