Saturday, November 27, 2010

Her Fearful Symmetry - A Disturbing Literary Ghost Story

(May contain mild spoilers)
It's not, hopefully, giving away too much to say that the most disturbing elements of Her Fearful Symmetry, by The Time Traveler's Wife's Audrey Niffenegger, come late in the novel. That's an essential note to make for horror readers, just to keep expectations realistic.

This is not a haunted house tale, not a tale of rattling chains, cackling spirits or creaking doors. No visceral horror creeps into the mix.

It's a rich, character-driven narrative with a supernatural component that builds its disturbing storyline carefully, allowing the reader to realize what's ahead with a growing sense of tension and dread.

Symmetry's Sphere
Her Fearful Symmetry is first, however, a novel of complicated people and complicated lives from deeply obsessive-compulsive Martin to focal twins Julia and Valentina Poole to ghostly Elspeth Noblin, who spends most of the novel dead though very much a part of the narrative.

Elspeth is sister to the twins's mother, Edwina, and upon her death the mirror twins inherit Elspeth's flat on the edge of London'a Highgate Cemetery, provided they live a year in the residence.

Much of the plot revolves around their stay and their interaction with Martin, a crossword puzzle author upstairs whose wife has decamped. Unable to leave his apartment or give up his ritualistic obsessions, he languishes and befriends Julia, while Valentina becomes infatuated with Robert, Elspeth's significant other who is obsessed in his own right with a never-ending thesis on Highgate.

I've been intrigued of late, as a reader, with the blurring of the lines between genre and literary fiction. In "Stranger Things" (The Writer's Chronicle, September 2009) author Debra Spark examines works with genre elements in which--in her point of view--merit creeps in. She looks at the Michael Chabon thriller The Yiddish Policeman's Union with its alternate history, for example, and Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link.

Symmetry does that beautifully, incorporating elements of the Victorian ghost story into a study of people, relationships and manipulation.

It is a literary drama in its depiction of the relationships mentioned, but from those interactions and personalities, Elspeth's ghostly presence and sinister plans begin to emerge. The title is accurate in spite of Elspeth's seeming benevolence, and, if strong plotting is the stuff of genre, then Niffenegger utilizes the genre tool well in tightening the knots formed by the various strands.

For those interested in horror that stretches mind and imagination, Symmetry is a great choice.

Symmetry for Kindle

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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sanctuary! Fantasy SF Paranormal Fun With Monsters


Is there a name for fans of Syfy/Canadia fantasy-thriller Sanctuary? You know like Trekker? I'm ready for my badge and membership card.

I glanced at the first episode when it aired on then Sci Fi, but didn't get to stay with the series, and I'll confess I was a little dismissive. Just another paranormal investigation show, I thought.

I returned for more sampling when the season became available on Netflix Watch Instantly. Episodes became a nice 45-minute break for the lazy part of Saturday afternoons just before time to start my grill for dinner while I was in school.

And I decided the premise was kind of fun and that Sanctuary wasn't just another X-Files. For the uninitiated, it's about Dr. Helen Magnus, Amanda Tapping, Stargate SG-1's Maj. Carter in a stunningly different persona. Dr. Magnus is immortal due to some Victorian magi-science, and she heads a network devoted to finding and protecting a generous supply of "abnormals" sprinkled around  the globe.

The mythology grows richer as the series moves along, even though there are obviously cost-conscious episodes in which Magnus and right-hand-man Dr. Will Zimmerman (Robin Dunn) are trapped in one-set confines such as the cabin of a crashed aircraft or the belly of an oil tanker. One ep was set entirely in a warehouse, viewed through the lens of a news crew's camera.

Myth, myth
Magnus is part of a circle that includes a misunderstood Jack The Ripper, Dr. John Watson and Tesla. The Sanctuary network is fraught with internecine political struggle, and there's a rival organization called Cabal. (Spoiler warning) One major character was killed off with stylish imagination.

The Season 2-ending, Season 3-beginning arc eschewed claustrophobic confines for a glob-spanning, world-threatening feature-like three-parter introducing Bollywood numbers and even more mythology, which seems headed in a Steampunk direction next. That's if an eye-candy holograph recently unlocked is any indication.

Happily with Netflix and Hulu, you can catch up quickly or just begin the series now and forge ahead at your own pace.

You never know what monster will crop up next.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Night Oliver Littlechap Spent in Jail

My indoor-outdoor cat, Oliver Littlechap, wandered onto our doorstep five years ago, a thin Oliver Twist for whom we couldn't find an adoptive home. If he wasn't wild, he was close to it.

He lived on our patio for a while and was eventually granted inside privileges around the time Hurricane Rita's inland bluster reached our neighborhood.

Domestic dispute
Oliver's domesticity has always been a little in question. For ages he's liked to prowl the wooded area behind our house and has on occasion been given to staying out all night.

Cats are just not that into doing what they're told.

He disappeared once around 8 p.m., didn't return the next morning and remained missing until Christine and I stood in the back yard calling him diligently in the early afternoon. The vocals finally disturbed him, and he came staggering, blinking and half-asleep, out of a flower bed.

With a little effort, Christine's curtailed some of his roaming, letting him out at night before mealtime. Usually he's been back in an hour, though more recently he's taken to going out the front door when we get home in the evenings.

Bolts out actually, allowing no time for greeting or discourse.

Tuesday was no different when we came home from the gym. An orange streak shot past us, and we went inside to shower and fix dinner.

The front mat remained empty a while later when I looked out. Usually Ollie plops down there after his rounds, waiting to be let in for dinner. Or perhaps for him its supper, the later meal, usually enjoyed after The Theater.

Call back
When he still hadn't shown up in another little while, I called for him. Front first. Then back yard. Nothing. I waited a few minutes and called again.

Still no sign. Shaking the Pounce bag didn't do any good either. Reluctantly, I went to bed without Ollie inside, though I took consolation in remembering he'd done this sort of thing before.

The next morning he still wasn't on the stoop. Christine and I walked up the street calling until we had to go to work, and we toured the neighborhood by car before driving in.

I was worried, but I kept consoling myself that he'd be OK. Maybe he had wandered into the woods again.

After a couple of hours at work, I realized I wasn't concentrating and decided to make a quick swing home.

I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw Ollie in one of those cat huddles on the front lawn. He'd finally decided to come home.

We pause now for a message from our jailer
But when I got out of my car, I noticed something on his collar. It's murder to keep a collar on Ollie. He's lost two dozen in five years. We had one of those chips implanted so that if he ever wandered too far there'd be a chance of getting called, but recently I found one I could keep on him without being too constricting.

I went over to him and rubbed his head, thinking, "My god has someone had him tied up?"

It wasn't a cord but a note secured by a twist tie.

"Your cat spent the night in my armadillo trap," an anonymous neighbor had written. Threats began after that. If he--though the note writer said she--returned to his/her property Ollie would be turned over to animal control.

Neighborly.

Five years I've worried about him, but Ollie's done fine in our quiet little cul-de-sac, 'till what I suspect is a newish neighbor with a landscaping fetish shows up.

It took Ollie a day to get back to being himself. His nose was red and his face seemed a little swollen, probably from trying to push the trap door open to free himself. Luckily it was chilly but not that cold the other night.

He's adapting to being indoor only fairly well so far, though there have been a few requests for a word with the management this a.m.


More Ollie

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Gnelfs And E-book Release Interview

David Burton, author of several fantasy thrillers, has an interview with me about Gnelfs posted on his Random Musings blog.

I got to talk a little about what I'm coming to think of as my "B-movies In Print" period of writing fast-paced thrillers.

Check it out and be sure to check out David's titles as well!
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