Friday, 19 January 2018

20th Annual Preditors & Editors Readers' Poll Results

The results are in for the Preditors & Editors Poll:

I'm so excited to share these with you! Here's where I came:

Author: Wondra Vanian #8
Anthologies: CEA Greatest Anthology Written #3
Anthologies: Corona Book of Horror Stories #15
Horror Short Story: "It'll Rot Your Teeth", The Corona Book of Horror Stories #10

Thanks so much to everyone who took the time to vote. Making such a strong showing my first year in the running is absolutely incredible.

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Book Review: Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

The Welcome to Night Vale novel fits perfectly into a world already created by the podcast while simulatneously existing on its own outside of the podcast -- which is exactly what fans of Welcome to Night Vale would expect.

If you're not familiar with the podcast, you'll find Welcome to Night Vale delightfully strange and brutally honest in equal measure. It faces the strange brutality of life headon and says the things we all know but aren't suposed to say. (And, in some cases, are absolutely forbidden by law from saying.) In Welcome to Night Vale, the hidden truths of life lay right out in the open for all to read.

The snippets of Cecil's show through the book are such a great touch and I love getting to know some of the other characters in more depth. What I love most of all, though, is the novel's tone. Welcome to Night Vale is told in a way that's like a little nudge to the reader that says, "Yup, I know I'm a book and you know I'm a book but maybe these guys don't so let's keep it between us, okay?"

The fourth wall doesn't exist in Night Vale. It existed once but residents soon found there was no need for it, as the fact that one's reality is surely another's fiction is common knowledge. Scientists have recently confirmed this through vigorous testing via large machines with many flashing lights and occassional beeps.

You don't have to listen to the podcast before you read the novel but you really should, just so you can hear the character's voices as you read. (There are a million more reasons to listen to the podcast, obviously, but not important in this instance.)

I'm actually really upset that I got the ebook version of this one, instead of the audiobook because I bet it would have been amazing to actually listen to Cecil narrating it. I may have to get the audiobook version of It Devours, which is the second instalment of the series and also narrated by Cecil. (Maybe a good reason for keeping Audible?)

Give this one a try, even if you're not familiar with the canon. If you struggle with it, listen to something like five years' worth of podcast, then come back and try it again. If you still can't get into it, I'm sorry. There's nothing more that can be done for you.

I am shamelessly obsessed with Welcome to Night Vale but none of my friends are, which makes sad. If you've read this book and enjoyed it, we should talk. And, you know, probably be friends. That would be... neat.

Movie Review: Kelly's Heroes (1970)

I was a little reluctant to watch Kelly's Heroes for one reason: I don't "do" war movies. They just don't interest me. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that my childhood was set to the soundtrack of the news blaring war updates 24/7, who knows? I just don't care for them.

That being said...

Kelly's Heroes came highly recommended by Jay (though he also recommended Caddyshack so maybe we shouldn't give him too much credit.) It also boasted one helluva cast: Clint Eastwood, Telly Savalas, Don Rickles, and Donald Sutherland. I don't like war movies but I do like those actors so, hey, maybe it could work.

I won't lie. It got off to a rocky start. It really bugged me that Telly Savalas's Big Joe was obsessed with getting some action. Oh, yeah. Big Joe's all about "the girls." That's all he goes on about for half the movie.

That. That right there is why so many movies like this fail to attract a female audience. How interested am I in watching a bunch of dirty, sweaty men bitch about how horny they are? Less interested than watching a war movie. There's a pretty good chance I would have turned it off right then, had I not been watching the movie with Jay.

Would I have been sorry if I had? Probably. Aside from the fact that there isn't a single speaking role for women in Kelly's Heroes (What the fuck, Hollywood? I'm sick of having to write that.), I actually enjoyed it quite a bit. You know... for a war movie.

I think part of the reason that it's so enjoyable is that there's just about no historical accuracy in it whatsoever. I come from an army family and I can tell you right now, my childhood house was run with more efficiency than that platoon. (And isn't that just a little sad?) No one has any clue what anyone else is doing and no one cares much for following orders. It's absolute chaos -- which, I have to assume, is a commentary on the military itself. (I really hope it's meant to be a commentary on the military itself.)

One of the other reasons that I enjoyed Kelly's Heroes, even though it's a war film, is because it's not really about the war at all. The war is more scenery than plot. The explosions and gunfire are an... inconvenience. This isn't a movie about the war; it's a movie that just happens to be set during the war. Kelly's Heroes is really a heist movie.

I can do heist movies.

Kelly's Heroes follows a group of jaded soldiers, led by Clint Eastwood's Kelly across enemy lines in search of a stockpile of Nazi gold. These disobedient soldiers accidentally become heroes when word of their push through German territory reaches the bumbling Major General Colt (Carroll O'Connor), who sees their insubordination as an act of bravery. Oh, and spoiler: they get the gold.

Even when they found the loot, I was sure that they would never get away with it. I kept waiting for shit to go south. It definitely had a feel-good ending, with everyone getting a bit of what they deserved, and I'm glad. I have no idea how they got the gold home, since they were all supposed to be returning to the front line, but I'm glad.

The reason that I'm happy that Kelly and his "heroes" get away with millions in other people's gold (Don't focus on that, do they?) is because the characters are - if not always likeable (in Big Joe's case) -- at least engaging and relateable.

Sutherland's Oddball has to be my favourite character because, well, he's a freaking oddball. Just about the least likely soldier you've ever seen, Oddball is such a hippy - which is a little strange, given that this is a WWII movie. Although he would be right at home in a movie about Vietnam, Oddball is so out of place in Kelly's Heroes (Really, how many hippies were there in WWII?) and, yet, knowing that doesn't stop him from being beyond effing awesome.

Everything that shouldn't work makes Kelly's Heroes work. It's fun and funny. It's also very easy to watch. If you haven't seen it yet, I recommend you give it a go even if, like me, you don't like war movies.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Book Review: The Cruel Prince (The Folk of the Air, #1) by Holly Black

The Cruel Prince is more high fantasy than Black has attempted in the past. It's not just a story with faeries, like most she's done, but total immersion in Faerie. I loved her modern faerie stories so I was excited to read The Cruel Prince. It didn't disappoint.

I went through the majority of this book in one day. I just couldn't get enough! It has all the intrigue of Game of Thrones, with a healthy dose of teen angst. (Boy, do I love me some angst.) It moves at exactly the right pace and definitely leaves you wanting more.

Holly Black has a way of weaving the fantastical into reality that few other authors manage with any real success. Whether she's writing about vampires or faeries, Black creates worlds so real that you risk losing yourself in them.

One of the things that I've always loved about Black's writing is that she doesn't dwell on the romance, the way so many other YA/New Adult authors do. It's there, but it's not the main story. You've got strong females kicking ass and sometimes falling in love along the way, which we need more of. That being said...

I was dying for more romance in The Cruel Prince -- but not for the reasons you think. Cardan was becoming a very interesting character, with so much possibility. Exploring the romantic side of the story would have given him even more depth and catapulted this one from bloody awesome to breathtakingly brilliant. I hope we don't have to wait very long for the next instalment!

I used a free trial of Audible for this one (because I thought I might die of anticipation before I could afford to buy it.) The user interface of Audible is good, with merit badges and an easy way to share your progress. At almost £8 a month for one audiobook, it's not terrible value for money. (An audiobook runs about twice that.) To really make it worth the investment, though, I would like to see two audiobooks for that price.

Will I continue my subscription? Perhaps... I certainly wouldn't mind giving All the Crooked Saints
by Maggie Stiefvater a go. There are a couple of weeks before I have to decide so I'll let you know.

Movie Review: Caddyshack (1980)

It's taken me a long time to put together a review for Caddyshack. Why? Because it was so effing bad that I don't even want to talk about it.

When I was trying to decide which of my 100 Classic Must-See Movies (That I've Somehow Never Seen) to watch next, Jay said, "Do yourself a favour and watch Caddyshack." Boy, do I feel duped.

I had high hopes for Caddyshack because so many people I know (Jay included) rave about it. People make it out to be one of the best comedy films of all times. Why? WHY?!

Okay, I like Chevy Chase and I like Bill Murray, so that seemed promising. I'm still trying to figure out what the hell was going on with Murray's Carl Spackler, though. Was that guy always drunk or was he supposed to be, well, mentally unwell? Because... not. Funny.

Jay argues here. He says that Spackler was just "bloody minded" and that assuming he was meant to be challeneged was "a stretch." I have to disagree, of course, because that stupid thing he kept doing with his lip was so exaggerated that it had to mean something -- that, and the way other people in the movie treated him.

Again, not funny.

You know what else isn't funny? Rodney Dangerfield. I didn't know that Rodney Dangerfield was also in Caddyshack. If I had, I probably wouldn't have watched it. That guy is one of the most annoying creatures to have ever walked the planet...

From the start of the film, I was struck by how ridiculous it seemed. Come on, I get that you were trying to show that this kid comes from a large family but really? Is it even possible to have that many kids so close in age? It's not funny; it suggests in a very obvious way, at the very start of the film, that the women in this movie are just for fucking.

And, straight away, I'm pissed at Caddyshack, before I know what it's even about.

Except golf, of course. I knew that it was going to have something to do with golf. I should probably explain that I'm not a fan, so I was sort of expecting a certain amount of disinterest. So, to be fair, I had a certain amount of prejudice against this movie when I started it. Golf is just so boring. *yawn*

Caddyshack is essentially a movie about the dangers of envy -- if you can look through all the juvenile sex jokes to find anything resembling a message. (It's hard, trust me.) Everyone wants to have what they don't have, even while the movie portrays the people who do have it as unworthy imbeciles. So... envy is bad, m'kay?

The one bit I actually liked about Caddyshack was the Star Wars reference. Chevy Chase's Ty Webb is teaching his caddie, Michael O'Keefe's Danny Noonan, to golf in a parody of Ben Kenobi's blindfolding Luke and telling him to feel the Force. It's the only bit of the movie that got even a grin from me.

Caddyshack is painfully underacted by the majority of its cast -- and painfully overacted by the rest. There's no happy medium. You'd expect brilliant comedians like Chase and Murray to save the day but nope, even their performances were awful.

The role of women, the elderly, and black people in this film are entirely to be the butt of one joke or another. Women are masturbatory objects, regardless of their age. Black men are poorly-treated servants (or doling out "the best" pot because of course black people are all potheads.) The elderly are bumbling idiots that are always in the way. Basically, Caddyshack is a movie for young, middle-class, white dudes. It's a testosteronefest.

Seriously. Caddyshack is nothing but 1hr 38m of dick jokes, leering at women, and lame poop humour.

The one woman in the movie who isn't just a pair of braless tits, Sarah Holcomb's Maggie O'Hooligan, is only important as a side note in Danny Noonan's story. She's the tomboy character that should have made the "normal" girls watching feel better about themselves but, oh no, she goes from totally happy in herself to absolute rubbish the moment a beautiful woman in a swimsuit comes by for the guys to leer at. Then, when she makes the mistake of enjoying sex, she has to be punished by getting pregnant -- except, never mind, she's not because that would make Danny's life suck.

Not okay. Repeat after me: women do not exist only to further male plot lines!

There's nothing about Caddyshack that works for me. I know that I'm supposed to say that, despite it all, I loved the movie because of the gopher. Nope. The gopher was cute, sure, but not even a dancing puppet could save this movie.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Movie Review: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

I suppose the first thing that I should say about 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is that I never read the book. (I know, shame on me.) It just wasn't my thing. (Also, the reason I'd never seen the movie.) But, of all the movies on my list of 100 Classic Must-See Movies (That I've Somehow Never Seen), the one that Jay was most excited about my watching was 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea so...

Here we go.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is a live-action Disney movie (the live-action bit was more important back in 1954 when the movie was released) based on the 1870 novel by Jules Verne. Disney and Verne. What a combination. I love that it starts with the raising of a curtain, followed by the opening of a book. I don't think there's a better way to start a collaboration from these two.

The thing you have to remember, when you watch an adaptation like this, is the time that it was written in, and the time that it was made. 20,000 Leagues carries a lot of built-in prejudices that (should) make our modern sensibilities go through the roof. Take, for instance, the fact that there are almost no women in the film and the (very) few women who were present didn't utter a word between them. Hard to swallow, if you happen to be a feminist.

Then, there's also the whole savage cannibals thing -- I mean, come on. Really? Because every indigenous person around the world who doesn't know which fork to use first at a table must be a shield-wielding, bone-wearing cannibal. *eyeroll*

If you can get past those minor annoyances, 20,000 Leagues is a fantastic film. It's action-adventure on a massive Disney-infused scale. One of the things that I enjoyed most about 20,000 Leagues is that it's set on the waves but is less swashbuckling and more steampunk. I don't know much about steampunk myself but, watching this, I'd have to say that Verne must have been one of the pioneers of the sub-culture.

I had certain expections going into this one. Because of it's age, I thought 20,000 Leagues would be painfully hokey and difficult to watch. It didn't take long for me to realize how wrong I'd been. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea holds up remarkably well, especially considering how futuristic is was at the time of its creation. (Usually, the more futuristic a movie is, the easier it dates. We can argue about that any time you want.)

Jay says that 20,000 Leagues both was and wasn't futuristic. He says that it's a difficult one because it's set before the advent of submarines but made at a time in which submarines were being used. He makes a really good point. Either way, it's as easy to watch as any modern Disney movie.

This has to be, in part, due to the sets. They're so well done that they're absolutely convincing. The Nautilus looks real, like you could actually walk on board and take it for a spin. The sets/props in things like Star Trek and Doctor Who, which came almost a decade after 20,000 Leagues, came nowhere near being this good. In fact, the sets were so good that they later became a Disneyland attraction that tourists could walk through.

The enduring popularity of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is evident in the number of times Disneyland and/or Disneyworld brought the Nautilus back. In fact, you can visit Les Mystères du Nautilus at Disneyland France now. (Something that quickly made its way on to my bucket list.) The history of the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea attractions at Disney is fascinating. If you want to know more, check out this terrific article.

With the sets being so well done and so much of the film being filmed on location in the Carribean, it's no wonder that this 4.3 million dollar movie went massively over-budget. Suppose it's not that bad, though, when you consider it brought in 28.2 million and won two Academy Awards.

Speaking of awards, can we all acknowledge that Ned Land's (Kirk Douglas) striped sailor shirt deserves an award of its own? I mean... that is one helluva shirt. Ned Land is beyond camp. Kirk's performance is cheeky, flamboyant, and just plain fun. He brings the comedy to what would have been a terrifyingly dark film without it. It's all toothy-grins, swagger, and the odd sing-a-long with a sea lion.

Okay, so when Ned started singing "Whale of a Tale" on board the American ship, I may have squealed happily and exclaimed, "I didn't know this was a musical!" Jay quickly corrected me, of course, which just made me sad. How amazing would 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea have been if it were a musical?! I'm 100% behind that. "Whale of a Tale" is fun, though, so watch that if you haven't seen it.

And, as for Esmeralda the sea lion... yeah. I'm gonna need a sea lion, thanks. She's the real star of the show, you know. Her tricks are amazing, especially when Ned tells her to cover up so she doesn't get cold and she pulls her blanket over her -- which the comical harpooner immediately imitates. (I do hope that those tricks were achieved without any sort of abuse by her trainers.)

One of Esmeralda's favourite treats in 20,000 Leagues was Captain Nemo's seaweed cigar. The cigars were a great source of amusement here at Castle Vanian. Jay and I both had to agree that we've probably smoked worse in our lifetimes. (Remember those clove cigarettes that were so popular amongst angsty teens in the Nineties? Yuck.) Where 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is concerned, we don't agree on much else.

Jay and I have very different views on Captain Nemo. For me, Captain Nemo (James Mason) is the movie's antagonist. Though he has a mesmerizing voice that I could listen to for hours, Mason's portrayal of the Nautilus's captain is cold and aloof. There's just nothing likeable about him. He's full of dark passion, which is evident in the way he plays the organ that dominates his quarters but that doesn't make him good.

Captain Nemo reveals his troubled past (which, I'm sure, is meant to make us care about him) then reveals his plans for a better future world. I know that we're supposed to view Nemo as some sort of idealist but I don't buy it. For me, he's just some guy who's been hurt and is caring around this massive, deadly chip on his shoulder. Get over it, dude. We all have baggage.

Jay doesn't agree with me at all. He views Captain Nemo as an anti-hero. A slave, rather than a prisoner, Jay sees Nemo as having been unforgivably wronged and, therefore, totally justified in his extreme actions. Jay reminds me that Nemo only attacked war ships. He tells me that trying to end the world's wars is a noble act, one to be admired. Guess this is one of those things we're going to agree to disagree on. (There are plenty of those!)

Professor Aronnax is just as unlikable, if you ask me. (You're still reading, so I'm going to assume that you did.) He's basically just Nemo Lite. Aronnax turns his back on Conseil (Peter Lorre) and Ned for... what? What drives him? Come to think of it, what drives any of the characters?

My biggest criticism of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is that the characters don't have any real depth. Ned is fun but has no backstory. Why does Coneil blindly follow Aronnax? What does he get out of it? Give me something, man. Tell me about these people. And, hey, maybe give the Nautilus's crew some personality. Those guys (again, GUYS) could be robots, for all the individuality they possess.

If you hadn't noticed, character development is kind of my thing.

In 20,000 Leagues, Ned is the one with the most developed character - and even his is lacking. Ned is revealed as the movie's hero (for me, anyway) when he saves Nemo from the giant squid, even though the captain tried to kill him. Captain Nemo blindly kills thousands, just because they're unlucky enough to be on ships, while Ned puts his life on the line for someone who would happily toss it away. That's a hero.

Since we're talking about the giant squid... everyone raves about the giant squid attack on the Nautilus but I was underwhelmed. I guess I expected it to be bigger. (A lot bigger, actually.) I was expecting, I dunno... something kind of kraken-y. The best scene with the "giant" squid was when they were on the deck of the ship, duking it out in the middle of a gale. The wildly swirling waves and flayling tentacles make for an impressive display.

To be fair, the whole film was a visual treat, in gorgeous technicolor brillance. It really is stunning. Even the underwater scenes, with schools of fish swimming past the camera, would be at home in a nature documentary. (Though, there could have been more of those scenes, I thought.) The soundtrack, on the other hand, is deeply rooted in the 50s. It just sounds like a 50's movie. (Nothing wrong with that, just saying.)

Although the giant squid isn't as impressive as I thought it would be, the movie can be quite dark in places -- frightening, even, for tykes. That first glimpse of the Nautilus, when you see it coming out of the darkness, "eyes" glowing, cutting across the sea, is eerie. The underwater funeral was just as bad, in a totally different way. That bit even creeped me out. There's just something so unnatural about seeing a funeral where the mourners are all wearing scuba suits. *shudder*

I'm glad Jay convinced me to start with 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I was kind of dreading tackling this list because so many of the movies on it are just not my thing but 20,000 Leagues proves that a good movie is a good movie, even if it's not the sort of movie you usually enjoy. What are your thoughts on 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea? Let me know!

Monday, 1 January 2018

Thirteen O'Clock Press Call for Submissions: Strangers

Strangers. Who are they? What are they? What do they want? Are they who they say they are? What are they doing in your town/city/location? What strangers walk through your vivid imaginations at times? Find me your finest, creepiest, goriest, most entertaining Strangers stories - but go easy on the Westerns.

Submission guidelines:
Please submit your manuscript as a *.rtf, *.doc or *.docx file.
The email subject line must read: “SUBMISSION – Strangers – ‘your story title’”
No headers, footers or page numbers.
Reprints are OK as long as all rights have been reverted back to you.
Up to 5000 words preferred, no minimum. 
No extra lines between paragraphs and all new paragraphs and dialogue indented using the TAB key.

Dorothy Davies will be presiding over this anthology.
Submit to:
Deadline: until full
Payment: Exposure and Royalties
60% of profits received
50% off RP paperback contributor copies (cost)