Living in a Post-Monstrous Age

I had a blast at FogCon, as I usually do. The panels I attended were all fascinating, the people were great, &c. I was a little miffed that the bio I wrote for myself on the website didn’t manage to make it into the printed program, but I’ve learned to live with small disappointments like that. I also enjoyed hanging out with other writers and talking craft and projects with them. That’s always worthwhile.

The panel I was on, “Cuddly Horrors from Outer Space”, went in a direction that I wasn’t expecting, and as a result I felt a bit out of my depth at times. I was far more prepared to discuss cosmic horrors and Lovecraftian critters and how making them cute is, in a sense, defying the nihilistic culture we live in, so when we veered into social commentary about Dracula and similar creatures of imagination, I was a bit surprised. And although I felt I didn’t have much to contribute to that particular part of the conversation, I enjoyed it.

The more I think about it, the more I think we live in a culture with more “defanged” monsters than actual scary ones: monsters which are cute and cuddly, rather than horrific and scary. It’s far easier to buy a plush Cthulhu than a monstrous statue of him, for example; and cartoon images of vampires and werewolves abound, to the point where they show up on Sesame Street as the Count and Stephanie Myers writes about glittering vampires playing baseball in the sun.

The “Disneyfication” of horrifying cultural tropes came up as well. Many of the folk and fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm were cautionary tales for children (and some were meant for adults), and some were just plain scary for the sake of being scary, but Disney transformed the original Snow White into Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. As a result, the original horrific element of that story is lost in a whirlwind of singing birdies. Of course, as time has gone on we’ve seen reimaginings of, say, the “Princess” trope, where the definition of a Disney princess has gone from the meek and helpless Snow White to the nearly (but not quite) feminist characters found in Frozen. I think more work needs to be done with these tropes, but I am heartened by what we’ve seen so far (yes, there are feminist retellings of these fairy tales but on the whole they’re meant for adults and not for children).

We also talked about humanizing monsters, making them sympathetic, and about exploring the human side of them. We see this in works such as Frankenstein, where in the novel the creature is meant to be sympathized with and Frankenstein himself is the weak and pathetic character who runs screaming from what he’s created and refusing to take responsibility for it. Seeing our own reflections in these monsters helps us, I think, reflect on our own humanity.

Of course, we also have shows such as Hannibal and Dexter, which invite the audience to see serial killers as sympathetic creatures in spite of their terrible crimes. This brought the conversation, in a roundabout way, to a discussion of our current political climate, in which we “normalize” monstrous people such as Nazis and fascists and find coverage of them in The New York Times, while the forces of good, such as the antifa movement and Black Lives Matter are rendered monstrous.

We talked also a wee bit about “humanizing” zombies, though I am pretty sure we agreed that the point of a zombie is that it is a creature that has lost all dredges of humanity entirely; and thus the moment you start to humanize them, make them sympathetic, then by definition they cease to be zombies. I can’t think of any exceptions to this off the top of my head. Even novels like Scott G. Browne’s Breathers, which is told from the point of view of the zombie, doesn’t really have any zombies in it.

I don’t know for sure. Am I moving the goalposts here, redefining what it means to be a zombie as I discuss the concept? There are plenty of iterations of the vampire motif, so why not so with zombies?

On the whole, then, I think we live in a post-monstrous age, where the supernatural creatures are no longer scary and the monstrous within isn’t examined anymore. While zombies might represent the faceless evils of racism and consumer culture, it’s still pretty easy to find plush zombies in the stores and online through ThinkGeek. Even Sadako and Samara, the yurei that feature so terrifyingly in The Grudge and The Ring so supernaturally, were recently pitted against each other in a more comedic film (in much the same vein as Freddy Vs. Jason).

Are there monstrous beings anymore? Can we be frightened by vampires and werewolves and Cthulhu anymore? Is it even possible? Or can we still find horror within, reflected by media overgeneralizations of cultural forces?

I’m going to have to think about this some more.

 

Coming up!

This week has been a wet one. Monday there was hail from hell — seriously, it hailed for something like fifteen minutes. Usually when we get hail in this part of the world, we get a few pea-sized ice chunks for five minutes or so. This time, the world outside looked like an Alaskan city. Here’s a picture I took from our office window of the parking garage across the street and the corner:

Pretty impressive, yes?

The rest of the week has been pretty wet as well, but nothing like Monday’s event. It’s good, because California may be on the verge of another drought, and we need all the water we can get.

On another note, next weekend is FogCon 2018. FogCon is a small convention that Jennifer and I have been attending for the past few years. It’s fun. This year, I’m actually on a panel! My second convention panel ever! The panel is called “Cuddly Horrors from Outer Space!” The description is as follows:

“Harlan Ellison wrote about how the classic monsters of horror film and story have been de-fanged (so to speak) — the werewolf, the vampire, and so forth. You can now buy a plush Cthulhu from any one of a number of sources, read cartoons about baby extradimensional horrors, and so forth. Can Cthulhu and the rest be saved from being not-scary due to cuddliness? And if so, how?”

If you’re going to FogCon and want to go to the panel, it’s Saturday at 8 pm in the Sacramento Room of the con hotel.

I think I got on to the panel on the basis of this post, where I wrote about cosmic horror and Cthulhu. I like to think I know something about the topic. I’ve been in touch with the other members of the panel, and it’s going to be an interesting discussion, I think.

On another note, I’ve done some redesign work on my site. If you like, go ahead and leave a comment on this post. I’m still on my hiatus from Facebook and Twitter (I’m still hanging out here and there on Instagram, though), so I probably won’t see comments posted there.

Safe journeys, my friends.

A Brief Writing Update, Because I Can’t Think of Anything Else to Write

Submission Stats: So far in 2018 I’ve submitted fifteen pieces, of which four are still outstanding. I’ve collected ten form rejections and one personal rejection. I also have two submissions outstanding from 2017. Dammit, I NEED CLOSURE!

I’m not sure I’m on track to gather 100 rejections in 2018. I think I will have to up my game just a bit.

A Wee Change to My Plan: I spent a few hours over the past couple of days researching what life is like for ER doctors, and discovered that there’s a lot to learn. I found a book, Life on the Ground Floor: Letters from the Edge of Emergency Medicine, which I think will be pretty useful in my research. I also did a little research into the “Big Rip” theory of the end of the Universe, and a little bit of research into Hindu mythology and life on the streets in Delhi in India.

All of which is to say, I am reminded of how much work I need to do in order to do justice to Padma. Have any of my writing friends felt like they were unworthy of an idea that they had? That’s sort of where I’m at.

At any rate, I had originally planned to have a good draft of Padma done by July 1, but that’s only four months away. So I think I’m going to swap things around, and have a good draft of Padma done by December 31, and a good draft of The Solitude of the Tentacled Space Monster by July. Thoughts, anyone?

Short stories are progressing apace. I’m working on a new one, have an idea for another new one, and in the midst of revising a couple more.

Haven’t made any progress on any non-fiction articles, but I have an idea for one. My plan is to have something done and posted to my science blog by the end of next month.

And that’s all I’ve got right now. Have a great day, everyone.

 

An Interlude, with Music

I really have nothing to say that I haven’t said already before. But that won’t stop me from saying it.

I’m on a social media hiatus for now. I’ve had a rough couple of days, and I found that the more I hung out on Twitter and Facebook, the worse my mood got. Especially Twitter, which is now mostly a cesspool of right-wing propaganda and left-wing reactionarianism to that propaganda.

Is reactionarianism a word? Sure it is. I declare it so.

Now, I consider myself a good liberal, but there’s only so much outrage I can sustain before it affects my overall mood. I’d rather not spent my day swinging between seething rage and hopelessness; if I’m going to have hopelessness at one end of my emotional spectrum, I’d rather have the other end be something a wee bit more positive, thank you very much. Hence, my social media hiatus. I expect it to last only a couple of weeks.


On another note, I’ve decided that I really like the music of Janelle Monáe (see pic above; if she looks familiar, it’s because she played Mary Jackson in the movie Hidden Figures). Her song “Django Jane” is pretty incredible, even if I’m not necessarily the target audience. Check it out (but beware the explicit language):

At the moment I’m listening to her album The ArchAndroid, which is a neat concept album along the lines of Styx’s Kilroy Was Here: it’s basically a love story about an android and a human. This core conceit may seem trite, but Monáe makes it special, and the whole album ranges from swing to classical to hip hop, all with pop overtones. It streams for free on Amazon Prime, so I suggest you check it out.


The writing is going well. Haven’t sold anything, but I’m doing pretty well on both Padma and The Solitude of the Tentacled Space Monster. I’ve finished my short story “How the Old Ones Saved Christmas” and I’ve made good progress on revising a couple of other stories, and have begun the process of researching the background of a new one.

I’ve pondered setting up a Patreon. It seems like a lot of work, though, depending on what rewards I decide to offer my patrons. If I set one up, would you contribute? That may influence my decision. We shall see.

Anyway, that’s all I’ve got for now. Thanks for reading.

Writing Update No. Whatever

A few years ago I attended a writers’ conference at Sac State. There were editors and agents present, and I got to meet with one of them. I had submitted the first chapter of The Solitude of the Tentacled Space Monster (you know, the one with the laser cows). She read it and said she really enjoyed it (except for one or two minor flaws) and asked me to send her more. Sadly, that was the only chapter of that uncompleted novel that I felt confident in.

I’ve since lost that agent’s card, phone number, and email address, and I never did send her more. Insert sad face here.

Over the years I’ve attempted several times to rewrite The Solitude of the Tentacled Space Monster, but without any success. But now I’m determined to tackle it and finalize a draft that I can be proud of should I ever encounter that agent again. And I’m determined to have that done by December 31, 2018 (I also plan to have a worthy draft of Padma done by June).


Meanwhile, I had a great deal of fun over the past week or so having our web host install Let’s Encrypt on our server so that I could secure our various websites. Like this one. Look up in the address bar and you’ll see a little padlock icon, and the URL is now prefaced with https instead of plain old http. This is pretty cool.

What’s not cool is all the hacking that happened on my Jennifer’s website. I spent days tracking down rogue JavaScript, PHP, and other stuff, including code that had been inserted into the database itself. Fortunately, that’s all fixed, and a recent scan by Google indicates that the site is, once more, clean and safe and secure. A dozen password changes later, I’m confident that this won’t happen again.

That’s all that’s going on for me right now (aside from the permanent wheezing and cough but that’s a whine for another day). How are you?

Writing Goals for the New Year

I believe in accountability, in goal-setting, and in a proper fusion of the two. To that end, I’m hereby putting out into the world my writing goals for 2018.

  • First: I plan to write six original short stories this year (including the current one, “How the Old Ones Saved Christmas”).
  • Second: I plan to revise six stories that need heavy revision before heading into the wilds. For example, “Burying Uncle Albert” requires a heavy restructuring to rebuild its central theme and a major subplot.
  • Third: I plan to write three non-fiction science articles to publish on my science blog, The Penguin Scientific. That’s an average of one article every four months. Surely in a four-month period I can put together a well-researched science story accessible by humans.
  • Fourth: Finish up the first draft of Padma. Due by June 15.
  • Fifth: Finish outlining another novel. Don’t know which one yet. Possibly due by November 1, depending on whether I participate in National Novel-Writing Month 2018, which isn’t guaranteed at this point.
  • Finally: I have a goal to hit 100 submissions for the year. I had 69 submissions for 2017, none of which ended in a sale. But I have a good feeling about 2018!

That’s it. Those are my writing goals for 2018. What are yours?

Not an Instruction Manual

Goddammit, Trump, 1984 was a warning, not an instruction manual.

Neither was Brave New World.

But just as people mistake Machiavelli’s The Prince as an instruction manual instead of the social satire that it was intended as, there are certain people within the government who just want our nation to descend into an ideologically-driven dark age.

Diversity. Entitlement. Evidence-based. Fetus. Science-based. Transgender. Vulnerable. These are the words that the Center for Disease Control is no longer allowed to use when creating budget documents. The CDC is charged with keeping the citizens of the United States healthy. Here is their mission statement:

CDC works 24/7 to protect America from health, safety and security threats, both foreign and in the U.S. Whether diseases start at home or abroad, are chronic or acute, curable or preventable, human error or deliberate attack, CDC fights disease and supports communities and citizens to do the same.

CDC increases the health security of our nation. As the nation’s health protection agency, CDC saves lives and protects people from health threats. To accomplish our mission, CDC conducts critical science and provides health information that protects our nation against expensive and dangerous health threats, and responds when these arise.

The CDC has already been hobbled by the powers-that-be (the NRA, for example) in not being allowed to perform studies regarding guns and the danger they pose in the US. This further hampering does nothing to further the CDC’s mission, and will harm the vulnerable members of our society.

Sigh.

There are a couple of reasons I don’t often post about politics in my blog or in social media. First, most of the people who follow me already know where I stand. Second, most of the people I follow feel the same way. And third, I’m unlikely to change any minds anyway. Certainly, this blog post won’t make it to the administration officials who offered this ludicrous policy, and even if it did, they wouldn’t be moved by it. “Another snowflake liberal complaining about the lawfully-elected President blah blah blah,” they chortle as they make their way to the bank.

It’s frustrating how powerless I feel in the face of these forces.

That’s not to say I’ve done nothing. I’ve written emails. I’ve faxed. I’ve texted. I’ve signed petitions. I’ve made phone calls to my senators and to my Congressional representative, all of whom, fortunately, feel the same as I do.

I can only hope that American citizens will come back to their senses and restore sanity to our government and society in 2018. If that doesn’t happen… Well, I don’t know. I shudder to think what damage Trump and his sycophants will do to the nation before 2020. We’re already going to spend decades fixing the damage they’ve already done. And I fear that worse is yet to come.

We have always been at war with Eastasia, I suppose.


‘Tis the season for Holidailies, where you may find more cheerful blogs.

The 300(+)

Sigh.

Despite walking at least 3,000 steps per day (far short of my goal of 5,000, granted), and despite writing down everything I’ve eaten, and sticking within my Weight Watchers Points range, I somehow managed to gain three pounds since I posted my entry last week. That puts me back over three hundred pounds, which sucks.

Ah well. Much like writing, when I have a setback, I just need to go ahead and start again where I left off. Or, rather, since I get tired of thinking “I have to start again”, I need to continue. Not start over. Continue.

In other news, today a co-worker of mine gave me a copy of How to Think like Leonardo da Vinci by Michael J. Gelb. It’s one of many self-help or self-enrichment books that I bought back in the heady days of the mid to late 90s, but at some point I had lost my copy, and recently I’ve been thinking about it. Actually, Leonardo da Vinci has been on my mind quite a bit. So much so that I actually purchased the audiobook of Walter Isaacson’s biography of the man. I’ve been listening to it while driving or walking, and I’m really enjoying it. It’s fascinating to learn about da Vinci’s life and the times he lived in, as well as his creativity and artistic output. I certainly don’t think I’m going to become a great Renaissance man of da Vinci’s stature, but maybe I’ll be able to expand my brain just a little bit. I’ll keep you all posted on my progress, if you so desire. Or not. Heck, I’ll do it anyway, in the form of the occasional blog post.

And that’s all I’ve got for you today.

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Holidailies! Find other great blogs!

The high speed romancealogical database!

(The title is a reference to a Futurama episode. So there.)

A few years ago, I created this. It’s an online SyFy original movie generator. It’s eleven years old, but still relevant, since those movies are still pretty awful. Of course, they don’t have to be good; they only have to make back more in advertising revenue than their budgets, which often run into the tens of dollars. I should probably update the code to make it more interactive, I suppose, but I think it stands well as it is.

Now, last night Jennifer and I watched a Netflix original movie called A Christmas Prince. It was… an experience. Well, okay, it was stupid. It was a bad film. Just as a bad SyFy film can be full of tropes and cliches, so can a bad romance. And this one ticked all the boxes: the plucky heroine who doesn’t know how beautiful she is; the stupidly handsome reluctant prince; the mischievous young girl. Etc. The dialogue was awful. With one exception (the editor), the acting wasn’t horrible, because Rose McIver (who also plays Olivia in iZombie) is pretty good. But on the whole, this is a bad movie.

So Jennifer suggested, “Why don’t you create an online romance film plot generator? Just like your SyFy movie generator?” This strikes me as a pretty good idea, except that I’d have to watch a lot of these bad romance films and take notes just to make sure I know what tropes and cliches are abused in these films, and I am not willing to do that. I suspect I’d need an insulin shot afterwards.

So I turn to you, my plucky readers. What elements should I include in my online romance plot generator? What types of characters? Situations? Plots? Give ’em to me. So I don’t have to watch them myself.


Note: I don’t mean to devalue the romance genre as a whole. I know that there are good quality romance novels and movies out there. I just haven’t read them or seen them, and that’s only because I don’t seek them out because it’s not a genre I’m particularly interested in. But just as my SyFy movie generator is not meant to devalue science fiction as a whole, so my romance movie generator won’t either.

Hm, now I’m thinking I ought to create a horror movie generator as well.


Ho ho holidailies!

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