Haunted by Childhoods: Three Ghost Stories

Thandie Newton and Kimberly Elise in the 1998 Beloved adaptation

I started this blog post in August 2014. It's been in the drafts section of my blogger account since then - out of sight, but never quite out of mind. It began as a simple Halloween-themed rambling for my little-read blog: a selection of literary ghost stories. But as I wrote about each piece, I realized something connected them all, and not just that they were all ghost stories about children. I needed to stop and think about what it was I was trying to say.

Then I procrastinated for two years and just finally finished this post!

Anyways, when I re-read Mary Shelley's Frankenstein earlier this year, I was struck by Victor Frankenstein's anti-climatic, almost comical reaction to the "birth" of his creation. He sees that his creation is alive, panics, and...leaves the room. To sleep. He literally just shuts down, leaves the room, and goes to bed. When his creation seeks him out in his bedroom, he goes outside and sleeps in the courtyard. Then he stays away from his apartment for the day, hoping the thing will leave.

Oh. Never mind, don't want you after all.
BTW, check out my dick windows.

Victor's utter fecklessness in the face of crisis amused me, but also hit at one of my deepest fears. I don't have kids, and don't know if I will ever have one or even want one. But sometimes I picture motherhood, and I am terrified I would react just like Victor. What if I went through labor, held my new baby in my arms, and felt...nothing? Or felt revulsion? What if the crying, screaming, pooping thing got to be too much for me and I just closed the door walked away (just like with this blog post!)?

Victor's panic and denial are understandable (I mean, the reality that one has bestowed life upon a giant mutant corpse hits pretty hard), and he feels extremely justified in his actions, but his "child," just as understandably, doesn't feel the same way. The creation is never able to get over the pain of that early abandonment.

And there's the crux of the conflict between parent and offspring. The adult, with their adult mind, adult body, and adult words, exercises a lot of control over the life of the child. Their choices - whether made out of desperation, love, selfishness, or necessity - shape the child's very existence. Because children are, by nature, helpless, things are done to them; they have little to no agency.

It's unavoidable for parents and other adults to take actions that impact a child's life. And it's tempting to hush up, smooth over, or outright deny unpleasant things that happened (as Carol Ann Duffy captures in her poem "We Remember Your Childhood Well"). But the adult can't control how the child feels about those actions and what the child will eventually do with those feelings. The creation abandoned in Germany returns as a monster in Switzerland. Ben Solo becomes Kylo Ren. Christina Crawford pens a memoir. Kelly Clarkson sings a beautiful patricide of a song.

I think this uncertainty and tension shows up in our ghost stories. Children are easy to subdue, lie to, or abandon, but they remember.

Beloved by Toni Morrison

In 2006 the New York Times independently asked 100 writers, editors, and critics to name the best American piece of fiction of the past quarter century, and Beloved was the top selection. It's not hard to understand why once you've read Morrison's masterpiece, which explores the shame that haunts a nation and the skeletons hidden in individuals' closets. Inspired by the true story of an enslaved woman who escaped the South and later killed her daughter rather than return the girl to slavery, Beloved deals with what lead to that choice and its repercussions.

It's impossible not to sympathize with Sethe. As a slave, Sethe is raped and tortured, and later separated from her husband. Despite all this, she still manages the Herculean effort to get her four children to freedom in the North. When men arrive to bring Sethe and her children back to slavery, back to the place where she and her loved ones were brutalized, she does the most merciful thing she can think of: she attempts to kill her children before they can be captured.

Sethe with her returned daughter in the 1998 adaptation

She only succeeds in killing one: a toddler girl posthumously called Beloved. The slavers abandon their pursuit, and a local lawyer takes pity on Sethe and gets her released from prison. But her life, of course, can never be the same. Her two oldest children now fear her, and soon flee from home. The house seems haunted.

And then years after the awful event, the ghost of the child returns with the body of the young woman she would be but the psyche of the toddler she was. Her feelings about Sethe are complex. She's desperate for love and affection from her mother, but she's also furious about her murder, and embarks on a series of escalating acts of revenge. There's no reasoning with her why what Sethe did what she did and that the real enemy is slavery itself - her mother killed her, and she's hurt and angry.

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

This novella by Henry James is a classic. A group of vacationers are staying at a remote country estate, and tell ghost stories to each other. One captures the audience's attention more than the others.

The story starts with a governess assigned a strange job: look after two children in an isolated mansion, and no matter what, do not contact the children's uncle, who is their legal guardian. At first everything seems fine (as it always does). The little girl, Flora, is sweet, and her brother, Miles, who is away at school, is assured to be the same. Mrs. Grose, the housekeeper, is kindly. The grounds are beautiful.

But then comes the news that Miles has been expelled from school for being "an injury" to the others. Mrs. Grose seems horrified and defensive, but not necessarily surprised. When the governess starts to see what she believes to be ghosts, she becomes convinced that they are the children's previous caretakers, Peter Quint and Miss Jessel. Mrs. Grose reveals the two had unsavory dealings with Miles and Flora. While what exactly happened isn't spelled out, sexual abuse is heavily implied ("Quint was much too free." "Too free with my boy?" "Too free with everyone!" / "He did what he wished." "With her?" "With them all.").

From The Innocents, a 1961 adaptation

None of the adults at the house spoke out during Quint and Jessel's tenure, and no one dared tell the uncle about it. The new governess now knows there were and are problems, but whether she's equipped to deal with those problems is another matter. As the children act out in increasingly alarming ways, she becomes convinced that the ghosts of Quint and Jessel are trying to possess them, and she focuses her energies on protecting the children from these evil spirits. Whether or not the ghosts are real, it's clear the children have been failed by the adults in their lives.

"The Bees" by Dan Chaon

In the Dan Chaon short story "The Bees," Gene has an ideal life. He lives with his wife, Karen, and their young son, Frankie, in the Cleveland suburbs. However, their household is suddenly plagued by a strange phenomenon: Frankie repeatedly screams in the middle of the night, waking his parents but not himself, and without an accompanying nightmare. Their pediatrician can find nothing wrong. The screaming episodes leave Gene feeling increasingly on edge, and he starts experiencing a buzzing sensation, like the sound of bees. He wonders if his secret past is playing a part in the disturbances.

Many years previously, an alcoholic Gene married his pregnant girlfriend, Mandy, when they were nineteen. He made a few attempts at being a father to their son, DJ, but could be cruel and short-tempered. He mostly saw DJ as an adversary, and abused both him and Mandy. After giving five-year-old DJ a black eye, he took off and moved far away - drunkenly crashing his car in process.

Gene eventually sobered up, but by then was unable to track down Mandy and DJ to apologize and provide financial support. So he moved on, and until the screaming incidents with Frankie, he has mostly managed to put his firstborn son out of his mind. As the screams and sound of bees continue, Gene begins to be haunted by visions of DJ dying in a fire. Is his eldest really dead...and even if he is, would that stop his desire for revenge?

"The Bees" was first published in McSweeney's #10, which was then republished as McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales. You can read the beginning here.

Illustration for "The Bees" by Howard Chaykin

Image Info:

Beloved header image: Movie Stills DB

Frankenstein illustration with dick windows: Theodore Von Holt engraving for 1831 edition

Sethe and Beloved: Cineplex (Full disclosure: I have never been able to bring myself to watch the film due to certain scenes, but Matty Steinfeld has a passionate and informative defense of the film here)

Miles being creepy: The Ghost Central

Howard Chaykin illustration: from McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales

Miodobranie 2016

Miodobranie Kurpiowskie to impreza, która odbyła się po raz 39 w miniony weekend w Myszyńcu i Wykrocie. 
W sobotę odbyła się Miodobraniowa Noc Kabaretowa, natomiast w niedzielę główne uroczystości: msza święta w Bazylice w Myszyńcu, a wyjątkowa ponieważ z elementami gwary, przejazd furmanek do Kurpiowskiej Krainy w Wykrocie, a następnie widowiska i prezentacje zespołów folklorystycznych. Gwiazdą tegorocznego Miodobrania był Mrozu.

A na poniższych zdjęciach:
Kurpiowska Kraina i "Podbzieranie niodu na Kurpsiach" oraz tańce.

Ludzi było mnóstwo, miejsca sporo, ale było wąsko i niekiedy ciasno. Nie zagospodarowano tej przestrzeni odpowiednio, ale to dopiero trzeci raz, gdy impreza jest organizowana w nowym miejscu, a ono samo też jeszcze jest niedokończone. Sama ostatni raz byłam na Miodobraniu jeszcze w podstawówce.
Na stoiskach można było kupić wszystko. Zaczynając od oczywistości, czyli miodu, którego stoiska tworzyły alejkę, poprzez stragany twórców ludowych - moje ulubione - po stoiska piekarń, ubrań, z jedzeniem, lodami, przyborami kuchennymi, zabawkami, biżuterią, aż do takich typowo odpustowych tandet. Ale wszystko razem pasowało i tworzyło sympatyczną atmosferę.

Nie byłam ani w sobotę na kabaretach, ani w niedzielę na gwieździe wieczoru, a i tak bawiłam się świetnie. Na Miodobranie zjeżdżają tysiące osób z różnych stron Polski. Jeśli chcecie doczytać o historii imprezy zapraszam na stronę Regionalnego Centrum Kultury Kurpiowskiej - tu.

Pozdrawiam, M

Wyznania blogerki, albo 4 urodziny bloga

Przyjęło się informować czytelników, ile lat blog, którego czytają ma. Podobnie jak o ilości postów - wszystkie 100, 200, 500. Ludzie lubią świętować i ja także będę - Mirabell kończy 4 lata!

Od zeszłego roku zmieniło się niewiele więc nie będę się powtarzać. Zamiast tego zostawiam to:

Czasami myślę, że skoro piszę już 4 lata a obserwatorów mam tylko 104 to powinnam skończyć pisać, bo i tak nikt tego nie czyta. 

Czasami nie wierzę, że liczba obserwatorów przekroczyła 100.

Czasami nie wierzę, że pod postami pojawiają się jednak komentarze.

Czasami myślę, że odkryłam magiczną formułę posta, która sprawia, że ilość wejść przekracza dopuszczalne normy. A potem, gdy przygotuję podobny materiał, nie ma tego efektu.

Czasami zaskakuje mnie, jakie posty i na jakie tematy wzbudzają największe zainteresowanie.

Czasami bardziej martwię się tym, czym spowodowana jest nagła duża liczba wejść niż tym, czym mogłaby być spowodowana mała. 

Czasami nie wierzę, że mam stronę bloga na facebooku.

Czasami myślę, że powinnam bardziej zadbać o spójność bloga, jego wygląd i przestać ozdabiać posty gifami.

Czasami nie wierzę, że posty o studiach przyniosły zaplanowany skutek - gdy zbliżał się czas wyboru kierunków kilka osób napisało do mnie w sprawie ZIA. 

Czasami zapominam, że piszę 4 lata i wiem o czym będę pisała w grudniu i styczniu.

Czasami nie wierzę, że postów opublikowanych jest 663, a na publikację czeka zwykle około 20, do tego 10 pomysłów jest w trakcie realizacji.

Czasami jestem wkurzona na małą liczbę komentarzy i wyświetleń.

Czasami jestem wkurzona, bo nie robię nic, aby było ich więcej.

Czasami jestem wkurzona, bo coś robię i nie przynosi to efektów. 

Czasami nie wierzę, że ustawiłam bloga jako pracę na prywatnym facebooku.


Najdziwniejsze w pisaniu bloga jest, to że osób, które czytały go od samego początku, gdy jeszcze nazywał się "Kto walczy" już nie ma. Oczywiście nie umarły, wątpię czy ktoś mógł tak pomyśleć, ale lepiej to wyjaśnić,  najczęściej same już blogów nie piszą. Byłam świadkiem zawieszania i kończenia blogowej przygody przez bardzo dużą grupę osób. Niekiedy było to prawie jak tracenie przyjaciół, bo do internetowych osób przywiązuję się dużo szybciej niż do tych w rzeczywistości.  

Jednocześnie, oczywiście pojawiały się nowe osoby i blogi (pozdrowienia dla Agaty, Sophie, addicted to books, sue, Małgorzaty i Indywidualnego) i jeszcze nowsze (pozdrowienia dla Moon light i Pionka) oraz najnowszych odkrytych głównie dzięki serii Rok z anime (Matylda B. i Kamila B. oraz Patrycja i Mirella). Jest także kilka osób, które pojawiają się, komentują czasami częściej, czasami rzadziej, ale są, doceniam i jestem wdzięczna.

W zeszłym roku na urodziny założyłam stronę bloga na facebooku (słowo fanpage mi nie pasuje), a w tym będzie konkurs! Malutki, bo trochę na próbę. Do wygrania 4 pocztówki z Frankfurtu, o ile zgłosi się co najmniej 10 osób, jeśli mniej, to do wygrania będą 2. O ile w ogóle ktoś się zgłosi.  Zadanie konkursowe: wybierz jeden post z Mirabell z tego roku, który uważasz za najlepszy i napisz dlaczego. Wybiorę najciekawsze uzasadnienie. Może być naprawdę krótkie, jedno zdanie wystarczy. Plus warunkiem koniecznym jest polubienie facebooka bloga. Konkurs trwa od dziś do 21 września. 

1. Organizatorem konkursu jest właścicielka bloga mira-bell.blogspot.com
2. Konkurs trwa od dziś (28 sierpnia) do 21 września. Wyniki będą 22 września, a zwycięzcę ogłoszę na dole tego posta oraz na facebooku.
3. Nagrodą są pocztówki. Jeśli zgłosi się więcej niż 10 osób, wybranych zostanie 4 zwycięzców, jeśli mniej - dwóch.
4. Warunki uczestnictwa:
a) odpowiedź na zadanie konkursowe w komentarzu pod postem (wybierz jeden post z Mirabell z tego roku, który uważasz za najlepszy i napisz dlaczego)
b) polubienie strony bloga na facebooku
c) w komentarzu należy także napisać adres e-mail
5. Ewentualne reklamacje można składać na mirabelka612@gmail.com

Mam nadzieję, że regulamin jest dobry. Powodzenia! I naprawdę mam nadzieję, że ktoś się zgłosi.


"Dantalian no Shoka" & "Divine Gate"

Wśród niezliczonej ilości anime pojawiają się lepsze i gorsze tytuły. Nie jest to nic zaskakującego, tak działa każdy wytwór kultury. Z tym, że nawet wśród tych gorszych może być coś ciekawego. Takie momentami jest pierwsze opisywane anime, natomiast dla drugiego nie ma żadnej nadziei. 

"Dantalian no Shoka"
Młody Lord Hugh Anthony Disward po śmierci swojego dziadka dostaje w spadku podniszczoną rezydencję i zostaje mu powierzona opieka nad niejaką Dalianą, zwaną również czarną księżniczką. Okazuje się, że jego dziad był wielkim kolekcjonerem książek: zdarzyło się nawet, że wydał ponad połowę majątku na jeden egzemplarz. Odkrywa również, że owa Daliana jest "światem zamkniętym w tykwie", o którym słyszał w opowieściach, jednym słowem: jest ona biblioteką, w której zebranych jest 900.666 nawiedzonych ksiąg, które według niej samej nigdy nie powinny ujrzeć światła dziennego. Jeśli człowiek przeczyta daną księgę i będzie w stanie ją zrozumieć, dostanie we władanie jakąś nadnaturalną zdolność, np. przywołanie stwora, kontrolę nad ludzkim umysłem, moc leczenia, wiedzę o wszystkim itp. Hugh na początku nie wierzy w słowa czarnej księżniczki o nawiedzonych księgach i wielkim księgozbiorze Dantalian, który jest w niej zawarty, jednak po tym, jak zostaje zaproszony na rozmowę przez wiecznego wroga jego dziadka, odkrywa, że wszyscy obecni w - jeszcze przed chwilą pięknym - domostwie są martwi, a sam budynek został doszczętnie zniszczony. Ponadto, młodzieniec zostaje zaatakowany przez niestworzone istoty, które po śmierci zamieniają się w proch. Podczas starcia z pewną kreaturą Anthony i jego nowo poznana towarzyszka wpadają w pułapkę, z której jedynym wyjściem jest zawarcie kontraktu, który na zawsze zmieni życie obojga. (shinden.pl)

To anime byłoby cudowne gdyby miało fabułę i sens, niestety i jednego, i drugiego w nim brakuje. Nie przeszkadza to jednak w oglądaniu. Przeszkadza to, że tytuł wygląda tylko jak reklamówka mangi i to niestety marna, bo, no właśnie, brak w niej fabuły. Epizody to szukanie, albo raczej znajdowanie, Nawiedzonych Ksiąg i odzyskiwanie ich, najczęściej z dużym uszczerbkiem dla osoby, która była w jej posiadaniu. 

Pomimo braku głębszego sensu, to ogląda się bardzo dobrze, szczególnie jeśli ktoś lubi klimaty Anglii początku XX wieku, hrabiów, będących byłymi pilotami, książki i trochę magii. Chyba nie muszę pisać, że dla mnie brzmi to prawie jak opis idealnego anime. Byłam tylko odrobinę rozczarowana, że w anime, w którym walczy się używając książek, w mniej i bardziej dosłownym znaczeniu (jeden bohater ma broń, której paliwem są książki) nie było odniesienia do Szekspira. 

Dalian jest małym, gadatliwym i pyskatym stworzeniem, natomiast Huey, jak przystało na arystokratę, jest szlachetny do szpiku kości, co objawia się głównie w znoszeniu zachowań Dalian. Która z kolei tak naprawdę, pomimo narzekań, cieszy się, że może szukać ksiąg z Diswardem. To miła parka, całkiem przyjemnie się ich ogląda. A anime należy do lekkich tytułów, a jeżeli klimat jest wasz to warto zahaczyć. Warto dodać też, że jest całkiem ładne i ma absolutnie najpiękniejsze karty przejścia połowy jakie widziałam - to te pierwsze obrazki.

Divine Gate 
Zaczęłam oglądać to anime, bo brat powiedział, że pojawia się w nim Szekspir i gdyby nie to, na pewno bym po nie nie sięgnęła. I nie pomyliłabym się w osądzie, bo to nie jest dobre anime.

 Akane miał największy potencjał, ale nie został wykorzystany.

Gdy otworzyła się brama między niebem, światem zmarłych a ziemią, cały glob zanurzył się w chaosie. Aby opanować sytuację, zostaje powołana rada światowa, która osiąga spektakularny sukces i tym samym porządek zostaje przywrócony. Po latach tytułowa "boska brama" staje się tylko miejską legendą, w którą wierzą nieliczni. W tych okolicznościach zostali zebrani chłopcy i dziewczęta, których rada uznała za godnych podjęcia wyzwania, jakim jest dotarcie do portalu. Każdy z naszych bohaterów ma do osiągnięcia swój własny cel, który bez pomocy bramy byłby niemożliwy do zrealizowania. W końcu mawiają, że ten, kto dotrze do boskiego przejścia, będzie mógł poustawiać świat po swojemu. To krzyżuje losy szóstki protagonistów Divine Gate. (shinden.pl)

Teoretycznie najważniejszym bohaterem z najbardziej mroczną przeszłością jest Aoto. W praktyce widzowie wszystkiego domyślają się po 3-4 odcinkach.

Po pierwsze powstało na podstawie gry i prawdopodobnie w celu jej reklamowania. A po drugie, pomimo że powstało na podstawie gry, nic się tam nie dzieje i tak przegadanego anime akcji ze świecą szukać. Nieco to paradoksalne, ale prawdziwe. Do tego odpowiada za nie studio Pierrot (będące, z tego co zdążyłam zauważyć, w świecie anime uznawane za synonim złego studia) i twórcy bardzo głęboko do serca wzięli sobie fakt, że to była gra i niestety tak właśnie niekiedy wygląda. Co daje naprawdę straszny efekt scenek przejściowych z niezbyt dobrych gier. Paskudne walki, a na dodatek osoby odpowiedzialne za ten element, nie mogły się zdecydować, czy wszystkie, czy tylko niektóre, będą tak wyglądać. Potwornie nierówny tytuł pod względem wyglądu, animacji i całej estetycznej otoczki.

Chciałabym napisać, że postaci nadrabiają brak wizualne, ale niestety nie mogę. Zamiast charakteru mają historie z przeszłości i moce. Przez pierwsze 6 odcinków wałęsają się po ekranie i świecie przedstawionym bez większego sensu, potem nie wiadomo skąd dzieje się COŚ i anime prawie zyskuje fabułę. Ale spokojnie tylko się tak wydaje, dalej nie za bardzo wiadomo, o co w tym wszystkim chodzi. Chociaż w przypadku tego anime wydaje się celem zabicie jak największej liczby postaci pobocznych w jak najbardziej dramatycznych okolicznościach. A ostatni odcinek bardzo dobitnie udowadnia, że tytuł nie ma ani sensu, ani potrzeby istnienia. To jest takie złe anime. Co gorsza zakończenie zostawia ewentualną furtkę na kolejny sezon, ale patrząc po ocenach i popularności na szczęście się go nie doczekamy.

Jedna rzecz mi się jednak podoba: faktycznie był Szekspir, ale co lepsze nie tylko on. Pojawił się Loki w anturażu Jokera, inni nordyccy bogowie - niestety jako zbiorowość, Mikołaj, motyw króla Artura i rycerzy okrągłego stołu, a także Dorotka i Oz. Drugi plan wypada dużo ciekawiej niż pierwszy, nawet jeśli to prawie nie pełnoprawne postaci, a bardziej symbole.

Pozdrawiam, M

REVIEW: The Mysterious Lady Law (e-novella) by Robert Appleton

The Mysterious Lady Law is a steampunk thriller. It's published by Carina Press and is 31,600 words long.

No read-alikes this time, because I don't feel like it. Also, the very end of my review includes some spoilers.


This takes place in late 19th century London. Julia works as a waitress and dancer on an airship, while Georgina, her sister, cleans houses. Julia is utterly shocked to come home one evening and find her sister dead. Although Constable Aloysius (Al) Grant gives her as many updates on the case as he's able, there isn't much for him to say. The police keep hitting dead ends.

Just when it looks like Georgy's killer will go free, Lady Harriet Law shows up on Julia's doorstep and offers to take the case pro bono. Julia accepts the offer. After all, Lady Law has a phenomenal success rate, having solved 100% of her 650 cases. It's that same success rate that, in part, inspires Grant's distrust. How does Lady Law come to her conclusions? Why did she offer her services to Julia in particular? And how does the disappearance of Josh, the young assistant of the famed explorer Horace Holly, figure into all of this?

Lady Law was presented as a Holmesian sort of character, except that her one on-page instance of making deductions in a manner similar to Holmes was never closely examined. She simply told Julia “This is what I can conclude about that person way over there, based on this, this, and this detail” and then expected Julia to accept what she said as fact. Julia, to her credit, knew that Lady Law hadn't proved anything, but she decided to keep working with the woman anyway because she didn't have any other options if she wanted to find her sister's killer.

Appleton laid out a lot of reasons for readers to be suspicious of Lady Law. In addition to her lack of proven on-page deductions, no one had ever been able to replicate her leaps of logic, even though her final results always turned out to be correct. Then there was her ridiculous success rate. Absolutely no one is that successful that often. Clearly there was something fishy going on. This being a steampunk story, there seemed to be a couple likely explanations. I rejected one of them early on, and the other one turned out to be Lady Law's secret. So that was kind of disappointing. I had hoped that Appleton would manage to throw something at me that I hadn't even considered.

Because I didn't bother to check the how the publisher had tagged it, I had sort of expected there to be more romance. Instead I got Al Grant acting a bit standoffish towards Julia during their first date, until he suddenly wasn't. It was a bit weird, although I was grateful Appleton didn't push them into bed. Still, it was primarily an okay story. The chase scene in the airship was a bit hard to follow, but I loved the chase scene through the giant mechanical solar system.

The problem was the ending. First, what was the point of everybody coming across the villain while they were engaged in an enthusiastic foursome, complete with a bit of bondage? The person's sexual preferences weren't important to the story at all, so it just gave everyone something to blush over and be shocked by. Second, what the hell was with that ending? How was that a good outcome? “Oh, we'll put this person in prison for doing X, but they can get early parole if they teach a bunch of other people to also do X.” Brilliant. And how do Julia and the rest deal with it all? By leaving everything behind and going to Africa. Where in Africa? I'm going to guess Namibia based on prior mentions in the story and some quick googling of “Ovambo.” Still, would it have killed the author to have mentioned Namibia even once in the epilogue? Instead it was just Africa, over and over. Finally, I wish Appleton had had the good grace to leave the name “Holmes” out of the ending. I assumed he meant Sherlock, and I hated the idea of Sherlock Holmes becoming the protege of a morally bankrupt fake detective like Lady Law.

REVIEW: The Coelura (book) by Anne McCaffrey, illustrated by Ned Dameron

The Coelura is sci-fi with strong romantic elements. It was originally published in 1983.

No read-alikes for this one, sorry.


Caissa is the body-heir of Baythan, an exceptional hunter and all-around perfect specimen of manhood (no really – much is made of his excellent genetic pattern). Caissa is now old enough that she should start considering bearing her own body-heir, but she isn't happy with the man her father suggests she at least establish a temporary heir-contract with. She has a feeling that his recommendation is tied to an undisclosed clause in his heir-contract with her womb-mother, the haughty and vain High Lady Cinna.

Out of loyalty to her father, Caissa agrees to at least meet the man he recommended, but the meeting leaves her feeling so insulted that she decides to leave the city for a bit to blow off some steam. Unfortunately, she didn't bother to check her fuel first and ends up briefly stranded in the ruins of Yellow Triad City. It's there that she meets a mysterious man named Murell and learns more about coelura, beings able to spin beautiful living cloth that responds to its wearer's mood.

This was a reread. For some reason, my vague memories of it painted it as a sci-fi retelling of Cinderella. It definitely wasn't, and even “sci-fi fairy tale” doesn't seem appropriate. It was just a short, simple sci-fi story that happened to have magic cloth and instalove.

Well, nearly instalove. Caissa and Murell were wary of each other, at first. But then they talked, Murell learned that Caissa wasn't greedy for coelura cloth the way most women he knew would be, and Murell's outfit and couch (stone covered in coelura cloth) nudged them together. Supposedly they spent a lot of time talking in between bouts of (off-page) sex, but readers weren't shown any of that. After that, Caissa pined after Murell and found herself torn between her desire to be a dutiful daughter and her desire to protect the coelura alongside Murell.

It's tough to say whether I guessed Murell's identity and idea about how to protect the coelura because of my vague memories about the book or because it was just that obvious. There was one big clue that Caissa noted but misinterpreted, and, honestly, the big revelation was a fairly standard one. All in all, the story was pretty simple – most of the book was devoted to setting the stage and trying to explain how the world worked. Body-heirs, the importance of physical and genetic perfection (something that had the potential to become incredibly gross if more time had been spent on it), heir-contracts, etc. I found it a little amusing that McCaffrey managed to work a romantic relationship into a story set in a world that was practically designed to include as little romance as possible. Even friendships seemed to be few and far between. Caissa's closest confidante was Trin, the elderly woman responsible for dressing her.

This was a so-so read, not what I'd recommend to someone just getting started with McCaffrey's works. However, the reason it stuck in my mind for so many years wasn't because of the story, but rather because of its illustrations. They're amazing. Granted, the hair styles tend to be odd – I swear, Caissa often looks like she hacked at the top of her head with a knife – but the detail and the artist's decision to take some of the imagery literally means these illustrations are still well worth checking out. My favorites are the ones depicting the tension and power imbalance in Baythan and Cinna's relationship. And sure, Lady Cinna is vain and horrible, but her outfits and hair look absolutely wonderful.

REVIEW: The Stinky Cheese Caper and Other Cases from the ZPD Files (book) by Greg Trine, illustrated by Cory Loftis

Yes, I have read another Zootopia book intended for children in an effort to get a new Zootopia fix. One of these days I'll break down and dive into the fanfic.

After reading the junior novelization, I wasn't expecting much from this. The cover made it sound like it would be composed of four standalone stories (“Four stories in one!”). Since it was only 75 pages long, I figured those stories would have to be extremely simple.

In “The Stinky Cheese Caper,” Judy and Nick investigate the theft of a very expensive and very stinky cheese. In “There's Dirt in Your Eye,” Judy and Nick investigate a report of someone dumping dirt of the Old Outback Bridge. The dirt landed on a boatload of tourists and could have hurt someone. In “No Noise Is Good Noise,” Judy and Nick investigate reports of incredibly loud and horrible music coming from a cafe. All the local shopkeepers feel it's hurting their businesses. Finally, in “The Dig's Up,” Judy and Nick investigate a prison break.

This book takes place several months after the end of the movie. Judy and Nick are partners, assigned mostly to traffic duty or cases that none of the other cops want to work on. Astute readers will guess that the four stories are probably related after finishing the first one. Readers who aren't able to figure out that the stories are connected by the beginning of the second one will probably not enjoy this book because, individually and taken at face value, most of these mysteries are pretty dull.

Like I said, I started this book on the assumption that the stories weren't connected. All the unused details in the first story were my first clue that there was something bigger going on. Kangaroos and wallabies were protesting the construction of a new Bridge to Everywhere because it was a “Bridge to Everywhere But Outback Island.” The identity of the cheese thief was another link to Outback Island, but his theft supposedly had nothing to do with the bridge. Also, he supposedly tossed the stinky cheese into the jail on a whim. Surely there was more to it than that? And was the amusement park's new Wind Tunnel ride important? (As far as the last question went, the answer was “no.”)

The second mystery's resolution was ridiculously mundane, to the point where, if it hadn't been obvious that there was something else going on, it wouldn't have been worth including. By the third story, I was wondering where Judy and Nick's brains had gone. Nick, at least, had moments when he wondered about the sudden spate of Outback Island-related cases. Judy, on the other hand, seemed determined to take all the cases at face value, and even missed an enormous clue in a TV news report. I'm sure this was done to keep the story simpler for young readers, but Movie Judy and Nick would have noticed and started looking into the connections sooner than Book Judy and Nick.

As far as the larger story went, I felt a bit torn. The book's overall message was that, although the Outback Island residents had an excellent point, they'd gone about it the wrong way. The problem: the “better” solution was very simplistic (yes, I know this is a kid's book, but still) and might not have even been possible without the connections that the characters made due to everybody doing things the “wrong” way first.

All in all, I enjoyed this more than the junior novelization. The individual mysteries weren't great, and Nick and Judy weren't as sharp as they should have been, but the larger story kept my attention. I enjoyed seeing how everything fit together. I also liked getting to learn about a new area of Zootopia (the revelation that platypuses exist in the Zootopia universe leaves me with all kinds of questions), and seeing Judy and Nick together as partners was fun. I missed the personal and relationship details that the movie was riddled with – this book was entirely focused on the plot, with only a brief mention of Nick visiting an unnamed friend in the jail –  but there were still several nice moments. I liked the bit where Judy corrected the warden, who thought that beaver and platypus tails looked the same, and Nick's excitement about getting to use their siren was cute. Judy seemed to be a little bit stun gun happy, though, pulling it out at least twice in the course of the book.


Several black-and-white illustrations in the same style as the cover. Very different from the movie's style, but I liked them all the same. And, ooh, Cory Loftis' Tumblr has some fun stuff. Here's my favorite. "Really Jordan basketball grip her face." (Poor Assistant Mayor Bellwether.) "Ghost of Secretariat appears suddenly."

REVIEW: Another Episode S/0 (book and manga) novel by Yukito Ayatsuji, manga by Hiro Kiyohara, translation by Karen McGillicuddy

Another Episode S/0 consists of a short supernatural mystery novel (novella?) and a manga. It's published by Yen On.


I was a little wary of this book. I've read or watched every version of Another that's officially been made available in English, starting with the anime, then the original novel, and finally the manga. I noticed I was burning out on the story by the time I got to the manga. Could a sequel novel work for me? Would it be fresh and new enough?

First, I should mention that this book actually collects two different works: Another Episode S, a lengthy story that takes place during the events of Another but isn't directly related to the curse affecting North Yomi's third-year Class 3, and Another Episode 0, a short prequel manga starring Reiko, Koichi's aunt. I'll write about them separately, but my final verdict is that this had some interesting moments but was largely a disappointment.

Warning: Do NOT read this review if you haven't read or watched Another. My review will include major spoilers for that work.

Another Episode S:

It's been a while since I last read Another, but I think this takes place shortly after third-year Class 3's first death. It's presented as a story Mei tells Koichi after they've survived the events of Another. Mei heard that a man she knew, 25-year-old Teruya Sakaki, had once been in North Yomi's third-year Class 3 during an “on” year, so she wanted to talk to him to find out more about the curse. However, by that point he had apparently died and become a ghost.

The story is told from Teruya's POV, as he tries to figure out how and why he died and why his sister and her husband have lied to everyone and told them that he's gone on a trip. He's convinced that, if he can just find his body, everything will be made clear to him. Unfortunately, all he has to guide him are vague and disquieting snatches of memory. Although his memories are too wispy and jumbled to help Mei in her search for an end to the curse, she agrees to help him find his body.

I've read Ayatsuji's The Decagon House Murders. I know he's capable of writing mysteries that don't resort to cheating, but you wouldn't know it from his Another novels. Another cheated by having the POV character simply not think about certain important details. Another Episode S cheated by bending over backwards to choose an unreliable narrator. Considering that Mei was telling this story to Koichi, it really should have been told from Mei's POV, but that would have ruined all of the story's biggest surprises.

Like Another, Another Episode S was incredibly repetitive. Some of the repetition made sense: Teruya was very confused by and bothered about his death and had nothing else to do but obsess about the few things he could still remember. Still, it got a bit old. He'd tell readers something, and then spend the next three or so pages either telling readers the same thing in different ways or reassuring readers that he really meant what he was saying (for example, pages and pages on his death and his reappearance in the living world as a ghost). Also, as in Another, there were lots of seemingly random bolded words and phrases. I could understand why "appear" was bolded, but some of the other choices made no sense to me.

Despite all that bloat, this was a quick read. Unfortunately, the revelations weren't that great. The events surrounding Teruya's death weren't that hard to figure out. Neither was the reason his sister and her husband did what they did, although, I have to say, it was incredibly stupid on their part. You'd think one of them would have realized they were actually making things worse for themselves in the long run. The story's biggest surprise was Teruya himself, but, like I said, I considered that cheating on Ayatsuji's part. I think he might have recognized that, too, because he spent 20 pages, through Koichi, laying out and explaining all the various details that showed why things turned out the way they did. About the only thing that wasn't part of the final analysis was the odd way Teruya tended to refer himself. While I did think that was a clever clue, I was still annoyed at the decisions Ayatsuji made for this story. Was this really the best he could do?

Another Episode 0:

This very short manga shows Reiko at her older sister's shrine, telling her that Koichi is about to come stay with the family for a while – this part takes place just before the beginning of Another. Then a flashback shows Reiko during her own time in North Yomi third-year Class 3, when she first learned about the curse and watched people she knew die.

Oh, this manga. Not much happens, but there's so much emotion packed into such a small number of pages.

You absolutely need to have read or watched some version of Another for it to have the proper impact, because the writer (in this case, Hiro Kiyohara) doesn't bother to explain why these moments are important in the larger scheme of things.

Those who are familiar with the series know that Reiko was the casualty, the extra person, during Koichi's time in North Yomi third-year Class 3. Although she managed to survive her own “on” year, her beloved older sister was one of the ones who died, and Reiko herself died in a later “on” year (I believe she was a teacher then?).

Yomiyama is the worst place to live. Even the people who survive the curse end up scarred by it, like Teruya. And those who are killed by it might have to go through it again in the future, like Reiko. And dang it, Reiko loved Koichi so much, and yet the curse wouldn't even allow him to remember her after she died a second time.

  • Two full-color illustrations - three, if you count the one on the inside of the cover, although that's just the uncropped version of one of the two color illustrations included in the book.
  • Character sketches, cover roughs, the line drawings for several of the manga covers, and a few storyboards.
  • Afterwords by both Yukito Ayatsuji and Hiro Kiyohara.
Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Remember Me (book) by Christopher Pike - Another novel in which a ghost tries to solve the mystery of their own death. I've written about this book
  • When They Cry - Higurashi (manga) by Seventh Expansion and various artists; When They Cry - Higurashi (anime TV series) - Another mystery/horror series. This one tries to mess with your head, making you think you're watching a sickeningly sweet harem series, up until you get to the point where the cute girls start killing people. I haven't read or watched the whole thing, but I've heard there are "solving your own murder" aspects. I've written about the first volume of the manga.
  • Between (book) by Jessica Warman - I haven't read this. I added it to this list because it's a YA book starring a ghostly heroine who's trying to figure out how she died.
  • Dead Like Me (live action TV series) - The heroine of this TV series, George, dies when she is hit by a flaming toilet seat from outer space. After her death, she learns she is now a grim reaper. This might work for people who are interested in more stories about death and how people (both the dead and those left behind) cope during the aftermath.

REVIEW: Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore (audiobook) by Robin Sloan, narrated by Ari Fliakos

This is another one of those that I should have reviewed sooner after finishing it. It's been a couple weeks, and my memories are fuzzier. Plus, I took a break while listening to the book, so my listening experience was pretty stretched out.

So, what can I say about the story without revealing too much? Clay, desperate for work after losing his Web design job, stumbles across a little place called Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore. It's in a seedy location (next to a strip club), there don't seem to be many customers, and the store itself is a little strange, but Clay needs the money. Besides, he's kind of intrigued. Most of the store's visitors never actually seem to buy anything, but rather check out mysterious volumes from a collection Clay is specifically told not to browse or otherwise look at too closely.

Clay's curiosity gets the better of him, and he starts to investigate. Slowly, at first, making a three-dimensional model of the store in order in order to see if there's a pattern to the checkouts. But then he involves other people and begins to dig more deeply.

I loved this book, at first. The mystery of the bookstore fascinated me. I wanted to know who the store's regulars were, why they were checking out those books, and what, in general, was going on. The appeal that the mystery had for me reminded me a lot of Peter Clines' 14, although this book didn't have 14's Lovecraftian undertones. The fact that everything was tied to books was just icing on the cake.

The introduction of Kat Potente to the story made me realize I wasn't quite the kind of nerd this book was written for, however. To put it bluntly, I'm female. I don't think I've ever felt the need to use “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” in a review before, but that was utterly and completely what Kat was. Clay set up a super-specific ad designed to attract a very specific kind of person to the store, and Kat appeared. She was, of course, beautiful, but in an adorably flawed way. Literally everything about her was adorable and wonderful, from the way she blushed to her excitement over catching a glimpse of Clay's model of the store. Not only that, but she happened to be a Google employee, which turned out to be enormously useful for Clay's investigation. I couldn't figure out why Clay thought she was great and yet thought of his equally perfect (in a different way) apartment mate as an android ("I don't mean that in a bad way!").

The thing that got me was that there were opportunities for Clay to get to know Kat as a fully-fleshed out person, beyond his “OMG she's adorable and wonderful and also wants to have sex with me” initial reaction. She was almost creepily devoted to Google, something I thought would put a wedge between her and Clay but somehow never did, at least not for long. She had a deep obsession with Google Forever, a section of Google interested in life extension and immortality. Her reaction to the idea of achieving immortality was so intense that I figured there had to be a story there...except Clay never asked her. It bothered me that, as far as Clay was concerned, Kat was adorableness and Google connections, nothing else. A rift developed between them later on in the book, but rather than either one of them realizing that they didn't really fit (she was too bound up in Google, he was intimidated by how smart and driven everyone she knew seemed to be, etc.) or even just talking their issues through, they just magically got back together again for no real reason.

The Google stuff was interesting, at first, but I eventually got a little annoyed with it. And also creeped out by it. I don't know if it was intentional, but Sloan did a great job of making Google seem, at best, like its own separate society and, at worst, a bit like a cult. And the characters trusted Google so much. I winced every time Clay or Kat took something that was supposed to be a secret to Google to scan or analyze.

It was, I suppose, part of what made this book feel a bit dated. Aside from that, there was the constant grappling with the value of digital vs. physical. Yes, articles stating that physical books are better than e-books (or vice versa) are still being written, but not to the degree they were when this book first came out, and you could see that in the way the issues were handled. I wonder how much more dated this will feel in 10 or 20 years?

I really liked the first two thirds or so of the book, but found myself becoming less and less interested when the focus shifted from the bookstore to the secret society. I disliked Clay and Kat's methods for solving the various mysteries, and I really felt for the one secret society member who acted dismayed each time they mentioned using a computer to analyze in seconds things that had taken the society years, decades, or longer to work on. After all, sometimes it's not the solution that's important so much as the process of arriving at that solution. I was just thankful that Sloan made sure that Google and its computers couldn't quite solve everything.

All in all, this made for okay work-time listening. I really liked the narrator, and I smiled when the producer took advantage of the audiobook format and included audio excerpts from Clay's favorite books (although they were very cheesy). I just wish that this had ended as strongly as it had begun.

REVIEW: Jurassic Park (live action movie), on DVD

I re-watched this a few months ago and should have reviewed it back then. But I kept putting it off because I wanted to include comments about the extras, but then I dragged my feet and eventually ran into problems. So I'm finally just going ahead and reviewing it.

A synopsis feels a little unnecessary, but I'll include a short one anyway: A billionaire invites several people to his not-yet-open theme park (or is forced to invite them – the lawyer is there because a worker's family is suing and there are now questions being asked about how safe the park really is). Amazingly, the park includes real, live dinosaurs. Unfortunately, the park's tech geek decides to make a little extra money by stealing and selling some of the park's dinosaur embryos. Things go wrong, and a bunch of the dinosaurs accidentally get free, putting the lives of everyone on the island in danger.

Listening to the audiobook version of Jurassic Park made me want to re-watch this movie. The overall framework was very similar to the book, but in a lot of ways it was very different. Hammond was portrayed less like a slick salesman and more like a naive idealist – a good deal more likeable than he was in the book. Malcolm and Lex were both less annoying (although still annoying). Grant and Ellie were turned into a couple, and Grant was portrayed as being much less comfortable with kids than he was in the book. The story was streamlined and, after a certain point, completely changed. To my mind, it was all for the better – the movie was much more enjoyable than the book and had aged significantly better.

This even applied to the special effects. For the first time that I could recall, I noticed the slight jerkiness in the larger dinosaurs' movements but, overall, the movie looked really good. There was still that sense of wonder when Grant and Ellie saw their first dinosaurs on the island, and the T. rex and Velociraptors looked great. And I still want to own an animatronic Velociraptor, even though I have no idea where I'd keep it.

The movie was, overall, simpler than the book, but that wasn't a bad thing. I enjoyed re-watching it, and I smiled a little, thinking of how much it scared me when I was younger – it was the first “scary” movie my parents let me watch, primarily because I was a wannabe paleontologist who was fascinated by Spielberg's dinosaurs. It's now over 20 years old, and its dinosaur scenes still make me feel like an excited kid, even knowing that the T. rex's mouth is probably wrong and that at least some of the dinosaurs probably would have had feathers. I'd still recommend it over Jurassic World.

The extras were almost all interesting, but there was so much to watch that my attention wandered. Then my player forgot where I'd last paused, and I just gave up. Even so, it was nice seeing the planning that went into creating the dinosaurs (the animatronics, models, and CGI elements) and making them believable.

  • "The Making of Jurassic Park"
  • Early pre-production meetings
  • Location scouting
  • Phil Tippett Animatics: Raptors in the kitchen - I watched this before attempting to watch any of the other extras. This made for a bizarre experience, because it included absolutely no context - it looked like some kid's weird low-budget Jurassic Park scene. The thing I found most interesting was that, at this point in the planning stages, the Velociraptors were going to have flickering forked tongues, like snakes.
  • And apparently some DVD-ROM features that I had no interest in trying to look at. Anything I have to stick the disc into my computer to see might as well not exist.

REVIEW: Ghostbusters (live action movie) - at the movie theater

I was hesitant about seeing this, for a lot of reasons. I vaguely remembered having seen at least one of the original Ghostbusters movies but didn't have any particular attachment to or love for the franchise. I haven't been wild about the last few hyped movies I've seen, and I was a little worried that this one was getting most of its viewer hype because of the all-female main cast. Also, a lot of the people who were raving about it were also fans of several of Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy's other movies. I loathed Bridesmaids, winced a lot during Spy, and just generally didn't want to see a repeat of the sort of humor I saw in those movies. Thankfully, this turned out to be a lot better than I was expecting.

The story: Erin is a professor who's being considered for tenure. Unfortunately, an embarrassing piece of her past, a book on the paranormal that she co-wrote years ago with her best friend Abby, has come back to haunt her. She's worried that she'll be seen as a crackpot, so she tracks Abby down in order to ask her to please stop selling the book. Abby has since teamed up with Jillian Holtzmann, a nutty and brilliant scientist, and Erin accidentally gets all three of them involved in a paranormal investigation at a museum. The team is later joined by Patty, a transit worker who is an absolute fount of historical facts and knowledge, and their new receptionist, Kevin, who is gorgeous but very stupid. The group finds themselves dealing with more and more ghosts, not realizing that all these recent incidents are due to the machinations of a nobody who feels he isn't getting all the recognition and attention he deserves.

Like I said, this was actually pretty decent. I don't know that I want to own it, but it was worth seeing. Kristen Wiig (Erin), as usual, was involved in a lot of the grosser jokes (mostly involving ectoplasm), but none of it left me with the feeling of horror and pity that many of the “jokes” in Bridesmaids did. I don't recall Melissa McCarthy's weight being a factor in any of the jokes involving her, and Kate McKinnon was positively gleeful as Holtzmann. I was expecting to cringe at Leslie Jones' character (Patty), but she was handled better than I expected. I do wish that the movie had done a better job of establishing her purpose in the team, though. I've seen fan comments stating that Patty's knowledge of odd historical details was due to her love of reading, but I don't think this was ever mentioned in the movie. Maybe she was reading when she first appeared on-screen? I don't know, but her background felt less solidly established than Erin's, Abby's, or even Holtzmann's.

The movie meandered a bit, as the team played around with Holtzmann's various new toys, investigated random ghost sightings (which were all tied in with the movie's Big Bad, although his details weren't revealed until later), and tried to establish themselves. There were things I wasn't entirely clear on, like how the group could afford the rent on even the little place they ended up finding for themselves, why Patty would quit (I assume?) her job as a transit worker for something that I couldn't imagine would pay very well, and how they were managing to pay Kevin. Basically, most of my questions had to do with money. But in the end, if I turned off my brain a bit, it was fun. I enjoyed the various cameos from the original movies, liked the humor more than expected, and laughed at Chris Hemsworth's over-the-top portrayal of stupid, pretty Kevin. The scene with the lens-less glasses just about killed me.

If I could change one thing, it would be Erin's embarrassingly obvious drooling over Kevin. It was painful to watch. I've seen lots of comments to the effect of “well, it's just a gender-flipped version of how women are always treated in movies.” True, but flipping the genders doesn't make me any happier about having to watch it. The group's decision to hire Kevin could have been explained away as the result of there being no other applicants, and, honestly, Erin had better and less cringe-worthy chemistry with Holtzmann.

All in all though, this was fun. If another new Ghostbusters movie gets made with this cast, I plan to go see it.
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