“Evil has only the power that we give it. I give you nothing. I take back. Starve. Starve. Starve” (291)

Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes
Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes

Ray Bradbury’s iconic October novel, Something Wicked This Way Comes, taps into the sadness and longing that lurks behind what frightens us. The roots of Bradbury’s novel lie in time’s inevitable passing, and the wanting of what we imagine is lost or out of reach. Boys long to become men and men to recapture their youth. They mourn the loss of what they have loved, and wish they could avoid those losses. While it is fine and natural to dream of such things, it is monstrous to try to alter the course of time to attain them. Some will always try, though. Something Wicked This Way Comes concerns itself with the trying, and the results.

Something Wicked This Way Comes’s story line is a simple thing. A mysterious carnival arrives in a small town at the end of October, and two boys, Will and Jim, with the help of Will’s father, resist temptation and destroy the threat. Even without the plot twists used to flesh out many novels Something Wicked This Way Comes is constantly in motion due to Bradbury’s liquid style. In many ways, Bradbury conjures the effect of stream of consciousness in his narrative, blending his characters’ thoughts with his own fluid expository prose: “So there they go, Jim running slower to stay with Will, Will running faster to stay with Jim, Jim breaking two windows in a haunted house because Will’s along, Will breaking one window instead of none, because Jim’s watching. God, how we get our fingers in each other’s clay. That’s friendship, each playing the potter to see what shapes we can make of the other” (20).

Bradbury identifies a sense of nostalgia that can be felt for the present as much as for the past. His characters know the world will change, that they will change, that goodbyes will be said and some may be permanent. Because of this, even though Something Wicked This Way Comes  begins with its protagonists Will and Jim at a point of transition, “Both touched toward fourteen; it almost trembled in their hands. And that was the October week when they grew up overnight, and were never so young any more…” (4), they are still learning all these lessons, and so are not the novel’s true heart. That role is filled by Will’s father, Charles Halloway.

Charles Halloway’s experiences of having reached middle age, of having married late and become a father late, all reflect the recurring themes of regret and hope, nostalgia and immediacy. When he muses, “How men envy and often hate these warm clocks, these wives, who know they will live forever…We men turn terribly mean, because we can’t hold onto the world or ourselves or anything. We are blind to continuity, all breaks down, falls, melts, stops, rots, or runs away” (63), he names and owns the vulnerabilities Bradbury’s carnival of  “autumn people” exploit.

“For some, autumn comes early, stays through life where October follows September and November touches October and then instead of December and Christ’s birth there is no Bethlehem Star, no rejoicing, but September comes again and old October and so on down the years, with no winter, spring, or revivifying summer…Such are the autumn people. Beware of them” (204)

Cooger & Dark and their carnival of freaks and outcasts play on nostalgia and manipulate the fear of change and loss. They are autumn people, always on the edge of dying. They are used up, worn out, ready to fade away. But they can’t. They won’t. They exist to hold on to their scrap of life, even if they can never enjoy it. Their existence is “perhaps only one of a running series of attempts to foster, encourage, preserve life in what was really nothing but a mortuary junkpile, rustflakes and dying coals that no wind could blow alight again” (281)

The Dark Carnival
The Dark Carnival

The characters that fall prey to Something Wicked This Way Comes’s autumn people let their fears of change overtake them, and they end up far from where they thought the carnival magic would return them. They find that being made young again is not the same as being young. Being made older does not earn any wisdom. Courting a way to stop these changes pulls them out of time, sets them loose with no moorings and no way back. Even Mr. Cooger, full partner in the carnival, is not protected: “there was the pink shiny Halloween mask of a small pretty boy’s face, but almost as if holes were cut where the eyes of Mr. Cooger shone out, old, old, eyes as bright as sharp blue stars and the light from those stars taking a million years to get here” (90).

Jim knows the danger yet can’t help but feel the pull of what the carnival promises. Fatherless, he wants to be a man, already. Will knows the danger, too, yet can’t see past the immediate threat to their friendship: “Together?…You looking down at me, Jim, and what’d we talk about, me with my pockets full of kite-string and marbles and frog-eyes, and you with nice clean empty pockets and making fun, is that what we’d talk, and you able to run faster and ditch me—“ (133). Both are still too young to see the full implications of growing up too fast, of peeling off their boyhood before they have had time to grow into their older selves.

Charles Halloway, however, understands. His desires and experiences, earned by having lived all his days,  humanize the philosophical resolution to Something Wicked This Way Comes. Mortality only haunts us if we fear to die, and by extension if we fear to live because it can only bring us closer to the end. If we let that fear rule us, what is the point of being at all? “The father hesitated only a moment. He felt the vague pain in his chest. If I run, he thought, what will happen? Is Death important? No. Everything that happens before Death is what counts. And we’ve done fine tonight. Even Death can’t spoil it. So, there went the boys…and why not…follow?” (306). This, then, is Something Wicked This Way Comes’s escape from crushing nostalgia and what might have been—this full embrace of now, with all its risks and all its hope.

E.A. Ruppert contributes book and media reviews for NerdGoblin.com.  Thanks for checking this out. To keep up with the latest NerdGoblin developments, please like us on Facebook , follow us on Twitter and Pinterest, and sign up for the NerdGoblin Newsletter.

And as always, please share your thoughts and opinions in the comments section!

Man lives in the sunlit world of what he believes to be reality. But… there is, unseen by most, an underworld, a place that is just as real, but not as brightly lit… a darkside.

October brings the chills, be they weather or words. Tales From the Darkside, a spooky anthology series created by George A. Romero as an offshoot of his horror anthology film Creepshow started appropriately enough on October 29, 1983. Romero put aside his zombies long enough to write the pilot episode, titled “Trick or Treat”.  From that promising start Tales From the Darkside went on to bring its own distinctive set of chills to ninety episodes over four seasons.

Tales From the Darkside, in first-run syndication from 1983-1988, was part of a great eighties revival of horror/weird anthology TV (some others were Monsters, Tales From the Crypt, Amazing Stories, and Tales of the Unexpected). The format lent itself to clever, twisted half-hour stories made on the cheap with low-tech special effects and great enthusiasm.

Tales From the Darkside--Trick or Treat!
Tales From the Darkside–Trick or Treat!

Romero’s pilot episode, “Trick or Treat”, was a morality tale that set the tone for the series. It is about a wealthy man who lends his money in exchange for IOUs and a chance to terrify the debtors’ children. Parents will be absolved of their debt if their children can find the IOU in the man’s monstrous Halloween haunted house. Then the real demons show up, and turn the tables on him.

In addition to being the executive producer, Romero wrote three more episodes for the series. He also invested in a wide range of other talent to keep the spirits high. Notable horror and science fiction authors who contributed screenplays or had their stories adapted for Tales From the Darkside episodes include Stephen King, Harlan Ellison, Michael Kube-McDowell (the Star Wars Black Fleet Crisis series), David Gerrold (“The Trouble With Tribbles”), Joseph Payne Brennan, Pamela Sargent, Frederick Pohl, Charles L. Grant, Robert Bloch (Psycho), Thomas F. Monteleone, Michael Bishop, and Clive Barker.

I watched this show religiously late on Saturday nights, scaring myself with anticipation as much as being scared by the stories. My two favorite episodes from Tales From the Darkside are:

From Season 1, “Levitation”, a moody piece based on the quietly frightening Joseph Payne Brennan story of the same name (and worth reading here). In it, a carnival demonstration of hypnotism and levitation goes terribly wrong when the magician dies in mid-act.

Tales From the Darkside--Halloween Candy
Tales From the Darkside–Halloween Candy

And from Season 2, “Halloween Candy”, a grotesque story of Halloween vengeance. A nasty old man, purposely cruel to trick-or-treaters, draws the attention of a small demon that terrorizes him until he dies of it. This is the episode I think of every year as Halloween rolls around.

Tales From the Darkside: The Movie was released in 1990. It continued the anthology tradition, and was able to ramp up the gore with better special effects. While Romero did not direct it, he contributed a screenplay based on Stephen King’s story, “The Cat From Hell”.

Talk of a series reboot has been drifting around for the past few years, but has never gained traction. The CW has most recently decided not to pursue it. A variety of cable networks are supposedly interested, but nothing has been confirmed. One can hope, or one can simply enjoy the scary treat that is the original Tales From the Darkside.

The darkside is always there, waiting for us to enter – waiting to enter us. Until next time, try to enjoy the daylight.

E.A. Ruppert contributes book and media reviews for NerdGoblin.com.  Thanks for checking this out. To keep up with the latest NerdGoblin developments, please like us on Facebook , follow us on Twitter and Pinterest, and sign up for the NerdGoblin Newsletter.

And as always, please share your thoughts and opinions in the comments section!

New York ComicCon 2015
New York ComicCon 2015

As Bill mentioned in the latest Nerdgoblin podcast , a few of us made a trip out to the 10th New York ComicCon this past Thursday. Now, the last con I attended featured bootlegged copies of Heavy Metal and Rocky Horror on VHS. It’s been awhile. Things have changed. Cons have gotten bigger, brighter, and more popular, and the NYCC is one of the biggest.

I dislike large crowds, so why not jump back in with the NYCC? I tagged along to take in as much of the sensory overload as I could process while our fearless leader worked hard documenting the event. Armed with some random advice from a few young veterans (The food is expensive and terrible! You’ll have to wait on line to get wristbands to buy ComicCon exclusives!), I waded into the fray.

As a fan without a specific focus, I did my best to show up with few preconceived expectations and a willingness to learn what the NYCC is all about. I had no real plan of attack, just a few events of interest I had made note of. I went on the lightest day for attendance, got there nice and early, and was pleased to find the line to enter moving quickly. Competent, friendly staff helped considerably. And by noon, the venue was packed.

NYCC Big characters, big crowds
NYCC Big characters, big crowds

There was an excellent vibe for a space that full of people. In spite of the omnipresent warnings that cosplay is not consent and a list of what constitutes harassment, the NYCC felt very safe. Everyone seemed to be happy to be there, united in a common cause.

Let’s face it. The con would not exist without the cosplay. The crowd was filled with multiple iterations of the Joker and Harley Quinn, Deadpool and Daenerys.  But some of the more memorable costumes I saw there were singularities. There was a gent dressed as multiple Johnny Depp characters (Jack Sparrow’s bandana, Tonto’s crow, Edward Scissorhand’s scissors, Willie Wonka’s coat, Hunter Thompson’s sunglasses…), the Weeping Angel, Cruella deVille, the Bride, Aquaman, and a two-year old Hulk complete with giant fists.

Since my planning was minimal, I spent the morning on the vendor floor and the afternoon in Empire Stage panels.

The vendor floor was huge. I was told to get swag, but was too overwhelmed by the sheer amount of swag available to make any rational decision about it. All I bought was a new set of dice (they are beautiful—marbled red with gold numbers). I took a few pictures, soaked up the atmosphere, and had a fantastically great time looking around. Then, on to the panels!

NYCC WoW booth
NYCC WoW booth

The Star Wars Rebels panel was the most professionally run of the three I saw, and served as a lead-in for the season two sneak previews later in the evening. The panelists were all pleasant and open, but Sarah Michelle Gellar was exceptional—warm, modest, and happy to be there for the fans.

The Walking Dead panel was a misfire. The only panelist to show up was Robert Kirkman (perhaps the promised other Special Guests were eaten on the way over?), and he was sorely lacking in the warmth and charm departments. But the room was packed, and we got a look at the cover art for issue #150 before Friday’s special screening of the show’s 6th season opener in Madison Square Garden.

The last, most anticipated, and most disappointing panel I stayed for was the Game of Thrones: Panel of Ice and Fire. The only complaints and dissatisfaction I heard from any fans was here, because of the mishandling of the audience. The participants were on point, and the panel started exactly on time, yet the waiting crowd was not let in until it had already begun. And unlike the earlier panels, staff was not available to make sure all the seats were filled—so there were empty seats scattered throughout and a mass of fans left standing at the back. The panelists were terrific, though. Natalie Dormer was sharp and witty even though she had spent the day doing photos and autographs. Keisha Castle-Hughes came across as very sweet, and Finn Jones seemed to be having a good time. Fan Q & A quickly devolved into variations on “So, if you could bring back one dead character…?”, but the three actors gave all the questions a fair shot.

NYCC Heading Home
NYCC Heading Home

There was still a night full of panels and screenings ahead, but I chose to head out while I was still coherent. There was so much to process. Even though I was ready to go I regretted not being able to come back the next day. I missed more than I saw, and I had enough of a taste to want more.

As to the things I learned about attending the NYCC (which fit with what A.J. Hernandez learned here ):

  • There are lots of giveaway items available from the big vendors.
  • If I had talked to more people there, I would have gotten more pics and free swag.
  • The Javits Center knows what it’s doing.
  • I won’t pack so much food and other stuff–it gets heavy quickly.
  • I need to allow at least two days for the con. There’s too much just to see, never mind the panels.

I inadvertently skipped Artists’ Alley entirely (and Danielle Frazetta with it), and only gave a cursory glance to the book vendors and authors (I know, I know). There was not enough time to hit any of the off-site offerings, either. And never mind the weekend events.

So, next year, I’m going back with a better game plan, some experience—and in costume. See you there!

E.A. Ruppert contributes book and media reviews for NerdGoblin.com.  Thanks for checking this out. To keep up with the latest NerdGoblin developments, please like us on Facebook , follow us on Twitter, and sign up for the NerdGoblin Newsletter.

And as always, please share your thoughts and opinions in the comments section!

Pontypool changes zombies
Pontypool changes zombies

With The Walking Dead’s new season on the horizon and its prequel gaining steam, it’s only natural to have zombies on the brain. But the undead come in many forms and from many causes, some of which are less obvious than an infected bite. In Tony Burgess’s Pontypool Changes Everything the danger of zombiehood comes though the corruption and failure of language.

“The virus bit wildly at the exterior shimmer of the paradigms, jamming selection with pointed double fangs. A terrible squealing ripped beneath the surface of the paradigms as they were destroyed” (148)

Pontypool Changes Everything is an unusual entry in the zombie novel field, not only because of its premise. Tony Burgess creates a great deal of mayhem without splattering everything in sight, and relies on a dreamlike narration style using a series of unstable, infected, or damaged-beyond-repair narrators. His prose is slippery and surreal. Words flow, although they are not often the words one would expect—but Burgess still imparts a certain lyrical sense. “The anonymous wind gathers its speed in turns around a cannon bone and tears across the ice of a frozen pool. It feels the behavior of more famous systems and is consumed by the complexity of its origins, breaking into mad daggers and splintering into the phantoms of horses” (13). Much of the novel reads almost as a prose poem rather than straight prose. It is at once a challenge and an exceptionally well-developed means of creating the proper atmosphere.

Which is not to say that Burgess always shies away from stating things plainly:

“He grows alarmed and, moving closer to the figure on the ice, notices blood spreading out from its face. Leaning over the body he sees that, in fact, there is very little face left. By the aggression of the act and the senseless snatch of missing face, of missing life, Les knows that a human being has done this” (22).

He allows his characters to know what a zombie is, and to recognize one when they see it. It doesn’t help them, but at least they know what they are facing.

Burgess is unclear about whether or not these zombies must die before they change—in one instance a zombie dies and immediately comes back, in another Burgess describes how a zombie’s heart stops and it dies for good. And here, “a zombie that has been lost in the woods for almost a week is lying face down on a long bed of ferns…this creature uses up its last tiny breath and passes, imperceptibly, from living thing to dead thing” (216). Pontypool’s human characters also use “zombie” and “cannibal” interchangeably, constantly blurring the line between the living and the dead. Burgess makes frequent note of the normal background of human violence that goes on despite a zombie plague in progress, much of it committed by his chosen narrators. Normal humans, Pontypool reminds us, can be a dangerous and unstable lot.

Pontypool changes Ontario
Pontypool changes Ontario

Burgess taps into the alienation of zombiehood in his description of the infection’s onset: “The first thing he says, as a man with a disease, is also his first symptom: ’How is the part I get for?’” (36). It is reminiscent of dementia, and as uncomfortable to witness, or endure. These zombies sink first into the despairing state of being unable to communicate. “There is nothing detectably wrong with his thoughts; however, he has struggled all afternoon with a strange inability to control the words he uses” (44). The lack of connection eats away at the poor afflicted creatures, caught in the state between human and zombie.

Eventually, the meaning of their language is lost entirely, and the zombies can only bleat what they hear in a macabre twist on the myth of Echo and Narcissus:

“Over the roof where the sky lets the house pass into the front yard, four men with rifles surround two full-blown zombies. The soldiers look up, spooked by the voice calling Helen coming in over their heads. The zombies echo the voice in words they bark at the soldiers: ‘Helen!’ ‘Hello!’ ‘Help!’ They are agitated by the alliteration and their barks become frenzied: ‘Helly!’ ‘Hello!’ ‘Helen!’ ‘Hessy!’” (69).

Zombies are a staple of horror, now, as ravenous aggressors. But they used to be much sadder creatures, slaves to terrible masters, without agency, free-will, or desires of their own. They were not even driven by hunger. They existed only to obey. Burgess’s afflicted zombies incorporate some of that previous hopelessness into their more familiar violence. His monsters first must be alienated, cut off from each other by the inability to communicate, before they lapse into monstrosity: “…The plague first manifests itself in the infected person as a kind of déjà vu, with an accompanying aphasia” (148); “The person would eventually slip into a depression and exhibit ghastly physical symptoms…This usually marked the end of the person’s exile from the living” (149). It is indistinct whether death marks the turning point, but it is clear that turn, they do.

Saturn Devouring His Son--Goya
Saturn Devouring His Son–Goya

With language’s ability to carry reliable, recognizable meaning corrupted, “The patients at this advanced stage turn into violent zombies. Cannibals. They knock people to the ground and bite away at their mouths. They devour skin and flesh, throat and tongue. Finally both…are destroyed by a single violent whip of the head that breaks their necks” (149)

There is something inescapably lonely in Pontypool’s difficult tale of zombie-induced social chaos. To be infected is to be cut off from each other. To survive is to cut oneself off from each other. The cleverness of the means of transmission cannot outweigh the despair of the outcome.  It is not because of the zombies. It is because of the isolation.

Pontypool Changes Everything is a sad story, told through the points of view of incredibly broken people. As the narrators perish in turn, Burgess becomes more concrete in his descriptions of the disease and its eventual outcomes. His almost-closing chapters are structured as a litany of government and community reaction to the crisis:  “To combat contagion all form of communication is banned. Speaking, listening, reading, even sign language are punishable at the brute discretion of Ontario’s own licensed assassins” (254). Interspersed with the zombie carnage are snapshots of ordinary human depravity, some of it opportunistic, all of it lost in the reactionary confusion. The outcome is severe: “By January, the population of Ontario is only two thirds of what it was, and there are no zombies left alive” (261).

This is much the same proportion of people lost to the Black Plague in the fourteenth century. It is a shock to the system, and enough to shift the pattern of society. By that standard, Pontypool does change everything.

E.A. Ruppert contributes book and media reviews for NerdGoblin.com.  Thanks for checking this out. To keep up with the latest NerdGoblin developments, please like us on Facebook , follow us on Twitter and Pinterest, and sign up for the NerdGoblin Newsletter.

And as always, please share your thoughts and opinions in the comments section!