September 9th, 2014


The Scariest Part: Cherie Priest Talks About MAPLECROFT


Welcome to this week’s installment of The Scariest Part, a recurring feature in which authors, comic book writers, filmmakers, and game creators tell us what scares them in their latest works of horror, dark fantasy, dark science fiction, and suspense. (If you’d like to be featured on The Scariest Part, please review the guidelines here.)

I am very pleased to have Hugo and Nebula Award-nominated and Locus Award-winning author Cherie Priest as my guest. Her latest novel is the highly anticipated Maplecroft. Here’s the publisher’s description:

“Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave her mother forty whacks; and when she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one….”

The people of Fall River, Massachusetts, fear me. Perhaps rightfully so. I remain a suspect in the brutal deaths of my father and his second wife despite the verdict of innocence at my trial. With our inheritance, my sister, Emma, and I have taken up residence in Maplecroft, a mansion near the sea and far from gossip and scrutiny.

But it is not far enough from the affliction that possessed my parents. Their characters, their very souls, were consumed from within by something that left malevolent entities in their place. It originates from the ocean’s depths, plaguing the populace with tides of nightmares and madness.

This evil cannot hide from me. No matter what guise it assumes, I will be waiting for it. With an axe.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Cherie Priest:

For quite some time, I’ve nursed a pet theory that there are only two great fears: (1) the fear that everyone knows something life-or-death important, and no one will tell you what it is, or (2) the fear that you know something life-or-death important, and no one will believe you. At the core of both, I suppose, is the fear of isolation and/or being left out of something, which comes around again to the age-old fear of the unknown; but the academic in me has a fondness for the symmetry of it all.

I find it both tidy, and true.

So when I approached the aftermath of the murders which Lizzie Borden may — or may not — have committed, it’s no great surprise that I was struck by the woman’s isolation. She stood at the center of a media frenzy, a town’s wrath, and a justice system’s glare . . . and she stood there more or less alone. If she didn’t do it, she sure as hell didn’t deserve the aftermath of that trial.

If she did do it, then I’m not entirely sure you could say that she got away with murder. Was formal justice served? No, but public social justice saw to it that she basically never left the house again. Entire generations learned (and assumed, and believed) she was guilty via schoolyard jump rope rhymes, for pity’s sake.

So did she kill her father and stepmother, or was she railroaded? I don’t know. Nobody does anymore, because the only person who ever knew for certain was Lizzie herself — and she’s been dead for almost a hundred years. But I was intrigued by the idea of it all, how she never spoke a word to the press, not even to defend herself; and then, when it was all over she was free to go . . . but she didn’t. She bought a house right there in that same town where public opinion had utterly condemned her, never mind the verdict.

And there, she lived out her days, more or less alone.

So I wondered, what would keep her there? She had very little family left — only an older sister who was rather infirm. She had plenty of money, having inherited the substantial Borden estate; she could’ve gone anywhere she wanted.

Maybe she was afraid.

That’s the direction I took it, anyway. I decided to go ahead and make her guilty, but to give her a damn good reason for her infamous crime — something so terrible, so great a threat, that there was nowhere she could possibly run in order to escape it . . . so she might as well stay put and fight.

Because if Lovecraft taught us anything (apart from what “Cyclopean” means in the architectural sense), he taught us to make the threat bigger than the protagonist. In Maplecroft, the threat is enormous. It comes from within, and without — from family, from lovers, and from home. It comes from the ocean, and it isn’t stopping. Maybe it can’t be stopped.

Caught in the middle is Lizzie, who knows something life-or-death important. But no one will believe her, much less help her.

And that’s the scariest part.

Cherie Priest: Website / Twitter / Facebook

Maplecroft: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / IndieBound / Powell’s

Cherie Priest is the author of more than a dozen novels, including the steampunk pulp adventures of the Clockwork Century, beginning with Boneshaker. She also wrote the Cheshire Red series from Bantam-Spectra; Fathom and the Eden Moore series from Tor; and three novellas from Subterranean Press. In addition to the above, her first foray into George R. R. Martin’s superhero universe, Fort Freak (for which she wrote the interstitial mystery), debuted in the summer of 2011. Her short stories and articles have appeared in many fine periodicals and numerous anthologies; and her most recent full-length project, Maplecroft, is the story of Lizzie Borden fighting Cthulhu with an axe. Cherie lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee, with her husband, a big shaggy dog, and a little old cat.

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


Doctor Who: “Robot of Sherwood”

After last week’s somewhat heavy “Into the Dalek,” we’re treated to a much lighter, comedic episode, “Robot of Sherwood.” The Doctor gives Clara the opportunity to visit anyone in history she wants, and she chooses Robin Hood. What follows is a virtually plotless adventure romp in Sherwood Forest that had me frequently laughing out loud.

Capaldi continues to excel in the role. I mentioned last week that I thought he couldn’t do humor quite as well as Tennant or Eccleston, but this episode proved me wrong. His annoyed and defensive banter with Robin Hood, especially when they were in the Sheriff’s prison together, was a delight. In fact, I thought the episode had a very David Tennant/Tenth Doctor feel to it in both the pacing and the humor.

Ben Miller was outstanding as the Sheriff of Nottingham. He also looks so much like Anthony Ainley that I half expected the Sheriff to be revealed as the Master, “The King’s Demons”-style!

Wow, three episodes of Doctor Who in a row that I’ve enjoyed? I’m almost getting my hopes up that everything that annoyed me so badly in the last three seasons has been remedied. Almost. More on that in a moment.


As enjoyable as I thought “Robot of Sherwood” was, there were a few things that tripped me up. First of all, the plot (such as it is), which involves a crashed spaceship whose occupants are secretly manipulating the locals into building a giant circuit that will repair their craft, is identical — and I mean identical — to the plot of the 2008 Tenth Doctor episode “The Fires of Pompeii” (which also starred Peter Capaldi, incidentally!). Additionally, we just had a story that featured a ship of robots from the future that crashed on Earth while looking for “The Promised Land” two episodes ago with “Deep Breath.” Why do the same thing again so quickly? Is it going to be a theme this season, or is it just laziness?

Don’t get me started on the use of the golden arrow at the end, when the ship was in danger of crashing. Just…don’t. It’s a solution so ridiculous it pulled me right out of the story, in which I was otherwise fully and happily engaged.

Let’s talk about Clara a moment, and how the writers don’t seem to be able to give her character any consistency. For example, she used to be a nanny, but now she’s a school teacher. (This sudden shift in jobs isn’t unusual for the Steven Moffat-run era. You might remember the previous companion, Amy, had about a hundred different jobs over the course of her time on the show, to the point where she actually seemed to have a new one every time we saw her.) Speaking of Clara’s time as a nanny, whatever happened to those kids she was taking care of, anyway? The ones she told about the Doctor and took on an adventure in the TARDIS? (I don’t actually expect to see them again or have their plot lines carried forward, because this, too, isn’t unusual for the Moffat-run era. How many seemingly important characters have been introduced only to be dropped right away? How many of them were in the episode “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” alone?)

Anyway, my point is that there’s not a lot of character consistency with Clara, and the reason it comes up for me again now is because in “Deep Breath,” Clara mentions the only poster she had on her bedroom wall as a teenager was of Marcus Aurelius (likely she means posters of statues, not of the man himself, who lived in the mid-100s AD, long before cameras were invented). She’s obviously a big fan of this Roman emperor and philosopher. In fact, when we see her at the start of the 50th anniversary special “Day of the Doctor,” she’s teaching Aurelius’ philosophy to her class. So when the Doctor asks her who, out of anyone in time and space, she would like to meet, of course she says Marcus Aurelius Robin Hood. What?

To me, this is a weird oversight on the writers’ part. Why not have her mention Robin Hood instead of Marcus Aurelius in “Deep Breath” so her choice doesn’t feel so out of the blue? Or why not have her ask to meet Marcus Aurelius but they wind up in Sherwood Forest? Or why not just have them wind up in Sherwood Forest without all the “who do you want to meet?” preamble, since the TARDIS tends to materialize in random times and locations anyway? Maybe I’m being too much of a stickler, but it bothered me.

Not enough to make me dislike “Robot of Sherwood,” though. This is a very fun adventure, full of comedy and swashbuckling. The Twelfth Doctor even breaks out some Venusian aikido at one point, just like the Third Doctor used to do. Add to that a mention of a miniscope from the 1973 Third Doctor serial “Carnival of Monsters,” and the Jon Pertwee-like aspects of Capaldi’s Doctor are really brought to the fore. And as I mentioned before, Clara — despite her inconsistencies — is a much more interesting character now that she can just be herself and not saddled with being the “impossible girl.”

Unfortunately, I heard a rumor that the next episode, “Listen,” brings back the “impossible girl” nonsense in such an egregious way that, if it’s true, will likely launch me into an epic anti-Steven Moffat rant to end all epic anti-Steven Moffat rants. You’ve been warned.

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