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Doctor Who: “Face the Raven” [Nov. 22nd, 2015|12:23 pm]
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There’s something curiously low energy about “Face the Raven.” It all feels rather like a bit of Harry Potter fan fiction retrofitted into the Doctor Who universe, with its secret London street of alien races and bizarre, mystical punishment that comes in form of a raven that’s actually an inescapable Dementoreqsue smoke monster that kills you if it touches you. (Why the punishment for breaking the rules of the street isn’t simply to be exiled from this seemingly idyllic safe haven is beyond me. Better to have an overcomplicated system with all sorts of loopholes and tattoos, I guess?) The murder mystery at its center doesn’t feel all that compelling, the script forces the characters make enormous jumps to conclusions, and even the momentous events of the final few minutes feel, well, strangely tacked on. Let’s dig in.


When Rigsy from last season’s “Flatline” discovers a mysterious tattoo on his neck that’s counting down the minutes, he contacts Clara and the Doctor for help. The Doctor determines it’s from a forgotten encounter with aliens, yet within mere moments of making that determination the Doctor decides there must be a hidden street somewhere in London where aliens live undetected. It’s a huge leap. Why wouldn’t he consider alien abduction? Another invasion? Some other explanation for Rigsy’s alien contact? What makes him think it’s a hidden street? Well, nothing really, except that the script needs him to, and of course he’s right. Such a street does exist, and it’s being run by Me (a.k.a. Ashildr, the immortal Viking girl) as a kind of refugee camp for aliens who are tired of fighting and violence and wars. We see Judoon, Sontarans, Cybermen, Ood, Silurians, and Ice Warriors all living there in harmony. Me tells the Doctor he better be careful because all these races (except the Ood, I guess) were his enemy once, which makes this street a very dangerous place for him to be. How fun that would have been to explore! Instead, the episode ignores it immediately after it’s mentioned. No one gets in the Doctor’s face. No one says, “Hey, you’re the asshole who blew up my ship,” or, “Sorry about that time I tried to laser your face off.” No one even seems to care that he’s there.

They do care that Rigsy is there, though, because they all believe he murdered one of them, despite any evidence outside the fact that he was found standing over the body. (Oddly enough, this happens to the Doctor constantly in the classic series. He lands somewhere, finds a body, is discovered at that exact moment, and is immediately accused of being the killer. This is literally the opening scene to easily half of the serials.) A murder mystery is a great hook for any story, as is a ticking clock, and linking the need to find the real killer to that countdown should make for narrative gold. Except here, our heroes decide it’s less important to find the real killer than to just convince everyone on the street that Rigsy is innocent, which is without a doubt the least narratively compelling way to go about solving a mystery. Anyway, they find a psychic who tells them almost everything they need to know, the Doctor immediately figures out the rest, the victim turns out to not even be dead, and it’s all a trap set by Me to hand the Doctor over to some mysterious forces who have threatened to otherwise destroy her secret enclave. In other words, it’s all a set up for an episode yet to come, which makes it all a bit of a shrug.

After giving an incredible performance in “The Woman Who Lived,” Maisie Williams seems over it here. Her performance is overly subdued, with none of the charm and energy she brought to it previously. I understand that her character is older now, perhaps wearier, and that she’s concerned about the trap she set for the Doctor, but her presence barely registers for me throughout the episode. Seriously, it could have been anyone in charge of that street. (I’m also upset that the now-immortal Sam Swift isn’t there with her, too. He’s awesome, and to be honest I was hoping for a romance between them!) I was excited when I heard Maisie Williams would be back for this episode, but I was let down by how small of a role she ultimately played. I suspect Me will be back for the finale, though, and I hope it’s a return to form.

That “Face the Raven” is also Clara’s last episode is the only thing that makes it special. (Presumably her last, I should say. I half expect her to appear again one way or another in the finale, just like Me.) That she sacrifices her life to protect Rigsy from the raven is fitting and brave — and also feels completely unnecessary in such a lightweight episode. That’s why I said up top that it feels tacked on. I was never a big fan of Clara, and if this is how she goes so be it, but it all feels very forced.

The Doctor Who revamp has always had a problem with companions leaving. In the classic series, companions left for all sorts of reasons. Some realized the TARDIS had taken them somewhere they were needed (I’m thinking of Nyssa staying to help cure the sick on the Terminus space station, or Romana staying in e-space to help free the Tharils from slavery); some left because they fell in love and wanted to start a new life with their partner (like the Doctor’s granddaughter Susan, who stays on 22nd century Earth with Dalek-fighter David Campbell, or Leela, who confusingly decides to stay on Gallifrey to be with Andred, one of the Chancellery Guard, with whom she has very few scenes or, for that matter, chemistry); or they’d just had enough and wanted to go home (like Ben and Polly, who left the TARDIS together as soon as they were back on Earth in their own time, or Tegan, who had seen too much Dalek violence and was over it). But the revamp, from the start, has been so in love with the idea of the Doctor that it literally cannot think of a reason why anyone would want to stop traveling with him, so they have to come up with big reasons for their departures: Rose got stuck in an alternate universe (although she chose to stay there even after finding a way back, so whatever), Donna had to have her memory wiped or her head would explode or something, Amy and Rory got zapped back in time to the 1930s and just lived out their lives there because for handwaving reasons the Doctor couldn’t go get them, despite having a vessel that can go anywhere in time and space, and now Clara has to die. No wonder I like Martha so much: she’s the only companion who decided to leave the TARDIS for her own reasons (eye-rolling ones, if you ask me — “You’ll never be my boyfriend!” — but still, they’re her own) and went on to become an awesome recurring character on both Doctor Who and Torchwood. I would love to see the show do that again, but it seems determined to have every companion’s end be a final one. But the problem is that if every companion has to die or come to some other tragic end, it stops being fun. (It also runs the risk of making the audience stop engaging with them, because they know it’ll only end in heartbreak.) Anyway, I still think Clara should have run off with Danny Pink last season and been like, “Byeeeeee!”

Actually, I suspect that’s going to be the final scene of the season, perhaps in Missy’s computerized afterlife, which as far as we know is still operational. But what about all this stuff about the Hybrid? The season has been ominously hinting at its importance from the start, and now it’s only got two episodes left in which to deal with it. I like to think Steven Moffat has learned his lesson about bringing up plot points only to discard them before anything comes of them (remember when the TARDIS didn’t like Clara?) so I fully expect something to be made of it in the next two episodes. Or at least, I hope it will. You can’t take anything for a granted with a show that thinks replacing the sonic screwdriver with sonic sunglasses is a good idea.

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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Doctor Who: “Sleep No More” [Nov. 17th, 2015|10:09 am]
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I have mixed feelings about “Sleep No More.” On the one hand, I really liked what they were trying to do, namely tell a horror story in a way that Doctor Who had never done before, via first person “found footage.” On the other hand, 1) “found footage” may be new to Doctor Who, but it is everywhere in horror cinema these days and has pretty much worn out its welcome through overuse, and 2) I would have liked “Sleep No More” a lot better if it didn’t keep tripping over itself. Since we can’t do anything about #1, let’s talk about #2.


At the heart of this story is a cool idea: the Morpheus sleep deprivation pods have so messed up the natural rhythms of the humans who use them that they have produced a monstrous side effect. The Sandmen are scary-looking monsters who eat people (I think; we’ll come back to this) and aren’t easily dispatched. Unfortunately, in my opinion the script by Mark Gatiss goes in the wrong direction when it comes to the Sandmen’s origin. What a horror story like this needs is nightmare logic, not scientific explanations. So while we’re told the Sandmen have evolved inside the Morpheus sleep deprivation pods from the human sleepers’ “sleep dust,” the hardened mucus that accumulates in the corner of your eye when you sleep — an explanation that is both gross and absurd enough to pull me right out of the story — imagine how much more frightening the episode would have been had we been told the Sandmen sprang from the subconscious of the sleepers. Imagine if a major problem with the Morpheus sleep deprivation pod was that it always gives its users nightmares, and this new version has somehow managed to pull those nightmares out of the sleepers’ minds and give them life. Well, I think that’s scarier than eye boogers, anyway.

The Sandmen themselves are also a problem. Are they a new lifeforms that grew from and ate the sleepers, or are they the sleepers themselves evolved into new lifeforms? Why is the dust able to record and transmit images but the Sandman, who are made of the same dust, are blind? Why are they blind when it’s revealed they can shapeshift into forms that can see? The episode tries to have it both ways on a number of details, which only causes confusion for the viewer. There is a possible explanation for the confusion (which we will get to), but I think the episode would have been stronger with a more consistent idea of how the Sandmen operate. The rules of the Sandmen don’t have to be logical, mind you, they just need to be consistent for the sake of the narrative.

Among the elements of “Sleep No More” that I did like are the cast, who were certainly game; the concept of “found footage” without the use of actual cameras (although this required the rather tortured explanation of the dust somehow recording and transmitting everything itself); the creepy look of the Sandmen; the Doctor’s slow-dawning realization that everything is being manipulated for show; and the twist at the end, which very nearly saves the episode in my opinion. One issue with “found footage” stories is that they often struggle to come up with a good reason why the story needs to be told that way at all. Sometimes, as with The Blair Witch Project or Cannibal Holocaust, it adds an extra layer to the story and gives it some background weight. But for every film with a good reason for “found footage,” there are tons that don’t have one. Cloverfield comes to mind, with its halfhearted “the world has to know what’s happening here” justification, and Paranormal Activity, which just wanted to have a spook house vibe. (I like both these movies, by the way, but I find their justification for “found footage” to be weak.) These movies only use the conceit for its immersive value, which admittedly can be very effective. “Sleep No More,” on the other hand, gives us a good reason for its “found footage” approach in Gagan Rasmussen’s trap: an embedded signal within the footage that will create more Sandmen (or turn the viewers into Sandmen; again, it’s not made very clear how this works). That was a nice creepy note to end on. (Mark Gatiss certainly knows his horror tropes. Check out his three-episode special series A History of Horror, it’s essential viewing for horror movie fans. I think it’s available on YouTube.)

There’s a funny bit where the Doctor says he wants to be the one to name monsters and “it’s like the Silurians all over again.” This is a reference to the 1970 Third Doctor serial “Doctor Who and the Silurians” (yes, that’s the official title!), in which the lizard men are wrongly identified as Silurians by a mistaken paleontologist. The Doctor more accurately places their origins in the Eocene era, but the term Silurians sticks. By the time they returned in the 1984 Fifth Doctor serial “Warriors of the Deep,” they are actually referring to themselves as Silurians. (And the Sea Devils are calling themselves Sea Devils, which is pretty weird.)

Interestingly, “Sleep No More” is the first standalone episode in a season that has been unique in having every story so far be a two-parter. I suppose the next episode, “Face the Raven,” will be a standalone as well, and then we’re back to two-parters with the finale.

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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The Scariest Part: Amy Grech Talks About RAGE AND REDEMPTION IN ALPHABET CITY [Nov. 17th, 2015|07:00 am]
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This week on The Scariest Part, my guest is Amy Grech, whose latest collection is Rage and Redemption in Alphabet City. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Amy Grech’s stories shock, like a sudden splash of cold water. This latest collection delivers gritty profiles of people snarled in the crime and seething anger of inner city New York at its most violent. Here you’ll encounter five dark tales — “Rage and Redemption in Alphabet City”, “.38 Special”, Cold Comfort”, “Prevention”, and “Hoi Polloi Cannoli” — actually 12, if you count the literary parts. These startling stories will convince you that Grech is a noir and horror writer you want to watch.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Amy Grech:

I’ve lived in New York City for 19 years now. When I first moved to NYC from Long Island, it was a much darker place than it is today. Back then, certain neighborhoods like Alphabet City and Hell’s Kitchen were covered in graffiti and had a reputation for being dangerous sections of the city, where crime ran rampant. These were not places where young, single women had any business being, but one of my good friends lived in Hell’s Kitchen, so I got a taste of that region of NYC on a regular basis, saw the crime firsthand, albeit from a safe distance, witnessed junkies desperate for a fix and got a sense that desperation bred contempt. I envisioned Alphabet City to be the same way, but much to my surprise when I went there to explore in the early 2000s, there was no graffiti to be seen, condos dominated virtually every street corner and self-absorbed hipsters replaced junkies, a crime-haven no more…

The scariest part of Rage and Redemption in Alphabet City occurs in the lead novella when Ruby Fuji invites Dr. Trevor Braeburn, an eye doctor, back to her apartment in Alphabet City after meeting him in a bar, knowing hardly anything about him. A potent cocktail of overwhelming lust, coupled with lax inhibitions, leads to poor judgment on Ruby’s part, with tragic consequences for the young girl. There’s Rage and Redemption to be had in Alphabet City once her older sister Gia and Mr. Fuji discover the culprit and take matters into their own hands. You might say the eye doctor set his sights on the wrong girl…

I felt extremely uneasy after writing that particular scene, especially because Ruby has unknowingly made herself vulnerable to the lethal whims of a proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing. I don’t scare very easily, so it’s very rare for me to create a moment that strikes a nerve and lingers.

As a single woman living in New York City, one of my worst fears is that I’ll meet a guy at a local bar who is handsome, smart and after too many Margaritas, invite him back to my place, only to discover after we’ve hooked up that he has a gun or a knife and intends to kill me. Luckily, all of the guys I’ve dated have been pretty sane so far…

It’s an extremely dangerous, impulsive thing for a single woman to do, invite a stranger back to her apartment for a good time. And yet, thousands of single women do so every night in the Naked City. Some people might say these women are being reckless, setting themselves up for a fatal encounter. How much does she really know about him? Sure, she might know what he does for a living, where he grew up, when his birthday is, but she has no way of knowing if he’s a psychopath intent on doing her harm, until the macabre deed is done.

Amy Grech: Website / Google+ / Twitter

Rage and Redemption in Alphabet City: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Kobo

Amy Grech has sold over 100 stories to various anthologies and magazines, including Apex Magazine, Beat to a Pulp: Hardboiled, Dead Harvest, Expiration Date, Fear on Demand, Funeral Party 2, Inhuman Magazine, Needle Magazine, Reel Dark, Shrieks and Shivers from the Horror Zine, Space & Time, The Horror Within, Under the Bed, and many othersShe has stories forthcoming in Detectives of the Fantastic, Volume II and Fright Mare. Amy is an Active Member of the Horror Writers Association who lives in Brooklyn.

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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Doctor Who: “The Zygon Inversion” [Nov. 10th, 2015|02:36 pm]
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You might remember I thought the previous Doctor Who episode, “The Zygon Invasion,” was okay but kind of boring. It was all set up, and I figured everything important was going to happen in the second part, “The Zygon Inversion.” For about half the episode, though, I had the sinking feeling it was going to be no better or more interesting than the first episode. Then the second half of the episode came to the rescue.


The second half of the episode takes place entirely inside the Black Archive, which we haven’t seen since the 50th Anniversary special, “The Day of the Doctor,” and consists primarily of the Doctor trying to convince Kate Lethbridge-Stewart and Bonnie, leader of the Zygon revolution, not to start a war. All he’s got in his favor are two mysterious boxes, the Osgood Boxes, and a slim chance to convince them to stand down. He gives a long speech, a good speech about how you can’t know who will die in a war, a speech that covers so much of what the Doctor felt during the Last Great Time War, and one that is completely heartfelt thanks to Peter Capaldi’s BAFTA-worthy delivery. It’s a speech about being able to forgive yourself and each other in order to move forward. It’s the heart of the story. The only drawback is that it took an episode and a half to get there, but once it arrived I thought it was pretty damn good.

When I initially saw what was inside the Osgood Boxes, I felt my suspension of disbelief slip. How could the buttons be labeled Truth and Consequences, the same words the Zygon revolutionaries use as their rallying cry? How could the Doctor have known after the events of “The Day of the Doctor” that those words, and that very concept, would come into such heavy play later? I was tempted to pass it off as just another flashy but illogical Moffatism (Steven Moffat co-wrote the episode with Peter Harness), but then a line at the end of the scene, little more than a throwaway really, implied that this was actually the fifteenth time the ceasefire had broken down. Kate and Bonnie didn’t remember because of the Black Archive’s mind wipe. So it’s possible that at some point in the previous fourteen crises, the Doctor altered the contents of the boxes to match the recurring Truth or Consequences theme. (One must also presume that during the other fourteen crises no one was killed and no one saw a Zygon au naturale, because there’s no way the Doctor would have been able to accurately wipe so many people’s memories outside of the Black Archive. How the people who lost loved ones this time around will cope with what happened is left unaddressed.) Once again, Doctor Who has given us an amazing scene that doesn’t involve explosions or running down corridors or someone talking really, really fast. Just Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor talking to people like they’re adults. Like in “The Witch’s Familiar” earlier this season, it’s the best part of the story.

Anyway, this time the Doctor tries to prevent a future, sixteenth reoccurrence by only wiping Kate’s memory and not Bonnie’s. Then, in an about-face that is way too fast, Bonnie goes on to become the new second Osgood to help defend the Earth. It’s a sweet and likable moment with the two Osgoods at the very end of the episode, but it seems to me that this big a change of heart requires a lot more time and healing than “later that day…” After the amazing scene in the Black Archive, it rang a bit false.

I admire the episode for sticking to its guns and not revealing which Osgood we were seeing all this time, the human or the Zygon. Even the Doctor can’t resist asking, but she refuses to tell him, saying she’ll only do it on the day when it no longer matters. That, too, was a sweet moment and central to the story’s theme. (Also a sweet moment: When the Doctor tells Osgood he’s a big fan.)

All in all, I found the “Zygon Invasion”/”Zygon Inversion” two-parter not very interesting, at least until the end, but ultimately solid. One weird thing I noticed, though: I think the Zygon costume design actually looked better in 1975’s “Terror of the Zygons” than it does now. These new designs look too…dry. The Zygons should be slimier. Also, bring back the Skarasen!

And now for some fun Doctor Who neepery! The painting of the First Doctor in the UNIT safe house makes another appearance, with a wall safe behind it. Kate uses the phrase “Five rounds rapid” in explaining how she escaped from the Zygon that was about to kill her — a phrase made famous by her father, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, in the 1971 Third Doctor serial “The Daemons” (which happens to be one of my favorites!). There’s another mention of “Sullivan’s gas,” the anti-Zygon weapon created by former companion Harry Sullivan, which the Doctor goes on to call “imbecile gas,” a reference to the Fourth Doctor memorably calling Harry Sullivan an imbecile in the 1975 serial “Revenge of the Cybermen.” In the Black Archive, we can clearly see the battle helmet of a Mire in the background. And finally, at the end of the episode one of the Osgoods is again wearing the Seventh Doctor’s outfit.

(And here’s some bonus James Bond neepery: the Doctor’s Union Jack parachute is a callback to Bond’s identical one in the opening scene of The Spy Who Loved Me!)

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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The Scariest Part: Paul Tremblay Talks About A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS [Nov. 10th, 2015|07:00 am]
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This week on The Scariest Part, I have the distinct pleasure of hosting my good friend Paul Tremblay, whose latest novel is A Head Full of Ghosts. I’ve known Paul for probably two decades now, and I’ve always been in awe of his writing skills. For all the amazing short stories and novels he’s already written, though, A Head Full of Ghosts might be his best yet. But don’t take my word for it. If you like what he has to say here, check out the book for yourself. I think you’ll agree it’s one of the best of the year. Here’s the publisher’s description:

A chilling thriller that brilliantly blends domestic drama, psychological suspense, and a touch of modern horror, reminiscent of Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves, John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Let the Right One In, and Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House.

The lives of the Barretts, a normal suburban New England family, are torn apart when fourteen-year-old Marjorie begins to display signs of acute schizophrenia.

To her parents’ despair, the doctors are unable to stop Marjorie’s descent into madness. As their stable home devolves into a house of horrors, they reluctantly turn to a local Catholic priest for help. Father Wanderly suggests an exorcism; he believes the vulnerable teenager is the victim of demonic possession. He also contacts a production company that is eager to document the Barretts’ plight. With John, Marjorie’s father, out of work for more than a year and the medical bills looming, the family agrees to be filmed, and soon find themselves the unwitting stars of The Possession, a hit reality television show. When events in the Barrett household explode in tragedy, the show and the shocking incidents it captures become the stuff of urban legend.

Fifteen years later, a bestselling writer interviews Marjorie’s younger sister, Merry. As she recalls those long ago events that took place when she was just eight years old, long-buried secrets and painful memories that clash with what was broadcast on television begin to surface — and a mind-bending tale of psychological horror is unleashed, raising vexing questions about memory and reality, science and religion, and the very nature of evil.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Paul Tremblay:

I tried to construct A Head Full of Ghosts so that reasonable minds could disagree as to whether there was something supernatural going on or the events of the novel could be explained rationally. And, was it an either-or type of situation with no crossover, or was it more like a you-got-peanut-butter-in-my-chocolate deal? I don’t know if I’m making sense, but I’m sad that my house is already empty of Halloween candy…

Anyway, for so many horror stories, the scariest part is the idea that reality isn’t necessarily as rational or as real as we think it is. That there’s slippage. And that slippage or liminal space is impossible to define, which makes it even more frightening. This idea of reality or the real story existing within the cracks of things is a big reason why I used as many pop cultural references as I could in the novel. I wanted to put the reader on initially sure, familiar footing, and then slowly undermine it all, bring everything into question, to continually having the reader wondering or asking what was real and what wasn’t. Scarier still is that we and our friends and our loved ones get stuck or trapped in those cracks. And then what the hell are we supposed to do then, right?

That all said, I think Merry gives my thesis statement (does a novel have a thesis statement? Work with me…) almost halfway through the novel when she says, “What does that say about you or anyone else that my sister’s nationally televised psychotic break and descent into schizophrenia wasn’t horrific enough?” Horror that truly terrifies, disturbs, and moves the reader isn’t ultimately about wanting to watch people suffer. Horror at its best is about our human inclination toward empathy, about wanting to and needing to understand why people do the horrible things they do and/or how we survive it, and having the courage to not look away. For me, the most horrific scenes/parts of the novel, the scenes that are most vivid in my own head, are the ones that are the least likely candidates to have a potential supernatural element intruding. These are the scenes of the family falling to pieces under the mounting pressures from all manner of outside forces and from their own bad decisions and personal failures.

There are two scenes in the novel that are the scariest parts of the book for me. One scene is at the end, post-attempted exorcism, and I don’t want to spoil it. The other scene hits at page 55. Merry just finished listening to her parents arguing and goes upstairs to find her older sister Marjorie sitting in the sunroom. Their fun conversation quickly dissolves into Marjorie matter-of-factly threatening to rip out Merry’s tongue. It’s when Merry (and the reader, I hope) realizes that she’s no longer safe in the company of her beloved sister (or her parents for that matter) and she doesn’t know what she or anyone else can do, or if there is anything they can do to help her sister. It’s when she realizes that the devil you know is not always better than the devil you don’t know.

Paul Tremblay: Website / Facebook / Twitter

A Head Full of Ghosts: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Powell’s / IndieBound

Paul Tremblay is the author of A Head Full of Ghosts, The Little Sleep, No Sleep Till Wonderland, In the Mean Time, and the forthcoming (June 2016) novel Disappearance at Devil’s Rock. He is a member of the board of directors of the Shirley Jackson Awards, and his essays and short fiction have appeared in the Los Angeles Times and numerous “year’s best” anthologies. He has a master’s degree in mathematics and lives in Massachusetts with his wife and two children. He hates pickles.

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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Nick and Alexa’s Spoopy New Orleans Halloween Honeymoon [Nov. 7th, 2015|12:29 pm]
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After four years of marriage, Alexa and I finally took our honeymoon last weekend! And what better time and place than New Orleans during Halloween? It was a spoopy good time!

Wine on the hotel balcony

We stayed at the lovely Intercontinental New Orleans on St. Charles Avenue, just a couple of blocks from the French Quarter. When they found out it was our honeymoon, they upgraded us to a room with a terrace and gave us a bottle of wine! Our view was of the office building across the street, but still. A terrace! We had drinks out there every night and coffee out there every morning. It was divine!

New Orleans during Halloween is as crazy as you think. Rowdy crowds in Halloween costumes can be fun (surprisingly, we only saw one person throwing up, a girl who looked barely old enough to be drinking), but even more fun were the amazing Halloween decorations on display throughout the Quarter. They really do it up right down there!

The horror!

Terrifying! (This display was in the doorway of the notoriously haunted Lalaurie House on Royal Street, once the site of terrible torture and murder, and also once owned by Nicolas Cage, although the two were not concurrent.)

We did lots of fun things aside from just wandering around the Quarter, of course. We went to the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas and saw the penguins; we went to the Presbytère and the Cabildo, two fine, historical museums on Jackson Square; we rode the St. Charles Avenue streetcar to the Garden District, where we were blown away by all the beautiful homes; and we took two walking tours, one a spoopy nighttime ghost tour of the Quarter and the other a daytime historical tour of the famous St. Louis #1 Cemetery, where voodoo queen Marie Laveau is entombed, and also where Nicolas Cage erected a seriously hideous pyramid-shaped tomb for himself for when he dies. (Nicolas Cage clearly loves New Orleans, and is also probably the worst thing to happen to New Orleans since the storm.) We also got to spend some time with my friend, author and NYC expat Trisha Baker, whom I haven’t seen in years, and meet her partner Norman, who’s pretty awesome. It was great to catch up.

Albino gator

This albino gator at the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas is even lazier than me!

And then there was the food, and the drinks! Oh my God, New Orleans!

Muffaletta for lunch at Central Grocery

Here’s me shoving a muffuletta in my face at Central Grocery! MUFFULETTA!

Enjoying a hurricane at Pat O"Brien"s

And here’s me enjoying a hurricane at Pat O’Brien’s. Or should I say “enjoying.” They’re kind of gross, but I suspect, given the insane amount of rum in each glass, people don’t drink them for the taste.

The trip was wonderful and over too soon. I took plenty more pictures while I was there (mostly of houses decorated for Halloween, as it turns out), which you can see here. We can’t wait to go back!

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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Doctor Who: “The Zygon Invasion” [Nov. 4th, 2015|01:54 pm]
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“The Zygon Invasion” isn’t a bad episode, per se, but coming on the heels of the exceptional two-parter “The Girl Who Died”/”The Woman Who Lived,” you can’t help but notice how mediocre it is by comparison. It’s an Earthbound UNIT story, which is already one strike against it, although for the first time since UNIT was reintroduced in the new series I found myself pleasantly reminded of the Third Doctor serials of the classic era, in which he and UNIT would fend off all manner of alien invasions (half of which also involved the Master in some capacity). Of all the new Doctors we’ve had since the show came back, I must say Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor reminds me the most of the Third, and that definitely comes through here.

Truthfully, I don’t have a lot to say about this episode because there isn’t much meat to it. I suspect everything important is going to happen in the second part. About the only thing I really liked about the episode was its refusal to state whether the surviving Osgood is the original human or the Zygon version. It’s a brave stance, considering it’s a question that’s surely on every viewer’s mind, but it fits snugly with the story’s theme that it doesn’t matter if she’s human or Zygon: she’s Osgood. (My main concern for the second part of this story is that everything is going to be solved, in true deus ex machina form, by the mysterious “Osgood box” rather than the characters’ ingenuity or peacekeeping abilities. But then, this season has mostly been smarter than Doctor Who has been in some time, and this story may yet surprise me.)

“The Zygon Invasion” features some fun callbacks to the classic series, which as a longtime Doctor Who fan is something I always enjoy. The biggest callback is the question marks printed on Osgood’s shirt collar. We know she’s a big fan of the Doctor’s, having already seen her wearing a Fourth Doctor-style scarf and an Eleventh Doctor-style bowtie, but seeing those question marks again was kind of hilarious. The Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Doctors all had question marks on their shirt collars, while the Seventh Doctor moved them from his collar to his sweater and the handle of his umbrella. Frankly, the question marks were one of the worst costume choices of the John Nathan-Turner era, and believe me there are a lot to choose from, but I got a weird kick out of seeing them here. (I did not, however, like the Doctor saying he still wears question marks on his underwear. I’d love it if the show could leave this kind of juvenile humor behind.)

Other fun callbacks include an oil painting of the First Doctor hanging on the wall of the UNIT safe house in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance. (Although this is somewhat inconsistent, since the Doctor was already on his second incarnation when UNIT was initially formed, and his third when he became UNIT’s Scientific Advisor. Did I mention I’m a nerd?) The events of the 1979 Fourth Doctor serial “Terror of the Zygons” are referenced (the only appearance of the Zygons in the classic series), as is, quite unexpectedly, former companion Harry Sullivan, who we’re told invented the anti-Zygon weapon Z-67 shortly after the events of that serial.

One last thought. I appreciate Peter Capaldi’s skill as a guitarist, but I don’t think the Doctor needs to be seen playing the electric guitar in every episode. A little goes a long way, folks. Even Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctor didn’t play the spoons in every episode! Also, in case I haven’t mentioned it recently, the sonic sunglasses have got to go. Seriously. Just do everyone a favor and get rid of them already.

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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The Scariest Part: Martin Rose Talks About MY LOADED GUN, MY LONELY HEART [Nov. 3rd, 2015|07:00 am]
International Bon Vivant and Raconteur
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My Loaded Gun

This week on The Scariest Part, my guest is Martin Rose, whose latest novel is My Loaded Gun, My Lonely Heart. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Vitus Adamson has a second chance at life now that he’s no longer a zombie. But after killing his brother Jamie, Vitus lands in prison on murder charges. Jamie’s death exposes secret government projects so deep in the black they cannot be seen — without Vitus, that is.

Sprung from jail, the government hires Vitus to clean up Jamie’s messes, but tracking down his brother’s homemade monsters gone rogue is easier said than done. The first of them is a convicted killer assumed to be safely behind bars. However, it appears he is still committing murder through his victim’s dreams. High on Atropine — the drug that once kept him functioning among the living — and lapsing into addiction, Vitus’s grip on reality takes a nasty turn when his own dreams begin slipping sideways.

Vitus’s problems multiply as he deals with his failed friendship with wheelchair-bound officer Geoff Lafferty, his wrecked romance with the town mortician Niko, government agents working for his father, sinister figures lurking in the shadows, and, least of all, the complications of learning how to be human again.

Secret agents, conspiracy theories, broken hearts and lonely souls, the siren song of prescription drugs…in My Loaded Gun, My Lonely Heart, readers are invited to discover life after undeath, where there are no happy endings.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Martin Rose:

If you ask me what the scariest part of My Loaded Gun, My Lonely Heart is, it’s not the serial killer, who might be haunting the outer edges of half-forgotten nightmares, or the oily Inspector who pulls the strings of human frailty with malevolent, supernatural force, or even the heartless and emotionless Elvedina who dogs Vitus’s every step.

No, what wrings the sweat from me is the cautery.

If you don’t know what a cautery is, it’s an implement designed to burn a wound to sterilize it, staunch bleeding, and help with the healing. Modern day cauteries look so sleek and well designed you could mistake them for pens, and they even come with special tips by which they do their burning. But you haven’t lived until you spend a stint in a veterinarian’s office and on the day the tech calls out sick, they pull you into surgery and plug in a vintage cautery that burns red cherry hot in your hand like a devil’s claw.

I won’t go into the gory details of that surgery — suffice to say that the dog in question will live many happy, healthy years and didn’t feel a thing during his anesthetic — but then, if you’ve ever been in surgery, you probably didn’t feel a thing, either.

The incident stayed with me long after my time at the vet’s office came to an end. The innocuous two-pronged plug revealing the instrument’s outdated age, the minutes ticking by as slowly, the steel rod glows the deep, primal glow of forges, of black smith’s fires, a testament to how brutal medicine truly is — no matter what new and more sterile guises it takes. The healing fire of this most terrible instrument is still, at its base level, an instrument of medieval sensibility. In our modern age, we have forgotten what metal and fire can do in conjunction, the raw power it levers in the world. (Lord knows, my mother, a metalsmith, taught me that.) Our connection to metal and fire reaches deep into an alchemical past, and rings the bell of hidden subconscious. (Like the hot iron shoes forced onto many an evil stepmother in ancient fairy tales, or the vernepator cur, a terrier dog forced to turn a roasting spit by having a red hot coal thrown into the wheel with them to make them run faster.)

The work the cautery does keeps me up at night. It is the manner in which a cautery is utilized beneath the rim of consciousness, unseen during the twilight-sleep of surgery. After all, you don’t receive an itinerary of actions prior to being gassed into unconsciousness. Your hospital bill gives hint to what was done to you, but likely a cautery passed over your flesh and you didn’t flinch, whimper or sigh.

Likewise, Vitus Adamson in My Loaded Gun, My Lonely Heart must spend his twilight hours beneath the glow of a cherry red cautery — the horror is not what happens, as in reality, we see little. It is the hint and the mystery of those unseen moments that churns in the mind and gives rise to suspicion, paranoia and fear. The fear resides in what happens when our attention is focused in the wrong direction and events unfold beneath our level of perception, knowing something was done to you, but not quite what. Fear in the hard choices between uncertainty or death, in giving one’s trust to strangers or monsters, as Vitus must in the moments he is pinned on a gurney, unable to fight back, and tumbling into unconsciousness, trusting that he will make it to the other side, trusting that the cautery will do the work of healing instead of the work of murder.

It is the necessity of the cautery’s sinister application to hurt and heal that terrifies, and renders it the scariest part. I entreat you to feel the burn in My Loaded Gun, My Lonely Heart.

Martin Rose: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

My Loaded Gun, My Lonely Heart: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / IndieBound

Martin Rose’s fiction spans genres with work appearing in numerous venues, such as Penumbra and Murky Depths, and various anthologies: Urban Green Man, Handsome Devil, and Ominous Realities. Bring Me Flesh, I’ll Bring Hell, is a horror novel published by Talos in 2014, and has been recognized as one of “Notable Novels of 2014” in Best Horror of the Year, Vol. 7.

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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Happy Halloween! [Oct. 31st, 2015|08:00 am]
International Bon Vivant and Raconteur

Happy Halloween, everyone! I’m writing this early and scheduling it to be posted on the big day. As you read this, Alexa and I are living it up in New Orleans, where we’ve scheduled a semi-private cemetery tour for this afternoon.

Here’s wishing you and yours a happy and safe Halloween. Oh, and here’s a treat to get you in the Halloween mood:


Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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Burnt Black Suns [Oct. 27th, 2015|10:18 am]
International Bon Vivant and Raconteur

Burnt Black SunsBurnt Black Suns by Simon Strantzas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After four collections, weird fiction author Simon Strantzas is still going strong. Maybe even better than ever. Strantzas’s brand of weird fiction draws from numerous sources — Lovecraft, Chambers, Ligotti, Aickman, Barron — but thematically they are unmistakably his own. His protagonists are deeply flawed people, usually fragile men who have suffered some terrible emotional blow and are making the wrong choices to set it right, and who uncover unknowable and relentless occult secrets that shatter what’s left of them. Of the nine stories present in BURNT BLACK SUNS, the ones I liked the most are “By Invisible Hands,” about a senile old puppet maker who is charged with creating a new and terrible puppet by a secretive client; “Emotional Dues,” which follows a struggling artist as he falls into the hands of an eccentric benefactor; and my favorite of them all, the centerpiece novella “One Last Bloom,” which is a stunning piece of scientific horror with an ending that packs a wallop. Any of Strantzas’s collections are a good jumping-in point, but BURNT BLACK SUNS presents the author at his most confident. Highly recommended.

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Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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