Appearance: Tolkien in Vermont Conference

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I got word last week: UVM’s Tolkien in Vermont conference has accepted my proposal for a presentation for its upcoming, 16th annual conference, Tolkien and Horror. The conference is a neat, two-day event that the university’s English department hosts. In line with this year’s topic, I’ll be talking about the impact of Tolkien’s experiences during the First World war had on him, and his fiction.

Tolkien, of course, participated in the conflict, and it left him profoundly shaken. I’ve presented at this a couple of times already — in 2014 and 2015, mainly about Tolkien’s impact on fantasy. I also spoke at Norwich University’s Sullivan Library back in 2016 on a related topic, although this year’s paper will delve a bit more into wartime imagery worked its way into Tolkien’s Middle-earth — think Frodo, Sam, and Gollum’s trek over the Dead Marshes in The Two Towers, where they encounter the dead from an ancient battle.

This year’s conference will take place on April 5th and 6th (my talk will be on the 6th, although I’m not sure what time, exactly) at UVM in Burlington. It’s open to the public — tickets are $25 ($15 if you’re from Vermont, and free for UVM students), and the last couple of times that I’ve gone, it’s been a delightful, enlightening afternoon. If you can’t make it, i’ll probably include my presentation in my newsletter.

H.P. Lovecraft and the Other

The Best of H. P. Lovecraft: Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre With October a traditionally - horror themed month capped with Halloween, it seemed appropriate to follow up Bram Stoker and Dracula with another notable horror author: H.P. Lovecraft. Hugely influential in the horror genre, Lovecraft is an author that I got into while in college, with a course on Gothic Literature. I've found Lovecraft's stories to be delightfully macabre, and living in Vermont, I can identify with his love of the sheer age of the location, and can see just why this corner of the country is so suited for horror fiction.

Read up on H.P. Lovecraft and the Other over on Kirkus Reviews.

Sources Used:

The Best of H.P. Lovecraft: Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre, introduced by Robert Bloch: This collection of Lovecraft's stories is one that I've had since college, when I was first introduced to his works. Robert Bloch has a particularly good, if apologetic introduction to the man, laying out his life and some of the motivations behind his fiction.

Lovecraft - Tales, edited by Peter Straub: This tome from the Library of America Collection is an impressive book, not only for the stories that have been collected, but for a very comprehensive timeline in the back of the book (Philip K. Dick's own collections featured very similar reference material), which was particularly invaluable as an overview for Lovecraft's life.

Lovecraft: A Biography, by L. Sprauge de Camp: de Camp is someone that I would like to examine at some point in his own right, but for the time begin, his biography is eminently readable and extremely detailed, providing quite a bit of insight into his life and works.

Survey of Modern Fantasy Literature, vol. 4, Frank Magill: This volume provides a great overview of Lovecraft's short fiction career, rather than an individual book. In this instance, the survey focuses on Lovecraft's Cthulhu works.

Horns, by Joe Hill

A man wakes up to discover that he's sprouted horns on his head overnight. Joe Hill's latest book, Horns, starts off with a simple premise, one that unfolds into a wonderfully complicated and minimal story of murder, revenge and the inherent darkness that exists within people. At the same time, Hill brings out a deeply philosophical and intriguing look at faith and Christian allegory.

As Ig Parrish finds that people are influenced by the new additions to his head, the circumstances of personal tragedy (his girlfriend's rape and murder, which he was blamed, but cleared of) begin to resurface as people begin to tell him their deepest inhibitions and secrets. As the story progresses, we are taken deep into the lives of each character, which fully explains and supports the events that send the story moving in the first place. The end result is a literary masterpiece that brings out a rich blend of horror and supernatural with a cast of fantastic and utterly believable characters. Every element, every mention of something comes to some level of significance to the story as a whole, and Hill brings out rock and soul music, personalities, and other numerous references to help support the story. This is a rare thing that I've seen, and possibly one of the best examples that I've come across where this is enacted and works: everything in the story supports the main premise and story as a whole.

Horns is wonderfully complex, yet minimal at the same time. The story jumps around from character to character and from the present to various points in the past, with a dedicated, focused purpose. Rather than wandering off to put together a story of epic proportions (and a story where a man grows horns on his head certainly calls for this), Hill burrows down and tells an intensely personal story, with a small collection of characters who's stories intertwine around a central tragedy. This is storytelling at its best, where there are no arbitrary actions, but carefully crafted story. It's a notable achievement, and I hope that Hill receives due recognition for this: it doesn't happen all that often. The result is a superior, notable book.

This novel is one that left me disturbed on many levels. Rather than the horror being presented as Ig turns into a supernatural being, of sorts, the horror comes as Ig sees what people are capable of as they confess to him the darker thoughts that they've been harboring. At the same time, the events that put much of the plot into motion are horrible, terrible things, and in the way that the book is structured, the reader is conscious of what is likely coming, with a growing amount of horror. This is terror on a level that far transcends a monster or man in a mask: this is the horror of the inevitability of something coming down the line, with no way to alter its course.

Furthermore, there is a residual bit of horror in the ways that people interact with their faith. Hill puts together an interesting look at the relationship between God, Lucifer and People, with some interesting parallels and conclusions sure to piss off any devotee of Christianity, but not coming out as a lecture on philosophy: this is storytelling at its finest, and a story that is possibly one of the more important to examine in a critical fashion.

Horns is a stunning read, for the story, the characters and the allegory, which turns this into a novel holds up with some of the best books that I’ve picked up this year: easily comparable in quality to China Miéville’s ‘ The City and The City’ and Neil Gaiman’s ‘American Gods’.

Baltimore, or The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire

As the publishing industry has jumped wholeheartedly into the emotional Vampire trend that's seen the release of the Twilight novels, it's nice to come across a book that was published during this that really brings the horror back to the style of story. Baltimore, or The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire, by Christopher Golden and Mike Mignola is an engrossing read that both deals with vampires, and brings in a proper horror feeling to the story.

This unconventional novel was first recommended to me a couple of years ago, where I was drawn to the absolutely fascinating cover, drawn up by comic book artist and author Mike Mignola. Mignola, the creator of the Hellboy and BPRD comic series, is a favorite of mine, not only for his excellent artwork, but for his strange, gothic stories that pull me in. When I came across the book at a convention last month, I immediately picked up the book, and had it signed, as author Christopher Golden was one of the attendees.

Lord Baltimore, a soldier in the English military during the first World War, leads a night attack against German soldiers, when his entire squad is killed when they are spotted. Wounded, he sees something frightening: creatures coming out of the dark to feed on the men under his command. He attacked one of the giant bats, striking it in the face with his bayonet, scarring it. He is attacked in turn, and loses his leg as a result.

Those actions push the story into action, and the rest of the book is preoccupied with not Baltimore’s story, but of three friends of his: Doctor Lemuel Rose, the doctor who treated Baltimore’s leg after the attack (and ended up amputating it), Thomas Childress , a childhood friend of Baltimore’s, and Demetrius Aischros, who brought Baltimore home from the battlefield. Each man was summoned by Baltimore, and as they await his presence, it unfolds that each of them has had an encounter with the supernatural, and that they would help him in his mission.

Following Baltimore’s attack, Red King (the leading vampire who was wounded in the face) unleashes a plague against Europe in retaliation for his disfigurement. People passed away across the continent, and turned into vampires themselves, grinding the war to a halt as the death toll climbs. As Baltimore returns home, the King exacts his own revenge on his attacker by killing his family, then his wife, in an effort to break the man. The opposite happens, and Baltimore goes on a quest to kill the Red King. As the stories are told, they blend together towards a finish that was entirely unexpected, but rewarding.

Baltimore, or The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire is s a good example of where a genre has been changed from largely traditional details, yet is able to stand on its own. Where books such as Stephanie Myer’s Twilight have been criticized because of the liberties that have been taken with the books, Baltimore was able to capture the horror of such individuals and come out as a work who’s antagonist doesn’t feel shortchanged. Having not read Twilight yet, I can’t accurately compare the changes to some of the more rooted versions of the canon, but I can say that Baltimore reaffirms my belief that canon isn’t always paramount, and that modern stories that take on vampires shouldn’t be rooted as firmly to Bram Stoker’s Dracula as we’d like.

Baltimore sheds away the Victorian gothic styling that comes with the territory and advances towards World War I. With its trench warfare, rapid advances in weapons and seemingly pointless nature to the attacks, the battlefields in France and Germany are the perfect setting for a horror novel, and under Golden and Mignola’s care, a time of industrial realism is blended together with a sort of surreal supernatural amongst each of the characters, in Italy, England and South America. Moreover, vampirism here seemed to be carried on by disease – a horrifying method of death in and of itself – rather than the bites and lives in coffins. These vampires are pretty scary in their own right – taking over towns, coming out at night and generally not good people to be around, especially as they feed and decimate the population of Europe.

In the end, the book serves as an interesting counterpart to the First World War. By the end, it becomes increasingly clear that both sides have become larger than their individual selves: they represent a larger picture, and with the war as a background, they have become two larger forces that collide endlessly, tirelessly and each unable to yield to the other. Baltimore is a fascinating read, one that pulls in the strange worlds that Mike Mignola puts together, (along with his art on every page) and the excellent storytelling of Christopher Golden.  The story shows that the vampire craze can be adapted into its own different ways, but that it retains some of the core facets: there are some things that are more horrifying than death.

The Walking Dead

The striking thing that I noticed about The Walking Dead's first episode, 'Days Gone By' is the stark, minimal feel to a post-Zombie world. There's no music, just the footsteps, birdcalls and buzzing of flies that hang in the air as the action moves forward. The TV show, which has thus far broken all viewer records for the host channel AMC, seemed like an almost guaranteed hit for the channel. The reasons for the success extend beyond the inclusion of zombies, but because the show is something that resonates with a modern audience.

Zombies have been on the rise in recent years: major film productions have been popular, such as 28 Days Later, Shaun of the Dead, (And of course, the George Romero films that have come out) in addition to books such as Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker, World War Z (And The Zombie Survival Guide, both by Max Brooks) John Joseph Adam's Zombie anthologies, and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, by Seth Grahame-Smith (and Jane Austin), with The Walking Dead remaining popular in print form, and now jumping mediums to the small screen, where it seems like it’s well suited for television.

As an adaptation goes, The Walking Dead is off to a decent start. Rather than giving into the impulse to make a show that was high on action and rapid pacing, the show’s creators have gone in the opposite direction: Days Gone By, much like the comic, is paced slowly, and the end result is a fairly slow episode: in any other context, I would have found the show fairly boring – there’s plenty of suspense, but one major element (the whereabouts and wellbeing of Grime’s family) is revealed fairly early on. The first major encounter with a mass of the undead doesn’t happen until the end of the episode, in a particularly frightening scene as Grimes and his horse are surrounded.

As it stands, The Walking Dead is possibly one of the better takes on the zombie genre thus far: the message and point of the show isn’t about the undead themselves, but the world around the survivors. Zombies stories have been rife with allegory, and both print and motion picture versions do exactly that.

A standout moment in Sunday’s episode saw some discussion as to how people hadn’t prepared for the events that transpired. Given the political climate present in the country at the moment, it’s not a hard leap to imagine. Zombie fiction tends to lend itself well to a libertarian dream of a more down to earth rule of law, without the worries of infrastructure and government, living on one’s own wits and instructs. Then there’s the guns.

The decline of the U.S. economy is something that has been at the forefront of political and economic news for almost two years, and I can’t help but wonder if shows such as Jericho (cancelled after a season and revived, only to be cancelled again) would have better succeeded if it had aired just a couple of years later. Other shows that have reflected the political feelings of the day have done well critically, such as SyFy’s Battlestar Galactica, HBO’s True Blood or Fox’s 24. While this isn’t a singular contributing factor, relevancy is something that a public audience will relate and respond to.

Here, amongst the shambling zombies, there’s a good set of themes that the series seems to have picked up on and incorporated into its storylines. In addition to the rise in popularity of the zombies themselves, The Walking Dead has an exceptionally bright future. Indeed, it’s already been renewed for a second season to follow up the first six episodes that compose the first season.

While the zombie bandwagon has been an easy thing to jump on - the popularity is only going to peak from this point on - The Walking Dead is a good example of both an adaptation and of the use of zombies. The original comic book seems to have translated very well, with creators understanding the overall picture and changes needed for the small screen. Like any bandwagon, there have been a number of stories, films and comics that have included zombies to some extent, with widely varying levels of quality. The focus, for some of the best stories, it seems, should be not on the zombies themselves, but on the people that they effect. While I've tried to avoid fanboying the craze, the show offers a quality story, rather than gimmicks to help it succeed.

Beyond the successes of a zombie show (the first that I’m aware of), the introduction of a well executed and received genre show is a very good thing, especially in the middle of a television season that has been lacking. The Walking Dead is looking to be a compelling and interesting drama. Thus far, it looks like it’s lining up to do just that.

Gothic October

While Science Fiction has long been the genre that I've been most passionate about, I've grown exceedingly fond of the Gothic blend of horror fiction that's out there. When in college, I attended an upper level English course titled Gothic Tradition which reintroduced me to the likes of Washington Irving, Mary Shelly and Edgar Allen Poe, while introducing me to H.P. Lovecraft, Shirley Jackson and others. I've come to view this genre as one that's largely atmospheric, with some astounding stories in it. Earlier this year, while attending ReaderCon, I went to a panel titled New England: At Home to the Unheimlich, which looked to the premise that there is something about New England in particular that has helped to foster some of the best gothic-related stories out there now. Getting out and about during the fall is a good way to see this come to life.

This panel had gotten me thinking about how New England would foster some of this. When I was younger, I remember visiting Boston with my mother, and we had walked through a cemetery, one that dated back to the earliest days of the country, and we saw patterns of dates, usually corresponding to illness and pandemics that occurred at the time. As a result, I've been fascinated by some of the older cemeteries that I often see here in Vermont, dotting the countryside.

The panel at ReaderCon discussed a couple of specific influences: the weather and harsh seasons were - and are - a big influence in the mentality of New England residents. Winters are long, with very short days, long nights, and with clearly defined seasons. The Fall in particular is a wonderful time of year, with a broad range of colors in the hills, leading to bare trees in just a couple of short weeks. Coupled with the geography of the region: mountainous, with numerous small valleys, hollows and forests, the region is one that can be very dark, chilly, prone to fog. Further coupled with a writer's imagination, and the northeast is ripe for setting the fantastic.

Vermont in particular had a number of small cemeteries, and a very hard, rural life from the 18th and 19th centuries. Visiting one of these places, sometimes sparsely maintained, out of operation and crumbling, one will find grave sites that date back to the early days of the nation. In several, I found the resting places of soldiers who served in the American Revolution and Civil War.

Along with the history of gothic / supernatural horror fiction that existed throughout the United States, and with the seasons turning here in the state at the moment, it's a good time to visit a number of these sites. Their existence, small cemeteries, abandoned houses and cold forests, all serve to supplement this feeling in the region.

Cemeteries in particular serve as interesting reminders. While Megan and I walked through one such site, she noted that there was far more emphasis on the reminders of mortality and the fragility of life, especially when compared to their modern counterparts. The careful artwork that is now vanishing from the weather and acid rain is highly symbolic, with doves, willow trees, lambs and crosses representing the end of life, while epitaphs go straight to the point. One such memorable entry that I saw on a grave in Northfield read to the tune of: Don't forget about me. Death is a debt to life, and I have paid mine: it is coming for you.

Similarly, looking at the ages and years in which people had died is revealing. In each cemetery, there were several graves of for children, often from the same family, close in age, with their deaths at similar times - one such family lost six of their children in Barnard. Soldiers from war, and younger men and women had died, while a number of people likewise passed away in their eighties, with very little in between the extremes.

Over the past couple of weekends, and in the upcoming days of October, I've been working on visiting and taking some photographs from some of these cemeteries (and aging homes from the period, when I can find them) which really exemplify the gothic and horror feel of the state. You can see the gallery here.

Stories: All New Tales, Edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio

"...and then what happened?"

This is the question that's asked by Neil Gaiman in his introduction to Stories: All New Tales, which goes to the heart of what should happen with any story. In this collection of nearly thirty stories, the two have assembled an incredible roster of authors to tell some good stories, and ultimately fulfills the purpose of this anthology, to captivate the reader, and to have them continue to turn the pages.

Built on the premise of the notion that stories should be page turners, this anthology differs significantly from other anthologies that I've picked up over the years, and brings together an extremely wide range of tales from every genre. The result is a comparative library of short fiction, putting together a number of genres, themes and perspectives into a single volume. While it's not the best anthology that I own (Robert Silverburg's classic, Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Vol. 1, takes that title), Stories comes very close.

Short fiction seems to be on the rise, with a number of fantastic anthologies published recently: Masked, edited by Lou Anders, Wastelands/Federations/The Living Dead, by John Joseph Adams, the ever present Year's Best Science Fiction edited by Gardner Dozois and The Best Book of Science Fiction, edited by Jonathan Strahan, not to mention the countless small press anthologies and digital magazines, such as Lightspeed Magazine, that have grown more popular. As a result, there seems to be a relative explosion of short fiction out there, and Stories is one of the better collections that I've seen. By structuring the anthology with a broader mission, it stands out because it doesn't fall into any one genre.

Broadening the focus of the anthology also brings out a wide diversity in authors, from inside and outside the typical genre circles. Authors include Joyce Carol Oats, Neil Gaiman, Richard Adams, Jodi Picoult, Michael Swanwick, Peter Straub, Chuck Palahniuk, Jonathan Carroll, Michael Moorcock Elizabeth Hand and Joe Hill, amongst others, which bring together a really neat roster of all-star writers, which goes to help with the quality of said stories. This isn't to say that a themed anthology is lacking because of the intense focus and a more limited range of stories and authors, but what it does allow is for quite a bit more freedom to tell a number of good stories unrestricted of content. As a result, this is one of the few anthologies that I've read cover to cover, rather than reading through a couple of stories piecemeal. Where Stories is a collection that defies genre, it gains some of the best minds from a broad cross section of writers amongst many genres.

There were a number of stories that I really liked: “Fossil Figures”, by Joyce Carol Oats, “Blood”, by Roddy Doyle, “Wildfire in Manhattan” (which, as a couple of other reviewers have noted, would fix exceedingly well with Neil Gaiman’s own American Gods), “The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains” by Gaiman, “Juvenal Nyx”, by Walter Mosley, “Weights and Measures” by Jodi Picoult, “Goblin Lake” by Michael Swanwick, “A Life in Fictions” by Kat Howard, “The Therapist” by Jeffrey Deaver, “The Maiden Flight of McCauley’s Bellerephon” by Elizabeth Hand and Joe Hill’s “The Devil on the Staircase”. Michael Moorcock’s title story “Stories” is another that bears mentioning: it’s not one that I particularly liked, but it’s one of the tales that has remained with me since I read the book, and has caused a considerable amount of reflection after the fact.

The end result is a book that easily accomplishes what every storyteller should be doing: telling a good story, one that compels the reader to continue to turn the pages and to see what happens next. For a single author to do to this is a good thing: to get twenty-six excellent stories together that do the same thing is even better, and as a result, Stories is a worthy addition to any library of a speculative fiction fan, or reader in general.

The To Read List

 

With a couple of books finished and out of the way, it’s time to move along with the next book on the reading list. Currently, I’m reading a couple of books for online assignments, and after that, there’s a couple of more, which I haven’t started yet.

Now that I have a very portable computer, I decided to walk around the apartment and see exactly how long my To-Read list really is. And it’s pretty long…

Currently Reading:

How To Live Safely In A Science Fictional Universe, Charles Yu

The Last and First Men, Olaf Stapledon

At Bat:

Ambassadors from Earth, Jay Gallentine

Footprints In The Dust, Various

Whirlwind, Barrett Tillman

Stories, Neil Gaiman, ed.

Infoquake, David Louis Edelman

Kraken, China Mieville

River Of Gods, Ian McDonald

Masked, Lou Anders

The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. LeGuin

Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson

Nights of Villjamur, Mark Charan Newton

The City and the City, China Meville

Next Up:

Shadowbridge, Gregory Frost

The Dervish House, Ian McDonald

Johannes Cabal: Necromancer, Jonathan Howard

Woken Furies, Richard K Morgan

Avandari's Ring, Arthur Peterson

The Shariff of Yrnameer, Michael Rubens

The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold

The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun, JRR Tolkien

The Machinery of Light, David J. Williams

I’ll get to these… Sometime.

Makers, Cory Doctorow

Stardust, Neil Gaiman

World War Z, Max Brooks

Use of Weapons, Ian Banks

The Player of Games, Ian Banks

Matterhorn, Karl Marlantes

The Gun Seller, Hugh Laurie

Miles from Nowhere, Nami Mun

The Day of Battle, Rick Atkinson

The Battle for Spain, Antony Beevor

D Day, Antony Beevorr

War Made New, Max Boot

Fatal Decision, Carlo D'Este

The Big Burn, Timothy Egan

Race of the Century, Julie Fenster

The Sling and the Stone, Thomas Hamms

1959, Fred Kaplan

The Power Makers, Maury Klein

The Echo of Battle, Brian Linn

Paris 1919, Margaret Macmillan

Triumph Forsaken, Mark Moyar

Combat Jump, Ed Ruggero

The People's Tycoon, Steven Watts

Grave Peril, Jim Butcher

Summer Knight, Jim Butcher

Death Masks, Jim Butcher

Blood Rites, Jim Butcher

Dead Beat, Jim Butcher

Small Favor, Jim Butcher

The Amber Wizard, David Forbes

Good Omens, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

The White Mountains, John Christopher

Dead Until Dark, Charlaine Harris

Inherit the Stars, James Hogan

A Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin

A Storm of Swords, George R.R. Martin

A Fest For Crows, George R.R. Martin

A Clash of Kings, George R.R. Martin

Trading in Danger, Elizabeth Moon

Command Decision, Elizabeth Moon

Marque and Reprisal, Elizabeth Moon

His Majesty's Dragon, Naomi Novik

Revelation Space, Alastair Reynolds

Redemption Ark, Alastair Reynolds

Red Mars, Kim Stanley Robinson

The Ghost Brigades, John Scalzi

The Last Colony, John Scalzi

Zoe's Tale, John Scalzi

Atonement, Ian McEwan

The Book on the Bookshelf, Henry Petroski

How to Build Your Own Spaceship, Piers Bizony

Vampire Taxonomy, Meredith Woerner

Edison's Eve, Gaby Wood

Dry Storeroom No.1, Richard Fortey

Hot, Flat and Crowded, Thomas Friedman

The Purpose of the Past, Gordon Wood

Review: Daybreakers

 

In a world with sparkling vampires and an abrupt popularization of the genre, the 2010 film Daybreakers comes as a welcome addition to the genre, blending science fiction, dystopian thriller and vampire lore into a neat, exciting film that had a sensible story with a great visual sense. The most interesting thing is that it's really not about vampires at all: it's about oil.

In 2009, an epidemic raged across the world, killing almost everyone and turning them into vampires. There are no new innovations here: the vampires avoid sunlight, wooden stakes cause them to explode in a bloody mess, and, of course, they drink blood. By 2019, society moves along like it always did, just during the nighttime hours. Ethan Hawke portrays Edward Dalton (hopefully better than the other vampire Edward...), a sort of vegetarian vampire who lives off of pig blood, who works for Bromley Marks, a pharmaceutical company looking to make a replacement for the rapidly dwindling supply of human blood. Dalton comes across a member of a human resistance movement, who knows about his work, and brings him together with someone who had cured himself of the aliment.

Daybreakers is remarkably well thought out, from the story to the background elements. Happily, the film takes much of the traditional vampire lore and shifts it into the future, holding onto only what is strictly necessary, and adapting everything else to what the story requires. Cars are fitted with shades and external cameras, sidewalks are moved underground, soldiers wear protective clothing, and houses have alerts for their owners to know when there's a risk of sunlight. Everybody is immortal, and it seems like it could be a very good life.

What really works well in this film is the attention to detail, on a story, visual and background level: the film doesn't feel like, nor is it, fluff. There's a good amount of attention to the story, which moves along briskly, with quite a bit of action, encompassing a number of elements, all along with a really striking visual sense that helps the film really stand out from most of its compatriots. Particularly striking was the lighting, with dim grays and blues for a lot of the vampire scenes, but also bright and solid yellows for the humans, creating a sort of unconscious divide between the characters and their respective storylines when they showed up. This has been done to great effect in other films, such as Pan's Labyrinth and the television show Firefly.

The main problem that faces vampire society is that there is a critical shortage of human blood. Humans, only numbering around 5% of their original population, or around 342 million, have been captured in massive blood banks for the likely population of 6 billion vampires. As the human population declines, the vampires transform into is a horribly mutated one that looks a bit like an oversized, insane bat (a subsider), which an entire populate is at risk of transforming into, and understandably, there is quite a lot of panic in the streets, and the very problem that Dalton and the Bromley Marks company is trying to avoid. Dalton comes across problems as he comes up against corporate interests, who are only interested in the status quo, with the ability to sell pure human blood to the highest bidders, while keeping their form, as opposed to the complete reversal of the condition that everybody is afflicted with.

This conflict is at the center of the film, and at the heart of it, it's really not about Vampires, but it's about the modern world's complete dependence upon oil. Oil, which helps hold the world together as we have become increasingly globalized, is a resource that will eventually run out, and will leave much of the world in a state of decline, due to short sighted business interests who only are interested in pleasing shareholders. The same holds true in the film, and given that there was a decade of vampirism on earth, it seems somewhat astonishing that they would have completely squandered their lifeblood (literally) until you realize that that's exactly what is being done at the moment, with any number of things. The film gets a good message throughout the film, fulfilling some important aspects of what the genre should be doing for its audience.

Ultimately, the environmental storyline is the strongest component in the film. There are good attempts at a personal story and some work towards the characters, but ultimately, after watching the film, it feels like there was a lot missing: tantalizing hints, such as Dalton's transformation and his subsequent relationship with his brother are largely left up in the air, as well as a couple of similar storylines that involve some of the other characters in the film (Sam Neill's character, Charles Bromley, and his daughter, for example), all add to a fascinating background and world that has been constructed for this story, and at points, it feels like there is elements or scenes that are missing that would really flesh out the film, such as the introduction of a vampire senator who harbors human sympathies. The film would have been further strengthened to better sort these out, and it's certainly possible that a director's or special cut would rectify this sort of thing.

Ultimately, Daybreakers isn't totally sure of what it should be: character or political drama with the coverings of a genre film, or something else. As it stands now, the film is a very good one, covering much ground and providing a nice addition to a fairly crowded speculative fiction genre. The film holds a good message, and has all of the right elements going for it, making it a really good, worthwhile film to buy, but it falls just short of being a really fantastic, must see watch.

The Geek Demographic, or What to Call it?

Cinematical, a movie blog that I check up on every now and then just posted up an interesting article called The Geek Beat: Defining the Geek Genre. Actually, when I say interesting, I mean somewhat misguided. It provides an interesting starting point when it comes to this sort of genre, but the conclusions that she comes to are very misguided when she says things such as : "That's why I restricted "geek films" to be movies based on (or accompanied by) graphic novels and comic books."

Okay. Backing up for a moment, geek is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as the following:

/geek/

• noun informal, chiefly N. Amer. 1 an unfashionable or socially inept person. 2 an obsessive enthusiast.

When it comes to films or media in general, items that fall under the Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Genres are generally lumped together. It's not too hard to see why this happens - all three share the same notion of the fantastic, whether it takes place in the future, past, alternate worlds or even this world. In general, the definition of geek here refers to the human component. When it comes to a genre, it's hard to really describe films as socially inept or obsessive. (Unless they're a documentary or some really obscure, brilliant film that nobody watches, etc).

Rather, a sort of Geek demographic would seem to include the films that the 'traditional' image of a geek (sci-fi/fantasy/horror fan who lives at home, collects comics and has never been within five feet of the opposite sex1) tends to frequent. You can pretty much include any sort of film that has the science fiction, fantasy and horror elements. Star fighters, aliens, ghosts, wizards, magic, weird creatures, things like that all seem to be fairly common elements, and genre (for lack of a better word at the moment) fans tend to be attracted to these elements and stories that come along with them, generally because there are many things to be examined about them, but also because they tend to be somewhat escapist in nature. (Discussion of escapism is probably an entire discussion for later).

The problem that I have with the article here is that the author is limiting it to things with media tie-ins such as books and comic books. That falls incredibly short of where the interests of this sort of geek demographic fall. Comics and cartoons are certainly part of this demographic, but they are only a small part of this genre. Additionally, some science fiction films are well received by mainstream audiences. Star Wars has grossed billions of dollars, as has Star Trek, and these are arguably some of the more geeky franchises out there. Shows such as LOST, Heroes, Battlestar Galactica and Firefly have likewise been well received critically, and in some cases by mainstream audiences that don't generally go for the typical geeky genre.

In general, I had thought of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror in terms of separate genres. Science Fiction had space ships and robots, Fantasy got the wizards and magic, and horror got the guys with the axes and blood. Obviously, that isn't the case, and while often times there are a number of superficial differences between the genres, I've come to believe that these differences aren't the best things to judge by - oftentimes, it is the type of story that really counts, and why fans of the various genres tend to be attracted to them as a whole. You will always have people who are interested more in SciFi than fantasy (I tend to go more towards SF than I do the other two.) but when it comes down to it, there are common elements.

The article cites a number of films such as Transformers: Rise of the Fallen, Star Trek, Dr. Who, Terminator, and seems to label them different, a geek or a nerd sort of genre. Lump them all together here, and more. I consider things ranging from Robot Chicken, Indiana Jones, Fawlty Towers, Monty Python, Sherlock Holmes, Life on Mars, Battlestar Galactica, and Chuck to be part of the same demographic. Not all of these have the elements that one might consider to be in a sci-fi, fantasy or horror genre, but they do tend to attract people who are fans of those genres - they all contain fantastic elements that has to do with a escapist or speculative story, and thus, you can't really apply any of the SciFi/Fantasy/Horror genre titles to this sort of thing because not all of the content falls under those titles. I don't necessarily want to label the overall genre as a 'Geek' genre because it's not necessarily accurate, if you go straight by the definition. I'm a self described geek, but I tend to also be a geek when it comes to music, history, reading, etc. By labelling this sort of genre a GEEK genre, you'll get some of the cultural connotations right, but would that mean that films that history buffs and music affectionatos would also be included? No, because when one thinks of a sort of Geek Genre, they think of the content that tends to be attractive to your traditional/typical geek/nerd/etc. Additonally, in and of itself, it's not necessarily something that only appeals to geeks, but to those who like the fantastic.

This is the Fantastic Genre, something that covers the Science Fiction, Fantasy or Horror genres, and what their fans tend to be attracted to.

In the Event of Zombies - Proceed to Bethel Vermont

I just got back from the Science Fiction / Horror movie I Am Legend. I have to say it's probably one of the best movies out this year, especially in the Science Fiction or Horror genres. The movie, for those of you don't know, takes place three years after a global epidemic that wiped out almost 90% of the earth's population. One survivor, played by Will Smith, has eked out a living in a now abandoned New York City, along with his dog, Samantha. He drives around the city in expensive cars that are now abandoned, plays golf off of an abandoned aircraft carrier and hunts deer in Central Park and Times Square. Oh, and locks up his house and never goes out anywhere without his rifle, because those who weren't killed off by the virus have been turned into a sort of primitive zombie-vampire, who eat anything that they can find after nightfall.

From the beginning, I was reminded of a book that I read earlier this year, called The World Without Us, by Alan Weisman. The book is based on a couple of premises - the first and foremost being about what would happen if everyone vanished - especially New York City. In the book, he presents some of the same things - the subways filling with water, roads falling into disrepair, wildlife returning to the places in which humans formerly lived and plant life springing up everywhere.

Here, the movie presents a fairly accurate vision of this sort of future - like Weisman suggests, the roads have fallen into disrepair, trees and grasses spring up everywhere, deer and lions have returned (or just escaped from somewhere), as well as the subways filling with water. However, unlike in Weisman's world, the tall skyscrapers are still standing tall, (Weisman suggests that they would topple with their foundations becoming waterlogged), the roads are still intact (it's suggested that they would collapse with the subways) and the entire eastern seaboard wasn't radioactive glass, suggesting that the nuclear reactors in the United States hadn't overheated and were destroyed without anybody to staff them.

The first half of the movie is outstandingly done - Smith's character goes about his day, alone with his dog in the city, talking to store dummies that he seems to have placed around in a couple of places that he frequents. He sends out a radio beacon to alert any other survivors that he's out there, to help them. In all likelihood, it's probably mostly for his own sanity, the hope that there is someone else out there. We can see that he's lonely. Some of the best scenes are the ones that are the quietest, looking over the abandoned city while Smith walks around.

In the times that he's not wandering around, we see that Smith has a lab in his basement, where he spends more of his free time working out a cure, based on the immunity that he seems to have against the virus.

It's not an easy feat to virtually carry a movie almost completely on the shoulders of one actor, but Smith really manages to pull it off, especially with the help of his dog, who accompanies him everywhere he goes. While a good proportion of the film takes place in 2012, we do see a couple of glimpses into the past, just prior to the outbreak and during the evacuation. In 2009, a scientist came up with a cure for cancer, with 10,009 human clinical trials. In another glimpse, we see that those trials had horrible side effects, with the virus mutating into something that turns people into a snarling beast that was burned by the sun - almost like rabies. Smith tries to get his wife and daughter out of Manhattan before it's cut off from the rest of the world - he was a colonel in the US Army, and he used his position to try and get them to safety.

http://www.ospreydesign.com/foreword/archives/world-without-us.jpg

The flashbacks are interesting, because the movie takes place afterwards, and there's little setup - the viewers are merely thrown into the mix, with little explanation. The setup's in the first half of the movie, where it works extremely well, and brings the viewer up to the second half, where the action takes over - Smith looses it when Sam is turned, and he tries to kill as many of the zombies as he can, when another pair of survivors turn up, telling him that they heard his message and stopped by as they were on their way to Bethel Vermont, where there is apparently a colony of survivors.

This is perhaps one of the better parts of the film, where Smith hears this news - his first reaction is to throw his dish across the room and shout. He plays it off extremely well, as he finally has somebody to talk to, besides his pet and the television (he can follow along with the dialog of Shrek perfectly). The use of the movie Shrek was very cleverly done - it uses a quote that really parallels their current situation. While he was resistant to the idea of going with them to start anew, he uses the movie to communicate, using things that he does know to get ideas across. We see the other survivor do the same thing, and it takes them a little while to relax a little.

I thought that it was interesting that they chose Vermont as a place for survivors, especially Bethel, which is a real town, and which I've been through a number of times. One of the survivors makes an offhand comment that the cold helped prevent the spread of the virus. It's a bit of a common misperception about Vermont, that it's cold here all the time - while we do have fairly cold winters, it's hardly Hoth year-round - the spring, summer and fall seasons are all quite nice. Winter's just a little longer than most places. Although, from what we do see of the zombie-vampire things, they wouldn't last long at all in the cold of Vermont, or probably anywhere outside of a city environment.

One of the more interesting parts of the film was the way the survivors operate. Smith stockpiles supplies, guns, locks up his doors to the extreme measures and generally does what he can to survive. The colony, which we see in the end of the film, seems to operate on that principle - behind the walls, there's a wind farm and a farm (another Vermont stereotype), and people walking around without bite marks everywhere.

The film succeeds on a number of levels - the strength of the acting - I'm continually surprised at Will Smith in films - I thought that he was abysmal in Independence Day, but thought that he did a good job in I, Robot, and by all reports, he did a very good job in Pursuit of Happiness. Here, he does an excellent job largely on his own - the scenes with him and Sam are the best in the movie and perhaps in this genre, at least in a long time.

The progression of the story is also a strength here, as we're slowly introduced to the situation and what life is like in a post-apocalyptic world. The film goes beyond a mere horror-zombie film. There's true depth here, in the isolation of Smith's character and his lack of belief in god and fate. What we're presented with is a solid film, with solid acting and a very good addition to the genre, as well as a fairly accurate vision of what would happen if everyone in the planet just died off. Go check out this movie, and while on your way to the theater, go pick up Alan Weisman's book, because if you like this, you'll be interested in what he has to say, the answer to the question : What would happen if everyone on the planet vanished? I Am Legend has quite an interesting take on that question - Plus zombies. I do admit, The World Without Us would be a fun read if it had them in it.