Tag Archives: murder

Tesseracts 17 Interview: Catherine MacLeod

anthology, speculative fiction, SF, fantasy, Canadian authors

Tesseracts 17 is now out with tales from Canadian writers that span all times and places.

Today I interview Catherine MacLeod, who lives in Nova Scotia. Tesseracts 17 is available in bookstores and through the internet.

CA: Pique Assiette deals with a secret and a fear, and how they twine together. Yet your character does not succumb to the darkest parts of either of these. Why did you choose not to go down that path?

Mostly because it would’ve been too easy. Myself, I’ve taken the easy way out too many times. I wish I could say I’m better than that, but I’m not. But it makes me feel better if my characters are.

CA: The technique of pique assiette was fascinating to read about and it parallels the mosaic aspect of your character’s life as she pieces together her destiny. Where did you first come across the craft and the idea for this story?

I first read about it in an old “Martha Stewart’s Living” at the Laundromat. The photo accompanying the article showed a patio table topped with pieces of smashed pottery. Beautiful. I wasn’t interested in trying it, but I liked the idea of it enough to keep researching.

CA: Do you think most peoples’ lives are mosaics, where some pieces take longer to assemble, like a puzzle before they’re truly understood?

Absolutely. Most of them never get finished. I use this theme a lot in my stories. Every choice, idea, stroke of luck, is a piece of the big picture.

CA: Your story could have been a tale of redemption or revenge, yet it is one of acceptance. Is this what you set out to accomplish or was it a

horror, fantasy, speculative fiction, mosaics, Tesseracts 17

Catherine MacLeod writes of mosaics and murder in Pique Assiette.

natural evolution?

It felt natural to me. I’m come to an age where I’ve realized that the best thing about banging your head on a brick wall is stopping–if you can’t fight something, you have to find a way to live with it. But I think this is a revenge story, too–things aren’t likely to end well for Diane’s latest customer.

CA: What other pieces are you working on that you care to share with us?

My story “The Attic” will be in Ellen Datlow’s anthology Fearful Symmetries, coming out next spring from CZP. That sale meant I could cross quite a few things off my bucket list.

Nova Scotian writer Catherine MacLeod’s short fiction can be found in On Spec, Solaris, Black Static, TaleBones, and several anthologies, including Horror Library #4, Tesseracts Six, Tesseracts Fourteen, and The Living Dead 2. She is haunted by Astor Piazzola’s music, Andrew Davidson’s prose, and Derek Jacobi’s voice.

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Movie Review: Sinister

movies, horror, Sinister, thrillers, mysteries, supernatural films, Scott Derrickson

Sinister, directed by Scott Derrickson

Last night I got a chance to see a preview (for Canada at least) of Sinister. I hadn’t a clue what it was about but my friend said it was a horror and my first thought was, “Oh god, I hope it’s not gory.” I don’t like gratuitous gore and found Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs too graphic for me, while Silence of the Lambs, which should have been worse, didn’t linger on the truly horrific aspects.

So, what about Sinister? Is it like Saw, which I’ve never seen (but have been told is gory) or is it like a well-conducted symphony? I should mention that we had to sit right at the front of the theater so there was a weird distortion with the characters looking huge on our side and tiny on the other, and everything as if in a funhouse mirror due to the curvature of the screen (why do they put seats that close). Oh and there will be spoilers but I’ll announce when.

Starring Ethan Hawke and Juliet Rylance, this grainy and dark film is directed by Scott Derrickson who seems fairly new to directing. He directed The Day the Earth Stood Still and The Exorcism of Emily Rose, and definitely likes the horror/thriller genre. I’ve not seen any of his previous works so I have no preconceptions.

True crime writer Elison Oswalt hasn’t had a hit in a long time and needs one so his family can keep a roof over their heads. The movie starts with them moving into a neighborhood where a grisly murder took place, so that Elison can research close at hand. Of course, what he doesn’t reveal is that they’ve moved into the house where the family was murdered, except for the one little girl who disappeared. And would you believe, gosh, no one even bothered to remove the tree limb in the back yard that was cut and used as a counterweight to hang four people. Right away, even as they’re moving boxes into the house, creepy heavy music and sounds begin. Scrapes, thunks, crackles, pops and indiscernible whispers/voices pervade the soundtrack of this film so much that it is contrived and heavy-handed. Really? You need scary music just because someone walks into a room?

Ethan Hawke, Sinister, thrillers, horror films, movies, supernatural

Ethan Hawke ponders if his furrowed brow can keep the suspense going in Sinister.

After smashing a scorpion in the attic, Elison discovers an old projector and super 8 film reels that depict several mass murders of families since the 60s. Later on a snake appears under a lid in the attic, which Elison narrowly avoids yet he never bothers to kill it or have it removed. As he watches the horrific reels more terrible noises accompany them, but they don’t differ enough from all the atmospheric background of Sinister so I’m not sure if they’re part of the super 8 films. This annoyed me a great deal and while I don’t watch many of these movies perhaps it inured me for the cheap trick scares that were to come.

Not so everyone in the audience since there were some pretty good shrieks from some younger girls, but early on before the really creepy stuff begins. And here’s your warning; from hereon in I’m giving spoilers, though I have to say the poster for the film does that. Elison, with the aid of the terrible films, pieces together a serial murder that happens once per decade, where a family is killed but one child is always missing. It didn’t take me long at this point, especially when he starts to notice a creepy face in each film, that it is the children who are the perpetrators. The face introduces the supernatural element, taking this away from a regular crime. Thankfully, as the murders are revealed, the more bloody ones are usually cut or there is a pull away at the crucial instant. I give kudos to Derrickson for not wallowing in the gore and letting the suspense dwell more on the tale than the horrid imagery.

However, though the movie is filmed to be shadowy, every time there is a thunk or rustle or some other movement–in the house–at night, does Elison ever turn on a light? Noooo. That would be like, what, smart?Much better to crap your pants with creepy  shadows in every corner. The first time he goes hunting about after the power is cut he uses his cellphone because no one has ever heard of flashlights. Too many of these cheap tricks and obvious manipulations irked me so that the sudden reveals were never a surprise.

Eventually the audience is pulled in to see more than what Elison sees. Why the switch, but only halfway through the film? Because we need more thrills as we see these creepy dead or transformed children that killed their families. And we find out about some old Babylonian god who was the eater of children (either flesh or souls), yet when you see ole Bughuul he does not look that Babylonian, nor will you or I have ever heard of him. Though he’s obscure he’s managed to keep the ritual alive to eat souls every decade.

Elison finally freaks out, dumps the project and takes his family back to the old home, after burning the films and the projector. Oh, you think, if you’re naive, a film that lets the protagonist escape the dire ending. But this is horror and horror is about the fight of the little guy and the inevitable descent or succumbing to the forces of evil. The deputy (who was the comic relief for the relentless darkness of the film) keeps calling him but Elison ignores the calls, because, you know, it’s the call you ignore that could save your life. When Elison goes up into the attic of his home, guess what he discovers, the films and the projector, and a new little envelope says “extended cut edits.” You know he can’t resist watching them, late at night, in the dark, where all is revealed. Why yes, indeed, the little monsters killed their families. But it’s too late because his sweet little daughter has drugged the family (where she got these drugs, who knows) and then happily chops them up with a big axe. Not that a little girl would ever have problems wielding such a big axe, nor chopping through the human body, which thankfully, is only depicted in the pictures she adds to the macabre images on the projector box lid.

I don’t go to movies to have the crap scared out of me, but good suspense and tension can be handled deftly like a conductor with his wand rather than a woodcutter with an axe. Unfortunately, the axe was swung too far and wide, with Derrickson succumbing to the tried and tired tropes of the genre. The acting was competent, the story could have been creepier and the suspense was contrived. I give this 4.5 axe whacks out of 10.

 

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Movie Review: The Woman

I’m not a big gore and horror film watcher, which you might find surprising because I write a lot of darkly disturbing fiction. But I find often in movies, they’re going for the shock factor and splatter more gore than an abattoir. They’re disgusting but not necessarily penetrating, nor disturbing because of the story they tell. Maybe this is why zombies have become so popular. You can heap on the gore, entrails and gnashing of human flesh without much conscience. After all, they’re just undead, mindless animals and the real world has horrors greater than a shambling (or even fast running) zombie.

murder, feral people, cannabalisim, horror, Lucky McKee

Pollyanna McIntosh stars in the disturbing movie, The Woman

When I watched The Woman directed by Lucky McKee, written by horror writer Jack Ketchum, and McKee, I didn’t even know it was horror. I’d borrowed some movies from my neighbor and was just clicking through the unfamiliar ones. Right away I’m thrust into a situation that’s not what I’d call your every day world. Sure it looks like it. Streams, woods and sun filtered through the leaves. Except there’s a filthy feral woman, in tattered rags. These rags cover the essentials and she carries a knife so you know she’s been around civilization at some point.

The official site has the following description of the film: Family man and lawyer Christoper Cleek (Sean Bridgers) must do what he can to protect his family when he comes into contact with a feral woman (Pollyana McIntosh) living in the woods near his isolated country home. Through a series of harrowing encounters Cleek and his family quickly discover there is more to this woman than anyone would suspect and that sometimes the devil wears a handsome face.

This is actually an intentionally misleading write-up. I’ll be giving spoilers so if you want to watch this without prejudice skip to the last paragraph. From the beginning you see this very smiley family man but there is something wrong with the family. At the jarring switch from feral country scene to garden party you see a girl who ignores the boys flirting with her and looks back at another man. You see a man whose subservient wife gets him his drinks. His wife seems timid, his daughter cowed. But you don’t know the situation yet. As the story progresses you get the sense that there is something extremely wrong, yet Cleek seems a reasonable guy who loves his three children, who helps people out and believes in democratic decision making in his family. That is, until they disagree with him. When he goes hunting he finds the feral woman and decides to bag her.

While one could think he wants to help and humanize her his first thought is to keep her captive and of

The Woman, horror, abuse,

Zach Rand as the emotionally broken Brian Cleek

course chain her, hand and foot. Well, we’ve been shown she is an animal and will kill anything to survive…anything. But never is there any thought to calling some city service to help this injured and degenerate being. Cleek’s methods of cleaning her are already brutal, cold and suspect and when his wife questions keeping her he casually backhands her. Intimations of incest are also evident and his son shows a cauterised emotional state that reflects the father’s ideals. There are dogs locked away in the barn, never let out and a growing sense that even the son is damaged.

The males become obsessed with the feral woman. She’s beaten, tortured and raped, and she is unrepentantly hostile. Pollyanna McIntosh’s portrayal is stunning. She is so animalistic that the best acted zombie cannot compare. But she is a thinking intelligent if wild human in this film Her acting was all the more stunning because the actor/model is stunning in real life.

The movie slowly, horrifically spirals into more nastiness, with reveals of just how deep the depravity really goes. The depravity isn’t the feral woman, it is of course the smiling, reasonable Cleek who is really a subjugator of women, a rapist, and more depraved than a beast could ever be. The movie ends with mayhem, murder and some gore. One reviewer said they would have liked it bloodier but I think this made it more realistic.

There were a few things that didn’t ring quite true for me. The feral woman has bangs and if she was cutting her own hair with a knife they should have been more jagged. Otherwise McIntosh is more than convincing as uncivilized. Sean Bridgers as the father is convincing except possibly at the end when a few lines rang as untrue. The concerned school teacher is naively trying to help in the disastrous situation and when she is victimized I felt she gave in too easily and did not fight back when it was her life about to end.

Overall, this was a truly disturbing film that piled one horror on another. There is a comeuppance at the end for those who are the perpetrators and those too weak to stand up to them. This movie caused some outbursts and outrage at the Sundance Festival. But then, that is the sign of a horror film doing what it should. Often they’re filled with gratuitous violence and gore, and far too many women always the victims. The Woman turned the tables on that trope though it starts out that way. It definitely makes you think and shudder.  Yes, there was a bit of gratuitous violence and blood but actually fairly restrained. I’d give it seven blood splats out of ten.

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Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?

The massacre in Norway is in some ways not new. Unfortunately, it’s a common enough scenario; yet another example of the endemic problem of judgment, racism or bigotry that infects this planet. Granted, there are people of unstable or extreme personality types such as narcissists who believe only they matter, or sociopaths who don’t really care about anything but their own gratification. I don’t know the statistics but I’m betting half of all massacres, multiple murders and suicide pacts are from unstable personalities. Religious temperament is probably responsible for the other half.

peace, war, fighting, getting along, coexisting, bigotry, racism

Creative Commons: co_exist_by_c3b4

If we rule out that all religious beliefs make you a little crazy or that racism is only practiced by nutjobs, then we have to believe that people have extreme views and sane minds. But what’s at the basis of all the bigotry and hate crimes?

It’s a belief that someone is “other.” I am green and you are purple. Therefore you are different, not like me, maybe an alien and I can’t trust you. Or: You believe the flying spaghetti monster is god and I believe in Cthulhu. Therefore you are evil and should be shot down for spreading spaghetti monster worship, which is wrong. This I believe.

These examples are all about judgment and belief. A belief that I am better, my way of seeing the world is right and yours is wrong for some reason. I believe I am more favored by god but somehow you’re not or bringing in the wrong god. But what does it offend? Our sensibilities?

I may not like you walking around and showing your plumber’s crack. I may believe your religion of wearing orange cones on your head is goofy. I might see you eating cucumbers as a sign of true evil or that when you sing you are opening a hole to the world of darkness. But no matter what I BELIEVE, what really matters is, are you hurting me?

I mean tangible hurt, not some imagined slight to your soul or psyche. To me this is what it all gets down to and what we should remember. I might not like it, but is it hurting me or do I still have my freedom of movement and thought? I believe, like or worship this. Does it hurt anyone? No. Then I can do it. I can marry the rock in my garden, make sweet love to a chocolate croissant or worship the almighty slug. I might be seen as deranged but I’m not dangerous.

So everyone needs to take a deep breath and in that moment of judgment and hate boiling up in your guts, just step back and ask: Is he/she hurting anyone? If not. Then leave them alone to live their lives as they please. After all, it’s what you would want people to give you.

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Prostitution Isn’t Going Away

This week an Ontario court struck down a law that had made certain aspects of prostitution illegal, citing that it jeopardized the safety of the prostitutes by forcing them onto the street. (I’m paraphrasing.)  There are many laws about prostitution. In Canada it’s not illegal to be a prostitute but depending on where you are it could be illegal to sell sex, buy sex, live off the avails of prostitution or run a common bawdy house (known as brothel). I think pimping falls under human trafficking laws.

Harper’s government may fight this change because of right-wing religious views, but when it comes down to it, and with William Picton torturing and murdering various sex trade workers, there is strong evidence that sex trade worker lives are jeopardized by these laws. The arguments on both sides have already begun and will never end.

There are those that say that these changes open the doors for pimps and human trafficking. However, I would think there are already explicit laws about trafficking other humans that makes pimping illegal. Others argue that many women are forced into the sex trade, and at an early age, and this is true. However, the laws do not allow anyone under the age of 18 to be a prostitute anyways.

The moment that people started civilizing themselves (and I use the term loosely) by making laws and rules for living in communities, was the moment prostitution began because men could not just take what they wanted. I should point out that various cultures and religions today still turn a blind eye to men taking what they want even if it’s other people’s rights and livelihoods. And as long as we have men on this planet we are going to have prostitution. That means forever.

No matter how one makes laws against this aspect or that of prostitution, or shames the johns or imprisons the sex trade workers, it’s still going to continue. The more laws against it, the more it will be driven underground, but never away. I have a problem with this, like many aspects of laws that are meant to not keep people safe from each other but limit a person’s rights.

What harm would there be if prostitution and buying it was legal? Just think, the government could make money off of it, like it does with cigarettes, and alcohol (also once outlawed). Women could work in brothels or establishments where there was protection from murderer and other abusers of people. The workers could have regular health inspections, as well as the establishment so that the johns were likewise safe and the women were healthy (I use women here as the most common sex trade worker but understand that this can affect men as well). Prices could be controlled. Pimps would be eliminated. Sex on the streets, including the used condoms, and the violence would be lessened. And if a prostitute was found on the street, she’d probably be underage, unhealthy, addicted or something else that would identify quicker a solution for helping.

Prostitution exists and men use it. Some are single, some are married. The ways a person cheats won’t go away if there are laws against it. Legalizing prostitution would protect everyone better and the money the government made through licensing could go back into the system for education, health, addictions programs and other ways to get women out of the trade who are there more by circumstance and less by choice. And courts and prisons could be used for the true crimes.

This is such as win-win situation that I cannot understand why countries don’t implement it, except because of religious views. And the problem with someone’s religious view is that it’s not everyone’s. False morals just don’t make sense to me and if anything this creates a system where resources are used needlessly in the wrong direction, and the government can’t make statements about having wars on crime, even when the crime rate is dropping. Hype for using money where it could be used better elsewhere? Absolutely.

I’m hoping that this case in Ontario might be the first step towards a saner look at prostitution, the laws and the rights of the people involved. Because when it gets down to the nitty gritty, everyone is entitled to live their life how they wish as long as they do not hurt others.

http://www.cbc.ca/canada/story/2010/09/28/prostitution-law028.html

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Bog People and Mummies

I’ve been fascinated with mummies since I was about nine. These husks of a former life, reamed, cleaned and packed were then embalmed, smeared with unguents, wrapped in yards of cotton and placed in several sarcophagi. They were sent well prepared into the next life with canopic jars for all the important organs, gold and jewels and food. What a amazing world. And some of those mummies, richer in death than you or I could be in life, continued to grow nails or hair.

Is it any wonder that these bodies, preserved for millennia, fostered a whole host of reanimated mummy movies? Disturb the grave, steal from the dead and they will come back to exact their curse upon your person. And they, like zombies, will be powerful, single-minded and unstoppable. There was a more romantic mummy in Anne Rice’s The Mummy but on whole they are unnatural forces of death or evil that try to destroy the powers of life.

It is that sense of disturbing the dead that spawned so many mummy movies, which is also the heart and soul of many belief systems. Most spiritual paths indicate that there is a transmigration of the soul at the time of death, that in fact we leave the corporeal vessel that can serve us no longer and that our ethereal, quintessential selves move on to another state of being. Whether that is heaven, reincarnation, or a great unknown depends on the belief.

So it is interesting that in all these belief systems, which of course have funerary customs for the dead, that there is sometimes more concern placed on the decaying corporeal remains than on the soul’s departing. Many people agree that the soul is what matters, that that person no longer inhabits the fleshy shell, so then why do we place so much emotion into something that no longer resembles the person we knew?

We see this over and over again, where someone was cremated but the family received the wrong ashes. That a nation’s people died maybe a century ago and for whatever reason the remains are in another country (or museum) and great efforts are made to get those people back. But it’s not a person any longer; what defines “person” is gone. It’s as if we all live a two-faced belief, one where we agree the soul is what matters and the other in which we cannot let the material aspects go, no matter whether they’re rotted, embalmed, ashes or missing.

Does the respect and superstition for the remnants of the dead extend only as long as there is someone who cares? Most likely, yes. It may be family or friends, or in some cases a nation asking for a great hero, artist or politician’s body to be returned. It might be an ancestral thing or something to do with spirituality. But how far back should such a re-appropriation of remains go? Should the primitive man found in an iceflow before there were nations be claimed by one? Should he be buried with dignity? Should he be used in research? Which religion presides over his burial (or cremation) when none existed when he was alive?

Sometimes such requests for very ancient remains have little to do with sentiment and emotion. Sometimes they are levers for politics whether to further a nation’s claim or to purport ongoing indiginities. (No one has said a thing about the two dried out husks that reside in the curio shop on the wharves of Seattle.) It’s hard to say what is right when you think of the millions (maybe billions) of dead over millions of years (yes, humans have been roaming the earth for a very long time). Not everyone is claimed or cared about and really, we’re talking about a husk of old flesh here. Don’t get me wrong. I live this conundrum too, believing that which made the person human and real dissipates at death.Yet I have a reliquary necklace with some ashes of a dead friend in it, even though I know that his soul does not reside there.

Which brings me from mummies to bog people. Bogs have a unique chemical balance that preserves organic materials far better than anything else. People who have died in bogs turn leathery, whereas most bodies will decay to just the bones. Even their fingerprints are noticeable, as well as the foods in their stomachs and intestines still being discernible. Clothing decays fast under most conditions but the bogs preserve fabrics indicating that these early peoples wore leather and woven wool. All of these things can tell us how people lived, what level their culture was at, what techniques they had and how they died.

Denmark has some of the most interesting historical bogs where clothing and bodies have been found. As well, the Netherlands, England and other places in northern Europe have bogs that hold snippets of history. A few years ago (2004) the Glenbow Museum in Calgary exhibited “The Mysterious Bog People.” I had a chance to see it where the lighting was low, but bright enough on the bodies. There were displays of jewellery and tools and reconstructed fabric from the original finds. Also, there were reconstructions of the heads of some of the bodies. The exhibit talked about where they’d been found, when they had lived, how old they were and what had probably happened to each person.

As with most bog finds, many people died violent deaths, stabbed or strangled or possibly drowned. It may be that they were robbed or that they were sacrificed in various rituals. In most cases their lives were cut short in a brutal and sudden way. After I saw the exhibit and mentioned it to someone she asked if it was right because it didn’t show respect for the dead. I found this odd as I knew her belief was the same as many people’s, that the soul leaves the body and the body nourishes the earth in an endless cycle. So I said, in fact they had gained more respect than they had in death, lying in a bog. They died a brutal death and were forgotten. Here they were remembered and we learned something of who they might have been. And that the exhibit as a whole wasn’t a spectacle so much as educational and even reverent in treating the people of long ago.

It is an interesting conundrum we have in many aspects of our lives. We know that it is love and relationships that matter most. Yet we continually grab and procure more goods. Many of us believe the soul leaves the body and that part is the person, yet we hang on to the rotting remains. I’m not sure why we do this, if perhaps we need something tangible to trigger our memories and sentiments, but it is an intriguing aspect of human customs. And it is through funerary customs that anthropologists can chart when civilization began.

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Media Creates Paranoia

I was talking with a few people at work today and it came up that one woman has a 12-year-old daughter who is just ready to start walking to school, as opposed to being driven. She said they let you know when they’re ready to walk. I sometimes pass a school in the mornings where there are numerous cars with parents dropping off their children.

When I was a child, at the tender age of six, my mother took me to school the first few times. My next older sibling was six years older and in a different school so she couldn’t take me. After about a week I was on my own, wending my way through blocks and blocks to school. That school was well over ten blocks away.

In the winter, outfitted in multiple layers and big, clunky boots, I would trudge through Calgary snows to get to class and get out of the snow suit, or tights and pants and toque for the classroom. I was late every day for over a week because I just couldn’t make it through the snow faster. My teacher said to tell my mother I was late.

But I still walked to school. My mother didn’t drive. My father often worked out of town and people just did not drive their children to school. It could be argued that people have to go greater distances but we were far enough away that it took a child over a half hour (maybe it took an hour) to get to school. It was at least a mile.

Junior high and high school were all about the same distance as the elementary school and yet we continued to walk it, winter or summer. No one was abducted. I don’t think anyone was even hit by a car. People didn’t drive as fast, roads weren’t as crowded. Perverts didn’t lurk around every corner. I don’t know of anyone who was killed by any means while I was in school.

And speaking of perverts, I bet most parents would quote safety from murderers and abductors as their number one reason for driving their child to school. Probably safety from traffic and then distance would rate as second and third reasons.

Interestingly, we were mature or responsible enough and given the freedom (told to) go to school on our own as children. Parents didn’t watch our every move. We weren’t given cell phones, we weren’t given cars (only a very few kids in high school had cars). The maturity hasn’t dropped in thirty years yet the responsibility level has risen, so what has caused the overprotective nature of parents and the dependence their children now have on them to do everything for them?

Fear. Fear of murder, of sexual abuse, of abduction, of traffic injury, of succumbing to the elements. Overall, the incidence of murder and child abduction hasn’t increased in thirty years. However, driving children to school has. Interestingly, in the US, even the rate of pedestrian-traffic accidents hadn’t increased, but 50% of children injured by cars were hit by parents or other students driving. And school zone speed limits are often exceeded. I see this every time I’m driving through a school or playground zone at 30 km and I’m passed by 90% of the cars.

The increased driving can be partly attributed to the fact that more parents work and fewer stay at home with the kids, there are more cars so that each parent may have one, and media. We now have radio, newspaper, internet and TV. There are more channels and you can get news 24/7 and the same news repeated. And repeated. And repeated. In fact, not only do the news channels repeat and update us several times a day on the same dire crime, they now go into long talk shows and reports and interviews and research on a particular phenomenon.

With the inundation of events, these murders and abductions move to the forefront of our thoughts. Parents hear the details of a horrific child abduction and murder, where the body was found, how the child was murdered, the search and rescue attempts, the hunt for the murderer, the sorrow of the loved ones, and the trial with all the horrific details again. It becomes one never-ending circle, a parent’s worst nightmare and it feels so close.

The media needs to take half the blame here for being too focused on the dark, dire and depressing. When various statistics for most Western countries indicate drops in all sorts of crime including those against children, consider if you’re coddling your child too much. Will the next generation hide in the cocoons of their homes and condos, only interacting through virtual media, too afraid to talk to anyone? I’m worried that it’s already happening, perpetuated not by crime but by the fears of it.

US report on kids walking to school and crime incidences since 1969: http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/kidswalk/then_and_now.htm

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Book Review: Mistborn, Maledicte & Snow Crash

Through the snowbound holidays and the worst cold I’ve had in a very long time, I did a bit of reading. Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson is old hat now. Written in the early 90s it still holds up as a cyberpunk, nearly futuristic world of hackers, commercialism and franchising taken to a new high. The Mafia is better organized and bigger than the Feds and everything is run by three-ring binders of rules.

Hiro Protagonist, last of the freelance hackers and best sword fighter in the world starts out as a Deliverator, a high-tech, super efficient, militarized pizza delivery guy, the franchise tightly run by the Mafia, who guarantee a pizza in 30 minutes or the Deliverator can be neutralized. Y.T. is a thrasher, a Kourier who skateboards through speeding traffic using a magnetic ‘poon to hitch rides on vehicles to various destinations. These two cross paths and fates, forming a loose knit team that aids each other in the real world and the Megaverse.

There is a virus running rampant that doesn’t just crash computers but crashes the minds of hackers. Many theories are put forth and there are some interesting bad guys with depth including Raven the ruthless Aleut. There were a few longish talking head sections when it got to theories on the virus and the early Sumerian language (as Laurie Anderson says, language is a virus) but Stephenson still managed to handle that fairly deftly. And there is a religious cult threatening to take over parts of California, run by the father of the Megaverse.

I found the novel a delight and many layered. The world was kinda dark and dire in some ways but adventuresome. There was definitely a tongue in cheek air to Stephenson’s writing that just gave me pure joy. It’s no wonder when it first came out that it was highly popular and still remains so. Hard to believe that when he wrote it Stephenson mentions that he coined the term avatar, and later added an addendum that avatar had been used in one early game. It’s worth a read and still stands the test of time.

Maledicte is by Lane Robins, who I workshopped with last summer. Granted I bought it because I met her, I have to say it was an entertaining, fast-paced, well-written read. Maledicte is the main character, vengeful, temperamental, charming and possessed by a god that should no longer exist (in the recent century the gods withdrew from involvement with humans). Maledicte starts as a feral street urchin and is honed by an ailing hedonist who knows the ways of the court.

Gilly is the faithful servant, in all senses of the word, to the old hedonist, too well trained in his role and too knowledgeable of what life would be like should he try to leave. He aids in Maledicte’s change and goals, often unwillingly. Maledicte is seeking the man who kidnapped his childhood friend and lover, Janus, bastard heir to an aristocratic family close to the throne.

The court is corrupt and overindulgent, living for scandals and gossip, willing to tear a person down if it will gain favor in some light. It’s closest  in style probably to that of Louis XIV, a bit later maybe but the fashion runs a close parallel. Mirabile is a creature of the court who killed her first husband and wants Maledicte for her own purposes. When he spurns her, she uses her considerable knowledge and skills to try and bring him down.

When Janus comes back into the scene, he is as much a creature of the aristocratic court as Maledicte, but in his own way he is moreso. He is ruthless and calculating and having got used tot he good life, he wants it all. Maledicte and Gilly are the viewpoint characters and Lane runs a fine line showing Malecdicte in a light that isn’t necessarily favorable but there is some empathy for his situation. However, if she had only gone with this viewpoint character, it may not have worked because Maledicte is malicious and murderous.

Gilly is the saving grace, the common man, with compassion to which the reader can relate. The twists and turns of this conniving and manipulative society are handled well and bloodily. Murder abounds through Maledicte and Janus’s schemes and in the end not everyone gets their just deserts but there is redemption. Maledicte’s character is refreshingly different from some of main fantasy characters in other novels. Robins created a convincing and cutthroat world.

Mistborn is Brandon Sanderson’s second novel and was as delightful as Elantris. He has created a unique world of oppressed workers called skaa on plantations and living in the cities. It takes place in a beleaguered world with a society that somewhat resembles the antebellum South. The Lord Ruler is a now inhuman god-emperor who has beaten down everyone for a thousand years. The world rains ash often, the sun is red and plants haven’t been green in centuries.

The elite of this society are the nobles, purebred and not skaa though physically they look no different, but the nobles are rich, pampered and favored by the Lord Ruler who keeps them in line with Inquisitors (whose eyes are metal spikes) and Obligators, the watchful religious class. Many nobles have special abilities, either one aspect or the full range of allomancy. They are able to burn metals that they have ingested to increase various aspects such as strength, senses, emotions, as well as sensing or obscuring the use of allomancy.

Kelsier is the only survivor of the pits, a mining operation that the Lord Ruler depends upon. He lost his wife and before was a master thief. He has been “hired” by the rebellion leader to organize the overthrow of the Final Empire. However, he has other plans on how to do that, but he keeps them secret. He is a halfbreed and a full powered allomancer, a Mistborn rather than a Misting who only has use of one of the eight metals. His friends fear that if he overthrows the emperor he might set himself up for the same position.

Vin is a waif, part of a thieving crew, who survives best by hiding and keeping attention away from herself. But she and her crew are chased by an Inquisitor who will kill thieving crews and any halfbreeds who exhibit powers. And Vin has unwittingly exhibited hers to an Obligator. She is saved and recruited by Kelsier and his crew who teach her how to use her Mistborn abilities while honing her to be a spy in the circle of nobility.

The story is one part a grand heist like Oceans 11, where there are many layers to the job, and the Lord Ruler’s treasury is possibly the draw. However, it is deeper than that, with human rights and freedoms the root of overthrowing a millennium of oppression and bringing about change. The odds are high though, because the Lord Ruler is immortal and all powerful, able to smite even the strongest allomancers without breaking a sweat. His Inquisitors are also inhumanly strong.

The use of metals for powers is unique and Sanderson gives a strong basis to it in the novel, making it a believable with a scientific aspect. Vin’s character develops and changes in a satisfying way and Kelsier’s motives are mysterious up until the last, keeping us guessing as to what he’s really after. Like Maledicte, Mistborn is a story of romance and intrigue. All three of these books were quite different and well written. The worlds had layers like most societies. Whereas Maledicte concentrated mostly on the aristocratic world and Snow Crash on the working class, Mistborn covered both parts equally. I enjoyed them enough that it was hard to put any down. I recommend all three as a very good read and worth the money.

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