HPB Geek 101 Class

July 13 is Embrace Your Geekness Day, but you know what I say? Let’s keep the spirit of Geekness alive all year long and make every day Embrace Your Geekness Day.

With that in mind, I’ve created a sort of 101 class for hardcore geeks and those with geek tendencies alike. Keep in mind, this is a survey course – with a focus on science fiction and horror. It was hard narrowing down to ten items, and there are plenty of great things that could’ve made the list. Sorry if your favorite geek obsession didn’t make the cut.

There’s a good chance you’ve read or watched at least some of these recommendations on this list, but here are ten essential books, movies and TV shows to boost your geek knowledge.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
I first read Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in the third or fourth grade. To say it changed my life is probably an exaggeration. At the same time, the world made more sense after reading it – which is odd, because little in this series makes sense on the surface.hitch

A hapless every man, Arthur Dent, manages to escape our planet right before it’s blown up to create an intergalactic highway. Things get weirder from there, as Arthur Dent goes on many adventures he’s not suited for, including the successful (and disappointing) search for the meaning of life.

To begin with, stick to the first two books in the series, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. Together, the two books tell a complete story, and they have the best balance between Adams’ passion for science and his pessimism that we’re often far too dim to appreciate the world around us. Continue reading

10 Movies that Inspired Stranger Things

In an era where there are hundreds of new shows and movies to stream each month, it’s amazing we’re still talking about Stranger Things three months after it debuted on Netflix. There’s a good chance it may end up the biggest pop culture landmark of 2016. And I couldn’t be happier about that.

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Yes, it leans on the past a little too much, but Stranger Things isn’t just a remix of early ‘80s nostalgia. I don’t want to build the show up too much for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, except to say I think you’ll like what you find.

For those who have watched it and can’t wait for the second season, here is a list of movies that most likely inspired the show’s creators, the Duffer Brothers. They’ll help tide you over till next year, and most of them will fit perfectly into your rotation of scary movies. I hope you pick at least one of them to enjoy/laugh at/patiently sit through for your friend or spouse this Halloween season.

**Oh – and some minor spoilers for Stranger Things.** Continue reading

These Are a Few of the Voyages…: Celebrating 50 Years of Star Trek

Half Price Books would like to take a moment to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Star Trek and look back at its long history of stories that inspired generations of fans. And for some reason, they tapped the guy with a U.S.S. Enterprise model on his desk to write it.

I’ve decided to share some of my favorite Trek episodes with you. Please keep in mind: this is not intended as a definitive top-ten list, but it is a list of all the things that make Trek great – adventure, humor, allegory and the belief that tomorrow will be better than today.

So without further ado, here are some of the voyages of the U.S.S. Enterprise and its spin-offs.

The Original Series (1966 – 1969)

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1. Balance of Terror (1966)
“Balance of Terror” is an homage to World War II submarine thrillers like Run Silent, Run Deep. The Enterprise hunts down a cloaked Romulan ship that’s committed surprise attacks against the Federation. What follows is a tense thriller as Captain Kirk and the captain of the Romulan ship attempt to outthink and outmaneuver each other. In the process of doing so, they each realize that the other is a man of duty and honor.

It’s a notion that Trek would come back to again and again: that we are all, to some degree, creatures of circumstance. And that our enemies are often our enemies because of the walls we create. Continue reading

5 Sci-Fi Films to Show a Little More Love

May 25th, 1977: Star Wars premieres in theaters and takes the world by storm.

May 25th, 1979: Alien premieres in theaters and terrifies audiences senseless.

This makes May 25th just about the coolest day of the year in my book. I thought about writing something about both films for this Memorial Day weekend. But you know what? They get enough love.

Don’t get me wrong. Star Wars and Alien are great – they’re classics for a reason. But they both have their own celebration days now, for goodness’ sake. They’re good. So let’s instead talk about a few sci-fi films that could use a little love. These movies are all from the 70s and 80s. Keep in mind, these films are all products of their time. Some moments may not have aged gracefully – and I don’t just mean their special effects. Still, they’re a fun time capsule of who we were and what we thought the future might look like.

If you’re looking for something new or different to watch this Memorial Day weekend, give one of these movies a chance.

Silent Running (1972)

In the future, all plant life on Earth is dead. A few vestiges of vegetation still exist far away from Earth, in biodomes being hauled through our solar system by commercial freighters. When the powers that be decide that keeping these biodomes is an unprofitable frivolity, the freighters are recalled back into commercial service. A crewmember on one of these ships, played by Bruce Dern, fakes the destruction of his ship and sets off into deep space alone, with only the companionship of three robots, hoping to preserve the last forests known to mankind. Continue reading

So Human: Remembering Leonard Nimoy

Most people who get to know me – and all of my nerdy obsessions – are surprised to hear that I’ve never been to a sci-fi convention. One of the reasons why is because I’ve never had an interest in meeting the people who gave life to my childhood heroes. I avoid following celebrities on social media or reading behind-the-scenes gossip for the same reason: to keep art separate from the artist, to avoid knowing that these people are just as flawed and human as the rest of us.

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I regret, though, never meeting Leonard Nimoy, despite having several opportunities to see him in person. If I had met him, I would’ve only taken a few seconds of his time. No autographs, no pictures, no questions – just an opportunity to say “Thanks for everything” and be on my way.

Continue reading

10 Movies to NOT Celebrate Valentine’s Day With

I’ve got nothing against Valentine’s Day, but most of us have had a February 14th where the last thing we wanted to do is celebrate this holiday. Hollywood knows this and offers some counter-programming each year for people who need anything but a romantic comedy or family drama or cute talking animals.

With that in mind, here are ten movies designed to help you avoid Valentine’s Day. We’re talking action, horror and camp films. The movies on this list were all playing in theaters on Valentine’s Day in the years listed. They most likely helped someone enjoy that year’s holiday a little more. I hope you enjoy them as well. Oh, and keep in mind that some of these films are for mature audiences only!

1) John Carpenter’s The Fog (1980)

The Fog is the cinematic equivalent of a ghost story being told around the campfire, and what a ghost story it is. While often viewed as a minor classic next to Halloween and The Thing, this is still John Carpenter working at the height of his powers – with atmospheric locations, great character actors, and a synthesizer film score that shouldn’t work but totally does.

It’s also notable for being the least misanthropic of Carpenter’s horror films, featuring a group of ordinary, small-town people who pull together once things start going bump in the night. If you like horror movies and haven’t seen The Fog, track it down immediately.

2) Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Despite being released in the summer of 1981, Raiders of the Lost Ark still came in 6th at the box office on Valentine’s Day weekend in 1982. In fact, it was playing in almost as many theaters as that weekend’s new releases.

What else is there to say about Raiders of the Lost Ark? It’s the best – possibly the greatest adventure movie ever made. Even though I enjoy all the Indiana Jones films (Crystal Skull isn’t that bad), there’s no denying Steven Spielberg captured lightning in a bottle with Raiders of the Lost Ark. It’s thrilling, scary and subversive in a way its sequels never quite manage.

3) Over the Top (1987)

Creed is a reminder that Sylvester Stallone can be utterly fantastic in the right role. It’s no surprise that he’s up for so many acting awards. Stallone’s always been a great performer. He’s just, well, not always so hot at picking great movies to be in.

Take Over the Top, for example. It’s basically the Rocky formula with arm wrestling subbing in for boxing. And arm wrestling is just the tip of the crazy iceberg that is this movie. If you’re a fan of Stallone as the underdog getting in the ring to take on a cartoonish supervillain of an opponent, Over the Top may be for you.

4) Tango & Cash (1990)

Stallone again. What can I say? The guy entertains me.

Tango & Cash is ridiculous and ridiculously amazing. It’s a film where no one seemed to agree on what movie they were making, which led to Tango & Cash coming off more like a parody of action films and their tropes. It’s a movie that felt dated and out-of-touch even in 1990, but it’s terrific entertainment if you go into it with a “How did this get made?” attitude.

And Kurt Russell is in it. That man is a national treasure.

5) The Quick and the Dead (1995)

While nowhere near as ridiculous as Tango & Cash, The Quick and the Dead is still pretty out there. It’s a mostly forgotten film from a time when Hollywood wasn’t really making westerns. For those unfamiliar with the plot, Sharon Stone plays a mysterious stranger who rides into town to take part in a to-the-death quick-draw tournament run by Gene Hackman (who would be twirling a moustache if he had one).

It’s a film full of frantic action and crazy camerawork. While certainly a fun watch on its own terms, the most notable thing about the movie is all the before-they-were-famous talent involved – including director Sam Raimi (Spider-Man) plus actors Russell Crowe and Leonardo DiCaprio.

6) Pulp Fiction (1995)

Off the top of my head, I can’t think of another surprise hit that’s more surprising than Pulp Fiction. Like Raiders of the Lost Ark, there’s little left to say about this one – except it’s a cultural landmark for a reason. While Quentin Tarantino has grown considerably as a writer and director, he’s never had more fun making a movie. It shows in every frame of this film.

And while we’re avoiding romantic movies for this article, Pulp Fiction technically does feature two characters going on a date. I think we can all agree it didn’t end well.

7) Galaxy Quest (2000)

Galaxy Quest is on a lot people’s minds at the moment due to the recent passing of Alan Rickman, who we lost far too soon. The above clip proves just how great he was. He’s one of the best things in a movie that gets as close to perfection as humanly possible.

Incredibly funny, clever and sweet, it’s a film way ahead of its time. I’m glad it now gets the respect it deserves. I don’t know how they did it – but Galaxy Quest somehow both sends up and extols Star Trek and its fans, proving that you can love something by poking fun at it.

8) Brotherhood of the Wolf (2002)

Please answer the following question: Brotherhood of the Wolf is a ____

  1. Foreign film
  2. Period drama
  3. Political thriller
  4. Love story
  5. Monster movie
  6. Martial arts movie
  7. All of the above

If you chose “7”, you are correct. Brotherhood is a crazy genre mash-up that never feels stitched together. I won’t say anymore in the interest of not spoiling its surprises. If you don’t mind subtitles, you are in for one heck of a movie.

9) Coraline (2009)

I wanted to include at least one family movie on this list. While not suitable for very young viewers, Coraline is an absolute delight for anyone else. Adapted from Neil Gaiman’s young adult novel, the story follows a young girl who moves to a new town and finds a secret doorway that leads to a macabre world that mirrors her own. Needless to say, the inhabitants of said macabre world do not have Coraline’s best interests at heart.

Like last year’s Inside Out, it taps into the alienation any child/teen goes through when moving to a new place just as they were finding themselves. Coraline features an excellent protagonist and supporting characters – and while not too scary, it’s just scary enough for kids and adults to enjoy together.

10) The Book of Eli (2010)

A lot of critics accused The Book of Eli, an apocalyptic action movie, of having nothing new to say. Whether that’s true or not, it’s made so well that the whole is more than the sum of its parts. Everyone’s working at 100% here – especially Denzel Washington, who is fantastic as always.

The Book of Eli doesn’t land with the same impact as, say, Mad Max: Fury Road – but it’s a welcome addition to a genre that’s currently having a resurgence at the moment. The two films together make an excellent double-feature.

So, what movies will you be watching this weekend?

Jeremy is Customer Service Specialist at HPB Corporate

 

10 Holiday Gifts for the Geek in Your Life

As an unofficial spokesperson for the geek community, let me be the first to apologize to anyone who doesn’t share in our particular hobbies or passions. Why? Because I know we can be hard to shop for around the holidays.

We usually know exactly what we want and when everything comes out. We pre-order things months in advance or wait in midnight lines on release day. Sometimes – but not always! – we can be a bit picky. It’s often hard to surprise us.

And who doesn’t want to surprise their nearest and dearest during the holidays with the perfect gift? If you’re still looking for one last present to go under the tree, and if you don’t know what a 20-sided dice is or why it’s important that Han shot first (and trust me, it’s important), then here are ten gift ideas for the special geek(s) in your life that you might find at your neighborhood Half Price Books.

Since The Force Awakens is finally here this week, we’ll start with some Star Wars picks.

1.  X-Wing Miniatures Game – Core Set (The Force Awakens Edition)
X-Wing is not only a great gift for Star Wars fans, it’s a perfect entry point for anyone interested in trying tabletop strategy games. The rules are easy to learn, and this set includes everything players need to recreate the exciting dogfights from the Star Wars movies.

It’s also a great gift for someone who already plays X-Wing, because this set includes new figures and rules inspired by The Force Awakens.

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2. Star Wars Crochet
To my knowledge, Jabba the Hutt has never been cuter.
Like the previous entry, this is an excellent starter set for your crafty geek. The kit provides patterns for 12 Star Wars characters and the materials to make Yoda and a Stormtrooper. If you crochet yourself, these figures would make wonderful stocking stuffers or ornaments for next year’s Christmas tree.

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3. Star Wars Fabrikations
These plush action figures would make an adorable addition to your Star Wars fan’s collection. Figures that may be available at your local store include Darth Vader, Boba Fett and Chewbacca. If you’re having trouble deciding which one to get for your Star Wars fan, here’s my advice: let the Wookiee win.

4. Star Trek Paper Model Kit
Don’t worry, we also have Star Trek fans covered. We have a variety of Star Trek items in our stores this year, but this model kit is my personal recommendation. It includes everything you need to recreate the voyages of the original U.S.S. Enterprise (*). It even includes LED lights and plays the Star Trek theme!

(*) Bad William Shatner impression not included.

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5. Munchkin: Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas
The original Munchkin is a wildly popular, fantasy-themed competitive card game. Munchkin is perfect for the whole family and has its tongue planted firmly in its cheek.

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Over the years, the makers of Munchkin have released individually-themed sets based on popular movies and characters. This stand-alone boxset, based on the wildly-beloved holiday film, is an ideal choice for both card game and Disney fans alike. It only takes minutes to learn the game’s rules and would make for an excellent family activity during the holidays.

6. Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition Starter Set
It’s hard to imagine that Dungeons and Dragons is over forty years-old now. This classic role-playing game – for many, a geek rite of passage – is as popular as ever. Last year, the entire game was completely overhauled with the aim to appeal to modern audiences.

Despite recent changes, the spirit of the classic game remains intact in this latest edition. This inexpensive beginner’s set is a great gift for anyone who wants to try role-playing games for the first time… or for parents who want to pass down this popular pastime to the next generation.

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7. 1001 Video Games to Play Before You Die
This reference book features a wealth of history and trivia about both classic and modern games. It’s a great gift for video game enthusiasts – especially if your particular enthusiast can’t always wait till the holidays for the latest game releases.

They will have a great time seeing how many of these games they played… and how many they have left to go. My total came to 300. I honestly thought that number was going to be higher. You win again, real life.

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8. Legend of Zelda Puzzles
No matter how much technology advances, there’s nothing quite like a good puzzle.
Most of our stores currently feature two 550-piece puzzles based on the perennial video game franchise, The Legend of Zelda. Like the previous recommendation, it’s a great outside-the-box choice to surprise your video game fan. It’s also a great family activity to share with them, especially if you don’t enjoy video games yourself.

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9. Minecraft Creeper
If your child plays video games at all, they probably play Minecraft. It’s an open-world, fantasy-themed construction game where players can build almost anything they can imagine. Young or old, few games have ever captured people’s imaginations quite like it.

Creepers are one of the most popular icons from this game. Minecraft fans will no doubt enjoy having this figure on their shelves or next to their computers as they work tirelessly on their latest epic creation.

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10. Goonies Coffee Mug
Goonies never say die! Many of them also enjoy warm beverages. Enough said.

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Jeremy is Customer Service Specialist at HPB Corporate

From Atari to Xbox: Get Cash for Your Used Electronics!

At HPB, we’re all about lifecycles. Every day, our loyal customers buy books, music, movies and more, and when they’re ready to make space for something new (to them, at least!), they visit their local HPB to sell that great merch back to us for cash. Books, music, movies, etc., are our bread-and-butter, but, did you know HPB is also a great stop for buying and selling used electronics?
Yes, you read that right! Bring us your deregistered electronic device, along with any required components that go with it, and we’ll hand over some cold, hard CA$H! Want more details? The HPB Buy Guy has all the specifics. Come in store today to find out what your iPhone 5s or xBox 360 is worth.

Of course, iPhones and Xboxes aren’t the only devices we accept. Why don’t we examine some of the more…intriguing treasures we’d love to see in our stores?
Magnavox Odyssey (1972)
As you may know, 1972 is a special year for us. The Magnavox Odyssey, the first home video game console, was released in August of that year, just a month after the first Half Price Books store opened!
Due to the graphical limitations of the time, games for the Magnavox Odyssey required a transparent overlay – almost like the layout of a board game – to be placed on your TV screen. In fact, these overlays were specially formatted only for 18 and 25 inch TV screens. The Odyssey may look archaic by today’s standards, but all things have to start somewhere!

NEO GEO (1990)
The Neo Geo was released at a time when arcades were everywhere, and featured games too advanced to be properly ported to home consoles. Video game developer SNK attempted something radical with the NEO GEO: create a system that perfectly mirrored their arcade games. Instead of dropping quarter after quarter at the arcade, you and your friends could have the same experience at home without all the body odor and hair metal blasting over the PA.
There was one problem: the price. The starter package – console, two controllers, and one game – debuted at $650 dollars. Adjusting for inflation, that comes to $1,139! The price of a single game could be as high as $200. In 1991, you could buy a Super Nintendo for the price of one NEO GEO game!
Needless to say, you can now acquire this system and many of its games for a comparatively lower price.

Atari Jaguar (1993)
Atari’s final console system, the Jaguar, was technologically superior to most systems on the market in the early ‘90s, but for a multitude of reasons, it never made much of an impression with the public.
The Jaguar was – and still is – sought after for a few select games that only appeared on this system, most notably Alien vs. Predator, one of the first games based on the Alien and Predator movie franchises. The graphics may seem dated now, but Alien vs. Predator for the Jaguar still regularly appears on many “Scariest Video Games of All Time” lists.
What do you think? Still scary?

NES-101 (1993)
Despite being one of the most popular game consoles of all time, the NES had one significant problem: the front-loading, spring-mounted cartridge slot. After several years of wear and tear, most NES consoles would have trouble loading particular game cartridges. If you ever owned an NES, you probably remember having your own little tricks – blowing on the cartridge, hitting the reset button over and over again, or just hitting your NES really, really hard – to get certain games to work.
The NES was still popular enough three years after the release of the Super Nintendo to warrant a full redesign. This affordable, “top-loading” redesign was only in production for two years and remains a highly sought after item for retro game enthusiasts.

Virtual Boy (1995)
Sophisticated virtual reality headsets are finally just around the corner. Twenty years ago, Nintendo released the Virtual Boy, a portable virtual reality gaming device. Despite Nintendo’s best intentions, the Virtual Boy never became a hit due to serious design flaws, chief among them the fact that the headset wasn’t designed to be worn at all. Instead, gamers had to place the Virtual Boy on a stand and keep their eyes pressed against the unit without jostling it, which ended up being a decidedly aggravating and uncomfortable experience for most.
The Virtual Boy ended up selling less than a million units worldwide (for comparison, the Nintendo Wii has sold over 100 million units!), but it’s still a must-have for die-hard Nintendo collectors.

Did you ever own one of these game consoles? Share with us below, and make sure to visit HPB to sell your used electronics!

What High School Students are Reading this Summer!

We’re just over halfway through our Feed Your Brain Summer Reading Program! This year, we also encouraged high school students to read one book each month and fill out an online review. We received almost 1,500 reviews for the month of June alone! With your help, we hope to beat this number in July. There’s still plenty of time for students to read a book and submit a review. We’ll even send you a coupon!

Here is what some of our High School reviewers are saying.

The Blood of Olympus is so good, I don’t even know where to begin. Everything was resolved beautifully, and it was full of action and laughter for me. I just wish I could follow the Seven for the rest of their lives. (Including Nico and Leo. Especially Nico and Leo.) If you haven’t read this already because you’re afraid of finishing the series and having nothing meaningful in your life anymore, I suggest you read this, finish the series, and start the whole series all over again. Unless you need a break from Rick Riordan and his awesome demigods, but I doubt it.”

The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken was an amazing book filled with tons of action and romance along with some of the best character development I have seen in a while! This book had me hooked from page one and kept me hooked throughout the whole book! The story of how Ruby embraces who she is and what she can do is inspiring and so much fun to read!

The [Divergent] series was riveting and definitely a page-turner! I loved being able to cheer on the main character, Beatrice, one second, and cry with her the next. You can immerse yourself into the novels and forget about the world around you. The series takes you on an adventure and you’ll love every second of it!

We made several reading suggestions for readers at the start of the summer, and Veronica Roth’s Divergent series has far and away been the most popular choice of those books featured. Here are some of the other books students are reading.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Th1rteen R3asons Why by Jay Asher
A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The Giver by Lois Lowry
Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Thanks again to everyone who have participated in our Summer Reading program. There’s still time to read in July. High school students, visit HPB.com/FYB to submit your own review. You might make it into next month’s blog!


Jeremy is Customer Service Specialist at HPB Corporate