Got coulrophobia?

I was wondering what to do on this blog in honor of April Fool’s Day. I’m not much into pulling pranks, and I don’t want to deviate too far from my usual fare. (Not that I’d probably be able to, considering I pretty much breathe horror, sci-fi, and the generally absurd.) Historically, April Fool’s Day has either been really aggravating or really boring. I hate being suckered by false celebrity death news, and my friends and I have never been much for pulling pranks. Most pranks seem mean. I guess humor is in the eye of the beholder.

In this same vein, I started thinking about what else is polarizing in terms of humor. The first thing that came to mind was clowns. There’s actually a clinical term for fear of clowns. Coulrophobia. Sounds terminal, doesn’t it? My uncle hates clowns. He was the person that introduced me to Killer Klowns from Outer Space when I was younger. While I don’t necessarily find them funny, I’m not afraid of them. At least not clinically anyway. Circus clowns are alright, not necessarily funny but not scary either. Renaissance Fair clowns, on the other hand, are downright horrifying. I hate the ones that walk around on stilts and don’t say anything. They just leer at you from their height.

Being that it’s April Fool’s Day, let’s take a look at some clown representation in books and movies. This is not a comprehensive list by any means, but more a sampling. If you think of any others or just want to join the discussion, feel free to comment at the end of this post!

BOOKS


  • Stephen King’s IT
    – The Loser’s Club of Derry, Maine is terrorized by Pennywise the Dancing Clown. While initally that doesn’t sound like much of a crisis, it turns out that Pennywise is actually a monster straight out of space who capitalizes on children’s fears. When the children grow up they are drawn back to Derry because Pennywise is on the rampage again. They must band together to defeat their old nemesis before it takes the lives of more children.
  • Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes – A carnival arrives mysteriously after midnight the week before Halloween. With it comes death and terror, and it’s up to two friends to fight the dark carnival.

MOVIES AND TV

  • Stephen King’s IT – The 1990 tv mini-series introduced viewers to Pennywise and the Loser’s Club. This project showcased Tim Curry in one of his best roles – as Pennywise himself. The mini-series couldn’t possibly hope to encompass the entire book, but it made sure to get the point across and was suitably creepy. (I’m super excited for the remake, which stars Finn Wolfhard of Stranger Things fame!)
  • Something Wicked This Way Comes – This is an adaptation of the book by the same name. I confess that I haven’t seen this in years, but I do remember thinking it was absolutely creepy when I was a kid.
  • Clown – This movie is both sad and terrifying. Two loving parents have booked a clown for their son’s clown-themed birthday party. When the clown is overbooked, it’s up to Kent to find a replacement clown for his son. He’s in luck, as the house he’s getting ready to put up on the market has an old clown suit in a trunk that just happens to fit him perfectly. The only problem is that once he puts it on he can’t remove it, and he starts to change. As it turns out, the origins of the clown are not so innocent, and Kent and his family are dragged into the reality of the Cloyne, an ancient demon.
  • Killer Klowns from Outer Space – This 1988 classic features aliens that come to Earth in a big circus tent. They look like clowns, but not the kind you’d ever want to meet. They set about capturing people and turning them into big light-bulb shaped cotton candy, which they then eat with a straw. Sort of like outer space spiders. A group of teenagers attempt to stop the Klown’s mayhem.
  • American Horror Story (Freakshow) – Twisty the Clown has always wanted to make children laugh. Some of the carnies don’t take favorably to the attention he’s paid by the children and families visiting the traveling freakshow. They start an awful rumor which tears Twisty’s world apart. He is a figure both terrifying and sad, and well worth watching the otherwise mediocre season just to see.
  • DC’s The Joker – The Joker has been interpreted in a variety of ways by not only several actors, but also several authors and artists in the comic book world. In each iteration, he has the typical colorful hair and white makeup. The extent to which he uses humor deviates based on who is doing the interpretation, but in every version he is the clown.
  • DC’s Harley Quinn – When doing brief research into the archetype of the clown, or fool, I found out that in theater it was used as a foil for the archetype of the harlequin. The harlequin was sly, stealthy, devious, and devilish. The perfect opposite of the bumbling clown. Originally introduced in Batman: The Animated Series, she quickly won over fans and has made her way into the comics, movies, and DC Comics merchandise line. Although her costume has changed over the years, a part of the harlequin is always included in her design.

Honorable Mention

  • The Cabin in the Woods – A group of teenagers heads up to a cabin for a weekend of sex, drinking, and general youth. Very quickly their weekend is derailed and they are left fighting for their lives. Two of the group, Marty and Dana, find themselves in a vault that houses horrors from the old world. A veritable stable of nightmares. Wouldn’t you know that one of them is a clown? As far as I can tell, it’s a nod to Pennywise, wearing the same garish colors and shock of red hair.
  • Frumpy the Clown – This series of comics from Judd Winick features a normal suburban family who happens to live with a disgruntled clown named Frumpy. Frumpy smokes cigarettes, drinks coffee, and advocates anarchy. The children love him. The parents are largely unsure.
  • Funcom’s The Park – I recently devoted an entire post to this Secret World spin-off game. It takes place in a haunted amusement park after dark. Clown imagery, while not necessarily frequent, is extremely effective and terrifying when put to use. I highly recommend playing this game in pitch dark with headphones.
  • Frightworld – My local haunted house features five themed houses. Almost every year they feature a clown house, which is done up in garish blacklight paint and features distorted carnival imagery and mocking clown actors.

 

 

 

 

As stated previously, this is not meant to be an exhaustive list by any means. Just a sampling from TV, movies, and books. If there’s anything else you’d like to add, drop by the comments section!

Shit-Your-Pants Terrifying

Awhile back Dipper gifted me a copy of Funcom’s The Park. It’s a spin-off of their game The Secret World (which is not a topic for this post, but I strongly urge you to give it a whirl!) I’ve recently gotten back into videogames, and yesterday morning Dipper asked me to give it a go when I got home. I was going to write this last night, but after finishing The Park, I just needed to lay down and decompress. There are two main reasons why I needed to decompress. The first is that I get motion sick when playing first person shooter games. This game is also in the first person, but I quickly learned how to move the character so that I didn’t get motion sickness. The second reason is that I have never been scared so thoroughly by a video game, and rarely to this degree by a movie.

In order to take full advantage of the experience, I shut all the lights off in my basement. I dragged the futon over next to me so that Zelda could hang out with me while I gamed. I even put on my headphones. Dipper told me that it was an all-encompassing experience and suggested the headphones. The game begins with a woman standing in the parking lot of a beat to hell looking amusement park called Atlantic Island Park. That’s the only playable character, and her name is Lorraine. She’s looking for her son Callum who has gone missing. She gains entrance to the park and commences to search for him in almost pitch-black conditions.

At the beginning of the game there is a disclaimer, about the game messing with lights, sounds, and visuals. When I read it I chuckled. It seemed ambitious but not unsurprising because The Park is styled as a first-person psychological horror adventure game. Not only was Funcom most decidedly NOT fucking with the gamers, but it drastically failed to prepare the gamer for the sheer terror of it all. Lorraine has no weapons, and doesn’t even get a flashlight until she’s almost done searching the park. In fact, the only thing she can do is call for her son Callum. While this seems useless it’s actually a navigational tool. For each section of the park she has several various phrases that she calls out, and when she does a few things happen. Sometimes Callum will respond and you’ll know where to go based on where the sound is coming from. Oh and be prepared, he’s a creepy little fuck. It’s literally like following Gage Creed in Pet Sematary. Half the time I was temped to leave his possessed-sounding ass behind. Or the screen will slightly warp like looking through a fish eye. This either tells you to go in a certain direction or leads you to something to interact with in the park. If you’d rather navigate this solely on sound, go ahead. You can turn off the visual hints in the menu.

Not so bad, right? Fuck no. Let’s talk about the rides, shall we? The first ride that you go on is The Tunnel of Tales. It’s pretty tame but cool. As you ride through in this swan-shaped boat loudspeakers tell the story of Hansel & Gretel. Shadow displays on the wall highlight key points of the story. If you look around while the story is going on, you’ll notice a few not-so-nice surprises along the way. I wound up actually screaming out loud a few times during this segment. Shit. You. Not.

The other rides are steadily scarier. I can’t even say which one is the scariest. Each ride or attraction had me screaming in real life. I hate roller coasters. I couldn’t stop screaming when Lorraine is riding the rollercoaster. I’ll give you a hint. She’s not alone. By the time I hit the House of Horrors, I was literally crawling from room to room grumbling, “fuck-fuck-fuck-fuck-fucking hell-fuck-fuck-shit-where-the-fuck-is-he-shit-fuck-omg” the entire time. Things jump out at you, mysterious shadows are there and gone in the blink of an eye, and then there’s Atlantic Island’s Backstory. As you’re looking for Callum there is a paper trail that you follow. The paper trail details the madman that built the park, and a little bit about what he was using it for.

Oh and the chipmunk mascot that’s in the advertising for the game? Yeah. That’s Chad the Chipmunk. The guy who worked as the mascot never took the costume off and basically went totally bugfuck. How do you know? The incident, accident, and death reports you find laying around the park. Even better? He’s one of the creepy motherfuckers sneaking around while you’re trying to find Callum. Sometimes he’s right in your face, other times you barely glimpse the outline and red eyes.

As the game progresses you start to wonder what’s really going on with Lorraine, our main character. Certain areas of the game trigger memories. Lorraine begins talking to herself and trying to rationalize what’s happened in the past or choices she’s made. It all seems pretty forgivable at first. I mean, she’s stuck in this creepy amusement park. She went in when it was still light out but as soon as she goes in it gets dark out? That would be unsettling enough for anyone. Let alone the strange noises and scratching sounds that seem to come from everywhere and nowhere while you’re exploring. Turns out you can’t really trust our Lorraine. She’s a little bugfuck herself, as her conflicting emotions and memories begin to show. Without giving away too much, you also find out that your narrator isn’t quite as reliable because of what she’s gone through. She had a traumatizing childhood and has been medicated for psychiatric problems. These combined with the changing imagery make you start to wonder how much of the game is in her head and how much of it is the evil influence of the amusement park.

I’m going to be completely honest. This game scared me shitless. I’m not being overdramatic when I say that I was screaming pretty much all of the two hours that it took me to go through this game. If you’re good at this type of thing like Dipper, it might take you an hour. I kept wussing out and having trouble going forward. There were a few rides I rode more than once, just to get a closer look at the “extras” that appeared when on the ride. As it turns out, not all of the rides are necessary in order to find Callum, but they do flesh out everyone’s story a little bit more. Also, if you’re a fan of The Secret World, you may recognize some of these locations. The Park takes place about 20 years prior to the Secret World. Oh and the creepy looking motherfucker to the right? The one in rags and a top hat? All out of proportion? Yeah. No fucking clue who he is, though I have my guesses. Not to mention he’s every-fucking-where in this game. But never where you see him coming. More than half the time he sneaks up on you. I was examining something in the Freak Show area and I turned around and he was there. I screamed so loudly Zelda almost fell off the futon beside me!

The park is fantastic. I loved it so much I might play it again soon, just to go through the experience and see what I missed the first time around. The visuals and sounds are terrifying, but I think it’s all the more horrifying in that you don’t have a weapon. Or a flashlight. It’s literally you going through a dark, creepy amusement park at night looking for your kid. By yourself. With nothing to defend yourself and every situation feeling dangerous in a way you can’t quite put your finger on. The closest comparison that I can make is going through a haunted house in real life. You know something is around every corner. But what that thing actually is? And where? Fuck if anyone knows. It’s not like they’ve left you a clue or anything. The Park doesn’t leave you with a nice cut-and-dry ending. It’s enigmatic and very open for debate, and that’s also what makes the game so enjoyable. I have found myself thinking about The Park off and on today at work, thinking through some plot twist or theory. It’s definitely a game that stays with you.

I absolutely recommend this game, but more strongly than that, I recommend you play it the right way. In the dark. Alone. With headphones. Immerse yourself in The Park and you won’t be sorry in the long run, though you’ll be scared out of your mind while you’re playing! And if while you’re playing you happen to feel eyes on your back, it’s probably just Chad the Chipmunk….

 

 

A great addition to an amazing series!

I’ve spent the last few days living in zombified Texas with Rhiannon Frater’s Zombie Hunters Club. I finished the second book in the series (Lost in Texas) in anticipation of reading the third book in the series. I was given an Advanced Reader Copy, and couldn’t wait to start.

While I was reading Journey Across Zombie Texas, Rhiannon released a short story called “Sam Versus the Zombie”, which takes place during the events of the third book. At one point, Sam is separated from the group and he takes shelter in a barn. The short is the story of him fighting for his life during a hellish hailstorm against a very persistent zombie.

Journey Across Zombie Texas is every bit as good as the first two books in the series. In fact, if I had to make a choice, I’m not sure I could give a preference to any of the books over the others. Rhiannon excels at putting her characters in very realistic threatening situations, which makes the reader worry for everyone’s safety. There is no such thing as a safe encounter with a zombie, and sometimes not even with other people.

This third installment finds Josh and the Zombie Hunters Club trying to cross Texas to get to a FEMA camp. The convoy that they had been travelling in has been compromised, and it’s up to Josh and his group to make it on their own. Unfortunately zombies aren’t their only obstacles. Well-meaning adults who don’t quite understand how the zombie apocalypse works inadvertently make their journey more dangerous. Not to mention a familiar and unwelcome face in Chad, the group’s living adversary. As if being doggedly followed by swarms of the living dead weren’t bad enough!

Journey Across Zombie Texas was a difficult book to put down. I started reading it over the weekend, and unfortunately for me, I had to sleep sometime. I didn’t want to put the book down ever, because it was so exciting. Josh and his friends were adept at getting out of most of the situations unharmed, but there were a few that I was positive there were going to be casualties. Despite my love for all things zombie, I’m ashamed to say that I probably wouldn’t have been able to be that level-headed.

The other aspect of the book that I want to point out is how realistic the kids’ reactions to the events were. Some were traumatized, some panicked, others put their heads down and thought things through. The range of emotions and responses was realistic, but also was another way for Rhiannon to show the reader the growth that the characters experienced throughout their journey. The reader can see each character progressing in terms of complexity with each passing page. I am really impressed with the overall result.

I hate to pressure Rhiannon, so I will just say this. I would love for the series to continue. I’m looking forward to hearing more about the adventures of the Zombie Hunters Club. Also, there are a few unanswered questions that I have after finishing the current last book in the series. Although she hasn’t announced anything (to my knowledge) in terms of where she wants to take the series, I would be happy with a book of stories about the characters set in that universe. She’s done that for other series, so I’m holding out hope. Especially if this series becomes as well-read and well-known as it should be.

On that note, you need to read this series. It doesn’t matter if you’re normally a zombie fan or not. It doesn’t matter if Young Adult Literature is your thing or not. If you are a person that enjoys horror, excitement, and great characters, then you need to read The Living Dead Boy series. Trust me. You’ll thank me later!

 

Katamari-what-the-hell?!

In my last post, I referenced Katamari. I’m pretty sure that most of you were wondering what the hell I was talking about. Katamari, in short, is a ridiculously fun game where you are a little character named Prince (or one of his cousins, after you’ve unlocked them) who rolls around with what is essentially an over-sized Bumble Ball and roll up everything you can. Eventually the ball gets big enough that you can roll up sea monsters, buildings, and international monuments. For those of you wondering why in the hell you’d want to do that, I’m going to give you three answers.

  1. Hella catchy soundtrack.
  2. Bright colors and weird sounds.
  3. Your dad, the King of the Cosmos, got drunk and obliterated the universe. Now you have to go and fix it by making planets out of whatever you roll up. (Shit. You. Not.)

I’m going to take a moment here for a disclaimer. I found this game in college, when I got my first video game system, a PlayStation 2. I was not, nor am I, a person that favors recreational drugs. My boyfriend at the time held other views. He was the one that introduced me to Katamari, naturally. The King of the Cosmos, I suspect, is poorly translated because he’s always saying gibberish lines that don’t make much real sense. Although I like to keep with the lore of the game and just assume he’s drunk most of the time and that’s why nobody knows what the hell he’s saying. Not to mention when he appears and disappears it’s like a rainbow-colored acid trip. The King is subtitled, so if you want to puzzle out that mystery for yourself, well, go ahead!

Anyway, you can literally play for hours because this game is addictive. Especially when you’re trying to run down and catch one of the cousins! Each cousin has their own wacky backstory and name. They’re found in different levels and it’s fun to try and figure out who the cousin is for each level. Lalala is not my favorite cousin by any stretch, but I thought her description was too funny to pass up including in this post.

If Katamari looks like something you’d like to enjoy, it’s available on several platforms and a little digging will most likely give you a version for the system you own.

Now, what does all of this have to do with mental illness? I promise, there’s a point. Here’s the deal. My husband, brother, and niece have all told me that they see me as a superhero. Because even on my crushing days, I’m able to get my ass in gear and do (what I consider to be) the minimum. I still manage to take care of them, and most of the time I even manage to hang out and have a great time. I like the idea of the superhero and have adopted (with Dipper’s suggestion) Jessica Cruz as my personal superhero. She’s the new Green Lantern, and she deals with anxiety of her own. It’s really wonderful and empowering. I freaking love her! My favorite picture of her is currently my phone wallpaper, and my badge lanyard for work is Green Lantern themed. So is a hoodie I purchased recently. (Of course now that I’m working on this post I can’t find the picture I have as my background! But this one works really well anyway, and shows part of her personality. So all is well.)

But what about the other days? The days where I’m in a good mood, or where I’m just sort of rolling with it and seeing where my day goes? Who am I then? I like to think of Jessica as my alter ego, the me when I’m fighting the anxiety. She’s the warrior. The protector. The one who gets shit done no matter what. But who am I when I’m not her?

That’s where Katamari comes in. Dipper and I became friends because I basically just kept following him around and talking to him. Tkout, Dipper, and I joke often that my glittery personality just sort of comes along, steam rolls people, and they can’t help but go along with whatever is going on. That’s why I think most of the time I more resemble one of the cousins in Katamari. (Also, when you are on the screen choosing levels and which cousin you want to play, you can make them dance and whistle along with you and it becomes a really cute conga line.

I’m not graceful by any stretch. I’m loud. I can swear with the best of them. And I usually spring into action when I get an idea well before the logistics of it catch up with me. It’s very reminiscent of a huge Katamari rolling through a city and grabbing whatever unsuspecting person, animal, object, or building is in the way.

(If you’re wondering where all this is coming from, I’m rediscovering gaming and am itching to play on my PlayStation 2. I’m planning on hooking it up tonight and playing Katamari with Phoebe when they come over. I don’t remember if she’s played it before or not, but I think she’ll love it. I know I miss playing it!

 

Bouncy-bouncy-bouncy

Physical wounds heal easier than mental wounds. Debriding a physical wound is painful, but possible. Mental wounds? Not as much, though I find these posts help immensely. Especially during weeks like the one I’m in the home stretch of surviving.

The frequency of the attacks has increased, to the point where I find myself crying at least once a day. If it’s at work, like one the other day, I try and find a quiet place to get it over with. I guess that shows progress – it used to be that I would sort of stop, drop, roll, and bawl wherever I was. The way I view the attack is changing too. I see it as something to get over with and get on with my life, because most of the time I can’t really derail it once it’s happening. This morning I’m counting myself lucky. I was ramping up for a really bad attack, but a message from my husband and my brother got me off that particular ledge.

I’m sitting in a part of the clinic that isn’t open yet, and I’m listening to “Riders on the Storm” by The Doors. It’s raining outside. I’ve had my morning coffee, and my kisses from Zelda. This week I’ve put on makeup and jewelry almost every day. I even bought a few solid colored polos so I don’t have to wear my bright yellow construction polo every day. That’s improved the way I see myself, because I can express myself a little bit more freely. Also in the way that I’ve come to think of myself as a bouncy ball or Katamari. (I feel this requires some explanation, so visit this post.)

Last night I watched “Pet Sematary“, which is becoming one of my current comfort movies. I know it’s an odd choice, but when you get right down to it, it’s a tragedy. All of the events can be avoided. Except that we all make mistakes for love. I can’t go into it because it’s not my story to tell, but my parents are currently struggling with some health issues, and I’m beyond terrified that the cycle will start again. I know that’s contributing to my attacks as well, but it seems that only Tkout and Dipper understand and agree with my fears. Everyone else seems to be ignoring the signs. I guess I will have to see how that all plays out.

I’ve ramped up the amount of reviewing that I’m doing for people, and as a result my “to read” pile has grown exponentially. I’m very thankful for this, because it makes me feel like I’m helping good people fulfill their dreams. I’m not sure how far I’ll be able to carry my own dreams, but if I can help someone else, that’s just as good if not better.

A friend of mine from when I worked in a sales call center sent me a surprise in the mail recently. When I opened it, I found a Lokai bracelet. She sent me the orange lokai – which supports mental health awareness. This has a special meaning for the two of us, because recently she came to me with concerns about a loved one and their possible struggle. Every time I look down at it on my wrist, I think of how much there is to live for. Since the beginning, I’ve been open about my own struggles with anxiety and depression. Originally it was to basically let people know what they were getting into, in a bitter way. A few days over a year ago I had a nervous breakdown. I completely lost it and was planning suicide. My husband and brother fought round the clock to keep me alive. (My parents were dealing with another crisis, and so we three dealt with it on our own.) After that passed, I became less bitter, and what started out as more or less a warning sign just became another part of my life. I still post about how I’m doing on Facebook, but now it’s more or less because it’s cathartic. It feels good not to keep it as a dirty secret. If it helps people along the way not to feel so lost or alone, even better. There is always something to live for, and people who love you and would miss you.

I’ve been leaning very heavily on reminders of good times and of the people that love me recently. I find it helps to combat the dark feelings that creep in during the still moments. I’ve mentioned in other posts that I’ve been collecting the Resident Evil Funko Pop figures. Some are exclusive to certain stores, and some are just ridiculously hard to come across. Anyway, I have the bottom three. From left to right, Tyrant, Hunter, and Nemesis. These three are special to me for different reasons. Tyrant and Hunter were ones that Dipper and I found while out on the town for Twin Friday. Phoebe and Dipper brought Nemesis for me one afternoon when they were visiting. (They also brought me the Alien Queen Funko!) Dipper has said he’ll snag me Jill Valentine from Toys R Us at some point. And we are all on the lookout for Leon S. Kennedy and the Licker. These are also special to me because I got to introduce Resident Evil to Phoebe. She’s seen up to the second movie, and I’m wanting to show her the rest. They also remind me of Tkout, because when he and I were dating he purchased Resident Evil 5 for XBOX 360 so that we could spend more time together. (The beginning of the game is a bitch, so we didn’t get far, but I plan on revisiting it soon!)

The picture to the left is my bedside table. The Three Amigos (my fond nickname for Tyrant, Hunter, and Nemesis) are there, along with a graphic novel called Zombies of Mass Destruction, which Dipper recently gave me (not to be confused with the film of the same name, which is also amazing). Underneath the graphic novel is the Kindle Paperwhite, which reminds me of Tkout. The water is also a gift from him.

If you’re struggling like I am an do from time to time, my advice to you is to hold onto the good times. Just sitting here writing this post and thinking about the people I have to be thankful for has brightened my spirits. It’s not going to be a miracle fix every time, and there are times where it won’t take all the pain away. But what it consistently does is remind me why I’m fighting. Who I’m fighting for. I want one more day. With Tkout. With Phoebe. With Dipper. With my parents. With my friends.

If all else fails, build a blanket fort with the love of the people you love the most. When you can’t see the good in yourself, know that they see it for you. When you don’t know your own worth or why they choose to stay, trust that they know it and that’s why they stay.

 

And no matter what, know that even on your worst days they love you and wouldn’t trade you for anything.

The Zombie Hunters are Back!

Yesterday I finished Lost in Texas: The Living Dead Boy 2 by Rhiannon Frater. I had read her first book in the series recently, and the characters were fresh in my mind. Not to mention, I am preparing for the new book which will be out in a little over a week.

Before I go any further, if you have no idea what I’m referring to, I highly suggest you hop over to my post, Classic Zombie Lit, which reviews the first book in the series. My guess is you’re going to love The Living Dead Boy every bit as much as I did. After checking out my post, I highly recommend you head over to Amazon.com and snag yourself a copy.

“Lost in Texas: The Living Dead Boy 2” starts off right where the first book left off. Josh and his friends, the Zombie Hunters Club, have survived a botched evacuation at their school, spent the night in a treehouse surrounded by zombies, and also faced dissention within their group. Despite all the chaos, they’ve found familiar faces in the convoy in which they’re travelling. The city bus they are travelling on is safe. At first. But with zombies closing in and the adults making one poor decision after another and nobody listening to the kids, who have spent much of their time immersed in zombie lore, Josh and the other members of the Club start to doubt their safety.

I absolutely loved “Lost in Texas”! I could hardly put my Kindle down. I carried it around the house with me, trying to read it while doing laundry, cooking dinner, and even folding laundry. This series is categorized as Young Adult Literature, but it will appeal to every age.  Rhiannon deftly navigates the intricacies of a pre-teen and teenage set of characters. The comments they make and the responses they have to each situation is not only age appropriate, but also shows growth. The Zombie Hunters Club are definitely not the people they used to be before the apocalypse started, and they continue to grow as the series continues.

One of the tropes in zombie literature (and movies), is the inclusion of a dangerous person or people. Rhiannon masterfully takes advantage of this as well. In Chad, she has created a terrifying character. He is both believable and terrifying. He stands in stark contrast to the members of the Zombie Hunters Club, because he is not only selfish, but he is cowardly. The Zombie Hunters Club believe that if they band together they will survive. They chose Josh as their leader because he’s level-headed, and seems to make the most thought-out decisions. Chad is rash, domineering, and downright crazy. I suspect him of being a sociopath because he knows no limit when it comes to lying or trying to take what he wants outright. He gets into a very scary scene with one of the girls in the group, and it hit close to home. I was in an abusive relationship in college, and I recognized the signs that I had failed to notice in real life in this character. Chad is just terrifying enough to be a threat, but he’s not so overdone that his character isn’t believable. He attempts to make full use of the disorder of the zombie apocalypse to make his moves.

Josh and the other characters mature, and as the book goes on, they are forced to make increasingly more difficult decisions. More and more Josh finds himself weighing options and featuring in whether or not it will get people killed. Only, they’re not just people. They’re his friends and family.

“Lost in Texas: The Living Dead Boy 2” is a wonderful book, a perfect follow-up to “The Living Dead Boy”, and sets the stage for the third book in the series. No matter what kind of books you prefer, I recommend this book highly. I also recommend it for adolescents that are wanting to get into literature, but their parents are wary of it being too bloody or having sexual content. In short, Rhiannon Frater’s series is fantastic, and this book is a welcome addition!

 

 

An Apprenticeship

From the very beginning, technology has played a large role in the relationship I have with Tkout. The picture of us on the left is from Astronomy Club Fall Campout 2009, a few days after we started dating officially in October. We were playing Left 4 Dead with our friend Maverick, part of whom you can see sitting on the top bunk. We put tapestries in front of the windows because we were playing during the day, and we played on the XBOX Tkout had just gotten for his birthday a few weeks prior.

What’s even funnier about all of this is that when Tkout and I met, we were at a LAN gaming party at my college. (LAN is a local area network. Basically a bunch of nerds hooked up to the same network to share files, game, and hang out in the same space. It’s super fun! Go if you have the chance!) I digress. Tkout and I had met originally at the LAN while playing a first person shooter game called F.E.A.R. In the game, you’re on one of two teams, and you’re running around killing the other players. Tkout and I hadn’t met formally until he decided to run a full round with our mutual friend Plastiqmanb with no weapons. Just kicking and punching. I was an easy target because I’m terrible at those kinds of video games, so Tkout kept finding me to raise his kill count. I finally looked up and yelled, “Who the f— keeps kicking me!?” A really handsome face with dark eyes and hair raised up over the computer and Tkout waved. Before anything else could be said, he made a few keystrokes, and my character fell dead. Again. From a terminal kick.

When we were first getting to know each other I used to play World of Warcraft on a beat-up laptop. (For those of you that aren’t familiar, World of Warcraft is an MMORPG, or massive multiplayer online role playing game). Tkout’s first grand gesture was to build me a really nice gaming computer. It’s a gesture he’s repeated several times, always making sure I have a really nice gaming rig and peripherals (mouse, keyboard, etc.). The picture to the right is my current rig, which has purple LED lighting. He knows I’m a sucker for color and light, so he bought me a mouse, keyboard, and mousepad that change colors. The colors are dictated by the software that comes with the peripherals.

I have always appreciated the computers, but I think only superficially. Until last night, I didn’t have a real appreciation for what he was doing for me. I didn’t see the computers for the gestures that they really were.

Most of the movies and TV shows we watch are on digital media on our PLEX server. That allows us to stream our content from our computers, and makes it easier to watch than trying to hunt down a physical copy. Tkout doesn’t like to leave his computer running constantly because of the wear and tear on the parts, but I don’t mind. I don’t play games as often as he does. Well, we decided to make a PLEX server together. Basically, a bare-bones computer setup that would house all of our digital media so that we could stream it. I wanted to build it with him because I have a job as a desktop technician, and it’s handy to know how to build a computer if you’re going to go about fixing one. I also am looking to get the CompTIA A+ certification, which is equivalent to a low-level college degree in computers. Fully one half of the test is geared towards the actual hardware. Building a computer and interacting with the hardware is a great way to learn what the parts are and their functions. Also how they work together.

Before he builds a computer, Tkout spends hours reading through tech articles and comparing components until he has exactly what he needs for his purpose. That’s why he bought the parts by himself. Eventually I hope to be able to pick out parts, but I don’t know enough just yet. Yesterday we sat down and he went over the parts of the motherboard. He explained about the history of the components, which doesn’t sound like much, until you know that he taught himself. From scratch. In a time when you couldn’t just go and YouTube or Google the answer. I’m in awe that he knows so much, but he takes it in stride. He’s been there for the explosion of the popularity of the home computer.

He referenced how computers used to be, in terms of where the chipset could be found, or what its function was. I knew a little because back when Microsoft ME (Millenium Edition) came out (in 2000) I had my first home computer that I could take apart and re-image and generally play with. My parents were worried I’d break it beyond repair, so my meddling stopped. But it gave me a small background from which I’m launching my current career.

Tkout is an absolute wizard. He works with such patience, attention to detail, and skill that I was literally in the presence of an artist. There’s a reason for everything he does, and every piece of equipment that he uses. He’s also patient with me, and answers all my questions without getting annoyed. That doesn’t seem like much, but I’m inquisitive to a fault, and wind up dragging him down a rabbit hole of questions.

We also got a few laughs out of building the computer. The picture to the left is part of the motherboard. If you look closely, you will see EATXPWR written in white letters. I asked him what “eat x power” was. He couldn’t stop laughing. I forgot exactly what it means, but I know it’s excellerated ATX something-something. Good thing he takes things in stride, because that’s just a taste of the questions I was asking.

Just because I can, I snagged a picture of Tkout as he was fitting the solid state drive into the computer. He’s wearing his t-shirt from MassiveLAN, which is a charity computer gaming event we attend twice a year. (If you’re interested in finding out more and attending, check out the website here.) The weird red stripes behind him are the red LED lights shining out the side of his computer.

We aren’t done building the computer, and we also have to get the hard drives ready with all of our digital media. I asked Tkout to wait for me, because I want to be involved in every step of this process. He’s very excited, because for years he’s wanted to share his passion with me. He has lived and breathed computers for over a decade. Truth be told, I am glad he’s taken me under his wing. I don’t think that any course or book could teach as in-depth and hands-on as he does.

Over the years I’ve had friends and family ask why I’m ok with him being a gamer. There are basic positives, like gamers tend to stay close to home. They also tend to introduce their friends to their wives and kids. We have several friends at MassiveLAN, which is a family event and has something to offer for almost every age. Now that I’ve had the time to sit down with him and watch him work, I appreciate Tkout’s skill for what it is. I also understand why he chose a career in computers, and I’m glad that I’ve made that move as well.

If you’re wondering why there’s a picture of Zelda snuggled under covers, it’s because even our family pets enjoy the gaming household. Zelda is comfortable snoozing on the futon in the basement with Chloe, our cat. They know we are near by for kisses and pets, and we are all home together.

I’m not sure if we are going to work on the rig tonight or this weekend, but rest assured, there will be another post detailing the progress of this journey. I can’t wait to see what mischief we get up to in the next round of the build!

 

Oz like you’ve never seen it before!

I have a confession to make. One that might make your blood run cold, shatter your childhood, and doubt my sanity.

I hate The Wizard of Oz.

In case I wasn’t clear the first time. I. Hate. The. Wizard. Of. Oz.

There. I said it. It’s always been true for me, even as a little child. Not even the knowledge that Toto was supposed to be a Boston terrier has made me give a damn about this absurd movie. As far as I’m concerned, there are only three good things that have come out of The Wizard of Oz.

  1. Memes. There are a ton, and they’re absolutely hilarious. They range from esoteric to the foul-mouthed. There’s something for everyone. The one to the right is one of my absolute favorites.
  2. Pink Floyd. When I was in high school, I heard a rumor that you could start up Dark Side of the Moon and The Wizard of Oz together, and the album worked as an alternate soundtrack. My friends and I did it, clean and sober. And it was fantastic! (If you’ve never seen it, check out the link here.)
  3. Bloodstained Oz. Authors Christopher Golden and James A. Moore have created pure, graphic, nightmare-inducing genius.

Bloodstained Oz is an absolutely nasty take on the idea of The Wizard of Oz, but it’s not a retelling by any means. It takes place in Kansas in 1933. As happened in the Dust Bowl, a storm comes in. But this is no ordinary storm by any means. After the tornadoes touch down and wreak their havoc, the main characters are left to try and survive the horrors the storm brings with it.

There’s 9 year old Gayle Franklin and her parents, whose parents are trying to make it as corn farmers even though there is a severe drought. After the storm, Gayle finds little porcelain dolls scattered in the dirt. A dying Scarecrow warns her that they are not what they seem.

Stephan, his wife Elisa, and little baby Jeremiah are traveling Romani who sell elixirs. They encounter horrible winged creatures that shouldn’t be possible. Their only shelter is a wagon and the symbols of faith inside.

After the storm breaks, prisoner Hank finds a beautiful necklace in the irrigation ditch he and the other prisoners are forced to dig. He hides it in his pocket, thinking he can sell it and start his life after his prison sentence ends. All his hopes are shattered when terrifying vampires with emerald eyes attack the prison, searching for something.

Bloodstained Oz clocks in at 114 pages, but don’t let that fool you. Golden and Moore waste no time getting the reader acquainted with both the characters and the horrors they will face. I started this book at work on lunch, and I wish I hadn’t. All I wanted was to snuggle under my comforter at home and read it from beginning to end in one sitting. When I got home, I quickly made and ate dinner, and then climbed into bed to keep reading. I never wanted Bloodstained Oz to end. When I got to the end, I rolled over and snagged my advanced reader copy of Bloodstained Wonderland, which is the as-yet unreleased sequel. I fell asleep with the book hitting my face around page 61. You can bet once I’m done with this review, I’ll be returning to it!

I can’t say enough about how awesome and scary Bloodstained Oz is. It’s a genuine page-turner with solid characters and wonderfully twisted monsters. Golden and Moore borrowed from The Wizard of Oz, but make no mistake. This isn’t a retelling. They took well-loved characters such as The Tin Man and The Scarecrow and warped them into something out of a fever dream. I’m not a fan of porcelain dolls, so I’m going to say those were my favorite, but just barely. Everything in this book is fresh and terrifying.

It pains me not to say more about the plot and the fates of the characters, but the fun of Bloodstained Oz is wondering exactly what is going to happen next. I don’t want to deprive any readers of the scares and chills that come with exploring uncharted territory.

Before I curl up and get to reading Bloodstained Wonderland again, I want to add that you can get the first book for $2.99 on Kindle. At that price, you’re practically stealing from the authors and the publisher. Trust me, Bloodstained Oz and Bloodstained Wonderland are two books you’re not going to want to miss!

 

 

Short, Gory, and Totally Worth It!

Some years ago, when I was first realizing that there was an absolute boat-ton of zombie material available, a friend mentioned a British mini-series to me. Called Dead Set, it features a fake Big Brother TV show which is in full swing when the zombie apocalypse hits. The kicker? None of the contestants know what’s going on.

The show starts on the night of an Eviction, where a cast member is chosen to leave the show. There is a crowd outside the studio, waiting to see a live interview with the cast member who is evicted. There is a big stage and a dolled-up host. In the meantime, another crew member was sent to get a previous Big Brother contestant’s mother because there is also a reunion party going for previous Big Brother participants. Needless to say there are tons of living people at the studio when the first zombie shows up.

Inside the Big Brother house, the screaming doesn’t sound unusual. They mistake the screams of agony for the fan frenzy of eviction night. The next morning though, things seem to have changed but they can’t figure out why. They just know that the cameras aren’t recording, Big Brother isn’t reminding them to put on their mics, and things seem a bit quiet. Dead, almost.

Life in the fishbowl changes abruptly when Kelly, one of the behind-the-scenes workers at the show, comes in bloody and carrying a huge pair of blood-dripping scissors. She tries in vain to explain to the cast what happened, and that not only is there no TV show anymore, but there may not even be a world at all. They don’t believe her, until one of the cast members opens a fire door, accidentally letting a zombie inside. The zombie is fast, ravenous, and bloody as hell. Before anyone can do anything, another cast member is bitten on the leg. Kelly dispatches the zombie in a very gory sequence featuring a fire extinguisher and some really realistic special effects.

From there on, it’s a tooth-and-nail battle for the contestants of Big Brother and the few crew members left. They must stay alive against all odds, which includes ravenous, rabid, fast-moving zombies. As if that weren’t enough, some of the cast members themselves become obstacles to survival.

I’m not big on Big Brother type shows, but this is phenomenal. The characters vary from funny to downright insipid. The non-zombie protagonists are downright terrifying. Dead Set doesn’t hesitate to delve deeply into the horrors that humans are capable of both in times of stress, and in times of relative quiet.

I highly recommend this show, especially if you have the roughly two and a half to three hours to run it from start to finish. The storyline is compelling, the effects are super impressive, and the death scenes are inventive. While there are many tropes of the zombie genre present, Dead Set definitely sets the bar higher for movies and TV shows that follow.

 

Nightmares Abound!

I’ve been a fan of Adrian Chamberlin‘s work since I first read The Caretakers. He’s a helluva writer, and has a sense of humor to match. After reading The Caretakers, I resolved to pay close attention to any anthology in which his work is featured, as well as to his own books.

I stumbled on Dreaming in Darkness awhile ago and had purchased it for my Kindle. Since I finished a run of books for review, I wanted to read something quick for myself. If nothing else, it would be vastly different than the books I had been reading, and I thought it would work as a palate cleanser until the next round of review books arrived.

Dreaming in Darkness was more than I could have ever hoped for, and just may have spoiled me for Mythos literature forever. There are only four stories in the book, which clocks in at  a massive 356 pages. Each story is by a different author, and I tell you no lies when I say that all of them were fantastic. After having finished it, I’d be pressed to select just one as a favorite. They were all so wildly different, yet united in that they were horrifying on a visceral level. These stories are what primitive fears are made of!

Before I go into each story, please note that I am giving vague descriptions of each. They are all wonderfully complex with solid and engaging characters. But I don’t want to deprive the reader of the surprise and terror by spoiling the stories ahead of time. Therefore, please forgive me for the thin descriptions.

THE ORDER – Aaron J. French

In this tale, retired detective Carl Sanford returns to the field at the behest of a friend. His interest in the occult as well as conspiracy theories makes him a particularly important viewpoint on the latest murder case. As Sanford and the others delve deeper into the case, they find that not only are many of the occult theories actually true, but that there is a cult called the Order of Oriphiel that seeks to overturn the world order and bring the Apocalypse.

SHADRACH BESIEGED – Adrian Chamberlin

A centuries-long struggle to keep a horrifying idol out of the wrong hands comes to a terrifying climax at an abandoned monastery during the English Civil War. The majority of the soldiers caught up in the mess think they are fighting their Civil War. Little do they know that Shadrach and his old foe have also come together to wage their own war, and everyone around them will get swept into it. Not to mention having to cross a hellish forest with an agenda of it’s own!

THE SERPENT’S EGG – Jonathan Green

A writer goes and stays in a castle, hoping to find inspiration after his marriage and life crumbled in the aftermath of his first successful novel and the dry period that followed. He’s researching the legend of the Lambton Worm, and thinks himself lucky to find his host is none other than Lord Tristam Lambton himself. However, he stumbles onto a pagan ritual and from there everything goes to hell. He soon finds out that not only is the Lambton Worm no legend, but he now must fight this cult for his life.

NEW HEAVENS – John Prescott

Instead of bringing the Old Ones to us, we are brought to the Old Ones. Literally! Monoliths rise from the sea, people wander into the ocean only to be changed into horrifying creatures, and then one day, the Earth itself is transported somewhere else. Our characters are left to battle against the Old Ones in their own environment, among countless other horrors, as they also struggle to get the Earth back in it’s own universe.

Again, these descriptions are thin compared to the wonderful complexity of each story. The descriptions in all of them are guaranteed to give nightmares – I can attest to this personally, from experience. At first I thought I could pick favorites, but by the end, I was positive that every story is unique and terrifying in it’s own right.

All four authors masterfully blend suspense, thrills, scares, and mystery together. Dreaming in Darkness is an absolutely amazing book, and at $4.00 for Kindle, it’s an absolute steal! If you don’t have a Kindle, don’t despair. You can still read it with the free Amazon Kindle app.