Reading Notes, 3/1/21

Finished Reading

Just this morning I finished The Science of Women in Horror: The Special Effects, Stunts, and True Stories Behind Your Favorite Fright Films by Meg Hafdahl and Kelly Florence. This was an impulse check-out over the weekend, mainly because I found the title perplexing. Something like “Science of Star Trek” or “Science of Cryptids,” I get. But the Science (?) of Women in Horror? Anyway, it was available through hoopla, so I checked it out.

This book is an inch deep and five miles wide. It strives for organization, but meanders through horror tropes that include women and occasionally tethers those tropes to some science aspect. Okay, usually the science is sociology and occasionally it’s just true crime. There are also odd little sidebars with science or movie facts. The interviews are okay; I wish they would have been longer.

Deal Me In

8♦️: “Egotism, or, The Bosom Serpent” by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Dale at Mirror with Clouds inspired me to add a few Hawthorne stories to my Deal Me In list this year. Not that I needed much prompting. I haven’t read much Hawthorne, but I’ve found that I generally enjoy him. He’s an author I’m glad I came to later in life, because I think he might have bored me if I had read him in high school. (Somehow, I dodged The Scarlet Letter throughout my education…)

I’m a pretty literal reader, which means, if you’re going to spring allegory on me, you better have a good surface story too. Roderick Elliston has a serpent in his bosom, the vestige of some wrong-doing. It’s a physical thing for Elliston and, furthermore, he can see the serpents carried in the hearts of others. He goes through a period of telling people about their own serpents. This does not make him popular. (And reminds me a little of Cather’s “Lou, the Prophet.”) Serpents in the bosom? This is allegory. We all have evil in us and we do not like having someone around to call us out on it. But Hawthorne makes this concept potentially literal, a horror concept. Doesn’t Elliston look a litte green, like the underbelly of a snake? Can’t you see the snake writhing in his chest? Doesn’t Elliston hiss? Hawthorne reels me in before he preaches to me.

Reading Challenge Check-In

The Classics Club

Goal: 10 Books by 12/14/21
Progress: 2/10

✅ Read The House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgson.


Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

#ShelfLove

Goal: Abstain from acquiring books; read at least 21 books from my shelves.
Progress: 1 book acquired (sort of); 2/21+

❌ I started a couple books from my own shelves, but didn’t finish any in February. I also pre-ordered David Copperfield’s History of Magic. I couldn’t resist… I am weak when it comes to peeking into Copperfield’s magic collection.


I Read Horror Year-Round

Goal: Read 6 books from 6 categories.
Progress: 1/6

✅ After The House on the Borderland, I read Hodgson’s The Ghost Pirates, a book featuring a body of water.


Dune Read-through

Goal: Read Herbert’s 6 Dune books by October.
Progress: Finished Dune, working on Dune Messiah (still), and worked out a daily reading schedule for all the books. Kinda-sorta on schedule.

Nonfiction

Goal: Read at least 30% nonfiction.
Progress: Currently at 33% because I didn’t read much last month.

Short Stories

Goal: Deal Me In each week and Cather Reading Project each month.
Progress: On track.

Currently Reading

I should finish Dune Messiah this week. Maybe The Coney Island Fakir too. And some short stories.


Cinema Saturday, 2/27/21 : Terminator Edition

The Terminator

Year: 1984
Runtime: 1h 47m
Rated: R

Director: James Cameron

Writers: James Cameron, Gale Anne Hurd, William Wisher

Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Michael Biehn

“Hey, buddy. You got a dead cat in there, or what?”

>POSSIBLE RESPONSE: >YES/NO
>OR WHAT?
>GO AWAY
>PLEASE COME BACK LATER
>FUCK YOU, ASSHOLE
>FUCK YOU

Initial: This is one of those movies that my parents owned on Beta video tape. I’ve probably seen it around a dozen times.

What Did I Think:
There are particularly two things that Cameron and Hurd do really well writing-wise in The Terminator that cause it to hold up pretty well in my opinion. (And maybe it’s mostly Cameron, because I see these things in Strange Days as well.)

First, expositional info dumps happen after the audience has been shown action. The audience is actually asking, “What is going on?!” before the movie tells us what is going on. And it seems to me, that if you need to info dump, that’s how you do it.

Second, character information is conveyed through the look of the character. Michael Biehn’s Kyle Reese is a beat up dude. He’s got scars. We’ve seen Schwarzenegger get chronoported and walk away like it’s nothing. Reese is a huddled mass, post-chronoport. We know immediately who is the more squishy of the two.

Aside from those things, the film is also really well-paced and the effects aren’t half bad. I mean, this is 1984…


Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Year: 1991
Runtime: 2h 17m
Rated: R

Director: James Cameron

Writers: James Cameron, William Wisher

Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong

“We’ve got company.”
“Police?”
“How many?”
“All of ’em, I think.”

Initial: I do believe I first saw this movie in the theater with my sister for her birthday. Later, it became one of the first DVDs I owned.

Production Notes: Lance Henriksen and Bill Paxton had a minor roles in The Terminator. Jenette Goldstein had a minor role in T2. All three were in Cameron’s Aliens (1986) and Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark (1987).

What Did I Think:
I didn’t like it as much as I remembered liking it. I’d say it is at it’s best in two instances. First, when it’s playing with audience expectations. The trailer pretty much lays out the “twist” of the movie, but it still plays coy when showing us the T-1000’s chrono-portation and it’s still pretty chilling in both scenes when John and Sarah see the original Terminator for the first time. We have enough empathy for these characters to know a little of their fear and the movie plays these scenes straight. Maybe, we think for a moment, he isn’t the good guy.

Second, the semi chase scene in the culvert is really good. Later action scenes run long and are maybe superfluous, but this one works really well. It has narrative, it’s exciting, and you know what’s going on the whole time.

Otherwise, the pacing of T2 is a little off. It kind of drags here and there. But it does do a decent job of being the sequel to a very popular, quite good original. And the effects were a massive improvement.


Terminator: Dark Fate

Year: 2019
Runtime: 2h 8m
Rated: R

Director: Tim Miller

Writers: David S. Goyer, Justin Rhodes, Billy Ray, James Cameron, Charles H. Eglee, Josh Friedman, Gale Anne Hurd

Stars: Linda Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mackenzie Davis

“What are you doing?”
“Future shit.”

Initial: I’ve seen Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003) and Terminator Salvation (2009) (I think…), but never got into The Sarah Connor Chronicles and skipped Terminator Genisys (2015). I really hadn’t intended to watch Dark Fate, but I saw a Tumblr gif set of a scene that seemed interesting, and it’s on Hulu, so… what the heck, I thought.

What Did I Think:
I’d heard that is was an okay movie, and that’s pretty much what it is: okay. Dark Fate ignores anything past T2, so it’s set up to be a more direct sequel to that.

I like how they decided to “level up” our combatants: a composite Terminator and an altered human, even if I found Grace’s necessary-for-the-plot weakness pretty dumb. The young cast of Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes, Gabriel Luna, and Diego Boneta bring the feel of young Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn to the movie, which is needed. Unfortunately, the story of Dani Ramos kind of gets subsumed by the Sarah Connor/Terminator story. There is a criticism that this movie feels like Terminator fan fiction, and it sort of does. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s probably not what you want to base your blockbuster on.

You might think that 28 years would reap better special effects, but not really. The Terminator effects are fine, but the Rev-9 is only slightly better rendered than the T-1000. The action scenes were decidedly worse. I’m sure the whole sequence on the crashing plane could have been very cool, but I couldn’t keep up with who was doing what where.

Reading Notes (supplemental), 2/26/21

book and flowers
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

The end of February often sneaks up on me. Plus, I’ve just been a bit out of it the last couple weeks; not reading, blogging, or even watching movies. Mostly, I’ve been playing Minecraft and alternately listening to William Hope Hodgson novels or Nebraska basketball games. But I have a couple of reading things I want to talk about before my February wrap-up on Monday.

Willa Cather Short Story Project

February’s story is “Peter,” a very short story originally published in The Hesperian in 1892.

The titular Peter is the father of a fairly large family from Bohemia that settled in southwestern Nebraska to farm. It is his son Antone, though, who is the head of the family. Peter was a violinist in Prague until he suffered a paralytic stoke which made it impossible to play. While he is described in the story as lazy, he is old, disabled, and deeply homesick for the theater life. Antone, described as “mean and untrustworthy,” is a practical man. He wants to sell his father’s violin and he does things like gathering wood on the Sabbath. In the end, despite his piety, Peter can see only one way out. He breaks his violin so his son can’t sell it and then commits suicide with a rifle. He does not break the violin’s bow and Antone sells that.

It’s a pretty bleak story, even more so than “Lou, the Prophet.” There is again tension between the past and present. The ending of the story would have us believe that the past isn’t any use to the present, especially in the harsh reality of farming in Nebraska, but Cather’s opinion of the present isn’t very sunny either. Antone is not drawn as a good person, but “[his] corn was better tended than any in the county, and his wheat always yielded more than other men’s.”

The Willa Cather Short Story Project (phase II) is hosted by Chris Wolak.

#ShelfLove Monthly Discussion

This month’s discussion topic is: Free Books!
Fortified by Books has a huge post about free book resources. I mean, massive! I use a few of those, but so many are new to me too.

  • Project Gutenberg – This is the big one for me, especially since I’ve been reading a lot of classics.
  • Amazon.com – It’s easy enough to load Gutenberg files onto my Kindle, but I will often see if Amazon has a free copy of classics so synching between my Kindle and browser app works better. Otherwise, I kind of steer clear of Amazon freebies: I have so. much. to. read.
  • Hathi Trust – My go-to for old periodicals.
  • Online magazines – Nightmare, Uncanny, and Clakesworld pretty much cover the realm of current speculative short fiction (and nonfiction).
  • Tor.com – Traditional publisher Tor features short fiction by their authors as well as news, commentary, and readalongs on their blog.

#ShelfLove is hosted by Fotified by Books. If you’re looking to curb your book-buying and read from your own shelves, it’s not too late to sign up!


Reading Notes, 2/22/21

Finished Reading

The Ghost Pirates cover

The Ghost Pirates by William Hope Hodgson

Back in October of last year, I got in the mood to read about some supernatural fiction set at sea. I planned on reading Hodgson’s The Ghost Pirates, but ended up instead reading the first of a trio of his novels that are kinda-sorta related. The Boats of the ‘Glen Caring’ still fit that supernatural-at-sea niche, though was much more of an adventure novel. The second, The House on the Borderland, delved more fully into Hodgson’s dimension/time slip motifs, but with much less plot. The Ghost Pirates ends up being a pretty good melding of the two.

Seaman Jessop survives the destruction of the Mortzestus and lives to tell the tale of strange goings-on. It begins as phantom winds and unnatural fogs, but events quickly get out of hand as the captain of the ship will not believe that it’s anything more than a little bad luck or the meandering minds of his underlings. Again, I like Hodgson’s factual narrative style (in contrast with someone like Lovecraft) and, considering his time as a sailor, he writing what he knows. The plot gets a little repetitive; end of the day, I probably like The Boats of the ‘Glen Caring’ the best out of these three novels.

I Read Horror Year-Round banner

This was my first book for the I Read Horror Year-Round challenge:
Horror featuring a body of water.

Deal Me In

7♠️: “Vampiro” by Emilia Pardo Bazán, translated by Nina Zumel
This was one of two tales featured on Nina’s blog back in April of last year. The blog post was about two “living” literary vampires. In this case, the young, lovely Inesiña is married off to a 77½ year-old. He couldn’t possibly out-live her, right? I hope I draw the other tale, “Good Lady Ducayne” by Mary Elizabeth Braddon in the near future.

Currently Reading


Didn’t read as much last week as I originally intended. I ended up in a blah mood and played a lot of Minecraft. (I listened to The Ghost Pirates. LibriVox has some pretty good recordings.) This week, I will continue with Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert. Coles’ The Call of Stories was annoying me, so I needed a break. What’s the opposite of literary pretentiousness? The Coney Island Fakir: The Magical Life of Al Flosso by Gary R. Brown. Plus, short stories.

Reading Notes, 2/15/21

Finished Reading

The Hole by Hiroko Oyamada
(translated by David Boyd)

When it comes to reading materials, I generally don’t care about “best of” or nomination lists, but I make an exception for horror fiction. I’m usually curious about what the industry considers good in the horror genre. I’d been seeing The Hole mentioned here and there and took the opportunity to check it out from the library where not nearly enough Japanese horror is available.

It’s a curious story. According to the summary on Goodreads, Asa and her husband move to the countryside (“next door” to his parents) when he gets a new job—the commute being not bad since they’re in a less populated place. I suppose if you’re used to a city such as Tokyo, the area that Asa and her husband move to might be considered countryside, but to me it had a more suburban feel. It reminds me of the edge of Omaha where the 7-11 or the wilderness along a creek are both as easily encountered. Houses aren’t too close together and have a good deal of yard. My notion of countryside left me expecting something different

For the secong time in a row (the other being House of the Borderland), I read a story in which many strange things happen, but there is very little pursuit of the the mystery. Asa isn’t terribly interested in getting to the bottom of the weird things that are happening. She’s pretty acquiescent about all the things that happened to her, even in her city life before moving. And it occurred to me that I’m overly used to the mystery of a story being solved, or at least actively investigated. That left me dissatisfied, but not overly so. There is a sort of Gothic vibe to the story that reminds me a little of Jane Eyre or Rebecca: a young woman is led into a situation, her married family is involved, there’s maybe something nefarious going on, and in the end she’s changed by it.

I guess maybe this is just part of that magical realism genre that I’m not very conversant with/in.

Deal Me In

K♥️: “Whatever Comes After Calcutta” by David Erik Nelson
from The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Nov-Dec 2017

Calcutta, Ohio, that is. Though published in 2017, I was kind of surprised that one of the story’s background characters wore a MAGA hat. I suppose that’s a shorthand that we will see often for certain types of characters in this era, but it still felt weird to me. Anyway. An okay story of a modern-day witchery.

Currently Reading

Starting Dune Messiah this week. I have a leisurely reading pace scheduled. I’ve been listening to William Hope Hodgson’s The Ghost Pirates while playing Minecraft. I’ve been wanting to read it for a while, but got the notion that I should read The Boats of the “Glen Caring” and The House on the Borderland first. Thus far, I find no story connection between the three, but there are definitely some thematic connections.

Tales of an Unwieldy Library, pt. 2

I Know What’s in the Closet

Well, mostly I know what’s in the closet…

Last week, I lugged all* my boxes of books out of the backroom closet and started to re-catalog them in a fresh LibraryThing. I finished with those books on Tuesday and put the boxes back yesterday.

Total boxes sorted: 7 tomato boxes, 3 shoe boxes, 1″Data Documents” box
Total books cataloged: 205
Books I own, but haven’t read: 116

Books removed from collection: 30
About half of these were books I took from free bins outside used bookstores. Often in bad shape, they were free for a reason. I’m going to toss the ones that I’m really not ever going to read. The other half are books in better shape that I’ll get rid of… somehow… Probably post-pandemic. Some children’s titles are going to the free little library that was just set up at the elementary school down the street.

Observations:

  • Fie on bookstores that put bar-code stickers over the back cover ISBN!
  • Since I removed 30 books from those boxes, I was left with a box 1/3 full, which I’m going to use to help rotate a few books on to my shelves.
  • I did not find my copies of Timothy Zahn’s Star Wars books or my copy of The Phantom of the Opera. I wonder if we didn’t load the Zahn books to Chris or AJ.
  • Best found bookmark: Tucked into the back of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was an “Excused Absence” card dated February 16, 1990. That would have been my freshman year in high school. It was initialed by all of my teaches aside from 8th period and I’m fairly certain I was supposed to turn that back in to the attendanc office. I don’t remember why I was absent.

Next up, the front room books.

* “All” didn’t include the boxes of gaming books in the backroom closet. Those are a task for another day…

Reading Notes, 2/8/21

Finished Reading

Dune cover

Dune by Frank Herbert

One book down in my Dune read-through. A reread for me.

David Lynch’s Dune (1984) is not very faithful to the book, at least not after the first few chapters, but the style of it is very hard to shake. The weirdness of the gom jabber scene and creepy, uncanny Alia are a couple of the Lynchian things that are always going to be part of my internal Dune vision. Those images somewhat override themes in the book that are more important, that I forget about until I read again—like the Bene Gesserit seeding religious prophecies throughout the universe, know you, just in case…

I also noticed in this reading how Herbert plays with epic fantasy; not just tropes, but details. We begin in a castle on Caladan. The Reverend Mother is referred to as witch. One of the Atreides’ most trusted advisors/warriors is a bard; there are songs, poetic digressions! These are fantasy things. Chocolate in my peanut butter.

The House on the Borderlands cover

The House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgson

I’ve come to a realization: it’s not weird fiction that I dislike, or even cosmic horror that leaves me rolling my eyes. It’s H. P. Lovecraft. Lovecraft relies on “It couldn’t be described! It was so horrible everyone who looked upon it went insane!” That leaves me pretty disconnected from his fiction, and I had thought that this was representative of all weird fiction/cosmic horror. I had been reluctant to read Lovecraft’s progenitors, though I felt like I should. I’m glad I’ve stuck with it and put William Hope Hodgson on my Classics Club list. (This is Classics Club book #2 for the year.)

The House on the Borderland isn’t quite what I expected. I had figured on maybe more of ghost story or more metaphorical borders. No, Hodgson goes for dimensional rift/Hellmouth and isn’t afraid to give some details. I will say, Borderland is pretty light on plot. It’s a recitation of strange things happening without cause or solution. It’s mostly just a very weird, not unenjoyable, ride.

Deal Me In

7♥️: “Carbo” by Nick Wolven
From The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Nov–Dec 2017

What if you mashed up browser history, predictive text, deep learning AI, and self-driving vehicles? And what if the owner of such a vehicle was a somewhat pervy teenager? Would you end up with a virus-laden car that believed you only wanted to go to the next place where you could see scantily clad women? This story was a little too pessimistic for me and I feel like it floated over any depth that it could have plumbed.

Currently Reading

The Hole cover
The Call of Stories cover

I had intended to start Dune Messiah after The House on the Borderland, but I think I need a little more break. As timing would have it, I put The Hole by Hiroko Oyamada on hold last week and it became available yesterday. Still have Coles’ The Call of Stories as my morning reading.