Summer Vacation in the British Isles: Curfew (1993) by Philip Rickman, Ash (2012) by James Herbert, Colony (2013) by F.G. Cottam

Ash by James Herbert

 

Summer is the time when readers often seek out books that will take them to a location they may never have been before.  This summer, why not book a package tour with three horror novels that will take you off the beaten path of the regular tourist sights of the United Kingdom (London is so last season) and into the folklore and mysteries of ancient England, Scotland, and Wales.

 

Crybbe, the Welsh-English Borderlands – Curfew (1993) by Philip Rickman

 

Our first stop is the picturesque village of Crybbe.  Unlike many old villages, Crybbe has uprooted its ancient standing stones and gone out of its way to chase off the tourist trade.  But none of that matters to record mogul and new age guru Max Goff.  He has come to Crybbe with a plan to replace the stones and harness the village’s earth energy to create a spiritual center for new age enlightenment.  But the locals do not seem too enthused, and what is one to make of the quaint custom of a Curfew that rings out every night, uninterrupted since the 1600s.  As the standing stones are returned mysterious phenomenon began to proliferate, and it will be up to a mix of locals and visitors to stop the completion of a centuries old ritual rooted in Elizabethan witchcraft and murder.

This is a book well suited for anyone who enjoys stories of determined outsiders uncovering a town’s ghastly past secrets, students of the mystical earth energies and ley lines, and fans of folklore and legend.

 

Comraich Castle, Scotland – Ash (2012) by James Herbert

 

Our next tour takes us to the misty highlands of Scotland and the exclusive grounds of Comraich Castle.  The castle is a private institution, run by the reclusive Inner Court Financial Group, providing rehab services, a place to lie low if you are on the run, or a place to hide a family secret that might prove embarrassing to your career or business.  Recently the facility has come under assault by a number of paranormal phenomena.  Is the cause a curse laid down by the death of a vengeful Scottish Chieftain? The overwhelming sins and crimes of the Castle’s residents made manifest?  Or it is an evil far older and alien then anything known on Earth?  Renowned ghost hunter/psychic  David Ash has been engaged to investigate and lay the haunting to rest.  But battling it will require not just learning the secrets of Comraich Castle’s residents, but his own dark past as well.

This is exciting book, which reads more like a thriller with paranormal elements rather than a traditional horror novel.  It does feature some great scare scenes and some truly unique characters.  Herbert has seeded the asylum with a gallery of scandalous and mysterious figures from the United Kingdom’s recent past, as well as a few of the popular conspiracy theories about the British government, business, and the royal family.  This is a long book however, clocking in at around 700 pages.

 

New Hope Island, the Outer Hebrides, United Kingdom – Colony (2013) by F.G. Cottam

 

Our final destination is remote New Hope Island located in the storm tossed northern reaches of the Atlantic Ocean.  In the mid- 18th Century slave ship Captain Seamus Ballantine retired from the sea and established a religious colony on New Hope.  Several months later the settlers mysteriously disappeared.  The New Hope Island Mystery has fascinated the public since its occurrence, and in a desperate bid to boost his news empire’s ailing circulation numbers, Alexander McIntyre has assembled an all-star expedition that will attempt to unravel the mystery.  He has recruited a number of television presenters/celebrities, reporters, and ex-soldiers to find the definitive solution to the New Hope disappearances.  Of course said solution will be exclusive to his newspaper and presented in daily installments, plus a later television documentary.  But all is not well on New Hope, and the disappearance of a 1930s occultist, the ghostly visions of a teenage boarding school student, a haunted sea chest full of strange artifacts, and graduate student’s 1970s suicide will all play a role in the mystery.  The question will not be what caused the disappearance of the New Hope Island colonists; it will be can the McIntyre expedition avoid sharing their fate?

This is a sprawling novel that covers not only the expedition in the present day, but historical events stretching back to the 18th century.  It also travels all over the United Kingdom as well as to the shores of Africa.  The author does a great job of building a world and establishes the New Hope Colony Mystery with enough detail that one could believe it was a real historical event that fascinated generations.  This book makes it known that the events are supernatural from the first page, but plays coy with the actual solution, allowing each expert to have their own theory as to what is going on.  I was quite surprised by this book.  It is a good read, but a little slow in the beginning as it establishes the personalities and backgrounds of the expedition members.  However there are enough strange mysterious events to keep the pages turning.

 

Final Notes

 

The management would like to remind readers that all our tours are at the participants own risk, and we take no responsibility for maiming, possessions, or mysterious disappearances of tour members.  We understand there has been some concern over the disappearance of the participants in our Maine Getaway Tour, but we assure you we are making every possible effort to locate them.  Concerned relatives are encouraged to contact Alan Pangborn, Castle Rock Sheriff’s Department, Castle Rock, Maine for further information on this open investigation.

Authority by Jeff Vandermeer

Book Two of the Southern Reach Trilogy

Farrar, Straus and Giroux Originals
340 pages
$15.00

Authority begins with John Rodriguez, or Control as he names himself, taking over a directorship at the Southern Reach–the shadowy quasi-military organization nominally “in charge” of Area X. While it is perhaps a little too easy to see where this will go–especially with the protagonist’s name literally spelling out the theme of the book–watching everything unravel, including our own understanding of what’s happening, is really enjoyable.

There are two sort of travelers: those who like to bring their world with them wherever they go, and those who like to discard everything as they go. This novel is certainly more for the second sort of adventurer. As Control takes over at Southern Reach, we learn of his own unknown handler, the machinations of his arch-spy mother, and are introduced to the somehow saudade scientists inhabiting the facility. We are also reintroduced to the biologist from the first novel which simultaneously acts an anchor to the last book and calls into question what we think we have learned about the nebulous area’s history.

Despite the looping, fracturing content of the novel, the structure is fairly straight-forward. Like the first novel, Annihilation, the narrative swirls around one central character who finds himself surrounded by dubious colleagues and a menacing and strange environment. And again, both books give us protagonists who spend a great deal of time in memory (and thus exposition) and are more curious than sensible. Both the biologist and Control are shaped by failed relationships, both are almost clinical in their reactions, and both choose to seek knowledge more than safety.

Authority requires Annihilation to be read first, and is a fast read. That said, readers of strange fiction will certainly enjoy it, as will readers of more “literary” story-tellers like Don Delillo, Angela Carter, and Thomas Pynchon. Those patrons who are looking for more swash-buckling fantasy may not care for it as much and nor will those readers who like to have more footing in their reading.

Age range: 16+ through adult.


Genre: Adventure, Alien Contact, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Weird fiction
Series: Southern Reach Trilogy |

Las Vegas in Speculative Fiction

Last Call (1992) Tim Powers

In just a few  days’ time thousands of librarians will descend on Las Vegas for the 2014 America Library Association (ALA) Conference.  The last time ALA was there was 1973 and Vegas was a much different place.  From a suite of rooms atop the Desert Inn, reclusive mogul Howard Hughes was attempting to take over by buying up the whole town.  The Mob lived large, taking the skim out of casino count rooms, and making sure that their problems wound up buried in a lonely part of the desert outside of town.  But the 70s ran out of gas (quite literally), and the 80s brought in the junk bonds kings and the corporate boards.  They chased out the wise guys and ran thing the business way.  In the 90s there was a flowering of mega resorts built around romantic themes and a past that never was. Vegas made a bid for the family vacation crowd with pirate ships, the USS Enterprise, dragons, and pyramids.  But the long time residents knew that appealing to families was only a fad, and that the old of Vegas would return.  Sure enough by the 2003 even the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority tourism board was advising people of what to expect with their official advertising slogan:  “what happens here stays here”.  “Sin City” had reawakened.

 

Las Vegas, Spanish for “the meadows”, has always been an outlier in the vision of America.  A one stop railroad town, thrust into prominence by the largesse of the federal government (Hoover Dam and military training bases for World War II), legalized gambling, and the vision of a charismatic mobster who was too far ahead of his time.  Commentators try to use it as a symbol.  Some view it as paradise;  the ultimate expression of the American Dream where Jane or Joe Blow from Nowhere, Middle America can walk into the casino, make one throw of the dice, and emerge a millionaire.  Others see it as the dark side of the American ego, an Id of sin and vice, that will one day be turned to ash like that other long ago desert den of iniquity Gomorrah (assuming Vegas itself just does not one day dry up and blow away when the last drop of water runs out of the Colorado River into some master planned community’s swimming pool).

Perhaps that’s why many works of speculative fiction use Vegas as a setting.  After all, it is a phantasmal kingdom of ancient palaces and neon wonder.  A city that exists where no city has right to exist, in defiance of the stark desert that surrounds it.  And, a city in the constant process of reinventing itself tearing down the old to build up the new.  In a place such as that, one could almost believe that magic is real.

 

Last Call (1992) by Tim Powers

 

 

One of the best speculative depictions of Las Vegas is the novel Last Call (1992) by Tim Powers.  Last Call tells the story of gambler Scott Crane and his involvement in a magical poker game to determine the fate of his own soul as well as that of Las Vegas.  Along the way he clashes with the ghost of Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel (the man who built the Flamingo Hotel and Casino), ancient tarot decks, and other magical manifestations, in a journey that takes him form the highways and poker rooms of Los Angles, the glitz and glamor of the Las Vegas Strip, and the desert wonderland outside of town.

Drawing upon the tarot, the history of Las Vegas, poker games, and Arthurian Myth (the legend of the Fisher King plays a major role in the book) this is an exciting read that paints a picture of a fascinating world of magic underlying our own mundane reality.  Check it out, and form your own conclusions about just how much luck, magic, and fate combine in the never sleeping reality of Las Vegas.

 

Part of a Series: Yes

 

Last Call forms part of a trilogy called Fault Lines.  The second volume, called Expiration Date (1995) is set in California and follows the battles between magicians who consume ghosts for power.  The third novel is called Earthquake Weather (1997) and involves characters from the other two novels in a new set of adventures.

 

Other Works Set in or Involving Las Vegas

 

Of course plenty of other works use Las Vegas as a part of their themes:

 

The Stand (1978) By Stephen King – Las Vegas as America’s Id plays a major role in this book.  Randall Flagg, The Walking Dude, is the baldest of the bad, and there is only city that can serve as the base of his new empire.  There is a mediocre 1997 television mini-series.  It has a great opening (The Best Use of Blue Oyster Cult’s classic hit Don’t Fear the Reaper on screen ever (sorry SNL fans), but little else to recommend it.

 

“The Last Illusion” in The Books of Blood:  Book VI by Clive Barker – Harry D’Amour, Clive Barker’s supernatural private investigator, takes the case of Swann, a stage illusionist confronted by demons.  It was adapted into a decent 1995 movie entitled Lord of Illusions, written and directed by Clive Barker Himself, and starring Scott Bakula, Kevin J. O’Connor, and Famke Janssen.

 

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas:  A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream (1971) By Hunter S. Thompson.  A bit of cheat as it is a work of non-fiction, but the picture painted by Thompson as he and colleague Dr. Gonzo embark on a drug fueled odyssey through the seedy underbelly of Las Vegas is as nightmarish as any work of horror.  Terry Gilliam translates many of these visuals into freaky life in the excellent 1998 movie version starring Johnny Depp as Hunter S. Thompson and Benicio Del Toro as Dr. Gonzo.

 

That is the only tip of the iceberg however.  Leave a comment and tell us your favorite work of speculative fiction that features Las Vegas.

 

Things to do at the 2014 ALA Conference

 

Lastly, it just would not be Vegas without a bit of shameless self-promotion.  If you will be attending the ALA 2014 Conference, and you find yourself with a hole in your schedule on Saturday, June 28th from 4:30 to 5:30 pm, consider stopping by Las Vegas Convention Center S233 (where its scheduled, but check your schedule when you get there for any last minute changes) for the panel “Redefining Humans from the Past to the Future”.  A popular panel at every Annual Conference this is your chance to hear speculative fiction authors talk about their profession and the work.   Presented by Tor Books and the Imagineering Interest Group of the Library Information and Technology Association (LITA) Chapter of ALA.  Further information about the panel is available at the link:  http://ala14.ala.org/node/14574.

 

 

How Are Our Readers Discovering Books?

As a librarian with a passion for sharing books (and specially science fiction, fantasy, and other genres), I have enjoyed watching as the publishing of books and ebooks has changed the reading landscape in numerous ways. Yet the one thing that I think most of us don’t fully appreciate is the extent to which how our readers are finding books is constantly evolving. An interesting article in the Washington Post last year looked at Amazon’s decision to buy Goodreads, a site which has been a gold mine for readers and provided valuable exposure for countless authors.

One noteworthy statistical trend was this: the number of readers who picked up their next book because of seeing it marketed online via social media or sites like Goodreads (NOT bookseller websites) doubled between 2010 and 2012. In most other categories (i.e. personal book recommendations through word of mouth), trends haven’t changed much. It’s clear, though, that the potential for the online community as a reader’s advisory tool is still under development, and it’s eating away at some of the more traditional channels our readers once navigated to find new books.

This has a few significant repercussions. If platforms like Goodreads are the future of reader’s advisory, how can libraries get more involved? Right now many summer reading programs use participant-driven book reviews in some form or other. This includes teen and adult summer reading programs. But often these reviews are used exclusively for the summer reading program and the participants aren’t encouraged by their library to tap into their online reading community. My own library has been guilty of not taking advantage of this potential. What if we encouraged our patrons to post their reviews and rate books on sites like Goodreads where they could reach out and connect more easily with other readers? Shouldn’t that be what libraries are about? Libraries are good at seeing the value of local things, but it’s important to see the big picture too. What the big picture is showing us, especially in the midst of the recent conflict between Amazon and Hatchette, is that the publishing world is up for grabs, but that’s not the only part of the reading landscape in flux.

We as librarians need to be anticipating these types of trends; what pipelines will our readers want to use to find that next great read? Because one thing is certain; very few will be walking into their local bookstore to ask a salesperson what book they’d recommend.

For more information on the article I mentioned in this post, take a look at the link below:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/04/02/why-amazon-bought-goodreads/

 

An Etiquette Guide for the End Times by Maia Sepp

Toronto, 2028. Climate change has started to devastate the world as we know it. Summer temperatures are higher, the food supply is disrupted, and government infrastructure is breaking down. While the elite can still enjoy a lifestyle that we would recognize as normal, the vast majority of people are living with food shortages, power cuts, the breakdown of currency, global pandemics, and an increase in draconian government power and surveillance. Olive tries to live quietly – tending her backyard chickens, bartering for food, and writing a tongue in cheek etiquette guide for an independent website. But her beloved grandfather has gone missing during one of the increasingly common devastating storms that has hit Nova Scotia. Now the government is knocking on her door to get her to do a propaganda radio show for them. They’re holding the fate of her grandfather – and her chickens – in their hands and will do what it takes to get her on board.

This is one of the most genuinely scary near-future stories I’ve read because the scenario is so plausible. We see the beginnings of this already in today’s world and this books seems like the logical conclusion of current policies and science. At this point it’s hard to see how this future WON’T happen.

Since this is a novella there isn’t much time to develop the main characters that much and Olive is the best drawn of all of a thin bunch. But her story, though slight, is compelling. This is a quick entertaining read that will leave you uneasy about the state of the future.


Genre: Dystopia, Science Fiction

Self Published Science Fiction and Fantasy Books

I personally do not read many e-books, I still prefer print books, but I did start an e-book series by J. R. Rain- the Vampire for Hire series. This series is about a P.I. named Samantha Moon, that solves mysteries. She also happens to be a mother of two children and a vampire. I was hooked right from the beginning. But how did I find out about this originally self-published author and series? I downloaded the first book in the series for free from the Kindle app on my iPad and then bought the rest of the series. I’ve gone into the Kindle app on my iPad a few times to see what free books are there and download some. Most just sit on my iPad, unread, unlike the J.R. Rain book.

What does this mean for librarians? Do we need to start collecting self-published e-books? How do we know which books are worthwhile to add to the collection when so many self-published books do not have reviews? I don’t have the answers to these questions, but hopefully we can at least think about them. While there are a lot of unedited self-published e-books, there are many similar to J.R. Rain’s series that our patrons would enjoy discovering and reading through the library.

My husband told me about a website called Smashwords, which is just one of many self-publishing sites. This one allows an author to publish something once and then choose where they want to sell their e-book, including places like Amazon. I would recommend librarians check out Smashwords for self-published e-books. I can heartily recommend The Princess who Wouldn’t Die by J. Kirsch. Yes, its by my husband, also a librarian, but it is a great fantasy adventure with a strong female lead. The only downside is that it is too short- novella length. He is working on the sequel now at least. Besides plugging my husband’s work, I think it’s a good introduction to Smashwords.

Do you have any self-published e-books to recommend? Do you think libraries should collect or review self-published e-books? Please comment below.

Code V for Viral: Vampirism and Viruses

The Passage (2010)

This week our column takes a look at a recent trend in vampire horror and science fiction where vampirism is not so much a supernatural condition or curse, but a science based disease.  The works discussed here represent attempt to ground the vampire in a more naturalistic way, explore new societies in post-apocalyptic settings, and ask questions who is more monstrous; the vampires or the humans who have survived them.

 

The Passage (2010) by Justin Cronin

 

In near future America an ex-federal agent searches for a girl who may be the key to stopping a viral pandemic.  Ninety-three years later a frontier community struggles against the creatures that rule the former United States of America.

The Passage genuinely surprised me.  I have not been reading many books about vampires, so I dismissed it.  That was a mistake. This is a novel that draws you in as it travels through a near future United States of America, a scientific expedition to the jungles of South America, and a post-apocalyptic future that has much in common with the wild west of the 1880s.  One interesting feature of this book is that the author uses multiple narrative styles to tell the story, so it includes e-mail, government reports, television transcripts, government proclamations, and a host of other sources that convey a world rapidly spiraling out of control in the face of disaster.  This gives a verisimilitude to the world and helps place the events in context.

Cronin’s Virals (the monsters of the book) are unique, combining several of the trends of modern horror (viruses, fast moving zombies, psychic powers) to create creatures whose horror is born of science and nature as much as the supernatural.  The characters are interesting and well developed, and despite a large cast spread across two time periods, their individual voices never get lost.  It mixes fantasy, sci-fi, horror, and touch of the western to tell an epic story about the choices we make to survive, and the costs we are forced to pay.  Although it is a complete story on its own, it leaves some questions unanswered so as to set up the next book in the series.

The Passage (2010) is the first book of a proposed trilogy.  The second volume, The Twelve (2012), introduced new characters, caught up with old ones, and again switches time periods between the pre and post disaster era.  A third volume, The City of Mirrors is forthcoming.

 

The Strain (2009) by Gullimero del Toro and Chuck Hogan

 

A Boeing 777 aircraft lands at JFK with all aboard dead.  A CDC team, led by Dr. Ephraim Goodweather investigates, and discovers a mystery that may be the first step in an invasion.  Meanwhile an elderly holocaust survivor realizes that a long term enemy has returned.

The Strain, and its sequels The Fall and The Night Eternal, depict a modern society under siege by vampires.  The vampires in this series are given a more scientific/parasitic origin, but still retain some of the traditional weakness (running water, garlic, …) yet even these are given logical reasons for existing.  This book and The Passage share similar ideas, though have different styles, plots, and themes .  The Strain was originally conceived as a television series so it features lots of action and a breakneck pace.  However, there is still time for character development and I saw some honest surprises I did not see coming.

The novels are relatively short, so if longer works like The Passage are not to your taste, this provides a similar story in a more compact style.  Also, being firmly grounded in the modern day, allows the reader an immediate connection to the story allowing it to jump right to the thrills.  If you like fast action, relatively accurate scientific investigation of the supernatural, and heroes who are everyday sort of folk instead of magical warriors of light, The Strain is well worth a read.

The Strain (2009) is the first volume in a trilogy, followed by The Fall (2010) , and The Night Eternal (2011).  All three stories are complete, and there do not appear to be any future volumes planned.

Additionally, we will have a chance to see the television version as the FX network will be producing a series based upon The Strain for airing July 2014.  It is unclear how much of the book will be covered in the first season, and what if any changes will be made to the work.

 

Classic Cuts:  I Am Legend (1954)

 

Of course nothing is speculative fiction is truly new.  Richard Matheson provided his own version of the viral vampire apocalypse in his novel I Am Legend.  This is the story of the last human on Earth, Robert Neville, and his quest to stay alive and sane in a world dominated by victims of a plague (who happen to act a lot like vampires).  Hollywood loves this book, and has adopted it three times to the screen:  The Italian-American Co-production The Last Man on Earth (1964) with Vincent Price, the 70s remake filled with metaphors on race, The Omega Man (1971) with Charlton Heston, and the special effects laden, big budget blockbuster that misses the point of the original work, I Am Legend (2007) with Will Smith.

In my opinion, The Omega Man is the superior film, as no one handles a post-apocalyptic future like late 1960s/early 1970s Charlton Heston.

 

Sparrow Hill Road

Everyone’s head of the ghost story of the hitchhiker who mysteriously vanishes from the car. It’s one of those tales that get told around a campfire on a dark night. In Sparrow Hill Road we meet the girl who becomes that ghost.

Rose Marshall died in 1952 after being driven off the road in the dead of night. Since then she’s been wandering the roads of America, still running from the man who caused her death. With the offer of a jacket from a living person, she can become corporeal for a while and has found her calling both helping drivers avoid accident and death as well as escorting on those who couldn’t. As the world changes around her Rose stays constant, until events from her past start to threaten her future.

Originally a series of short stories, Sparrow Hill Road brings them together in a single narrative. The bones of their original form are still visible though, and this is a slightly meandering series of stories that start to coalesce into something bigger and darker than Rose was ever anticipating.

McGuire has a good ear for dialogue, and there’s some genuine creepiness in there as well. Sparrow Hill Road is tangentially connected to McGuire’s InCryptid series, so if you’ve read those you’ll recognize the world Rose inhabits. This is the first book in a new series, and there are definitely plot threads that are left open for further books. I’m looking forward to reading more about the further adventures of Rose Marshall.


Genre: Ghost Story, Urban Fantasy

New Movies: Only Lovers Left Alive, APP, Jodoroswky’s Dune

It used to be that tracking the latest in cutting edge horror, fantasy, and science fiction films required traveling to film festivals, tracking down second hand videotapes, of staking out the local art house or revival cinema to catch a limited engagement.  And living in a non-major film market (or really anywhere outside of Los Angeles or New York) made tracking down these films even more difficult.  However recent technological advances have made locating these films much easier.  Many films open ‘on demand’ through streaming technology and can be viewed from the comfort of your own home.  Smartphones and other wireless devices allow these films to be stream anywhere one desires.  Recently three new movies have arrived that have traveled ‘under the radar’ and are worth checking out:  a very different take on the vampire movie, a horror/sci-fi film that integrates new technology with old fashioned chills, and a documentary about the greatest sci-fi film never made.

 

Only Lovers Left Alive (2013) Directed by Jim Jamusch.  Starring Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston, and Geoffrey Wright. Recorded Picture Company and Pandora Film.  Running Time:  123 minutes.

 

Personally, I think being a vampire in the modern world would be ridiculously easy.  Most people think you don’t exist so you do not have to worry about tenacious vampire hunters on your trail, vampire fans would actively seek you out, rendering even the thrill and work of hunting unnecessary.  And if you wanted to have any killing on your conscience, you could feed off the blood supply, or the dying, or even animals. The thing that would make a vampire’s existence truly terrible would be how incredibly banality of eternal existence.  Nothing ever changes, and the humans, who are like vermin to you or if you are charitable affectionate pets, just keep making the same dumb mistakes over and over.  How would one keep from getting bored?  Jim Jamusch, a director with an interesting filmography of lyrical movies that serve as mediations on life and philosophy, examines that question in his vampire film Only Lovers Left Alive.

When Adam, a vampire/reclusive musician living in Detroit, appears to be more withdrawn then usual, his wife Eve travels from Tangier to visit with him and rouse him from his depression.  What follows is an odyssey of a long married couple attempting to find something to interest them in a modern world that seems to be in decline.  Jamusch presents a very different image of the vampire, showing them as erudite artists and intellectuals who have long ceased to be surprised by the world.  His vampires do not engage in power politics or have some sort of organized worldwide council to govern their actions.  They are just creatures living their un-lives, where the greatest threat to their wellbeing is feeding on contaminated blood and the isolation of their centuries long existence.

This is a richly shot film with stunning visuals, and eclectic soundtrack, and some wickedly funny humor.  Those looking for action or a special effects laden vampire showdown will be disappointed, but if you accept the premise of the film it will be found entertaining.  Personally, I had become bored with the concept of vampires, but this movie has proved me wrong, and there may still be fresh ideas for these ancient threats.

 

APP (2013) Directed by Bobby Boermans.  Starring Hannah Hokestra, Isis Cabolet, and Robert de Hoog.  2CFilm. Running Time: 75 minutes.

 

The modern theatrical experience often runs the risk of being ruined by the bright light of a tiny screen piercing the darkness during a dramatic moment.  Yet smartphones and their associated technologies are unlikely to go away anytime soon.  Is there way in which these second screen technologies could be integrated into the movie going experience turning a distraction into an asset?  The Dutch seem to think so, and in Sci-Fi/Horror film APP, they show us one potential future of this integration.

APP relates the story of Anna, a Dutch psychology student who wakes up one morning after getting black out drunk at a party to find a mysterious app on her phone.  The app, named IRIS, appears to be a helpful companion, but gradually reveals itself to be a sinister intelligence, concerned with propagating itself across as many systems as possible.  As IRIS targets Anna’s friends and life, she seeks a way to defeat a seemingly invincible foe.

From this description one gets the impression that APP is a decent sci-fi/horror film with some decent scares and shocks, a few surprising twists, and action and special effects that make great use of a small budget; and this is all true.  If ARIIA, the artificial intelligence from Eagle Eye (2008), and the ghostly phenomenon from One Missed Call (2003 for the Japanese original, 2008 for the American remake) had a child, it would probably act like IRIS.

What elevates APP above its genre, is the fact that the movie includes the integration of your wireless device into the plot.  Before the movie begins you download an app, and start it once the movie begins.  At certain points during the film, hidden cues in the film’s sound track activate the app, and provide you with additional content related to the movie.  Usually this consists of security camera feeds, background information, and one part where the app lets you know what the villains are doing to try to counter the heroine’s actions.  The app vibrates when content is about to start, so you do not have to constantly divide your attention between your device and the screen.

I found the material in the app interesting, and felt it enhanced the cinematic experience.  It was not too distracting, and I had the added challenge of having to watch the movie, read English subtitles, and check the app.  Of course the movie is perfectly comprehensible without the app, but that defeats half the fun.

At this point I think second screen technology still has a ways to go in becoming more then a gimmick, but it is heartening to see that there are directors out there willing to try to move the horror/sci-fi film the next step into the future.

 

Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013), Directed by Frank Pavitch, and starring Alejandor Jodorowsky, Michel Sydow, and H. R. Geiger.  Sony Pictures Classics.  Running Time:  88 minutes.

 

Imagine if you will that it is the mid-1970s.  The benchmark for excellent science fiction in cinema was set by Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece 2001:  A Space Odyssey.  It will be at least five years before Star Wars arrives and ushers in the age of the Sci-Fi blockbuster.  But one man has a plan for a science fiction film that will alter human consciousness.  Alejandor Jodorowsky, the surrealist Mexican filmmaker of El Topo and The Holy Mountain wants to adapt Frank Herbert’s Dune for the cinema.  He plans to have it star Orson Wells as Baron Harkonnen; Mick Jagger (of the Rolling Stones) as Feyd-Rautha; and at the cost of $100,000 dollars a minute Salvador Dali as Shaddam Corrino IV, Emperor of the Universe.  It will feature art by the French comic illustrator Moebius and an up and coming Swiss designer named H.R. Geiger. Also he plans to have Pink Floyd score part of the soundtrack.  Then it all fell apart.  However, thanks to the impressive film documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune we get the opportunity to hear from the visionary himself how this film would have come to pass.

One part mediation on the creative process, one part story of how a director assembled a group of established and legendary performers to fulfill his vision, Jodorowsky’s Dune takes the viewer into mind-scape of a visionary director who wants to make a film that will start a revolution.

Through a massive 3,000 page illustrated scrapbook which he had bound and professionally printed, we are given an idea of the film Jodorowsky conceived.  He explains how he recruited performers as diverse as French Heavy Metal Band Magma, his own son (who underwent two years of martial arts training to be Paul Atrides), and Orson Wells (lured to the set with the promise of all you can eat French Food) to join his crusade to bring enlightenment through his science fiction masterpiece.

This is a deeply felt film, examining the creative process, as well as Jodorowsky’s own unique perspective on creativity, story, and filmmaking.  Knowledge of the book Dune is not essential, and might even get in the way of one’s understanding of the unfolding panorama laid out before the viewer.  If one loves cinema or science fiction, one may come to deeply regret that is probably the only opportunity we will ever have to see Jodorowsky’s vision on film*.

*Many of the ideas Jodorowsky’s had for Dune were re-purposed in two comic book series: The Incal (1981-2011), on which he worked with Moebius, of which several volumes are available in English; and The Metabarons (1992-2013), also originally published in French but available in English translations.

Expiration Day by William Campbell Powell

In 2049 the human race is on the brink of extinction. The fertility rate has plummeted and one of the ways that humanity has held off chaos is by creating perfect android children that are used as substitutes to raising real children. They are raised and loved but at age eighteen they are returned to the factory, never to be seen again.

Tania Deeley is a teenage girl who knows that she’s one of the very rare real humans in her school. She never really questions how the android kids are treated because she’s just trying to survive being a teenager in a world unlike the one her parents grew up in.  When a freak accident opens her eyes to the deception being played out around her, she joins the fight to determine what humanity really means.

Expiration Day was an interesting read. Taking place in a very un-dystopian dystopia, it treads some of the same ground that Asimov did in his robot stories – what makes a person human, and where does that line get drawn? Mainly along the periphery do we ever see what’s happening in the world outside Tania’s limited perspective, but those details inform how the characters live their lives. Not only is this a good story, but there are unexpected twists and turns along the way that don’t seem forced, and the ending, although seemingly foreshadowed, ends up somewhere else completely. This is a standalone book that could potentially have a sequel, but the main storyline was satisfyingly (if not a little speedily) wrapped up, so there aren’t any cliffhangers.


Genre: Science Fiction
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