The Dunwich Horror

Delta-vee presents classic Old Time Radio productions and modern audio drama, today’s episode: “The Dunwich Horror”. The works of H.P. Lovecraft have had a pervasive and lasting influence on modern horror writers, from his themes of forbidden knowledge and nihilism to his habit of founding mythology upon a secret history fabricated from whole cloth. Of his many works, the most well know are unarguably the Cthulhu Mythos, a loosely defined collection of secret history lore upon which Lovecraft built many of his stories, and which he encouraged his contemporaries to reference in their own works. “The Dunwich Horror” stands as perhaps the quintessential representative of the Cthulhu Mythos as a whole, containing as it does nearly every staple element of Lovecraft’s other fiction. His horror fiction is replete with monsters beyond the ken of man, secret cults devoted to the outer gods, and heroes whose credentials are more scholarly than physical. In one aspect only does “The Dunwich Horror” depart from traditional Lovecraftian storytelling: the heroes not only survive their adventure with body and minds whole, but emerge triumphant … after a fashion. Despite the not-completely-nihilistic ending, Lovecraft considered this story “so fiendish that [Weird Tales editor] Farnsworth Wright may not dare to print it.” Wright did not agree with this sentiment, and snapped up the story for $240 (about $2800 today), making this the single largest payment Lovecraft had yet received for his work (Lovecraft, Selected Letters Vol. II, p. 240; cited in Joshi, p. 101). “The Dunwich Horror” was first published in the April, 1929 issue of Weird Tales; this episode of Suspense first aired on November 1, 1945. And now, our feature presentation ….

The Defenders

Delta-vee presents classic Old Time Radio productions and modern audio dramas, today’s episode: “The Defenders”. The works of Philip K. Dick repeatedly treat themes revolving around our perception of reality and personal identity. Protagonists in Dick’s work were often regular people rather than action heroes and did not need to be human at all; the qualities that defined humanity for Dick included traditional virtues such as honesty, kindness, and the ability to act rationally. Dick’s heroes often engaged in extensive rational analysis of their world, often concluding that the world around them could not be objectively real but a product of their own perception and interaction choices. Dick displayed an overarching fear and hatred of war, both as a political and social instrument, believing it to be an expression of the immaturity of human culture. Jungian psychology played a large part in Dick’s thinking, shaping his stories around themes of the collective unconscious of humanity, the behavior of individuals in groups, and the intrinsic nature of personhood. Film adaptations of Dick’s work include “Minority Report”, “Total Recall”, and Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner”; Dick’s work has been pervasively influential in the science fiction genre as a whole. “The Defenders” presents a world where a war started by humanity is prosecuted by machines, precursing both Keith Laumer’s “Bolo” stories and James Cameron’s “Terminator” franchise, and treats Dick’s three themes in a very succinct and expressive way. “The Defenders” was first published in the January, 1953 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction. This episode of X Minus One first aired on May 22, 1956. And now, our feature presentation….

Sam, This Is You

Delta-vee presents classic Old Time Radio productions and modern audio dramas, today’s episode: “Sam, This Is You”. Murray Leinster wrote more than 1500 short stories and novels during an extremely prolific writing career under a variety of pseudonyms, the “Leinster” persona being the most famous of them. His writing career began well before World War I when he wrote for a wide variety of genre fiction magazines, including westerns, mysteries, and romance, but it wasn’t until pulp science fiction started to become widely accepted in the 50s and 60s that he published routinely under his real name, William Fitzgerald Jenkins. Leinster accumulated many “sci-fi firsts” to his credit, including genre conventions such as parallel universe stories and the universal translator. Leinster’s most famous story is unquestionably “A Logic Named Joe”, where he predicts not only personal computers associated with everyday tasks, but the existence of a pervasive network of interconnected information systems. The “Sideways Award for Alternate History” was created in 1995 to recognize outstanding parallel universe stories, and takes its name from Leinster’s story “Sideways In Time”. Leinster’s story “Sam, This Is You” dabbles in time travel without dipping into the complex arguments of causality and predetermination that accompany this kind of exercise in the modern and post-modern storytelling era. Instead, Leinster lets events play out in a continually unfolding drama that assumes history will play out more or less the same way regardless of outside meddling; that era’s optimistic outlook stands in sharp contrast to contemporary attitudes of mistrust and fear that now form the prevalent reaction to personal insecurity. “Sam, This Is You” first saw print in the May 1955 issue of Galaxy magazine; this episode of X Minus One first aired on October 31, 1956. And now, our feature presentation ….

Sucker Punch Gut Shot

If you’ve found this review, chances are you’ve already read half a dozen others either deploring Zack Snyder’s film for its concept or praising it for its appearance.

All those reviewers are wrong.

“Sucker Punch” is a subtle, complex, and carefully executed exercise in storytelling and filmmaking. Snyder tells us the story of Baby-Doll, a young woman we meet immediately following the death of her mother, and stay with her during her tragic attempt to save both herself and her sister from their abusive step-father. In retaliation, the step-father commits her to an asylum where she is scheduled to be lobotomized. Baby-Doll retreats from reality into increasingly complex fantasies in her attempts to escape from the asylum and regain her freedom.

If “Sucker Punch” sounds depressing on the outset, it is. This movie deals with horrific themes of abuse and social disassociation, but does so through coy manipulation of the main character’s perception of reality. The imagery ranges from historical 1920’s to romanticized burlesque to fantasy-steampunk-scifi in a visual treat fluidly appealing to modern video gamers and fanboys. The heart of the film remains with its treatment of theme, and “Sucker Punch” is a film that deserves to be studied and appreciated for its attention to the finer points of filmmaking and storytelling.

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Dimension of the Mind

Zero Hour by Stoney M. Setzer“Zero Hour” is the new book from ResAliens collection the spiritual suspense stories of Stoney M. Setzer. Setzer’s stories have appeared previously in Residential Aliens and Christian Sci-Fi Journal among other venues. Edited by Lyndon Perry, this collection brings together twelve previously published stories along with three never before printed.

The cover copy claims similarity to The Twilight Zone, and certainly there is something of that flavor herein. Stories like “In the Shadow of the Sphinx”, and “All Hail Sam” feel like they should begin with Rod Serling voiceover delivering the moral lesson of the story. Other tales hearken back to radio programs like Escape and X Minus One, with the subtle deviations from reality that tell the reader something is just barely off about the world they are experiencing; “Doomsday Falls on a Tuesday This Year” and “Square Peg” need only a scratchy background of static noise to complete the illusion. Still other offerings evoke the classic short stories of Larry Niven or Isaac Asimov with their emphasis on the ordinary character reactions to the most extraordinary situations, including “The Alabama Hammer” and “We Serve All Kinds Here”. Finally, Setzer delivers his more direct spiritual lessons in the form of pure morality plays in “Darkest Before Dawn” and “Enamored”.

Readers looking for hard-edged, violent, or sensual fiction need to turn away. Setzer’s stories are comfortable, familiar, and hazy, surrounded in a dream-like quality. He pulls no punches when it comes to questions of morality and spirituality, using his words in direct manner that leaves no question as to his intention to evangelize, or his stance on matter of religion. His message is consistent, and delivered with an urgency that erases all doubt in the mind of the reader: “The world is larger than you realize. Truth is unavoidable. All men need a savior.”

Residential Aliens Press can be found online, and their books are available through a variety of venues. Zero Hour is available directly from the ResAliens Createspace store.

Scott Roche Writes Ghost Stories

When Scott Roche titles his new story “Fetch”, it’s a safe bet he’s not on about that cartoon dog that runs his own game show.

In Irish folklore, a “fetch” is a more or less benign spirit that appears as a portent either of impending death if seen in the evening, or of long life if seen in the morning. It takes the seeming, or appearance, of the soul that it portends, and is sent to escort the soul to the afterlife – whether divine or infernal. The fetch is a silent creature, it does not stalk nor terrify, and may be seen anywhere, under any circumstance. While popular in Irish folk lore, the fetch is seldom seen in other literature.

Roche, true to form, sets out to turn folklore on its ear. While inspired by this traditional Irish spirit, Roche’s story carries little else of the Irish flavor on the reader’s journey through twilight. The result is slightly surreal, modernistic encounter with the edge of the supernatural. Roche’s style is easy to read, and this short story is no exception, waltzing from intro to conclusion with a steady pace and familiar language.

In the tradition of Algernon Blackwood, Roche’s skeptical protagonists are placed in a situation beyond their control. Their primary role is that of witness, and the main conflict of the story consists of spiritual debate rather than actions and deeds. True to his modern influences, when the action becomes personal it gets visceral and bloody very quickly. The conclusion is inevitable, and the story feels very complete when finished.

Roche’s missteps are few enough. For a story set in Ireland and drawing heavily on a very specifically Irish folklore and Catholic doctrine, there is not much of the Irish or Catholic flavor to the tale. But for one or two idioms, this story could have been set anywhere in the world, and the main character could represent any given religion. For a story whose pivotal action revolves around the spiritual merits of faith and the trappings of the Catholic church, the story blithely overlooks consistency of spiritual elements in favor of dramatic presentation. Twice, an otherwise pleasant read jars the reader out of the story with unexpected cursing.

“Fetch” is a solid entry in Roche’s stable of work, most of which is supernatural in flavor and paranormal in outlook. His work may be found on Smashwords, and with other writings in his own set of blogs, found at http://scottroche.com and at http://spiritualtramp.com.

Crisis on Two Earths

Alternate and parallel earths are a staple of modern science-fiction, due in no small part to the prevalence, or even dominance, of these stories in the pages of the DC comics titles all through the 60’s, 70’s and into the 80’s. Though the company departed from this convention during the late 80’s and 90’s, duplicate earth stories are back with a vengeance, in the comics, on the tv series, and finally in the movie-length releases.

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Perspective

Evil is never so clearly defined as in the presence of good, and the duplicate reality stories really bring this contrast to light in clear and interesting ways. Whether it is the antimatter universe of Grant Morrison’s “JLA Earth 2”, or the Justice Lords of the millennial Justice League animated series, I have always loved seeing the good guys triumph over their darkest failings brought to life. I was excited to see the teasers for this movie in front of Green Lantern: First Flight, and thrilled to hear that Dwayne McDuffie was the pen behind the script and story originally pitched for the animated series. With this kind of talent and creative team, standing in front of the movie aisle waiting for me to make up my mind, I made a judgment call and filched the price of the Blu-Ray from my Starbuck’s budget.

Background

The movie is not based on any specific Justice League story. Dwayne McDuffie pitched an original story for the millennial Justice League animated series; although it did not get picked up for the series, the script has been revised and is finally seeing the light of day. DC has a long tradition of “evil twin” universes, from Earth-3 of pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths to the antimatter universe of current continuity, and now endless variations of good and bad between 52 worlds of the multiverse. McDuffie is a veteran of comics and screen-writing both, and has a history of balancing the best of characterization and storytelling.

Story (Pass/Fail) – Pass

The lines between good and evil have never been so clearly drawn. Heroes and villains clash simply for the dictates of moral causitude. Evil is afoot, and those who stand against it must stand. The story of this movie is merely a vehicle for the twin pillars of world-shattering action and moral philosophizing. No plot twists, sudden revelations, or shades of moral gray mar the smooth purpose of this story. With a single exception, care is take so that the viewer is not jolted from his suspension of disbelief by contrived action, unbelievable coincidence, or inconsistent presentation. This story is about people who fight and why they do it.

Characters (Pass/Fail) – Pass

If the motivations of good people seldom seem as interesting as those of the bad, here we are treated to flatly small-minded and extremely dislikable villains who at first glance seem only to desire evil for its own sake. As the movie progresses, we discover the truth of the matter. The Crime Syndicate is not a maniacal group of laughing super-villains; they’re merely thugs, gangers, and hoods with unparalleled might. There is no glamor, no humanizing and sympathetic code of honor. With the sole exception of Owl-Man, these characters are repulsive and despicable. Next to them, the sketchily drawn heroes positively shine.

Technical Merit (Pass/Fail) – Pass

Impeccable voice acting conveys perfectly the character of the principle leads. Spectacular action sequences take place in astounding environments. Music, foley effects, and dialog are perfectly mixed, and a treat to the ears. Awesome visual sequences combine modern and traditional effects seamlessly. Although this film never really presents innovative material, at no point does its arsenal of tried-and-true techniques fail.

Content (Pass/Fail) – Pass

Whether Owl-Man is calmly explaining the completely rational purpose behind destroying the universe, denying the presence of inherent good in humanity, or revealing heroes and villains alike as slaves to circumstance and determinism the lead villain (voiced by James Woods) wields the moral and philosophical substance of the movie like a scalpel. Add in some generally excellent bonus features in the way of four additional Justice Leage episodes (two complete stories) from the millennial series, a bonus short starring the Spectre, an analysis of DC comics post-crisis, sneak peeks, trailers, and the complete pilot episodes of Wonder Woman (70’s) and the unfortunately unaired Smallville spin-off Aquaman, and the Blu-Ray is an incredible value. Minus about three hours of content, the 2-disc DVD still rates a hearty second place.

Shelf Life (Pass/Fail) – Fail

Reluctantly, this offering fails to offer a compelling reason for repeat viewing. No audio commentary tracks are included. Even James Woods creepy and stirring performance only carries so much weight. The movie lacks the emotional punch needed to rate serious study, or the stand-out action to make it a background piece. Even the special features, once viewed, are unlikely to be called again for their own sake. The best value for money on this movie would be a weekend rental. It will reward dedicated viewing, for the sake of the subtext and content, but nothing in this film demands it.

“Evil triumphs when good men do nothing.”