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Book Recommendation: “Vineyard: Chapter One of the Thirteen Knights of Death,” by M.R. Stover
Today on my lunch break, I finished chapter one of M.R. Stover’s The Thirteen Knights of Death. I enjoyed it thoroughly, and recommend it if you like fast-paced, action-packed, and brutal dark fantasy. Here’s my brief review from Amazon:
This is a fun and intriguing dark fantasy read. Stover’s writing is direct, fast-paced, and doesn’t hold back anything in terms of action, violence, and sex. I appreciate the thought he put into this fantasy world, which is full of dark swords-and-sorcery, with a visceral, sort of Conan-esque style that I think would work awesomely in a graphic novel. I hope Stover can collaborate with an illustrator on that some day, especially once all the chapters are finished! The setting and conflict so far remind me of the period of brutal Medieval conflict between Vlad the Impaler’s Romanians and the Ottoman Turks: the history geek in me loves the homages.
The word “bad-ass” comes strongly to mind, too! Good, dark, and brutal fantasy fun.
I had the pleasure of meeting Stover himself on my recent trip to Tucson. We got some great beer and wings at a local brewery he took me to. We had great conversation about writing and video games!
Yesterday, my cousins took me to the Arizona-Sonoroa Desert Museum. It’s really more of a zoo than a museum, with exhibits of many live animals of the Arizona-Sonoroa Desert. I got to see various desert birds, coatis (a raccoon type of animal,) javelina, (pig-like creatures that aren’t actually pigs at all,) coyotoes, porcupines, bobcats, skunks, tarantulas, scorpions, and a whole ton of fish. Oh, and a tarantula-hawk; look those up, they’re absolutely awful! 😀
So I loved it, great great place to visit, if you’re in Tucson, go there. They have a couple miles of walking trails that we went on, with tons of cactuses, including saguaros, prickly pears, and teddy bear cholla. I learned that saguaros live for many centuries, growing only a couple inches a year, and that they have a hard wooden skeleton inside them. Prickly pears are edible, and teddy bear chollas are the least pleasant cactus to touch, because they have these teeny tiny, ultra-sharp needles that are a real pain to remove from your skin. The weather was perfect: light overcast, cool, (low 70’s I think) and just a bit of rain. Great time. After that, my cousins took me for a drive and quick walk through Saguaro National Park West, where I saw many centuries old cactuses with many arms (they need to be centuries old to grow a few arms, so it’s cool to see how long those specimens have been there undisturbed) and also some paleoglyphs on rocks from ancient Indians.
Then today, I went trail-riding in the desert. My horse was an appaloosa named Poker Chip, our guide was named Brent, and he was a great and knowledgeable guy, also a TV actor and radio broadcaster. We went in the morning, so it wasn’t too hot yet, there was a comfortable cool breeze, and I got to see neat critters like roadrunners, rabbits, and this creepy coyote that kept following far behind us a long ways. The horses didn’t seem to care, which was good. The ride was a bit closer to civilization than would have been ideal, (pretty close to roads, bridges, and houses) but was still a great southwest desert trailriding experience! Definitely felt nostalgic of the Old Wild West, at least as portrayed in movies. The stable we went to, Pantano Stables, was great and is moving to a better location (still near Tucson) soon. I recommend them if you visit the area. Someday soon, I’ll come back and do a longer, wilder ride and camp over a couple nights. The beauty of the nature around Tucson has definitely grown on me. As long as it’s not a time of day when it’s unbearably hot, the wide open blue skies, the rocky mountains all around in the distance, the flowering cactuses (this time of year) and interesting plant and animal life are just great to see and experience. And oh, I haven’t seen a wild tarantula yet, but I’ve seen their holes. The way most of them hunt here is they have little holes with web in front of them, and then when something touches the web they jump out and grab it. I could probably see a tarantula if I was brave and wanted to poke my finger around…
Good days, good days here. Progress on my novel is slow but sure, by the way, it will be released before Halloween.
Yesterday (I went to bed right after I got home) I got to go with my cousin, who is a cop, as a “citizen observer”, meaning I got to ride with her as she worked her patrol shift. It was a fun and interesting experience for me! I got to wear this nifty blue and yellow “Observer” vest, ride in a police SUV, and ask my cousin questions about how various police stuff works. I like seeing behind the scenes of different people’s professions, especially fairly dangerous professions like cops. I’ll walk you through some of the highlights of the ride-along shift.
First, at the police station, I got to sit in on the briefing. I was happy and impressed to hear the sergeant give an impassioned lecture about excessive police force: how outright wrong it is, how stupid it is, how bad it makes the honorable profession of policing look, and how much harder it makes officers’ jobs when they actually do need to use a justified level of force or interface with the public. I’m concerned about the militarization of American police, and the number of excessive/unjustified force incidents that go unpunished, so seeing some strong anecdotal push-back against misconduct warmed my libertarian heart.
Once we got into her patrol SUV, my cousin showed me the basics of taking and responding to dispatcher calls, and how to run vehicles’ plates, which was all pretty neat. She responded to a confusing and uneventful call of alleged disabled-adult abuse, and pulled over a couple people for missing insurance and a broken headlight.
The most interesting call was a shoplifting incident at Target, so I got to learn a bit about Target security there, which was cool. Didn’t know, (though it makes sense) that they have plainclothes security people patrolling around.
I got to see the lights and siren and a bit of high speed in response to a burglary, but, other cops handled it before we got there so that didn’t go anywhere. It seems to happen fairly often that an officer may respond to a call, but then someone else gets there first and resolves the issue without a need for further backup. I liked learning little details of patrolling like that.
It was a slow shift from what my cousin told me, but, I had fun learning and seeing some details of how being a patrol cop works. Definitely gives me more respect for the role! Today, I’m going on a hike, so I’ll have more pictures from that tonight!
Today marks the anniversary of Anton LaVey’s birth. He remains one of my greatest heroes: a man who truly lived life to the fullest, got important things done, never lost sight of who he was and what he was capable of, and had fun through it all. May his visionary ideas continue their wide and deep influence for many a decade to come. If you want to learn about his fascinating life, I recommend Blanch Barton’s The Secret Life of a Satanist.
I arrived in Tucson today for a vacation, staying with my cousins. This is the first of the daily entries giving some thoughts on things I see and do. I’m new at writing travel posts, so, sorry if these thoughts don’t provide a coherent whole. I’m also tired after a long but fun day.
I got up while it was still dark to get to the airport on time. I wasn’t as tired as I expected. I flew all the way from western NY to Tucson, AZ, so it was a fairly long time of flying, but it went fast. I truly enjoyed the flying actually, I don’t fly often and the novelty still gets me. It’s amazing that I can fly in a giant, metal, exploding-chemical-powered bird oer such a vast distance, across the United States, in just a few hours, when that trip would have taken weeks not long ago. And just random regular people can afford to do this, you don’t have to be a king or anything! Amazing. The flights were smooth (I had a brief layover in Minneapolis, where I ate some delicious Chick-fil-A for breakfast and got some writing done,) mostly though there was some turbulence coming into Tucson. I don’t get easily bothered by turbulence, but apparently it was pretty bad because many other passengers got nervous and ticked off. I also drank rum and whiskey on the planes, and that was good.
The climate of Arizona is entirely different from that of New York. The desert is beautiful, in a different way, from the lakes, forests, and grassy fields I love and am used to. I like these tall cactuses, which look alien to me, and the big rock formations, and the little lizards scuttling around sometimes. It’s so sunny, too, and not too hot this time of year, which is nice. Dry, warm, with a breeze that’s stronger the higher you go. The totally blue, cloud-foresaken sky is unsettling to me, though. I can understand people liking it, and it is pretty in a way, but, it just reminds me of how incredibly dry this part of the US is. I find it vaguely, just a bit stressful to see no clouds at all. Coming from a city immediately adjacent to the Great Lakes, the scarcity of water in the Southwest is a bit daunting. I hope everyone here, and in California especially, can handle the apparently increasing drought OK. Still, there’s a beautiful and resilient living landscape here.
I loved climbing around on the rocks and seeing the mountains pictured below. My cousin, who has lived here a few years, was super helpful in taking me there and telling me about the different mountain ranges in the state. A cool phenomenon he told me about is “sky islands,” which is where the more moist and hospitable mountain peaks act as “islands” in the “sea” of the dry landscape, and lead to speciation as animal and plant populations are separated from one another for long periods, the same as they would be on literal islands. I had no idea this phenomenon existed. There are squirrel species, for example, that only live on one or a couple connected mountains.
I also got to drive past the Tucson “boneyard”, which is part of a military base, and is where the military stores tons of old planes for spare parts use. The Southwest is the best region of the US for this due to the lack of damage from rain and ice. It’s pretty amazing to see row after row after row of military planes. I’ll try to get better pictures later! It reminds me of all the experimental aircraft testing in this part of the country, too, UFO’s and Area 51 and all that.
I hope to see some tarantulas, gila monsters, snakes, and scorpions and get some sweet pictures. I like the uniqueness of this environment. It’s exciting. I’m going to hopefully get to go trailriding on horseback too. My cousins are super welcoming and this is looking to be a great vacation. I’ll try to give more detail and coherent thoughts on later posts, I’ve just been awake a long time, I’m tired. Going to bed right after this. Goodnight everyone.
This movie met and exceeded my expectations. Let me tell you about it.
Below is my review of…
Last night I had the pleasure of seeing It Follows, the indie horror film that’s won critics’ hearts since its debut at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival. The reviews and trailers got me super hyped, but how does the movie itself hold up? It was incredible, I loved every moment of it. I’ll avoid spoilers, but first, let me explain the premise for those who don’t know. It Follows is the story of a young college-age woman named Jay, who, after a strange sexual encounter, realizes she is now haunted by a relentless monster that can look like any person, dead or alive, known or unknown. The monster is invisible to everyone but Jay and other people who are “infected” with this sexually transmitted curse. The monster is slow: all it does is walk, and walk, and walk. It displays no passion, no apparent reason for its action. It just walks towards its latest victim, day or night, until it reaches them, and then it gets them. You can easily drive, jog, or even speed-walk away from it to buy you time, but it will never stop. The only way to avoid a grisly fate is to pass the curse on to someone else, who will then become the monster’s new target…until that person and all of their subsequent sexual partners are dead. Then it comes back for you. Fantastic concept. Now let’s talk about the specifics of why the film itself is great!
First great thing: the cinematography
Director David Robert Mitchell knows how to shoot a movie. The opening scene, which shows a frantic young victim fleeing from an invisible predator, uses long, slow, sweeping shots that heighten the audience’s sense of unease and dread. Mitchell repeatedly uses 360 camera panning that gives us wide shots of distant little people and the horizon. It really puts you in the same mood of Jay, where the slightest close movement puts you on edge, and you have to keep attentive for when one of those little random people hundreds of yards away begins making a slow, deliberate, unblinking beeline for “you” and Jay. Besides the creepiness that the cinematography invokes, this movie is also surprisingly beautiful for a Horror film, with many shots giving a sweet, sentimental vibe that contrasts with the monstrous events that inevitably interrupt.
Second: the soundtrack
It’s difficult to decide whether cinematography or soundtrack should go first, they’re pretty much tied. The music, (produced by Disasterpeace,) which gives big nods to soundtracks from classic 1970’s and 1980’s Horror films such as Halloween, A Nightmare on Elmstreet, and Friday the 13th, is incredibly unnerving, weird, and surreal. Have a listen to a couple of these songs:
Third: the main characters
The protagonist, Jay, (played by Maika Monroe, who I hope to see in more movies,) has a group of friends supporting her. They’re all well-written, sympathetic, realistic late-teenage characters. I truly enjoyed their conversations, even when they weren’t about anything scary. Each of Jay’s friends is different in important ways, I really don’t want to spoil too much, including anyone else’s interpretations. But yes, they’re genuinely likable and fairly reasonably young adults, a rare sight in a Horror movie. It adds to how refreshing this movie is. And, yes, there’s always sexual tension there within the group, adding to Jay’s moral dilemma about maybe passing the curse on to buy herself more time. Related to not so much characters per se but to actors, the different forms the monster takes are well-cast and costumed. I won’t spoil anything, but, the relatively rare times you see the monster, it scares the hell outta you, as it should.
Fourth: the theme.
You could interpret this film to be about the dangers of wild promiscuity, or about diseases such as AIDS. That would be an absolutely shallow interpretation. Jay is not a raging whore: far, far from it, she has a mature and reasonable sexual life, and was simply taken off-guard early in the film. This is not a Christian morality play about the dangers of sex out of wedlock, though sex does matter a great deal thematically. The movie, as I see it, is about the sense of dread you can feel lying awake at night, knowing that you will eventually die. There is also the dread and anxiety over the stresses of growing up, and things changing beyond your control. You can distract yourself through pleasures like TV, card games, and of course, sex, but in the end, your friends will move away, some will die, and in the end you’ll die too. Time just keeps walking, walking, walking. Your dread will always catch up with you. The film presents that theme with subtlety and class: the characters often talk about their childhood memories and dreams, and a character makes a passing remark of wishing he was four years old again to have his whole life ahead of him. To me, the resolution and final scene drive the theme home even more.
A few other thoughts on what I liked.
The comic relief is sparse, but when it happens, it’s good, and contributes to me liking Jay and her friends and really wanting to see them figure their mess out.
The film doesn’t rely on gore. I’m not gonna say there isn’t any, (and there are certainly…gross things, to say the least,) but it’s not much, and it’s not the director’s primary way to try and scare you.
The clothing, appliances, cars, and home decor look like they could exist in a span of decades from the 1950’s to the 2010’s. The TV’s we see are always super old ones with small screens (always playing cheesy old sci-fi movies) and big knobs, though one character habitually reads an e-book during her downtime. The characters are realistic American young adults with traits shared across a couple generations; they don’t use dated slang. Point is, the movie is not dated at all, and I like that, it makes the theme more universal.
Anyway, if you’re tired of the same old, same old Horror and want something refreshing, chilling, fun, terrifying, retro, disturbing, and somehow sweet and nostalgic, all the same time, see It Follows.
Thank you for making my first audiobook such a success!
Celebrate the start of Spring with a free Horror anthology!
The snow has finally melted here in Western NY, thus making it actually Spring! I want to thank all my readers, old and new, for making the release of my first audiobook, the Mr. CreepyPasta-produced version of Right Behind You: Tales of the Spooky and Strangea smashing success. You bought over 100 copies in the first half-month of the audiobook’s release, and the numbers keep climbing! It’s exciting to see my writing career continue to develop, it inspires me to keep up the work on my first novel.
To show my gratitude for the great sales of the audiobook, I’m giving away my second anthology, Paranoia, for free this long long weekend: Saturday, April 4th, through Tuesday, April 7th. Just click the cover picture above to visit the Amazon Kindle page and download your free copy! Even if you don’t have a Kindle device, you can still read on your phone or computer.
Enjoy the warm weather, fellow Northern Hemisphere folks! Enjoy the Autumn weather, Southern Hemisphere folks! (Lucky bastards!)