A Circus of Brass and Bone takes place in a post-Civil War America that is more than a bit different from the one we learned about in history class. The main difference is that most of the heavy duty machinery, trains and steamboats and such, are powered by what is called aether, of which there are various kinds, like fire-aether and bone-aether (the latter of which can be used to heal broken bones and other such maladies). And it is this aether that kicks off the plot: in Tennessee, an initially small but long-neglected bubble of fire aether winds up causing a massive chain reaction that wipes out civilization (but not all life) across the United States.
But our main protagonists, the members of The Loyale Traveling Circus and Menagerie, are oblivious to this catastrophe when it happens because they are on a boat in the middle of the Atlantic, on their way to Boston for their next performance. As far as they know, the immediate problem is the unexpected death of their ringmaster Mr. Loyale. While they are trying to figure out who will replace him, their resident snake oil salesman, who doubles as their doctor, reveals that Mr. Loyale was murdered.
And then they arrive in Boston and find out that most of North American civilization has been destroyed. People are starving, and mob violence and other problems have reared their ugly heads. This worries them, because under this new reality such frivolities as clowns and jugglers and performing animals will take a far distant back seat to cold hard pragmatism. Lacey Miller, the circus equestrienne, is particularly concerned because her highly-trained horses are her life. Without them, she feels, she is nothing.
So they immediately set to work on proving to the world, one town at a time, that there is a place for a circus amidst all this bleakness and despair. Of course, there is still the little matter of the murdered ringmaster...
The book kept me interested throughout, and the conclusion was highly satisfying. There is also the possibility of sequels (personally, I would like to see more of Lacey Miller, the prim and proper equestrienne).
Here is the book's website: http://www.circusofbrassandbone.com/
I have spoken.
I would be sitting at my desk, typing away at my computer, when a little fuzzy paw would tug at the crook of my elbow.
"Maaeerr?" (Translation: "Snuggle?")
I would sigh. "I'm kinda busy right now, cat."
And I would resume typing.
"Not now, cat, I'm busy."
And I would go back to typing.
And Zachary would punch me in the arm.
"MAAEERR!" ("SNUGGLE, DAMMIT!")
And I would heave a bigger sigh. "Oh, all right." And I would swivel my chair toward him. "Come on."
And he would stare up at me.
Still staring up at me.
And finally he would jump up, and I would have fourteen pounds of cat leaning on my chest. (Have I mentioned that we are talking about a rather large cat?)
Slowly, very slowly, he would settle down against me, his forepaws clutching at either side of my collar bone. He would look at me with his eyes half-closed, that universal sign of feline contentment. And then he would rub his velvety forehead against my face. Then he would pull back and regard me. Then he would rub his forehead against my face again...
He would do this for maybe twenty minutes. And then he would be done, and he would drop to the floor and walk away -- until the next time he needed a snuggle fix.
Zachary, I am sorry to say, was put to sleep recently. He was 19 years old. Though I have never had a pet of my own, I can only think this must be the saddest part of owning a pet. One thing's for sure: I'll miss the little guy.
All fourteen pounds of him.
I saw Guillermo del Toro's "Crimson Peak" last Friday. I'm a big fan of del Toro, in no small part because he gets the genres he operates in, be it fantasy ("Hellboy" or "Pan's Labyrinth") or monster movies ("Pacific Rim"). He has already made an excellent ghost story ("The Devil's Backbone"), which cannot be said of all directors (I'm looking at Jan de Bont's 1999 remake of "The Haunting"). So when I heard about "Crimson Peak," I couldn't wait to see it.
There is a homage to a classic ghost movie before the movie proper even starts: when the Universal logo swoops across the forty-foot screen (tinted ghastly red, of course), instead of the braying horn-and-orchestra jingle that has annoyed us for years now, we hear a creepy nursery song sung by a piping child's voice. This is in direct imitation of 1961's "The Innocents," starring the late great Deborah Kerr. This tells you right there that we're dealing with someone who knows his ghost movies.
The story goes into the spooky stuff right off the bat: our heroine, a young writer named Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska, who looks really cute with her hair done up and wearing wire-rimmed spectacles), not only believes in ghosts, she knows for a fact that they exist: she is visited by her mother's shade shortly after her funeral several years before. Mother even says something to Edith: "When the time comes, beware of Crimson Peak." Edith has no idea what this means. And when she learns later on, she's already in deep trouble.
The plot thickens with the arrival of Thomas Sharpe (played by Tom Hiddleston, whom women tend to swoon over, from what I gather), who has come to America from England with his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) seeking funds to finance the mining of the red clay with which his family estate practically overflows. Edith is immediately taken with him, but her father, a self-made millionaire and one of the people Thomas approaches for money, sees something in Mr. Sharpe that he doesn't like. He can't put his finger on what it is, though -- at Thomas' presentation to request for funds, Dad remarks that Thomas has the softest hands he has ever seen, unlike his own rough, calloused hands with which he worked his way to the top. And Thomas has already been denied funds in various European locations, which gives Dad reason enough to follow suit. And when Thomas proposes marriage to Edith, Daddy hires a private investigator (Burn Gorman) to look into Thomas' past. What the investigator finds (whatever it is) is more than enough reason to deny permission for marriage.
But then Daddy dies in a brutal "accident." And Edith, though traumatized by her father's death, decides to accept Thomas' marriage proposal, and returns with him and his sister to England.
(If this movie has a moral, it's, "Listen to your parents. They have a wisdom born of experience that you don't.")
The Sharpe's ancestral home, Allerdale Hall, is a veritable movie in itself. It's a masterpiece of gothic design, but it has also seen better days: it has several holes in the roof, through which leaves fall in autumn and snow falls in winter. It also has chimneys that moan and walls that creak when the wind blows outside. And there are several places, particularly the basement level, where Edith is advised never to go, as they are "unsafe."
To tell more would spoil the story, and the fun. Suffice it to say that I highly recommend this movie.
Try it out! If you like it, tell your friends! If you hate it, tell your enemies!
I reviewed the first Woman in Black movie when it came out back in 2012. I liked it, so when this sequel came out last week, I looked forward to seeing it.
The first movie starred Daniel Radcliffe (hence its fan-bequeathed alternate title, "Harry Potter and the Woman in Black"), and it was speculated that this played a big role in the movie's box office draw. This sequel has no big names attached to it, but I think it succeeds on its own merits.
The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death takes place 40-some years after the original, during the London Blitz of World War II, when children of the city were evacuated to the remote countryside to spare them from the German bombs, much like the Pevensie children in C.S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Our heroine, a young teacher named Eve Parkins (played by Phoebe Fox) accompanies a small group of these children by train to Eel Marsh House, the setting of the first movie, which has been refurbished as a makeshift boarding school. Even if you haven't seen the first movie, it shouldn't take a genius to figure out that no good can come of this.
The village of Crythin Gifford, whose inhabitants gave Daniel Radcliffe's character the cold shoulder in the first movie, is now what Americans call a ghost town save for a crazed old blind man who startles Eve on her arrival (to those who have watched the first movie, this makes perfect sense). And Eel Marsh House, the crumbling abandoned old mansion which is accessible only via a causeway that disappears with the rising tide, is still haunted by the ghost of Jennet Humfrye, a.k.a. the Woman in Black. She has always existed in a sustained state of rage, leading innocent children to their deaths simply because she can, due to her being forcibly relieved of her own illegitimate son, who then drowned when he was eight years old. But it may be that she is even more enraged since the Houdini act that Radcliffe's character pulled in the first movie. And now here comes a whole new batch of children for her to play with.
Not all the children are fleshed out all that much, aside from Tom the bully and Joyce the bossy girl…and then there's Edward, the small boy who hasn't spoken since his parents were killed in a bombing raid the day before he boarded the train. So Edward is a child who has been deprived of his parents. And the Woman in Black is a parent who has been deprived of her child. See where this is going?
This may explain Jennet's change of tactics since the first movie, when she simply lured any child that was available to their death. Now she targets anyone who even looks at Edward funny -- and as in the first movie, once she targets a child, the child is pretty much doomed. It therefore falls to Eve to protect the children as best she can. She is helped in this by Harry (Jeremy Irvine), an RAF pilot who happens to be in the area (and who has a troubled past if his bouts of anxiety and hyperventilation are any indication), and somewhat hampered by Jean (Helen McRory), the headmistress who has no time for such silly things as ghost stories. And the movie cleverly reveals (well, I didn't see it coming) that Eve herself has a bit of a sad history -- in fact, it prompts the Woman in Black to essentially say to her, "You should be on MY side!" -- but Eve fights firmly and resolutely for the children, especially Edward. And resolution is just about the only weapon that has any hope of working against the Woman in Black.
This movie hasn't been getting good reviews, and it hasn't been doing well at the box office, but dangit, I like it. Some people say it's not as scary as the first movie. I say it doesn't have as many jump scares (which I don't think are very scary), focusing instead on atmosphere. And therefore, I recommend it.
As its title implies, The Late Night Double Feature is actually two smaller movies glued together to form a single night's entertainment (the whole thing clocks in at 90 minutes, which means each movie is like an hour-long TV episode on average). The titles of the individual movies are X: The Fiend From Beyond Space, and The Wall People.
X: The Fiend From Beyond Space gives us a familiar story: a spaceship in the midst of a lengthy voyage somehow gains an eldritch alien passenger, which slowly kills off the crew one by one. So people viewing this flilm will immediately think ALIEN. In all fairness, though, ALIEN itself has a precedent in the form of 1958's IT! The Terror From Beyond Space (whose most famous cast member is Dabbs Greer, who went on to play Reverend Alden in Little House on the Prairie, and the older version of Tom Hanks's character in The Green Mile). So really, Mihm's movie is just the latest in a series of retreads. But X also pays homage to at least one other classic SF movie: when the first character we see awakens from cryogenic sleep, she is in a tube similar to those found in 1955's This Island Earth. The monster in X is also reminiscent of the MutAnt from that movie
The characters in X, though, are all their own. Don't expect any Oscar-winning performances here; Mihm works with a strictly voluntary cast, and his goal is to make movies that are entertaining rather than good (Army of Darkness is a perfect example of this kind of movie). Most prominent among the characters is Daniel R. Sjerven as the good ol' Southern boy ship captain. X is a nice short movie that tells a neat little story.
The Wall People is a bit harder to classify. If pressed, I would say that it more resembles an episode of The Outer Limits than a 1950s B-movie. It tells the story of a scientist, widowed for some time, whose son suddenly disappears from his bedroom without a trace. The police, as you might guess, find no trace of the kid, and the father, now twice bereaved, is intensely distraught. So when he tells a couple of his friends that he thinks his son has been abducted by aliens from Pluto, they understandably think he's gone off the deep end. But guess what?
To say more would spoil the story. I'll just say it comes to a satisfactory ending. And if you're into low-budget 1950s SF movies, I would recommend The Late Night Double Feature to you
Just letting you know that I'll be doing another Dreamhaven readng next Wednesday, starting at 6:45 pm. I'll read from my fiction of course, there will be door prizes (everyone will get something), and afterward we'll retreat to Parkway Pizza for food.
Hope to see you there!
As I've mentioned before on this blog, I've been intrigued by Henry James' novella The Turn of the Screw for some time, ever since seeing a comic book version of the story in my middle school library. I have four movie versions of the story on DVD (the best, of course, being 1961's The Innocents, starring Deborah Kerr), and I look at any pastiches by different authors (like Joyce Carol Oates' "Accursed Inhabitants of the House of Bly") with keen interest. So when I learned of a book in which the events related in The Turn of the Screw are investigated by none other than Sherlock Holmes himself (I'm a big Holmes fan), I got it as soon as I could.
Sherlock Holmes and the Ghosts of Bly is actually a collection of three stories, with the title story bookended by two smaller, unrelated tales. The author, Donald Thomas, was born and raised in
The big thing that has made The Turn of the Screw such an enduring classic is the furious debate over the reliability of the story's narrator. Are the ghosts of Peter Quint and Miss Jessel real, as the unnamed governess believes, or are they just figments of her imagination? Well, I'm sure you can guess Holmes' opinion as to the existence of ghosts (although he doesn't deny their existence outright -- when asked by the man who hires him if he believes in ghosts, he replies, "Bring me the evidence, and I shall sift it as a rational enquirer. Probably I shall find a rational explanation. If not, and all other possibilities are exhausted, I must consider whether these events may not be produced by causes beyond my power to detect. To conclude otherwise would make me a bigot."). But I also don't think it's spoiling anything to say that what the governess saw, at least in this version of the story, aren't just figments of her imagination.
There are several things that Mr. Thomas does that Henry James does not. For one thing, he gives the governess a name (Victoria Temple), and a surname to Miles and little Flora (Mordaunt) -- although it turns out Flora died of diphtheria after being taken to
Also, I feel compelled to say that Thomas' prose is a lot more readable than James'. When I was in high school, the English teachers taught us how to diagram a sentence, which I thought was a complete waste of time -- until I read The Turn of the Screw. Here's an example of what I mean (from the first paragraph of Chapter II):
The postbag, that evening -- it came late -- contained a letter for me, which, however, in the hand of my employer, I found to be composed but of a few words enclosing another, addressed to himself, with the seal still unbroken.
Why not say:
The evening postbag came late. It contained a short letter for me from my employer, and another (unopened) letter addressed to him.
Ernest Hemingway he ain't.
This is probably why I've read no other work by James. And would the daughter of a poor country parson talk like this? It doesn't seem realistic that a young person in her early twenties, given to jumping to conclusions, would think in such complex sentences. In his essay "Supernatural Horror in Literature," H. P. Lovecraft wrote, "In The Turn of the Screw Henry James triumphs over his inevitable pomposity and prolixity sufficiently well to create a truly potent air of sinister menace…James is perhaps too diffuse, too unctuously urbane, and too much addicted to subtleties of speech to realize fully all the wild and devastating horror in his situations, but for all that there is a rare and mounting tide of fright…" (This is H. P. Lovecraft saying this. Have you read him?) Anyway, Donald Thomas doesn't write anything like that. At least when he's writing as Dr. Watson, he is very readable.
I won't spoil the story by revealing the identity of the dastardly villain behind all of this. But I will say that I highly recommend this book.