Monthly Archives: July 2013

Review: “Tales Of H.P. Lovecraft,” selected & edited by Joyce Carol Oates

So, H.P. Lovecraft is one of those writers I have been meaning to try out but never seemed to get around to picking up. Well, I finally picked up a collection (****). The only one they had at my library, but it seems like a fairly decent introduction to his bibliography–all the stories I’ve heard of by name are in here, and the editor seems to be an expert in the field. Anyway, what finally gave me the required kick in the pants to pick this up is that I realized I was in the near future going to be reading (and thus reviewing) not one but two Lovecraft-inspired works: Alan Moore’s Neonomicon graphic novel and the Lovecraft tribute anthology Book Of Cthulhu II (I have tried and failed to find Book Of Cthulhu I, sadly to say). I realized that if I was going to be spending any time with these, I really ought to pick up the original source material and give it a look first.

The collection opens with The Outsider, a very short first-person tale about a man trapped from time immemorial in a dark and derelict castle striving to reach the light. We then transition to the equally short The Music Of Erich Zanntelling of a young French student who becomes obsessed with the weird music emanating from the rooms above him in his lodging house. The Rats In The Walls tells of a man returning to his long-abandoned family estate and determining to rebuild it in the face of local superstition and myth about the devilish and pagan practices of his ancestors on the site. The Shunned House details a young man’s investigation into a deserted Providence manor with an ill reputation. The Call Of Cthulhu is related as papers left behind by a Boston lawyer detailing his investigations (following and building on those of his deceased uncle) into a sinister cult. The Colour Out Of Space tells of a meteorite that struck an area of rural New England and the horror it visited on the nearby family farm. In The Dunwich Horror a degenerate New England family attempts to summon the Great Old Ones back into the world, and the surrounding countryside pays the price. In At The Mountains Of Madness an expedition to the Antarctic uncovers an unprecedented collection of preserved specimens from the beginning of life on Earth, as well as a ruined city that used to be populated by colonists from the stars. But they’re all dead now….right? The Shadow Over InnsmouthThe Shadow Out Of Time tells of an economics professor who suffers a strange case of amnesia that lasts for years. But is it really so simple as amnesia? Or has his body been taken over by something from another time or place?

I’m really not much of a horror aficionado, with Stephen King and Dean Koontz being my only consistent links to the genre–I would even debate the inclusion of most of Koontz’s work in that category, personally. I did find myself very much impressed with Lovecraft’s descriptive flair when it came to the settings of these tales though. I found The Rats In The Walls a very captivating story for some reason, possibly my personal fascination with what comes before recorded history and the exploration of those themes. I likewise very much enjoyed At The Mountains Of Madness, probably for the same reasons. A hardcore horror fan may not be all that impressed–I didn’t think this stuff was that scary, at least, though reading The Shadow Over Innsmouth right before a nap did trigger a doozy of a strange dream–but as literature Lovecraft’s prose is excellent and evocatively rendered.

Most of Lovecraft’s horror surrounds the unknown, the idea that humanity understands not even a fraction of the true nature of the world and the cosmos, and that to know what is truly out there is to go mad. His most famous body of work is the so-called Cthulhu Mythos, a number of stories all centering around a cult or variety of cults heralding the return of the Great Old Ones. In ages past, long before humanity walked the earth, the Great Old Ones came from the stars and built their kingdoms here. They walk the earth no longer, but wait beneath the waves, not dead but sleeping. Theirs is an existence without morality, founded on slaughter and orgy and excess, and one day they shall return and reclaim our world. Not all of Lovecraft’s stories are wrapped up in this mythos, but from what I can see they would not be inconsistent with it. Lovecraft’s world is more than large enough to accommodate the Great Old Ones on top of all his other horrors.

Lovecraft was a staunch atheist, and it has been suggested that his Cthulhu mythos is actually an anti-mythology, i.e. he wrote it as a tongue-in-cheek critique of religion. Christianity (and Islam, for that matter) postulates an eternal being that created all that exists, who may or may not (depending on your theology) keep watching and tweaking the world to his own ends. Lovecraft has undying Great Old Ones from the stars who accidentally introduce terrestrial life to the planet before their age ends and they sleep, someday rising again to reclaim the Earth. Identical? No. Offensive? Not really, so far as I’m concerned. But its easy to see where some English scholars draw their conclusions.

Content: This is not kid-friendly material, which would be obvious if you know anything of H.P. Lovecraft. He’s renown as the godfather of the modern Horror genre, after all. Mild language, including a cat named “Nigger-Man.” Some violence, occasionally quite evocatively rendered. Little to no sexual content, aside from the implication that in the years before one of the stories begins a young woman was forced by her father to allow one of the Great Old Ones to impregnate her and that the inhabitants of a certain town are mating with primordial fish creatures to allow them to live forever underwater. Some would consider certain elements of the stories “magic,” though I suspect Lovecraft himself would disagree.

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Review: Fringe (2008-2013 TV Series)

Created by: J.J. Abrams, Roberto Orci, & Alex Kurtzman.

“Endless Impossibilities.” That’s what Fringe (*****) offered, and that’s what it delivered for five straight seasons of programming. If you’re a longtime reader you know of my love for good science fiction, and this series did not disappoint. In fact, it was by far one of my absolute favorite series all the way through its run, and I recently worked through the entire series again so my wife could see it. She loved it as much as I did, so I can confidently tell you that its appeal goes beyond uber-geeks.

Fringe is the spiritual if not actual successor to The X-Files, which I am somewhat ashamed to admit I have not yet watched all the way through. (Cut me a little slack, I was way too little when it first started! It’s on my to-do list….) In fact, they briefly make reference to the old X-designation” as having been the FBI’s standard practice for dealing with unexplainable phenomena before Fringe Division was created. I’m pretty sure the two mythologies are incompatible, as aliens play little if any role in Fringe, but it was a fun moment nonetheless. Regardless of any ties between the two, the shows have a number of similarities including complicated mythologies. Instead of Scully and Mulder going rogue and investigating things their superiors would rather sweep under the rug, in Fringe the FBI has set up a whole division to investigate “the Pattern,” a series of unexplainable or “fringe” events that have been recently escalating in frequency. To this end, Agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) is assisted in her investigations by Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble), a proverbial mad scientist who doesn’t believe in the word “impossible”–or that there is any conundrum an acid trip won’t help him unravel. Walter is mentally and emotionally unstable for reasons it will be far more fun for you to discover yourself than for me to reveal to you here, and is only allowed out of the mental institution where he has lived for twenty years because his estranged son Peter (Joshua Jackson) has agreed to be responsible for him. Peter is a borderline-genius himself, and once conned his way into MIT–he even managed to get a couple papers published before he was found out. Secondary characters include Agent Astrid Farnsworth (Jasika Nicole), who usually gets stuck babysitting Walter in the lab; Agent Philip Broyles (Lance Reddick), the head of Fringe Division; Agent Charlie Francis (Kirk Acevedo), Dunham’s partner and friend; and Nina Sharp (Blair Brown), the CEO of the multi-national mega-company Massive Dynamic who always seems to know more than she’s telling (“What do we do here at Massive Dynamic? The better question is, what don’t we do…”). There are a score of wonderful guest appearances as well, from Jared Harris to the legendary Leonard Nimoy. I will also say that the quality of the acting is phenomenal, with several of the castmembers portraying multiple distinct versions of their characters (alternate universes, remember?)

When I watched through this series the first time, I was watching it as it was broadcast over a five-year period. I greatly enjoyed it, but you forget things after that long. Watching it through the second time, knowing where things were headed, I could see so much more depth and interconnectedness. The writers had to have the entire story arc of the show in mind from the beginning, because the entire plot of Season 5 is hinted at and rooted in an episode from Season 1! So watching it the second time and catching all the setup for later things was great. I do wish they would have had longer to set up their endgame–they were kind of forced to just jump into it by the threat of imminent cancelation–but overall it worked out well. Season 1 and to some degree Season 2 are mostly episodic case-of-the-week things, but gradually the show morphs into a serial adventure with most of the cases intimately connected. Major elements involve alternate universes and time travel, which I always find fun.

I jokingly say that one thing I wish they had explored was the origin of the giant floating letters that always set the scene during the show (see example. And no, its not mispelled, that’s how they spell it in the alternate universe….) Another thing I wish had been included was an explanation for how they always manage to get between New York and Boston so quickly. The show bends the laws of physics all the time–just acknowledge the fact and give us a throwaway line!

There are a number of comics based on the show. I reviewed one set of them here, but haven’t managed to get my hands on the rest. I’m a bit sad about this, as the others are by all accounts of a much higher quality than the mediocre ones I did manage to find….

Content: When this was broadcast it was rated TV-14, and I think that’s fair. The show can be fairly violent, and at times quite gruesome with the aftermath of whatever fringe event they are investigating. Mild language, typical for that rating slot. Occasional sexual content, nothing too explicit. This is more prevalent in the first couple episodes….I cynically atribute this to trying to draw people in and grab their attention. They do say sex sells…..

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Review: “Eviction Notice” by Robyn Wyrick

I received a free copy of Eviction Notice (*****) through the Goodreads FirstReads program with the understanding that I would review it after reading. This affects my review only in that I probably never would have read this book otherwise–not for any lack of interest, but since I typically buy used books (budgetary considerations) and this was self-published, I probably never would have seen a copy otherwise. In fact, because it is self-published, I’m including the link to the Kindle version on Amazon, which is currently only about $3. You probably won’t find another way to get ahold of the book, and I highly recommend finding a copy.

Things are not going well for Alice Able. She’s recently divorced, she’s broke and unemployed, and emotionally a wreck. She’s planning to end it all, until she discovers that all life on Earth is about to be destroyed unless she can stop it…. We start out with high school seniors Sarah, Jenny, Gary and Barnaby as they set out to pull off an epic senior prank. They settle for a crop circle, setting off the series of events chronicled here. Their crop circle coincidentally mirrors the one being used a couple thousand miles away as a landing beacon, causing a fateful delivery to go awry. As a result, intergalactic trader Aloon and his misfit crew, Scrap and Carl, are alarmed to discover that not only has their delivery failed to arrive but the resulting breach of their contract is punishable by death. In order to buy a grace period in which to attempt to locate their cargo, Aloon quickly claims Earth as his property and then uses it as his collateral. If his claim is found to be valid, all life on Earth will be evicted. Investigating this claim are Clayton and Tyler, two bureaucrats from the council. Seeing that the USA is the dominant power on the planet, that it is a democracy, and that Iowa is the first state to vote in an election, they decided that whoever is first on their voting registry must be the person in charge. (Makes sense, right?) Thus, they show up at Alice Able’s door to inform her of the situation and ask if she has any comment?

Across the board, I absolutely loved this book. It was incredibly funny, and Wyrick shows a definite flair for taking the stereotypical scenes from films in this vein and turning them on their head to make you laugh. That said, the beginning was a little flat for me. Wyrick takes a moment from the climax and just drops you in, then goes back to the beginning. Sometimes this would work, but in this case you don’t know any of the characters yet and it is just confusing. Add that to the lack of comedy in these opening bits, and you think you’re in for a mediocre Independence Day knock-off. Then the first couple chapters are a bit slow. After that it really picks up though, so much so that I ended up giving it five stars. The voice of the book is excellent, if initially a bit confusing. One of the characters, Sarah, acts as the narrator for the story. All well and good, but she isn’t directly involved in most of it–and would have no way of knowing some of the included details, such as characters’ inner thoughts–and so the format becomes third-person-omniscient with scattered episodes of first-person narration. I was initially confused, but I got over it. I certainly wouldn’t change anything, as the resulting voice is incredibly fun. You just have to purposefully not think about how the narrator knows certain things. Like I said, well worth the read!

Content: Pretty PG. Mild language, a little violence (sometimes comedic), little to no sexual content.

For more information, I link here to the book and author’s websites.

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