Categories
True Life 2020

My Powdered Donut Phobia began April 17, 1976

Donuts? Doughnuts? Whatever. If they have powdered sugar on them, I find them deeply frightening.

“Frightening” might be a slight exaggeration.

I definitely find them deeply unsettling.

I definitely don’t eat them.

But I don’t break out in a cold sweat when I see them. Not anymore.

It all began when I was a very small child. I went over to a neighbor’s house and all the Big Kids were watching Dr. Paul Bearer’s Saturday afternoon Creature Feature double-feature on WTOG (Channel 44, St.Petersburg, FL) because that’s what you did on a Saturday afternoon if you lived in Southwest Florida in the 1970s.

I didn’t know what the movie was, I only knew that it was very scary and the one scene I saw was enough. It’s a shame I didn’t stick around because I’m sure I wouldn’t have been nearly as traumatized if I’d seen the whole movie.

Or any other scene in the movie.

Any scene at all.

The scene I saw involved scary alien women feeding a pair of boys poisoned powdered donuts and then eating their brains. At least I thought the women ate their brains. I saw the scary alien women preparing to cut the boy’s heads open and I took off running for home.

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Later in life, I would recount this story to people but no one was able to figure out what the movie was. Media librarians. The MST3K gang. Film historians. Everyone thought it was vaguely familiar but no one could put their finger on it.

If only I remembered more details. Like it being Japanese, or involving a guy in a giant rubber turtle costume, because I’m pretty sure those details would have been very helpful. The kaiju tend to be the memorable parts of these movies for most people.

The movie that gave me a lifelong phobia about powdered donuts was none other than Gamera Vs Guiran.

The nice folks at Mystery Science Theater did, in fact, solve the mystery (and they aired the movie on their show in 1991, although that’s coincidental to my quest).

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Thanks to the internet, I can pinpoint the day my powdered donut phobia began: April 17, 1976. That’s the date Gamera Vs. Guiran aired on Creature Feature, according to The Crazed Fanboy’s database.

I understand that powdered donuts are not, inherently, dangerous. Except when they are.

Categories
book reviews

Review: The Circle by Dave Eggers

The Circle

The Circle by Dave Eggers
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

In his 2013 novel, The Circle, Dave Eggers leaves the specifics of how The Circle’s technology works to the reader’s imagination, a gambit that can be generative in the hands of certain writers. However, Eggers wrote a 500 page book about an Internet company but seems to understand neither the Internet nor companies. That’s a whole other ballgame, particularly when he embeds his imaginary techno-nightmare in reality by name-checking Steve Jobs, Facebook, Google, and the like. Furthermore, Eggers has written a female protagonist, Mae Holland, but doesn’t seem to understand women very well.

That said, if I were teaching my college course on cyberculture again any time soon, I would almost certainly put it on a supplementary reading list because I believe it raises some interesting question, even if accidentally. (privatization of government, voter protections, and the right to opt out among them). Nevertheless, I wavered over whether to give it 1 or 2 stars.

I can accept that the idealistic young tech workers of The Circle truly believe in what they’re doing. I can believe that they have no concerns about the economics, access to private land, the digital divide, literacy, or any of the other factors that would in reality hopefully prevent the whole world from buying in to the kind of technology being developed. I have met these people and they are legion. I think that Eggers does capture that sense of excitement, exhaustion, and optimism that fuels ambitious workers at young companies, especially young people with expensive educational debt, and limited job prospects. Additionally, and without spoilers, I think that Eggers captures the desperation of the chronically ill in the current American healthcare and insurance system. When the Circle puts Mae’s father, whose MS is not being managed or treated due to lack of insurance, onto her health plan, Mae has strong motivation to hold on to her job no matter what is asked of her. That premise gets stretched increasingly thin as the book progresses, and eventually the way Mae treats her family increases my alienation from her rather than garnering sympathy.

The plotholes and authorial pratfalls undermine elements which are the stuff of good satire, but are too spoilery to outline here. Even these fall short, however, because the plot is predicated on the idea that most of the world will buy into The Circle’s technology because the Internet magically became a civil place when the Circle rolled out TruYou, an authentication system that removes the possibility of anonymity or privacy from online comments, commerce, or social interactions. Seriously? What? No.

Now I know why I read the first half of this book the week it was released and then banished it to a distant corner of my office. When the trailer for the feature film adaptation starring Emma Watson/Tom Hanks was released, I decided to finish the book. If the movie is even slightly as naive as the book, it must be a trainwreck and, when I wrote this original review in 2017 I fully intended to catch a cheap matinee, but then apparently came to my senses. It has a 15% tomatometer rating! That’s actually a lot higher than I expected.


View all of my reviews at Goodreads or read the full versions with embedded links here. This review was originally posted on Goodreads January 02, 2018 and has been updated with links and additional information for this post.

Categories
book reviews horror & scifi

Review: Bernard Taylor’s The Reaping

The Reaping

The Reaping by Bernard Taylor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In 2017, Grady Hendrix published Paperbacks From Hell: The Twisted History of ’70s and ’80s Horror Fiction. The lovelies at Valancourt Books launched a Paperbacks from Hell series in the Spring of 2019 and, of course, I jumped on the subscription offer for the first 6 editions.

Bernard Taylor’s 1980 novel The Reaping arrived in June and I’m pretty sure I read it cover-to-cover late one night out on the front porch, as one does in the summertime. The Paperbacks from Hell edition includes an introduction by Will Errickson.

This clever but uneven work leads the reader to assume they’re plunging in to a retro-modern Gothic tale about an artist commissioned to paint a portrait of a frail young heiress in a mysterious mansion. But once all of the squares are covered on the Gothic bingo card, the author begins flinging twists at the reader with gleeful abandon. Although it serves the story well not to waste momentum on any occult theories or ponderous monologues, the change in tone and pace are jarring and the ending is rather abrupt.

To be fair, the twists are fun and the ending works well enough. I found Thomas, the painter, realistically self-absorbed and enjoyed that the reader can never be sure whether he’s a great painter or not (avoiding spoilers), but his self-absorption also wears a bit thin at times. Nevertheless, an excellent inclusion in the Paperbacks from Hell series, which kicked off with the eco-horror of The Nest and was followed by When Darkness Loves You, which has an astronomically high level of what-the-fuckitude. It’s the Paperbacks from Hell context and Errickson’s fine introduction which nudge The Reaping from 3 to 4 stars.

View all my reviews at Goodreads or read the full versions with embedded links here. This review was originally posted on Goodreads June 03, 2019 and has been updated with links and additional information for this post.

Categories
book reviews horror & scifi music

Review: Elizabeth Hand’s Wylding Hall (2015)

Wylding Hall

Wylding Hall by Elizabeth Hand
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In the land before time, I taught Audio Engineering with a focus on film sound. Consequently, I have a particular fondness for fiction in the “manager locks up band in a secluded location to record an album & mayhem ensues” genre, which intersects in interesting ways with the “ghost hunters bite off more than they can chew in a secluded house” and the related “student filmmakers set up shop in a haunted house and mayhem ensues” genres. Much like the actual entertainment industry, in horror fiction it’s all fun and games in the haunted house, until its not. Then it’s still fun and games for the reader, and doubly so for those of us who feel like we’ve lived some of these scenes in real-life, albeit with less bloodshed and more substance abuse.

But I digress.

Elizabeth Hand’s Wylding Hall (2015) is a novella structured in a sort of behind-the-music-esque epistolary form. It’s got band drama, a creepy house, a mystery, and enough similarity to actual events to create a frisson of reality for readers who know a bit of English folk music history. Plus, it has a potentially colorful cast of characters wistfully trying to recount events from a time when they were all young, beautiful, and wasted. Hand weaves this all together in an intriguing manner and this is a fast, fun, eerie read.

Forty years after the mysterious disappearance of their lead guitarist, the surviving members of the fictional acid-folk band Windhollow Faire, their manager, and one band member’s ex-girlfriend (now a professional psychic) sit for individual interviews with a documentarian. The narrative unfolds as we jump from interview snippet to interview snippet. Although I feel that Hand did a brilliant job of creating and maintaining mystery and suspense using this technique, and each character is well-realized, their voices are too similar and I often found myself skipping back a page to remind myself who is supposed to be speaking. In less-skillful hands, this would sink the book, but the story is intriguing enough to put up with this minor annoyance.

So, the plot, without spoilers: After (fictional) acid-folk band Windhollow Faire releases their first album, their lead singer dies at the apartment of lead guitarist, Julian Drake. A new lead lead singer is recruited to replace dearly departed but not especially talented Annabelle. Their manager rents a medieval country house in Hampshire and stashes them away for 3 months to write, rehearse, and recover from the tragedy.

Hand was inspired by the true story of the British folk band Fairport Convention, whose manager rented a country house in Hampshire called Farley Chamberlayne so they could regroup after the tragic deaths of their drummer and their lead guitarist’s girlfriend, and record a new album.

I don’t know if Fairport Convention invoked any otherworldly forces during their time in Hampshire. but Windhollow Faire get more than they bargained for when clues emerge that Julian’s brilliant songwriting may be more than metaphorically magical.

In a lengthy interview with Locus, excerpted online on the magazine’s website, Hand talks about her folk-horror vision for Wylding Hall:

‘‘Just because you’re young and really stoned and in a weird creepy place, that doesn’t mean something really weird and creepy isn’t actually happening. I like the notion, too, that you don’t know you’ve seen a ghost until afterward. There’s an Edith Wharton story called ‘Afterward’. Somebody saw something, or they didn’t see something, and then later on they put it together and realized they had seen a ghost. I wanted to play with that, the idea of sunlit horror. Most of Wylding Hall takes place during the day.”

In a recent review of another book by Hand (Waking the Moon), I grumbled a lot about the lengthy insertions of lyrics and incantations. These inclusions are much more effective in Wylding Hall, and they also make more narrative sense as we’re meant to be watching musicians participating in the age-old process of adapting and contemporizing traditional ballads. That process is not only a vital way to keep the art form alive, but also a vital way to conjure dark forces which will allow mayhem to ensue. And at the end of the day, you can’t ask for much more than that from a lively horror story about a group of musicians in a creepy house!

Indiebound lists a full-cast audiobook of Wylding Hall that looks rather tempting, particularly since it might solve the “wait, who’s talking in this part?” problem.

View all my reviews at Goodreads or read the full versions with embedded links here.

Categories
book reviews Pop Culture Archaeology

Review: The Crossing Places

The Crossing Places (Ruth Galloway, #1)

The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I picked up a copy of the 7th novel in the Ruth Galloway series (The Ghost Fields) at a library book sale and enjoyed it enough to start at the beginning. The Crossing Places is the first in this series by Elly Griffiths and it won the Mary Higgins Clark Award when it debuted in 2011.

The story unfolds at a good clip and Griffiths does doles out the clues deliberately and offers enough doubt and misdirection to keep things interesting to the very end. Because I read the 7th book first, I knew quite a bit about who was going to survive, who couldn’t possibly be the killer, and who was going to end up friends in the future. Although this had the disadvantage of informing me early on that at least one the prime suspects in the twisting case was innocent, it also intrigued me as I wondered how Griffiths will develop these characters over the next 5 books to get them to the place in their lives in which I first encountered them.

Protagonist Dr. Ruth Galloway is a well-written, wholly believable forensic archaeologist who teaches at a University in Norfolk, England and lives by the sea with her cats and a host of relatable quirks. Ruth has lived in her cottage for some years, having been drawn to the place after working on a dig at a henge site in the nearby saltmarsh 10 years ago. Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson brings Ruth into a case after the bones of a child are found near the site and she’s drawn into a cold case that has bedeviled Harry for 10 years.

The complications of doing archaeological work in a salt marsh, the absurdities of academia, and the challenges of working with self-declared descendant communities such as modern-day Druids are all concisely but vividly described and these details are woven into the plot to give the story a sense of realism without pulling you out of the main mystery.

Although this series began in 2011, all of the books in it have interminable waits at my public library, which I’m (mostly, sort of) delighted about because everyone should read about the travails of relatable archaeologists who neither look nor behave like Lara Croft. (No offense, Lara. But seriously, we need to talk about those white tank tops and also the looting). I have plenty to keep me busy in the meantime, but I still rather wish my neighbors would learn to read faster.








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