Because monster stories have always served explain the unexplainable. To rationalise away the things that would otherwise be put in the too-hard basket. Lots of much smarter people agree:
LEE MURRAY: Jim has asked for a guest post to accompany Gingernuts’ review of Grotesque: Monster Stories, so I thought I’d ask you what on earth you think you’re doing?
Why, at this particular juncture in history, would anyone choose to release a collection of monster stories? It’s the year of devastating global events. We launched with Australia’s bushfires, which obliterated thousands of hectares of forest, endangered species, and set world climate reform back another half hour on the doomsday clock. Then, when firefighters were still stamping out the flare ups, the pandemic exploded, killing hundreds of thousands of our most vulnerable, sending the global economy into a tailspin, and exacerbating the inequalities in society. Even seemingly robust societies have seen unrest, hunger, and hardship. And on a personal level, aren’t you the woman who suffers acute anxiety and depression? Didn’t you just lose your dad? No one would reproach you for putting this release off for a year. Heck, you could simply forget the whole thing. No one needs a book of monster stories; the real world is monstrous enough.
Lee: There’s a lot of comfort to be found in monster stories.
LEE MURRAY: Comfort? You’re kidding, right? You’ve got a raft of monstrosities in this collection: spliced genetic aberrations, zombies, automatons, and golems. Creatures and creations from all over the world, plus one or two which you’ve clearly conjured from your twisted imagination. Where’s the comfort in that?
Lee: Because monster stories have always served explain the unexplainable. To rationalise away the things that would otherwise be put in the too-hard basket. Lots of much smarter people agree:
“Supernatural elements externalize and emotionally relieve core existential human problems, including death, deception, meaninglessness, and other problems that are factually and rationally intractable,” writes Ara Norenzayan and colleagues.1
[Monster stories provide] “a way for us to understand our own modern fears and their monstrous offspring, and new ways to think about broad questions of political history and relate them to the modern age,” says University of Buffalo Professor, David Castillo.2
I think for me some of the comfort arises from the power of capturing those monsters on the page. When we set our fears down on paper, we introduce an element of distance, of safety. And it’s from that place of safety that we can reflect, analyse, evaluate, perhaps even devise some viable solutions to the things that haunt us. In an increasingly dark and ominous world, monster stories gird us with hope. I guess now would good time to quote researcher Kay Redfield Jamison and her important work An Unquiet Mind:
“But, with time,” she wrote in 1995, “one has encountered many of the monsters, and one is increasingly less terrified of those still to be met.”3
LEE MURRAY: Okay we get it; this book is your attempt to tame some demons.
Lee: Well yes, that, and on another level, there is the sheer joy of plunging headlong into a magical supernatural world, one which resembles our own but really isn’t. There’s the delicious escapism of reading a book. Some of the world’s best-loved stories involve monsters, after all.
LEE MURRAY: [whispers behind her hand] But you do realise there is no such thing as monsters. Not really.
Lee: Now you’re being deliberately obtuse. Monsters as mythology, as culture, as psychosis, most certainly exist. To deny them is to deny people their faith, their identity, and their sanity. But you’re correct that, in literature, monsters exist as representations, as symbols. Filmmaker Guillermo del Toro made this clear in a 2011 YouTube clip when he said, “monsters are living breathing metaphors.”4 Many of these metaphors are well-known to us by now: zombies as the pandemic, kaiju as nuclear war and globalisation, Frankenstein as a symbol of scientific hubris, for example. But just as there are new viruses, global threats, and scientific advances, we can always take a fresh lens to the monster story, and I hope I have achieved that here with these eleven stories in Grotesque: Monster Tales.
1. Norenzayan, Ara, Scott Atran, Jason Faulkner and Mark Schaller. Memory and Mystery: The Cultural Selection of Minimally Counterintuitive Narratives. Cognitive Science, 6 May (2006): 531-553. 14 June 2017
2. Donovan, Patricia. (2011, October 27). Why We Create Monsters. UB Reporter, 27 October 2011.
3. Redfield Jamison, Kay. An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness, Knopf 1995.
4. del Toro, Guillermo. Monsters are living breathing, metaphors. Big Think. YouTube, 14 June, 2011. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bXBU0X_LuQI
Lee Murray is a multi-award-winning writer and editor of science fiction, fantasy, and horror (Sir Julius Vogel, Australian Shadows) and a three-time Bram Stoker Award® nominee. Her works include the Taine McKenna military thrillers (Severed Press), and supernatural crime-noir series The Path of Ra, co-written with Dan Rabarts (Raw Dog Screaming Press), as well as several books for children. She is proud to have edited thirteen speculative works, including award-winning titles Baby Teeth: Bite Sized Tales of Terror and At the Edge (with Dan Rabarts), Te Kōrero Ahi Kā (with Grace Bridges and Aaron Compton) and Hellhole: An Anthology of Subterranean Terror (Adrenaline Press). She is the co-founder of Young New Zealand Writers, an organisation providing development and publishing opportunities for New Zealand school students, co-founder of the Wright-Murray Residency for Speculative Fiction Writers, and HWA Mentor of the Year for 2019. In February 2020, Lee was made an Honorary Literary Fellow in the New Zealand Society of Authors Waitangi Day Honours. Lee lives over the hill from Hobbiton in New Zealand’s sunny Bay of Plenty where she dreams up stories from her office overlooking a cow paddock. Read more at www.leemurray.info She tweets @leemurraywriter
11 short stories from the imagination of New Zealand's multiple award-winning author and editor Lee Murray! Contains 4 original stories including a new adventure in the much-lauded and awarded Taine McKenna series!
The book has already received outstanding praise and reviews, including the following:-
“With Grotesque: Monster Stories, Lee Murray proves she is a first-rate talent! These stories are fascinating, unexpected, and scary as hell!” — Jonathan Maberry, New York Times bestselling author of Rage and V-Wars.
“Action, thrills, monsters, awesome!” — USA Today bestselling author, David Wood.
“It has been said creating is a path of immortality; Murray’s engaging tales bring us into the dream time of imagination, mixing her unique dark stories and the Māori culture to create a collection existing outside of time, taking us with it.” -- Linda D. Addison, award-winning author and HWA Lifetime Achievement Award recipient.
MONSTERS AS A METAPHOR FOR DEPRESSION: TWO FILMS AND TWO DIFFERENT WAYS TO PORTRAY IT (SPOILER ALERT!) BY BRUNA FOLETTO LUCAS
The film’s use of depression as a toxic burden on the family proves that the film should’ve stayed in the two and a half minutes format (previous a short film) instead of creating a feature film and tainting the memory of a good scare.
Monsters in horror films are rarely just monsters. Psychoanalysts thrive on the opportunity to analyse a horror film. Monsters are the Other that we expose in order to kill and reinstate normality. Monsters are the part we don’t like about ourselves. Monsters are communism, technology, gays, lesbians, depression, patriarchy, sexual abuse, our past – you name it. Sometimes the filmmakers are well aware of this and they shape their films with what they want to convey, others don’t realise it and it is up to critics to pick the subtext apart. Nevertheless, if it can be explained on the screen, then the filmmakers have to accept it. How the films are analysed and interpreted are beyond the filmmakers’ powers, and once it has been shown on the big screens, then it us up for discussion.
Jennifer Kent wasn’t aware she was directing a film that presented a metaphor for depression, but in the end that’s what she ended up doing. The Babadook (2014) was a pivotal film in the sense that it turned the spotlight to female directors and helped open up the conversation of diversity behind the camera, but more importantly to this essay, The Babadook also presented a rich metaphor for depression.
Mother and son struggle to lead a normal life as a monstrous presence makes itself known in their house and starts to tear apart Amelia and Sam’s relationship. As Amelia’s husband’s death anniversary comes up, the presence of the Babadook grows even stronger and it is up to Sam to bring his mother into safety. Babadook lives inside Amelia and turns her into a monstrous figure, making her resentful and violent towards her son. After surviving the many attempts to end his life, Sam defeats the monster, even if momentarily, by being kind to his mother and giving her nothing but love. Sam’s affection brings forth something dormant in Amelia and she is able to let go of the monster.
The film was praised for its good representation of the mental illness, especially in its ending where the character of Amelia accepts the monster as part of her life and lives with it. She tames the monster and acknowledges its power, but she also nurtures it and moves on without letting it dictate her life.
On the other hand, a film that deliberately wanted to create a metaphor for depression and backfired was David F. Sandberg’s 2016 Lights Out. Sandberg stated he wanted to portray the disease as he suffered from it and had seen it taking the best of people who were close to him. He turned the monster in his film into a vessel for depression, but the way he did it was painful to watch.
Although it was a good film once we turn a blind eye for the problems, some are hard to ignore. The character of Sophie has to take care of her son, Martin, after the death of her husband. So far, the story mirrors the plot in The Babadook, but then we learn that Sophie had also abandoned her older daughter, Rebecca, when she was a small child. The use of Sophie as reckless and terrible mother due to her depression is harsh. Moreover, the use of the word “crazy” is thrown around to justify Sophie’s behaviour and Sophie herself won’t take antidepressants because, as she says it, she is not crazy. To represent antidepressants in such a way, especially when the medication is already considered taboo in our society, is negligent and ill-advised. In addition, blaming the mother and her depression for everything bad that happens in the family is beyond victim-blaming. The only good thing about this narrative is Martin’s love towards his mother, who despite being put in danger still loves and wants to help her – The Babadook all over again.
All of these problems could be accepted if in the end we were presented with an intelligent storyline as Kent did with The Babadook, but no, I was shocked to see that the old trope of “killing the monster to reinstate normality” was used. Sophie commits suicide to kill the monster (as it exists in her head) to protect her family, therefore conveying the idea that suicide is a good way out when it comes to depression to save others from the distress of living with someone who suffers from mental illness. That comes from a director who stated he wanted to talk about depression as his friend took his own life because of it. A noble attitude, but done in a bad way. Sandberg defends the ending by saying that it is not actually a happy ending as he has ideas for a sequel in which he plans to explore the effects of Sophie’s suicide through the eyes of her children, stating that they were not “saved” from her mother’s death, but deeply ruined.
The film’s use of depression as a toxic burden on the family proves that the film should’ve stayed in the two and a half minutes format (previous a short film) instead of creating a feature film and tainting the memory of a good scare.
The Babadook and Lights Out have similar monsters but different messages – it just goes to show that it doesn’t matter how well-intentioned the filmmaker is, he or she must be careful when approaching a sensitive subject which begs for positive representation.
Bruna is passionate about film, especially horror. Her favourite films are Halloween, Scream and Cabaret. She has an MA in Film Studies from Kingston University and she is currently doing her PhD in horror films. Her writing can also be found on London Horror Society and UK Film Review. You can find her ranting on Twitter @Bruna_FinalGirl and posting nonsense stories on Instagram @foletto.b
Exploring The Labyrinth
13. Clickers II
It’s a truth that cannot be erased by either it’s obviousness, nor its status as cliche; sometimes, events overtake you.
I try quite hard to keep the focus of these essays on the work, in as much as I am capable of such discipline, which, spoilers for anyone who hasn’t read the first twelve, is apparently ‘not very much at all’. But as I write this, American cities are burning because a black man was murdered on camera by a cop, and the political leadership of both the US and the UK are, it’s increasingly clear, more concerned with restarting their economies than they are with the threat to life of Covid-19, an illness that’s claimed 369,000 deaths worldwide, of which 105,000 were US citizens, and over 38,000 from the UK. I’m reading Hunter S. Thompsons’ Fear And Loathing On The Campaign Trail for the first time. As I type this, my hands and clothes smell of wood smoke. I mean, what’s a fella to do?
Because as I remarked to Brian Keene on Twitter earlier today, the US is basically living through the plot of Clickers II right now, only with Covid-19 in place of killer crustaceans, and with a man in the White House who worships free market economics rather than God; though with equal blind fervour, and with an identical zealot mindset when it comes to protecting the people he is supposed to represent.
And it’s kind of hard to write about the book, for that reason. Because it reads - especially President Tyler - as a kind of larger-than-life, B-Movie extravaganza. I mean that as a compliment, to be clear - this is a novel that is an epic scale creature feature, with scenes of mass carnage and devastation played out upon a national stage. But one of the principal players is Tyler, a cartoonishly foolish, science hating denialist of anything that doesn’t fit his blinkered worldview, and who has somehow become president of the United States during an unprecedented disaster, and who refuses to listen to the scientific consensus, instead insisting that he and he alone knows the truth path, and, I mean… *looks to camera*
What I find so hard to write about is the clash between the buffoonish cartoon and the buffoonish reality. More than once, I found myself thinking ‘Come on, chaps, that’s a bit broad brush even for a pulp novel,’ before remembering some 5am tweet storm, and ending up with the strangest sense of dislocation; as though reality itself had become a B-movie disaster story.
And that was three months ago, and kind of a lot has happened since then, none of which has done anything to make that feeling less resonant.
But I think - I think - that feeling did quite a bit of damage for me, personally, in terms of my enjoyment of the book. Because I feel strongly that the novel wasn’t intended primarily, if at all, as political commentary or pointed social satire. I’m sure, in the original conception, Tyler was intended as a kind of Spitting Image puppet version of George Bush Jr. - a figure of fun in other words; sure, with some resonance for the then-contemporary audience, but equally, a cartoonish figure we could love to hate, as the Clickers chew their way through the population of the US, until, in a glorious finale, MechaClicker (probably not what (s)he was actually called) crawls up to the White House lawn and tears the roof off of the Oval Office like it’s the lid on a can of spam before chowing down with righteousness.
And I dunno, look, maybe it’ll still work that way for you, and if so, I am genuinely happy for you. But for me, evan at the time of reading it, in January, never mind thinking back over it from the heady heights of the end of May 2020, when, well, *gestures at the absolute dumpster fire that is the State Of Things*, the parallels with current events are actually far too close to the bone for me to feel anything much other than a kind of numb shock and crawling horror.
And we’re talking about a book, to be clear, about giant killer crustaceans.
And I just can’t even. In the same way as I couldn’t watch Independence Day for years after 9/11 made montages of New York landmarks blowing up have a whole new resonance that jarred completely with the intended popcorn fun, I genuinely cannot reach within for some alleged objectivity to allow me to talk about this book in anything we might regard as remotely sensible.
And I am sorry about that. I know this one is utterly beloved by many fans of both Keene and Gonzalez, and I’m sure anyone following this series probably had this essay marked out as one they were looking forward to.
And I mean it; I’m sorry. I’m just too tired and sad and angry and scared. And again, to be crystal clear, I am neither trying to bum anybody else out, or cast shade on what flavour of escapist pulp horror brings you joy - I mean, this is a Brian Keene retrospective, for fuck’s sake; I’d better not, right? But since lockdown landed, I’ve barely written a word, and crawling fear has been a constant companion, and King says ‘write what scares you’ and Hunter says ‘tell your truth’ and so, here we are.
Clickers II is almost ceritanly a rollocking pulp horror novel, taking the core conceit of the first book and transplanting it to a national scale, with scenes of mass carnage and gore that will delight connoisseurs of the genre, and a huge cast of characters whose journey through the unfolding nightmare will probably grip and thrill you in equal measure. It’s probably a creature feature B-movie masterpiece in novel form. It’s certainly a fan favourite, and Keene fandom normally knows what time it is.
It’s just for me, right now, at 1:30 am on the 31st May, 2020, it’s simply far, far too close to the waking nightmare we’re all trying to live through for me to feel like I have anything helpful or objective to say about it - except, perhaps, that as much as I am growing to love the man and his work, I’m not super stoked about the notion of living in a world written by Brian Keene, and I’d quite like that feeling to go away.
Next up: Kill Whitey (and I promise that one won’t be a stream of consciousness rant about the state of the world).
The first wave was just the beginning . . . The United States is in ruins. It has just suffered one of the worst hurricanes in history, the people are demoralized, and the president is a religious fanatic. Then things get really bad - the Clickers return. Thousands of the monsters swarm across the entire nation and march inland, slaughtering anyone and anything they come across. But this time the Clickers aren't blindly rushing onto land - they are being led by an intelligence older than civilization itself. A force that wants to take dry land away from the mammals. Those left alive soon realize that they must do everything and anything they can to protect humanity - no matter the cost. This isn't war, this is extermination.
HOW TO WRITE A FICTION BOOK REVIEW
Fiction books are part of education. You read at school, in college and university. Adults read less, and it happens because they have no time to read fiction but need to check a lot of professional reading. If the book is not on your wish list and you see it the first time, you can’t make an objective decision to buy it or not. Book reviews are made to help you with this problem. That’s why it is not an assumed problem of writing a book review. It is a profession. If you get such a task during studying, you can use online writing services like SmartWritingService - professional essay service to have your book reviews, essays and other papers written by experienced authors. Ordering is one of the options to get a good score, but if you decide to do it yourself, let’s find out the specialties that need to be remembered during writing.
A fiction book review must consist of:
Now let’s make a deeper investigation about the components that make writing useful and informative.
That is how a fiction book review works. If you follow the advice, you can get perfect writing. Don’t forget that you can research a lot of examples of other topics or order of your topic or use any other help. The secret of any kind of successful writing is to write more. With every essay, review, research paper, you become more professional. You keep in mind general rules and follow them strictly. You know how to find the necessary information and know useful links. Like in every kind of sport or profession, you must do your job a lot of times to overcome difficulties and become a good writer.
THE MASTER OF AMBIGUITY: A THINKING READER’S GUIDE TO THE BRILLIANCE OF PAUL TREMBLAY BY GEORGE RANSON
the quality of being open to more than one interpretation; inexactness
There’s a story from Paul Tremblay’s Bram Stoker Award-winning anthology GROWING THINGS (William Morrow, 2019) entitled A Haunted House Is A Wheel Upon Which Some Are Broken. It’s written in the style of a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure. While I found the concept intriguing, particularly for a horror story (What? You actually want me to decide whether or not to investigate that strange sound in the basement?), I went in expecting something quirky and fun. Cleverly written, of course, but nevertheless tongue in cheek. I could not have been more mistaken. The story is, in fact, a powerful statement on love and loss and the ghosts that haunt us all, to one degree or another.
It is, in other words, the quintessential Paul Tremblay story.
Tremblay’s signature use of the element of ambiguity is, without question, the secret ingredient to his brilliance. His novels and stories contain more than enough evidence to convince readers that something intensely unsettling, if not outright supernatural, is happening, while leaving out just enough to make us wonder if the horror might not actually be something with a more rational, albeit no less horrifying, explanation; a hoax perpetrated by a troubled girl. The abduction of a young boy. A violent home invasion committed by a group of fanatics. It is in this way that virtually everything Tremblay writes becomes something of a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure. Was it really this? Or was it actually that?
This is certainly not to imply that Tremblay leaves his readers with a lack of understanding as to what has transpired over the course of his stories. Make no mistake, the reader knows full well what has happened. And that it was horrifying. Tremblay simply leaves it to the reader’s interpretation as to how it happened. Were there really malevolent forces perpetuating evil deeds upon these unfortunate and unsuspecting characters? Or was the horror simply created by the kind of real-life monsters we see all too often in newspaper headlines and nightly news stories? There is, after all, horror to be found in either conclusion. The beauty of this approach is that the reader’s interpretation, no matter which version they choose to believe, can justifiably be considered to be correct. It is precisely this ambiguity that forces readers to reflect on Tremblay’s books for far longer than they might consider the works of other authors that are told in a more traditional style.
Tremblay’s books have everything any fan of the genre could ever dream of in their darkest nightmares; true horror being visited upon relatable characters in stories that are exquisitely crafted and often pack an emotional punch the reader will not see coming until it’s much too late. Modern day fans, particularly those born around the turn of the 21st century, may be justifiably tempted to crown Tremblay the Master of Horror. He has, after all, won the Bram Stoker (three times), the British Fantasy, and the Massachusetts Book Awards and been a finalist for many others. Unfortunately, there’s a horror writer living in the backwoods of Maine who has apparently been using that particular title for some time now. I’ve tried contacting him to see if he might be willing to pass it on to Mr. Tremblay but he hasn’t returned my calls.
How about the Master of Ambiguity? Yeah. I like the sound of that. And I have a feeling Paul would, too. Or maybe not. I’ll leave it to you to decide.
A riveting novel of suspense and terror from the Bram Stoker award-winning author of The Cabin at the End of the World and A Head Full of Ghosts.
When it happens, it happens quickly.
New England is locked down, a strict curfew the only way to stem the wildfire spread of a rabies-like virus. The hospitals cannot cope with the infected, as the pathogen's ferociously quick incubation period overwhelms the state. The veneer of civilisation is breaking down as people live in fear of everyone around them. Staying inside is the only way to keep safe.
But paediatrician Ramola Sherman can t stay safe, when her friend Natalie calls her husband is dead, she's eight months pregnant, and she's been bitten. She is thrust into a desperate race to bring Natalie and her unborn child to a hospital, to try and save both their lives.
Their once familiar home has becoming a violent and strange place, twisted in to a barely recognisable landscape. What should have been a simple, joyous journey becomes a brutal trial.
George is a lifelong fan of horror fiction with a particular interest in small press and indie authors. He is also a proud member of the Horror Community on social media. You can find him on Twitter as Book Monster @Sshh_ImReading