Archive for August, 2012

Today’s “Kickstarter of the Week” actually comes to you from Indiegogo, another awesome crowdfunding site, which focuses on fundraising. There are a number of creative projects on Indiegogo, but they have a social justice bent, which, of course, is totally exciting.

This week, I’m breaking protocol and pushing a zombie-oriented project–a play, specifically, which was written to increase hunger awareness in NYC. But it’s really just too cool to pass up, so I hope you’ll forgive me.

Project: Salvatore Brienik’s ZOMBIES

End Date: September 11 at 11:59PM PT

Prizes: Some truly awesome rewards, such as signed pictures of the cast, free tickets for you and a friend, personalized zombie portraits–even a thank you dinner! Of course, some of these are dependent on your willingness/ability to go to Queens, but hey.

Current Goal: $6,800

Current Number of Backers: 14

Current Pledges: $3,260

Why they deserve your support: First, let’s talk about the premise. We have a group of survivors (including a cat!) weathering the apocalypse on the second floor of a house. They’re following along world events via radio and dealing with, more than the shambling hordes of undead, the question of how to cope with survival. Then we have the social benefit of the show, namely the awareness they’re raising for the Food Bank of New York City. So, basically, if you contribute, you’re assisting the performing arts, which is always awesome, funding another piece of zombie culture, and you’re helping feed the hungry. Moreover, if ZOMBIES is a success, that paves the way for similar projects, ghoulish and otherwise, maybe at a venue near you. Or maybe you’ll do it. (If so: LET ME KNOW.)

Did I give: Yes! I don’t always have much to give this time around, but every little bit helps, yes?

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Yesterday, I finally sat down and watched Contagion. The movie was so-so and not something I’d discuss here anyway, but it did contain that zinger of a line above. Possibly, the only moment of really decent writing in the whole film and it felt totally discordant, probably because it is so sharp.

And then, Lightspeed posted this brilliantly thorough interview with Mira Grant–aka Seanan McGuire–the lady responsible for the Newsflesh trilogy. (If you like zombies and political thrillers, you really, really ought to read them.) Of course, Grant deals with the development of blogging heavily in her novels. Bloggers are the new journalists, which isn’t quite true in Contagion yet, but it gets there. What’s interesting in both cases is that catastrophic events (basically, two epidemics) catapult blogging into the realm of “serious journalism.”

Now, you’ll probably argue, isn’t that already true? Huffington Post is basically one giant blog, and then there are the Gawker websites (Jezebel, io9, Lifehacker, etc). Don’t half of us already get most of our news from Twitter and Youtube?

Grant admits that when she wrote Feed, blogging hadn’t reached the level of ubiquity it has today. Regardless, I think her novels (and Contagion in its own ham-handed way) raise some interesting questions about the blogosphere and journalistic integrity.

After all, anyone with an internet connection (fast or slow) can be a blogger. Obviously, all you need is a wordpress account and enough time. Most blogs don’t have the mainstream appeal we see in these fictional accounts, but there are some people (including Grant/McGuire) who have quite an impressive following.

Now I’m not a huge fan of mainstream media, especially the 24-hour news cycle, but you can make the argument that among journalists there’s professional accountability for bad reporting. The different networks are constantly ragging on each other for misrepresentation, etc. You can usually say the same of news websites (although I’ve seen some unabashedly poorly reported stuff on Huffpost). But where does accountability in blogging come from?

It’s kind of exciting and terrifying, because accountability comes from the readership. If I find faulty information on a blog, information without sources, or just grossly biased material, I’m probably not going to go back to that blog. The internet is huge–there’s plenty else for me to read. So, you can make an argument for a truly democratic process. More successful blogs get more readers, more readers make the blogs more successful, ad infinitum.

But this doesn’t account for the kind of internet frenzy that happens around mimetic material. Kony 2012 is probably one of the most famous recent examples. Yes, the group’s misleading claims were eventually brought to light by several interested individuals, but a fair bit of damage had already been done. Thousands of young people had given money to support a group they didn’t actually know very much about.

And if the situation were even more serious, as it is in Contagion for example, how do we create accountability then? And how do we protect the online community from people who would mislead us for their own gain?

Just one of the many ways we’re living science fiction, folks.

What are your thoughts on the ethics of blogging? How do you verify what you read online?

I had a few goals for this week’s Kickstarter of the Week. I wanted it to be (1) something I came across on the site just browsing (2) a medium I haven’t covered yet (music, gaming, visual art, comics) (3) a project which started recently and (4) preferably a project local to me. I give you:

Project: Are You a Werewolf? — Deluxe Edition

End Date: September 23, 2012

Prizes: They’re offering an assortment of cool things, including promo cards, t-shirts, copies of the game, an evening gaming with one of the creators, sneak peeks at upcoming projects, and more!

Current Goal: $20,000

Current Number of Backers: 156

Current Pledges: $6,237

Why they deserve your support: If you’re not familiar with them, Looney Labs is an indie game company, which produces board and card games with a decidedly genre/novelty bent. They’re based out of College Park, Maryland (home state!) and their games are not only fun, they’re highly re-playable. So if you’re looking for something to introduce to your weekly gaming circle, you might consider Are You a Werewolf? or one of their other classics. I think this kickstarter is especially awesome because it builds on an existing product and improves it by adding a viewer which allows the player to better conceal his or her secret identity. Not to mention: werewolves! Is it me or do werewolves always get the short end of the horror stick (pun not intended)? And here we have the best of the old school set-up: werewolves, angry villagers, gypsies! Does it get any better? 

Did I give: Not yet, but I’m planning to–I’m sensing some great Christmas shopping possibilities here.

I keep intending to make a “Hope for the Genre” post about some of the books I’m reading, but honestly? There are so many good novels and story collections out there, I’m having trouble picking one to highlight. Therefore the only sensible thing is to post about 3-5 exciting genre or genre-bending books every so often. And feel free to friend me on Goodreads if you’re so inclined.

1. Johannes Cabal: Necromancer by Jonathan L. Howard: This gem came out in 2009, as many of you probably know, but I like to recommend the beginning of a series. Howard’s brilliant for-now trilogy kicks off our introduction to Johannes Cabal with a few of my favorite things: demonic carnivals, deals with the devil, the undead, killer freak shows, and razor sharp humor. Cabal is one of my favorite anti-heroes of all time. Fear Institutethe third book of the series which was released in the UK this year, takes us deep into Lovecraft’s Dreamlands. If you can get your hands on it, it is well worth it!

2. Fantastic Women ed. by Rob Spillman: A collection of surreal stories published by women in Tin House. Now, if you’re one of those people who thinks literary magazines are stiff and stodgy, you have to check out this collection. Enjoy work by Aimee Bender, Karen Russell, Kelly Link, Alissa Nutting, Kate Bernheimer, and other geniuses. My absolute favorite of this bunch is Link’s “Light” which deals with pocket universes, women with two shadows, and hurricanes, among other things. But there isn’t a dud in the whole set. If you love fantastic short stories, this is the collection for you.

3. Southern Gods by John Horner Jacobs: Nominated for a Stoker award, this collision between Lovecraftian and Southern mythos is a thrill ride steeped in blues music and 1950s culture. WWII vet, Bull Ingram, gets hired to track down a mysterious bluesman, Ramblin’ John Hastur, whose music supposedly drives men mad and makes the dead rise. As in all Lovecraft-inspired tales, Ingram finds himself in way over his head. Jacobs doesn’t pull a single punch in this horrific story and you’ll find yourself wanting to look away before the end–but if you’re like me, you probably won’t.

4. After the Apocalypse by Maureen F. McHugh: Published by the incomparable Small Beer Press, McHugh’s second collection is a goldmine of science fiction, horror, fantasy, and a few things in between. In these nine beautifully written tales, you’ll find zombies, bird flu, the development of artificial intelligence, medical testing, and an entirely man-made apocalypse (natural disasters and the walking dead need not apply). McHugh is a master storyteller who builds worlds and characters with the same care. My absolute favorite of this set was, surprisingly, “The Kingdom of the Blind,” which follows the story of IT employees who discover that the system they monitor may have developed awareness.

5. The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson: This YA novel came out last year, but I’m recommending it anyway, because the second book of the series is due out in January 2013 and if you haven’t read it, you should now! Johnson paints a meticulous picture of modern London entranced by the possibility of a Jack the Ripper mimic. CCTV cameras and rabid media dominate the case. But the heart of the story lies with Rory Deveaux, an American high school student studying abroad in London. Rory discovers more than the terrifying truth behind the copycat Ripper murders, as she comes in contact with the Shades of London. Definitely a page turner and a must-read if you’re into genre YA fiction.

And sometimes, it’s enough to say without any ado: watch this!

Five posts in and already I’ve fallen off the getting-beyond-zombies wagon. I can’t help it–the undead were one of my first loves. (That and killer sharks, but Discovery Channel’s taken care of that for all of us, haven’t they?)

We’ll blame this post on the fact that I saw ParaNorman yesterday. I’m not going to write a review, although you can read some here, here, and here. But really, you should just go watch it, because it’s awesome. You know when it feels like a book or a movie was made just for you? That’s how I feel about ParaNorman. It reminded me why I love the horror genre in general and zombies in particular.

What is this fascination with flesh-eating ghouls, you might ask? Well, it’s more than a love of the grotesque. I would argue, actually, that zombies are one of the most versatile monsters we have. For many reasons, but especially because they’re so liminal–they exist between the boundaries of definitions, they are trapped between one state of being and another.

A zombie, we know, is neither living nor dead. Neither human nor beast. They were people once and they look like people, but we can’t define them as people anymore. After all, people are alive. And in most societies, people don’t eat other people. (If we did, what could we say about our enemies to discredit them? Eating babies is about the worst thing we can think of, no?) Zombies are the ultimate transgressors–they once belonged to the orderly human world and (through disease, black magic, or radioactive satellite dust) have since abandoned it. And that’s scary, because we can recognize ourselves in them.

At some point or another, we’ve been liminal, too. Yes, maybe (probably?) you’re not trapped between life and death, but you most likely have been trapped between adulthood and childhood. Maybe you lived somewhere that was on the border of two places (hello, suburbia). Maybe a relationship got stuck there, or your employment status. Historically, we see women in this position fairly frequently. For instance, widows who haven’t remarried yet. They weren’t maidens–they weren’t matrons–what were they? Not to mention your general undesirables, people who don’t fit whatever norms you’re trying to push. If you live on the fringe, you’re in monster territory–you’re not safe. Safety exists neatly within the bounds of cultural norms and language.

But the really brilliant thing, the really terrifying thing is that because these liminal sorts are on the edges, in the between places, they retain aspects of humanity. They are recognizable, or at least similar to, the normal folk who stay within the lines. Which means, too, that there’s always the possibility, the threat, of conversion. After all, if something’s not at all like you, unrecognizable as even a little bit human, you don’t have worry about seeing yourself in it. But if there’s even a small resemblance, well. That could be you, couldn’t it?  You could end up stuck, snagged between culture and chaos, society and wilderness, roast beef and babies. It only takes a small shift, one moment of exposure to the wrong element. Or, if we go back to zombies, you get bitten. And as simple as that, you shift from human to once-human, alive to undead.

On this week’s Hope for the Genre: the movie everyone’s talking about. Prepare to be charmed, dazzled, and to have your heart completely broken. But in that beautifully-tragic-story way, not the your-goldfish-just-kicked-it way. 

Genre: Magical Realism? Southern Gothic? Bildungsroman? All of the above.

Medium: Film

The premise: Beasts of the Southern Wild blurs the line between the world’s cruelest realities and our most frightening and beautiful dreams. The reality: there’s a spit of land in the Mississippi Delta called “The Bathtub.” Around sixty people live there, including Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) and Wink (Dwight Henry), her father–both abandoned by Hushpuppy’s mother. The Bathtub is a wonderfully wild place where, as Hushpuppy tells us, there are more holidays than anywhere else in the world. It’s also at the mercy of the crumbling Delta ecosystem and weather. Hushpuppy is keenly aware  of universe’s (and her life’s) imbalances and the movie shifts between the storms and their aftermath and a herd of aurochs–fierce, extinct monsters freed from the melting icecaps.

Why it’s awesome: Seriously, this movie reached into my chest and gave my heart a good, strong squeeze. Wallis and Henry are amazing and so, so genuine in their performances that you’re entirely sucked into Hushpuppy’s world. Moreover, it’s a gorgeously shot movie that doesn’t place too much emphasis on a cut-and-dry linear narrative. It’s much more meandering and episodic, which are dangerous choices to be sure, but I can’t imagine the film working any other way. This is a modern-day epic, ladies and gentleman, and it both embodies and re-imagines the form, from the sirens and the Elysian Fields to the witch-woman schoolteacher who looks after the children. Plus it’s drenched with Southern mythos in the best possible way. Not to mention the soundtrack.

Why it’s hopeful: I haven’t seen a fantasy film so darkly evocative since Pan’s Labyrinth. This movie understands what makes the most successful magical realist stories work: the interdependence between the real world and the dream world. They have to feed off each other, to counterbalance each other. When they do, the story becomes more than it would have been as a realistic rendering or a fairy tale. And I don’t mean dream world in the sense that we automatically understand that the surreal aspects of the story aren’t really there. I mean dream world in the sense that we automatically understand that it doesn’t matter what’s real and what’s not. Beasts of the Southern Wild makes you forget to ask such naive, adult questions, and I hope we see more films like it soon.