Thursday, January 31, 2013

An Introspective on Zero Dark Thirty
By Anthony Servante

Playing at a theater near you

            My girlfriend called and woke me up. We were up pretty late on September 10, 2001 at the House of Blues on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, watching a rare appearance of the Rock band Savatage. So I had hoped to sleep in, but I answered the phone anyway.
            “They attacked New York,” she said.
            I didn’t understand. But the urgency in her voice made me listen.
            “Turn on the TV and call me back.” She hung up.
            It was on all the channels. The replays. The planes flying into the Towers. The smoke. The word Terrorist.
            And so it began. The media coverage of the biggest attack on American soil, not just on Americans like at Pearl Harbor, but on American soil.

On the TV

            I phoned in to work and told my staff to take the next few days off, that I’ll email everyone when to return. And I glued my ass to the sofa and watched the replays over and over. Until it became surreal. That October the USA began bombing Afghanistan. The next week the threats of further possible attacks were announced. Then the Anthrax scare. And everywhere there were searches. My girlfriend stopped carrying her bag because she would constantly be stopped and searched. At the movies they added a warning before the trailers about what to do in case of an attack.
            Then the number was announced: 3000 dead.
            And what nobody wanted to talk about was when was Hollywood going to make a movie about 9/11? Oh, there were a few jokers who broached the subject, but they were shushed by society saying this was not the time. However, five years after the attack, the movie United 93 (2006) was released. People were angry. I remember the discussion online condemning the film’s poor taste. I saw it. It was well made. It told the story of the heroes on United 93 in a non-heroic way. It wasn’t the John Wayne in the Green Berets approach; it was in good taste, perhaps a bit too laid back. But not enough people saw it to render a consensus on the movie. I offered to pay the admission price for anyone who wanted to see it. No one took me up. Later that year World Trade Center by Oliver Stone was released. It fared better, mainly because it was the John Wayne heroics people wanted to see. In the span of a year, public opinion had started to shift, from denial to mild acceptance. It was ok to dramatize 9/11.

Available on DVD

            On TV and film Middle-Eastern actors began to find work. They were hired to portray the Terrorists. And the innocent Muslims mistaken for terrorists. It took Blacks decades to finally find work in Hollywood. Julius “Nipsey” Russell joked how Black activists were complaining in the early ‘60s about the lack of “Negroes” on TV. His punchline was, “There are plenty of Negroes on TV. Don’t the activists watch Basketball?” Well, the Arab actors got their presence on TV and film in a matter of five years thanks to 9/11. That’s not a criticism but an observation. Latinos are still struggling for some presence (no, Chico and the Man and the George Lopez show don’t count, sorry, but that’s a different article).

Nipsey Russell

            And in 2010 a comedy about terrorists was released with an all Middle-Eastern starring cast. It was called Four Lions. It tracked four bumbling terrorists who prepare to attack a target to rival 9/11. It was a funny movie. At the end you are made to feel sorry for the terrorists who are in over their heads. There is one humorous scene where a terrorist hides out in an Arab restaurant. The police enter the joint and take down the owner because he looks more like a terrorist than the actual bomber seated at a table pretending to be a customer. Again, we get back to the actors hired to play terrorists and the Middle-Easterners mistaken for terrorists.

4 wacky terrorists

            Hollywood had added a new presence to filmdom. The media had accepted a new culture into TV-land. But there was still the matter of 9/11. The heroic movies were wearing thin. Terrorists were now humanized. Which gave the movie-making industry nowhere to go.
            Until we caught Osama bin Laden. And Hollywood combined the heroics with the humanization to make Zero Dark Thirty, nominated for five academy awards, including Best Picture of the Year. Hollywood had its ending—the death of bin Laden. Its hero—Maya, a CIA operative played by Jessica Chastain, nominated for Best Actress. And yes, it also had real Middle-Eastern actors as the good guys.

Is an Oscar next?

            After 9/11, bin Laden sent out that first tape to the media, boasting how Americans were trembling at the attack and living in fear of the al-Qaeda. I remember Garry Trudeau mocking this assertion in his Doonesbury strip. For many Americans, life returned to normal the next day. School resumed. I even called back my staff to work after only one day. I had them make ribbons with the red white and blue and to wear them until further notice. We then attended a church service (voluntary—as two of our staff were Muslim, but they did come to be with their friends and co-workers) and afterwards I treated to lunch. While eating, street vendors entered the Peruvian eatery and sold little US flags for five dollars a pop and others sold nicer looking ribbons than the ones we made. Every vendor sold out their entire ware. Capitalism was in full swing. No one was trembling with fear. Patriotism was thick in the air. There were more flags on the street than Lakers banners during the playoffs in Los Angeles.

Patriotism not fear

          Zero Dark Thirty was closure. Finally. I know I wept. Finally. Years after all those flags had grown tattered from wear and the patriotism was muted by the elusive target that President W Bush promised to bring to justice, there was no closure. But Bush’s role in the capture is prominent in the early part of the film as the torture and degradation of the “detainees” reveal relevant information that will lead to bin Laden’s downfall. Combined with President Obama’s contribution to an intelligence gathering without detainee input, the W Bush intel sealed Osama’s fate. I haven’t seen such a joining of extremes to reach a positive outcome since the New Testament was added to the Old Testament. The film is brilliant detective work, and the villain is found. Finally.

            But this investigation had been going on since 2002, during the years when people were refusing to see United 93, while saying it was too soon for a movie about 9/11. There were about four people in attendance when I saw United 93 and about two thirds of the theater was full for Zero Dark Thirty. Finally, it was okay to see a movie about 9/11 that wasn’t patriotic or propagandistic. It was a detective story. A true story. People didn’t wave little flags or wear ribbons. They ate popcorn and drank sodas and munched on nachos. I had a hot dog myself. But when Maya cried at the end, so did I. Because it was over. 3000 victims avenged. A Best Picture nomination. An Arab presence in Hollywood. Maybe now people can go see United 93 without guilt. Sorry, but I’m not paying your admission this time. I can’t afford that many tickets.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Jim Rook series by Graham Masterton
A Review by Anthony Servante

Graham Masterton

Bio: "Graham Masterton's first novel, The Manitou, was a bestseller and an instant classic and was made into a feature film. Masterton has won an Edgar Award and France's prestigious Prix Julia Verglanger. Several of his stories have been adapted for television. Masterton's more than one hundred novels include "Charnel House, The Chosen Child," and "Maiden Voyage" (a" New York Times" bestseller). He has written for adults, young adults, and children and edited several anthologies. Earlier in his career, Masterton edited men's magazines, including "Penthouse," He has written a number nonfiction books on sex, including "How to Drive Your Man Wild in Bed," which has sold more than three million copies."

  My first GM book

I’ve read the work of Graham Masterton since THE MANITOU (1983), and I credit this book, as well as James Herbert’s RATS, and F. Paul Wilson’s THE KEEP for ushering in the Silver Age of Horror. I’ve read Masterton’s books as they were released, but lost track of his latest work for a few years into the new Millennium. Thus, I missed the Rook Series. So, it’s been my pleasure catching up with those years I’d lost. The Jim Rook books have an everyman hero who has a dire gift: He can see creatures of the dead. This is not just seeing “dead people”; he sees demons, vengeful spirits, and mythological monsters. And Graham really does his homework to find these creatures. He starts with familiar territory from his Manitou series by exploring Indian culture for his other-world beasts, but also enters the legends of Alaskan, Korean, and other cultures for more vengeful undead.

So, let’s begin our synopsis of the Jim Rook Series to date.

In 1997 Graham Masterton released ROOK, about a high school remedial teacher who investigates supernatural cases. Jim Rook almost died at an early age, but he managed to overcome the pneumonia; this miracle blessed him with the ability to see ghosts. He uses this power to help one of his students who is charged with murder, and faces the realities behind local legends and superstitions, just as Harry Erskine in the Manitou series traverses Native American mythos to find real demons at work therein.

That same year TOOTH AND CLAW was also released. More Native American myths are explored as Rook explores the culture of the Navajo Indians. One of his students is found murdered and two Navajos are arrested. Jim Rook faces the Coyote, a mythical creature of horrifying dimensions. His gift for seeing beyond this world guide his investigation and assist him in dealing with the Coyote.

The following year THE TERROR gave us Jim Rook’s third venture into the supernatural. This time out his investigation leads us into the Mayan’s mystical beliefs and rituals. One of Rook’s students, a young Mexican boy, dabbles in the black arts of ancient Mexico and unleashes a manifestation of fear. It is up to Rook to stop this monster that grows stronger as it kills more and more victims.

SNOWMAN (1999), the fourth Jim Rook book, explores the supernatural side of the Inuit Alaskans. As the title infers, the demon can control ice. After this creature is cheated by the father of Jack Hubbard, one of Jim’s students, the campus where Jim teaches is ravaged by icy accidents in the middle of summer, some indeed very gruesome. Rook must learn about the Inuit in order to deal with the Snowman.

SWIMMER (2002) takes us on Rook’s fifth adventure into the mythos of supernatural culture. This time the revenge-seeking demon is a female spirit who is killing students and friends of Jim Rook, using water as a means of vengeance. Rook must use his ghostly talents to figure out why this spirit is killing those around him and find a way to stop it.

DARKROOM (2004) brings us to the sixth in the Jim Rook series. A dangerous spirit that inverts people’s souls, that is, turns their lighter side into a darker version with horrific results. The myth about the camera capturing a person’s soul is explored by Rook as he investigates cases of murder involving spontaneous combustion. For those familiar with Graham Masterton’s oeuvre, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the parallels to Family Portrait, one of my favorite reads.

DEMON’S DOOR (2011) enters the mythology of Korean demons, namely, Kwisin, who has brought Rook’s dead cat back to life, but for a price. The payment Rook must pay is the driving force behind this story as Graham Masterton again delves into a supernatural culture to find a new creature to unleash on humanity. As usual, Jim Rook uses his ghost vision to deal with the demon.

GARDEN OF EVIL (2013) is the eighth and the latest in the Jim Rook series. Here the mythos is Biblical, or Christian in nature, that is, the concept of Heaven and Hell are addressed. Heaven, of course, is seen as Paradise, while Hell is destruction and death without reward (as in no afterlife). Rook investigates another series of sinister deaths, many victims positioned in grotesque poses. The violence here is creepier because of the religious themes that are more familiar to many readers, unlike the religious leanings from the “Mayans” or “Inuit” per se where we are introduced to the creatures for the first time. For instance, a fallen angel is far more frightening than an ice creature to a person of faith, and Masterton knows how to turn the screws on his audience. The gothic overtones bore a similarity to those in other religious classics such as The EXORCIST for example, only Garden of Evil anted up the gruesome killings. I enjoyed the consistency of the Rook books: mythic creatures in an unpredictable setting and narrative. Rook is a sympathetic hero whose adventures into the supernatural are stories that one can’t help but read in one sitting.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Shared Universes in Horror Literature: From Cthulhu to Sha’Daa
by Anthony Servante

A Servante of Darkness reprint from The Black Glove Blog (October 2011)

Welcome to the Darkness, dear readers. Today we concern ourselves with Shared Universes in the Horror genre, especially with otherly creatures and monsters, with a little bit of religion thrown in.

We begin with HP Lovecraft’s Cthulhu and August Derleth’s expansion of the series into the “Cthulhu Mythos.” In the short story, The Call of Cthulhu, first published in Weird Tales (1928), Lovecraft described his malevolent creature as “…an octopus, a dragon, and a human caricature…. A pulpy, tentacled head surmounted a grotesque scaly body with rudimentary wings”. His monster was part of a bigger world, an underwater empire where it was trapped, called R’lyeh. Accompanying the imprisoned creature are the Deep Ones. This group of monsters echoes the fallen angels described in Milton’s Paradise Lost: Satan as the snake-like creature surrounded by Astaroth, Belial, et all, now transformed from heavenly winged beings to slithering foul creatures inhabiting Hades, the prison for them created by God. And as the religious followers chose to worship Christ and loathe the hellish behemoths of the Underworld, so too did sects and cults emerge in countries across the globe to worship rather than loathe the Cthulhuian beasts. And as Christians await the End of Times, that is, the Coming of the Antichrist, the Leviathan rising from the sea to signal the reemergence of Lucifer, the Cthulhu followers expect the return of the tentacled dragon and its fellow creatures to annihilate mankind, nay, all living things. From the monster came the world of the monster and its inhabitants, a place of dread for mankind but without purpose for man.

August Derleth 

August Derleth expanded Lovecraft’s religious scenario in his short story, The Return of Hastur, to include more Christian elements. It was more apparent in Derleth’s revisions that Cthulhu represented evil—Hastur filling in for Satan’s right-hand demon, Astaroth—and good was represented by the Ancient Ones. Mankind was not an inconsequential prize, a victim of circumstance, as depicted by Lovecraft; under Derleth’s guidance, Mankind was the prize. In The Trail of Cthulhu (1944-1952) Derleth represents man’s role in the universal struggle, when he creates the characters, Doctor Laban Shrewsbury and his associates, who prepare for the coming of the trapped behemoth, representative of the many religions that prepare believers and followers for the Second Coming of Christ and the rising of the Antichrist from the depths. Derleth’s version of Cthulhu was more relatable to believers of God and the Devil, with Mankind caught in the middle of their struggle to gain men’s faith and souls. As such, Derleth is closer to the Christian writings of CS Lewis, especially in The Chronicles of Narnia (although Narnia is not a shared universe), than to Lovecraft, who saw Mankind’s role in the Cthulhu myth as amoral, almost without value or worth.

In the Adversary Cycle (AC) by F. Paul Wilson, the struggle between opposing forces also views Mankind as fuel rather than the goal of their galactic war. However, Man has a role in the struggle, closer to Derleth’s interpretation than Lovecraft’s. The AC consists of The Keep (1981), The Tomb (1984), The Touch (1986), Reborn (1990), Reprisal (1991), and Nightworld 1992). Note that although the six books comprise the core world of the AC, the first three were written as standalone novels. But Wilson had one of his “dreaded epiphanies” and created the universe of the AC., incorporating the first three books to conform to the new universe that culminates in Nightworld. Wilson explains,

"In 1987, after finishing BLACK WIND, I started on REBORN. I'd outlined it years before but it didn't gel. I wanted it to look like a ROSEMARY'S BABY or an OMEN but actually be something different (just as THE KEEP looks like a vampire novel for a while, but it's not). I wanted to use an evil entity other than the tired old Antichrist, but who? Then I realized I already had that entity in Rasalom. I needed a suburban setting convenient to Manhattan, and realized I already had one in Monroe where THE TOUCH took place. I became intrigued by the challenge of tying those novels, and THE TOMB as well, into Rasalom's reincarnation, bringing the books full circle.

Things grew from there. The result was an outline for a 1,000-plus-page novel. Nobody was going to publish that, so I broke it down into a trilogy and sold it that way. But it remains a single novel-a roman fleuve, if you will." Wilson further expanded this universe by extending the Repairman Jack role that began in The Tomb into a series of books filling gaps between the standalone book and the events leading to the end of the world as Mankind knows it” ( FAQ).

F. Paul Wilson 

In essence, Repairman Jack parallels Dr. Shrewsbury, the middle-man between the battle between good and evil—only in the AC, the struggle is not so simple. But, as in Lovecraft’s Cthulhu, Mankind bears no direct influence on its destructive path; nor is it closer to Derleth’s version of the underwater creature where Mankind is the goal. In the AC, there seems to be a balance between the entities that one side (evil, per se) seeks to tilt in its own favor, whereas the opposing side (good, per se) only seeks to keep the balance. This is of course a layman’s simplistic summary of the AC, but we are here about monsters, so let’s get to it. These are the creatures from the Otherness:

§ Chew Flies - The most prolific of the horrors described in the book, the "Chew Flies" (as young Jeffy dubs them) are flying creatures, vaguely resembling anglerfish, whose large mouths are filled with glass-like teeth. The teeth tend to fall out when the creature is struck, and the characters form makeshift swords by attaching scavenged Chew Fly teeth to wooden sticks in order to defend themselves.

§ Stab Flies - Appearing at the same time as the Chew Flies but somewhat less common, the "Stab Flies" (again named by Jeffy) have no mouth, but their head is formed into a large, hard proboscis with which they can impale a victim in order to extract blood to feed upon.

§ Glob Flies - Similar to the Chew Flies, the Glob Flies have a shapeless gelatinous head which oozes acid.

§ Jelly Blobs - Tentacles masses which drift lazily in air, bristling with stinging feelers.

§ Crawlers - These creatures resemble jet-black millipedes the size of a man, but are carnivorous and reproduce by laying eggs in human bodies (in the manner of numerous types of flies which parasitize caterpillars). The remarkably tenacious Hank Treece finally meets his end at the hands of a "queen" of these creatures after escaping seeming death three times in preceding chapters.

§ Sky Leviathans - Titanic creatures who inhabit the night sky and fly around the world to stay ahead of the sunrise, they are not concretely described but are large enough to swallow a passenger airplane whole.

§ Rasalom - The ancient sorcerer responsible for the onslaught of Darkness spends most of the book in a cave deep within the first of the immense pits which opens in Central Park (they do not actually lead down into the Earth, but rather into the Dark Dimensions). In the final scene, he emerges only partially transformed, into a huge beast with several gangly arm/legs and a central body with at least one vast eye (Thank you, Wikipedia).

In Nightworld, these monsters resemble the fellow creatures of Cthulhu (Rasalom, in this case) or as in the Christian version, Satan and his minions. So, F. Paul Wilson created his own shared universe by uniting his stand-alone novels into the overall world of the Otherness. Although he has not opened the door to sharing his universe with other authors, I believe the manner in which this universe was created counts it as a shared world. NOTE: Since this article first appeared, the Adversary Cycle has continued to grow into its own universe with Wilson incorporating former writings with new books to expand his shared world.

Sha’Daa, however, is a shared world collaboration founded by Michael H. Hanson. Influenced by F. Paul Wilson’s Adversary Cycle, Hanson had a “dreaded epiphany”, as Wilson calls it. Hanson explains, “I guess it was a combination of factors. I was feeling a bit depressed and did not have the drive to expand my outline into a fully-fledged novel. Also, I had been a real admirer of the shared-world anthology known as WILD CARDS. Also, in a conversation I had with famed author F. Paul Wilson, I found out that his first three books THE KEEP, THE TOMB, and THE TOUCH, were also written as standalone books, but afterwards he conceived of a way to make them part of a single, cohesive series. All these factors just kind of gelled in my head, and I came up with the idea of "The Sha'Daa," where I could say that many of my already published horror stories are actually directly tied to the concept of this 48-hour apocalypse that happens on the Earth once every 10,000 years. I then came up with a half-dozen short story scenarios that I felt would make a nice book, and suddenly got the idea that I could turn this into a long-running anthology series like WILD CARDS, or THIEVES WORLD, or HEROES IN HELL, etc.” (2011).

Thus, the first book was written. Michael H. Hanson’s SHA’DAA Tales of the Apocalypse (2009) reached print followed by SHA’DAA: Last Call (2010) Altered Dimensions, both edited by Edward F. McKeown. There are more books in the works. Hanson, with the help of authors, Edward F. McKeown, Deborah Koren, Arthur Sanchez, Nancy Jackson, Lee Ann Kuruganti, Wilson G. Marsh, Jamie Schmidt, Duncan MacMaster, Adrienne Ray, Robert Adams, T. Anthony Truax, Paul Barrett, Jordan Lapp, Sarah Wagner, Bruce Durham, Michael H. Hanson (himself), and the late James Wasserman, returned the shared universe to the mythos of Cthulhu by way of the Adversary Cycle. While Hanson admired the shared fantasy and science fiction worlds, he used the SHA’DAA to depict the earth caught between evil and good entities of enormous destruction, while keeping his authors locked into the mythos by use of the Salesman, who represents the catalyst that ties the two entities in their struggle, just as Dr. Shrewsbury did for Derleth and Repairman Jack did for Wilson.

The SHA’DAA represents an opening in a dimension that allows Cthuluian creatures to enter Earth’s dimension, wrecking havoc and horror. It is as if Hell had opened and Satan’s spawn were unleashed on the world. What makes this universe different from the AC or the Cthulu Mythos is that the humans here have effect on battling the creatures. Their roles are more active than passive. Many of their actions indeed invoke the Sha’Daa. Each story of the Sha’Daa details a battle with a monster or being by various protagonists from different backgrounds. Aligator and ape-headed monsters are heading for New York City, with only a handful of heroes to stop them, monks and demons do battle, giant snakes and spiders are fended off by brave humans, a teacher with students fends off giant plants that zombify their victims, scientists fight giant green orbs that kill in various ways, and various other human versus monster scenarios that extend the shared world of Sha’Daa beyond the Adversary Cycle or the Cthulhu Mythos. While not every story advances the mythos to greater comparisons, a drawback to any ‘shared world’ anthology, the horrific foundation is concretely established for further adventures into Mike Hanson’s mythos.

Michael H. Hanson 

While Lovecraft fashioned an amoral universe where a terrible tentacled titan awaited its chance to destroy Mankind, Derleth added religious, mainly Christian, elements to the Cthulhu Mythos to make it a more good versus evil world; Wilson combined Lovecraftian and Derlethian elements to construct the monsters and mythos that culminates in the classic Nightworld, where good and evil are beings that view humans as pawns in a bigger game, as Wilson’s humans take back seat to the ultimate battle between Rasalom and Glaeken (although the updated version of Nightworld, which incorporates the events of the Repairman Jack series, may alter the role the humans play—we’ll see). With SHA’DAA books one and two, Michael H. Hanson builds a shared world where all elements are combined: from Lovecraft, Derleth, to F. Paul Wilson. And it is the right combination for a new dimension to be enjoyed not only by fans of shared worlds but also by fans of horror, fantasy, and science fiction as well.


See you next month, dear readers, as the Servante of Darkness visits Horror and the E-Publishing Explosion with special guests from today’s Horror scene. NOTE: This series became the Cybernocturnalism interviews, parts one, two, and three, with part four in the works. Also look forward to my review of Sha'Daa: Pawns (2012).