27 June 2012

Reverse Zombification

I don't love commercials. As an art form, I think they're largely corrupt. But every once in a while one comes along that is positively entrancing. This one features Rick Genest, Canada's own Zombie Boy. Apparently Gaga used him in her "Born This Way" video? He's making quite a name for himself in the fashion industry too. Good show, Zombie Boy.


25 June 2012

Abraham Lincoln's Funeral Train and Squid-to-Mouth Insemination

So Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter is looking good? Maybe? Anyway, I realized that the very existence of this much eye-rolled, possibly good film might make the content of this blog post irrelevant / eyeroll worthy, but whatever. If you don't know what I'm on about, here:

Now that you've seen that, check this out. Inspired by a Rue Morgue Magazine note on the topic, I've been researching Abe Lincoln's funeral train. Wow. Via Abraham Lincoln's Assassination:

Abraham Lincoln's funeral train left Washington on April 21, 1865.  It would essentially retrace the 1,654 mile route Mr. Lincoln had traveled as president-elect in 1861 (with the deletion of Pittsburgh and Cincinnati and the addition of Chicago). An example of a published schedule is pictured to the right. The Lincoln Special, whose engine had Mr. Lincoln's photograph over the cowcatcher, carried approximately 300 mourners. Willie Lincoln's coffin was also on board. Willie, who had died in the White House in 1862 at age 11, had been disinterred and was to be buried with his father in Springfield. A Guard of Honor accompanied Mr. Lincoln’s remains on the Lincoln Special. Mr. Robert Lincoln rode on the train to Baltimore but then returned to Washington. The following information summarizes the martyred president's final journey home.

(Emphasis mine.) Good God. You have to love those nineteenth-century types with their lack of squeamishness / hands-on obsession with death.  This would make an incredible foundation for a ghost story, wouldn't it? If not about Lincoln specifically, a story that takes place on a mega-extended funeral train route would be interesting. Question: anyone know how good nineteenth-century embalming techniques were? Would the corpse last the journey?

On a totally other note, a Korean woman's mouth was inseminated by a parboiled squid that she was eating. After she reported into the emergency room with pain, doctors removed twelve "'small, white spindle-shaped, bug-like organisms stuck in the mucous membrane of the tongue, cheek, and gingiva'—the dead squid’s live spermatophores," according to Death and Taxes Magazine. A spermatophore, because I know you need to know, is basically a bunch of semen, aggregated together, with an "ejaculatory apparatus" and a "cement body for attachment." Precisely how it attaches itself to stuff (including the inside of your mouth) is, according to biologist Danna Staaf, a mystery.

All we need to invent absolutely disgusting alien species is a more thorough knowledge of what is here on this gross, diverse planet of ours.

17 June 2012

A Month in Reading: March 2012

I pledged to read a book a week and a short story a day in 2012. In March, I finished reading five books and I read thirty-one short stories. Here's a summary. 


In the woo woo category, I read Alchemy of Nine Dimensions by Barbara Hand Clow. In early 2011, I took a meditation class that used Clow's book as the course text. I'd been slowly reading my way through it since. The book is wonderful for the brief visualizations it includes at the beginning of each chapter. If you like the solid natural buzz that comes from really effective visualizations, I recommend it. Clow combines the woo with some quite rigorous research into different scientific fields, including geology, string theory, musicology, and quasi-scientific fields like sacred geometry.

A while back, I had a chance to view Battle Royale, the film version of the book by Koushun Takami. Yes, that Battle Royale, the book most commonly cited as being super close to The Hunger Games - so close that Suzanne Collins must have copied her idea from it. (Battle Royale was originally published in 1999.) I was super entranced by the ultraviolence of the film, which managed at the same time to connect with the pathos of a class of middle graders who must murder each other so that one of them may survive. I read the novel because I'd heard that it went into much more detail about the characters' backgrounds than the film could. It did.

(For the record, given Collins's background as a television writer and various other factors, I can see that it is possible and even likely that she cooked up The Hunger Games completely independently of Battle Royale, which is her claim.)

Battle Royale invites comparisons to The Hunger Games, of course. In a dystopian future Japan, the government takes a class of students to a remote location for a wargames exercise that only one of them can survive. There are no rules other than a few parameters that guarantee that the kill rates will be kept high.

That is where the similarities peter out, however. The students in Battle Royale know each other well: they've been part of the same class for years. They've already got longstanding loyalties, friendships, and animosities before the story begins. The question quickly becomes how well they can trust those loyalties, especially knowing that any trust can only go so far. They face a number of existential problems: do they play the game at all, or give up? In the context of the game, is it more appropriate to choose your own ending or try to fight the circumstances of the game?

Battle Royale also feels to me less like a YA book and more like a book aimed at a mature audience. It is violent and the emotional content and cultural critique seems to be pitched at a more sophisticated level. (Don't get me wrong - I love The Hunger Games, but if you wanted to ignore the bulk of the cultural commentary in that book and just read for Katniss's personal drama, you probably could.) I won't say "if you loved The Hunger Games, you'll love Battle Royale," because you really might not. But if you're into dystopian future lit you might do well to look at this significant contribution to the genre. It was absolutely massive in Japan and has been translated into a slew of other languages.

Continuing my journey into the pit of doom and on a totally level, I read The Road by Cormac McCarthy, which won the Pulitzer in 2007. McCarthy's prose is gorgeous and spare. The book is brief, thankfully, because from page one I felt like I was in a state of intense mourning that didn't ease until I finished. Wow. Just wow. This is post-apocalyptic fiction that pushes the question, "what if there was really almost nothing left?" about as far as it can go. The landscape the father and son move through is devastated, full of swirling ash and dead trees. Their food is whatever they can find in cans. Others have turned to cannibalism. They're trying to make it to the coast. As terrible as the situation is, the book is about the bond between father and son, about love that doesn't end, and about patience in the face of disaster.

I re-read The Hunger Games in anticipation of seeing the film. Great book. Not so sure about the film, though I do love Jennifer Lawrence and thought she was perfect as Katniss. I suspect it was a bit of a mess. My partner, who had not read the book but is very film-savvy, did not follow several of the primary emotional dynamics and came away with very different impressions of the characters, and no clue about what was happening in some key scenes.

Finally, I completed Neil Gaiman's collection Fragile Things. Highly recommended for "The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch," in which an uncomfortable night out on the town goes horribly wrong or possibly horribly right; "Fifteen Painted Cards from a Vampire Tarot," full of rich and brief vignettes; and "Feeders and Eaters," deliciously gross.

I read bits of Cemetery Dance, selected stories from Daily Science Fiction, issue 1.3 of Stupefying Stories, and I started in on the fabulous Fat Girl in a Strange Land antho.

Cemetery Dance 65 (December 2011) was their Graham Masterson special issue. Great interview there and two stories, "Anka" which was just awesome in a creepy fairy tale way, and "Saint Brónach's Shrift" about which I have a kind of amnesia. "Rainfall" by Maurice Broaddus was sad and lovely and evoked that feeling of trying to get things right when they just won't go. The issue is worth it for that story alone.

The standout Daily Science Fiction story for me this month was "A Different Rain" by Mari Ness. Short and cruel with an "oh" kind of ending.

I enjoyed several of the stories in Stupefying, and would keep an eye on it for future fun reading. Ron Lunde's "Highly Unlikely" forced me to stifle a laugh because it is hilarious and I was reading it at the garage while waiting for my car and did not want to appear insane.

Finally, a big hoorah for Fat Girl in a Strange Land. Crossed Genres did very well with this antho of science fiction and fantasy stories about fat women and girls. It was great to read so many stories with female protagonists, and equally wonderful to see how the writers incorporated (ha ha ha) issues of fatness, physical difference, prejudice and acceptance. So many great stories here. In March I read and loved "La Gorda and the City of Silver" by Sabrina Vourvoulias, "Cartography, and the Death of Shoes" by A.J. Fitzwater, and our very own Bluestocking's (aka Lauren C. Teffeau's) "The Tradeoff." (P.S. Vourvoulias has a book coming out that looks amazing. I plan to keep an eye on that one. You should too.)

13 June 2012

Did You Ever Grow Anything in the Garden of Your Mind?

This is going viral, which is awesome and has partially restored my faith in humanity. PBS it seems has undertaken to create remixes of iconic figures from its catalogue of shows, beginning with Mister Rogers. Symphony of Science / Remixes for the Soul's John D. Boswell, aka melodysheep, put together this absolutely wonderful piece.

If you grew up with Mister Rogers like I did, this will probably resonate strongly. For me, remembering Mister Rogers conjures up memories of my parents' basement rec room with its orange carpet and wood panelling, and the ancient television set with the rotor that you turned to align the antenna so it would pick up the station. Along with Sesame Street and the occasional viewing of The Friendly Giant, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood was a regular part of my formative years.

I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.


A Note on Being Neglectful
So while I've been in blogger-limbo, a number of super awesome bloggers have nominated me for this award:

Apologies to those of you who've handed this to me without acknowledgement. I've buzzed by to let you know I still love you.

Go visit these people, will you?

Sherry Ellis, mommy blogger extraordinaire. Sherry writes short sharp hilarious pieces about family life. She should be more famous. I bet her books, The Baby Woke Me Up, AGAIN (for parents) and That Mama Is a Grouch (for kids) are full of her great humour.

Jim Wright lives in Amman, Jordan. I loved Jim's blog from the moment I set eyes on it because his exceptional life takes centre stage. Lately he's been posting parts of a story called The Wall Crack'd, which is super intriguing and makes me want to pick up his book, New Yesterdays.

I am always happy when I land at Catherine Stine's Idea City because of the gorgeous banner at the top of her page. Catherine's book Fireseed One is on my TBR list. It should be on yours, too.

I'm short on time today so I'm not gonna nominate anyone for this award, but if you want it, please grab it!

I am supposed to put seven random facts about myself here, but I would love it if you left a random fact about you in the comments. I'll claim it for my own, and thus appear much more interesting than I otherwise would.

02 June 2012

"Kill the Buddha" Accepted to Dark Faith 2

I've been sitting on this news for a couple of days now, and boy, am I ever happy that I can pass it on.

Dark Faith 2 is the follow-up volume to editors Maurice Broaddus and Jerry Gordon's Dark Faith (Apex Publications 2010). I highly recommend the first anthology to anyone who is interested in questions of faith, belief, higher powers, credulity, and humanity's place in the great mystery of the universe. Horror and dark fantasy writers can explore this material like no one else can. We spend our time thinking about all the ways things can go horribly wrong, after all.

My story, "Kill the Buddha," was written at a time when I was having a crisis of faith myself. I am a practicing Taoist. I've studied tai chi, qigong, and Taoist ceremony since the mid-nineties. During fall and early winter 2011, there was a huge, some might say seismic, series of changes to that aspect of my world that I did not want and that were ugly in the way they went down.

I soothed myself by listening to Eckhart Tolle's two books on audio: The Power of Now and A New Earth. If you've never encountered Tolle, his essential message is the same as any of the great spiritual teachers: ego is a false construct that rides on, and is composed of, thought. The ego fights against enlightenment, or being in the now, because it perceives such a peaceful state of being as diminishing to itself. (It is.) At the time I started "Kill the Buddha," this conflict loomed large in my personal life, and seemed to me to be a perfect core conflict for a story about faith.

At the same time, I started to think about what might happen if mass numbers of people all began to achieve enlightenment at the same time. What if people simply started transcending? What would that look like? To those who were still stuck in regular, ego-based consciousness, it would seem to be an enormous threat, one that required study, strategy, and counter-attack.

"Kill the Buddha" features enormous Buddhas, a kickass heroine struggling with her own crisis of faith, and more action than one would probably expect in a story based on Buddhism. When Dark Faith 2 comes out, I hope you'll pick up a copy.