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Showing posts from June, 2008

Strangers can be lovers

Well, I finished the Japanese 'ghost story' Strangers , by Taichi Yamada, translated by Wayne P. Lammers. I found it interesting, but oddly unsatisfying. Much of the book's supposed impact - too much, I feel - pivots on a twist ending that I feel was not really much of a surprise. Perhaps the problem lies with the translation or its a Japanese cultural thing. Most of my experiences of Japanese ghost stories is via film, not prose.  The central character is Harada, a middle-aged TV script writer whose life seems to be in a downward spiral. He has set about divorcing his wife, alienating his student son in the process, yet he seems to regard himself as the victim. This self-pity is not an attractive quality, and a character's loneliness is less effective when it is self-inflicted. A more traditional ghost story would have Harada widowed, or perhaps simply find himself isolated in middle age because he's been 'married to the job' too long. This fault apart, the

Moggie Facts, and a Map

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A wonderful site called Strange Maps has lots of well, strange maps. If you want to know about Switzerland's plans to fight off the Nazis, or what the giant magnetic rock at the North Pole looked like in the 13th century, that's the place. There's also a fun map of a bed from a cat's viewpoint, and some cat facts. I like cats, what's it to you? And they deserve to be here 'cause they're always popping up in tales of the supernatural. It's that habit of watching Nothing At All cross the room. Oo-er. Here are the facts: 1. Cats don’t have a clavicle bone, allowing them to pass through any space no bigger than their head. 2. Cats move both legs on one side, and then both leg on the other, a trait they share with camels, giraffes and a select few other mammals. Nobody knows what the connection is, if any. 3. Typically, cat’s claws are sharper on the forefeet are sharper than on the hind feet. 4. Most cats have five claws on their front paws and four or five

Lovecraft in your Lughole

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Those lovely people at the HPLHS have done it again! They've produced a 'wireless' version of Lovecraft's definitively bonkers tale of Elder God malarkey, The Dunwich Horror . As with their earlier At the Mountains of Madness, it's a Dark Adventure Radio Theatre production, done in authentic pre-war style. They're still pushing their sponsors ghastly ciggies, Fleur de Lys. And the CD version of this drama comes with the now familiar array of nice little extras. You get a map of the Dunwich area, a newspaper clipping showing just how degenerate the locals were in 1917 (which was very),  a page from Dr John Dee's faulty copy of the Necronomicon, and a page torn from Wilbur Whateley's notebook, written in weird cypher. Oo-er. But what of the drama itself? Well, it's pretty darn good. Admitteldy much of the action consists of people talking in the village shop, then talking in the college library, then talking in a professor's study, with occasiona

An American in Dublin

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That's Brian J. Showers , a writer who is keeping alive the traditional, 19th century ghost story in the style of Le Fanu. No sexy vampire gals as yet, but I live in hope. His latest book, The Bleeding Horse (as in 'Is that your bleedin' horse, mate?') is full of period detail and topographic information. It's not a collection of horror stories, but a sort of ghostly ramble through the environs of Dublin. I think - if I can get my act together - that a proper review will appear in ST14.

What is Valdemar Reading Now?

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Well, my brain fell out a few weeks ago and it took me a while to find it, what with work and everything. However, it's back in position, more or less, and I'm reading a Japanese novel. Ooh, clever - intellectual poseur or what? Actually someone has kindly translated the book into English for me, so it's no big deal. I'm only a chapter in, but it's interesting. The story concerns a TV scriptwriter who has just been divorced and has moved into what was an office in a block near a busy highway. Once accustomed to the roar of the traffic, our man becomes a bit jumpy about the fact that the building seems deserted at night. Sure enough, it seems that he is the only person actually living there - all the other rooms are rented offices. Bit weird, that, but perhaps it's more common in Japan. Anyway, the book is entitled Strangers and the author is Taichi Yamada. The book comes highly recommended by the likes of Brett Easton Ellis. But is it a proper ghost story? Much

What is the Gothic?

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My affection for Goths and my new blog title pic (which comes from a modern 'silent' movie) led me to wonder what the Gothic means these days. There's cybergoth, of course, which seems to be cyberpunk but with slightly less interest in designer labels. But what does the Gothic imply in fiction?  Well, there was that Halley Berry movie, Gothika . It was pants and I couldn't watch it all the way through. So we can forget about that. Somewhat better was the TV series American Gothic , with its diabolical doings in the Mid-Western US. But American Gothic implies, for me, something rather different to the standard Euro-Gothic.  In his history of science fiction, Billion Year Spree, Brian W. Aldiss suggests that the sf form is essentially cast in the Gothic mould. What he means (I vaguely recall) is that the conventions of the realistic novel don't apply. This is obviously the case in Frankenstein , much of Poe's work, and in some of Wells' stories, especially T

Scary picture about scary pictures

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What is it with Hollywood and good Asian horror movies? The Eye, The Grudge and Ring have all been remade for the benefit of people too stoopid to read subtitles. And the remakes are pants, apparently. I did try to watch The Grudge remake, as it starred Sarah Michelle Gellar, and as an old Buffoid I felt I owed her something. But not that much. Maybe I'll get round to watching Jessica Alba earn her nice big paycheck for The Eye , but not just yet. But despite audiences staying away in droves, the Tinseltown dumbness just keeps coming. This year saw the release, to general apathy, of the American version of Shutter . The original Thai movie is, IMHO, one of the best ghost story films of recent years. Don't let the remake fool you. Go for the original and enjoy it.  The film is fairly typical in that it focuses on the ghost as vengeful spirit. M.R. James rightly observed that ghosts can kill people, drive them barmy, or do nothing of any great interest. In Shutter, the ghos

I like Goths

I just wanted to make that clear. I'm not a Goth, but I admire the whole Goth subculture for its refreshing capacity to take itself seriously only some of the time. A good example is this dance class, which shows young Gothicists taking the mickey out of themselves. And frankly I always thought the Smurfs merited a good kicking. There was something deeply wrong about them. They seemed awfully knowing, somehow. Go Goths! Epater des Smeurfes!

Theres' a ghost in my house!

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And I'm not just quoting a popular ditty. There really is a small, yet powerful spectre haunting my person. It was sent by ST reader Adam Walter, who very kindly wrote that 'you are perhaps not often enough thanked for your contribution to the supernatural fiction community'. I received ST13 last week & am sending this bit of nonsense in gratitude.' Adam also warned me not to look it in the eyes while pushing the button, but it was too late! I'd already zapped myself before I read his note, in good ol' ghost story fashion. Thanks, Adam, it was a lovely surprise on an otherwise far from wonderful working morning. And no, this is not a way of angling for prezzies from readers. It would be nice to hear from people who like the magazine, though. Didn't Poe write somewhere that 'one kind word meant more to me than all the love in paradise'? While I wouldn't go quite that far, even faint praise is welcome. But enough of this - let us consider the g

Civil Disobedience

I started well with a punch up the portico Followed through with a knee in the architrave Gouged the reception area (No Queensberry Rules for this baby) But then weight and experience began to tell And I was reduced to a pulp Crushed by granite Cut by glass Buried by paperwork All I’d done was prove again The words of the bit player whose name you can never recall: Take it from me Kid, take it from me You can't fight City Hall

Creative Writulating

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I had a bit of a 'sode at work and volunteered to set up a creative writing group for staff at the council, where I work. Amusingly, it was made very clear to me that I am not qualified to teach anyone creative writing. I have no letters after my name. So I have a bunch of people who I can't actually teach, only sort of encourage a bit. Does anyone have any idea what I should actually do, apart from arrange a room, plus tea and biscuits? I'd be genuinely interested in people's views. I've been kicking a few ideas around. I could ask people if they think there are only a few basic types of story, and what they are. After we've compiled a list I could suggest people write a story that doesn't fall into one of those categories. I could ask them to write about what they did on their holidays. I could do the old trick of saying 'tell a familiar story from a different perspective, i.e. Snow White from the Wicked Queen's viewpoint'. These ideas seem

I'm Tired...

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Due to travelling to and from Glasgow for work purposes yesterday. Gosh, what fun. The actual visit, to the RNIB radio station Insight (look it up, it's good), was very rewarding. But oh dear, the getting up in the morning to catch the train. And oooh dear, the journey back. The East Coat mainline was almost paralysed due to electrical problems. So they produced a diesel 'unit' towing what should have been an electric train. And it turned out that the diesel had a half-empty fuel tank, so the train to Kings Cross didn't get any further than Newcastle. Which, luckily, was our stop. But not that of the vast majority of the poor sods on board. Remember when we complained about evil, socialist, British Rail? It's true - you don't know when you're well off. King Log gives way to King Stork, and life gets that much more interesting.