weirdbook

In other news, I had two new stories published in June.

The first, after a long wait with many dramatic turns, is “The Bones”, which appeared in Weirdbook # 41. I get to share a TOC with such talented fellow authors as C.M Muller, S.L. Edwards, Darrell Schweitzer, and the poets Ashley Dioses and K.A. Opperman.

weirdbookThe second is the flash piece “A Winter’s Tale”, in the anthology Itty Bitty Writing Space. There I share the pages with one hundred and three other contributors of very short stories, including Gregg Chamberlain, James, Dorr, Joanna Hoyt, and Russell Smeaton.

Both Weirdbook and Itty Bitty Writing Space make fine additions to a summer reading list–and will help tide us all over until I can report on several autumn releases.

The best of the bunch

Stranger Things 3, which dropped on the 4th of July, turned out to be a letdown for me. It lacks the charming nostalgia and sure hand of the earlier seasons. While the show did pick up steam by the fourth episode, I think overall this season is the weakest of them all.

The episodes are wildly uneven in tone, and don’t seem to know who the adult characters are supposed to be. They are demoted to cartoons, mugging for the camera and overacting all over the screen, only occasionally coming into focus. Especially egregious, to me, was the waste of talent in casting Cary Elwes as the evil mayor just to have him chew up the scenery.

The younger characters are handled with much more nuance. They have matured, and for the most part behave naturally (although in one scene, Mike is so blatantly mouthy toward Hopper I’m surprised he didn’t get smacked into next week). The Steve/Dustin friendship dynamic is wonderful, and I would joyfully watch a spinoff with just those two. As new characters go, Robin* is outstanding, as is (after a prickly start) Erica. 

Unfortunately, Stranger Things 3 seems like a money-grab to me, especially after the strong and satisfying arc of Season 2. While enough loose threads are left hanging for a fourth season, I truly hope they let Stranger Things lie. 

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Los Espookys, in all their glory

On a brighter note–while Stranger Things seems to have run its course, Los Espookys is just getting started.

Los Espookys is HBO’s new mostly-Spanish-language comedy about a group of Latin American friends who create horror effects for a living. It is a sweet, silly, delightful show. The small and talented cast includes Bernardo Velasco as the group’s cheerful leader, Renaldo; Julio Torres as Andrés, the wealthy heir to a chocolate empire; Cassandra Ciangherotti as Úrsula, the brains of the group; and Ana Fabrega as Úrsula’s simpleton sister, Tati. Fred Armisen plays a small but pivotal role as Renaldo’s Uncle Tico.

While the monsters and supernatural goings-on thus far are all stagecraft, there are hints of real spooky things happening, as well. Andrés displays some magical abilities that may or may not be real. The gorgeous host of a popular television program may be under a hypnotic spell. And the blonde party girl we meet in episode one seems to work for a mysterious government agency.

Los Espookys is not technically a horror comedy, but it plays one on TV. It is a thoroughly charming bit of silliness to help pass a hot summer night. 

 

*For some reason, I decided to rename Robin as April. She looks like an “April” to me, but the correction has been made.

Dead don't die

The Dead Don’t Die is nothing but delightful. Jim Jarmusch’s star-laden zombie flick is part homage, part send-up, and entirely, absurdly, hilariously meta. I laughed. A lot.

In addition to an amazing number of Romero references, Jarmusch infuses The Dead Don’t Die with bits of Phantasm, The Walking Dead, and even a healthy dose of Plan 9 From Outer Space. I’m sure I missed others, because many of the tropes he so pointedly played on are almost standard-issue for the movies he mocks.

***

The set-up is familiar: Man’s quest for cheap energy has knocked the earth off its axis. Terrible things are happening. The sun doesn’t set. Animals run away. The moon gives off strange rays. And the dead are up and walking around.

It’s a good thing that the people of Centerville know a zombie apocalypse when they see one.

***

In tribute to the low-budget zombie movies of yore, The Dead Don’t Die features low-tech zombie makeup, cheap special effects, and wonderfully stilted dialogue. It would be inaccurate to call many of the small details foreshadowing, since the film’s assumption is that the audience already knows how this story goes.

The cast certainly does.

The players are a mix of Jarmusch regulars and new faces along for the ride. Bill Murray and Adam Driver as most of Centerville’s police force step in and out of character seamlessly to discuss random details and bicker about the script. Tilda Swinton gleefully chews the scenery as a katana-wielding Scottish mortician. Tom Waits, Chloë Sevigny, the ever-quirky Steve Buscemi, Danny Glover, and Caleb Landry Jones back them up as assorted varieties of townsfolk. A slew of other famous and familiar actors round out the cast in smaller roles and in cameos–as zombies and their first victims.

***

From Tom Waits’s framing moral philosophy to Tilda Swinton’s extraordinarily pointless deus ex machina, The Dead Don’t Die delivers exactly what you would expect from a cheesy zombie movie, but with a wonderful awareness of its conventions.The actors, for the most part, play it straight–which only serves to exaggerate the irony of the dialogue and the deadpan inversion of predictable situations.

Despite decidedly mixed reviews, I found The Dead Don’t Die to be quite simply brilliant. It’s an affectionate take on a nearly tapped-out genre, delivered by people who seem to revel in the silliness. And that’s my kind of summer movie.

Creep Throat

Creep Throat: Sex Fables for the Horny, Gloomy, and Unhinged, edited by Viorika La Vae, is a surprising, uneven, and entertaining little anthology. Its ten stories and single poem are a roller coaster of style and mood, with the stories ranging from simply goofy, to overwrought, to brilliant. There is a touch of cyberpunk, a hint of the gothic, and even a call-back to the slick pulp horror of the seventies and eighties. Taken together, they make for an unexpectedly engaging read.

***

My favorites here are:                                                                                          

“Lust and Death in 2045” by Melanie Sage Thibodeaux is a moody and evocative piece that firmly binds together sex and death in something that feels like one of the better indie horror movies. It’s gritty and brutal, conveying desperation and decay without being over the top.                               

“Gear Head” by Duane Pesice tells a sharp, hallucinogenic tale of the cybernetic skin trade. The descriptions are tactile and disorienting, the plot a stream of garbled consciousness. It is weird and wonderful, with the extra added uncertainty of what is experiencing who. 

“Lady Luck” by Eve Kerrigan and Ben Keefe reminded me, with its fast pace, glitzy setting, and snarky characterizations, of the cheesy beach books on spinner racks at the drugstore. I mean that with great fondness. The monster is wildly bizarre, while sex is background noise here–part of the set-up but not a big part of the resulting chaos.                                      

“At Lazio’s: A Tale of the Crawling Chaos” by Jayaprakash Satyamurthy is a variation on a classic tale of vampirism, beautifully told. The story ended up more or less where I thought it would, but was a joy to read with its terse, perfect descriptions and the lovely line, “…for me it’s about the kill, not the chase”.   

***

So, while the stories collected in Creep Throat weren’t always to my taste, overall the anthology is a solid read. The authors are a talented bunch, and there is a good balance between the ridiculous, the serious, and the sublime. I’d say it’s definitely worth a look.                                              

lurker in the lobby

Lurker in the Lobby: A Guide to the Cinema of H.P. Lovecraft is an older but still handy guide to the many attempts made at filming Lovecraft’s cosmically weird tales. Authors Andrew Migliore and John Strysik bring a fan’s enthusiasm to the project, producing an often unpolished but still joyful compendium of Lovecraftian media. They approach their subject from several different angles, and end up giving quite a rich experience to their readers.

***

Since Lurker in the Lobby dates from 2006, it serves primarily as an historical reference. But what a history! The authors cover all the major films to that point, from Quartermass to The Thing to Dagon, with many familiar and lesser-known movies in between.

And when seen through the right lens, Lovecraftian elements show up in many places you wouldn’t normally think to look. Unexpected additions to the movie list include The Trollenberg Terror (1958) with its giant crawling eyes, Uzumaki (2000), based on a horror manga, and The Maze (1953), about the classically subversive threat of hereditary evil.

The television show list is also surprising, with Lovecraftian themes and references showing up not just in the usual horror anthology series but in the Saturday morning cartoons, as well.

***

But while the capsule reviews of the movies and TV shows are great fun, the interviews end up slowing the book down. Guillermo del Toro, John Carpenter, Roger Corman, Jeffrey Coombs, and Bernie Wrightson are among the luminaries the Lurker spoke with, and their interest in Lovecraft and filmmaking is inspiring. But the overall tone of the interviews is uneven. The questions are fairly formulaic and not particularly probing. They end abruptly. And while many of the interviewees have long had an active interest in the source material, others are included only by the chance of having worked on an adaptation.

***

To round out their offerings, the authors include a picture gallery featuring art by Richard Corben, Mike Migliore, and Bernie Wrightson, a pretty thorough list of short Lovecraft adaptations, and an index of feature films listed by year and again by the story that provided the basis for them.

So while it is imperfect and rough around the edges, Lurker in the Lobby is still an essential read. It is an affectionate look at some of the many, many films and filmmakers inspired by Lovecraft, presented in a way that can only inspire more.

upstart crow

The last month went by fast.

I’m working on a few new stories, and waiting for the publication of several more. The near future should see my stories in Weirdbook and Vastarien, and in a couple of slightly-delayed anthologies.

***

In the meantime, though, I’ve been dabbling in a number of new and returning shows.

The big one is always going to be Game of Thrones. I was looking forward to the final season with joy and trepidation, and the first episode met my expectations. It was good to see Tormund again, and Arya, and Varys. But the exposition was so blunt it felt like a summary to me rather than an unfolding story. I hope it will smooth out a little on the way to its epic ending. (As a special added bonus, you might want to check out Upstart Crow on PBS, a sitcom about Shakespeare now in its third season. I only just realized that Gemma Whelan, the actress who plays Yara Greyjoy with such grim strength, is a regular on it and very, very funny.)

What We Do in the Shadows, on the other hand, has been consistently delightful over its first four episodes. The vampires, humans, and werewolves in the series are different characters than those in the movie. That was a small disappointment. The comfortable snark and deadpan awkwardness remains, though, and there is a steady supply of guest stars to liven things up. I highly recommend this one, even though FX is stringing it out week by week.

Black Summer came with many high recommendations, yet I was left completely unimpressed by it. In fact, I found the dialogue so weak I couldn’t even finish the first episode. The actual zombies were cool in a 28 Days Later sort of way, but an age-old question popped up almost immediately: How does a zombie with severely broken bones still run around as if nothing is structurally wrong?

To recover from that unhappy experience, I finally got around to watching Umbrella Academy. It is phenomenal–it looks beautiful, it pulls you in, it’s funny, it’s dark, and it’s cast is terrific. Especially Aidan Gallagher, who plays Number Five. He is wonderful.

***

With any luck, I’ll have more writing announcements soon. Until then, there is Netflix.

captain marvel

Captain Marvel’s reviews are all in, and the arguments for and against her are in full swing. I’m not going to get involved in either, really. I have my own thoughts on the latest entry in the MCU. My standard disclaimer is that I am not familiar with the original (or multiply retconned) comic book version of the character. So this is the best chance for Captain Marvel to make a good impression.

***

While it is formulaic (and really, what expensive studio blockbuster isn’t?), it’s no surprise that Captain Marvel ticked all the boxes for me. It has well-drawn and well-played characters, an exciting, nicely-paced plot, and an emotionally honest core.

As a film, Captain Marvel is not as epic as I was expecting, yet it is still satisfying enough. Despite all the excitement and hype around it, this is, after all, an origin story. I think origin stories are by their very nature lower-key–especially when they spread out to cover multiple origins. In addition to the transformation of Carol Danvers, we get to see Nick Fury’s initial inspiration for the Avengers, and are given a glimpse of the little girl who will also, someday, be Captain Marvel. And since the Marvel machine is nothing but efficient at connecting dots, we’ll get a heaping dose of epic to make up for anything we missed when Avengers: Endgame opens.

But epic isn’t actually enough. To me, the reason the Marvel movies work so well is the casting. It’s A-list all the way. Brie Larson brings a convincing sharp humor, insouciance, and and appropriate arrogance to her Carol Danvers– a woman who does difficult things well, and knows it. Lashana Lynch exudes the same capability and confidence in her role as Carol’s best friend, Maria. Annette Benning is a pleasure to watch as both a force of mercy and a means of control. Samuel L. Jackson continues to be his remarkable self, and Jude Law turns in another reliably sturdy performance.

***

This is one superhero movie that passes the Bedchel test with flying colors, with the story driven by the relationships between Danvers, Mar-Vell/Lawson, Rambeau, and Monica. It is refreshingly free of romantic subplots or flirtations, and allows its female characters to exist simply as people.

I’m not entirely comfortable with how much that stands out for me–because what does it say about all the other MCU films out there that I’ve also enjoyed?

Another response I didn’t expect to have is to wonder how well Carol Danvers will handle Captain Marvel’s immense power. Maybe it was the Dark Phoenix trailer that triggered my train of thought, but it strikes me that many of Marvel’s most powerful superheroes are haunted by psychological issues, as they struggle to balance their humanity against their almost god-like abilities. Scarlet Witch, multiple X-Men, even Wade Wilson all wrestle with it. Perhaps the arrogance that comes of being a highly-trained, highly- skilled Air Force test pilot (or highly-skilled surgeon, in the case of Doctor Strange) overrides the expected mortal weaknesses.

***

So, in summation: It made me think, but not about the storyline or, specifically, the characters. Not much new to see but well worth seeing, if only for the questions it raises outside the limits of the MCU.

Hidden Folk

C.M. Muller’s debut collection, Hidden Folk: Strange Stories, is an enjoyably weird read. The volume  contains twelve small, finely-tuned stories of lives slipping quietly out of control, even when the characters are sure they still have agency. The inhabitants of these stories range from preteen children to desperate mothers, from recent immigrants to young women to lonely old men. The overall mood is dark and subdued as the characters struggle with loneliness, loss, and their own irrelevance. And that mood lingers long after the book is closed.

***

Muller’s writing style in Hidden Folk is deliberate, dreamlike, and formal. He creates a distance between the characters and the reader that enhances the sense of disconnect and unbalance inherent in the tales. Because of this quality, many of the stories remind me fondly of Rod Serling’s measured prose and of Steve Rasnic Tem’s disorienting  shifts in circumstances.

Besides the overall voice and tone, Hidden Folk also contains some lovely, evocative  imagery. “For the past week, the ride home had begun in semidarkness and ended in pitch” and “A dwelling situated at the worst possible angle to the sun” can both stand as examples of the rich and compact descriptions scattered throughout the stories.

***

My personal favorites in the collection are these three:

“Absconsa Laterna”, in which a father inexplicably loses his son at–or to– a mysterious outdoor art installation.

“Resurfacing”, where an unusual construction project in a stagnant neighborhood opens up strange new options to our reclusive narrator.

And “Omzetten”, an epistolary tale of three young women on a European tour who make the ill-advised decision to visit a quaint, isolated old town just a short train ride away.

***

Hidden Folk is a fine reminder that the weird can be internal as easily as it is cosmic, and that fear can be as simple as familiar circumstances. I recommend it.

kingdom

My relationship with zombies is conflicted. I find the whole zombie genre fascinating, but also too scary to indulge in very often. I never could watch The Walking Dead. But Kingdom, the new South Korean series streaming on Netflix, definitely has my attention.

Set in Joseon Korea sometime in the later Middle Ages, Kingdom is as much a sweeping historical costume drama as a horror series. The zombies here are called simply “monsters”, and despite the medieval setting they are approached with scientific rigor. The reason they exist is known. Their capabilities are being observed and noted. Variations in how the infection is transmitted are recognized. And the race is on to find the cure before they overwhelm the nation.

***

Giving a new twist to the old saw “a fish rots from the head down”, Kingdom’s threat begins at the top with a weak king and a treacherous minister willing to use unnatural tactics to gain power. The first words spoken in the series are “You must never look inside His Majesty’s bedchamber,” and they serve as a warning of both the political consequences and the supernatural danger involved in disobeying. But what is inside soon escapes.

As so often happens, the poor bear the brunt of the suffering that follows. Starved by war and heavy taxation, the peasantry have resorted to cannibalism to simply survive– an act of desperation that allows a new disease to spread with terrifying speed. The noble classes think they can outrun the disease, or wall it away.

We all know how that goes.

kingdom
***

Kingdom is beautifully shot, with dramatic lighting and fierce action, serene architecture and monumental landscapes. It’s plot is elaborate, full of court intrigue, dynastic jockeying, and the scars of a recent war. The characters are well-acted and of all the familiar types, with a brave prince, a scheming nobleman, a loyal warrior, a smart and plucky woman, and a mysterious man drawn into the fray. And, of course, ravenous zombies. It is compelling stuff.

Kingdom’s first season ends, expectedly, in a cliffhanger. Season two is already in production. As long as the zombies don’t get too rotten, I’m ready.

Twice-told

I’m pleased to announce that my story “One Last Mile” will appear in Cthonic Matter’s new anthology Twice-Told; A Collection of Doubles, alongside twenty-one other tales of doppelgängers, twins, and disturbing duplicates.

Coming face to face with yourself can be comedy gold, but it is just as often an unsettling, unnatural thing. We are used to thinking of ourselves as unique individuals–which makes the idea of encountering our own double both fascinating and deeply creepy. Doppelgängers have long been harbingers of unhappy things. Twins are suspected of having opposite natures, one good and the other pure evil. Imposters steal our very identities for their own ends.

Twice-Told; A Collection of Doubles taps into this deep well of unease. And as you can see from the table of contents, my story and I are in some very fine company.

“The Last Salvador” — Tim Jeffreys
“Details That Would Otherwise Be Lost to Shadow” — Clint Smith
“Zwillingslied” — Patricia Lillie
“Static” — Chris Shearer
“Stuck With Me” — Shannon Lawrence
“The Fifth Set” — Charles Wilkinson
“Murder Song” — Craig Wallwork
“The Final Diagnosis of Doctor Lazare” — David Peak
“Endangered” — Jason A. Wyckoff
“The Half-Life of Plastic” — Esther Rose
“Eidetic” — Steve Rasnic Tem
“They Are Us (1964) : An Oral History” — Jack Lothian
“Birds of Passage” — Gordon B. White
“The Half-Souled Woman” — Nina Shepardson
“Released” — Timothy B. Dodd
“As With Alem” — Farah Rose Smith
“The Fall Guy” — Tom Johnstone
“Scordatura” — Jess Landry
“Stringless Puppetry” — C.C. Adams
“The Bath House” — Tim Major
“Picky Yunn” — J.C. Raye
“One Last Mile” — Erica Ruppert

Twice-Told; A Collection of Doubles will be released on February 22. You can pre-order your hard copy of the book here, or pre-order the kindle edition here.