Archive for February, 2009

Will zombies eat Elizabeth Bennet?

Posted in Book Review, Rotten with tags , , on February 21, 2009 by davehurwitz

ppz2On May 13, you may find out. Quirk Books will release the much anticipated Pride and Prejudice and Zombies in what may be the strangest collaboration to date. Seth Grahame-Smith—author of such titles as How to Survive a Horror Movie: All the Skills to Dodge the Kills, and The Big Book of Porn: A Penetrating Look at the World of Dirty Movies teams up with early nineteenth century writer Jane Austen. You might remember her from such hits as Sense and Sensibility, and Emma.

Wanting to freshen up an older work, Austen turned to Grahame-Smith for some new punch for the dated novel. Many authors are doing this these days. After the initial books runs through the market and inevitably slips down the bestseller list, some authors have turned to adaptations rather than writing fresh material. And who better to turn to than Seth Grahame-Smith.

True, Austen may turn off her core audience with new scenes of “bone-crunching zombie action” but this pales in comparison to the new zombie devotees she will attract. In this new adaptation, Elizabeth Benet fights off a horde of zombies, spawned from a mysterious plague. Only to be distracted by the arrival of the arrogant Mr. Darcy.

 

Jane Austen

Jane Austen

 

Seth Grahame-Smith

Seth Grahame-Smith

As ripe as this concept is for film, someone has already beaten Austen to the punch? Elton John’s production company (yes, that Elton John) will produce a movie titled Pride and Predator in which, you guessed it, halfway through the Pride and Prejudice novel an alien hunter lands to deal out alien justice. This only illustrates the problem with having your work go public domain. Just ask Florence Stoker about that. (Personally, I’m waiting for the lawsuit from Fox for the title—too close the Schwarzenegger pic).

Now that Austen and Grahame-Smith has set the stage for combining horror and classic literature, what’s next? Great Expectations and Vampires, in which Pip is lured to drink blood by a vampiric Miss Havisham. Or perhaps Jane Eyre meets… no wait, that’s already horror. I suppose Bertha Mason could be modeled after Norman Bates from Psycho. That would be a movie I’d pay to see.

What about going the opposite direction? Perhaps Dracula can be defeated by the Jonas Brothers in a High School Musical like production? For television, we could have a Grey’s Anatomy meet Dr. Frankenstein. The plot could circle around the ethical dilemma of grafting a new organ onto the monster.

Chris Kalidor

Advertisements

Report from Gallifrey

Posted in Rotten with tags , on February 18, 2009 by davehurwitz

I have a terrible confession to make:  I no longer enjoy Comic-Con.  As a teen, I volunteered in the film room at the San Diego Civic Center, running the projectors along with Tim and other friends.  No, not digital projectors.  Ones with actual film in them.  We screened pictures like Island of Lost Souls (with Charles Laughton as Doctor Moreau) and The Fearless Vampire Hunters.  I saw my first Jackie Chan film, Drunken Master Two, from the projection stand.  One year, my machine chewed the entire leader off a print of Heavy Metal, then set Macbeth on fire.

During my college years, Con moved into the brand new Convention Center, and things began to change.  The film schedule shrank.  The crowds got bigger.  Post-it notes covered the naughty bits on artwork like modernist fig leaves.  But Con was still Con, more or less.

Then Hollywood arrived.  The film room vanished, replaced by sneak peeks and trailers for movies that weren’t even finished yet, let alone cult classics.  The booths got bigger, but the comics and the people who created them got shoved aside, relegated to a small corner of what had become the biggest circus in town.  People who had never read a comic in their lives choked the aisles, hoping for glimpse of Hugh Jackman or Kate Beckinsale.  I hated it.  I stopped going.  Aside from an ill-fated return in 2005 to promote my novel, I never went back.  Not even to accompany my boys.

Dr. Who

Dr. Who

So it was with mixed feelings that I headed up to Long Beach last Friday for Gallifrey One, the Southland’s biggest Doctor Who convention.

Now, let me just say a couple of things right off.

I confess that I am a recent Doctor Who convert.  I’d heard of the show, but never seen it before it was revived by BBC Wales.  My wife is a fan, having watched Tom Baker and Peter Davison on PBS in her younger years.  But our sons are the real fanatics.  Ask my eldest boy anything about any Doctor, Companion, principle actor, or monster and he will demonstrate an encyclopedic knowledge that borders on the terrifying.  He compulsively acquires and reads Doctor Who guides and handbooks.  Whenever I offer to rent him a movie, his inevitable choice is some obscure episode of Classic Who, chosen with a deliberation usually reserved for fine wines.

And when I say that Gallifrey One is a large Doctor Who convention, I mean that about a thousand people pre-registered this year.  That’s 125,000 less people than went to Comic-Con.

Our Dr. Who Family

Our Dr. Who Family

I really enjoyed that smallness.  The dealer’s room contained no more than a dozen vendors.  We saw the whole thing in ten minutes.  My boys bought plastic Cybermen and such.  I, of course, bought books.  When we walked the halls in costume, we could stop and pose for photos without fear of getting trodden on or causing congestion.  This happened a lot, as my youngest was the only Cybershade at the convention.  I even got a hall award complete with one of those ribbons to attach to my badge, my first one ever, for encouraging the somewhat shy Cybershade to menace various Doctors.

There was no panel so packed, no event so popular, that we couldn’t get seats.  I watched the “Something Borrowed” episode of Torchwood with live commentary from writer Phil Ford (whose wife talks to my wife over the internet about crochet) and actor Kai Owen.  I learned about NASA’s upcoming mission to map the interior of the moon, courtesy of JPL’s Bob Gounley, who explained how minute changes in the moon’s gravitation field will be used to infer the composition of the interior.  My wife and I watched the North American premier of Toby Hadoke’s one-man play, Moths Ate My Doctor Who Scarf.  We did all of this without waiting in big lines or “camping” through previous events.

More than once, we wound up sharing an elevator with Phil Collinson, Doctor Who’s erstwhile producer, who seemed to have a room near our floor.  Sometimes he seemed tipsy.

In short, I had a fine time, despite my earlier misgivings.

Unavoidably, we missed things.  (Two words.  Dalek Karaoke.)  Unavoidably, little things went wrong.  The volunteer in charge of the film room had to quit unexpectedly, which meant that other volunteers with other jobs had to run over and change the discs every so often.  They weren’t always prompt.  Tired of waiting for “Partners in Crime” to start, my eldest boy found his mom and got her to show him how to run the digital projector.  After that, he ran it himself.  Nothing got chewed up.  Nothing caught fire.

I felt proud anyway.

-Dave Hurwitz

Unwind: How to transplant every part of you for the greater good

Posted in Book Review, Rotten with tags , on February 10, 2009 by davehurwitz
Shusterman's Unwind

Shusterman's Unwind

The novel Unwind, but Neal Shusterman, details human organ trafficking taken to the extreme. I am still in the middle of reading this Young Adult Novel, but the premise drew me in. In the novel, abortion is illegal. This spawns thousands of state run orphanages. The catch is this: between the ages of 13 and 18, a child may be “unwound”, or broken into various body parts for transplant. This is legal because every part of the person is still alive.

Shusterman may have gotten the idea from a 2006 BBC article on Ukranian hospitals trafficking in baby parts. The article states that live babies were harveted for their stem cells. One quote says: “The pictures show organs, including brains, have been stripped – and some bodies dismembered.”

Hand Transplant

Hand Transplant

Shusterman aptly explores this with various people who use the unwound children for limb transplants. New hands, legs…the sky’s the limit. Now this is all this fiction, right? Not really. Recent sucesses with hand transplants (yes hand transplants) have expanded the possibilities. In 2006, David Savage received a sucessful hand transplant. His brain quickly adapted to the new limb. By 2008, the Jewish Hospital Hand Care Center had performed its fifth hand transplant. This is no longer a fluke, but actual science fiction in action.

The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant

The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant

Shusterman also explores the effects of brain transplants. In Unwind, most people receive only pieces of brains. But one character, Cy, gets a full eighth of a brain. This results in him getting flashes of the donor’s persona leaking through. Again, how much of this is possible? Hard to say. But there has been a sucessful head transplant.

 

The Thing with Two Heads

The Thing with Two Heads

If you’re me, this brings two movies immediately to mind: The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant, and The Thing with Two Heads. Both are classics of cheesy low-budget sci-fi. Now this ficiton might be a reality. In 2001 professor Robert White transplanted a whole monkey’s head onto another monkey body, and the animal survived. Now, it’s not as good as you think. The nerves weren’t reattached (if we could, we’d help out every parapalegic on the planet). No, this just had the brain living from the blood of the other body.

Still, the advances in just the last few years make the possibility of Shusterman’s book valid. We might be looking at unwinding people just for their body parts. And why waste any parts. Let’s transplant it all: heart, lungs, fingernails, brain, tongue, you name it.

Chris Kalidor

All Hail the New Weird

Posted in Book Review, Rotten with tags on February 1, 2009 by davehurwitz
Scream for Jeeves

Scream for Jeeves

Reading Jess Nevins’ volume of annotations to Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neil’s Black Dossier, I came across a reference to a novel called Scream for Jeeves, in which the imperturbable valet created by P. G. Wodehouse battles cosmic monsters from the world of H. P. Lovecraft.  Just the sort of thing to brighten up a winter afternoon, I thought.  Alas, the book proved to be out of print and not to be had for love or money (or at least as much money as I was willing to part with).  My disappointment did not last long, however.  My recent reading has provided me with plenty of tentacled horror from beyond the stars.

I enjoy the art of Ben Templesmith, and not just because he was kind enough to do the jacket for my book.  His art is the diametric opposite of the blandly drawn, high color value, computer rendered work on display in most contemporary comics.  Ben’s paintings are full of murk and mildew, scratchy lines and turbid colors, busting forth into infrequent explosions of white-hot fire and crimson eyeballs.  I like Ben’s work even better when he illustrates his own writing, and his deadpan humor and warped creativity are on full display.

Wormwood

Wormwood

Templesmith’s powers are shown to best advantage in Wormwood:  Gentleman Corpse.  The premise is simple.  A corpse-possessing worm from an another dimension protects the Earth from demonic catastrophe.  In the most recent volume, parasitic squid creatures attempt to “convert” every living thing on Earth.  Templesmith has taken this Lovecraftian concept and twisted it into something almost unrecognizable, mixing in exotic dancers toting flamethrowers, the Apollo astronauts, rednecks with faerie wings, and Elvis.  What would have been the major theme of a Lovecraft story becomes a mere chew-toy in the foaming jaws of Templesmith’s imagination.

Atrocity Archives

Atrocity Archives

Charles Stross treats Lovecraft’s legacy with a bit more reverence.  I recently read his Atrocity Archives on the recommendation of Pseudopod’s Alasdair Stuart (a recommendation attached to the excellent New Weird story “Jihad over Innsmouth” by  Edward Morris).  The protagonist, Bob Howard, works for the Laundry, a covert intelligence agency sworn to protect the UK from extra-dimensional horrors.  Bob is a math geek, a hacker who came to the notice of the Laundry after nearly summoning Nyarlathotep with his PC.

The books opens with Bob stumbling his way through a B&E at an industrial park, bent on destroying some dangerous computer files.  In a scant two-hundred pages, the novel cranks up quite astonishing levels of terror, as Stross crossbreeds classic cosmic horror with cold war spy tropes and the all too human monsters responsible for the Nazi Holocaust.  Before book’s end, Howard dons a pressure suit and follows a platoon of SAS commandos though a gate into a chill and airless world.  He emerges greatly sobered, if not exactly mature.  Atrocity Archives is paean to Lovecraft and Len Deighton combined with a nerd’s feast of speculative science and historical detail.

The Beast Under the Bridge

The Beast Under the Bridge

Even children’s authors are getting in on the act.  Good horror fiction for young audiences can be hard to come by, but two of your best bets are John Bellairs and his literary inheritor Brad Strickland.  While Bellairs was content to emulate Lovecraft’s tone of foreboding—his sense of all powerful, ever-present evil—Strickland has gone a step further.  Where Bellairs invented his own menaces, Strickland borrows more directly from Lovecraft.  In The Beast Under the Wizard’s Bridge, he even calls the Great Old Ones by name.  (And we all know what a bad idea that is.)

Charles Stross has called the mythology created by Lovecraft the greatest open source shared world ever written.  I wouldn’t have put it quite that way myself, but his observation is essentially true.  As long as new authors read and love old stories, Lovecraft’s creatures will continue to find gainful employment.  Frightening young boys with self-esteem issues.  Plotting against coffee-addled hackers from covert government agencies.  And yes, battling exotic dancers with flamethrowers.

Dave Hurwitz