Yes Calvin, there is such thing as a New Year’s Resolution!

I don’t normally make New Year’s Resolutions.  In fact, you could say I’m kind of like this guy about New Year’s resolutions:

Calvin and Hobbes

I mean, I’m pretty great, right?  I have lost weight.  I have a somewhat satisfying career.  My finances are slowly shaping up.  I exercise and eat right for the most part.  Did I mention how modest I am too?

But this year I am making a resolution.  And its one I intend to stick with, no matter what else happens during the year.  There will be no excuses.  Whatever it takes to keep this resolution, I will do it.  Nothing can stop me.

And now we get to the good part.  I am sure you are holding your breath to find out what this resolution is and why I will stop at nothing to keep this resolution.  So, are you ready for it?  Here goes nothing…

I plan on re-reading Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series (and blogging about it, like any sensible person would).  All eight books to include even Wind Through the Keyhole.  I plan on starting with The Gunslinger (in the past I used to skip this one but I have realized my errant ways) and working my way through the entire series.  Gasp…I live on the edge, I tell you!

And I plan on reading the REVISED edition of The Gunslinger, while we are on the subject of living dangerously.  Rumor has it that I am missing out if I don’t take that plunge, so I am diving in headfirst.

I know I have taken this journey a few times in the past, but its been awhile.  I need to check in with Roland.  Share some chuckles with my main man Eddie Dean.  And coo over Oy, since he is so darn precious!

Ka_tet_by_Cordania

I know I have taken the journey before, but I have to see if it will turn out differently this time.  After all, didn’t Roland remember to take the horn this time?  That means things will turn out differently, right?  Will our tet get a happy ending?  Maybe Roland won’t let Jake die this time.  Maybe they will skip Blaine and take a different route on the quest.  Maybe Eddie will let his demons nearly overcome him though…hey, it could be different, couldn’t it?  Right…

dark tower

But seriously, isn’t the Dark Tower series all about redemption?  Isn’t there a message in it that we all have a chance, no matter what awful deeds we do?  And what better time to start a series about redemption at the start of a new year, which is all about redemption, as we are told we all have a clean slate, and anything is possible?  So why not start the New Year with a resolution that I am looking forward to enormously…it will be a reunion of sorts, even if somewhat bittersweet, as I have taken the journey before, and while I may believe things will turn out differently this time, deep in my heart of hearts I know this is not true.  But even though I know I will face heartbreak, this reunion with old friends will be well worth it.

PostcardVintageNewYearOldAndNew

So to both all of the readers of this little old blog, I wish you a happy and safe New Year!  I will be back next year, ready to ramble some more!

Happy-New-Year-30

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Bad guys really are bad: My review of Twisted

As we all know, its no secret that I love horror stories.  It started out with me being addicted to The Scary Stories books as a kid, along with books by RL Stine and Christopher Pike.  Then I graduated to Stephen King (I think I was reading a King book a week there for a bit, could not get enough of him).  Then I was off King for a bit, but got introduced to the awesomeness of HP Lovecraft.  And then back to King again in my mid twenties, where I could finally appreciate the nuances I missed as a kid.  So it goes, as they say.

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But recently I have had the pleasure of being introduced to Michaelbrent Collings.  It takes a lot for a writer of to impress me these days since a lot of what I have read is either too predictable or is a bad knockoff of some guy with the initials SK…

michaelbrent collings

But this is not the case with Michaelbrent Collings.  Collings is a breath of fresh air.  I have now read a few of his works, and I am impressed.  I do see some striking similarities to certain other writers in Collings’ work, but make no mistake about it.  Collings’ style is distinct and uniquely his.  I was reminded of this once again, after reading Twisted, his latest work.

Synopsis

Twisted is a modern ghost story.  There are some Gothic elements, but the story is squarely set in 2014 and in an unnamed suburb, close to a major city.  The bad economy is mentioned, along with the financial strain experienced by a young family struggling to provide for their children.  These elements add a layer of credibility to the horror part of the story.

The story centers around Blake, his wife Alyssa, their school age son Mal and infant daughter Ruthie.  The story begins with the birth of Ruthie.  Ruthie is born with a rare birth defect, which places stress on the family.  We also learn that Blake is a self-employed architect, but his business has taken a nosedive, which places even more stress on the family, as the bills continue to pile up, adding even more to a stressful situation.  Blake is a loving father and husband, but is also troubled, as he suffered horrendous abuse at the hands of his father, and was forced to commit unspeakable acts to survive.

To make matters worse, one night Mal’s room becomes infested by centipedes.  Mal becomes trapped in his room by the pests, but Blake is able to rescue his son, and the family takes refuge in the living room for the night.  Blake does not escape without any battle scars, however, as the centipedes attack him, leaving ugly bites on his feet and legs.  The next morning, the family calls upon the services of a pest control service that they really cannot afford, and also escapes the house for a few days while it is being fumigated.  The family finds a house to rent for a few days, and attempts to settle into their temporary home with the horrific memory of the centipede attack still fresh in their minds.

When the family moves into their temporary dwelling, things begin to get odd.  A courier named Ralph delivers a package to Blake, but runs screaming from the house once the package is dropped off.  We learn that Ralph is cursed with the ability to see spirits.  The spirits do not usually bother him and are more of a nuisance than anything.  They do not even look him in the eye most of the time.  However, once Ralph encounters Blake and his family, this changes.  The ghosts slowly become more menacing and are able to manifest themselves in more troubling ways.

Alyssa and Blake find some interesting artifacts in the rental house.  One is a music box that seems to have a mind of its own.  Another is a photo album of children from another century.  However, this is not an artifact worthy of a program on the History channel.  Rather, it is an abomination, as it contains pictures of children that died in a gruesome manner.  Objects also appear and disappear.  The strangeness reaches its peak when all of the telephones in the house begin to ring, with no explanation.  While Blake and Alyssa do not necessarily believe in the supernatural, they become frightened and leave the house, spending the night in a cheap motel.

Things settle down a bit once the family arrives at the motel, but not all is well.  Blake has been having flashbacks to his horrible childhood.  Alyssa has what is later determined to be a vision of Blake hitting her.  However, she wakes up with not a mark on her, and begins to question her sanity, along with the well being of her family.

Finally, Blake, Alyssa and their children are able to return to their home.  The fumigation has been successful.  However, all is not well.  Alyssa receives a threatening note in her mailbox from someone or something, letting her know that she will never be left alone.  Blake continues to have flashbacks to his horrible childhood.  The scary events reach their apex when Mal sees a ghost who happens to be a child who died a gruesome death.  Blake is then overtaken by the spirits, and seeks to do harm to his family.  Ralph the courier then appears again, and Alyssa flees the house with her, as her family has been possessed by the spirits that haunt the house.

Ralph then takes Alyssa to a graveyard, as that is (ironically) one of the few spots where spirits do not bother him.  He then uses a scrabble game as a kind of Ouija board, so that Alyssa may gain information on what is haunting her family.  She learns that her house belonged to a 19th photographer by the name of Matthew Hollis Sr, who resided there with his son, Matthew Jr.  However, she also learns that Matthew was a special kind of photographer.  In fact, Matthew was a gruesome photographer.  Matthew killed children and then photographed them, getting a sick kind of thrill from this.  Matthew first killed his wife, and then his son Matthew Jr, in order to keep them quiet.  Matthew Sr was then killed by the parents of his victims, in a manner similar to Freddy Krueger from Nightmare on Elm Street.  Alyssa learns that the house is haunted by both father and son, and that Blake has been possessed by Matthew Sr.  Blake’s memories of his abusive father and horrible childhood make him vulnerable to the evil spirit of Matthew Hollis Sr.

Ralph tells Alyssa that spirits can either be dispatched by giving them a funeral and paying them respects, or by burning the remains.  Since Matthew Hollis Sr was an evil man, it becomes clear that the only way to dispatch his spirit is by destroying his remains.  Alyssa heads back to her home to complete this task and save her family.  Ralph remains behind, but he questions his courage.  It is also revealed that Ralph was a victim childhood abuse himself, and his mother is also deceased.

Alyssa heads back to her home and finds her son Mal and Ruthie there.  She sends Mal along with Ruthie to the safety of the neighbors.  Mal appears frightened and goes willingly, eager to protect his little sister.

Alyssa then searches the closet in Mal’s room for the remains of Matthew Hollis Sr.  She finds the remains, along with her husband Blake, whose body has been completely possessed by the spirit of the evil man.  Alyssa also finds the skeleton of the man, and fights to bring his remains back to the house.  She is successful and sets fire to the remains.  Since the house was recently treated for insects, trace amounts of the pesticides remain.  The house catches fire, but Alyssa is able to escape with Blake, who is no longer possessed.  Alyssa remembers that the spirit of Matthew Jr also haunted the house, but assumes that his spirit was trying to warn them of his father and was therefore a benevolent spirit.

Blake and Alyssa are then reunited with Mal and share a tearful family moment.  All is presumed to be well.  However, that is extremely far from the truth.  It is revealed that no spirit ever had any good intentions.  Consequently, Blake, Alyssa, Mal, baby Ruthie and even Ralph the cursed courier are then swallowed up by the evil, with no salvation in sight.

My Thoughts

I have so many thoughts about this book, and trying to articulate them will be tough, but I will attempt to do so anyway.

First of all, I really did enjoy this book.  The action starts almost from the beginning and gets the adrenaline pumping.  I do enjoy slow burns, but I also appreciate the quick start that leaves one on the edge of his/her seat right from the beginning.  I was frightened from the first few pages of the book, which is not something that happens very often.

And then there is the imagery in this book.  In particular, the centipedes.  Collings not only had them invade a little boy’s bedroom, but he also gave us detailed descriptions of the bites on Blake’s leg.  This was some wonderfully gruesome, stomach churning imagery, and Collings pulled it off perfectly.

centipedes

As mentioned before, there was also what I consider to be some Gothic imagery in this book.  In particular, a music box that will not turn off is mentioned frequently.  This was another effective image, as there is something unsettling about old fashioned music boxes (I hate them, personally) and it worked very in setting the mood for the book.

music box

We are never given a lot of info about the main characters in the book (Blake and his family, Ralph or even Matthew Hollis Sr) but they are effective characters.  In particular, Collings’ description of the problems that Ruthie the baby suffers from are poignant.  The family’s financial situation is also something many people can relate to, given the state of the economy in recent years.  As stated before, these situations add another element of realism to the story and also make us root for the characters’ survival.

Another element of this story that caught my attention was the focus on family and the survivors of abuse.  We are actually shown three different families:  Blake’s family, the Hollis family and glimpses of Ralph’s relationship with his mother.  All three are very dysfunctional.  Blake is a good husband and father, but suffered horrible abuse at the hands of his father.  Matthew Hollis Sr was a serial killer masquerading as a photographer who killed his wife and son so that his secrets would not be told.  Ralph was also abused by his mother, who forced him to get tattoos as a child.  Blake is also fearful that he will repeat his father’s sins, in a manner similar to the discussion in the essay Lime Twigs and Treachery by Henry Miller.  Again, this detail on all of these family situations provided yet another element of the realistic in this book.

The ending to this book is one of the darkest, bleakest and dare I say twisted endings I have ever encountered in any book.  In other words, this ending was fabulous.  Collings really had me fooled the last few pages of the book.  I thought that for once, that the good people would win and triumph over evil.  But Collings went for the jugular and crushed that hope fairly quickly.  This was an ending that made me gasp when I put down the book.  This ending was also a great reminder.  As children, we are taught that the good guys are the ones that win.  We expect the monsters to be bested.  We expect that anyone abused as a child will learn and never inflict that kind of pain upon their own loved ones, despite the statistics that show a correlation otherwise.  There is no room in our world for the harming of innocents, especially infants that are only days old.  However, in the real world, things do not always work out so nicely.  Often, people succumb to their demons.  Good guys lose far more often than we would like to admit.  Good people get trapped in past cycles are unable to escape.  Michaelbrent Collings, in his book Twisted, uses 19th century serial killers, nasty centipedes and an innocent baby to drive this point home to us and remind us that evil is alive and well, and might just be waiting for us around the corner.

 

Love (literally) Hurts: A review of Lisey’s Story

I remember reading a long time ago, that Mark Twain, when he was 16, made a statement that his father was the dumbest man alive.  But when he talked to his father when he was 20, it was amazing how much the old man had learned in four years.

mark twain

This is not to say I ever thought my parents were stupid.  In fact, they were smart when I was 16 and they are smart now as I am going on 37 (love you Mom and Dad, thanks for the Christmas hookup…hahaha).

Seriously, though.  I read the Stephen King book Lisey’s Story about 8 years ago.  I trashed it at the time.  I thought it was awful and that King should have indeed, stayed retired from writing (love you Mr. King, thanks for all the book hookups…hahaha).

Stephen King

However, I have been making it a point to re-read certain books (not just King either) that I either loved or hated many years ago, to see what perspective my almost 37 year old self would have.  Lisey’s Story was one book on my list.  And I am glad that I took the time to read this work again with fresh eyes.  My almost 37 year old self had a completely different view of things than silly, daft 28 year old me.  And now wants to give silly, daft 28 year old me a good smack on the head for not taking the time to appreciate the finer things in life, like craft beer and Lisey’s Story.

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Synopsis

Lisey’s Story is a complex novel that defies categorization, like much of King’s work.  On one hand, it is a horror story.  It does have monsters and some scary imagery.  However, Lisey’s Story is a little more than a horror story.  In his typical fashion, King also deals with “real world” topics, such as child abuse, marriage and fans that love a little too much.  King is able to weave these topics into a story that also contains major elements of both horror and fantasy, and also make a good story with characters that we wind up emotionally invested in, along with settings that are both familiar and alien.

The book starts out with Lisey (Lisa) Landon attempting to sort and clean her late husband Scott’s study.  In life, Scott had been a wildly successful writer, credited with several best selling novels.  She also has to deal with some persistent admirers of his work, who want her to donate his unfinished work, as they are convinced that there is actually a book (or maybe two) buried in there, ready for posthumous publication, which would make someone rich.  We also learn that Scott was relatively young when he passed away, and that Lisey is still processing his death, as Scott has only passed away 26 months prior.  It is all ordinary and mundane…but not for long.

At the beginning of the book, we are also introduced to Lisey’s family.  Lisey is the youngest of four children, all of whom are girls.  King focuses on her relationship with all three siblings, but gives particular focus to Lisey’s sister Amanda.  Amanda suffers from mental illness and is almost considered a “black sheep” in her family.  We learn that Amanda is a “cutter”.  In other words, she is given to self mutilation.  She also appears to suffer from bouts of extreme depression.  Lisey is tasked with keeping watch over Amanda, as she and Scott became very rich due to the success of his novels and can afford the best care.  Lisey also seems to share a certain rapport with Amanda, and if often able to reach her when no one else can.

As the book progresses, we learn that Scott’s fans are an insistent bunch.  In particular, Lisey is harassed by a man calling himself “Zach McCool.”  As if that were not enough, Amanda experiences a severe decline in her mental health, becomes catatonic and needs to be hospitalized.  This is very stressful for Lisey, and causes her to recall her years of marriage to Scott, and some interesting experiences.

Lisey begins to recall her years of marriage to Scott.  We learn about how they met.  We learn about their struggles and successes.  We also learn that Scott was no ordinary man.  This is where the supernatural part of the story comes into play.  Scott (akin to many King characters), was possessed of extraordinary abilities.  One of them was his writing ability.  The other was his ability to transport himself to another world entirely.  Scott nicknamed this world “Boo’ya Moon.”

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We also learn that Scott suffered a horrendous childhood.  Mental illness was rampant in his family.  He grew up with a father who constantly abused Scott and his older brother Paul.  Scott sought refuge in his relationship with Paul, who sent him on what they called “bool hunts” or a kind of scavenger hunt that consisted of riddles.  Paul would then reward Scott with some small prize.  Scott also sought refuge in the world of Boo’ya Moon.  Scott used the world of Boo’ya Moon to escape (often with Paul) the horrible abuse brought on by his father.  Scott also used the powers of Boo’ya Moon to heal the injuries that he and Paul suffered at the hands of his father.  Scott’s childhood is somewhat bearable for a time, but only for so long.  When Paul is ten years old, he succumbs to the insanity that runs in Scott’s family.  Some sufferers become comatose and some sufferers turn into violent, non-human killing machines.  Unfortunately, Paul becomes one of the latter varieties.  He becomes a creature who does not recognize right from wrong, let alone his family members.  He is unable to speak but instead communicates in animal like sounds.  He also sets out to kill anything and anyone in his path.  Unfortunately, this includes Scott and his father.  The two attempt to restrain Paul and try to find a way to cure of the insanity.  Unfortunately, there is no cure.  Scott’s father euthanizes Paul in the same manner someone would euthanize a rabid dog that attacked a child.  Scott then transports himself and his brother to Boo’ya Moon, in the hopes that he can possibly cure his brother.  It turns out that he cannot, and Scott buries his brother in that other world.

Lisey notices that Scott is unusual even when they are dating.  Scott is able to heal himself very quickly from a self inflicted, very nasty cut on his hand.  Lisey notices that Scott appears to vanish, but chalks it up to a hallucination.  Scott then demonstrates that he is in fact able to vanish, when he takes Lisey to Boo’ya Moon with him, proving that his abilities and the place are real.  Lisey also learns that Scott has demons.  As in actual demons, in the form of an otherwordly creature Scott calls the “long boy” or the “piebald creature.”  This is the creature that would ultimately be responsible for Scott’s death.  However, Boo’ya Moon brings mostly good things to their marriage.  When Scott is shot by a deranged fan at a public speaking event, he is able to harness the powers of Boo’ya Moon and save himself from certain death.  He is able to use those powers many times, although he does pay the ultimate price in the end.

We also learn that Boo’ya Moon seems to be a refuge of sorts for mentally ill people who have fallen comatose.  Lisey learns this when Scott slips into catatonia about 8 years prior to his death.  She must use Scott’s abilities (which have transferred to her) to make the journey to Boo’ya Moon and bring Scott back.  She is successful, and Scott and Lisey enjoy a few more happy years together, and Lisey basically represses any memory of Boo’ya Moon and the strange incidents.

Lisey learns that Scott has basically left her a “bool hunt” upon his death.  Lisey must learn how to harness the powers of Boo’ya Moon on her own, as Amanda’s health depends on it.  And only the powers of Boo’ya Moon will rescue her from the rage what is turning out to be a very insistent, deranged fan.  With a little help from her dead husband, and a lot of strength that she did not know she possessed, Lisey is able to rescue her comatose sister and dispatch of her late husband’s deranged fan, although she literally inherits Scott’s “long boy.”  The book ends with a final trip to Boo’ya Moon, where Lisey discovers the prize at the end of the “bool hunt”:  her husband’s accounting of what happened to his deranged father.  Lisey reads Scott’s final words, and is able to put Scott to rest, along with the “long boy” (somewhat).  She able to final clean out his study and donate his last work to the appropriate people, and achieves peace in her life and also with her family.

My Thoughts

This time around, I felt there was a lot to love about Lisey’s Story.  One of my favorite parts of the story was the detailing of Scott and Lisey’s relationship.  King gives us intimate knowledge of Scott and Lisey’s marriage, which makes us become invested in the characters.  When Lisey “inherits” Scott’s demons (the “long boy”), I saw that as a metaphor for taking on the burdens of a loved one, in much the same manner as Sam taking the Ring from Frodo in Lord of the Rings and carrying the burden, so that Frodo may achieve some peace.  Lisey does take on many of Scott’s burdens (his demons, his troubled childhood, etc) but does so out of pure love for her husband.  This gives great insight into both characters, especially Lisey, showing that she is more than just Scott’s wife, but actually his gatekeeper.

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Stephen King often writes about mental illness.  Lisey’s Story is a great example of his ability to deal with mental illness in a compassionate way.  In particular, King does an excellent job of his depiction of Lisey’s sister Amanda.  Amanda does not start off as a sympathetic character.  She is seen as more of annoyance.  However, this quickly changes, as King shows us the relationship between Amanda and Lisey.  We slowly come to like Amanda on her own merits, as opposed to the fact that she is Lisey’s sister.  We come to see Amanda as a fiercely loyal protector of Lisey, willing to do anything to protect her sister.  Amanda also travels with Lisey to Boo’ya Moon, never doubting its existence and completely deferring to her sister so that both of their lives may be saved.  Amanda is never shown as strong despite her “deficiencies.”  Rather, her perceived deficiencies turn out to be assets.

While this was not a scary book, there were definitely elements of horror.  For example, Scott describes Boo’ya Moon in detail.  We are told that is a good place by day, but extremely dangerous at night.  We are also told to never eat any of the fruit of Boo’yah Moon once night falls.  Scott also describes the creatures that inhabit Boo’ya, calling them “laughers”.  We also learn about Scott’s accidental trip to Boo’ya Moon at night, and his description confirms it is indeed a horrible place when the moon rises.

night booya moon

However, the most terrifying part of the novel to me was the “pie-bald creature” or “long boy.”  At first I was reminded of the Purple People Eater…

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But later I started thinking more in terms of Lovecraft and his horrifying creatures, and the closest I could come to seeing it in my mind’s eye was an image of a monstrous worm.  Regardless, King’s description of the monster was very scary.  We are told that the creature is also not necessarily limited to Boo’ya Moon, as Lisey begins to see it on reflective surfaces such as mirrors and drinking glasses, and begins to fear for her sanity and her life.  It is implied that the monster has Lisey’s “scent” in much the same way a bloodhound can find a scent from a piece of old clothing and is therefore in its “thoughts.”  Scott’s final bool hunt does bring some form of closure to this, but we are still left with the impression that Lisey’s trip to Boo’ya Moon and confrontation with this creature will have some disturbing long term consequences.

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All monsters aside, King again displays his ability to juxtapose supernatural elements with familiar, everyday problems.  As mentioned before, this book spends much time discussing mental illness, with its descriptions of Amanda, Scott’s father and Scott himself.  King also dives into the issue of child abuse and the failures of adults to do right by their children.  The descriptions of the abuse endured by Scott and his brother when they were children are horrifying, but also heart-breaking.  Scott’s account of the murder of his brother and later his father are also harrowing, leaving us sad for what he endured as a child.  As in his other works, King’s description of non-supernatural horrors add an element of realism to the story, reminding us that it is perfectly possible that there is a world not far from our own, where eating the fruit at night could kill us and that sometimes looking in mirrors is a task better not undertaken if we are smart.

Stephen King, its amazing how much you learned in eight years.  Thank you for making this book so much smarter.  And thank you for opening my eyes, yet again.

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Connections

As most Constant Readers know, all of Stephen’s King books are connected and are part of a much larger universe.  Lisey’s Story is no exception.  I have listed the connections I found below:

-Much of the story takes place in Castle Rock.  Cast Rock is the setting for many King novels, including Needful Things, The Dark Half and The Dead Zone.

-Andy Clutterbuck and Norris Ridgewick are mentioned multiple times in the book.  Ridgewick and Clutterbuck appear as characters in the novel Needful Things.

-The town of Derry is also mentioned.  Derry is the setting for It, Bag of Bones, Insomnia, and several other King works.

-The town of Harlow is another town mentioned in this book.  Harlow is the setting for The Body and part of the novel Revival.

-The phrase “Lit for the Territories” is used multiple times in the book.  The Territories is the world visited by Jack Sawyer in The Talisman and Black House.

-Scott Landon talks of “booming” or transporting to another world.  The ability to teleport to other worlds is similar to Sheemie’s ability in The Dark Tower series.

sheemie

-The effects of the insanity suffered by Scott and his family appear similar to the effects of the “secret electricity” discussed in Revival.

-The effects of The Pulse in Cell are also similar to the effects of the “secret electricity” and are similar to the insanity suffered by Scott’s family.  This makes for an interesting connection between Cell, Lisey’s Story and Revival.

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-The description of another world close to ours is similar to the description of the parallel world that is discussed in Revival.

-The “mother” creature in Revival is also somewhat similar to the “piebald creature” in Lisey’s Story.

-Scott describes “orbs of light” around the lake in Boo’ya Moon that are similar to balloons.  This immediately brings to mind the balloons in the book It.

balloon2

-A recurring theme in Lisey’s Story is the “bool.”  I understood that the bool was a riddle, kind of similar to a scavenger hunt.  Of course, readers of the Dark Tower series will remember that Blaine the Monorail, a character in that series, was very fond of riddles.

And if I may go deep into nerdy territory for a moment here (given the name of the blog, no one should be surprised at this).  I believe that the term “bool” may actually be derived from the term “Boolean logic.”  Boolean logic is a special kind of mathematics and has to do with logic.  Logic is very important in computer science and is used widely in many other areas.  Since Blaine was a sentient monorail created by computer programming, this is an extremely interesting parallel to the Dark Tower series, even if it is a bit indirect.

blaine

 

 

Snakes and a love story told in reverse: a review of the movie Horns

Now, I usually hate movies that are based on books.  What can I say, I am a purist?  I nit pick EVERYTHING when watching a movie based on a book, and most don’t measure up.  Books are simply better most of the time, and most movies fail to capture the magic of the books and don’t even come close, for the most part.  Exceptions would be The Hunger Games, The Shawshank Redemption, Stand by Me and The Green Mile.

But now we can add another movie to the exception list: Horns.  I watched it last night, and I was extremely impressed.  Not only is the adaptation very good, the movie is just a really good movie.  Those seem to be few and far between lately.  There is a reason why Hollywood keeps remaking movies:  the idea pool has gotten pretty shallow as of late and not much decent material to draw on.  However, Horns is on my top list of movies released this year, and may even end up being one of my favorite thriller movies ever.

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Horns is based on a book written by Joe Hill of the same name.  As we all know, Joe Hill is the son of Stephen King.  He has published three full length novels:  Heart Shaped Box, Horns and N0S4A2.  He has also co-authored some work with his famous dad and has published a collection of short stories titled Twentieth Century Ghosts.  The parallels between Hill and King are inevitable and it is natural to draw comparisons.  After all, he is the son of perhaps the most recognized and widely read writer on this planet.  But make no mistake about it:  Joe Hill is Joe Hill and Stephen King is Stephen King.  I personally would not want it any other way.  Both writers have their own merits and should be enjoyed on their own merits as well.  Hill has distinguished himself from his famous father, and Horns is proof of that.

To summarize:  Horns centers around main character Ignacio M. Perrish aka Ig or Iggy (the initials spell out IMP…we see what you did there, Mr. Hill).  One morning, Ig wakes up to discover that he has grown a pair of horns on his head.  And somehow, most people do not find this a problem.  In fact, people open to Ig and confess their deepest, darkest and sometimes nastiest secrets to him.  This is helpful to Ig, as his girlfriend was murdered a year ago and Ig is the main suspect.  Despite the lack of any real evidence, the townspeople and even those closest to Ig have deemed him the killer and tried and hung him.  The love story between Ig and his now deceased girlfriend Merrin is told in reverse, and Ig uses his newfound powers to find the real killer and seek revenge on those who have wronged him.

In the movie, Ig Perrish is played by Daniel Radcliffe (cue the Harry Potter-Horns memes right about here).  This was a smart casting choice, as Radcliffe is able to sympathetically play the character and give him the nuances needed.  However, Radcliffe never makes Ig pitiful at all.  Iggy is seen as a man who has undergone extreme hardship in losing Merrin, who was probably the best part about him.  Ig is seen as a “monster” but Radcliffe never loses the humanity in the character, and we are left rooting for him the entire way.

Juno Temple and Joe Anderson play Merrin Williams (the love of Ig’s life) and Terry Perrish (Ig’s shady, drug addled brother) respectively.  We mainly see both of these characters through Ig’s eyes, and both actors do an admirable job, especially Juno Tempo.  We get to know Merrin through Ig’s flashbacks, and Juno Temple is able to bring a kind of sweet innocence to Merrin, but never makes her into a martyr.  Joe Anderson does a wonderful job with Terry Parrish, portraying him to be the chump that he is, but still bringing a bit of sympathy to the character.  All of the actors seemed to have a kind of chemistry with each other, bringing believability to the dynamic.

What impressed me the most about this movie was how much of the book was kept intact.  There were some minor changes, such as the change in location.  The movie takes place in the Seattle area; the book takes place in New Hampshire.  However, the cinematography was gorgeous.  The camera work allowed for many shots of forest and bodies of water, which really added to the film.  The overcast skies and appropriately placed rain showers also added to the film.  The film also did a good job of keeping the dark humor that was so prevalent in the book.  When Ig discovers his newfound, unwanted powers, mayhem ensues.  Ig attempts to seek help at the doctor’s office and has the misfortune of running into a woman and her bratty daughter.  The woman confesses her infidelity and true feelings about her bratty child to Ig.  The bratty daughter describes, in gleeful detail, how she is plotting her mother’s demise.  The doctor and the nurse confess their true feelings for each other to Ig and start having sex right there in the doctor’s office.  The reporters hounding Ig confess that they really need a breaking story and will stop at nothing to get it.  Then the reporters end up fighting each other in brawl that resembles a WWE Royal Rumble match.  These scenes are disturbing, but the film is able to capture the dark humor in them, and that comes across very well.

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However, I did have a couple of minor problems with this movie.  The character of Glenna, played by Kelli Garner, was simply flat.  I think this is more to blame on the writers as opposed to the actress.  Glenna had much more depth in the book, and the film was just not able to capture this.  The film also failed to capture the true maliciousness of Lee Tourneau, played by Max Minghella.  This is likely because films do not spend much time delving into back stories like books do.  The book contained plenty of history between Ig and Lee, so we see how their relationship develops over the years and how Lee manipulates Ig.  The film simply did not show this, and Minghella was unable to showcase his character’s true capacity for evil.  However, the overall acting job of the cast was able to cover these flaws, and Horns still came across as a movie with supreme acting.

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Often, movies based on books are mediocre on a good day, and complete failures on a bad day.  But with right director, producer and actors, movies can be wonderful adaptations of books, literally bringing characters and locations previously only imagined to life on the big screen.  Horns definitely falls in this category, and is a superb adaptation of Joe Hill’s terrifying, haunting novel.

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Victimology

I know that this site is dedicated to “all things nerdy.”  But since I am a human being with real opinions, we are going to stray from that a bit today.

Unless your head is under a rock, you know social media and news outlets have been overtaken this week by the news that the police officer who choked Eric Garner to death not receiving an indictment for any charges.  The internet is still rumbling (rightfully so) about Darren Wilson, another police officer who shot an unarmed man while on duty, who will also not be indicted on any charges.  The legal reasoning behind these decisions would be good for its own post (or several), but that is not what this post is about.

It has been pointed out to me that Darren Wilson “did not get up that morning with the intention of shooting anyone.”  And perhaps that is true.  I would like to believe so anyway, after all, what kind of sick person has murder on their mind as they are finishing their morning coffee and heading out the door?

However, it has also been pointed out to me that now there are two victims: the kid who lost his life that day, and the officer who now has to cope with the fact that he shot someone.

Please, lets get the victimology (a word often used in shows such as CSI), correct in this case.  We have one victim.  Only one victim.  And that is Michael Brown.  Michael Brown is dead.  And to make it worse, his character has been dragged through the mud and salt rubbed into his family’s wounds.  No matter what Michael Brown may or may not have done in the moments leading up to his death, he did not deserve to be shot 6 times and have his body left in the street for 4+ hours, and then thrown in the trunk of a police cruiser.

Eric Garner is also dead.  And his death was recorded on video, and will live on in horrific memory thanks to modern technology.  Many in a position of power had the means to stop his death.  However, no one did.  Again, all on video, in all its terrible glory.

I do acknowledge that these officers (and others involved in on duty shootings) may actually have regrets.  Maybe even some officers will take on desk jobs instead.  Maybe some will leave law enforcement entirely for new careers.  However, this does not change the fact that these officers are still alive, unlike Eric Garner, Michael Brown and all others who have died at the hands of a police officer (justified or not).  The families of those officers will be able to hug them.  The officers and their families can celebrate the upcoming holidays together.  These officers likely have a long future ahead of them, and will be able to experience life in all its wonderful and messy glory.

The families of Eric Garner, Michael Brown and any others who have died at the hands of police officers face a different future.  They can no longer hug their loved ones.  The upcoming holidays are sure to be painful.  And the victims’ families will forever be left questioning a justice system that has failed them and so many others.  They will have so many questions, most of which have no answers.  A painful life, in other words.

Officer Darren Wilson, Officer Daniel Pantaleo and all the others involved in cases such as these are not victims.  In some cases, they may be sympathetic.  However, lets get the victimology correct.  Someone such as Darren Wilson, who has collected 500k in “donations” for his supposed legal defense, is not a victim.  Neither is Officer Pantaleo.  Both of these men are alive and healthy.

Eric Garner, Michael Brown and many others are not alive and healthy.  We need to remember this when deciding the victims in cases such as these.  Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo will have their voices heard, many times over.  But Eric Garner and Michael Brown have been silenced forever.  And that is the definition of a true victim:  someone who is powerless and unable to make a stand.

RIP, Michael Brown, Eric Garner and all the others who have lost their lives in tragic circumstances such as these.  I am sorry that we have failed so miserably as a society.  I also hope we figure this out as a society before even more lives are needlessly lost.