Amphibious Vampires: J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla (Part 8)

Welcome back to Reading the Weird, in which we get girl cooties all over weird fiction, cosmic horror, and Lovecraftiana—from its historical roots through its most recent branches.

This week, we finish J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla, first published as a serial in The Dark Blue from 1871 to 1872, with Chapters 15-16. Spoilers ahead!

[“The grave of the Countess Mircalla was opened…”]

Scorched With Great Heat: Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank

In this bi-weekly series reviewing classic science fiction and fantasy books, Alan Brown looks at the front lines and frontiers of the field; books about soldiers and spacers, scientists and engineers, explorers and adventurers. Stories full of what Shakespeare used to refer to as “alarums and excursions”: battles, chases, clashes, and the stuff of excitement.

In the 1950s and 1960s, when I was growing up, the issue of nuclear war was not just on people’s minds, it was a kind of mania that gripped the nation. I was one of the people caught up in that fear, and when I read Alas, Babylon at what was probably too young an age, the book was seared into my memory. Apparently, I was not alone, as the book went on to be a perennial best seller. Current events, which have revived concerns over nuclear weapons, brought the story to mind, so I dug a copy out of the basement to see how it held up.

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Vashti is a pathogenic diplomat—an ambassador to the world of viruses, whom she communicates with through a machine that can translate their chemical signals into images, tastes, smells, sounds, and memories. She begins a negotiation between the US Government and a diplomatic contingent from Arenavirus, a virus which has just begun spreading a deadly mutation in Florida. If Vashti is successful, she and Arena will reach a diplomatic agreement; if not, the Arenavirus infection will continue to spread, and humans will have to race to try to find a vaccine or treatment. As she navigates the diplomatic discussions, Vashti is also trying to connect with her daughter Alma, who lives on the other side of the country in a technology-averse commune. By the time the negotiation ends, Vashti discovers that Arenavirus have learned some impressive and deadly tricks from their interactions with humans.

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Finn Wolfhard Guessed Idea for Stranger Things Spinoff, Though Duffer Brothers Claim “No One Else Knows!”

We’ve known since February that Stranger Things 5 will be our last season with the kids from Hawkins and their dealings with all things Upside Down. When show creators Ross and Matt Duffer announced the end of the series, however, they also teased that “there are still many more exciting stories to tell within the world of Stranger Things.”

It turns out that the Duffer Brothers do have a very specific and “very, very different” spinoff idea. And the only person who knows about it besides the two of them is Finn Wolfhard, who plays Mike Wheeler on the original show—but not for the reasons you might think.

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Five SF Books Featuring Flights Into Exile

History is full of stories about folks who dislike (or fear) their governments, have no way to alter said governments, and must relocate (or flee): Huguenots fleeing persecution in France, Irish fleeing famines that English colonialists ignored, and the Pilgrims fleeing Dutch religious tolerance all come to mind.

It’s no surprise, therefore, that numerous science fiction authors have written about politically-motivated migration.  Consider the five following works, representing only a small sample from a well-populated category…

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Of Gods and Queens: Kaikeyi by Vaishnavi Patel

The ancient Sanskrit epic the Ramayana is the story of Lord Rama’s quest to rescue his wife Sita from the evil clutches of the invincible demon king Ravana. Along with the Mahabharata, the Ramayana is a vital text in Hinduism, which means millions of people all over the world know it well, and would probably hold to high standard any story based on it. 

Luckily for debut novelist, Vaishnavi Patel, many western readers would have absolutely no idea of the source material at all, and will probably enjoy what will be welcomed as a fresh new voice offering a diverse non euro-centric ‘fantasy’. Her new book Kaikeyi is touted as a feminist retelling of the story of a vilified queen from the Ramayana, the second wife of Dasharath of Ayodhya, a woman known for having forced Rama into exile for fourteen years, and so setting him on his personal hero’s journey. It’s been compared the Madeline Miller’s startling Circe, which is probably an unfair comparison, even for a novel less confused and untethered as Kaikeyi

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A World Filled With Demons: Satanic Panic in The X-Files’ “Die Hand Die Verletzt”

Welcome to Close Reads! In this series, Leah Schnelbach and guest authors will dig into the tiny, weird moments of pop culture—from books to theme songs to viral internet hits—that have burrowed into our minds, found rent-stabilized apartments, started community gardens, and refused to be forced out by corporate interests. This time out, author Liz Harmer looks back at a particularly unsettling episode of The X-Files, and muses on religious trauma.

The X-Files feels formative to me, in the same’ way Star Trek: the Next Generation does, in the way that TV still could in those pre-streaming days. Shows just came on—you didn’t choose them; they were bestowed upon you. But even though The X-Files was often unfurling in the background of my neighbourhood and in my own house, “Die Hand Die Verletzt,” a standalone episode from season 2, is the only episode I can remember with any specificity.

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Series: Close Reads

Arrival Wonders What We’d Do If Life Came with Spoilers

At the risk of sounding self-indulgent, let me point out that film criticism is not born in a vacuum. Much as I try to keep myself “pure”—not reading reviews, not consulting PR synopses (at least before my first viewing), going all the way to tackling people who say they’ve already seen the film to keep them from revealing what they thought of it—I still go into a screening with expectations and prejudices. I carry my personal baggage wherever I go, and there’s a lifetime in every word I write—including, to radically paraphrase Mary McCarthy, “if,” “and,” and “but.”

Cognizance of where I’ve been steers where I’m going. If I feel that A Monster Calls (2016) is a grievously undervalued film, I can’t discount that that opinion may well have roots in a particularly devastating event in my own life. The question I’m obligated to confront is: Do I factor my personal biases into my reviews and temper my evaluation accordingly, or do I accept them as a part of the things that form me, and stand by my judgement? How much do I let cognizance of the past alter my present…and future?

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Reading The Wheel of Time: Nynaeve Makes a Discovery in Robert Jordan’s Lord of Chaos (Part 19)

Welcome back to Reading The Wheel of Time. I’ve missed the column, and it’s great to be back at it. It’s a big week too, because we have finally gotten to one of the things I’ve been waiting for since basically the beginning: Nynaeve has figured out how to Heal stilling and gentling.

Other than being able to reverse the madness brought about by the taint and/or remove the taint from saidin all together, healing gentling is the biggest game changer for how the One Power is understood in Rand’s time. Granted, most men who are gentled tend to die before too long, but if even a few of them could be restored that would make a big difference for Rand, especially someone like Logain who is both powerful and experienced in wielding saidin. And of course there is also Siuan and Leane, who are characters I care for very much and with whom we’ve spent a lot of time. We’ve watched how they both tried to find something else to sustain them in the loss of such an intrinsic piece of themselves, the way they tried to pretend they weren’t hurting, the way Siuan sacrificed everything to continue doing the work she and Moiraine began so long ago. It’s a really wonderful moment when Nynaeve is able to give that piece back to them, even though the whole thing hasn’t gone quite to plan.

But that’s getting ahead of ourselves. First, let’s do the recap.

[Squaring her shoulders, she went below to do battle with the Hall.]

Series: Reading The Wheel of Time

5 Horror Books That Will Forever Change How You Look at Everyday Objects

Something that I love about horror, no matter its subgenre, is when it can take something harmless and ordinary—like a rubber ball, or a button, or a VHS tape—and turn it into a symbol of terror. We see this phenomenon play out in horror movies all the time—you can barely mention the Final Destination franchise without someone bringing up that the second installment spooked them out of driving near lumber trucks forever—but what about books that shape how you interact with stuff that really shouldn’t be that scary?

Here are five horror novels that, at some point in my life, really made me rethink what sort of stuff I keep lying around my house.

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Series: Five Books About…

Thor’s Not Like the Other Gods in the Trailer for Thor: Love and Thunder

The latest trailer for Thor: Love and Thunder begins with Korg (director Taika Waititi) telling the story of the space viking, Thor Odinson (Chris Hemsworth), and while Korg’s story gets off track real quick, it is, for the brief moment it happens, perfection. Can Korg narrate the whole film? We need his take on the first appearance of Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale).

Gorr’s fine, though. Let’s talk about Jane.

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Andor Aims to Recontextualize Legacy Characters That Star Wars Fans (Think They) Know

The first season of Star Wars: Andor has yet to air, but showrunner Tony Gilroy is drawing back the curtain about where the series begins and what legacy characters may have some unexpected moments for long-time fans of the franchise.

A warning before I go on: below are very mild spoilers for the beginning of Andor. If you want to go into the show without knowing anything about the story or the characters, stop reading now!

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Peter S. Beagle Returns to the World of The Last Unicorn With The Way Home

First, Peter S. Beagle got the rights to his work back. Then news broke that new live-action and musical versions of The Last Unicorn are in the works. And now there’s something equally exciting on the way: new fiction set in the world of The Last Unicorn. Next spring, Ace Books will publish Beagle’s The Way Home, a collection containing two novellas set in the world of his beloved story.

Should you want to refresh your memory of that story, though, you can pick up an updated edition of The Last Unicorn, with the author’s preferred text and an introduction from Patrick Rothfuss. This edition—which also marks the first time the novel is available as an ebook—will be out this July.

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