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Author of queer, wry sci fi/fantasy books. On Amazon.
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Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Breaking News: Official Preview of The New Anthology


Hello hello!

Well, it's official...I'm putting out a story collection on December 21st. ARE YOU EXCITED YET? YOU SHOULD BE! I definitely am. Cover art still needs to get designed, unfortunately, but I have only two stories--one long and one short--to finish for this collection. And guess what? Because I love you all so much, you get to read the first story in the as-yet-untitled anthology! Please make sure you share this one, if you like it.

*****

THE GRAIN

I’m not sure exactly when it started, the dreams that I would get lost in. I do remember the first night, but I couldn’t tell you how old I was, exactly. There was a sensation like going down a slide, feet up and head down. Sleep rushed over me, not settling like a warm bird but flying over me, faster than I could understand it.

I rose from a pool of mercury, which clung to my limbs and stuck to my skin as I lifted myself. I was wearing something white and flowing, cool and slick on the skin. To my faint surprise, it was not wet where the sticky, shining metallic stuff had been covering it only moments before. It seemed to be a sort of cavern. The light was grey, dim, cool and distant.

This is how I began to chase the dreams around, following them through caverns. Each night I’d take a different path from the pool, rushing headlong through a stalactite archway and into another world. I saw wonders and I saw terrors. Rabbits with the legs of spiders bursting through their sides, pets that transformed from sweet distractions to slavering, clicking monsters after a single touch. Flowers that were made of tiny dancing ladies, capering in silk and the remains of butterflies. Buildings that shifted and walked like men, pausing to converse with each other as they walked through cities on the road. A city in the desert where they traded dreams instead of money.

Deep in the desert, there are cities where men sell dreams and memories. Sell is not the right word, perhaps. Memories are the currency. A shared but ordinary memory, told well, is the price of a healthy cow; a brief anecdote, ac chicken. For the knowledge and private things, skills are traded; items change hands, and market stalls empty.

Such memories have a fine face value, if told well, but if brief or ill-described, fetch small sums. There are women of fine repute whose descriptions beggared princes, and men whose fine plays set the nations at war and furnished their armies, as well.

Yet still more precious than the memories, say the sage’s duty scrolls, are the dreams. The scrolls dictate the way of life, and so it is. The dreams are coin of a different sort. Where a man might go an d work in a gold mine in exchange for a saucy tale, which he and his fellows could share in the city, dream currency is one that can be held, extracted. A memory flutters into the air and is used until it is shared, decreasing in value as it becomes more familiar. Dreams are a currency to be held.

A woman whose name was lost in time—only her sex remembered—was the first to hear the secret hum of the spheres and experiment with certain crystal alloy glasses. She taught her pupils, seeking the ones with moonstruck eyes and steady hands and ruthless souls, and they passed down their secret trade. To catch dreams and to make the equipment—the skills can be trained, but not taught. The precious clear headdresses and ornaments cupping the shaven skulls of every citizen collect only a few grains of dreams and each night, nearly microscopic granules.
Months or years would pass before the silvery grains had accumulated enough to be seen by the naked eye, and to be large enough to sell. The powdery grains had a look and flow like liquid silver, and in the finest, secret corners of the markets, a few merchant-priests controlled the rituals concerning its trade.

Under the light of the bright moon, which lingered high and long in that cold-nighted place, lenses of dragonscale and amber could be used to magnify the worlds and wonders hidden in the grains. Up close, each apparently silvery grain was an uneven crystal, almost a tridecahedron, but its natural facets had been made by no jewelry. In their depths, each one threw off its own light in a dozen colors. At a fine enough magnification, horrors and wonders, lascivious and foolish things flickered. Each moment, a shifting mass of concentrated lovely chaos would appear and dissipate.

Marvels they were, but even with its powers, a single grain was never bought alone. Those who came to buy and sell their dreams would inhale the powder for sweet and stranger sleep, sell it for fantastic stories or gold to the alchemists, or sprinkle dreams of certain kinds in the shoes of lovers and enemies. As the merchant-priests sorted dreams into approximate categories, alchemists and magicians waited outside or in lines, hoping for just enough of the dust to make their potions. Mixed with fenny seed and the breath of a phoenix, it granted invisibility; with the tears of a sea-turtle and five bright emeralds from a gryphon’s nest, finely powdered, it would cure any sickness, and—it was said—could bring back anyone even from the very brink of death. The necromancers used it with coals of the Pit for obscene things, to beguile demons for temporary service.


For a hundred hundred years, it was precious and respected as a thing to trade only in small quantities, delicately, with respect. A certain king came to power in the ten thousandth year of the cities’ existence. In centuries to follow, his name was struck from temples, archives, and monuments, and replaced only with a glyph for unspeakable cruelty. It was he that decided the cold-blooded and long-lived dream masters would be best at practicing their art if they had steady supplies of dream powder.
A suddenly revived tourist trade and many kidnappings followed. Ten thousand chained slaves, sleeping in the finest beds in the empire, were drugged to sleep, and dreamed en masse. With their priceless dust and an army of magic users, the king set out to grow their trade and conquer the neighboring cities outside the desert. Under the flame-eyed sun and cool moon, his armies marched, silent as the sand dunes and invisible, thanks to certain obscene preparations.

            I awoke in their dungeons, once or twice on my travels, chained to silk cushions and with slaves fanning me with ostrich plumes. I struggled and cried out, and the most delicate extract of belladonna and mandrake steeped in wine trickled down my throat, until I slept again. Dreaming again, dreaming within dreams, I awoke in my own life.

            So it was, nightly, for some days or weeks—perhaps centuries. I cannot tell. Once again I awoke as a soldier, panting and sweating in the desert, but moving soundless in formation behind the shields and shifts wrought by sorcerers. I remember our swords in the necks of citizens, dragging the children back with us to be trained in the somnatorium, for refined sleep, producing the most dreams. I remember every moment of their screaming, their delicate skin chafing in the cuffs, the blood they left behind them on the sand. I remember the point of my sword on their delicate birdlike throats. I remember inhaling just a little dream dust, just a grain or two, to quiet the screams in my head for the night. I remember the madness.
            I remember awakening in the palace far away the next night, in the cool south. Watching the vast spire-domed city from the highest minaret, where my dark-skinned and lovely people worked hard to create beautiful things, I wondered at the approaching army. There was no chance of a diplomatic marriage, but it would have failed anyway. War or sabotage were the only solutions, to keep my people from lying in their silk and twitching in sleep, dream-slaves to the conqueror. No magic was worth it, but his power was only swelling.

            Awakening again, no longer a fine dark princess with glorious curling hair and spider silk and gold on my limbs, I found myself a sorcerer, working with the dust, a few grains at a time. To mix the stuff into the mad king’s wine cup, swallowing it, a thing no-one was permitted to do—inhale a bit was powerful, a thousand times less, than to swallow even a grain…yet I slipped a little in my pocket before I mixed the rest for the king. When prepared, I brought it to the lady, whose body I had so recently borrowed. My silvery pools were far away, the dull daytime that night would pull me back from, as I watched her take the poison cup to the official envoy.

            And oh, had I only been a servant, the lowliest, at the surrender dinner, to witness what came. I know only of what happened after from a dream night as a nomad, finding one of the fallen pillars lying in the sand. The story was in characters our people had nearly lost, and yet I pieced together hints of the narrative hints of the dust. A hidden scrap of parchment, stained with something brown like blood and burned by fire, gave further hints, but refused to yield the details of its secrets.

            And so was the king’s downfall, through methods that were struck from history after, and their consequences. The terrible price was worthy, but oh, even the few historians who had written of the king spoke not of the consequences of the princess’ decision. Great and terrible things, waves of mercury and fire, armies of the dusty dead in their graves, horrors from beyond the stars coming to cut the world in two, were hinted at but not spoken of clearly.  The world was fire and darkness, but it must have gone away, for people still survived. And yet, the shadow on the horizon hinted that things were still there, lingering in the desert…turning from the pillar, I pulled my long-trunked and strange-legged mount, and turned from history.


And now, awake and far away from my silver caves, my moonlit deserts, I have brought a relic with me somehow. Dream dust. I have a good gram of the stuff, sparkling bright in my palm. It came with me in my pocket, I suppose; somehow it was beneath my pillow. I wonder what just a grain on the tip of my tongue would do? Just one? Just one…just one…just…here on my tongue…just one…       

*****

Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Don't miss any of the good kind of crazy. Find me on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and make sure you grab my books at Amazon, here and here. Don't forget to check back for short stories, more politics, analysis, scraps of science, and even some reviews. (And no, I haven't forgotten those extra reviews I promised you...they're coming, really. Cross my heart.) There will even be more interviews. This is your darling SciFiMagpie, over and out!


                              

Sunday, 25 November 2012

The New Apocalypse: An Interview with JC Eggleton, Author of Brookhaven

Hello hello!

Well, you have made your pilgrimage to my site once again, darling fans, and you're in for a treat. Tonight, I have an interview with JC Eggleton, author of the one and only Brookhaven. 

Brookhaven, book 1 of the Web of Fate series, can be bought here; and you really should buy it, now, as soon as you can.  It's dark, it kept me up with its waking nightmare world, and it's rather well-written. I can't tell you too much about the plot without giving things away. I will say, though, that it involves a crime plot in a small southern town, plenty of pitch-black humour, and a struggle for a man's soul--and that none of this goes in the directions you'd expect. So, without further ado, give a warm welcome to the warped and wonderful JC Eggleton!

*****

Q: Describe yourself in 20 words or less.

A: Mostly harmless.


Q: Tell us about your novel.
A: Brookhaven is the first novel in The Web of Fate, which at the moment is planned to be a twenty-seven book series. The plot focuses on two policemen using very different methods to solve the ritual murder of a local priest. While this goes on in the foreground, a dark god is operating in the background to drive people to murder and insanity. The story broadens in scope as it progresses, eventually exploring what can best be described as a corner of Hell.
Though billed as horror, it's strongly influenced by urban grit, fantasy, and science fiction. As the series progresses these influences are made more prevalent as a sprawling mythos is explored. My aim was to craft a modern mythology that draws inspiration from folklore, Jungian psychology, and quantum theory.



Submitted by the author. Again, you can buy this book here. It is just as scary as it looks. I loved it. 




Q: What, or who, inspired Marcus Dodd's character?
*****

A: Marcus Allan Dodd was sort of always there. I always saw him as an avatar of my own anger. He lacks the means to save the world so he makes do in any way he can and these ways are normally a tad ruthless. He looks at our society, with Honey Booboo and Jersey Shore on the tube, and sees a culture that's eating itself alive to kill the stupidity.

Q: "Brookhaven" is a fairly dystopic, dark novel, somewhat in the style of HP Lovecraft. What led to its darkness?

A: Like HP Lovecraft, I write what I dream and, also like Lovecraft, I dream dark. As a sufferer of Asberger's Syndrome, I've always seen myself as being on the outside looking in. No matter the situation, whether at home or work or school, I've never felt like I belonged. These feelings of alienation and loneliness tend to make me dream of exaggerated and monstrous caricatures of people that have malevolent intent. Being an outsider, you look at the world from a macroscopic view and wonder how any of these people think they're sane. That may sound arrogant, but honesty is my only virtue.


Q: Humanity: a) Ultimately evil, b) ultimately good, or c) other?

A: I choose c) other. Human beings are a balance of the animal and the divine. At one end of the spectrum, you have chaos and barbarism. At the other, you have order and law. Most people would say that there is no virtue in chaos but I don't think that's true. The animal is a creature of passion, capable of great violence but also great love. The divine is a creature of logic, a skilled protector of what it is to be human but is also devoid of compassion. Recently, a woman beat a man into a coma with a baseball bat. Open and shut case in a court of law, but she was avenging her ten year old daughter the man had raped. What she did was illegal, vigilantism, but was it wrong? Was she not justified in her actions? Logic would say no, compassion would say yes.
That's what separates humankind from the animals and what separates us from machines. One of my favorite books was A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, a true artist. The meaning of the title was lost in Stanley Kubrick's film, but Kubrick, though a phenomenal filmmaker, had a habit of missing the point (Ask Stephen King what he thought of The Shining). In In Burgess's work, he wrote that every man was capable of great horror and inspiring virtue. We are what we choose to be. We're not clockwork oranges, appearing alive on the outside but peel the skin away and observe the cogs and gears at work. I like to think there's more to us than simple good or evil.



Submitted by JC, picture of the author. This is definitely his 'scary' face.


Q: What do you plan to write or publish next?
A: I'm actually hard at work on the sequel to Brookhaven, The Red.

Q: Which foods do you absolutely hate?
A: Anything that comes from a box. Most of what we eat is about as nutritious as a strip of cardboard that's been soaking in grease and this makes me a sad panda.

Q: Where would you hide a body?
A: I've never been one to hide my mistakes. Weekend at Bernie's, anyone?
Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Don't miss any of the good kind of crazy. Find me on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr. Don't forget to check back for short stories, more politics, analysis, scraps of science, and even some reviews. (And no, I haven't forgotten those extra reviews I promised you...they're coming, really. Cross my heart.) There will even be more interviews. This is your darling SciFiMagpie, over and out!

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Finally: A Late Halloween Treat, "No Free Lunch"

Hello hello!
Well, I've been less reliable lately, but I hope you all still love me. I did promise that I would finally catch up with Halloween content. I still have some reviews of classic monster movies that I'd like to stick up, so hopefully those will be going up in the next week. I don't want to promise too much, because NaNoWriMo has been eating my time like a cat with the last can of his favorite wet food. The good news is...this means you can probably have a new book by December. I KNOW, RIGHT? So, stay tuned for more info about that!
The fun thing about the story that follows is that it's 'based on a true story'. This one is dedicated to Kim, Rebecca, Linda, Judy, and Malek, as well as the rest of you at the office (you know who you are). It was a pleasure working with you. Events were a bit different than this, and may have included less ghost, but we did, in fact, win the haunted cubicle contest with a house basically the same as the description below.
So, without further ado, I present a new short story written in the spirit of holiday frivolity--ladies, gentlemen, and others, I hope you enjoy "No Free Lunch".

*****

No Free Lunch

Sam adjusted the garbage bags in the far corner carefully. The time leading up to Halloween was seldom as nightmarish as the weeks before Christmas, but this year, the Haunted office decorations had been more intense than usual.
She had been wracking her brains for ideas. The other people on the admin team, Janet and Amrit especially, had had no idea what to do this year. The competition for a free lunch was fierce, and Sam’s nerves were frayed.
The already nightmarish mountains of paperclips around her desk seemed to grow by the minute. Flurries of sticky notes surrounded her like snow. The work was fast paced, and now, this; even the office supplies seemed to be mocking her, ganging up her... It had to be the stress of the season and her lack of sleep lately. Had to be. She rubbed her eyes and pulled some more tape from the roll. Alone in this empty cubicle, at least she didn’t have to stare at her desk, and at all the work that was waiting for her tomorrow.
The garbage bag fluttered in the air conditioning. The wall was covered, the window slide was covered, and the third side was blanketed in dark plastic, but the entrance was still waiting for her. Holding her torn garbage bag in one hand and groping for the top of the cubicle with the other, she stepped from the chair to the desk precariously. Doing this with help would have been better, but necessity was the mother of invention, and desperation, the mother of stupidity. Sam tried to cheer herself up with the thought of weeks off with pay if she ended up with a workplace injury. Thoughts of hyperbolically messy leg wounds and cracking her head open invaded her thoughts gorily. Sam decided that thinking about horribly broken limbs was inviting fate, and concentrated on her task.
Holding her breath, she pressed the masking taped edges to the ceiling and fumbled for the overlaps on the adjoining bag.
There, perfect. Now for the second layer, thought Sam. The walls and roof were now shrouded in darkness. Resenting that she was alone for the task, Sam worked her way around the second layer.
The bags covered evidence of the world outside the cubicle quite well, draping sleekly over the wrap-around, faux arborite desk. Everything was darkness, and even the sunlight through the blinds near the entrance couldn’t penetrate it.
With everything blocked off, Sam suddenly felt keenly aware of how alone she was.
Not a fax or printer beeped. Not a cell phone rang. Her own, charging back at the desk, was out of reach. She suddenly craved music, even footsteps, but apart from air conditioning and a faint sound of the light, there was only silence.
Sam shook her head. Come on, she thought. It’s just a haunted house. Cubicle. Not even a real haunted house. Just a friggin’ cubicle. Precariously, she reached up for the light and started taping the square halogen over. The red tissue paper fluttered in her fingertips. Resisting the masking tape almost playfully.
She overlapped three wide panels, and it was done. The shroud of darkness now had cherry-red lighting illuminating its shining surfaces. The sanguine gleam was as eerie as she’d hoped.
A rustle in the sealed walls made her startle. Just the air conditioner, she thought. Just the AC.
Sam decided not to think about horror movies. The idea of a beast lurking, unseen in the vents, coming out to maul homeless people and interns, waiting for a temp like her to be alone.
Silly, she thought. Don’t be a dumbass. A largish predator would leave dung and corpses. They’d smell it coming.
She giggled, cutting the silence. It sounded a little hysterical. Gathering her wits, she extracted the roll of ‘bloody gauze’ and the “caution” tape. Hanging the gauze from the doorway, she taped the yellow ‘danger’ emblazoned plastic strips at odd angles around the room. The plastic darkness was fluid angels and curves in the room subtly shifted in wrong ways.
Ignoring her shudders and the eerily rustling plastic, Sam looked through the bag of decorations. She hung the skeleton garlands and glow in the dark cotton webs on every surface, draping them eerily to make the most of the hidden corners.
The cubicle was small, but the plastic that sealed her from the outside world made it seem larger. Colder, too, and oddly cavernous.
Sam reached into the bag again and felt cold fingers. She yelped loudly. Extracting her shaking fingers, she peeked inside the bag. A severed hand, its stump and fingernails bloody reached up for her.
“Fucksticks!” It was just one of the decorations. She’d even seen it before. The house and her insomnia were getting to her. She prayed Amrit and Janet hadn’t bought anything else terrifying and unexpected. Janet’s suggestion of a scary office with piles of work everywhere was looking like a much better alternative to the hellfire and skeleton theme Amrit had pioneered.
As she strung up caged ghosts and dark-eyed skulls, Sam forced herself to think about clich├ęd, goofy horror movies.
She was wearing plain underwear, wasn’t blond or noticeably slutty…so far, so good for survival odds. Still, she thought, the idea of an office ghost, some poor idiot who’d had a heart attack in the waiting room or a vengeful file clerk who’d keeled over from boredom, seemed a little too realistic. Of course, thought, Sam, it might be a more sinister creature…
The empty eyes of plastic skulls burned hollowly into her back as she contemplated the possibilities. Perhaps a lady ghost with trailing tangled hair, flowing like ink, coming to avenge herself on the world? Or a shambling monster, lurking near some rift in time and space, waiting for some accidental conjunction to let it tear into the real world? Visions of long claws, grinning teeth, and burning eyes crept through her mind.
You’ll drive yourself crazy, she reprimanded herself. Sam felt cold, not just because of the AC, which was on over-drive. The silence of the office and her enclosed space weighed down on her.
Okay, she thought, time to treat things as a comedy. If a ghost does show up, how do I handle it?
With shaking fingers, she adjusted the recording in a hidden corner. The screams, moans, and sounds of howling wind were underlaid with the music from “Thriller”. It was a surprisingly creepy combination. A particularly agonized moan made her jump, and she found herself giggling hysterically.
The room was cold and covered in decorations. When something snagged on her ankle, she shook it, expecting to dislodge the garland. It didn’t budge.
Sam knelt down to look and found herself staring into a white face with glowing sockets and emaciated features. It opened its mouth and cackled. Sam kicked the animated zombie’s face in annoyance before remembering that it belonged to Amrit.
Feeling foolish, she checked it for damage. One of the arms had gotten caught around her leg, tangled with a garland. Huffing in frustration, she extricated herself. It hadn’t been her imagination that it seemed dark; the lights in the reception room were half out. The sound track of moans from the digital recorder jarred her nerves further. Then, all at once, there was a yowl from a different direction, startling her.
She stomped out to reception and put her most patient smile on.
There was an ectoplasmic horror clawing at the glass barrier and moaning.
Years in admin had trained her well.
“Can I help you?” she blurted out.
The apparition pawed at the glass again, its sinewy, translucent fingers leaving a glowing trail on the glass.
Sam thought quickly. Sam wondered if she should duck out of the way, and considered that the ghost would likely follow her.        The black eyes held a faint white spark at their centres, like a pupil, glowing in an unholy way.
Sam forced herself to breathe. Her heart was trembling like a moth trapped in a lamp.
Either it was the best costume she’d ever seen, or a bona fide apparition. It moaned again. Admin face, she thought to herself. Put your secretary face on.
She carefully scrawled the emergency number on a post it. “I’m sorry, but I can’t quite make out what you’re saying. I’m afraid the office is normally closed right now.”She slipped the note under the glass. “Here’s an emergency line you can call, though. They’re available twenty four hours a day.”
The ghost moaned angrily and slammed itself against the glass. “I’ll have to ask you not to do that, or building security will need to escort you out, and I won’t be helping you today.”
The specter became quiescent, and groaned quietly as it backed away. 
I can’t believe that worked. “Thank you. What did you need help with?”
The ghost moaned and gestured vaguely, its words incoherent.
I’m sorry, perhaps you could…here’s a note bad, will that work?”
The hollow eyes met hers as the specter nodded mournfully. Its skull shimmered for a moment as it stared at the note pad.
"Oh, there’s a pen to your left…”
With a forefinger, it traced a few letters shakily on the paper.
Lonely. Need job.
“We don’t really, ah provide employment services after hours, we’re more about basic needs…y9ou can come back for counseling in the day time, though…”
The ghost growled and gestured to its right. Behind the wall was her haunted cubicle.
Sam got a very bad, very good idea.
“The haunted office?”
The ghost peered at her. Its cadaverous, flowing features looked hopeful.
“Promise not to steal our souls or otherwise open doorways to hell> I am ram not allowed to let clients back there and I definitely don’t think they allow demons.”
The ghost yowled indignantly and gestured to the tattered remains of an ID lanyard around its neck.
“If you’re an employee, I guess…that’s fine? Okay, I’ll let you in,” said Sam, “but you have to stay in the haunted cubicle until the judges get here tomorrow morning. “
The apparition flickered out. Sam blinked several times, still not convinced that she hadn’t fallen asleep at the desk at some point.
She heard the door beep, and there was a sudden gust of cold air as the door shook on its hinges. She yelped, involuntarily. The lights flickered back on, all at once.
Sam shook her head. Well, it had to have been a dream or something like that. Sleep deprivation did that, didn’t it? Made you hallucinate? Suddenly, the whole office seemed happier, brighter, and so was Sam, as she considered the completed office. Loaded with candy and surprises, it was sure to land them a lunch. She sighed, feeling relief that her nightmare hadn’t been about evil paperclips, and finally headed home.
The next day at the Tulip and Sceptre, Amrit and Janet were discussing their great success in the cubicle project.
“I have to admit, I love what you did with my ideas, said Amrit, beaming. “II mean, seriously, it was awesome! They really screamed in there!”
Hand to be the music, Janet asserted proudly. "And the candy helped. We had the best house though. No competition whatsoever.”
Sam smiled at them and bit into the salad, enjoying her free lunch. “Something like that. Something, she thought.
Amrit sighed. “I wish they’d let us keep the cubicle up year round. It’ll be so empty when we take things down.”
Sam kept her face neutral as she set down her fork. “I dunno,” she managed. “I think it’s less empty than it looks. I…I’ll be right back.”
Janet and Amrit made sure to put up pictures before they took down the house and the garbage bags, but the sadness of tearing it down seemed even more overwhelming than they’d expected it to be. Amrit mentioned to Sam that the cubicle seemed less empty than she’d thought, even without the decorations, and Sam had only excused herself, laughing.
Janet was especially puzzled by the ragged ID tag she found under the desk, weeks later, after Sam had left for her next placement. The face was scratched away, the name illegible, but it seemed familiar. The pipes overhead rattled, and a stray moan cut the air.
"Can it, Larry,” snapped Janet irritably. “I want to go home. Save your antics for the next temp.” A sad moan trailed through the air.
“It’s okay, buddy. We fooled her good. Same time next year?”

Fin.

*****

Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Don't miss any of the good kind of crazy. Find me on Twitter, Facebook, and on Tumblr. Don't forget to check back for short stories, more politics, analysis, scraps of science, and even some reviews. This is your darling SciFiMagpie, over and out!

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Breaking Yawn: How to Fix The Twilight Series

Hello, hello!

Today, we touch on a dark topic, one that has evoked the strongest of feelings for the last handful of years. For some, they are feelings of love, frenzied adoration, and longing; for others, passionate hatred and disgust. And for still others, they are feelings of pain in the lungs and abdomen after laughing too hard. I speak, of course, of that literary abortion, Twlight.

After perusing that pre-eminent page of perlustration, Reasoning with Vampires, I remembered something I'd conceived earlier in the year. Unlike Bella's demon-child abomination, this conception had some merit to it. Bear with me, here; I managed to find a sensible theme in Twilight as a series. It's a remote possibility, but it may be that Stephanie Meyer is smarter than she looks, and has thrown all of us for a loop. Twilight, you see, can be read as a heavily allegorical American fable about the downfall of the economy and the world today.

Oh, there's my monacle. Right, then.


Thanks, Leonhart! Not sure if subtle acting, to be perfectly true to book...or showcase of incompetence...


Bella: Airheaded and abstracted, her depressed state is a mainstay of the books. She is detached from the world around her, and even from the boy she mentions as an object of obsession. This is a fine representation of the current state of the youth of America. Disenfranchised, they pay lip service to ideals that are fading fast in the glare of modernization and a new world. Forks is represented as an old-fashioned town, where the modern young Bella is adrift--even though its inhabitants purport to be friendly, her poor self-esteem causes her to distrust and reject them. Her immersion in old-fashioned literature is remarkable for her lack of absorption and connection with it. In spite of being able to name-check many fine authors, she passes over them as if their work has had no effect on her, no emotional resonance. She becomes obsessed by a thing she seems to hate...that is...

Edward: He is clearly an embodiment of the American dream: to be rich, coming from a balanced and wealthy family, and envied by all. He is physically perfect, but not tame, still wild and independent: a perfect American hero as much as a Byronic hero. He is a cowboy-like Lone Star figure who cannot be captured without sacrifice. His vampirism represents the way this dream is sucking the life out of the youth of America, who cannot escape it and are oppressed by their obsession with it. He even sparkles, not unlike the glittering hopes of the nation. His arrogance, entitlement, and infuriatingly superior personality keep him out of reach, while his form and figure are described as the glass of fashion and as 'angelic'. Need I mention the hint of Lucifer-like characterization in this literally "dazzling" love interest? Add, too, his moral stances, romanticised chastity, and Christian beliefs; and clearly we see Meyer's attempts to show the allure of bygone principles.

Jacob: With his doglike aspect and the subordination he is subject to, is a representation of both First Nations people and the family. His heritage is heavily emphasized in the series, as is the conflict between his people and the American Dream team. He is constantly oppressed by the American dream and shunted to the side by society. Bella, representing the youth of America, finds him appealing and relateable, but ultimately dismisses his devotion and affection as uninteresting. (She frequently discards adoration from others in the same way, illustrating her alienation further.) This has actually happened in 'real America'; consider the cultural appropriation by hipsters of First Nations art and symbolism for aesthetic reasons. Consider, too, that other non-whites become white when they are made into vampires; Jacob, unable and unwilling to assimilate, must be conquered another way. He eventually is subservient to Bella and Edward, and is assimilated in this fashion. This is shown by the way he falls in love with their child, whom he is willing to care for even if she can't return it as romantic love.

Ultimately, though, the pursuit of absolute happiness is an ideal that is more destructive than hopeful. Bella herself becomes a vampire in the end, after much debate. Her struggle is unhindered by her parents, remnants of the unsuccessful older generation who long to capture the dream themselves. Still, she debates with herself, endlessly tortured--is it worth giving up everything she knows to chase a dream? It seems blessed by god, and sure to bring her immortality, but what is its price? When she withdraws from the world and bears a child, she dies. Clearly, bringing a dream into reality is painful, and often more destructive than it is creative. Edward himself is disgusted by the child and considers it an abomination. After the birth, Bella becomes one with her dream, and in doing so, loses everything. She has become a part of the American Dream, but at the cost of her own destruction.

...Either it was the most subtle metaphor ever, or it was just an over-rated piece of racist, heteronormative, misogynistic crap. I can dream, but ultimately, there is no way (I hope) that Meyer intended all those levels of subtext.


Source. Thank you, Reasoning with Vampires. Dana, you give the best relationship advice!


I did mention fixing the series, though, implying that apart from my rather dark and hopeless reading of the themes, it would be possible to salvage this pile of soppy, overly emotional dreck. After a late-night ponder with the boyfriend, I found some actual solutions.

1) Good Editing: I'm only going to mention the soul-destroying, hilariously awful writing of Meyers for a moment, because it's been done elsewhere. And done again, brilliantly. Still, the writing is really abominable on a mechanical level. Cut out the excessive descriptors and go all Wuthering Heights up in this bitch, and you'd get some very interesting results. That novel, by the way, is characterized by really good descriptions of weather and terrain. Not only are they exceptionally skilful, they advance the plot, augmenting it like a small diamond set next to a larger gem. Take note, aspiring writers; your descriptions can be useful, instead of so much literary fapping.

2) MOAR DARKNESS!: Cut out the crap about her boring family, the kids at school, and the Cullens, or make it darker. Bella is already mopey...give the bitch something to mope about, and something to fear! Give the enormous cast of minor characters some genuine characterization, and make it sinister. Forks is too innocent and boring, and it could use some shadows. Hell, even a few cheesy ghost legends would help a bit. No one, especially Bella, ever seems to have had anything at stake, and the worse things that have happened are a slightly sad divorce and a car accident. More blood and guts, please, with a side of trauma. Make it painful. There is a bit of gore, sure, and the whole 'my boyfriend may eat me and not in a fun way' thing, but the fact that Edward is abusive is far more frightening than his vampirism. That is not good.

3) The Love Interests Need to be Monstrous: imagine a world in which vampires don't sparkle, they kill. Yes, I know, it's Anne Rice's territory, but her work is bogged down by pornographic details. Emphasizing the Draculean monstrosity of Edward's hunger and personal magnetism would have made for a much more interesting struggle. Jacob, too, should have done more slavering and less whining and cringing. A little more horror--other than the horror of all of those superfluous commas and dashes--would have done the job so nicely. As it is, the stalking, obsession, and threats of danger are often hilarious and disturbing rather than really frightening. Instead of being swept up by her love, intelligent readers worry for Bella's mental health, as much as it's possible to worry about such a despicable character.

4) Bella Sucks: Bella, of course, is a monster for different reasons, but if she had had her naivety abused by Edward and Jacob, it would've been a very different story. Her jaded, strained, depressed persona would have to go, obviously. or else it would have to be contrasted with some genuinely likeable traits. Give her a history of abuse, or at least a reason to be such a tough, emotionally resistant broad. A dose of tomboyishness would work, for instance. She hates everyone, and they like her in spite of it; any analysis of her character reveals a frighteningly warped personality. Instead of acting as though her stupidity and meanness are normal...why not worth around these traits? Bella lacks self-awareness even more than she lacks self-esteem, and that's saying something. Granted, she's a teenager, but even the most difficult teenagers have not inspired so much hatred. A harpoon gun to the face is the only thing that would improve Bella Swan at present, and there has to be a better way.

5) Atmosphere: Well, I have to give Meyer this much: she did a good job at establishing an atmosphere in spite of herself. Now, while I am tempted to regurgitate my supper at the mere admission that Meyer got something right, I have to underline this. The meteorological descriptions and scenery are, at heart, not too bad. The erotic tension in the book is also interesting, although the puritan approach to sex is a serious downfall. More sexytimes--less than Anne Rice, but more than what is currently shown--and more storms, with better descriptions, would have really enhanced the power of the setting and mood.

There's probably more that could be added here, but as entire blogs have been devoted to the subject, I'll leave my two cents here.

*****

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Sunday, 4 November 2012

"I Can Fix It!": Or, the Magpie's Continuing Kudos to Disney

Hello hello!

Well, I wasn't going to suck up to Disney on purpose. I have an ambivalent attitude towards the company. Sometimes they do things that are very, very right. At other times, they screw up and make 'Latina' characters look white. This time, though, they mostly did things right. Here is my fairly glowing review of "Wreck It Ralph."

Let's start with a couple of caveats.

First, this isn't going to be a plot-based review, it's going to be analytical. I know plenty of people are already flooding the internets with their opinions on this one, so I'll be contributing mine in the most unbiased fashion I can muster.

Second, there will probably be spoilers.

All right. Feel forwarned enough yet? Without further ado, get your geek on, and let's talk about Wreck It Ralph.

Part 1: Geek Wankage Supreme With Pac-Man's Cherries On Top (Literally)

This is pretty self-explanatory. An inherent strength and weakness of Wreck It Ralph is that it is unabashedly targeted to geeks and nerds. With its arcade-game theme, Disney is making no bones about its target audience. This one is for 'us', the geeks, and if you're not at least somewhat familiar with classic arcade games or arcade-style games, you're not going to enjoy this nearly as much. Thankfully, since most people have heard of Mario, Sonic, Pac-Man, Mortal Combat, and the various kill-the-aliens/zombies games, even international audiences are probably going to have something of an idea of what's being referenced. Still, this movie is firmly rooted in pop culture to an extent I'm not sure I've seen before, travelling the line between fan-fiction and homage in a tap-dancing sort of way. I really can't decide whether it was a good thing or a bad thing that it flagrantly played to geek knowledge bases. It exists as a sort of shrine to the place these games have in our consciousness, and I'm going to let the professionals and history weigh in on whether this is a good or bad thing. Keep in mind that the film was in development starting in the nineties, and was only released now. Clearly, times have changed enough for it to be really marketable, and that says something. What, I'm still working on.


Source. I live for Wiki, seriously.


Part 2: Equality Epic Win Time

Okay. Now that I've gotten my first reservation out of the way, let's talk about geek culture a bit. It's fairly egalitarian, but still pretty ethnocentric to 'white' North American culture (though this is definitely improving). The cast for this one is definitely lacking visible diversity, which annoyed me. (That said, the short before the film, "Paperman", actually had not-entirely-whitewashed design elements for the characters, which was a nice little detail.) Most of the classic characters--when they were human at all--tended to be white, which you can't do much about, but the 'amorphous blob' and background characters should have had it mixed up a bit more.

Okay. I've mentioned that, and now I can glow and gush about the feminism epic wins. I don't think I need to mention that Jane Lynch is amazing in this, and an absolute scene stealer. The cast is fairly equal in female/male casting proportions, it passes the Beschdel (two named women must talk to each other about something other than a man) very easily, and best of all, the 'external' character, the gamer who sees some of the action going on--is a little girl. The little red-headed girl wears pink and is equally comfortable playing Hero's Duty, Wreck It Ralph, and Sugar Rush. It's so satisfying to see a tiny change like that, something that reflects the world accurately. There was a tiny bit in which two fat male geeks were rude to her and excluded her from 'Sugar Rush', too, which made me wonder if it was an intentional stab at the sexism in gaming.

Part 3: We Can Has Moral Complexity

I just mentioned the Sgt. Calhoun character, and I will again. She bears a second look just to emphasize that she's an ass-kicking woman who isn't made into either a man (her metaphors are hilariously feminine, and she still has a heart) or a mom by the end of the movie. I can't even tell you how happy that made me. Like Vanillope, Calhoun is sassy, and we lose nothing by two witty women in our main cast. Throw in an unexpected romantic path, and you have yet another proof that yes, there is hope for Hollywood after all.

Vanellope von Schweetz is an equal triumph; Sarah Silverman is very Sarah Silverman-y, though, and it's hard to get past. Even without that, the fact remains that this movie has a character with a 'disability', who is almost explicitly treated as a 'special needs' person, and referred to as a 'glitch'. Sure, the glitch turns out to be a superpower, and we have to deduct a half-point for that. Still, the fact that Vanellope is bullied and excluded by the other girls in a very realistic way was actually surprisingly moving.

Finally, I'm going to mention that the eponymous character, Ralph, is the one and only character I've seen in an 'accepting your place in the world' movie who didn't make me want to stab my eyeballs out with forks. I can't really compliment John C. Reilly's performance enough, but the way he stays true to the character's hopefulness while giving Ralph both bitter anger and darkness is brilliant. As well, the candy-car smashing scene that makes Vanellope cry might be one of the saddest fucking things I've seen in a while. I admit it, I teared up in the theatre.


Source. This is actually less sad than what happens when Ralph lies to Vanellope and disappoints her. LESS SAD.

Conclusion: Prognosis is Positive

I said I was going to be balanced, but I have to admit, for its flaws, this movie really swept me up. Sure, it speaks to 'my' subculture, but it also has a really solid story. The Candy Rush set is delightfully rich and well-imagined, to the extent that I was craving candy for the rest of the night. The blended elements are strange and creative enough to make things work. They managed to make unusual, original characters work in a strangely fused world. It's somewhat bogged down by referentials, but it's such a love song to video games that the references really make the movie. I can nitpick further on the equality issues and the feminism, frankly, but the rest of the implementation was very solid. The pacing is excellent, and designs and lighting really fit. There is a lot of love in the small details of this movie. It's a solid 9 out of 10 stars/rings/coins/mushrooms in my book. Stop reading my blog and go buy a lizard-loving ticket, you electric donkey-bottomed fools. Seriously. This is not a film you want to miss.

*****

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