Friday, March 25, 2016

What's in the Box?!?: Gentleman's Box and Star Wars: Smuggler's Bounty

Time for some of this month’s subscription boxes!

Arriving first this week: the March Gentleman’s Box! (I know, I just blogged about the February one the other week. Blame my weekly publishing schedule, but I just am not in a place to post more frequently than that at this time.)

As usual, the classy wood-grained exterior opens to reveal the explanation booklet. This month’s box is inspired by “Our Favorite Captain,” by which they mean Johnny Depp. 

Beneath the booklet are this month’s neatly-wrapped contents.

When discussing the February box, I talked about how we had decided to suspend my Sock Fancy subscription, particularly if I was going to be getting socks in the Gentleman’s Box. Sure enough, this month’s box included another pair of socks, from Unsimply Stitched. These ones don’t have a name (unlike last month’s socks) but they feel nice and soft. And, according to the booklet, this design is a special production only available to Gentleman’s Box members. Sock collectors take note!

A year or two ago, I had received some Billy Jealousy aftershave balm in a Birchbox box (to which we no longer subscribe). I liked it, but because I was getting so many different aftershave samples, I never needed to buy more. I was pleased to see that this month’s box included a sample tube of Billy Jealousy’s Shaved Ice aftershave. I’m no good at describing scents, but it’s a scent that evokes cool freshness without seeming minty, and definitely not floral. I’m looking forward to incorporating it into my aftershave rotation.

I don’t often wear suits, and I don’t think I’ve ever bothered with a pocket square, so I don’t know how often I’ll be wearing the shipyard pocket square from Knots Apparel. Apparently, they routinely dedicate a portion of their sales to specific charities, so that alone is worth applauding. The sales from Gentleman’s Box go to support The Joseph Fund. This particular design is—like the socks—exclusive to this month’s Gentleman’s Box, so, again, collectible! It’s a nautical theme, in keeping with “Our Favorite Captain,” so perhaps I will wear it if I am ever invited to the Yacht Club.

While I may not always wear a suit, I always wear collar stays with my nice shirts. I had been using some magnetic collar stays from Wurkin Stiffs, but those are designed to keep your collar down in place around a neck tie. I was just using them to keep my collar tips pointy, so I was underutilizing them. So I’m glad to get a set of wooden collar stays from Woodchuck USA. These will definitely be easier to use for my purposes, and they come in a variety of sizes, which will be handy.

Finally, this box included a pair of nice aviator sunglasses. They look really nice, and are the kind of sunglasses I’ve always wanted. Unfortunately, I wear prescription glasses, so I can’t really wear just these when I am out and about. Still, I will have them on hand if I ever get contacts, or just don’t need to see stuff too clearly.

The box also included a coupon for $20 off an order from a company called Parsonii, “the watch that changes with you.” I haven’t really looked into this yet, so I don’t know if it’s good value for money. Regardless, it’s just a coupon.

Overall, Gentleman’s Box says there’s $87 in value in this month’s box, and I’m going to use most of it. So it’s a good haul.

I also received this month’s Star Wars Smuggler’s Bounty. This month’s theme is Cantina, as evidenced by the image of Greedo on the box.

Inside, we get the usual patch and pin. This month’s pin is Greedo or some other Rodian, and the pin is one of the cantina musicians.

Inside, the boxed isn’t packed as fancy as Gentleman’s Box, but everything is pretty secure.

This month’s T-shirt is a cool Wanted: Han Solo design. I’ll definitely be wearing this when I am out and about. I appreciate that it’s a picture of Harrison Ford/Han Solo, not the Funko Pop version of him.

The other non-Pop item this month is a pen topped with a mini version of the Chewbacca Pop. It’s cute, but I haven’t tested the quality of the line and ink yet. (AS IF ANYONE GIVES A POOP.)

Finally, this month’s exclusive Pops: Obi-Wan Kenobi and… Red Snaggletooth? Nerd that I am, I do recognize this alien from the cantina scene in the original Star Wars movie. Seeing a Pop of him reminds me of my youth, when I would buy action figures of almost any background alien that Kenner would produce. As an adult, I do kind of wonder whether Red Snaggletooth is his real name, because that would be kind of cool. And I do kind of wonder what acclaimed Shakespearean actor Sir Alec Guinness would think about this plastic bobblehead version of himself. For what it’s worth, I think it’s pretty nifty. Plus, he’s standing there posed with his lightsaber, ready to go to town on some cantina drunks, so he looks pretty bad-ass.

Bonus box: I received this nifty gold Captain America statue as my charter member anniversary gift from the Marvel Collectors Corps. I think it looks awesome, except that the part of the arm holding the shield needs to be glued back on (of course). 

These are the boxes I had received by press time. I’m pretty happy with all of the stuff; even the things from Gentleman’s Box I might not regularly use are pretty cool, and I might make a point of using them, just to look dapper and cool. Please let me know in the comments what boxes you get, and your favorite items.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century: Lo, the Rings of Saturn

It’s easy for me to point out things that I like right now. It’s harder to tell what’s going to make a lasting impact and what’s the equivalent of a momentary infatuation. Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (the TV series) is one of those things that has stuck with me through my life. I enjoyed watching it as a kid, but unlike so many other childhood shows, it’s one that I keep coming back to again and again. And every time I watch it, I enjoy it as much as I did the first time around. (The first season, anyway; the second season is another story entirely. In just about every sense.) So when I learned that a company called Blam Ventures was producing new, officially licensed Buck Rogers novels, I had to check them out.

First, some context. At some point between 1979 and 1981, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century premiered, and I fell for it, hard. It's tough for me to recall the exact chronology of things, and while I suppose I could uncover some dates using the Internets, the actual facts don't really matter. Here's what I remember: 

After seeing Star Wars in 1977, I became a huge science fiction fan. At the time, that meant seeing movies like Battle Beyond the Stars and watching TV shows like Battlestar Galactica. At some point in 1979 or 1980, I became aware of a new movie, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, starring Gil Gerard. (Who it starred probably meant nothing to me at the time.) 

Around the same time, my family moved to New Zealand for a year, while my father did research. What I think may have happened was that I saw the publicity for Buck Rogers before we moved, but it didn't come out until after we moved, so I wasn't able to see it in the US. I was able to buy a treasury-sized comic adaptation of the movie, and I eventually did see it in New Zealand in the theater. I thought it was great.

I learned, somehow, that the movie was just the pilot for a TV series that would be premiering in the US while I was still in New Zealand. (Did I learn about this from Starlog Magazine? Was I reading Starlog Magazine at this point? I don't recall.) Of course, we left New Zealand before the show started airing there, and missed the premiere of the show in the US. Didn't stop me from getting excited about it, though. 

When we returned to the US, we took a trip to Washington, DC almost immediately. I remember asking my mother to buy an issue of TV Guide from a local convenience store to see when Buck Rogers was on, so I could FINALLY see an episode. If memory serves, I did see my very first episode while we were on that trip, but I couldn't say for sure. What I can say for sure is that the title of the episode was Space Vampire. And that I was hooked.

What Buck Rogers had over other contemporary science fiction shows (which were basically Battlestar Galactica, as far as I can recall) was that it was very much a bright, shiny escapist action adventure fantasy. Battlestar Galactica was a much darker, more serious series, and my ten-year-old brain was looking for action and adventure. And, apparently, really attractive women playing strong military leaders, because I instantly developed a huge crush on Erin Gray as Colonel Wilma Deering.

And Wilma wasn’t the only character who had my attention. Almost every episode featured a gorgeous lady, usually working for the villains, either because they were forced to or because they were misguided. Regardless, Buck usually ended up rescuing them or getting them to turn on the villains, and together they defeated whatever the evil plan of the week happened to be. Maybe that was part of the appeal of the show then and now: Buck and Wilma and their friends fought bad guys and evil plans, and they won.

The characters were also friends, and they were kind to each other, and they were genuinely nice and funny. I want to say that I watched it with my dad and my brother, even though I don’t remember whether or not that was the case. I choose to remember it that way, because it’s a great show to watch as a family. 

By the time the second season rolled around, I know I was reading Starlog Magazine, because I distinctly remember reading articles about how things would be changing drastically for the second season. At the time, I kept watching, because at that age, no matter how drastically shows that you watch get changed, they’re still shows that you watch, right? However, even at the time, I don’t think I was enjoying the show as much. (I remember really not enjoying the two-hour episode where Buck and everyone had to escort an alien ambassador with a removable head—yes, a removable head—across a desolate planet. It was the first time I felt like the show had crossed the line from fun to just silly.) However, I kind of liked the new character they introduced, a half-bird alien named Hawk. (You knew he was part bird because he had feathers on his head, and his ship was shaped like a hawk. I was ten or eleven years old, and that ship looked pretty cool.)

As I grew older, I watched the show in reruns whenever I could. More specifically, I watched the first season in reruns whenever I could. I bought it on DVD, and I even purchased a season one soundtrack not too long ago. It brought back a lot of fond memories. I would buy season two’s soundtrack as well, but it was a limited edition release, and the prices people are asking are a little more than I want to pay at the moment.

Not too long ago, I learned that Bear Manor Media, a small press specializing in books about TV and movies, had released a book about the TV series. After checking out an excerpt, I decided to order it. I haven’t read it yet, but skimming through it, it looks pretty good.
Not long after that, I discovered that Blam Ventures had just released the first in a series of licensed Buck Rogers novels, based on the series, and set between the first and second seasons. I almost immediately purchased their first book, and read it over an hour or so while my sick wife lay napping beside me. 

The book, by Andrew Gaska, was a lot of fun. It really captured the spirit of the show, and I could hear the actors speaking the dialogue as I read it. The plot felt like it could easily come from an episode of the show: Buck and Wilma are sent to uncover the reason why shipments of a valuable resource are being delayed. During his undercover investigation, Buck encounters an attractive young woman who agrees to help him foil the plot. In this case, the attractive young woman is actually a character returning from the TV series, although the book introduces yet another attractive young woman who may figure more prominently into the story in later installments.

I won’t spoil who the returning character is, but I will say that she’s not the only character from the series who makes an appearance. However, these references to the show don’t feel forced in the way fan-fiction will also include a bunch of references just to make fans of the show smile. The story takes place on a prison world, so it makes sense that a bunch of defeated villains would appear in the story.

There’s also plenty of fast-paced action, just like the show. However, there’s also some nice character stuff. We get a sense of what happened to all the various women who Buck rescued throughout the series, and we get some sense of his reaction to that. It’s not particularly dark or creepy or nefarious, just realistic. And there’s maybe a greater sense of danger in this episode.

The book also does a great job of fleshing out the character of recurring frenemy Princess Ardala, who gets her own subplot completely separate—at this point, anyway—from the Buck/Wilma story. We learn more of her backstory and see a major change in her status quo. (We also get an explanation of why the character of Kane changed actors between the pilot and the series, but it doesn’t feel like too much jarring fan service to get distracting.) I look forward to seeing where the Ardala story goes.

This is very much just the first part of the story, ending on a cliffhanger with quite a bit left to be resolved. That’s fine; it’s pretty clearly labeled as “book one.” From the publisher’s web site and other interviews, it appears that we get three of these “season 1.5” novellas, and then stories set after season two. I’m genuinely hoping that they bring the series back to Earth, instead of continuing the “searching for lost tribes of Earth” plot of the second season.

As a fan of the show, I genuinely enjoyed reading this book as much as it felt like Gaska enjoyed writing it. I’m glad I finally get new stories based on this thing that I loved so much as a kid, and I’m glad that I can still enjoy them more than 30 years later.

(Note: An earlier version of this entry had author Andrew Gaska's name misspelled. I sincerely apologize for that, and have corrected it.)

Friday, March 11, 2016

What's in the box?!?: Gentleman's Box. Nerd Block, and Kitnip Box

Time for another couple of subscription boxes!

February's Gentleman's Box theme is "Our Favorite Dreamer." As usual, they don't name the inspiration for the box, but it is clearly Martin Luther King, Jr, which make sense, since February is Black History Month.

Opening the box, we see the nice booklet laying on top.

Underneath, the contents are neatly sealed behind wrapping paper.

This month included a number of cool items, starting with a pair of socks from a company called DeadSoxy. This particular design is called "The Franklin." I don't know if any of my other pairs of socks have their own names, so that alone helps these stand out. They're pretty, and they feel nice, but I haven't actually worn them yet. However, at this point, we have decided that if I will continue to be getting socks from Gentleman's Box, we can probably let my Sock Fancy subscription lapse. My sock drawer is currently overflowing, and I don't need two additional pairs every month any more.

The next item is the Midnight Sleek Knitted Tie from My Suited Life. I don't believe I own any other knitted ties, and I wasn't sure how easy this would be to tie. I thought the knitting might make it a bit hard to tie smoothly. Fortunately, that wasn't any kind of problem. It's a narrower tie than I would normally choose for myself, but that's part of the point of getting these subscription boxes: I get to try stuff I normally wouldn't wear.

The box also included a Gentleman's Box Silver Tie Bar. I don't normally wear ties, let alone tie clips. That's usually altogether too much trouble for me to deal with. However, this one is sleek, elegant, and easy to use, so I decided to actually not look like a complete slob one day, and secured my tie with this tie bar. I felt so dressed up and adult!

The item that pushed me over the edge and convinced me that I actually wanted to wear a suit one day last week was the Urban Professor La Camille Lapel Flower. This lapel pin is actually sculpted out of black leather. I thought it looked pretty nice on my gray suit jacket, and overall, I felt quite dapper.

The final item included in this month's box: a pair of Dude Wipes. The description says, "The wipes can be used to clean up your face, hands, armpits, and...other things (insert creativity here)." I've not actually had the opportunity to use them yet, so I can't comment on their effectiveness, their scent, or whether or not they make me itch. 

According to the booklet, this month's box contents would retail for $86, and the box is only like $25. Plus you get a subscription to GQ magazine with the box subscription. I feel like I definitely am getting value for my money with this box, plus it helps me look a little classier and feel a little more confident.

The same day, I received this month's Nerd Block box. It doesn't look as classy as the Gentleman's Box on the outside.

Nor is it packaged quite as nicely on the inside. On the other hand, it's chock full of nerd toys, and that's really all I ask of this box.

As you might expect the month that Deadpool was released in theaters, that character features big in the entire nerd community this month. So this month's big item is a Deadpool plush from a company called Bleachers Creatures. While I'm not the biggest Deadpool fan in the world (as I have previously mentioned) it's still a cute toy. Plus, I actually received the "ultra rare" white chase variant of the toy. I'm not sure what that actually means to me, because I'm probably not going to try to sell it or anything, but it makes me feel a little special anyway.

Of course, this month's t-shirt also features Deadpool. So now I can look like I am cool enough to be a fan of one of the hottest comics characters our there, and star of his own hit movie. It's perhaps not as cute as the Funko shirt, but it has its own charms. (I should probably be careful about wearing a shirt that says "Will kill for tacos" if I go to a Mexican restaurant, though.)

Another Nerd Block exclusive this month is the Super Wine Stopper, featuring a mushroom that bears a possibly-not-legally-actionable resemblance to the mushrooms from Super Mario Brothers. Whatever. In theory, we can always use more wine stoppers, but more often than not, once we open a bottle of wine, we work through it until it's empty. However, when we do need a wine stopper, we now have this cute one.

I also received a glow-in-the-dark Batman mug. I like Batman, I like things that glow, and we drink coffee, so this will be a nice addition to our mug collection.

The final Nerd Block exclusive this month is an oven mitt that looks like a Nintendo Power Glove. (My wife had to explain that to me.) Considering that I use the Star Wars light saber barbecue tongs that she got me for Christmas when we grill, this is another great addition to my nerd grilling gear.

Finally, there’s a card previewing what’s coming next month. On the one hand, there’s going to be something from the upcoming Superman vs Batman vs the Audience movie that’s out this month. That’s a movie that I have zero interest in seeing, but it doesn’t mean that it won’t result in a cool collectible. There’s also supposed to be Game of Thrones and Karate Kid stuff in the box. So, clearly it’ll be an eclectic collection.

A few days ago, we received this month’s Kitnip Box, and it’s adorable.

As usual, the card listing the theme and contents lay on top of the nicely-wrapped toys. I think it says something that a box full of cat toys seems wrapped with care, whereas a box full of nerd toys feels like it was just thrown into the box. Not that it matters; the toys are everything.

As you can see, the theme is science and technology. The first toy is a cute catnip flying saucer from Think Cat. It’s a big, puffy toy, which is the sort of thing Rumplestilskin tends to prefer. 

Next is the Kitten Little catnip… cat from PetMate. It’s a smaller toy, and pretty light, so it has high potential for being batted into the air and across the room. (More so than the flying saucer, ironically.)

Perhaps the big hit out of the box so far is the Crinkle Cell, also by Think Cat. Gizmo started playing with it as soon as everything was unpacked.

And a day later, we caught Rumplestilskin also being adorable with it.

We also got a catnip pillow with a bell from Delca County. After the crinkle cell, this was the next toy Gizmo decided to play with (although not when I had the camera pointed at him at any point).

Rumplestilskin seems to prefer the Safemade Catnip Ring Toy with Tail as a pillow more than anything else.

In our house, we have door handles instead of knobs. Recently, Gizmo learned how to open the door to the pantry, so we have to keep it blocked with a chair. So we’re not sure how we feel about a toy that encourages them to play with a doorknob like the Safemade Doorknob Mouse. We’ve hung it on an open door, but I haven’t seen anyone playing with it yet.

Finally, we got a bag of freeze-dried turkey treats from Simply Nourish. Those proved to be a big hit, with even picky eater Rumplestilskin eating them. (How his delicate tummy is handling them is difficult to tell, but nobody seems to have had truly severe diarrhea since eating them. So we have hopes.)

Overall, it looks like this month’s toys will be pretty popular in our house. And they make for great photo opportunities.

As I write this, my next Star Wars Smuggler’s Bounty box is supposed to be on its way. So expect to hear about that in an upcoming blog. In the meantime, I hope you enjoyed hearing about the contents of these boxes. If you subscribe to any subscription boxes you think might be of interest to me, please let me know in the comments. 

See you next week!