Wednesday, February 8, 2017

RINGS: evil is as evil does

I became almost obsessed with The Ring when the American version came out. I managed to track down the Koji Suzuki books the Japanese versions were based on. I used to have a box of "the tape" thanks to a promotion at the bookstore I worked at when The Ring Two was released.

I have a freaking Samara T-shirt.

Rings follows a formula taken right from the 2002 Gore Verbinski film, with slight variations. The central conceit of the film remains: set Samara's soul free so that she will stop killing people.

This is where it gets fun for me, but can also be something of a letdown. There is no twist ending as long as you have been paying attention. Call it a spoiler on my part and I won't entirely disagree. The key is that knowing is satisfying in a way that other horror films don't even strive for.

Here's the deal: nobody wants to redeem Freddy Krueger. He's a villain and that is that. Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, Chucky... same thing. Audiences cheer for them and are more invested in them than in the victims, but it is still different than it is with Samara.

We feel bad for her, just like the heroines of the American films do. We think, "Oh this precious girl. If only she knew someone loved her, she would stop being so cruel to the world. We're sorry that you were mistreated. Let us help you."

But pay attention. Pay attention to the worst person in each film (in this case Vincent D'Onofrio's Burke) when he says that you can't save Samara. The person who did the worst things to her but has been spared up to that point is generally the only one who really knows the truth.

The truth is that Samara is evil. It is a natural evil made worse by nurture. Fight it all you want, but she's going to kill and continue to kill until she kills everyone.

And yes, this nihilism is satisfying because it is inevitable. Logistically, a classic slasher can't kill everyone on the planet. For much of her early existence, neither could Samara. The limits of VHS technology constrained her.

She is no longer constrained by a tape. She's much more like the RING virus of the books, which evolves and spreads in any way it can.

But what makes this the most satisfying to me is that within the parameters of this story, there will always be someone who thinks they can save Samara and free her soul. "There have been twelve before you," Burke tells Julia, the would-be savior of Rings. No, we don't need to see the same story twelve times (although horror franchises would tell us otherwise), but knowing that this pattern has occurred before and will continue on and on is terrifying.

Of course, there is a catch. Rings is unfortunately not a good movie. The dialogue is atrocious and the acting is watered down to the point where this could nearly pass as a PG flick instead of the PG-13 it is. It lacks the atmosphere needed for a successful PG-13 horror show. Its characters also lack the heart that makes one want to cheer for them.

What this means is that I can't fully recommend you spend $11 (or whatever a ticket costs you these days) just for a satisfying concept. What I can say is that if you keep some of this in mind, you will at least not feel like you wasted your time.

Friday, December 16, 2016

My favorite things I've read in 2016

Best of lists suck. Can we be honest about that? Empirical judgement about taste is nearly futile, yet we do it all the time. Writers--especially any of us with a journalistic bent--are the most egregious offenders.

But, like the call of a Quarter-Pounder, I can't resist. I will give my twist on this and instead of calling anything the best of something,  I will simply say that these are my favorite things I've read in 2016.

And in no order than as I think of them.

1. Brian Keene's "End of the Road" columns,

Keene, one of the authors (if not THE author) who got the zombie craze rolling in 2004, has been writing about his 2016 "farewell" tour for publisher Cemetery Dance. The columns are not only capsules of an author tour but also windows into the state of the country during this tumultuous year. Keene gets political and personal. He will fill you with rage and wonder, and more than once, will break your heart. A particular favorite of mine is when he talks about his friend (and one of my favorite writers) Tom Piccirilli.

2. "Nothing is Promised Us, But Death" by Michelle Kilmer

Michelle has become one of my favorite writers. Her work is lyrical but grounded in a reality only a few degrees separate from our own.

This story, which placed in the Crypticon writing contest sponsored by my publisher Blysster Press is about families and the results of trying to move on when a loved one dies. Within are monsters who were once beloved people, a father who has to protect his children above his own emotional grief, and some seriously gnarly sea-based descriptions that will make the hairs on your neck stand up. You can get a copy of it here in the 2016 contest anthology.

3. Thom Carnell's "366 in 366" 

Many people try this challenge: to watch and review one film for every day on the calendar. Tom has just about wrapped up his year. These are quick-hit reviews with little filler. The brief nature of them suits Thom's style. (That isn't to say he can't write long and do it well. For a bonus, you can get his collection "Moonlight Serenades" here.) The brevity allows Thom to do what he does best: cut the bullshit and get to the point. If he doesn't like something, he doesn't hold back. But there is more to it than, "This sucks," if something sucks.

Here's a taste, from a recent 1 out of 5 star review: "I mean, for example, towards the end, we have a woman who has JUST given birth seen rapidly climbing up a mountain with her newborn baby in her arms. It just don’t make sense - just from an anatomy standpoint alone."

Do not, however, make the mistake that far too many people do and assume Thom hates everything. (Seriously, Thom doesn't hate everything; he hates shit that wastes his time.) There are a proper smattering of 4- and 5-star films, but most movies fall somewhere in the middle of dogshit and solid gold. The great part is that Thom embeds YouTube links for movies that are fully available there.

4. "Patton Oswald's Year of Magical Parenting"

This one is tough. Earlier this year, comedian Patton Oswalt lost his wife, crime writer Michelle McNamara, when she died in her sleep. Their daughter is seven years old. In this brief essay, Oswalt talks about how he's dealt with his grief and focused on his daughter. It is a reminder that in troubled times, there are people who still need us to keep doing the day-to-day things in life and that, while grief is real and palpable, it is not the end of the world.

5. The email telling me I was accepted to the Borderlands Press Writers Boot Camp

Hey, what can I say? Not everything on this list is going to be available to you. 

Here's the deal: I applied on a whim. You know what I mean? It was one of those things were I had some time in the day, saw a notice that applications were closing, and I threw a dart at the target. The dart stuck and now I'm looking at heading to Baltimore in just over a month to spend three days with Tom Monteleone and company. Said company includes special guest instructor Peter Straub. 

6. Notes, emails, texts, and Facebook messages from my wife

See number five above. I told you this was a list of my favorite things I've read this year. 

7. The introduction to Neil Gaiman's "The View From the Cheap Seats"

I've only recently acquired said book, so I can't tell you if the whole thing will be a favorite from the year, or if I will even be able to finish it this year. The intro, however...

"I fled, or at least, backed awkwardly away from journalism because I wanted the freedom to make things up. I did not want to be nailed to the truth; or to be more accurate, I wanted to be able to tell the truth without ever needing to worry about the facts."

That is paragraph one. 

8. The work of the student journalists I have had the pleasure of advising this year

Given the previous entry, this might sound weird. I can't help it. I'm proud of my students, even when I know they could do better. The reporters, photographers, editors, designers, page readers... the whole lot of them. If you want to take a dive into it, check out The Argonaut and BLOT 

This list probably won't make your list of favorite things from this year, but if any of my works reaches you and makes you feel something (joy and/or anger are acceptable), leave a comment and let me hear it.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

A snowy day in Hell

I live in northern Idaho (which isn't quite the same as saying I live in North Idaho), and right now it is snowing. I hate the snow. I hate the cold. I hate ice and shoveling sidewalks and getting stuck and pretty much everything about winter.

Harsh winter storms, however, can lead to excellent scary stories. It is easy to point to the Christmas-themed stories and movies as winter tales, but those often have other motives. Yes, it is winter and Scrooge won't give up more coal than he has to, but winter is not as central to the thematic elements of "A Christmas Carol" as is the existence of Christmas.

Last year's "Krampus" effectively uses the winter elements: freezing temperatures, massive snowstorm, power outages. But the story is still about Christmas, not about winter.

The vampire saga "30 Days of Night" is a prime example. The winter conditions of Barrow, Alaska, are key to the plot. The vampires come to Barrow specifically because of the lack of sunshine during the depths of the Arctic winter. The plot device might seem silly, but it works. OK, it works best in the Steve Niles-penned comics. The movie is kind of flat.

Moving to the other side of the country, we have Stephen King. His mini-series "Storm of the Century" should instantly clue you into the topic: huge snowstorm covers small island off the coast of Maine. Throw in a killer interloper and watch the townsfolk prey on each other physically and emotionally. Really, it is what King does best. The storm and the continued isolation from the mainland drive the plot. It's more than a device. The storm is the reason for the story.

In many ways, the granddaddy of winter horror is a poem. Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" gets read at Halloween often, but the second stanza makes it a winter story: "Ah, distinctly I remember, it was in the bleak December..."

December's darkness is like that. Here in North America, December is a long drudge to the longest night of the year. As a local message board here reads, you know it is cold when you go outside and it's cold.

Which means it is time to curl up on the couch with a good book (or movie), a steaming cup of hot chocolate (or warm apple cider with Jack Daniel's Winterjack included), and avoid all outside distractions.

Seriously, just stay home.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Gaga goes back to (Monster) high school

We've talked before about how much I love Monster high dolls. I still don't own one, because that might be going to far. I did, however, get to purchase a couple for the birthday of my friend Marshall's daughter. Good times were had by all.

I was scrolling through some news and discovered there is a new limited edition doll based on pop star Lady Gaga. Proceeds from sales support the Born This Way Foundation and uses the hashtag #kindmonsters.

The purpose is to spread compassion and kindness in the everyday lives of youth. Those two things might seem antithetical to monsters, but if you start watching good monster movies--particularly the classics that the Monster High line is based on--you will see a number of monsters who may not have been so monstrous if shown a little compassion.

The Lady Gaga doll (pink hair, dark sunglasses and a black suit) looks amazing.  The fun part about the doll is that Lady Gaga's sister Natali Germonatta designed it.

Lady Gaga is growing on me, as an artist and a person, so I might just thrown in ($30 pre-order on and Amazon) and support this cause.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

An October reading list

Dozens of lists are out now recommending a variety of horror novels and short stories to be read during October.

I'm going to give you a bit of a variation on the theme and recommend some books with the word "October" in the title.


Edited by Cemetery Dance head honcho Richard Chizmar and all-around awesome guy Robert Morrish, this anthology contains not only a wide variety of short stories celebrating my birthday Halloween, but also a number of favorite halloween memories from many of the writers. 

Featured writers include Ray Bradbury (we'll talk more about him soon), Dean Koontz, Peter Straub, Richard Laymon (like Bradbury, he will pop up again), and Caitlin R. Kiernan.

This tome also includes the first Thomas Ligotti story I ever read, "Conversations in a Dead Language."

I lucked out and have the trade paperback version. There is a sequel and if that ever gets out of the collector's edition phase, I'll get it and likely amend this list.


Can we all just agree that Bradbury was the true king of Halloween? We can? Good.

Here, the master offers 19 short stories, many of which were in his collection THE DARK CARNIVAL in 1947. Published in 1954, THE OCTOBER COUNTRY included four new stories from Bradbury. A re-release in 1999 included an essay called "Homesteading the October Country."

Among the stories included are "The Jar" (notable for being an episode of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents), "The Next in Line," and "The Small Assassin," which is one of the best short stories ever written (unless you are a parent).


If you read modern horror, chances are you've come across one of Richard Laymon's books. He published a mountain of novels in the 1980s and '90s, and few even after his untimely death in 2001.

This entry, with a title cribbed from an E.A. Poe poem, follows college student Ed as he ventures out one late October night after being unceremoniously dumped by his girlfriend. Ed encounters a number of unusual people throughout the night, including an intriguing young woman and other not so friendly folks.

It's my favorite Laymon novel because the plot lends itself to meandering. There is an anthology feel to it that I find appealing.


It's a great line, so we shouldn't be surprised to see multiple authors using it for titles.

Here, Roger Zelazny uses it for his satirical--and final--novel told via journal entries by Snuff, a dog who happens to be the companion of Jack the Ripper.

Zelazny gets Lovecraftian throughout the book, but Snuff also encounters the gamut of horror archetypes including Dracula, Victor Frankenstein, a wolf man named Larry Talbot, Sherlock Holmes, and of course Jack the Ripper.

Each chapter represents one day the month, so if you could force yourself to be patience, the book would serve as sort of an advent calendar for Halloween.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The family that haunts together...

I'm not the only writer in my family. My wife, Savannah, has a decade of journalism experience and has posted about Buffy the Vampire Slayer and zombie caterpillars for this site.

She's taking on a new venture, writing for Parachute and her most recent piece is about he most haunted places in the Palouse region where we live.

One item on the list, St. Ignatius, is something that may come up again here as we get closer to Halloween.

Have a look at her list and check back here often for more Halloween and haunted fun!

"Most Haunted Places on the Palouse"

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Re-watching the Universal Essential

I've been couch bound this weekend and left to my own devices. I decided to spend some time watching the Universal Monsters Essential Collection on Blu-ray. The eight films are:

The Mummy
The Invisible Man
The Bride of Frankenstein
The Wolfman
The Phantom of the Opera
The Creature from the Black Lagoon

All eight movies have something to offer and were highly influential on the variety of horror films that followed them.

Because I can't sit long enough to write a full post of the awesomeness of the collection (like the superior bonus features included), I'll give just a few thoughts, some of which will surprise no one.

1. Bride is the best of the lot. There used to be a time when sequels were rare (but series such as The Thin Man were not so rare), and having the best of these be a sequel is almost unfathomable. But it's true. From the effects, to James Whale's direction, and the perfect acting of Boris Karloff and Elsa Lanchester, Bride is as spot-on a film as possible. If there is a fault, it's that there isn't enough of the Bride shown. She comes in late, but by God, it is worth it.

2. The Wolfman is the most over rated of the set. Lon Chaney, Jr.'s Larry Talbot is a subpar character and a whining sycophant. His transformation into the wolfman is supposed to be tragic but there is nothing about Talbot that makes me care that he has been cursed. His love interest is a woman he just met, and only met because he accidentally spied on her from his father's (Claude Rains!) giant telescope. The Jack P. Pierce make-up is still awesome, though.

3. Claude Rains is the underappreciated hero/villain of Universal monsters. The Invisible Man is a masterpiece, but we all spend so much of our time talking about Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff that we forget about Rains. Maybe it is because he was able to do other kinds of movies instead of being stuck in horror and ending up in ever-worsening roles and films. For this set, Rains not only got to play two wildly different monsters (Invisible Man and the Phantom) but also had a non-villain role as Sir Talbot in The Wolfman.

4. Karloff is brilliant, but his most frightening screen time, to me, is when he first begins to waken in The Mummy. His eyes slowly open, one arm slumps down, then the other, as if let go from ropes (or the bands surrounding his body), and we don't get to see him walk. The patience of his performance is something we could all learn from.

5. I've mentioned him before but Jack P. Pierce and the make-up team created looks so original and frightening that even today they hold up. Some of the effects in these films would be hard to pull off today but seem like they should have been impossible in the 1930s and '40s. The feature on the effects in The Invisible Man highlights exactly what we mean when we say "the magic of cinema."

OK, that's all I have right now. I have another day to myself and some more viewing decisions to make. Catch you later.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Spending a sick day with ghosts

I took a sick day yesterday. Battling a cold over the weekend caught up to me. Every time I get a cold during the summer, I half-convince myself that it is Captain Trips and the world is about to end.

It wasn't Captain Trips and I'm feeling much better today, thanks.

I did use the time alone to catch up on a couple movies. I watched Sinister 2 and We Are Still Here. 

Let me tell you, even though I was stoked to the gills on DayQuil, I enjoyed both of these movies.

The first Sinister has become one of my favorites. I love movies about writers. Call it a crutch, but I can't help it. Horror movies with imaginative and creative people in lead roles fascinate me. Sinister 2, however, takes away that element and instead gives us a single mom hiding her two boys from an abusive father. The recurring character is Deputy So-and-So (James Ransone), who still doesn't get a real name.

Ransone has a beat-down look that fits this film and his new role as a private detective devoting his time to tracking down Baghuul, the demon who gets kids to murder their families. He encounters Courtney Collins (Shannyn Sossamon, whom I has always enjoyed), and her two boys Dylan and Zack.

The boys have been in contact with Milo, a previous victim/proxy of Baghuul. Milo and other spirits have been grooming the boys with films and other media of previous murders.

The media range from the 8mm film of the previous movie, 16mm movies, and even vinyl. The set up and presentation of each murder is much more in-depth than in the first film and come almost too close to seeming like snuff films. It's disturbing to watch and even more so in context considering that these artifacts are being used to push a young boy into murder.

Sossamon is well-cast as the mom on the run but the roles of Dylan, Zach, and Milo are almost interchangeable. None of the young actors stove out in a way that made me believe they couldn't have played one of the other roles as equally or as blandly. But, hey, they are kids and hardly any one knocks it out of the park their first time at the plate.

The abandoned house Courtney has chosen to sequester Dylan and Zach in (site of a previous Baghuul murder) is excellent and its dark corners and outbuildings are used to further the plot.

I don't think this sequel will be as remembered as the first, but as far as sequels go, it's worth a viewing.

We Are Still Here, on the other hand, is worth more than just a viewing. It's worth a serious examination of multiple horror tropes, period films, and casting. It is, to say the least, brilliant.

Starring Barbara Crampton (currently in a career resurgence), Andrew Sensenig, Larry Fessenden (who I haven't liked this much since Session 9), and Lisa Marie (also a bit of a career resurgence although not on the level Crampton is having), We Are Still Here is a haunted house/creepy small town movie set in the late 1970s.

Sounds just about perfect, doesn't it?

Crampton and Sensenig play the Sacchetti, a middle-aged couple who recently lost their son in a car accident. They buy a New England home that has been empty for years and then weird stuff starts happening.

All this seems like a cliche haunted house story and you'd be right, up to this point. But then we see the ghosts. Normally, I am all for keeping the ghosts as shrouded in darkness for as long as possible. the ghosts in this house, however, are too cool to hide. They appear as totally burnt bodies with streams of red running beneath hardened black skin and boiling white eyes. if volcanoes took human form, they would look like this.

After enough weird shit goes down, Anne Sacchetti calls her friend May (Marie) to visit the house. May has some psychic ability (and in the '70s, everyone knew someone who did), and brings along her husband Jacob (Fessenden). More weird shit ensues, the Sacchettis' son appears as one of the ghosts, and Jacob steals the show during a possession scene.

At one point, my cat Binx started clawing at the window screen behind me to be let in. The moment he started scratching coincided with a tense and sound-driven moment in the film. I can admit it: scared the bejesus out of me.

And then there is the small town conspiracy thrown in. All of this leads to the pitch perfect delivery of the film's final line by Paul Sacchetti.

OK, no more plot from me. If you dig ghost/haunted house stories, you need to see We Are Still Here.  This is the feature debut for writer/director Ted Geoghegan and I expect even bigger and better things from him in the future. Unlike the boys from Sinister 2, Geoghegan crushed this one.

Both films are rated R and were released in 2015.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Lights Out: we'll leave the light on for you

Let me start by saying that it feels good to support the theatrical release on a horror film that is neither a remake nor a sequel. I'm basking in the joy of something new.

Now that that is out of the way, let's talk about LIGHTS OUT.

Based on a short film of the same title, LIGHTS OUT visits twenty-something Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) as she tries to help her little brother Martin (Gabriel Bateman) face strange goings-on in the creepy house he lives in with their mentally ill mother Sophie (Maria Bello). Sophie has a history of extreme depression but when Martin hears her talking to someone else in the mostly empty house and hearing and seeing odd things, he begins to lose sleep. Enter Rebecca who bailed out on Sophie as soon as she could after her father disappeared. Sophie began her current regression when Martin's dad  succumbs to a horrible fate (in a brilliant, classic opening scene).

We soon learn that the eerie being who disappears when the lights are on is Diana. Rebecca had always thought Diana was a symptom of Sophie's illness but it turns out Diana is something more and will do everything she can to keep Sophie for herself (including convincing Sophie not to taker her medication).

Director David F. Sandberg, writer Eric Heisserer and Bello are to be commended for their handling of mental illness. Sophie's was never a joke and the tragedies are never blamed on Sophie the person, but rather are linked to the illness. It's a fine line and one these filmmakers didn't shy away from but didn't exploit, either.

There is one moment when Rebecca is confronting Sophie regarding the truth about Diana when Rebecca is trying to tell Sophie that Diana is dead. Sophie's response is that Diana can't be dead because ghosts aren't real.

Think about that for just a moment.


Here we have the "sane" and "reasonable" character telling the "insane" and "crazy" character that someone who died 30 years ago is somehow still in the house but the "crazy" person responds with the perfectly cogent argument that it can't be so because GHOSTS AREN'T REAL.

It is a brilliantly acted and scripted scene that deserves a closer look.

Sandberg and his crew put the brunt of the terror on the cast, particularly Alicia Vela-Bailey who plays Diana. For the most part, Diana is real. Sound design, lighting and editing combined with Vela-Bailey's physicality bring the spectral antagonist to life with only a few hints of CGI enhancement. The effect comes across as much more old-school because of this. Never giving us a full view of Diana also helps maintain the mystery.

I don't think LIGHTS OUT will ever be considered a great film in the pantheon of horror. What is has done, however, is added to the legacy of James Wan as a producer. beyond his directorial body of work, Wan is picking projects to work on and getting them into theaters with the deft touch of successful horror producers before him. Producers don't get the name credit in the genre like they should. It's all about writers and directors. Some of the genres best directors, however, have helped other filmmakers get work done by serving as producers. Wes Craven is a good example, although many of the films he "presented" weren't that great. Guillermo del Toro and Sam Raimi are other modern directors who will produce films for other directors. Wan is not only in that class, but quickly moving to the top of it.

The bad news is that a sequel has already been announced. I don't know how or why, based on the ending of LIGHTS OUT, but a csh cow will be milked until it is dry.

THREAT LEVEL: ORANGE. I should make it red, just to get you out to the theaters before it's gone, but orange will do. LIGHTS OUT is worth seeing for fans of the genre but might not have much mainstream crossover appeal. The film is rated PG-13, so while is intense, it is not as brutally intense as Wan's own THE CONJURING films.

Monday, July 18, 2016

GHOSTBUSTERS: conflict of interests

I've followed all the hate and all the "ruining my childhood" BS about the new GHOSTBUSTERS movie since the female-led movie was announced and steadily decried those people (mostly white men in my age range) as ignorant neanderthals.

I still think they wrong and their hate was misplaced, but I was quite sad to see a film that went beyond acknowledging that hate to nearly validating it.

Let me be clear: I had a good time at GHOSTBUSTERS and enjoyed many aspects of it. But there are problems.

My heart WANTS it to be a great film, but my head just won't allow it.

Here's why:

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Watch's End: King's Bill Hodges trilogy concludes

I'm not alone in the assertion that Stephen King's Bill Hodges trilogy is among his best work. The series has been more akin to traditional mysteries than King's horror work and that had given King another notch in his belt as one of America's best storytellers of all time.

END OF WATCH brings the series to a close with our hero facing the villain of MR. MERCEDES again.

When last we left Brady Hartsfield, he was deep in coma after having his head bashed in by Holly Gibney at the end of MR. MERCEDES. Hodges visits Brady during the course of FINDERS KEEPERS and catalogues rumors that Brady has develop minor telekinetic powers. Those powers get amped up in END OF WATCH and brings the series into more familiar territory for long-time constant readers.

It might seem like a cop-out to some. Why not keep things real and let the mystery develop on its own, one might say. But that's not how King operates. In many ways, his choices place END OF WATCH neatly in the world he first explored in CARRIE and even more in FIRESTARTER. Oh, yes, it would be easy to assume that Brady's lead neurologist Dr. Babineau took his cues from experiments by The Shop, the covert, semi-governmental organization that fostered and then sought to control Charlie McGee's pyrotechnic powers.

It's a reminder than even something that doesn't seem connected to the greater universe King created can be linked. At this point, it is almost easier to point out the books and stories that aren't connected than playing the game of "how does this fit?" that is so much fun to explore.

Like many King novels, END OF WATCH is all about the build-up, the journey, to the end. When the end comes, it comes quick and dirty. Unlike some of his conclusions (UNDER THE DOME, I'm thinking of you), END OF WATCH and the series as a whole, ends satisfactorily. Bad things happen to people we like (no spoilers) and a tight wrap-up is done. Things make sense at the finale and that is one of the best things I can say about the book.

This is the only King book we'll get in 2016 after recent years of multiple offerings. As King approaches his own watch's end, we should appreciate every moment we get with new work from him.

I fear that when the end comes, it will come just as fast as it does in his books. Lots of build-up and suspense and then ...


Thursday, July 7, 2016

Joe Hill takes a Stand

It is no secret that Joe Hill is Stephen King's son. It used to be a secret and Hill evens mentions the secret in his author's note that concludes his 752-page epic novel THE FIREMAN.

Hill has referenced his father's work before. In NOS4ATU, he mentions King's book DR. SLEEP and King does the same in that novel. In THE FIREMAN, Hill not only pulls some clear references, but some allusions that are hard to miss for constant readers.

Some of the allusions are spoilers and I will do my best not to go there. Some, however, come toward the beginning of the book and aren't plot spoilers but interesting devices that propel the story and help develop characters.

First, the heroine of the book, Harper Willowes Grayson, gets pregnant early. Her husband goes nuts and Harper spends the rest of the novel dealing with her pregnancy as well as the global epidemic Dragonscale spore. The spore causes people to combust, which leads to fires wiping out most of the population.

So you see: a pregnant woman left on her own and a world-destroying disease... Shades of King's THE STAND are planted early.

You could say these things are a coincidence and I'd maybe agree except for one more thing. One of the main characters is a young deaf boy named Nick.

So... what to make of that? We just have to accept it. While THE FIREMAN is an original book and well worth your time, we have to accept the homage qualities of it. Even if Hill was not the prince of horror, a book such as this was inevitable. Hill isn't the first to destroy the world via plague and use THE STAND as a guide. If anything, it's a love letter to his father's most popular book.

Hill even snuck a can of Nozz-A-La into the book.

OK, all that aside, Hill has written a startling book that is full of complex characters, intrigue, mystery, fear and delight. THE FIREMAN is a work of horror that fulfills its promise as the spawn of THE STAND and FAHRENHEIT 451.

It is also a ghastly look into how our modern society would handle such an epidemic. Some would trust the government to their detriment, but the bands of survivors aren't always better. Paranoia mixes with the All-American desire to do things oneself. Sometimes that means harboring the sick and sometimes it means taking responsibility for eradicating them.

It is a frightening thought (and what drives this novel) that individuals can come together for the greater good or for something worse than the disease. People can be amazingly good and downright horrible. Hill captures both sides and recognizes that in hard times, even good people do bad things and bad people tend to do worse things.

THE FIREMAN is Hill's fourth novel and fifth book overall. If you think that is too few, also remember that he is a prodigious comic book writer, as well. Hill will be with us for a long time and he keeps getting better.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Creepy By Association: FANS

Fandom is an odd thing. Western culture is filled with hero worship. We say weird things like "we" when we speak about a sports team that WE clearly do not play for or work for. In pop culture, "we" pay anywhere from $10 to $100 to have someone famous write their name on something.

At the recently concluded Crypticon, I discussed this phenomenon with Tony Todd. We talked about how fans have a sense of ownership and entitlement when it comes to the creative people they admire.

Listen: If you start following someone you think is famous in a grocery store, you need to reevaluate your life.

Stephen King talked about how odd fans are during his event in Salt Lake City. Yes, I went. I sat in the third row and listened intently. I did not ask a question (especially one that was kind of stupid and an attempt to make his work my own or have greater significance than it already does. Deschain does not equal Duchesne, sorry.)

King, of course, wrote the book on extreme fandom. It's called MISERY and when one not-so-funny guy at the event said, "I'm your number one fan," King shrugged it off.

I've never heard that one before, his off-the-cuff "Yeah, right" seemed to say. There's one in every town. Sometimes two.

In this case, there were two. The guy who shouted about his place on King's fan list was not the same guy who went onto the stage after King left and took the half-empty bottle of Diet Pepsi King had been drinking from the podium.

Seriously, dude? What the hell is wrong with you? What are you going to do? Clone Stephen King? Sell the bottle on eBay? Eventually the soda will evaporate and you will have an empty bottle and the kind memory not really worth sharing. I almost feel like talking about it only legitimizes your crazy and maybe I shouldn't have said anything at all.

You're sick, dude, and I hope you get help. There's a line between admiration and obsession and you just crossed it.

So this shouldn't even be a Creepy By Association, if you think about it. This is just plain creepy because people are messed up and think they are entitled to things they are not.