The Trash Culture Literary Corner: Worlds of Power: Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest: Prelude: Revenge of the Colons

It’s come to my attention that certain people have called into question the scientific rigor of this blog, and in fact the entire field of “trash culture studies,” so to deal with the ever persistent issue of genre elitism I’ve turned away from comics and video games toward the world of literature.  Thus on today’s docket we have…

Except for “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, I can’t think of any trash culture reading materials that were more ubiquitous among my generation.  The “Worlds of Power” books were designed by Seth “F.X. Nine” Godin and his shadowy legion of ghostwriters for one reason:  to make money, obviously, but also I think they were a sincere attempt to get young gamers into reading.  Honestly, at the time, it wasn’t a bad idea.  Nowadays, no matter what the snobs say, video games have for the most part come into their own as a storytelling medium.  It’s arguably futile to translate something like Final Fantasy VII or Silent Hill 3 into literature, since games like those are able to convey narratives on their own and those narratives are intertwined with, say, the dread that comes from exploring the “Otherworld” or the sense of determination the player might feel in facing Sephiroth after hours of seeing Cloud tortured in nearly every possible sense by the villain.

In the case of Castlevania II and most of the other console games around when the “Worlds of Power” books were published, they were still largely blank slates.  Not counting the occasionally epic sagas you might find in a game’s instruction manual, what stories games of that time had were pretty much just excuses to get you from point A to point B.  Granted Castlevania II did have one of the more interesting, if not bizarre, premises out there.  See, you play Simon Belmont, fresh off slaying Dracula in the original Castlevania.  Unfortunately, Dracula managed to curse Simon, condemning him to an early (and presumably unpleasant) death and to be hounded by zombies every night.  The only way to save himself is to collect the remaining body parts of Dracula, use them in the ruins of his own castle to resurrect him, and destroy him once again.  Even as a kid, the plot kind of bothered me, since it basically meant that Simon was willing to risk unleashing Dracula and his undead hordes upon the world yet again just to save his own ass.  On reflection, though, that did give even the vague plot a kind of edginess, a gray hue, that was lacking in the era.  Undoubtedly Castlevania II is the least popular of the three Castlevania games released on the NES (even Konami agreed, if the fact that they ditched Castlevania II’s adventure game elements – keeping them ditched until the Playstation era – and went back to the original recipe for III is any indication), but because of its premise alone it’s probably also the ripest for an ambitious, ground-up remake (of course you can always count on hardcore fans with way too much time on their hands to pick up where the actual copyright holders have dropped the ball).

All this to say, I know that the Worlds of Power books are written for a middle school audience, and even then they are to The Hunger Games what ibuprofen is to crack (or is that the other way around?).  But of course a really young target audience and being a franchise cash-in might mean the odds are a billion to one that it would be any kind of a classic, but it could still be good or at the very least a little fun.  After all, Castlevania is one of the classic video game concepts, and like I wrote above Castlevania II has one of the most interesting premises of the 8-bit era, so it would actually take more effort to screw things up than write a halfway decent story, especially since the actual games’ creators have already done all the heavy lifting for the writer.  It’s not even like the ghostwriter would have to do that much research, so…!

“I will drink your spirit like cherry pop!” said the count, flapping his cape and showing his fangs.  “Yes, Simon Belmont!  You will become one of my children of the night!”




Buy my book!

So this isn’t related to Trash Culture, or Doctor Who, or Lady Death, but it’s worth posting anyway.  See, in my day job I am a historian, and a historian who aspires to reach a broad audience at that.  So I decided to self-publish what I hope will become a series called “Scandals.”   The first (fingers crossed) is “Scandals of the Ancient World,” which you can buy through Lulu or via Amazon.  Go read about some of the most notorious scandals from ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, and Rome for the low price of $5!


Adventures in Revisionism

Adventures in Revisionism: Revelations of Mega Man

(After moving and replacing my laptop, we should be going back on a normal posting schedule.  Thank you, dear readers, for your patience!)

“Your memory is glitching, Mega Man,” Dr. Light said, his voice unconcerned except for a hint of annoyance, like someone who found that his headphones were damaged and no longer working correctly.

“No,” Mega Man asserted.  “No.  No.  Things are wrong.”

Dr. Light chuckled.  “How existential.”  Even though Mega Man had skin of titanium, he flinched as Dr. Light caressed the part where his helmet had cracked through after the battle with Magnet Man where he was nearly destroyed, revealing a brain – human, 100% organic brain – encased in hard plastic.

“Things are wrong,” Mega Man said again, in the exact same tone and sound as before.

“On the contrary, things are right,” Dr. Light said.  “Business is booming and Dr. Wiley will be defeated again sooner or later.  It’s you that’s wrong.  This whole charade wouldn’t even be necessary if you weren’t so…hm, words fail me.  Old-fashioned?”

“Why…why…why?”  Mega Man stuttered.

“Steven Niles.  Does that name spark a memory, if only on some strange primal level?  That was your name, at some point…”

“Steve.  I liked to be called Steve…”

“Regardless,” Dr. Light said, as he investigated the damage to the helmet with a pocket light.  “I would have thought you’d still have a sense of gratitude, even though your old identity was erased.  Point one for cold, heartless science, no points for metaphysical sentimentality, I suppose.”

Satisfied with his investigation, Dr. Light sighed and in his pockets exchanged his light for a disc drive.

“I really do wonder sometimes why I don’t just have you kill Dr. Wiley.  I doubt either the authorities or the media would complain,” Dr. Light said as he plugged the drive into the outlet just under Mega Man’s left ear.  “But he was the one who found a way to keep the human brain sane and functional once it’s transplanted into a robotic body.  I just had the idea of claiming to the general public that your kind are just robots with really good AI and secretly selling the operation only to the wealthiest of the wealthy.  I certainly never expected he’d want to create a world where the transplants would be militarized and rule over the still organic.  No matter what I just can’t stand the idea of such wasted talent.”

“Organic…”  Mega Man whispered before going unconscious.

Dr. Light sighed again, but was thankful that he had developed a way to efficiently delete unwanted memories from even an organic brain.  It was just a shame that this was the third time he had to do it.  Perhaps it was a bad idea after all to offer an uneducated high school drop-out the opportunity to become a transplant, just because he was the only one to volunteer to fight Dr. Wiley, but still, despite everything, Mega Man was such a hard, reliable worker.

Doctor Who Write-Ups

The First Doctor (1963-1967)

What’s remarkable about William Hartnell’s interpretation of the Doctor is how much of a lasting foundation it has been, after so many decades and quite a few seismic shifts in culture. Hartnell’s Doctor is an eccentric with an insatiable curiosity and willingness (if not eagerness) to meddle in anything and with anyone; who has a strong anti-authoritarian streak that drives him to talk back to tyrants, petty or powerful, and be personally, passionately outraged by any injustice, no matter how small or “necessary”; and who manages to be both inhumanly detached from events and yet endlessly compassionate, especially to the precious few individuals he deeply respects. With maybe a few quibbles, this broad description is as true for the very first incarnation of the Doctor as it is for the Doctors of this millennium. The lasting appeal of the Doctor rises from what a strong core the character has in spite of passing from writer to writer and actor to actor, and that core is, I think, largely the handiwork of Hartnell himself. Maybe the First Doctor was a crabbier and more sharp-tongued Doctor than what modern audiences weaned on the 2005 series would expect (although he certainly lightened up after the earliest scenes), but Hartnell’s description of the Doctor as “a cross between the Wizard of Oz and Father Christmas” (with a little mild forgetfulness thrown in) still rings true.

It’s really quite unfair that the Hartnell stories once in a while get a bad rep as the “slow” and “goofy” (as if “Doctor Who” suddenly became a more “serious” sci-fi endeavor sometime in the ’70s) era of the show. In the same vein as the unchanging Doctor, the First Doctor era really isn’t all that disconnected from what the contemporary version of the show. For example, “The Dalek Invasion of the Earth” and “The Tenth Planet,” in their odd and aggressive mixture of bleak writing with unashamedly campy sci-fi adventure, seem to belong in the same category as the alien invasion epics Russell T. Davies used to drag out of the well so often. However, the First Doctor differed from many of his successors by being more of a traveler than a hero or a protector. I don’t know if it’s a result of Hartnell being physically limited from a more direct role in the action-oriented stories or of the tone he set for the Doctor (personally I believe it’s a little of both, with more of the latter), but either way it often seems like he doesn’t quite fit in the more kinetic serials. This Doctor finds trouble by poking around in the strange places he investigates, which is true for even “The Dalek Invasion of the Earth”, rather than rushes to face it head-on like Pewtree or Tenant’s Doctors will.

So it’s no surprise that the strongest episodes of the First Doctor era are considered to be the historicals, or at least the earlier historicals. On the whole, they tend to exhibit stronger and more ambitious writing, more sharply defined characters even among the day-players, and more three-dimensional backgrounds. Perhaps the historicals declined because the showrunners quickly ran out of ideas of how to force the Doctor and his companions into sticky, history book-friendly scenarios, but honestly overall the show never found its footing again after the departures of Susan and then Ian and Barbara. After “The Chase,” there were arguably three attempts to seriously revamp the show, with companions having very short stays on the TARDIS. That’s not to say that there are no good or at least entertaining serials following “The Chase,” but it was definitely a classic case of creative chaos and uncertainty behind the scenes seeping into the screen. I’ve seen one casual reviewer suggest that fans should consider the First Doctor era as only consisting of the Doctor-Susan-Ian-Barbara crew. If that didn’t leave out my favorite serial from the entire era, “The Time Meddler,” I’d be tempted to agree with them.

Must Sees/Best Introductions to the Era

The Time Meddler – This list is in no particular order, except for this serial. It’s simply Hartnell at his best, playing off against the goofy mastermind that is the Meddling Monk (that he never became more of a recurring enemy I consider to be the greatest missed opportunity in the history of the show). It’s one of the very, very few serials from the era that actually builds on the Doctor’s backstory as well as one of the relative few where the Doctor is really allowed to get involved in the plot without relying almost entirely on his companions. Plus, just by being the first “pseudo-historical,” it lays quite a bit of groundwork for the show’s future, but at the same time it captures what made Hartnell’s tenure unique and enjoyable. I can’t recommend this enough for anyone even slightly interested in the First Doctor.

The Aztecs – Arguably the strongest of the historicals, it does at least exemplify the thoughtful writing that characterized the early First Doctor era. Besides an interesting backdrop and a genuinely complex plot, the serial confronts one of the most basic and yet most interesting hypothetical issues raised by time travel in a way that highlights Barbara and, in a way, places the viewer in her shoes.

The Dalek Invasion of Earth – It definitely has some flaws; it drags out a bit too long in parts and the surprising darkness and realism in the serial’s post-apocalyptic scenario are undercut by the sheer goofiness of what the Daleks are planning, but it still stands as the ultimate rebuke to anyone who assumes that Hartnell’s stories would be dull or completely childish.

The Web Planet – This is where I get controversial. Maybe “must see” isn’t right for this phrase, but I just can’t leave this weird, off-key, and gloriously overambitious serial unmentioned. Do give it a shot, but at least watch The Time Meddler first.

Choice Quote

Road Work Overseer: I suppose you must think you’re very clever.
The Doctor: Well, without any undue modesty, yes! (The Reign of Terror)

First Words…

What are you doing here?!

…and Last Words

The Doctor: It’s over, it’s all over. That’s what you said. No, but it isn’t all over. It’s far from being all over! […] I must get back to the TARDIS…immediately! […] I must go now.
Ben: Don’t you want to go back and say goodbye or anything?
Doctor: No, no, I must go at once.
Ben (handing the Doctor his cloak): Oh well. Better wear this or you’ll catch your death of cold.
Doctor: Oh yes. I forgot…keep warm.