What am I listening to lately? Why, nuclear Armageddon, of course!

19 February, LI A.S.

Or more precisely, 

narrowly averted and ever-looming Nuclear Armageddon!

We knew the world would not be the same. Few people laughed, few people cried, most people were silent.

I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita. Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and to impress him takes on his multi-armed form and says, “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”

I suppose we all thought that, one way or another.

-Dr. Julius Robert Oppenheimer

 As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, I’m a huge fan of Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast. His presentation style is slick, exciting, and concise, and he offers a great deal of fascinating and entertaining information, especially on the experiences of individual historical characters. While Carlin isn’t a historian, he does self-describe as a big fan of History, and does a lot of work reading and collecting notes for reach episode. Since I too consider myself a fan of History, I especially admire Carlin’s enthusiasm for presenting numerous and lengthy podcast episodes on historical conflicts ranging from the rise of the Mongol Empire, to the Greco-Persian Wars, to the Great War.

Recently, I finished listening to Dan Carlin’s latest HH episode, The Destroyer of Worlds, covering roughly the first twenty years of the Cold War, with the focus squarely on nuclear weapons. Carlin takes us into the White House situation room and the Soviet Kremlin as we learn about the dire questions facing Harry Truman, Joseph Stalin, and their respective successors as they dealt with the reality of atomic warfare emerging in the last days of the Second World War. We learn about the bitter exchanges between President Truman and J. Robert Oppenheimer (the so-called Father of the Atomic Bomb,) the ethical considerations in the grim potential of a first strike against the Soviet Union to strangle the Russian nuclear weapon program in the cradle, and the balance of terror that Kennedy and Kruschev especially struggled with during the harrowing two weeks of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

I’ve been interested in Cold War history a long time, (and I’m a big fan of movies like Dr. Strangelove, and board games like Twlight Struggle,) so I was enthralled with hearing all this detail and context surrounding the birth of atomic weapons and mankind’s challenge in not destroying ourselves with said weapons. From my own perspective, I step back and find it worrying that younger generations (including my own) have no memory of the ever-looming Cold War, “Mutually Assured Destruction” dynamic, despite the continued existence of thousands of thermonuclear weapons massively more powerful and with more advanced delivery systems than anything conceived in 1945. Sure, as Carlin discusses, there hasn’t been a direct Great Powers war since World War II, and there are valid reasons (economic integration, decades of precedent and norms, faster communication, the United States’ current military dominance,) to think that such a war is highly unlikely. But in the scope of human history, those seventy years that separate us from the end of the last big war don’t look like such a big buffer, and historical trends sometimes have a way of reversing themselves with all the warning of an oceanic squall. I can’t help but think that the risk of nuclear war rises, as, to paraphrase Carlin, subsequent generations get so used to that “gun” pointed at our collective heads that we forget the gun’s even there. Making it over 70 years without a nuclear exchange is impressive, and the end of the Cold War does ease some pressure, but it remains to be seen how the next fifty or a hundred years go. It’s hard to understand historical undercurrents that you’re still in the midst of.

I can’t help but think that the risk of nuclear war rises, as, to paraphrase Carlin, subsequent generations get so used to that “gun” pointed at our collective heads that we forget the gun’s even there. Making it over 70 years without a nuclear exchange is impressive, and the end of the Cold War does ease some pressure, but it remains to be seen how the next fifty or a hundred years go. It’s hard to understand historical undercurrents that you’re still in the midst of.

Anyway, this is a great piece of work by Carlin, and even with the episode clocking in at a little under six hours, I never once felt bored. It brought to top of mind for me the critical ways in which the rise of nuclear weapons has altered political leadership, the meaning of security, and the entire American government apparatus. I had trouble finding the quotation online myself, but Carlin quotes Ronald Reagan Reagan, saying (heavily paraphrased), that Russian nuclear-armed submarines often patrolled off the U.S. East Coast, and one of their medium range missiles launched from there would destroy the White House in eight minutes, meaning that he, (President Reagan) has eight minutes to make a decision to talk with his advisors and make a decision on launching a retaliatory strike, based on no more information than little blips on a radar screen. The pressures facing American presidents (and their Russian counterparts) in regards to the grave responsibility attached to the “Football” and the grim power it grants, became much more clear and real to me after hearing talk of nuclear war decisions on such a personal level.

This new technology, itself seemingly inevitable in the pressures of an anarchic world stage of vying nation states, compels us to grant to the man or woman we elect President the unilateral power to unleash armageddon at the push of a button, for fear that without a convincing deterrence, someone else can threaten to unleash armageddon on us. From that flows the entire national security state of the C.I.A, N.S.A, the Pentagon’s intelligence services, secret prisons, secret armies, secret wars, cyberwarfare, double and triple agents: all of them, born to either directly seize and maintain a lead in the nuclear arms race, or to fight against opposing superpowers through means short of utterly catastrophic total war. Post-Cold War, that national security state still looms large, its individual officers and agents keeping their posts far beyond the timeline of any democratically elected leader, and now dealing increasingly in the shadowy field of counter-terrorism, as well as counter-nuclear super power, operations. Like the threat of nuclear armageddon itself, post WWII generations, and now post-Cold War generations, have grown accustomed to the opacity and reach of the national security state, collectively shrugging at its surveillance and extra-judicial powers as the price to pay for safety in the modern day. Since I tend to side with libertarian political views, I’d already read and thought a lot about the real and potential dangers of that persistent “shadow state,” especially since the revelations brought forth by Edward Snowden on NSA mass surveillance of American citizens. I just hadn’t put it all in such a defined context of the evolving and expanding threat of nuclear weapons from 1945 onward.

Will every country of the world fall into the iron grip of totalitarian, high-tech elites making use of the well-established and widely accepted security apparatus in place across all nuclear weapon states? Will Jihadi (or right-wing, or left-wing,) terrorists succeed in obtaining and detonating a dreaded “suitcase nuke” in a major Western city? Will Chinese and Russian challenges to American hegemony culminate in an outright conventional war with one or the other, inevitably escalating in a prisoner’s dilemma to an intercontinental thermonuclear exchange? The 21st century is still young, and the pace of history seems to me to have exponentially sped up over the last couple hundred years. It’s honestly hard to say, and I find that truly frightening.

The Atomic Age has also spawned stories involving the effects, for good or ill, of radioactivity. Take for instance Godzilla, the Hulk, or loads of other superhero comic book characters. Getting into more of the horrible aspects of radiation sickness and mutation, you have movies like The Hills Have Eyes. The prospect of a civilization-ending nuclear war is a common idea explored in books, television, movies, and video games, brought to the forefront for younger generations through the success of the recent Fallout games. Again, I wonder if that type of post-apocalytpic fiction raises the concern and alertness over the dangers of atomic weapons, or perversely desensitizes post-Cold War generations?

Anyway. Dan Carlin. The Destroyer of Worlds. It’s a great podcast episode, and I greatly recommend giving it a listen. It was sure as hell entertaining and thought-provoking for me.

-G.R. Wilson

My “King in Yellow” inspired story

7 February, LI A.S.

My King in Yellow inspired story

This is a little piece of fiction I wrote recently for reddit’s “nosleep” forum. I’m posting it here a couple minutes prior so I can prove my authorship of it. Enjoy!

I don’t know how long I have to write this. I don’t know if I should write this. I just know I need to get it out, out of my head, where someone else can read it and maybe begin to understand. No one I know in this place we call “real life” would believe me, but maybe the anonymity of information transmitted over electrons and photons will give you the freedom to question and consider, even if in the end you don’t believe.

If you find a 35mm film reel or God forbid even a VHS, laser disk, MP4, whatever format, of a movie entitled Schwertner- “King in Yellow,” 1933, or any linguistic variation, do not watch it. Not even the beginning. Destroy it any way you can. If you value your mental health, your sanity, burn that film. If that sounds paranoid, let me explain.

I’m a film student at a college not far from Boston. I’m hedging my bets with a double major in Business, but movies are my real passion. (My raison d’etre, if I’m feeling pretentious.) When I’m not studying or indulging in the occasional party, one of my biggest hobbies is the collection of rare movies. I’ll find ’em mostly on Ebay or Amazon, sometimes sites specifically for swapping movies and film equipment, and sometimes in the increasingly rare brick-and-mortar video store.

I’ll get ’em in any format, VHS most commonly, though I’ve gotten into reels more lately. The movies I find are usually “shit that’s so shitty it’s good:” forgotten, “B” sci-fi, horror, and comedy flicks of the 1970’s and 1980’s. I’ll get my hands on older and better stuff sometimes, too; cult classics of the ’40’s and ’50’s that would be full-fledged classics had they gotten a wider distribution.

I’d thought I’d fulfilled one of my film geek bucket list items when I got my hands on a lost film last Friday. A “lost” film is just that: people know it exists because there’s some record of it in letters and studio documents, often a poster or two. But these are usually movies so old that no one alive remembers seeing them, and so they are truly lost to time. That concept has always fascinated me.

The particular lost film I picked up is a 1933 movie version of Robert W. Chamber’s proto-Lovecraftian story The King in Yellow. H.P. Lovecraft’s been in vogue lately on much of the Internet, and he drew inspiration from Chambers’ work, so I got especially curious. The gist is that there’s a creepy play, sharing its title with Chamber’s book, which, if read, will drive the reader mad. The title comes from a character/monster who factors heavily in the play: the King, under the guise of a mysterious Stranger, dressed in a ragged yet regal set of yellow robes, face hidden beneath a placid mask.

All great and creepy Lovecraftian fun, I’d always thought. The fictional play remains mysterious, so writers and directors have a lot of creative freedom on how to portray it. This movie is an adaptation of the play itself. I was hyped to find this lost film, (of which I’ve only seen a couple sparse listings on movie database websites,) and snatch it up for an apparent bargain on Ebay. The seller clearly didn’t know what he had on his hands. At least, that’s my guess.

Fuck my curiosity. How was I supposed to know what I’d found…but still, fuck it!

Anyway. The reel arrived on Friday morning, carefully packaged. Packing peanuts, tape, real normal-like. The 35mm reel was in good shape too; you could tell it was 70+ years old but was looking fine except for a couple tiny dents. The title was written on with tape and a blue sharpie, in precise handwriting. All I knew about this movie was that it was an unlicensed adaptation, directed in German by a Jewish filmmaker known as Germund Schwertner. It’s the only movie to Schwertner’s credit, and there’s almost nothing known about the guy, apart from that he was a decorated soldier on the Eastern Front of WWI. Maybe he emigrated to Britain or the US and disappeared from the historical record, or got sent to a concentration camp when the Nazis took over. Either way, this damned film is his only legacy.

I felt like an archaeologist as I sat in my apartment alone with a cup of tea and a notebook that night, my restored 1966 projector spinning to life. I focused the fuzzy title images, as the soundtrack popped and blared through my speakers. The quality wasn’t bad, and the opening credits sequence brought a smile to my face. The haunting shadows, surreal images, and foreboding sense of the existential macabre were right in line with earlier German horror films such as The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari and Nosferuteau. The music matched the images: deep, thrumming base lurking beneath the increasingly shrill staccato of wild flutes and clarinets. Finally, with a final blast from the brass section, the main title appeared, in that glorious, stereotypically German Gothic font:

Der Konig in Gelb

…and underneath, in smaller, plainer font, the English title: The King in Yellow. I was literally rubbing my hands together in excitement.

Since the lore surrounding the play was invented by Americans, Schwertner must have figured an Anglophone audience would watch his little movie at some point. I was surprised, however, when the credits faded into the opening scene, which featured a dialogue between two stately, Renaissance-era dressed women: all the speech was in English! English with a soft German accent, but perfect English nonetheless.

Things initially looked like a normal First Act set up: an old dynasty has been restored in the fictional city-state of Carcosa, so the common folk and nobles alike are anxious about the potential for bloodshed between the factions of the old and new regimes as the King makes his return from exile. Meanwhile, one of the female characters is looking to be married off to a prince of the ancient but newly restored House of Hastur. This royal family is wealthy and mighty beyond ordinary human standards, and rumors abound that they got that way through sinful and supernatural ends.

The first scene, which dragged a bit after the initial novelty, transitioned to a soulful song by one of the two women, Cassilda. This was a haunting yet oddly beautiful overture for Carcosa, with the instruments echoing phrases and sounds from the title music. I recognized the song at once as one of the few brief excerpts that Lovecraft offered from his fictional play.

My excited recognition quickly turned to confusion, and then on-my-feet shock. While Cassilda sang, the video changed to show us startlingly realistic shots of the city: wide avenues filled with ornately-costumed extras, multi-tiered and strangely leaning buildings, narrow and twisting garden paths flanked with willows and tropical trees, the twisting spires of a palace backlit by three full moons, the black waters of a lake with tall and ancient ships floating swan-like across its surface.

While the opening credits’ static images had clearly been a combination of paintings and shots of indoor studio sets, these scenes of Carcosa, played over with that haunting voice, utterly blew me away. What kind of budget did Schwertner have?! I knew at once that none of the images he showed could have been shot on location, whether in the 1930’s or today. Everything about the sheer scale of those royal spires, the architecture, the many moons in the sky, the unbelievably…authentic faces and walks and costumes of those hundreds of extras. Impossible!

Heart beating with anticipation, I kept watching through an unexpected series of rather ordinary scenes filled with semi-Shakespearean dialogue and soliloquy, which included characters not known from the supposed lost excerpts of the play. It all held my interest but wasn’t anything amazing.

Finally, we got to the scene I’d anticipated, which I knew signaled the conclusion of the play’s First Act. The scene took place in a celebratory masked ball, the many noble gentlemen, and ladies dressed in exotic clothing and grotesque masks. Again, I marveled at the movie’s quality. After about a minute of establishment, the dreaded character, known at this point in the play as “The Stranger,” made his grand entrance. This sparked a flurry of hushed whispers among the party-goers, who turned to the new arrival.

A couple minutes later, it happened:

Camilla: You, sir, should unmask.

Stranger: Indeed?

Cassilda: Indeed it’s time. We have all laid aside disguise but you.

Stranger: I wear no mask.

Camilla: [Terrified, aside to Cassilda] No mask? No mask!

As I watched transfixed, the music swelled, and my eyes were greeted with one of the most impressive movie… “monsters,” to use a feeble word, I’d ever seen. I knew instantly that it wasn’t CGI, and that even the best computer effects of movie-makers fifty years from now couldn’t produce a creature that moved and looked and existed like that. I also knew that it wasn’t practical special effects, as much as my rational mind screamed and thrashed against the implications of that conclusion.

The music blared horribly loudly, interlaced with the tortured wailing of much of the movie’s cast, who ran screaming to the street. Men were drawing their swords, gutting and dismembering each other, the women, and themselves, in a display of realistic bloodshed that would make Tarantino jealous. I’d seen plenty of graphic movie violence, and the worst real violence I’d witnessed in my life prior to this, which admittedly did screw me up for a couple years, was a dog getting squashed by a semi when I was six. The movie scene made me nauseous, but I kept watching, needing to know how it ended.

In the street, Carcosa’s people were panicking, the wailing rising and growing louder by the second until it felt more like a force of nature than any human vocalization. There were shots of the sky, showing the moons glowing red.

“NOT UPON US, OH KING, NOT UPON US!” screamed Cassilda, delivering another of the play’s few surviving quotes. I wasn’t even thinking of it as a movie anymore. Looking back, it was like I was hypnotized, sucked in, seeing and hearing and smelling the rest of the increasingly bizarre story as if I were a live witness rather than sitting in my apartment in Massachusetts, watching lights shine through a piece of film and flash against a wall.

You wanna know what’s even more messed up? I know you’re not believing any of this anyway, and I don’t know how to prove it to you without pulling you into the same shit as me. But, the Second Act and the Final are both in color. High definition color. High-quality sound. A subtle feel of the film, a certain graininess, lets me know that it wasn’t shot yesterday. But other than that, the transition from the First to Second Act was like leapfrogging over 80 years of movie-making technology.

I’m not going to describe what happens in the Second and Third Acts. I don’t know if what I’m experiencing will spread over text, but I’m not gonna risk it. The First Act is safe. But the rest of Der Konig in Gelb is every bit as horrible as the play is described. I still see it when I close my eyes and hear it when I’m somewhere too quiet.

The nightmares started that first night. The third consecutive night, I realized they weren’t nightmares in any conventional sense, when I woke up with that Sign on my hand, burned into the skin as if with an iron. No one else sees it, but I know it’s real. I can trace and feel the scars with my finger right now.

FUCK! I’m writing this in the busiest cafe within walking distance, but it’s quieting down now. I don’t want to sit alone, in the quiet. I’ll have to move to a bar.

I don’t want to tell you this, any of this, but I have to, He keeps telling me I have to, He says it without words. The King in Yellow is coming. Hastur is returning. That’s not even a warning, in the sense of preparing you or me for danger. It’s Doom. Think Genghis Khan launching the severed heads from the last city he destroyed over your city walls. Think the radar blips of ten thousand ICBM’s launching and climbing to sub-orbital altitude.

He sees the madness in us, the madness that we desperately paper over with Ideals, Laws, Philosophy. Science. Like kids standing anxiously to block a view of the mess we made on Mommy and Daddy’s clean white wallpaper when we went thought ourselves little gods and went crazy with the crayons.

Six thousand years of madness, tortures, Great Wars, and Holocausts. Fireballs and mushrooms in the sky. We think we’re different now. We’re angry monkeys who split the atom and called ourselves Enlightened. Hastur does nothing but hold up a mirror.

The Truths of that film are Truths as certain as anything I’ve ever known. I have all the proof I need after watching it. Breathing it. Dreaming it. I feel like a religious fanatic writing that, but it’s all I can say. Watch for the Yellow Sign. Hold your loved one’s close. I hope whatever God you pray to can save you from what’s coming, because I know mine can’t.

I still have the reel. I couldn’t destroy it. I buried it in a box in my closet under a mountain of books and clothes and other movies. Maybe I’ll need to watch it again, I think, find some new and useful insight, a way out? He probably just wants me to keep it intact, and alive …

I haven’t been to work or class this week. I’m talking to a psychiatrist tomorrow. I still have some tiny hope that this is all just a big delusion egged on by something fixable in my brain chemistry. And that hope’s all I got.

Thank you for listening. It’s like a toothpick’s weight lifted from my shoulders.

Quick recommendation: check out Grammarly!

2 February, LI A.S.

Grammarly is a handy little editing app I found recently.

Before I talk about Grammarly: did you guys see that Superbowl last night? That was amazing!! I was definitely rooting for the  Falcons, or more precisely, against the Pats, (I’m a Buffalo Bills fan, because yay masochism,) but there were loads of great plays on both sides, and that was a truly epic comeback. You know, not quite as big as The Comeback, but wicked impressive nonetheless. Mr. Brady, I may not exactly like you, but I sure respect the ever-loving Hell out of you. Well done.

Anyway, I just wanted to share with y’all a quick recommendation on a Web app I’ve found useful lately. It’s called Grammarly, and I learned of it from repeated YouTube ads which no doubt came about from my frequent Googling of writing websites and “Music for Writing” playlists. And no, the app’s creators are not paying me for this post.

Grammarly’s been around since 2009, and it’s a tool that helps you edit documents, social media posts, and other content you’re writing online. Essentially, it’s a more sophisticated version of the spelling and grammar checker found in most word processing programs, including MS Word. It finds mistakes and offers suggestions for improvement with prepositions, comma use, and various other forms of punctuation and sentence structure.

You can download the free version for Chrome and Microsoft Office, and from there it’ll automatically scan text for mistakes as you write blog posts, comments, emails, and documents. You can either copy and paste text into the web app for correction, or upload a document, fix it, and then conveniently download an edited copy. It’s simple, it’s easy, and it’s free.

There is also a premium version, which may be a bit pricey if you’re not someone whose income depends in part or in whole on writing, but it’s probably worth it otherwise. The premium version of the app unlocks the more sophisticated sorts of style, structure, and vocabulary advice. I’m finding it a worthwhile investment thus far.

Anyway, if you’re curious, go to Grammarly.com and check it out for yourself.

Peace,

-Geoff

Movie Review: The Visit

2 February, LI A.S.

My Thoughts on M. Knight Shyamalan’s 

The Visit

As much as I love the Horror genre, and find it overall highly underrated by critics, not many Horror movies have excited me the past several years. There are exceptions here and there, of course, The Conjuring series, Insidious, and The Cabin in the Woods being prominent examples. There have sadly been too many uninspired remakes and otherwise uninteresting movies built on a rickety structure of cheap scares and genre fads, without any real meat behind them to sink your teeth into. Shymalan’s The Visit, by contrast, is a masterfully written and performed scary story which places its trust in the fundamentals and then executes those fundamentals exceedingly well. I found myself fully invested, and on the edge of my seat, nearly all the way through, and now I’m cautiously optimistic (and hopeful!) that this 2015 masterpiece could represent a return to form for Shyamalan.

I recommend watching the trailer if you haven’t, but the premise of the movie is fairy tale simple, and intriguing. Two teenage siblings from Philadelphia go for a five-day visit with their maternal grandparents, while their divorced mother is on vacation with her new boyfriend. The teens, Becca and Tyler, have never met their grandparents, from whom their mother has been estranged since she left home fifteen years ago. We see the story through the lens of Becca’s camera, which she brings on the train trip out to Nana and Pop Pop’s rural home to document this family event. Early on, we see that the grandparents, while warm, friendly, (Nana bakes a lot!) and excited to spend time with their grandkids, are also weird. They quickly display a tendency for doing strange, even threatening, things, especially after 9:30 P.M. Our teenage heroes are left to figure out what’s going on, and what secrets their mysterious grandparents are hiding, even as the horror begins to unfold, and the isolation feels more suffocating with each passing day …

Oh, and their grandparents tell them right away that whatever the teens do, to not enter the basement due to toxic mold. And that 9:30 is bedtime, because, well, old people go to bed early.

Getting into the topic of why this movie is so good, let’s first talk about one of the most bedrock of movie fundamentals: the acting. The four principal cast members are: Olivia DeJonge as fifteen-year-old Becca, who is smart, insecure, and has film-directing ambitions, Ed Oxenbould as her thirteen-year-old brother Tyler, who is confidently goofy, germaphobic, and an aspiring rapper, Deanna Dunagan as “Nana,” who is an almost stereotypical doting and cheerful (until she isn’t,)  grandmother, and Peter McRobbie as “Pop Pop,” who is, well, grandfatherly, but also clearly hiding something, or some-things.

All four of these actors do an incredible job. The movie gives a lot of time for the kids to interact, and the writing and the actors combine to make those interactions realistic and entertaining, whether that’s Tyler’s cringey-yet-charming freestyle rapping or intense scenes of the duo anxiously attempting to unravel the mystery of “what the Hell is up with Nana and Pop Pop and their moldy basement.” When you give actors so young so much screen time, it can often lead to shortcomings, either from the kids not being able to convincingly pull off the intensity of highly emotional scenes, or sloppy writing dictating an unrealistic and corny portrayal of adolescents. But in the case of The Visit, the performances cause us to experience a genuine investment in our young heroes, including their relation to each other and their mother, the sour memories haunting their backstories, and their initial curiosity, and later mortal terror and will to survive.

Meanwhile, Dunagan and McRobbie blow it out of the water as Nana and Pop Popincreasingly concerned and probing questions. And, without spoiling anything, they do a great job of acting truly, off-puttingly, disturbingly, weird.

So we have those four characters interacting through most of the movie, in pretty much this one farmhouse location. The limited setting and small cast are major components of what makes this movie so interesting and scary on a fundamental level. The farmhouse is a long way from the nearest town. Mom’s out of the country on vacation. Nana and Pop Pop have become increasingly socially isolated, limiting any contact with potential saviors. What’s Pop Pop hiding in the shed? And, other than mold, what else is lurking down those basement stairs? The movie sets up a seemingly simple story, tells that story in such a way that keeps us invested and guessing, and makes it scary through basic childhood fears, looming unknowns, isolation, the masterful use of disturbing imagery and ideas, and a well-executed use of understated, yet hard-hitting, gore.

Being a Shymalan movie, of course, there’s a big twist. No, I’m not going to spoil it. But yes, it is amazing. Sixth Sense amazing. It’s the kind of twist that makes you stand up, eyes wide, hands pressed to your head, saying “Fuuuuuuuuuuuug I did NOT see that coming,” instantly followed by, “But what’s gonna happen next?! How are they getting out of this one?!” Seriously, it’s good. The movie throws enough information at you that you could piece it together before the revelation, but almost certainly won’t. And that, I say, is the best kind of twist.

In conclusion, I liked The Visit a lot, and recommend it to anyone who liked Shyamalan’s earlier work and has been waiting for a comeback, and to anyone who appreciates originality, refreshing simplicity, and deeply human characters in their Horror movies. It’s intriguing, it’s disturbing, and it’s bloody entertaining. The movie doesn’t rely on cheap scares, overused gimmicks, or gore for the sake of gore. My fervent hope is that Shyamalan makes more like this. I haven’t seen his latest, Split, yet, but it’s gotten a good reception so far and sounds up my alley. Great job, Shyamalan. Keep it up!

 

 

Happy Belated Religious Freedom Day!

29 January, LI A.S.

I am getting gradually more on top of things with this blog, I swear. 🙂

Happy National Religous Freedom Day!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virginia_Statute_for_Religious_Freedom#/media/File:Thomas_Jefferson%27s_Grave_Site.jpg

Jefferson considered the Virginia Statute an achievement of his up there with the Declaration of Independence, and his founding of the University of Virginia.

On January 16th, 1786, the Virginia General Assembly adopted Thomas Jefferson’s landmark Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. This law, which Jefferson originally drafted back in 1777, disestablished the Church of England in the state of Virginia and guaranteed the freedom of religion which Jefferson and the other Founding Fathers professed to be a natural right of every individual. This bold law broke with the political norms of nearly every empire, kingdom, and principality of the Old World: our new Republic would have no more state religion, no more government sponsorship of proselytizing, no more requirements of one or another religious affiliation in order to hold public office, and overall, freedom of conscience and freedom of worship for everyone. Not just Protestants. Not just Christians. Everyone, according to this law, would be protected as such:

…no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities…

Jefferson’s legislation would go on to influence the United States Constitution of 1787, specifically its First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

State and federal adherence to the right of religious freedom have proven imperfect at times and remain so today. But the ideals enshrined in the Statute and the First Amendment live on, woven inseparably into the ever-vital American Experiment. If a man lacks the fundamental freedom to choose and believe whatever religious worldview suits him, (including an unreligious worldview,) what kind of freedom does he conceivably have? Considering Mankind’s long and bloody history of holy wars, inquisitions, witch hunts, and pogroms of every kind, Jefferson’s’ “Wall of Separation” between the State and any church is an unusual and precious concept worth both celebrating and soberly protecting.

I can’t think of a more fitting day to celebrate mine and my country’s religious liberty than January 16th. A lot of folks (including the last four U.S. Presidents,) seem to agree with me, and so that date is proclaimed each year as National Religious Freedom Day. And hey, check it out, the Church of Satan has a great page on the subject as well:

(Click for link to Church website)

I highly recommend checking out that page to see what many talented and articulate Satanists have to say on the topic. One little piece I’d like to highlight is the contribution made by the Satanic Player’s Society. We put together readings of a few quotations from famous authors on the topic. Mine is by Mark Twain. 🙂

There are still some in America (*cough cough*) who insist that the American nation was founded on the basis of the Christian religion, rather than on secular ideas of natural rights to life, liberty, and property. While the evidence against this myth abounds in the writings of many Founding Fathers, my favorite collective American rejection of Christian political dominance is the 1796 Treaty of Tripoli. This treaty connects to the fascinating and largely forgotten history of the young United States’ conflict with the piratical Barbary States of North Africa, the best part of that story being when Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison dispatched the US Navy and Marines to kick the pirates’ asses and finally put a stop to their bullshit. (Which is where the Marine’s Hymn gets “To the shores of Tripoli,” as well as where Marine officers get the Mameluke sword.)

Anyway, before the Barbary Wars, the United States concluded the 1796 Treaty of Tripoli in an (ultimately vain) attempt to keep the peace with the Ottoman vassal state of Tripolitania. The part of the Treaty most indicative of our country’s political leadership’s true views on religious freedom is Article 11, which reads:

Art. 11. As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen (Muslims); and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan (Mohammedan) nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

“NOT. In any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” Whatever other beef our country had with the terrorist states of North Africa, any future conflict hadn’t a thing to do with the religious beliefs of any party involved, but rather hostile actions towards our citizens or interests. The Treaty of Tripoli was signed by President John Adams, a key member of the Founding generation, and was ratified by 100% of the twenty-three Senators (out of a total Senate of thirty-two) present on June 7th, 1797. The political movement towards secularism is not some new invention that sprung from California college campuses in the liberal spirit of the 1960’s. It’s a key component of America’s foundation. Even if the vast majority of Americans were Christian, the Founders clearly intended for a secular state which would leave questions of religion to individuals and their freely-chosen churches. That’s our heritage as Americans, whether we’re respectively Christian, Buddhist, atheist, or Pastafarian.

In 2017, I think commemoration and celebration of this day and the achievement it represents is more important than ever. America has been at war with Islamic Jihadists for a decade and a half, while the threat of political Christian interference in Americans’ personal lives looms greater than it did a year ago. The past two centuries have seen great progress in fulfilling the American ideal of complete individual religious liberty and separation of church and state. Maintaining that progress requires vigilance, hard work, and appreciation of what our Forefathers fought for and achieved. May the ideas and reality of self-determination continue to spread across human civilization!

And I really do want to emphasize the hard, important work that lawyers and other activists from organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union have done for nearly a century, and continue to this day. Whether they’re stopping illegal discrimination, or arguing in the court system to overturn unconstituional laws which stood in the way of everything from scientific progress to the individual liberty of gay Americans, ACLU volunteers take the action needed to keep religious freedom alive. While members of the US Armed Forces get a great deal of credit (and rightfully so!) for protecting Americans from foreign threats of tyranny, I think it’s just as important to give attention to those civilians, such as ACLU volunteers, who fight the good fight securing our domestic Wall of Separation.

 

Furthermore, although the Church of Satan has a strict policy on politics, it’s well worth noting the Church’s goals set forth by High Priest Anton Szandor LaVey in “Pentagonal Revisionism”, specifically Points Two and Three. Numerous members contribute to those aims through their varied private and public endeavors.

Movie Review: Event Horizon

Note: I meant to post this months ago obviously, just after Halloween. I goofed up like a big dumb baby, didn’t notice that it didn’t actually go live, and now just got back to it.

 

What if Alien, The Shining, and Hellraiser all had sex?

You’d end up with…

Event Horizon

I had a great Halloween weekend: Pandemic Legacy and chicken wings on Friday night, writing all day Sunday…but what about Saturday, you ask? Saturday night, I went to a kick-ass Halloween party at my buddy’s house. I dressed as a Medieval plague doctor (with the beak mask) and played drinking games, hung out, just had a great time all-around. There was also an out of control fog machine adding to the fun. Oh! And a pit bull puppy, can’t forget that. She’s adorable.

We decided, naturally, to watch shitty Horror movies. The first we suffered through was The Ouija Experiment, and despite a few good disbelieving laughs, we just couldn’t make it through, so we switched to the nearly-as-bad Hayride 2. Was the first installment in that series any better? I doubt it. But who knows, sometimes sequels just suck.

Finally, after much beer and debating, we settled on the 1997, big-budget but “Meh”-received film Event Horizon, directed by Paul Anderson, and starring Laurence Fishburne, Sam Neill, Kathleen Quinlan, and Joely Richardson. Now, despite it coming out nearly twenty years ago and being pretty well known, I had actually never seen nor even heard of Event Horizon! One of my friend’s said it was corny but good, and another said it was just utter garbage. The former convinced me, as I’m always up for new Sci-Fi Horror, and we got underway!

I was overall pleased with this movie, especially its premise: in the future, a spaceship (its name the title’s namesake) uses an experimental gravity drive to quickly bridge two distant points in space through the use of an artificial black hole. This, like the warp drive in Star Trek, would everything, allowing mankind to rapidly explore and settle the galaxy, and perhaps reach contact with distant intelligent life. The problem is, on its maiden voyage, the Event Horizon simply vanishes without a trace. That ill-fated voyage happened seven years before the movie’s plot begins, when another ship, commanded by Laurence Fishburne’s character Captain Miller, picks up a distress signal from the suddenly re-appeared Horizon, and proceeds to investigate. Accompanying Miller’s crew is the Event Horizon’s designer, Dr. William Weir, who himself is haunted by a dark past which grows all the darker as the story unfolds, harshly testing his sanity. I don’t want to give any more spoilers from there!

The set and costume design are as Alien-esque as that ominous premise would suggest, complete with a gloomy and industrial look not too different from modern sea-ship interiors, interlaced with high-tech control panels and futuristic spacesuits. Nearly everything is top-notch in the visuals department, (some visuals rely on dated 1997 CGI, though not any more than necessary,) and I found myself quickly drawn into this oddly familiar science fiction universe, eagerly anticipating what horrors from beyond the stars will befall our ill-prepared heroes.

The horror comes fast and furious. This is especially true in the infamous “blood orgy” scene, which, at least according to Wikipedia, was originally a much longer and even more graphic sequence, until poor feedback from test audiences (some viewers reportedly fainted!) convinced director Paul Anderson to cut much of it. I found more than enough suspense, space action, and disturbing imagery to whet my appetite. Most of the acting ranges from “Great” to “Fun Over-The-Top-ness,” and to my memory never got in the way of the plot or tone. The action scenes are cool and exciting and make maximum use of the special effects available by the budget and technology of the time.

I do think the overall delivery on the film’s central premise and initial foreboding is a tad underwhelming. There is corn here, to be sure. The final delivery is a nearly inherent problem with Horror movies: you, as the creator, establish an ominous setting and then build up in the viewer’s mind this ominous, big, bad, too-terrible-to-behold monster. It’s always just out of sight, always keeping to the shadows, always leaving the details to the imagination, only letting the viewer get a tiny peek behind the curtain, via sounds or glimpses or the aftermath of what this Thing does. But then, as the plot reaches a climax, you’re basically forced to show your hand, and your art faces this challenge: does your Big Baddie match the limitless monstrosity that the viewer has already formed in his or her mind? What people find scary is often surprisingly subjective, and it’s as a result difficult to reveal a monster which matches or exceeds what the viewer’s mind already formulated. Event Horizon does…passably well in that department. There is good imagery, there are great sound effects, but never the kind of payoff I hoped for, and that sadly weakens the film beyond what its foreshadowing implies.

Overall, I like this movie. Again, remember that my viewing environment was far from ideal and that fact may taint my opinion. But I saw enough to know that Event Horizon captures what Science Fiction Horror needs to get right: that existential dread of the unknown and incomprehensible chaos which lurks on the edges of human understanding, beyond the stars. I find it safe to say that H.P. Lovecraft codified that type of Modern Cosmic Horror, and that Paul Anderson’s film embodies a good example of it. The Science Fiction premise underlying the story is interesting, the setting is ominous, and the suspense does its job. I’ve seen many better Horror movies, but if you’re looking through recent decades for something new to you, and something not as critically acclaimed as, say, Alien or The Shining, Event Horizon is a good choice.

I’M BACK! Here are several updates. (I now voice act! And raise insects!)

13 October, L A.S.

I return to regular blogging after way too long of a break!!

That’s announcement number one! I am going to be again regularly updating this blog, and doing so more frequently than ever. I have been writing, (and editing, and revising,) but have not shared enough of that with my audience as of late. And, my writing production hasn’t been nearly where I want it to be. Writing is a huge passion of mine, and I’ve let it slip by the wayside with how busy I’ve been at my new career. I started said career (which, for legal reasons I can give only the vaguest details about here) back in August 2015, and am off to a great start. It’s an emotionally and financially rewarding profession, which makes an enormous positive difference in the lives of others.

Really, the way I see it, my life’s mission is to perpetually increase my own wealth, health, and freedom, via good habits, mindfulness, passion, and above all by bringing monetary and emotional value to others. Too many people in this world only consume value, rather than create it. I’m here to be a creator, and my writing is a key part of that. The activity of writing is inherently therapeutic for me, and when I can share good stories with other people, and draw them in and make them think and feel new things and get sucked into something interesting…well, that fills me with pride, and fulfills me. So expect to see a lot more on this blog, and on Amazon and other websites, in the near future.

Announcement number two: I officially now have voice acting credit with the Satanic Players Society! They produced an audio version of my short story The Full Moon’s Hunt a while back, and now I’ve contributed narration work for them on the erotic horror tale Candy, Blood, and Sex, written by Hydra M. Star. Voice acting isn’t something I ever thought I’d be doing, and I appreciate the opportunity to broaden my horizons with SPS. It’s fun! Speaking of, they have a new episode coming out in time for Halloween, for which I provided some additional fun character work. HALLELUJAH! Stay tuned!

What else has been going on in my world? Well, besides the daily hustle and bustle of my day job, I’ve had time to get much more into weight lifting. I follow the Strong Lifts program, and have been slowly but surely making progress on a variety of Olympic barbell compound lifts. Since August 2015, I’ve built noticeable muscle mass, and have never felt physically better. If you don’t lift, do so: you’ll gain muscle, lose fat, feel good, and develop discipline. The benefits tend to spill over into better sleep and nutrition habits, as well.

Also new, is that I undertook a new experiment in raising praying mantises! Their egg sac arrived at my door in April of 2016, and took about a month to hatch. Dozens of tiny, quick, adorable little Chinese mantids greeted me one morning in their carefully prepared habitat, and promptly got to work devouring countless genetically-modified wingless fruit flies, as well as each other. Mantises are voracious cannibals, with zero qualms about eating their siblings. If I have a go with this species again, (which you know I will,) I’m going to just order a couple of pre-hatched nymphs and stick ’em in separate enclosures. One of the most cool yet disturbing things I saw my mantises do: after the cannibalism and genetic unfitness weeded out all but two of the nymphs, the slightly larger one devoured its own sibling…suspended upside down from the enclosure’s ceiling, it grasped its brother/sister (I can’t tell their sex) in its strong and spiky raptorial limbs, and ate through the prey’s thorax, then ate the separated abdomen and head parts. And the sibling was alive the entire time. Mantises typically eat their prey alive, targeting the head first if their quarry is a potential threat. Brutal!

I enjoyed raising the mantises because I think they’re remarkable little predatory kung-fu masters! They’re the only insects able to turn their head, and that along with their face shape gives them a vaguely humanoid charm that most arthropods lack. They’re quick, able to escape predators (including bats!) and ambush prey with lightning movements. And, they can fly. They just look so freakin’ cool. My final mantis made it through three of her (I started calling it a female, just felt right, though I never gave her a name,) six molts before adulthood, but didn’t make it to her full 5.5 inch adult length. I found her mysteriously dead one morning, stiff as a board, despite having plenty of food and water. No idea what happened. But, I learned from the whole experience, and will certainly be more successful next Spring when I raise a couple mantises again. From there, I’ll move on to other species, especially spiders, and finally rid myself of the last vestiges of my foolish arachnophobia. Fun fact on mantises by the way: most of the ones you’ll see in the United States north of the Carolinas are a Chinese species brought over to Philadelphia in the 1880’s for pest control. They’ve since fit in well with the local ecosystem so far as I know, and farmers and gardeners often purchase them to gobble up aphids and other pests!

(Mantis pictures to follow. Gotta get ’em over from my cell phone.)

Another recent thing I did was storytelling at Irondequoit, NY’s second annual fall fest at the new I-Square development. I read a few classic kids’ stories, (none of my own work,) to a small audience. I like hearing myself talk, and I like performing, so it was fun. I hope to do more of that.

Finally, my first novel, The Devil and the Doctor, is coming soon…I know it’s way late, again, I use my day job as my flimsy excuse here. But it’s a damn fine story if I do so say so, and I hope you’ll all find it worth the wait.

Oh, and it’s Fall now, and I love that. The weather, football, (go Bills!!) Halloween, Thanksgiving, my birthday. Glorious!

Peace, HS,

-Geoff

 

Startin’ mah new jerb

4 August, L A.S. (2015)

And I get to look spiffy.

meeee

Yee

I recently got a new job, as I think I mentioned before. I’m quite hyped about it after a good first day. I have a lot of training to get through, but it’ll all be worth it, and I’ll have new knowledge I can use outside this job as well. I also get to wear sharp-lookin’ suits like the one pictured. (I’ll add some full body shots to this blog later.)

I can’t talk about the details of where I’m working yet. It’s something I didn’t expect to become my full-time career, but that I’m pleased to have found. I wish writing could pay the bills completely, but it can’t for me yet. This new job will work great for the foreseeable future. It uses my skills and talents, I get to work with smart people, and what I do benefits other people’s lives dramatically. 🙂

And, don’t worry, readers: I will still absolutely be writing new books. And The Devil and the Doctor is still coming this September.

G.R. Wilson

Listen to my story “The Full Moon’s Hunt,” featured on the “Satanic Story Time” podcast!

1 August, L A.S. (2015)

Listen to the Satanic Players Society’s performance of The Full Moon’s Hunt!

The-Full-Moons-Hunt-e1438337961640

Thursday night, a night of the full moon, I sat down with show host Aaraon Mantle to record an opening conversation to Episode 28 of Satanic Story Time. This was my first time appearing on a podcast, and with a bit of nervous energy, I think it went well!

As a history geek, and lover of cool ideas and technology from the past, I’m happy that radio dramas and comedies have made a comeback with the rise of podcasts. People too young to remember the original airings are rediscovering 50+ year old shows, and all types of creative writers and performers are creating new audio-only content, streamed online.  It’s fun and interesting to me that we went from radio, to television, to the Internet, and then that Internet brought back the popularity of “radio” entertainment! Aaron Mantle’s show is a great example of the past decade or so’s podcast trend.

Satanic Story Time, as the website’s “About” section says, “is a podcast which covers a wide variety of short story horror classics with a satanic slant.” It features performances from the talented Satanic Players Society, classic radio stories such as those from Inner Sanctum Mystery, thematic music, and conversations with authors and actors.

I had the honor of the Satanic Players Society performing my werewolf story, The Full Moon’s Hunt. The tale begins on a lonely night in Victorian London, as a young occult author follows an invitation delivered by a mysterious and beautiful Scottish woman. Our protagonist immediately travels to the Scottish Highlands for a meeting with a wealthy publisher, who is  a man with a passion both for sport, and revenge…and, oh yeah, it’s a full moon that night! 😉

I hope you enjoy the show: this episode in particular, and then all the other great episodes that Mr. Aaron Mantle has produced and will produce! Who knows, a future SPS performance just might include a little voice acting from me. 😉

HS, (Happy Saturday,)

-G.R. Wilson

P.S. – You can purchase my horror anthology, which includes The Full Moon’s Hunt, via Amazon here, for paperback and Kindle. Thank you!

My adventures in learning Esperanto

31 July, L A.S. (2015)

Saluton! Mia nomo estas “Geoff,” kaj mi estas komencanto de Esperanto.

Esperanto Flag

If you know me at all, you know that I love learning new knowledge and skills. WheneverI can, I’m reading books, listening to educational podcasts, and improving my abilities in horseback riding, physical fitness, and money management.

Last Friday, I began learning the language Esperanto through DuoLingo. For about a year, I’ve enjoyed using DuoLingo to practice my French, and on a whim I decided to try Esperanto. I knew vaguely that it was a constructed language, created to foster international understanding and peace.

I proceeded (after a couple of minutes of learning some basic Esperanto words) to look into the history of this fascinating language.

A Polish medical student named L.L. Zamenhof developed Esperanto in the 1870’s and 1880’s. Growing up in Poland, he reasoned that much of the reason for ethnic strife in his region was the lack of a common language. He hoped that if Germans, Poles, Russians, Belorussians, Lithuanians, Jews, and Tatars could all speak in one neutral language, that they could overcome dangerous misunderstandings.

Dr. L.L. Zamenhof

Dr. L.L. Zamenhof

Being already well-versed in many languages himself, (including Yiddish, Russian, German, French, Ancient Greek, and Latin, among others,) Zamenhof got to work creating a regular and easily-learned language. Esperanto would serve as a lingvo internacia: a supplementary, neutral language combining the sounds of many European national languages, but easier to speak, write, and understand than any existing individual language.

The global response to this language has been mixed. On the one hand, about two million people speak the language, there is an annual Esperanto World Congress hosted by a different nation every year, and about 2,000 people worldwide are native speakers. Many books, songs, and poems are written and performed in Esperanto. There’s even a 1966 Horror movie called Incubus performed all in Esperanto! (And starring William Shatner!)

But…despite the efforts of Esperanto enthusiasts to spread a universal language for universal peace, the two World Wars still happened. (In Mein Kampf, Hitler even condemns the language as a tool of the global Jewish conspiracy, and the Nazis persecuted Esperanto speakers.) Esperanto didn’t diffuse the decades of proxy conflict and nuclear tension comprising the Cold War. It has had virtually no effect on countless civil wars and cases of ethnic strife and cross-cultural terrorism. Two million speakers sounds pretty good for a constructed language with no native land or culture to call home, but on a planet of seven billion people, it’s a drop in the bucket. English and French are still the dominant languages of international business and diplomacy.

Taking it back to the individual level: why bother to learn Esperanto? Let me count the ways:

  • You can communicate with its two million speakers, who are spread throughout various countries and often eager to talk to make international connections. There’s even a website you can use to find lodging with fellow Esperanto-speakers or to host one in your home.
  • Related to the above point, Esperanto is easier to learn than nearly any language. It’s certainly easy to learn compared to, say, English, or Mandarin Chinese. An American and a Chinese person would have a hard time communicating with each other in one of their respective native languages. But if they both learned Esperanto, they could speak and write to each other relatively easily. Admittedly, the American (and any native speaker of Western languages) has the advantage due to already knowing the alphabet, and the familiarity with many of the words’ origins, but Esperanto is still a great introduction to Western languages for a non-Western person, and eases communication among any different nationalities.
  • Learning Esperanto helps you learn any other language. It has a regular form which makes it easy to learn, so you are not likely to get frustrated with it as you might with French or Spanish. (Many of you may remember having to memorize all those pesky irregular verb conjugations for a high school language class.) With Esperanto, you can communicate ideas almost right away and with little stress. This will boost your confidence for learning any non-native languages, as you build the basic skills of quickly picking apart, translating, and forming sentences.
  • Esperanto sounds beautiful. When you listen to an Esperanto conversation or song, you hear delightful snippets of French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, German, English, Russian, Polish, and Latin. I hear people say that Esperanto sounds like Spanish, but the people saying that are usually Americans, AKA speakers of a (mostly) Germanic language. I’ve heard Romance language speakers say Esperanto reminds them of German! And you can’t escape the Eastern European-ness of many Esperanto words, either. It truly sounds like what it’s intended to be: a neutral language that crosses national borders. (One that sounds beautiful, and is easy to learn!)
  • You can be a tricky and speak Esperanto with your friends out among the krokodiloj, while no one outside of your group understands you. 😉

 

Use Esperanto to conquer the world!! Mwuhahaha! Just kidding. :)

Use Esperanto to conquer the world!! Mwuhahaha! Nah, just kidding. 🙂

I’ve personally had a blast just learning Esperanto on my own with DuoLingo, and occasionally listening to Esperanto videos on YouTube. I plan to connect with other people to speak with once I’m just a bit better. I already discovered a couple days ago that someone in my social circle speaks Esperanto fluently!

Dankon, kaj bonan tagon al vi!

-G.R. Wilson