Thursday Thirteen: Fictional Places I’d Like to Visit

I am feeling the need to do a substanial written post, but also to lighten it up a bit around here. Since Diana did an awesome Thursday Thirteen of fictional places she’d like to visit last week, let me just get in on that fun. I’ve read her list, but I’m pretending I didn’t long enough to make one of my own. There will be some overlap.

1. Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Specifically, I would like to tour cities and strongholds of the First Age. Nargothrond. Gondolin. Menegroth. Nogrod and Belegost. These are fictional place names that give me the shivers and make my imagination run entirely amok. And there are more of them.

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Gallifrey

2. Gallifrey. Because it’s Gallifrey.

3. The Dreaming, the realm of Morpheus, formally known as Dream of the Endless, from Gaiman’s Sandman series. You knew this had to be here, right? The Library of Dream is a point of particular interest, because it contains every book that was never written (a whole section of novels the authors finished only in their dreams, for instance).

4. Carroll’s Wonderland. I know the story, but haven’t actually read the book. This one is too good to pass up on the strength of adaptations alone, though. If I had 13 wishes and could only use them to visit fictional places, I’d have to use one of them to have a chat with a certain caterpillar.

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Kender hero Tasslehoff Burrfoot

5. Krynn, the setting of the Dragonlance series. The halflings of that world, called Kender, are too interesting to not meet.

6. Amber and the Courts of Chaos from Zelazny’s two Chronicles of Amber series. I could be cheating here because that’s two places. Or maybe not. Maybe they are more like sides of a coin, since they are the only two really real worlds, and all other realities are reflections of them.

7. The Emerald City. How could I pass on the Emerald City?

8. Never-Never Land. In the same category as #s 1, 4, and 7. It was impossible to think up a ninth one until I put this one is on the list.

9. Jasper Fforde’s BookWorld. This is a meta-world (for lack of a better term) in which characters and places from books are real, and the putting-together of literature is an industry. There are literary police, of course. And a detective from the “real” world, a bemusing dystopia in which time travel and cloning are well developed, and cheese is so expensive people smuggle it.

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Ankh-Morpork

10. The Great City of Ankh-Morpork from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld.

11. Kashyyyk, also known as Wookie Planet C. And Bespin, the Cloud City from The Empire Strikes Back (still my all-time favorite). I’m cheating again, but I figure if I can tour the cities of Middle Earth, I can take a hyperspace jaunt around the Star Wars galaxy. Oh. Coruscant, too. I’d have to see Coruscant.

12. The planets Vulcan and Romulus with a layover at Deep Space Nine. I love Star Trek and Star Wars  differently, but equally. They each get three places on the list.

13. Arrakis from Dune. This one wins out over both Westeros and Narnia because “He who controls the spice controls the universe,” and we all know what a megalomaniac I am.

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The Thursday Thirteen: Horror Films

Gene’O and I have switched off for the day—he’s writing about Tolkien in a special Thursday Thirteen at the Monster, and I’m writing here. As I sat here prepping for my comprehensive exams this weekend (and by prepping, I mean trying not to hyperventilate and eating Halloween Oreos), I thought to myself (prompted by said Oreos) “oh, it’s October, and this little monster hasn’t talked about horror films yet.” So that’s what I’m going to do today.

I’ve mentioned before that I like gory TV shows and all-things-zombie. And, naturally, I have an affinity for all manner of creatures and monsters. I also don’t mind being scared, especially if I can be scared in my own home, and especially if it’s October, which Sam and I have officially designated as a month of horror films. Below, I give you some of my personal favorites for the month.

1. Insidious, 2010.

I love haunted house stories, and I’ve watched this one with more, not less, horror each time I’ve seen it. The film maintains an excellent balance of newer film techniques with tried-and-true horror film staples. Plus, this creature that a friend and I isolated in the trailer still freaks me out, almost 5 years later.

Yeah, that thing. Night. Mare.

Yeah, that thing. Night. Mare.

2. 28 Days Later, 2002.

Danny Boyle’s post-apocalyptic world of contagion is fantastic. It does what the best horror movies do in that it provides us with a scapegoat to be afraid of (the virus, and those fast zombies) and then reminds us that what we should really be afraid of is humanity.

3. The Exorcist, 1973.

I was in college when I watched this for the first time, and I was absolutely frightened by it. The feeling lingered for a while, a few hours after the film was over. The re-watches don’t scare me as much, but it’s still a chilling film—superbly scripted and acted, with that spider-walk on the stairs still being one of the creepiest things I’ve seen on film.

4. Let the Right One In, 2008.

I’ve seen both this original, Swedish version and the American remake, Let Me In. And it was honestly a little difficult to decide which version to choose for the list. Each version is an adaptation of a vampire novel, and each has its own merits. The Swedish version ultimately topped out for me because of its careful timing and fantastic use of long, slow shorts and sparse dialogue to create tension.

5. The Cabin in the Woods, 2012.

This film surprised me, it really did. But then again, with Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard at its helm and Kristen Connolly as its heroine, I suppose it shouldn’t have been surprised at the heady mix of cheekiness and gore. Not content just to subvert our expectations of the genre—it twists and rearranges them.

6. The Shining, 1980.

Jack Torrence is one of the scariest characters I’ve ever had the pleasure to watch on-screen, but at least 7/10’s of that is due to the performances put in by Jack Nicholson and Shelley Long. I’ve been watching this film since I was probably-too-young-to-watch-it, and I’m pretty sure that those twins in the hallway are the origin of my fear of kids-in-horror-movies.

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Those twins. Those. Twins. *shudder*

7. Zombieland, 2009.

A zombie film with Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, and Jesse Eisenberg? And they run into Bill Murray, you say? Sign me up. The film manages to be, at its heart, a zombie film, and while the characters are fun in a way that they rarely are during the zombie apocalypse, there are moments of tension, fear, and pop culture critique.

8. The Conjuring, 2013.

Another recent film, The Conjuring tells the story of the Warrens, American paranormal investigators, as they conduct an investigation and exorcism at the Perron family home. Using old-school scare tactics and striking cinematography, the new film manages a refreshing, cerebral take on the horror tropes of the investigator and the haunted house.

9. Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, 1962.

Fantastically creepy, the aging sisters of Baby Jane are a stark reminder of the jealousy and animosity that can sit beside us, of the things we hide from ourselves and those closest to us. Bette Davis and Joan Crawford are fantastic mirrors for one another.

10. Halloween, 1978.

Difficult to make a horror film list, especially in October, without mentioning this one. Mike Meyers has haunted our dreams for 36 years now, and he shows no signs of stopping. From the moment he stabs his sister to the film’s final act, Meyers is terrifying and mesmerizing.

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Yikes!

11. Frailty, 2001.

Matthew McConaughey walks into a police station and claims to know who the God’s Hand Killer is, a terrifying serial killer who is revealed, through flashbacks, to be McConaughey’s father (Bill Paxton, in his directorial debut), an ultra-religious man who wakes up his two sons one night to instruct them on how to dispatch demons. The film is twisty-turny, and it’s a woefully underrated piece of suspense horror.

12. Psycho, 1960.

The king of horror films, Psycho still manages to be scary, over 50 years after its release. Norman Bates is a character of horrifying beauty.

13. Alyce Kills, 2011.

This is a new one for me, as I watched it for the first time last week. It has a bit of a sagging middle, but the opening act and the final act are fantastic. It’s plenty gory, though most of the gore is contained in the last 20 minutes of the film, and it’s also darkly funny and painful to watch Alyce, whose friends have missed all signs that she’s a budding psychopath, come completely unglued because of her guilt over a friend’s accidental death.

Alyce

Let me know what would make your list, and hop over to Part Time Monster and see Gene’O’s Thursday Thirteen over there!

Thursday Thirteen: TV Shows I Wish I had Time to Blog

The Thursday Thirteen is a meme-type post invented by PartTimeMonster. It’s a freestyle feature. Just blog about 13 things and make them into a coherent list, is the game. I think of it as a Top Ten Tuesday and a weekend coffee post rolled into one, only published on Thursday. And why 13? Because Diana, iconoclast that she is, thinks of 13 as a lucky number. She even made us a graphic:

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Here are 13 TV shows I’d blog if I had the time to do it. I’m behind on some of them, but I love them all.

1. Hell on Wheels (AMC). A former Mississippi plantation owner goes west after the war on a quest for revenge and becomes an important player in the building of the Transcontinental Railroad. It’s as gritty and violent as a basic cable tv show can be, but the violence is never gratuitous. The cast is stellar and the writers make the most of them. This is one of those shows I just don’t miss.

bwempire2. Boardwalk Empire (HBO). Prohibition-era gangsters. Steve Buscemi. That’s all I really need to say about it. I’ve followed this show from the beginning, and it’s my favorite HBO offering since Deadwood. I’m eager to see how this final season turns out, and trying to figure out where I’m going to get my gangster fix once it’s done.

3. Da Vinci’s Demons (STARZ). Follows the intrigues and adventures of Leonardo Da Vinci and Lorenzo di Medici. The production isn’t as good as most of the other shows on the list, but the acting is fantastic and the stories are interesting. I binged on the latest season a couple of weeks ago, and I want more already. If you have STARZ and you haven’t checked out their original programming, they’re definitely worth a look.

4. Justified (FX). Crime drama based on Elmore Leonard characters set in Harlan County, Kentucky. This is another one I’ve followed from the beginning. Its quality is uneven, but Timothy Olyphant and and Walton Goggins more than make up for that. I’m looking forward to the final season and hoping for an appropriate ending. It has the best theme music on television:

5. Sons of Anarchy (FX). All about the family and criminal drama of a gun-running outlaw motorcycle club from northern California. It’s set in the same continuity as The Shield, which makes it even more interesting. Its only weaknesses are that Charlie Hunnam has never really been convincing as Jax Teller, and it’s not the same show without Ron Perlman. The final season is shaping up to be a barn-burner. I’m hoping we get another show set in the same continuity once it’s done.

6. The Walking Dead (AMC). I missed the second half of the last season, so I’m behind. Sometimes TWD is my favorite show. Sometimes I wonder why I’m still watching. It’s definitely bloggable, though, and it’s been more good that bad so far. I’m looking forward to the new season and I am trying to find the time to get caught up.musketeers

7.  Musketeers (BBC). A standard action-adventure drama about Dumas’ Musketeers, with Peter Capaldi as Richelieu. It’s sometimes funny and sometimes tense, but there’s always a sword fight brewing. If you enjoy character-driven action/adventure, this one is for you. They also have cool pistols.

8. House of Cards (Netflix). Kevin Spacey is a Congressman. A ruthless and powerful Congressman. He doesn’t get on well with the President. He has an equally ruthless and powerful wife (Robin Wright). Based on a BBC miniseries with the same title. I’ve only seen the first season because I don’t have a subscription to Netflix. If you’re in the same boat as me with Internet subscription services, this is the best show you’ve never seen. I’m hoping to pay my sister a visit at some point and binge on the latest season.

9. Orphan Black (BBC). A sci-fi show about clones, all played by Tatiana Maslany, who does an awesome job with the character acting. I missed the second season, but I’m hoping to catch up before the third one airs next year.

10. Turn: Washington’s Spies (AMC). I’ve only seen a couple of episodes, but I was so impressed I put it near the top of my “to watch” list. AMC really does know drama. I’m interested to see how this one plays with the wider audience, and I hope it survives. I’m already thinking of it as a too-good-to miss program.

11. Penny Dreadful (Showtime). This is another one I missed entirely, but Diana reviewed every episode here and she sold me. This is another one I need to catch up on if I ever get the blogs far enough ahead to take a television weekend.

blacksails12. Black Sails (STARZ). I started the first season couple of weeks ago because, strangely, I was out of free things to watch. It’s a pirate drama featuring a few of Stevenson’s Treasure Island characters, some historic pirates, and a well-armed Spanish treasure galleon for them to hunt. Acting and production are superb. I’m hoping STARZ doesn’t cancel it.

13. Gotham (Fox). Crime drama focusing on the origins of well-known supervillains from the DC Universe. I watched the first episode out of curiosity. It’s too early to give an opinion for certain, but it looks like a show I could get hooked on and the early reviews are positive.

Honorable mentions: Ripper Street (BBC), The Americans (AMC), Masters of Sex (Showtime), Ray Donovan (Showtime), Vikings (The History Channel)

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I had Trouble Getting Through

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The good folks at The Broke and the Bookish host a weekly meme post they call Top Ten Tuesdays. They publish the themes well in advance, and even provide a way for TTT bloggers to share links with one another. This week’s theme is “Top Ten Books That Were Hard For Me To Read (because difficulty of book, subject matter, because it was cringeworthy– however you want to interpret).”

I’ve read a ton of difficult books in my day. Here are the first ten that come to mind.

1. The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien

This was the hardest book I’d ever attempted when I tried it the first time (I was 12). I didn’t get through it on the first go, but I did two years later. I’ve read this text cover to cover more times than any other, and I still don’t feel that I’ve mastered it.

2. The History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides

It’s the most difficult book I actually like. I’ve read it five or six times now, and “The Sicilian Expedition” is still a long slog despite its evocative title. It’s worth the effort, though. Especially if you’re a history or social science geek.

3. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace gave a reading for Booksm...

Photo credit: Wikipedia

My problem with this one was the weird time ordering, the abundance of characters, and the fact that you have to wait hundreds of pages to see how the various subplots intersect. I was also suspicious from page one that the author wasn’t telling a story so much as playing a practical joke on the audience. I almost put it down for that reason, but I decided to give it a chance. When I was done, I wished I’d put it down instead of finishing it. I felt as though the author had just played a practical joke on me instead of telling me a story.

4. Dune by Frank Herbert

I first read this one when I was in my late teens, and I came away not wanting to read another Herbert book, ever. I’ve since mended my ways and acquired the taste, but that didn’t happen until I was in my 30s. The first act of Dune is so slow it’s painful, which is quite a feat when you consider that it includes a strange psychic sect, a personal betrayal, and dynastic warfare on an epic scale carried out with sci-fi weapons. As if the pacing problem weren’t enough, Herbert’s proper names are as difficult in their own way as Tolkien’s, and there’s an added layer of techno-speak thrown in. Also, Herbert sometimes comes across as a guy who’s writing to show people how smart he is, which isn’t an attractive quality in an author of popular fiction.

5. House of Leaves By Mark Z. Danielewski

This could be the most difficult text I’ve ever encountered. It began as hypertext fiction. It’s a doorstopper of a book, and it includes things like pages printed sideways and mirror writing. It’s peppered with coded messages, and the keys are hidden in the appendices. It’s a story-within-a-story-within-a story, it’s loaded with symbolism, and it questions the nature of both authorship and audience-ship. I did not feel like the author had just played a practical joke on me when I was done, though. Nor did I get the idea at any point that he was just writing to show off his high IQ.

6. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

William Faulkner, 1954

Photo credit: Wikipedia

I’ve not studied Faulkner extensively, but I’ve read more than half a dozen of his novels. His style is disorienting. It’s easy to get so lost in his work you have to backtrack 20 pages to figure out what you just missed. This one took me three attempts, but like Thucydides, it’s totally worth the effort.

7. Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe

This is the text on this list I found easiest the first time around. I read it in one go, thoroughly appreciated and enjoyed it, and have read it a second time since. It took a long time, though — a couple of weeks at least. And it required the sort of intense concentration that makes you feel like you’ve had a workout when you’re done.

8. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

English: Detail from photographic portrait of ...

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Assigned reading for 9th grade literature, and I hated it. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why anyone would use such complex language to tell such a simple story, nor could I answer that all-important question, “Why the hell should I care?” This one almost soured me on Dickens forever. Fortunately, I was assigned A Tale of Two Cities the next year, and it inspired me to write poetry. It’s still one of my favorite novels. I’ve since decided that my difficulty with Great Expectations was mostly a product of my immaturity, but I’ve never re-read it and don’t plan to. It left a bad taste in my mind, and life is too short for that.

9. The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis

This one is the fourth in the Narnia series, and I’m not sure I ever actually got through it. If I did, it didn’t leave much of an impression — not even a negative one. I know I picked it up several times as an adolescent, though, and I’ve read the entire rest of the Narnia books for sure. So I suppose I can count it 30-something years later.

10. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

I may be cheating here, but I did not actually read every word of it. I read the first chapter, then skimmed the rest. This is the only book on the list that was difficult because I find it cringe-worthy. That’s all I’m saying about it, though. I totally respect the legions of people who like the Twilight series. It’s just not to my taste. I also find it problematic,  but I see no need to go on about my problems with a text after I’ve just admitted I only skimmed it 😉

(Forgive me for breaking my self-imposed rule that all my book lists contain a graphic novel unless they’re too genre-specific for that to work. I’ve never actually read a graphic novel that I found difficult, and if I don’t like the subject matter or find them cringe-worthy, I always know it within the first three pages and just stop reading.)