The “What if” Multiverse

This morning I woke up and ate a bowl of Special K for breakfast, but there’s another universe where I woke up and ate a bowl of frosted flakes, because in that world I never lost my taste after getting sick and puking frosted flakes everywhere.

The Multiverse theory posits that there exists a universe or dimension for every possible occurrence in history, for every individual. This possibility of billions of universes where you were actually cool in high school or didn’t hit the brakes in time is an extrapolation of various quantum physics concepts, such as the collapse of wave function and string theory, which are some fancy physics terms that I have heard of.

Multiverse, or Many Worlds, Theory may not have much grounding in science as a literal possibility, but in the world of Science Fiction, the possibilities are endless. The Sci-fi genre is itself a multiverse, in which authors speculate on the “what ifs” of both past and present and so a billion possibilities are ripe for exploration.

Here are some of excellent “what if” scenarios that I’ve encountered of late in this particular iteration of my life. Some of them stretch the imagination, some of them are possible eventualities, and in the Multiverse of Science Fiction, they all exist.

What if the Multiverse actually existed?

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

Robert Frost was neither the first nor last to ponder that “road not traveled.” In Dark Matter, the protagonist, Jason Dessen actually gets to experience the road not taken in his life where he became a successful physicist who did some funky stuff with quantum superposition and created a conduit between multiverses, doors opening onto all the other possible worlds out there, many of them predictably apocalyptic.

While a little heavy on the sentimental and yet somehow lacking emotional depth, it is a rocketing ride, impossible to put down as it veers into territory that will have you eyeing your own self suspiciously in the mirror. As individuals, we like to think of ourselves as having some essential core that defines our personality and identity. But how much of that is influenced by our experiences? Would we be different people had we traveled different paths? Worse? Better? If we’re both the producer and product of our choices, what does that say about free will? About humanness?

It’s easy to look over our shoulder and connect the dots that led us from one choice to another, but that kind of inevitability is only clear in hindsight. At any moment, a single different choice could, as Frost says “made all the difference.”


What if we cured Death?

The Postmortal by Drew Magary and Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan

In The Postmortal, a cure for death is discovered; it won’t prevent disease or those ubiquitous surprise buses so common in film. But it freezes your current age and should you not step errantly into a road or accept a ride from a serial killer, you get to live forever.

The Postmortal tells the story over decades of one man who takes the cure and experiences the fallout. Perhaps the biggest question that comes to mind is if everyone stops dying, where in the hell are we going to put them all? Resource scarcity is the most obvious facet, but the novel also explores the concept of marriage in a world where your spouse doesn’t ever kick the bucket, the ethics of “curing” both the very young and very old, and all sorts of nonsense religions that humans create in a world that’s filling up with people like a bucket.

The most prescient question the novel asks is: Does anyone really want to live forever? Sounds sexy, right? Vampires do it. Gods do it. But when death is rare, life is cheap, and hedonism seems to be the rule for the masses as China willingly nukes its own population to make room.

Although I haven’t read Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan, I have seen the Netflix series where the basic premise is the same: human consciousness can be stored in little disks called “stacks” making those bulky survival machines, our bodies, called “sleeves” expendable. Real death can only be achieved through that single Achilles heel. Predictably, this turns out to be a much better deal for the rich, who can afford upgraded sleeves and clones. Attendant also are the religious fanatics who believe that death is a thing.

The question becomes about bodies. If we can change bodies as easily as our shoes, then what does it mean for identity? What does race or gender matter? Most importantly, can we transfer our consciousness to a dog?

What if Ayn Rand ruled an underwater dome city?

Bioshock: Rapture by John Shirley

Written as a prequel to the video game, Bioshock: Rapture tells the story of the creation of the underwater city, Rapture and its objectivist creator, Andrew Ryan. Designed as the ultimate meritocracy, the city quickly devolves into corruption and poverty as jobs dissipate and the ruthless  are allowed to run rampant. Ayn Rand’s poisonous philosophy, taken to its extremes, quickly creates a nightmare scenario with authoritarian leanings as the desperate Ryan struggles to maintain power and his dream of a city free from stranglehold of government and regulation. The irony is not lost. Throw in some wacky sea slugs, and soon most of population are turned into mutant addicts that can climb walls and shoot electricity out of their fingers.

As an experiment, Rapture fails, and as a cautionary tale, it is as subtle as any of Rand’s novels.

What if nobody ruled a moon dome?

Artemis by Andy Weir

Also a dome with very few laws (and only one police officer), only instead of underwater, Artemis is the moon’s first colony. More a tale of the misadventures of mouthy smuggler, Jazz Bashara, than any kind of metaphorical or conceptual exploration, the technicalities are more specific, the physical actualities of constructing and maintaining a colony on the moon are explored with acceptable scientific rigor.

When the moon has no viable exports, how can it remain economically profitable? As a tourist destination, yes, but this requires the necessary “help” which, while not quite as dire as the impoverished in Bioshock’s Rapture, is not much fun for those forced to live in bunks barely larger than a coffin.



Every Alien Adaptation EVER!

*People fiddle with weird egg-looking things

Ripley: That’s not a good idea…

*People get mauled/impregnated/farmed/dismembered by aliens

Ripley: *weary sigh*

When I was a kid of unspecified age, I remember sitting in an unspecified library, reading Star Wars novels, expansions of the universe that numbered in the dozens. Shelves and shelves of Star Wars novels. I don’t remember anything specifically about them, other than they were the apotheosis of literary genius.

What I do know is that any of those books is worlds above any of the garbage in the “prequel trilogies.”

I was not a stupid kid.

What an interesting thing, this taking of a few movies and turning it into a universe, one where multiple authors and timelines and possibilities all co-exist in nonsensical and delightful ways.

Until the internet showed up, this was the original fan fiction.

I had the pleasure of experiencing two Audible productions adapated from the latest round of novels created for the Alien universe.

Alien, as you may know, was a 1979 film directed by Ridley Scott. If you don’t know at least that, get off my blog.

I love the idea of an idea that blooms in the minds of others and inspires them to expand it. As a creator, that must be the ultimate goal, for your creation to spark imagination and grow through others. I believe “crowdsourcing” would be the hip terminology these days. Except instead of the crowd, you had actual authors writing the stuff.

As I dove in deeper into the Alien mythology, I found it reached much further than I ever knew, like an underground web of fungus.

I made this for you.

  1. The Novelizations

There’s a rabbit’s hole of movie novelizations that no one wants to be ensnared in. It stretches and tangles and interweaves, with a small pool of authors casting their pens across a wide range of franchises.

I was especially entertained to see that the novelizations for the first three movies were authored by none other than Alan Dean Foster! Why is this exciting? I read a very different “alien” book by Foster last year, and though it wasn’t any good, I…I was just excited, okay?

I’m not going to pretend like it’s easy to take a film like Alien and wring an entire novel out of it:

“The ship is dark and steamy. Ripley hears a noise. It’s dark. Very dark. So dark. The crew runs around for forty-five minutes. Jonesy the cat frightens them. Did I mention it’s dark? Also kind of clangy. Pipes, you know. Finally, the alien. Arrgh! Everyone dies. Almost. Viva Jonesy.”

I’m not here to judge. That shit’s got to be hard to write. Even if the guy who wrote it also wrote, judging by the following cover, the equivalent of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats in space!


“Midnight…not a sound from the spaceship”

But even Foster didn’t have the heart to attempt the miserable, weird Alien: Resurrection. 


A.C. Crispin has his own mad credentials however, with multiple Star Wars/Star Trek novels, as well as the esteemed TV miniseries, V

Another round of novelizations commenced after the most recent movie premiered in 2017.

And looks who’s BACK! Good ol’ Alan Dean Foster, making that franchise paper!

2. Aliens (Bantam Books) 1992-1998

Since 1979, there have been a stream of Alien Comics, and twice novelists would attempt to use elicit words from graphic interpretations of film. The layers are getting deep, man!


As noted feminist, Rudyard Kipling, once said, “The female of the species is more deadly than the male.”

Between 1992 and 1998, 6 different authors attacked the Alien franchise, including Steve Perry (NOT “Open Arms” Steve Perry, the Steve Perry who wrote the novelization for Men in Black.) 

With titles such as Nightmare Asylum, Berserker, and The Female War, who wouldn’t want to read these?

3. Aliens (Dark Horse Books) 2005-2008


As best I can tell from lazily reading only a few synopses of Alien novels, pretty much all of them involve Ripley in one form or another. Clone/Alien Hybrid/Human woman who is repeatedly ignored despite her actual experience battling the aliens.

Poor Ripley. If she were a man this franchise would end real quicklike with the aliens conquering the universe.

Let’s talk about the xenomorphs, why don’t we? The MO for these creatures remain pretty consistent throughout:

  • Impregnate another living being
  • Burst out of their chest.
  • Murder fucking everything

A tried and true formula that has spawned (get it?) spinoffs galore and that’s not even getting into Alien vs. Predator. Which, not to digress, but the alien should win! Every time! There’s only one Predator and as many aliens as there are eggs and living hosts. It’s barely feasible when humans beat the alien, and we’re like freaking cockroaches and have nuclear weapons! And Ripley!

Producers are clearly just pandering to the powerful Predator lobby.

Well…I didn’t even write anything about that book series. OK!

4. Canonical Alien Series

In 2013-14, another trilogy of Alien madness was published, this time by a new set of authors: Tim Lebbon (The Silence), Christopher Golden (AraratSnowblind) and James A. Moore, who has this author’s photo:


That’s right. I’m James “fuckin’ A” Moore

And in this new trilogy, guess who’s back? Back again?

Yep, it’s good ‘ol Ripley. I know this because I listened to the Audible productions of River of Pain and Out of the Shadows (Sorry, James A. Moore), featuring performances by none other than Neville from Harry Potter, and that guy who gets cubed in Resident Evil. Even if they don’t really bring anything new to the table, do we really need that? Isn’t a good helping Alien gore with a side of Ripley enough sometimes?

Now that this post has gone on for about 500 words too long, visit Xenopedia to learn more about the Alien universe.

Fish to Live: The Fisherman and The Dog Stars

The sadness of our world, it underlies everything like a water
– The Dog Stars, Peter Heller

Two different men in impossible worlds find solace at the side of a stream, fishing rod in hand. They have known death and will come to know much more.


The protagonist of John Langan’s The Fisherman (winner of the Bram Stoker award) is a widower who lost his young wife years ago and took up fishing as a better alternative to always being drunk and not having any food in his house. When he strikes up a friendship with another widower who has lost his entire family, the consequences are far beyond what either of them can imagine. When the friend suggests a new fishing spot, a place called “Dutchman’s Creek,” they are gifted with the story of Der Fisherman, a dark, otherworldly tale that occupies the middle bulk of the novel. The tale is one of reanimated corpses and a black ocean full of creatures that churns just on the other side of reality. Do they go to the creek anyway? Duh!

Nominally a horror story about a power mad goon summoning dark powers to bring back the dead and capture the hellish nightmares occupying the black ocean, it’s the black ocean of grief that looms over this novel like a thundercloud. It’s the hellish places our own grief takes us, the extremes to which we would capture that which we have lost.


Aggie seems to think everything’s about her

What the protagonist in Peter Heller’s The Dog Stars has lost is the entire world, in fact. A deadly flu epidemic has wiped out most of the world’s population, and he lives at an abandoned airplane hanger with a scary man and his dog, Jasper. He laments the disappearance of trout, but fishes still. He flies reconnaissance missions in his little plane and desperately wonders if there’s someone out there who doesn’t want to murder and eat him. His grief at losing everyone he’s ever known, and the world at large, is only compounded by the knowledge that his dear dog, like all living creatures, won’t live forever. He places his hope in a stray transmission that implies there’s another operational airfield somewhere out there, if only he has the courage to seek it out.

The Dog Stars is bleak, for sure, and its prose is similar in cadence to that Lord of Bleakness, Cormac McCarthy. But interlaced with harsh reality is a sense of hope, for humanity, for love, for the small pleasures of life to outweigh the pain.

I hate to invoke the work of Hemingway, almost as much as I hate to evoke McCarthy, both writers hewing within a strict definition of masculinity and not a little misogyny to share between them. Heller upends that traditional narrative with the character of Bangley, a “man” in every old-fashioned sense: merciless, gun-loving, recalcitrant, reserved. An irredeemable and menacing character, until he isn’t.

Both novels find solace in fishing and friendship, in finding a thing or person (or dog) to help assuage the gaping voids in their hearts. They’re certainly not fun beach reads, but hey, you know what you’re asking for. The moral of the story is neatly summarized by Heller:

Admit it: you don’t have the slightest idea what you are doing, you never ever did With all the nets in the world, real or unreal. You swam around in a flashing confused school following the tail of the fish in front Pretty much. Nibbling at whatever passed, in whatever current you swam in.

  • I listened to The Fisherman on audiobook, narrated by Johnny Campbell, and it was pretty damn good.
  • The “black ocean” in The Fisherman, a dark reflection of our own world, reminds me a certain TV show’s “Upside Down.”

2017 in Review – Best Doggos

Who am I kidding? Every dog is the best dog. Here’s a tribute to the dogs of 2017, sponsored by my favrit dergs, Aggie and Charlotte:


Incidentally, Merry Christmas! 

Dogs don’t fare well in books. Unless they are the star of the show (The Chet and Bernie series), the dog is either noble sacrifice, hapless victim, or, typically in non-horror books, dies because that’s what happens at the end of too-short doggo lives.

Personally I think that’s a lazy plot point, a way to score an easy emotional reaction, because the dogs are clearly the most important character in any story. Slaughter humans by the score, I say! Leave the puppies alone. What did they do to deserve it?


OtisThe Silence by Tim Lebbons. Otis is a protector. A champ who ensure that his family is safe in the face of an inscrutable enemy that hunts by sound. Brave doggo!

Luna  – The Shuddering by Ania Ahlborn.  Luna is a husky who isn’t afraid to jump in when her people are threatened. The threat is strangely hairless, emaciated creatures with shovel-hands and teeth like knife blades. This doesn’t stop Luna from sinking her teeth into the menace, if only to protect the ones she loves. Even if the ones she loves are idiots who kind of walk right into it.

Chet – Dog on It by Spencer Quinn. Chet endures some adversity for the sake of his erstwhile owner, “Detective” Bernie. He ends up in a “kill” shelter, on the table, and anyone who’s a dog lover will shudder at the prospect of putting down a pup who can’t find love. Chet fights his way through his trials to help his ding-dong dad solve the mystery of a missing child.

Tim – Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero. Tim has a lineage to live up to. His father was a mystery solving champ. Tim rides in an improvised backpack to the deepest depths of a subterranean cave and fights Lovecraftian creatures to keep his people safe.

Nubs – Seeds by Ania Ahlborn. Nubs is the best family dog. Loves his people. If he could save them from the demon, he would.

Jasper – The Dog Stars by Peter Heller. Jasper may not hear so well anymore. But he loves being above the world  in an airplane with his best person, sitting shotgun. He’s always ready to warn of impending threats and is totally cool with his unconventional diet in this post-apocalyptic world.

The Dog Stars also wins best dog-related quote of the year:

Why do I fly my eight year old Cessna four seater? 

Because the seats are side by side. So Jasper can be my copilot. The real reason. The whole time I fly I talk to him, and it amuses me no end that the whole time he pretends not to listen.” 

Dogs = Best Copilots.


2017 in Review – Horror Through the Eons

One of my favorite reads of 2017 was Grady Hendrix’s Paperbacks from Hell. Hendrix, the author of gimmicky Horrorstor and My Best Friend’s Exorcism, rounds up the best of cheesy, pulp horror from the 70’s and 80’s and presents them in all their insane glory. With a focus on mass-market paperbacks and their gorgeous, gory covers, Hendrix pays tribute to the underrated artists and authors whose work combines to offend, disgust, and delight the reader.


A goodly portion of my reading time this year has been devoted to wallowing in this madness, leading me to find a new favorite author, and, as per usual, Nazis. I traveled over a century in horror this year. How has horror fiction changed?

1872: Carmilla by J. Sheridan Le Fanu


The particular edition I read had the fun quirk of not having any page numbers

Published 25 years ahead of Dracula , Carmilla might be the OG of vampires. Just like it’s more famous successor, there’s a dark castle in the middle of nowhere, mysterious deaths, ladies fainting all over the place, and a mysterious, charming woman who sleeps later than a teenager.

The horror literature of this era tended to be melodramatic and vague, professions and exclamations and declarations littered plots, which veered toward the nonsensical when summed up cliff-notes style. Gore was limited to “Yeah, we cut off her head” without going into visceral descriptions.

Looking at the billions of iterations of vampires that followed, the vampire as a solitary, blood-stealing creature with a few simple rules about sunlight and wooden stakes is refreshing. The title character, Carmilla, just wants to live for eternity and drink some blood? Can’t we leave her be?

1959-62: The Haunting of Hill House/The Sundial by Shirley Jackson, Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury


I read Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House every year because it’s my absolute favorite novel, and if you don’t think it’s the greatest, you’re obviously illiterate.

Published in 1959, the novel inspired authors from Richard Matheson to Sarah Langan to Stephen King. In addition to re-reading Haunting, I read Jackson’s earlier, apocalyptic novel The Sundial, a less polished story about a group of characters huddling together in an isolated mansion, slowly driving each other mad as they await a prophesied apocalypse.

Sounds kind of like election night, 2016.

In Paperbacks from Hell, Hendrix describes this particular period as lagging behind the times. “Horror seemed to have no future,” he writes, “because it was trapped in the past.” Classics like those above would not be labeled “horror,” but ostensibly the more reader-friendly “thriller.”

A novel about two boys who encounter a haunted carnival with a time machine carousel, a witch in a hot air balloon, disfigured victims disguised as circus acts, and a demonic ringmaster with living tattoos certainly sounds like a horror novel though. Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes is plotted like horror but reads like a stream of consciousness, coming-of-age tale. It’s almost sweet, in a grotesque, demented way.

The horror novels of this era could be viewed either of two ways. One: they’re musty relics tied to the gothic moorings of Bronte, Du Maurier, Shelley, and Stoker, trapped in polite conventions where the darkest of acts are implied. Or they’re the last vestige of honorable horror before the flood of depraved and disgusting tripe that flooded the market in the 70’s and 80’s and of course perverted our children’s minds.

It’s really kind of both. Horror finally caught up to the culture at a time when cinema was going for broke with brutal films like Last House on the Left, Straw Dogs, and Cannibal Holocaust. It became less about ghost rapping under tables and more about maniacs playing jump rope with intestines. Clive Barker’s Books of Blood could certainly complete with the nastier of movies that seared our brains and haunted our dreams.

1979-1982: Michael McDowell, You Guys


My very first audiobook this year was a little gem called The Elementals. I bought it because it was super cheap and actually looked pretty good. It was great. Who knew the writer for Beetlejuice and The Nightmare Before Christmas could churn out cheesy horror pulps full of memorable characters and atmospheric chills?

I’ve already written at length about The ElementalsKatieand The Amulet. I just wanted to give another shout-out to my new favorite horror author. Sadly, he died in 1999 at the age of 49 and the world is a lesser place because of that.

1977-1984: The Amityville Horror/Incarnate/Wolf’s Hour

As I was adding up the fiction and non-fiction I read this year, I paused as I tried to categorize Jay Anson’s The Amityville Horror. Is it fiction? Is it non-fiction? Will we ever know for sure?

Just kidding. That shit is made up.

I just started listening to an entertaining podcast called My Favorite Murderon which the hosts relate their favorite murders each episode. There’s something like a hundred episodes now, so that’s a lot of murder. They commented on how there seemed to be an explosion of crazy murders happening in the 70’s, and one of those crazy murders was committed by Ronald DeFeo, who shot his entire family while they slept, then went to the bar.

Even crazier is the curious immortality of The Amityville Horror. Posited as a true story, it tell the story of the Lutz family, those unfortunate souls who moved into the house where the murders were committed. They only stayed 28 days, claiming all sorts of paranormal nonsense. Approximately eight million movies have been made, as recent as this year.

I was surprised by how readable Amityville turned out to be; the writing is solidly mediocre, and I can only assume the author was paid extra for exclamation marks. But the story is pretty good. Truthful? Believable? Not so much.

The Wolf’s Hour is by the same author who brought you the apocalyptic epic, Swan Song. It may be the only decent werewolf novel in existence. My review of it is here. Suffice it to say one of the classic, if not so pulpy, 80’s authors.

Incarnate is by another master of horror, Ramsey Campbell. It’s a slow burn, and for much of the novel, it seems like nothing is happening at all, or that it’s fitting together in any coherent manner. But wait until the end. A group of people participate in a study about prophetic dreaming, and eleven years later, the echoes of that mutually shared dream finally bear down.

* * *

I have to thank Paperbacks from Hell and Michael McDowell for igniting a love for schlocky horror. I’ve always been a big B movie fan; one of my favorite films is the bloodiest movie ever made, Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive (or Braindead.) The nerd in me delights at the intersection of cheese and gore where the 80’s collided to produce some of the most ridiculous and amazing horror films/books of all time.

*Lawnmower Massacres

  • I read MacBeth this year and was thrilled to connect with well known references such as “By the pricking of my thumbs” (Agatha Christie novel) “something wicked this way comes” (Bradbury novel). Also there are multiple references in Hamilton (“tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,” “screw your courage to the sticking place.”)
  • I remember watching Something Wicked This Way Comes as a kid and being pretty freaked out by some tarantulas. That’s all I remember.
  • Seriously, if you’re the morbid sort, My Favorite Murder is a super-fun and funny podcast. Their tagline is “Stay Sexy. Don’t Get Murdered.” Rules to live by.
  • So there’s a big gap between Carmilla and the horror fiction of the 50’s and 60’s in this post. Inhabiting that gap I can only assume is the cosmic void wherein dwells the eldritch gods.

Tentacles and Racist Dirtbags: Approaches to Lovecraft

I’m just going to get this out of the way: The question of separating Art and Artist is never going to be answered to anyone’s satisfaction. Whether we dismiss the art completely, or grant it begrudging respect, or make just make exceptions for our favorite artists, we can draw lines in the sand all day long just to watch the next tide sweep them away.

H.P. Lovecraft was a shitty human being in most respects. His grim view of humanity is reflected in the bleakness of his mythos, the cosmic void and eldritch gods negating the meaning of human existence. He directed the majority of his disdain at those of different races, being an obsessive anglophile. Yeah, he was a huge racist.

I’ve loved Lovecraft’s work for years and years, however much I feel the need to begin any adulation of his work with a disclaimer. “I know he’s a racist dirtbag, but…At the Mountains of Madness? I mean, can you even…?”

Instead of asking again about separating artist and art, I’ve been mulling over a more interesting question after reading a trio of books that in one sense or another, owe a great deal to the creator of Cthulhu.

All art is necessarily derivative, and writers, whether they admit it or not, pay homage, allude to, or just plain rip off the authors of previous eras,. So how do they approach someone so obviously problematic as Lovecraft while acknowledging how large a debt they owe to his universe?

Let’s see how three novels published within the last few years have approached it.

1. Let’s Just Put Some Tentacles on the Cover

Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero

In a novel full of allusions, the Lovecraftian references are oblique, never mentioned outright.

Four kids and a dog who used to solve mysteries are now are all grown up and massively effed up. They reunite to solve one last mystery! But when the meddling kids, now meddled-out adults, return to their old haunts to close the lid on their final case, there’s a whole bunch of weird, cosmic results.

There’s a mad doctor reanimating the dead, creepy subterranean creatures, an elder god looking to make a comeback and maybe destroy humanity. There’s also a character residing in Arkham Asylum where he meets a professor from Miskatonic University; all sorts of Lovecraftian shenanigans going on here.

The premise is cute, the story decent and occasionally funny,  but the best character is the dog, and there are dull stretches of just talking, mostly about one character’s hair, that slams the plot to a halt more than once. Cantero wisely avoids copying Scooby Doo beat for beat; the characters have different names and characteristics, and the dog is not a Great Dane but a Pointer, and his name is Tim. That dog is EPIC.

2. Just Lay it All Out There

I am Providence by Nick Mamatas

I am Providence basically starts out with acknowledging Lovecraft’s racist assholery.  The action takes place at the annual Summer Tentacular! A convention for Lovecraft buffs and writers to mingle, hold half-assed panels, and drink. The novel begins with a cool trick. The narrator is dead, yet somehow his neurons are still firing, and he’s very aware of the going-ons in the morgue where he is being held. His narrative alternates with another attendee of the convention who is trying to solve his murder. The narrative device is interesting for a while, until it requires a lot of action to take place in the morgue under the most contrived of circumstances.

Lovecraft’s problems with other races and also women recur throughout the novel, as we meet many zany and sometimes poorly differentiated characters, all of them being exactly the weirdos that “normal” people imagine attend these conventions. The character decisions in this book are some of the weirdest I’ve come across. Instead of the beats illuminating the characters, they are in clear service to the plot (the cops bring several murder suspects down to the morgue multiple times, because that is common police procedure…?)

Ultimately, the novel leads to an ending it doesn’t earn, although it never wavers on Lovecraft’s faults. It doesn’t seem to lead to any conclusions though, one way or another, preferring to make fun of nerds rather than create any bigger picture.

3. Build a Better World

Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff

Lovecraft is only mentioned briefly in the beginning of this novel, a story about insane cultists, Necronomicons, and 1950’s Jim Crow America. If you’re going to tell a story about the ills of racism, H.P. Lovecraft is an odd choice, although “Lovecraft Country” is an apt description for the nightmarish reality of being black in the 1950’s.

Lovecraft Country tells its story episodically, each chapter focusing on a different character and their strange journeys that require them to fight not only discrimination and menacing small-town cops, but interstellar portals, creepy cults, and haunted chess boards. Especially striking is the saga of a black woman who is drugged by one of the cult leaders and wakes up as a white woman. Anyone who ever said white privilege doesn’t exist ought to read this story and reevaluate their opinions.

Lovecraft Country is at once an exploration of our country’s shameful history of discrimination and hatred, and a celebration of the weird. It is proof that we can take a terrible thing and use it to start a new dialogue.

And maybe that is how we can start a conversation around our problematic creators.




*Colours Out of Space

  • I stopped eating at Jimmy John’s when I found out the owner was a big game trophy hunter, which is disgusting. Following this logic, should I also stop reading Hemingway, also a big game trophy hunter? TRICK QUESTION! I don’t read Hemingway because he’s boring as shit.
  • In Meddling Kids, there’s this recurring bit where someone will mention witches burning at Salem, and a character is all “Salem! Stop talking about Salem! It’s not always about Salem!” But what bothers me is the obvious historical inaccuracy: no witches were burned in Salem. Burning was more of a European custom. Those Salemites were all about hanging people and sometimes piling giant rocks on them.
  • My favorite cutesy reference in Meddling Kids is probably the Zoinx River. I listened to this on audiobook, so every time the narrator said “Zoinx River,” I laughed out loud. Go ahead, try it. Zoinx River.
  • There is an actual H.P. Lovecraft Convention held in Portland, OR every year called CthulhuCon


Guest Post: Three Video Games to Give You a Fright!

Today post is written by Josephine B., my younger sister. Enjoy!

Hey dudes! Halloween is almost upon us, so here are some spooky games to play!

1. Five Nights at Freddy’s


In the game you work as a security guard at Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza. The animatronics are allowed to wander at night, so you sit in the security office and watch the animatronics on cameras. The objective is to keep them out of the room and to survive the night.

One of the best things about the game is that your only defense, if one of the animatronics appears too close, is to close the door. Just waiting for something to appear creates a sense of dread.

There are multiple jump scares, but the scariest one is when the animatronic Foxy can be seen running down the hall. The other animatronics can’t move on camera but are still creepy because they just lurk in the other rooms, and it’s quite terrifying when one appears right outside the door.

Based on the characters and gameplay, I rate it 5 out of 5.

2. Left 4 Dead 2


This is a first person shooter game where a group of survivors have to battle zombies to get to a safe place. You have to fight not only zombies but also awesome mutated infected known as “specials.” There are different campaigns you can play and they all have an awesome choice of melee weapons, such as a machete, a katana, or an axe.

The specials are cool because they each have their own different attacks. The Smoker, for example, grabs you with his tongue. The witch is pretty deadly if you startle her, so beware every time you hearing crying.

The game has multiplayer which is awesome because you have to work together to get to the end. It’s also fun playing with other people and competing to see who get the most kills!

Because of multiplayer and zombies, I rate it 4 out of 5.

3. Dead Space


In this game you answer a distress call on a spaceship. When you arrive, you find all the people are missing and the creatures, called “necromorphs,” attack. You get separated from your teammates so you have to find your way back to them and escape the ship. Now you have to go around fixing things and killing necromorphs.

The reason I like this one a lot is because it’s set in space and being in space is pretty terrifying. The scariest thing about the game are the sounds that the creatures make and how creepy they are (check out the Guardian necromorph at 3:00 in this video.) The like to scare you by jumping out of vents! You get to buy really cool weapons like a flamethrower and a saw.

Based on the creatures, I rate it 4 out of 5.

TFW Your Jewelry is CURSED: The Amulet by Michael McDowell

Meet The Amulet, the most travelin’ piece of jewelry around. It passes from heir to heir to heir and when it clasps  around your neck, you find yourself with an unquenchable thirst to kill. The only catch (though the catch on the necklace is invisible and unbreakable) is once you kill, your turn comes shortly and gruesomely thereafter.

It saves the taxpayers quite a bit on trials and such.

Welcome to Pine Cone, Alabama, where the wives are all haranguing, and the husbands much harangued. It’s a mean little town kept alive only by the Pine Cone Munitions factory, and it’s about to be a whole less alive once The Amulet is done wreaking its bloody havoc.

Poor Sarah Howell finds herself suddenly caring for her comatose husband, Dean, whose bandaged face hides the damage done by an exploding rifle before he can be sent off to fight in Vietnam. Her hateful mother-in-law Jo Howell blames the entire town for Dean’s injuries; she makes a gift of The Amulet and chaos descends.

McDowell’s sense of location is on point, all dirty southern heat and dusty southern roads. His inventive deaths are gruesome predecessors to the death-porn franchises of Final Destination and Saw. Even though events grow more and more ludicrous as the Amulet passes from person to person (there’s a ceiling fan scene that quite defies belief), it’s too late. You’ve picked up the Amulet and it won’t let go until you pay the final price.

*Applesauce and Lye

  • Jo Howell joins McDowell’s memorable matriarchs alongside Big Barbara (The Elementals) and Hannah Slape (Katie.) She is a particular breed of nasty. Listen when she denies to Sarah that the amulet is some kind of cursed: “A amulet don’t work, Sarah, it just sits there. It’s got no moving parts, it’s not like a watch. What can it do? You saw the thing. It was just a piece of metal with a chain on it. Got it from Montgomery Ward.” Sick burn, Jo!

    Published 1979, 5th printing, Avon Books

    I love cheesy 80’s horror covers. See the amulet in the corner? I imagined it a little different. I also couldn’t figure out if those people were just randos or supposed to be characters. Look! They’re all tangled up in the chain! And there’s blood! Trigger warning: This is “A NOVEL OF PURE TERROR.”

  • Reading Tunes Recs: Bottom of the River by Delta Rae, Southern Gothic playlist by Spotify


Steampunk Frankenstein: This Monstrous Thing by Mackenzi Lee

Steampunk Frankenstein!

Or to be obnoxious about it, Steampunk Frankenstein’s Monster.

This Monstrous Thing by Mackenzi Lee reimagines the Frankenstein myth in a steampunk Victorian era, where men and women with clockwork body parts tick through the streets of Europe. These gear-driven people are viewed as less than human by many, distasteful at best, abominations at worst. And isolated in an abandoned castle on the edges of Geneva lives a man called Oliver, made alive again thanks to cogs and gears and the ingenuity of his younger brother, Alasdair.

As a “shadow-boy,” someone who illegally provides clockwork limbs to those without, Alasdair and his family live in fear of discovery and capture. Alasdair suffers the additional fear of keeping his brother’s reanimation a secret. When an anonymously published book titled Frankenstein, appears, mysteriously paralleling the lives of Alasdair and Oliver, it only serves to increase the paranoia and distrust of “clockwork men.”

The story is fair, the setting rendered somewhat flatly despite it’s potential; the grimy world of Steampunk has always seemed to impress more with aesthetics than actual mechanical ingenuity.

The book illustrates several fascinating points, however. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, while a bit of a slog to actually read through, is still relevant today. In an afterword, author Mackenzi Lee describes Frankenstein as a “science creation myth,” reflecting the anxieties of the day as reason began to do a serious bid with religion. Tell me that doesn’t resonate with the fears of cloning and genetic engineering that pervade our modern worries. What does it mean when you can choose your baby’s sex or their eye color? How do we cope with the idea that one day, we might not even need bodies to make new humans?

Lee chose to tell her story reflecting industrial anxieties and how these people with mechanical pieces were somehow seen as less than human. These days, augmentations like pacemakers to animatronic limbs barely cause us to bat an eye. But these parts merely replace something lost, or keep us alive when our heart is wont to prematurely fail. What about when we start upgrading?

In Homo Deus, author Yuval Noah Harari suggests that humans may one day attain the ability to become amortal, meaning that our bodies can be made to last much longer than our natural lifespan. It doesn’t mean a good old separation of head and body, or other physical trauma, wouldn’t kill us, only that the things that typically do kill us–heart disease and cancer–will be conquered and new technologies will allow us to live on, provided we avoid I-5 in rush hour and stay off ladders.

The ethical implications are enormous. This technology inevitably will start out very expensive, meaning that very few will be able to afford it. Does life then become measured by your bank account (as though it isn’t already)? And then if people start living doubly long, how in the hell are we going to house and feed them all?

Of course, it may just happen that our technological wonders will become sentient and enslave us anyway and then we won’t have to worry about any of that.

*spare parts

  • I got tricked again into reading another YA book!


    Library binding, published 2015, first edition.

    Hmm, not very steampunk-y. I see zero gears, cogs, or goggles. I do see the clock tower mentioned in the book, being rude and trying to take out the “M.” There’s some random lightning, which may be an homage to Shelley, but since the narrative doesn’t involve any reanimating bolts, maybe just inaccurate? I don’t know if the guy is supposed to be Alasdair or Oliver. He’s blurry so I can’t make out any non-organic parts.

  • Scott Westerfeld is a YA author who writes about teenagers and stuff, but knows how a steampunk cover should look:
  • 6050678

    Now that’s steampunk!

A Werewolf’s Purpose: The Wolf’s Hour by Robert McCammon

“What is the lycanthrope, in the eye of God?”

I don’t have much experience with werewolf literature. The unfortunate examples of recent memory extends to the lame The Wolfen by Whitley Streiber and the even lamer portrayal in Stefanie Meyers’ Twilight series. Much of recent werewolf material relegates the werewolf to sidekick/nemesis status, markedly inferior to their (usually) vampire frenemies (True Blood, Underworld.) 

There are a few examples of the werewolf receiving the treatment it deserves, from classics like Werewolf of London (1935), The Wolf Man (1941), and An American Werewolf in London (1981), but when we look at the pantheon of literature, there is little room for the werewolf alongside the Draculas and Frankensteins of world.

The werewolf is often depicted as a lonely, hunted creature. In Robert McCammon’s The Wolf’s Hour, the “wolf” in question also happens to be a nazi-fighting hero as well, using his powers to serve the Allies in WWII. As Michael Gallatin questions his purpose in the world, he tries to find it in fighting against the forces of brutality and evil.


I’m usually a little reticent to accept stories involving Nazis. Instead of building a villain from ground up, it’s easy to *insert Nazi here* and have a ready-made, instantly evocative force of evil.  McCammon labors, though, to show you just how brutal and heartless these Nazis (and their sympathizers) are, and with the current climate threatening a resurgency of white supremacy, it’s never a bad idea to remind ourselves of the dangerous extremes brought about by ideas of racial superiority and eugenics.

At times, The Wolf’s Hour seems little more than a WWII spy novel whose hero also happens to be a werewolf. But the flashbacks that detail Gallatin’s early life, how he came to be a werewolf and lived with a pack in an isolated Russian forest, bring life and depth to a brooding hero who muses on the nature of his being while cracking skulls and crunching noses. The full horror of Nazi atrocity is on display, from the lewd cruelty that serves as entertainment for upper crust SS officers to the despairs and torments of a Nazi concentration camp. When one Nazi officer meets his end in a pit of murdered prisoners, the image is as befitting as it is horrifying.

As in Swan Song, McCammon’s apocalyptic epic, The Wolf’s Hour is impressive in its breadth of vision. But it is the peculiar paradox of werewolf Michael Gallatin that leaves the biggest impression. Often, the man turned werewolf serves to illustrate humanity’s “bestial” nature, or what we would be capable of if our humanness did not keep this primitive side in check. But as a wolf, though Michael Gallatin may serve his instincts by killing and eating prey, serving the circle of life, he never reaches the heights of cruelty attained by the Nazi machine. Indeed, the wolf is capable of seeing a world that is out of reach our of dull human senses, and appreciating that beauty in a way we could never understand.

I am reminded by a quote from Dostoevsky in The Brothers Karamazov:

People speak sometimes about the ‘bestial’ cruelty of man, but that is terribly unjust and offensive to beasts, no animal could ever be so cruel as a man, so artfully, so artistically cruel.” 

The werewolf is never as much a wolf as it is the reflection of our darker natures, the face lurking just behind the deceptive mask of humanity.

*full moons

  • In 2011, McCammon published a collection of novellas that continue the adventures of Gallatin the Werewolf, called The Hunter in the WoodsI haven’t read it yet, but wouldn’t mind spending more time with the green-eyed werewolf.
  • McCammon’s artwork has an interesting continuity to it. Somebody’s always watching!