Thoughts on “Dark Matter” by Michelle Paver

WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE BOOK. IF YOU DO NOT WISH TO HAVE ANY FOREKNOWLEDGE OF THE CONTENTS OF THIS NOVEL, READER DISCRETION IS ADVISED. 

Summary: January 1937. 28-year-old Jack is poor, lonely and desperate to change his life. So when he’s offered the chance to join an Arctic expedition, he jumps at it. After they reach the remote, uninhabited bay where they will camp for the next year, Gruhuken, Jack feels a creeping unease.

I love books about the arctic.

It’s a bastion of cruelty set against a backdrop of incomprehensible beauty. It’s so hostile and isolated yet life miraculously persists in spite of it all.

I think that is what makes it the perfect landscape for a horror novel.

Not only are characters forced to contend with whatever supernatural entity is on their tail, the very land itself threatens their survival on a daily basis.

So how was it?

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I can’t pin-point precisely where the story lost me.

It started off strong, setting the scene and describing the hopelessness that would motivate someone like Jack to forgo all he knows to venture to no-mans-land.

Then it got dull real frigging quick.

I’m all for a slow-burning horror, but this book was a drudge to get through, which is quite an achievement when you consider it’s a meager 252 pages.

If I had to hazard a guess, I would say this novel’s greatest failing is its characters. Our supposed hero Jack in particular makes for a tedious protagonist.

Jack is supposed to be the underdog, the only lower-class citizen in a team of upper and middle-class scholars who do this sort of thing on a lark, but I couldn’t bring myself to feel sorry for him.

Jack is moody, whiny, and, frankly, he acts like a petulant child even though he’s nearly in his 30s.

“I’ve moved to my bunk because Algie is using his collapsible safari bath, and I’d rather not watch. All that wobbly, freckled flesh. His feet are the worst. They’re flat pink slabs, and the second, and third toes protrude way beyond the big toe, which I find repulsive. Gus saw me staring at them, and flushed. No doubt he’s embarrassed for his ‘best pal.’- 78 pg

70% of his narration in the first act is either devoted to giving tongue baths to Gus or berating Algie for even the slight infraction. Granted Algie is kind of a dick, but the way Jack carries on about him reminds me  too much of my high school days when girls started petty feuds with one another for no reason.

In fact, Jack’s whole demeanor is effeminate to the point of irritation. I can’t tell if it’s because he’s gay, or if the female writer struggles writing from a male perspectives.

Speaking of being gay, I thought things were going to get interesting after it became obvious that Jack was developing feelings for Gus. After all, this novel takes place prior to World War II when feelings like this were not only socially unacceptable but illegal as well. Would Gus reciprocate? Would he be disgusted? Considering they would have to live with one another for a year in confinement, this had the potential to brew some real drama. With no societal conventions to keep them apart in this world so detached from the rest of civilization, how would two Englishmen who truly love each other interact? Would their affections survive the harsh climate and high tensions of living in such an inhospitable part of the world?

Don’t worry.

These question are never answered.

Instead of developing the milk-toast character of Gus, the author gives him appendicitis so he and Algie are forced to leave the island.

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Yeah.

Really.

Bet you thought this would be one of those character-driven novels where people start off as one-dimensional cardboard cutouts but develop as the story progresses, didn’t you?

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No, instead we are held hostage by Jack for the remainder of the tale.

I admit he does become more sympathetic as the story progresses. At first he hated the canine companions they purchased for the trip, but he eventually grew to love them and appreciate them for the good-boys that they were. It’s hard to dislike someone who appreciates dogs for the amazing beings they are.

Nevertheless, I would hesitate to say Jack ever truly becomes “interesting.”  The writer had a chance with leaving him alone to delve deeper into his subconscious to see what makes him tick. Instead it’s mostly surface-level information and him making O-face over Gus.

I never felt a sense of urgency on Jack’s behalf either. In The Terror, the crew were constantly in peril, not only from the monster, but also food shortages and rampant illness. Other than been spooked, Jack is fine. Even though he is isolated, he has ample food and supplies to last him over a year. Hell, now that the rest of his expedition team is gone he actually has more. Why am I supposed to be scared again?

….Oh, yeah, there’s a ghost, I guess.

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Personally, I think the spirit’s story was over-explained. Nobody knew his name or his true origins but the fact that we have his motives explained to us kind of takes away from the dread. If they just left him as some vague, malevolent force that communicated through dreams and visions, he would have been more terrifying.

It could have been like a ghost story/mystery where Jack had to piece together what the ghost wanted and why it was there. Or better yet, it could be called into question whether or not what Jack was seeing was actually real or not. They addressed men go crazy in these parts of the world, so why not play with that?

Instead we’re spoon-fed the whole story by ye old trapper guy. It’s not even that unique of a story.

In the end, the ghost really didn’t do much anyway.

By the time he actually started raising cain, I lost interested and was reading purely for completion’s sake.

In the end, Gus dies like we knew he would due to an accident the ghost caused….somehow. I don’t know, it wasn’t explained very well.

Jack and Algie become friends after this tragic event because the story said they did, and the protagonist and his good-boy husky live some semblance of happily ever after.

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Part of me feels guilty for giving this book a poor review. After all this is Paver’s first novel for an adult audience, which might account for its lack of depth. Nevertheless, this book didn’t do anything for me. The plot had a lot of potential, it just didn’t reach it.

I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed.

The Twilight Zone: “The Comedian” Review

Disclaimer: The following review contains spoilers. To watch the free pilot, click here

As a fan of the original Twilight Zone, I thought I would give the revival a try. I heard it would be helmed by Jordan Peele so it was in competent hands. Unlike many writers of political satire in the post-modern age, he is talented enough to take on such a project. After all,  he already has two movies under his belt, both of which have been critical and box-office hits and contain great social commentary.

The pilot for this reboot is about a failed comic, Amir, whom, after a chance encounter with a legendary comedian, is granted the ability to make people laugh. But there is a catch. Everyone he jokes about disappears.

So…what did I think?

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Okay, well, it wasn’t awful but it wasn’t good either.

To its credit, the message is very Twilight Zone-isque and the metaphor of people being “unpersoned” is effective in helping to convey it. Conceptually, it’s a thought-provoking perspective on comedy and how making oneself so available to the public takes away a person’s sense of self.

The execution, however, was a bit derivative.

For starters, the main character isn’t likable from the offset. Sure, he isn’t supposed to be funny (that’s the point), but rather than sympathize with him for his lack of talent in a craft he so clearly admires, I thought he was just a pretentious neckbeard. Not misunderstood, not flawed, but a fedora-hatted neckbeard that thinks everyone should recognize his brilliance because his comedy “means something.”

To add to the general unlikeability of this person, even after he makes his girlfriend’s nephew disappear, he doesn’t really care. It’s true that he freaks out at first, but it seems like he’s more upset that he can now break reality, rather than the fact that his girlfriend’s sister’s child is gone forever. That kid did nothing to him and he quickly shrugs it off like it never happened.

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This makes it much more difficult to feel any grief for him when he comes to his fate at the end of the episode.

Moving on, I realize that the Twilight Zone is meant to be a drama and the most important thing is that the story’s message is properly conveyed, but come on. They couldn’t have made it a little funny? This was an episode about a comedian performing at a comedy club in an episode about trying to make people laugh written by a comedy writer.  I know Amir isn’t supposed to be good initially, but hell even a broken clock works twice a day. Couldn’t the curse have made him just a bit more witty so it’s not as much of a chore to sit through?

I realize it’s a short format so there’s less time to work with, but the characters in this story suffered a noticeable lack of development, especially Amir’s girlfriend. As a result their relationship isn’t well defined, so it’s difficult to care when they end up breaking up. We learned that they were apparently on the rocks before they took a trip to Paris but we didn’t see any evidence there was anything wrong with their relationship prior to this scene. And how can an extravagant vacation cure relationship woes? Have you ever travelled to a foreign country with someone you’re at odds with? That sounds like a bleeding nightmare.

Not to mention, certain scenes with her made no sense. I initially thought it was a dream sequence when she stormed into the theatre and started shaming him in front of his audience.

“I found this book! It’s only filled with names! I don’t even know who most of these people are!”

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Okay……

…….and?

It’s a notebook not a Death Note.

It’s weird but it doesn’t warrant confronting someone in the middle of a crowded theatre  while they’re performing on stage. According to the curse’s rules, anyone he mentions will be whisked out of existence. No one else besides Amir is aware this is happening. So why such a hostile and public reaction?

Seriously, who does this?

The intended “emotional pay-off” wasn’t much of a catharsis either.

The episode tricks us into thinking he’s going to make his girlfriend go “poof” but in reality he turns his own ability inwards and unpersons himself. The reason why this doesn’t work all that well is, when you think about it, he really didn’t lose much as a result of his curse. Other people did.

His girlfriend lost her job, his girlfriend’s sister lost her child, countless other people had their sons and daughters wiped from existence. But what did he lose? A relationship. That’s it. He lost his live-in girlfriend. She didn’t die, she just left him.

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It would make sense if he showed any signs of being self-sacrificing before, but he didn’t. His ego is the size of a hot weather balloon from Day 1 and it only gets worse the more fame he achieves. So why would it make a difference to him if he had to break a few more eggs to make his fame omelette?

From a character perspective, he would have to lose a great deal more in order for him to be motivated to make that final call. Especially when taking into consideration–apart from his girlfriend working at a diner as a result of his actions– we don’t really see any truly negative consequences for him having snuffed out these people.

It would have been more effective, in my opinion, if his girlfriend actually cheated on him as he suspected she might and, in an act of self-righteousness, he unpersoned her only to regret it and effectively commit suicide to undo all the damage he had done.

Would that have been more predictable?

Maybe.

But it would have made more sense.

Overall, this was an episode with a decent premise that just flopped.

Other people seem to enjoy it, but, in my opinion, Black Mirror is a much better spiritual successor to the old Twilight Zone. It focuses more on the technological side of society, favoring the sci-fi elements over the fantastical. Nevertheless, the themes and social commentary it presents hit home much more accurately than this episode.

If nothing else, you won’t have to subscribe to yet another bs streaming site in order to watch it.

Thoughts on “You” a Netflix Series

WARNING: THE FOLLOWING CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE SHOW “YOU”. IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THE SHOW AND PLAN TO DO SO, STOP READING NOW.

P.S.  I wasn’t aware it was a novel until after I started watching the series, thus, all of my opinions are based solely on the Netflix show.

Some people find stories told through a mentally-disturbed character’s perspective distasteful.

I’ve never been one of them.

I adore stories with morally dubious protagonists and their unnerving compulsions and I knew from the first moment I heard Joe talking to Beck via voiceover that I was going to get my fix.

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I’m not new to stories like this so I was expecting to see all the usual tropes: the criminal mastermind, the hard-boiled detective who is on his tail unbeknownst to him, the grisly murders, etc. However,  I was surprised with the creative choices the story took, especially in regards to Joe’s character.

Unlike in many shows of this caliber, Joe is not an evil genius a la Walter White or Hannibal Lector. He has an above average IQ, sure, but his M.O. is more impulse-based than the characters I just mentioned.

When he kidnaps Benji and places him in the glass prison downstairs, he has no idea what to do with him and doesn’t formulate a solution until later.

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Similarly when he “plans” to kill Peach, he simply runs up on her and beams her in the back of the head with a rock.

In Central Park.

In broad daylight.

And then doesn’t take two seconds to make sure she’s actually dead.

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I thought Joe’s lack of preparedness made his character more life-like and kept the story grounded in reality.

On the other hand–and this is just my personal opinion–I think they made Joe’s character a bit too affable. I know some psychopaths are able to blend in with people with reflexive ease, but I thought he was too in-the-know when it came to normal human behavior. There was the occasional slip up, like when he saw an elderly couple and he said “that will be us” to Beck even though this was only their first or second date. But, overall, he functioned just fine and was even willing to conform to most post-modern societal norms like oversensitivity to certain off-color comments.

I’m torn if I should praise or condemn the show for giving us only slivers of  Joe’s backstory. On the one hand, not giving away too much kept the plot from being bogged down by too much exposition. On the other hand, what we got was a bit lackluster in my opinion.

What Mr. Mooney did to Joe was disturbing in principle, but we didn’t get a real taste of what Joe experienced psychologically while under Mooney’s care. We basically saw him being locked in the cage, and then in the next scene he was fine with no visible signs he had undergone some disturbing metamorphosis. No vomit-stained shirt, no disheveled hair, no crazed look in his eyes. On all fronts, he seemed to be fine. Only now he was conforming to Mooney’s warped sense of love and protection.

Stockholm Syndrome doesn’t just happen. It is the mind’s last resort to keep from giving into utter despair and research has shown that it only works on about 8% of victims. I think the story could have benefited from delving just a few minutes more into this psyche in those moments.

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There aren’t that many “You” gifs on Google so here is a cat representing Joe being trapped in the Mooney’s bookstore basement.

As for the love interest….

I frequently vacillated between liking Beck and thinking she was terrible (even compared to Joe who is a literal serial-killer). This continued on throughout the series where she went from being a flake, to having an affair, to breaking up with him for no reason (at least none she knew of, yet). I still don’t know whether or not I like her as a person. Nevertheless, I still think she was a well-written character in spite of my own personal hang-ups with her many faults.

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All things considered, Beck is a very accurate representation of a damaged person and I have to applaud the writers for that.

People like her do sabotage their own happiness because they are afraid they are undeserving of it. They will cheat, they will lie, they will project their insecurities onto other people and go out of their way  for friends that cause them psychological harm. We see this in her blind loyalty to Peach. I think that’s what can make her character so irritating at times. I’ve known people that are exactly like her and so I want to reach through the screen and slap her.

In a truly warped way, Joe made her the best she could be. By forcibly removing all the negative people from her life, he made it so she could focus on achieving her dreams. I would like to say she would be strong enough to eventually cut all these people out of her life on her own accord, but considering how demurring she was in the face of Peach’s constant interference, it’s not clear if she ever would have become a published author.

I know it’s messed up, but I admit that I shipped Joe and Beck together.

Even when she found out the truth about him, I was still hoping for a Stockholm-isque romance between them.

They should have scrapped the ending where she died and made the whole second season about them covering up Joe’s past crimes and evading the intrusive hand of the law. It could have been like Bonnie and Clyde but with more psychological damage.

I know! I know!

It’s problematic and I bet there would be a butt-load of controversy over how this was a harmful representation of a relationship—

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–but…dammit if they aren’t cute together.

It doesn’t help that literally every other male character in this show acts reprehensibly towards her to the point where the freaking serial killer looks like the healthiest option.

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As for the ending, I thought it was a bit disappointing.

Beck was literally at the top of the stairs, screaming for her life and then…boom! He grabs her and we cut to the aftermath where her book is being sold at record rates at the bookstore following her death.

I wasn’t crossing my fingers for a torture-porn session, but come on people. If your show has an MA-rating you might as well go for broke.

Besides, Beck was a main character. To kill her off-screen feels kind of cheap. I forgave them when they didn’t show Peach’s last stand to its grisly conclusion because she was a side-character, albeit an important one.

But this was Beck!

They killed the douche-bag cop on screen, why not Beck who is way more important?

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Okay, I wasn’t that distraught about it but…still.

Also, I’m not sure what to make about Candace being alive. I’m not sure if season two is headed in a positive direction. Based on how good this season was, I’ll at least give it a shot.

8/10

Why I Won’t Watch”Bird Box” On Netflix

WARNING: MILD SPOILERS FOR “BIRD BOX” AHEAD. 

So….it looks like Netflix has adapted Josh Malerman’s Bird Box into a movie…..

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And as you can see, I’m not excited about it.

It’s not that I think all book-to-movie adaptations are bad, in fact some of them are quite good (ex: Holes, Stand By Me, Carrie, Lord of The Rings, Harry Potter, etc).

It’s just that some books are not meant to be made into a visual medium for a variety of reasons.

“Bird Box” is one such book.

What makes “Bird Box” so effective as a horror novel is that Marlerman understands people fear the most what they don’t understand. We never see what these creatures look like, nor are we ever given a conclusive explanation as to what they are.

Theories are bounced around–they are us from another dimension, they are angels, etc–but the only way to find out what they are is to look at them.

And once you gaze upon them, you don’t live to tell the tale.

Throughout the novel, the protagonists must rely on their senses (sight excluded) to avoid falling prey to these terrifying beings.

We as readers are wearing metaphorical blindfolds of our own because we only “see” what the characters do. We hear a rustling of leaves, feel a drop in temperature. But we don’t know what’s coming and that makes the experience more visceral.

So whose bright idea was it to turn this story into a movie?

If you made it an audio-drama or podcast series, that would make sense but a movie? A form of entertainment predicated on sight?!

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I also have a feeling our monsters in question will fall prey to the movie industry’s vitriolic hatred of ambiguity.

Over the past decade or so the visual arts have developed this strange fetish with over-explaining everything. Hollywood’s releasing of prequel movie after prequel movie is evidence enough of this, answering questions we didn’t want answered. Sometimes the results are good (Rogue One) but most of the time they are not (Solo).

Not to mention, in today’s climate, I wouldn’t be surprised if they tried to hammer in some “humans bad” message into the mix just for the hell of it.

Book explanation of Creatures: 

Well, they could be inter-dimensional beings that transcend our conventional understanding of the universe and our mortal brains simply can’t comprehend them, and thus fall back on a primordial instinct to self-terminate. Unfortunately, we will probably never know.

Move Explanation of Creatures (probably): 

They are creatures we created with global warming and heteronormativity and they are taking back the earth in an attempt to restore the balance we destroyed with our hubris. WHEN WILL BE LEARN?!?!

Regardless, I have zero interest in giving this flick a watch.

If the premise draws you in, I recommend reading the book instead. It’s a pretty quick read and will give you hours of enjoyment.

Unlike..this thing.

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The Soul-Reaper’s Hymn: a Short Story

Author’s Note: I wrote this for a vocabulary-based challenge a co-worker proposed and thought I might post it here. Enjoy!

One particularly disagreeable night in late December, Dr. Rothchild received a telegram from a fellow erudite and former student, Edmond Talbot, which piqued his interest.

Have been delivered package of suspicious origin. Stop. Pray come to my home at earliest convenience. Stop.

Admittedly, Rothchild didn’t need much goading to quit his quiet home in the English countryside. As of late, his modest estate was abuzz with anxious servants armed with wreathes, tinsel and candelabras, all at the beck and call of his nervous wife Petunia. She was preparing for yet another tedious Christmas party where she would attempt to ingratiate herself to members of high society all while making a terrible nuisance of herself.

He didn’t know why his friend should call on him so unexpectedly over something as mundane as a package, but if it gave him a reprieve from the commotion that came with the Christmas holiday—the decorating the meal-planning, the damn four-string quartet—so much the better.

At the earliest opportunity, Rothchild called for a cab and made for the bachelor’s flat where he was received by a pinch-faced parlour maid who announced him like an amateur actress that had forgotten most of their lines. She proceeded to flee the room without taking his hat or coat as if worried that some malevolent force would lay claim to her should she linger too long.

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Talbot was in a dark humor, that much was clear. He was partially consumed by his armchair, placed before the fireplace. One thin leg was crossed over a knobby knee and he peered into the flames as if he hoped some ancient wisdom would pour forth from the flue.

He hardly made any notice of his friend as Rothchild took a seat across from him.

“Hard to find good help these days,” he remarked pointedly, holding his hat in his hands.

Talbot did not offer a word of apology for his poor reception. In fact, he impudently refused to meet his friend’s eye. Instead, he reached into his coat pocket and produced a worn bit of parchment paper.

“I have called you here because I do not know whom else to turn,” the bachelor spoke at last. “Several days ago, I received a letter and package most peculiar in nature. There is no return address nor did the author deem it appropriate to sign their name. Whomever sent it is a complete mystery.”

He passed the letter onto Rothchild who read it attentively. 

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To Whom It May Concern, it read in cramped and frantic handwriting.

I have placed this record in your care as the evil within it is of far greater power than I can stand. It was given to me by persons unknown as a gift Christmas last whilst my wife and I were hosting our annual Christmas celebration. Intrigued by this unexpected parcel, I proposed we give it a listen. This idea was met with much enthusiasm as we were all deep in our cups and bored of the usual tawdry party games one typically engages in this time of year. 

No one was more intrigued and pleased by this unusual diversion as I, however, my enthusiasm was shortly lived.  As soon as I set it to play, we were assaulted by the most accursed sound to ever be played. My wife, pregnant with our third child, suffered a miscarriage days later. Two more men suffered incredible chest pains and were sent to their graves not long after. As for myself, I have been driven mad by the constant sound of the sirens droning. I feel Her presence even as I write this. Her words are like an athame plunging into my very soul. 

Ever since that fateful night I’ve not had a  moment’s respite. Forgive me for passing my misery onto you, but I have tried all other means of destroying it. I can only hope that by gifting it to another as it was gifted unwillingly to me that my torment may at last be ended. 

May God have mercy on our souls.

Anon.

Rothchild gazed up from the letter, raising a ruddy eyebrow at his old friend.

“A curse, is it?” he inquired.

“I, too, doubted the veracity of his claims,” Talbot confessed, a twinge of shame shining through on his face. “Until…Mrs. Woodword.”

This caught Rothchild’s attention immediately. So that was why he’d been met with such a rude awakening upon his arrival. Typically it was the elderly house-keeper from Corn who admitted him at the door rather than the pigeon-faced youth he’d encountered earlier.

“Surely she has not come to an unseemly end?”

“She lives,” Rothchild admitted. “Although I fear she will never be the same. She had placed the record on whilst she was mending an old shirt of mine. I found her lying prostate on the floor just there some time later.”

He gestured to a spot three feet from where Rothchild sat.

“Her hair turned white at the roots and she was murmuring fearfully to herself.”

“Anything significant?”

Talbot waved dismissively. “Nonsense, utter nonsense.”

“I see,” the guest mused, situating himself in his chair. “I assume you have not taken it upon yourself to listen to the record in question?”

It might have been Rothchild’s imagination or Talbot’s close proximity to the flames, but he thought he detected the slightest sheen of sweat forming on his compatriot’s brow.

“I haven’t.”

Rothchild harrumphed.

“You are skeptical.”

It wasn’t a question, but the retired professor answered it as if it had been.

“Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence, Talbot. I understand you are more, shall we say, broad-minded when it comes to matters of the supernatural. However, I am rather set in my ways and I maintain that it is simply impossible for inanimate objects to be imbued with paranormal powers.”

“That is the reason I called you hear tonight, old friend. To give me courage to plunge into the unknown.”

Rothchild smiled in amusement. “If it’s courage you require, then I’m more than happy to supply it. Although I believe a glass of port would have the same effect.”

“No,” Talbot shook his head. “I must have a clear head for what is to come.”

He wiped his hands upon his shirt front, then made for a wheeled table where a gramophone rested in repose in the unlit corner of the room. To Rothchild the contraption looked perfectly mundane, but the care with which Talbot moved the device made it seem as if he were a pallbearer taking a coffin to the grave.

Rothchild took this as an opportunity to rise slowly from his seat and lumber over to stand beside Talbot. For a moment, they both admired its anatomy. It was a handsome device, made from varnished wood and a large pavilion cone. It hardly looked like the harbinger of evil Talbot claimed it to be, although, he supposed, it was not the device itself but rather the record that it had rested on its plateau that was meant to spell doom for any listener.

“Well,” Rothchild stated, breaking the silence, “shall we?”

Talbot’s Adam’s apple bobbed in trepidation. He broke away as if having second thoughts before diverting to a small desk cramped in a corner near a window. With some effort, he pulled open one of the stiff wooden drawers and produced a pile of unused parchment. Once dipping a quill into a well and determining it would do as a suitable writing instrument, he returned to where Rothchild stood and passed on the paraphernalia over to him.

Rothchild gazed down upon his new burden and then back to his friend.

“So I am to be the spirit’s secretary?”

“You have a much faster hand than I,” he explained. “Should we succumb to the wiles of…whatever malevolence should exist inside this recorder, I want there to exist some evidence as to what has befallen us.”

“Now really, Talbot—”

“Please, Rothchild, if you’ve ever considered us friends you shall do as I ask. I respect your skepticism if you can respect my lack of courage.”

Rothchild opened his mouth to protest, but as quick as a mouse-trap, it was shut once more. True, he believed the man’s indulgence in this rubbish to boarder on lunacy, nevertheless, he could not deny he was fond of the lad and had been since he was a student under his wing back at Oxford.

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Talbot took his elder’s silence as an agreement. “Transcribe what the voices are saying,” he said. “Perhaps others will be able to divine some meaning from it.”

Rothchild nodded. “Where shall I sit?”

“On the floor, perhaps. If you should fall as Mrs. Woodword did you, shan’t have far to go.”

The former professor’s gaze plummeted to the floor, dubious as to whether or not he would be able to rise again once he’d seated himself. Pressing his lips together, he resigned himself to the role he had been asked to play and sank to the cold and stiff wooden boards.

With a creak of his limbs and a twinge in his back, he was properly situated, pen at the ready.

At least soon, there would be an end to this nonsense. Perhaps then they could have a glass of port or sherry and complain about the affairs of state as was customary in polite society.

“Ready and waiting,” Rothchild prompted, goose quill pen poised over the page.

There was a pregnant pause where Talbot’s bony hand rested nervously on the crank. However, with the reluctance of someone meeting the firing squad, he set himself into motion and played the record.

The innocuous jangling of sleigh bells gushed forth and a piano forte jumped in excitedly. 

And then…

In mere moments, their senses were assailed by the wild screech of a banshee. 

The taste of copper was thick and heavy on the back of Rothchild’s tongue, his chest compressing as if he were physically rotting from the inside out. Through weak eyes burning with tears of anguish, he looked to his companion.

Talbot had doubled over, hand clutched over his heart. His complexion was as colorless as snow, lips blue.

The air around them thrummed with the din of the woman’s inhuman voice. The room decayed before their eyes. The floral wall paper peeled and cracked like dead skin, the wood warped and slivered. The paintings mounted on the wall faded into near obscurity as their gold and opulent frames tarnished and dulled. 

Though they lost all power over their mental faculties, their souls were still tethered to their fleshy bonds with no means of escaping. Unwittingly, Rothchild’s pens scratched across the page.

His blood was boiling and frothed behind his eyes. until it poured down his cheeks in rivulets 

All other sound had cancelled out, even the thud of Talbot’s lifeless body as it struck the ground. His lifeless eyes bore back at Rothchild, a permanent mask of horror.

A wordless scream choked him as the chambers of his heart closed and his world fell to blackness.

Upon the parchment read a message neither of them would ever read.

On the blood-soaked page were the small but legible words:

Baby, make my wish come true

All I want for Christmas is you.

 

Thoughts on “The Terror” by Dan Simmons

WARNING: CONTAINS MILD TO SIGNIFICANT SPOILERS FOR THE BOOK. 

The Terror and her flagship, Erebus, are stranded in the arctic.

Their food source is contaminated.

Sickness is rampant.

Their ships have been ravaged by ice.

And no rescue is expected.

…….Oh, and, also, there’s an immortal polar bear demon that can only be appeased by allowing it or someone else to play another human’s vocal cords like a flute.

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What I liked: 

The characters. I thought Simmons did a pretty stellar job distinguishing between each crew member which is saying quite a bit considering how many characters there are in this thing. As someone who often struggles with remembering who is who in most stories (another reason why I have yet to actually read the Game of Thrones series) his repetition when describing each character and their physical features and rank was very much appreciated. While many other characters could have used a bit more development, I believe he did a good job of making them come alive, especially Crozier, the Captain of The Terror and Erebus‘s Goodsir, the anatomist who remains one of my favorite characters.

The attention to detail. It’s obvious that Simmons did a lot of research with this piece from boat geography, to describing an arctic landscape without just using the word “ice” over and over again, to the ranking system. It’s impressive to read. You actually feel like you’re there, freezing along with them. Before reading this book I had no idea how awful scurvy really is, not to mention the other illnesses the crew had to suffer through. And make no mistake, this book does not skimp out on the gross details or give the dying any sort of dignity. It reports on how they crapped themselves, screamed, bled and farted. While this can be tedious to read it does a fantastic job of conveying the pure hopelessness of their situation which made this piece all the more engrossing.

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Historically accurate attitudes. While it is a bit cringy reading bits where characters go on racist or homophobic diatribes, at the very least I can say that it is historically accurate for that time period and I’m glad Simmons didn’t try to politically correct the characters in order to make them more sympathetic or likable.

Crozier’s second sight. While I didn’t think all of his visions were strictly necessary I loved the reoccurring dream he had where he is forced to partake in communion with his eccentric grandmother. It painted a perfect picture of what was to come and provided the audience with beautifully creepy imagery.

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The surprise ending. I admit I nearly quit reading this book because of the sheer hopelessness of it all. I knew that it real life none of the crewmen survived so watching them furtively cling to life in what essentially would be an exercise in futility seemed like a chore. However, I didn’t give Simmons nearly enough credit and he ended things on a note I had not expected.  Turns out my favorite character, Captain Crozier, survived after all and made a family amongst the natives.

What I didn’t like: 

It’s too damn long. I’m not opposed to slow burns, but this book went on waaaaaay longer than it needed to. I, personally, think they could have cut out maybe 100 to 200 pages or so and it would have been just fine. I actually thought about giving up on this book just because it was such an uphill climb.

Not enough monster. At a certain point in the books, after the crews decided to abandon their ships and go it alone, the monster attacks just…stop basically. And for no discernible reason. I guess it’s because the story would be over with too quickly? I’m not sure but it’s absence is sorely missed and hard to explain. In fact the monster more often than not appears as a sort of McGuffin. If you look at the story itself you wonder if the book even needs a monster at all. It’s not as if the crew didn’t have enough problems already. I mentioned the starvation, the intolerable atmosphere and the spread of illness. Then again, I did like the creature and the mythos surrounding it so I guess I can excuse it.

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Some of the character perspectives are pointless. Not many of them, you understand, but I’m still trying to figure out where Simmons was going for when he wrote the part where one of the oldest shiphand was talking to a former lover of his about the chances of rescue and Darwin and whatnot. It wasn’t a badly written scene or anything, I just don’t see why it needed to be there. Especially when neither of the characters present for that scene had that much of a part to play in the grand scheme of things.

Overall opinion: 

So, in spite of this book’s foibles, I did enjoy it quite a bit and even consider it one of my favorites now. I’m hoping to sample more of Simmons’ work in the future and hope his other pieces are just as entertaining as this one.

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My Emotionally Abusive Relationship with Daphne Du Maurier

I can say with unshakeable certainty that Rebecca is one of the best horror novels I’ve ever read. It wasn’t an action-packed gore-fest like many books of the same genre, but in my mind that’s what makes it one of the greats.

It’s a British novel positively dripping with atmosphere and dramatic tension with an excellent pay-off.

It’s for this reason that I’ve found many other of Du Maurier’s works to be…less than stellar.

After reading Rebecca, I thought I had discovered an unsung hero of classic literature. Why had I gone so many years without knowing who Daphne Du Maurier is? Why had I been deprived of knowing her name?

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I looked farther into her works and rejoiced to find My Cousin Rachel, a novel that promised more atmospheric English countrysides, three-dimensional characters, an intriguing storyline and a gut-punch ending…..

Well, three out of four isn’t bad….

You see, the more you read Daphne Du Maurier, the more it seems that you run into this problem. The woman can write. She is a wonder at creating haunting environments, interesting characters and working up mysteries.

The problem is, more often than not, her endings tend to be woefully underwhelming. And when they aren’t, they’re just frigging weird.

One such example is Don’t Look Now wherein a couple that has just lost their child decide to go on holiday to Italy. While there they meet a pair of elderly twins, one of which purports to be psychic and prophesies doom for John, the main character. Well, the story keeps you on the tips of your toes in true Du Maurier fashion. Red-herring after red-herring is thrown at you, Then…the climax and……!

He’s murdered by a serial-killing midget…..

A serial….killing…midget….

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Kay, that was f*cking weird, but the next ones gotta be….!

Okay, guy is randomly murdered and random weird greek symbolism that doesn’t…really relate to the climax…

Okay, this next one will….! Okay, massive homophobia-

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In spite of the many times she’s disappointed me, I just can’t give up on her.

She’s just good enough at what she does that she is able to draw me in again and again. But those endings…man, those endings kill me. And not in a good way.

I just don’t understand how someone could have such a strong character and personality, only to demure when it matters the most. She makes all of these promises and she never keeps them. She beguiles me with gorgeous imagery and diction, only to leave me crumpled on the floor like a used tissue.

Why? Does she feel too much pressure to perform? Am I more invested than she is? Has she just moved on to bigger and better things?

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Why, Daphne? Why didn’t Rachel just kill Philip when she had the chance? It doesn’t make sense, Daphne.

I’m currently working on Jamaica Inn and I’m fretful that I’ll drudge through it and experience the same kind of disappointment again. But I’m just so curious….I have to know what happens.

Maybe this time will be different. Maybe she will have that jarring jump-out-of-your-pants ending I’ve been waiting for. I mean, it’s not like all her endings were that, bad right? Maybe I was being too hard on her. Perhaps I’m the one to blame for my high expectations.

I’ll give you another shot, Daphne.

I can’t quit you.

Thoughts on “My Cousin Rachel” by Daphne du Maurier

WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE NOVEL.

As an avid fan of du Maurier’s Rebecca, I have to confess that I was a bit disappointed with My Cousin Rachel.

It started off very strong with little Philip coming face to face with the corpse of a man who had been hanged for murdering his wife, a scene which instantly hooked me into the story as it seemed to indicate that shit was going to go down.

Unfortunately nothing that happens in the novel thereafter really has as much of a punch as the beginning would seem to indicate.

What I did like: 

Du Maurier does a fantastic job of setting up atmosphere and generating feelings of unease as well as mystery. I think she also does a magnificent job of creating characters and relationships. None of them came across as flat or one-dimensional, even the side characters who didn’t do all that much.

I award du Maurier bonus points for writing a male for the lead. As someone who often struggles writing for members of the opposite sex, I thought du Maurier did an excellent job of capturing the mindset of a 19th century Englishman. If I had no indication as to who the author was, I would have thought this book had been written by a man.

The pacing is excellent too, never focusing on any one scene for too long.

What I didn’t like: 

As I mentioned earlier, there was a lot of build-up for not a lot of pay-off. It became clear as soon as Philip recovered from his “illness” that du Maurier was not going to go balls-to-the-wall as I was hoping she would do.

What puzzles me is why Rachel allowed him to get better. Did she have second thoughts? Was it because the writer needed him to? I’m so confused.

Also I’m disappointed there was no final confrontation between the two of them where Rachel dropped all pretense and showed Phillip her true colors. Perhaps that would have been a little too soup opera, but it would have been more satisfying for me to see the real Rachel for a moment, instead of just the repercussions of her actions.

It  would have been so interesting to see how she interacted with someone who has her confidant, a.k.a the doctor. You could make the argument that it’s creepier because we don’t know but I disagree. I think more would actually be better in the case of this story.

Overall opinion: 

This was by no means a bad book, I’m just disappointed because I know it could have been better. If it had been just a little bit more I would probably rank it up there along with Rebecca which is one of my favorite horror novels of all time.

I’m curious to see if the movie does a better job on delivering on scares. Based on Hollywood’s track record, I wouldn’t hold out much hope.

Why I’m Disappointed By Neil Gaiman’s “Trigger Warning”

Perhaps I’m just whingeing over semantics here, but I had to get this off my chest.

When I purchased the audiobook for Neil Gaiman’s book on short stories I was very excited. Not only am I a fan of Gaiman’s writing, I am also a big fan of his narration. His dulcet tones and faint English accent make him a perfect narrator.

I was preparing myself for another boring day of organizing charts upstairs at the dermatology clinic where I worked and I needed something to listen to in order to keep the monotony from reducing my brain to yogurt.

So I placed the charts on a table, plugged in my earbuds, and I began to listen.

Gaiman gave a perfect introduction into this collection, explaining how he’d come to discover the term “trigger warning.” He conceded that, while trigger warnings may be well intentioned, sometimes we need to read things that make us uncomfortable, that force us to ponder imponderable things, see the world in darker hues.

He warned us readers (or listeners in this case) that what we were about to read would likely disturb us.

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I listened for several hours, nearly finishing the book in it’s entirety during a single shift. It was interesting, imaginative, captivating, visceral, everything a book should be. However, there is one thing that it was not: triggering.

I loved the stories, loved the narration, but I kept listening with a growing sense of expectation. Is this the story that’s going to trigger me? Is this the story that’s going to challenge my preconceptions about life and put me on a 2001: A Space Odyssey styled journey to self-discovery?

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The answer to that would be a nope.

Again, I loved the stories, in fact I consider this the best short-story collection I’ve ever read.

But with a title like Trigger Warning you expect something a little more…triggering. That’s not to say they weren’t disturbing. There are stories with murder, revenge, cannibalism, monsters, stalking, etc. They’re horrifying and dark with lovely twists and turns, but nothing I wasn’t expecting from something written by Gaiman.

And they were not what I was advertised.

Now, it’s not Gaiman’s responsibility to make sure that I, specifically, have all of my desires met. He is perfectly entitled to write what he wants and I believe he he does an excellent job of it.

However, let me explain why I was a bit disappointed.

There has, I think, been a shortage of books and stories in recent years that truly push the envelope. Books and stories that challenge ideas and behaviors that we see routinely in our day-to-day lives.

In our new easily-offended world there are any number of taboo subjects that deserve to be explored, but it would seem as if  no one has the nerve to tackle them in a literary capacity in a long while, lest someone get their grandma panties in a wad.

I was hoping that Gaiman, in his uniquely stylized way, would touch upon such subjects or, at least, ignore the restraints that these perpetually offended people insist writers use. Nonetheless, there wasn’t much in his book that would truly “trigger” someone, provided that person doesn’t live in a perpetual state of duress.

I just wanted something a little more challenging. I wanted Gaiman to approach the likes of Lovecraft or King and throw down the gauntlet, saying, “No, gentlemen, this is scary.”

I’ve read a handful of the Sandman comics, I know what he’s capable of.

I only wish he’d gone balls-to-the-walls the way he did with that series.

Or Coraline.

Now that would have been truly triggering.

Thoughts on the “IT” 2017 Trailer

I am going to tell you something I wasn’t sure I would ever admit on this blog…..

A secret that I have been keeping under wraps for fear of being ostracized by the literary community.

*takes a breath*

I don’t like Stephen King novels.

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I know, I’m sorry. It’s not for want of trying. I’ve made the attempt to read several of his works in the past, but the only one I’ve been able to complete in its entirety is Carrie.

I think his writing style is excellent. His manner of describing things is very visceral and it’s easy for a person to feel as if they are standing right there beside the character, going through the same experience that they are.

It’s the stories themselves that don’t make a lot of sense. Reading King, for me, is a lot like doing drugs or alcohol. Everything you do makes sense while on these substances, but once you get off them you start to question what you could have possibly been thinking. Like how in the novel It, Beverly had to sleep with every boy in the group to protect them from the clown because….reasons…

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I just don’t think King is my thing. If you enjoy his work, good for you.

Regardless, I did watch the TV mini-series It when I was a kid and it scared the bejesus out of me. My best friend and I had to watch it while talking on the phone to draw strength from one another so we could watch the whole thing.

In hindsight, however, this movie is laughably awful. Especially after watching the Nostalgia Critic review of it. If you haven’t seen it already, I highly recommend it. No pun intended.

Nonetheless, upon seeing the trailer for the remake, I was pleasantly surprised.

It was genuinely eerie and atmospheric. Not to mention, it seems more grounded in reality than the original movie….

That is…until Pennywise shows up.

A lot of people are complaining that he doesn’t look like the way the novel described. I’m complaining because it seems as if the scares are meant solely for people who are scared of clowns. I am not afraid of clowns (in spite of King’s best efforts to scar my childhood) so it doesn’t do much for me.

But I think I may actually give this film a watch because it appears like they’re going for a Stranger Things-isque approach to the story. Rather than having them switch back and forth from adulthood to childhood, they’re telling the story solely from the perspective of the characters as children. Personally, I thought the adults were the weakest part of that movie, so I’m happy they are going with this instead.

I’m also glad they are keeping the 80s vibe in leu of pushing it to modern times. They are most likely, again, trying to cash in on the Stranger Things craze, but I’m personally fine with that. It just feels right to have it set in this time period. If something like this happened in 2017, it would probably be a bunch of kids trying to film the clown on their iPhones to become internet famous. Not to mention today’s helicopter-parents would never allow children to play outside by themselves when there’s clearly a murderer on the loose.

Overall this movie looks miles better than the original.

I don’t think it’ll be a cinematic masterpiece by any means, nevertheless, I think it should be given a chance.

Who knows? Maybe this will be the one that makes balloons scary.

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