I recently finished reading My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell (full disclosure I have not read Lolita which was, per the author, a significant influence on this book) and, for lack of better words, was pretty unsettled by what I had just read. Needless to say, that was the point of the book. For anyone who hasn't read it, Vanessa follows the vastly inappropriate relationship between a fifteen year old boarding school student and her much older English teacher. The novel took place over two time periods, consecutively telling the story as it happened and through Vanessa's 'adult' eyes as the long term ramifications of what she went through continued to manifest in different ways.
About a week or so later, I threw on the horror movie The Hunt, which was a gory, satirical look at the left vs right, globalist vs nationalist rifts that we see permeating both social media and our society. Two things real quick: I thoroughly enjoyed The Hunt (recognizing it for the over-the-top satire that it was), and also that, while it might have been categorized as horror, it was more of a modern day splatterpunk dark comedy. That being said, the amplification of these cultural wars along with violence that is unfortunately not reserved to fiction and entertainment was also... a little unsettling.
So, because I had nothing better to do, I started thinking about the different genre-bending concepts we see across media. Is all horror unsettling? You could argue so: things that jump out at you unsettle your psyche and make you scream; slow burn dreadful there's someone behind you unsettle your nerves because you know, just know, something awful is going to happen; and the Halloween franchise is unsettling because, I mean if you're constantly running, and Michael Myers is only walking... how the hell does he catch up to you every. single. time?
I think, throughout all of media, we are seeing a further blurring of lines between different genres. Not saying this hasn't happened forever, but we're seeing more of a mainstream recognition of it. One of the biggest that comes to mind would be Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel: a speculative, end-of-the-world literary work. And I hope we continue to see more of this kind of work. Work that approaches questions and situations through kaleidoscope eyes.
Bringing this rambling conversation back to the line between unsettling and horror, I think one might lead into the other. Horror, in and of itself, is unsettling in some way. But not all unsettling topics are truly horrifying (though it's safe to say that adult-child sexual relationships are not only unsettling and disgusting, but completely horrifying in their own right. And the amount of trauma that they put on victims is, again, horrifying). There are numerous organizations that work to assist victims of this kind of reprehensible behavior, and I urge you to support them in anyway you can.
So, at the end of the day, if you want to feel irked and uneasy, read some unsettling works. If you want to be horrified, read some unsettling works that push you into something truly scary. Or, if you wanna laugh, watch some dark comedy bloodbaths. It is October after all.
The Resident Evil franchise, a staple among zombie culture and survival-horror fans, began in 1996 with the original video game: Resident Evil. Since then, the massive franchise has, much like the Umbrella Corporation antagonist throughout the story, grown and dug its roots in across the globe and media platforms including movies, animated features, books, comic books, merch (I have an Umbrella Corporation BioWeapons Division ID Badge hanging not two feet from me), you name it. My first foray into Capcom's world of corporate espionage, bio-terror came via Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, originally released for PlayStation in 1999, effectively making me ten when it came out.
Since then, I've played the gamut, watched the movies, absorbed the in-depth (although convoluted) lore, and generally been an enthusiastic fan of the series. Then in 2012, Capcom released Resident Evil 6 to a wave of criticism and poor reviews. The beloved horror franchise had delved into something it wasn't: an action series. Now let's be honest: Resident Evil was never on par with say Outlast or Amnesia, but the game was horror, had scary moments, and was dripping in an atmosphere filled with dread. Unfortunately for fans of the series, the sixth installment was so far from horror and into action it would have made Michael Bay giddy. God help us.
Then something else happened... Capcom took the fans' words to heart and delivered us the Godsend that is Resident Evil VII: Biohazard. Our franchise was back and on the I'll-hunt-you-while-you're-sleeping legs it was built on. That historical tangent aside, 2019 and 2020 saw HD PS4 and Xbox One remakes of Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 3 respectively.
The concept of remakes isn't anything new. They've been happening across entertainment and media since well before I was born (this isn't the first remake of the RE Series either). Seriously though, how many iterations of the same movie can they do? Just because you add cell phones and a new vernacular doesn't make it worth the money ...Anyways...
I picked up Resident Evil 2 last year because, well, it looked bloody fantastic. And it was. In an instant I was transported back to the world of Raccoon City with characters I knew. There were new things thrown in and a few tweaks and changes, but the game played well and it was a lot of fun. That brings me to the RE3 remake I'm currently playing through.
This game was released to mixed reviews with the general consensus among them falling into two camps: it was great or it should have just been an add-on to the Resident Evil 2 remake. So, I shrugged, waited until it went on sale and jumped in. Here's the thing: the atmosphere is amazing and being back in Raccoon City again, chased by Nemesis, and shooting zombies in the face, is awesome. But the nostalgia feeling that I was looking for, that I found with RE2, is oddly absent.
Maybe that's the thing with remakes and remasters though... sometimes they just don't hit home. I'm not naive to think that remakes aren't done as somewhat of a cash grab. I say this not knowing, in any capacity, what it takes to make a video game remake, but I would imagine, perhaps ignorantly, that remakes and remasters serve two purposes: to introduce a new audience of gamers (usually on a new platform) to a beloved series, or to give hardcore fans of a franchise something to latch onto and, well you know, buy.
News, politics, and zombies. If I struck the last word and replaced it with covid-19 infections, you could safely assume I was talking about any of today’s headlines, not Feed, the 2010 post-apocalyptic zombie novel by Mira Grant. Like all good fiction, despite the fact that the novel is a decade old, it reads true, is relatable, and thoroughly enjoyable well into the shitshow year that is 2020. You know, if you feel like you can handle a disease-focused bit of writing in the age of coronavirus.
Feed follows Georgia ‘George’ Mason, her brother Shaun, and their intrepid tech expert fictional, Buffy as they land the biggest job in their blogging careers: prime press corps to the presidential campaign of republican senator Peter Ryman. The campaign trail brings them across the pandemic-ravaged United States while they aspire to bring truth and validity to the blogging world, while traditional news sites, and more conservative politicians continue to shun their perspective.
Mira Grant’s narrative is fun, intense, and filled with great dialogue, amazing characterization, and a fantastic balance of expose, development (both plot and character), and action. As the story progresses, it becomes evident that not everyone is keen on bloggers (or journalists in general) and that includes parties additional to the flesh-hungry infected rummaging through suburbs and cities looking for food.
The CDC is fully funded; money flows into political campaigns from special interest sources, and a fictional history since the rising is fully and expertly developed on the page. Feed is a hefty novel. The mass market paperback edition comes in at 571 pages. Despite the length, it doesn’t drag, and even the slower parts of the narrative are so carefully exploring the way the post-Rising United States operates, they keep you turning the pages well into the next chapter. Feed has been on my list for a while, and is one of the many critically acclaimed works by Mira Grant (also writing under Seanan McGuire where she is well known for her successful Wayward Children novellas). The series is followed up with two subsequent novels: Deadline and Blackout, both of which are stacked high on my TBR pile.
It may be infection-based, but at least it’s not COVID. Though at this point, if we’re being honest, who’s ready to trade Coronavirus for the Zombie plague?
Cheers and be safe.
Also: Wear a mask. Survive the Apocalypse
Back in February 2018, The Lascaux Review featured my short story Songs We Play When We Pretend We're Ourselves. A contemporary piece of flash fiction that follows a young couple navigating turbulent waters in Boston. There's airplanes, longing, and surprise pregnancies wrapped in a thousand-ish words.
Today, I'm excited to say that fresh.ink has officially published a reprint of this story that can be found and read by clicking here. While I'm always thrilled anytime a story gets published, and doubly thrilled when it gets chosen to be reprinted, I'm particularly excited about this piece reaching a new subset of readers because it was one of the first times I seriously attempted a more contemporary narrative. Prior to this, my focus had been solely on genre fiction, and I was of the mind that you had to be one or the other.
But, as all people do when they grow and expand their horizons, I realized I had it mistaken. It wasn't so much about the genre or type of writing the story fit under, it was just the story itself. And this one, I've always been more than happy with. If you've read it before, thank you. If you haven't had a chance and are looking for something to browse on your lunch break, hop over to https://fresh.ink/ and give it a read.
There are two key takeaways when evaluating entertainment, regardless of form: how enjoyable the experience is, and how long it stays with you afterward. These two umbrella questions are held up by a myriad of scaffolding (how believable is the plot? Is the pacing good? Are all instruments in harmony? Are the characters believable? Are they relatable across different cultures and orientations?) that would take days to list out in their entirety. Luckily, our brains answer these questions almost subconsciously while we're reading, watching, listening, and leaves us to focus on the collective answers to these questions as pieces to the larger puzzle.
For me, the first is the more difficult. After all, if something isn't enjoyable while you're experiencing it, it's probably not going to have a lasting effect and stay with you long afterward. Unless it's truly enraging. I suppose that would stay with you for awhile.
So, we press on, searching for the perfect tens. The pieces of entertainment media that span time, characters, cultures, and emotions. There isn't a shortage of them out there. Though it may seem that way when swimming through the golden age of media in which we live. Unlike the physical world, the digital one is not shrinking, and there's no shortage of new stuff within it. And the other night, in the throws of Prime Island, I found buried treasure and a perfect ten.