Quick Review: “All the Wrong Questions”, by Lemony Snicket

Like Snicket’s other series, this series is not superversive. Since I’ve done so much writing on the Snicketverse anyway I figure I might as well do a bit on his prequel series to “A Series of Unfortunate Events”, “All the Wrong Questions”.

You may see a longer Castalia article later, but here are my current thoughts:

This series was both better and worse than “A Series of Unfortunate Events”.

“A Series of Unfortunate Events” was more creative in the sense that there really isn’t anything like it out there on the shelves. Snicket experimented and took risks with narration, literary techniques, absurdist humor, and general style that made the whole series feel, even when re-read today, like something fresh, new, and exciting. The only comparison I’ve ever been able to find is Douglas Adams. While “All the Wrong Questions” certainly feels as if it’s written by Lemony Snicket, with its literary references, love of wordplay, and entertaining narrator, it sticks much more closely to an established style (in its case, the series is very much a hard-boiled noir mystery, complete with world-weary narrator and femme fatale). There’s a built in structure in the series inherent to the genre that “A Series of Unfortunate Events” noticeably lacked; the books were formulaic, true, but the formula was their own.

Not that that structure didn’t have benefits. “All the Wrong Questions” is FAR, far better plotted. The plotting of “A Series of Unfortunate Events” was rather unwieldy and haphazard, but “All the Wrong Questions'” plotting is iron tight. Since the books – and the series as a whole – are structured as mysteries, this is very important.

The main character is more complex than any one character in “A Series of Unfortunate Events”. In the original series Snicket tended to define his characters with one memorable trait. Violet invents. Klaus reads. Sunny bites, and later cooks. Josephine is afraid. Jerome hates to argue. Hector is skittish. Olaf is a clever, drunken brute. As the series went on some shading was added to the characters, but not a whole lot; ask casual fans who Violet is and they’ll invariably say “She was the girl who invented things, right?”. And Widdershins will forever be “The guy who never hesitated”.

Snicket – this time our narrator AND protagonist – is more complex and interesting than any of them. Snicket is clever, resourceful, witty, and brave, but he is also arrogant, rude, shockingly good at lying even to people he likes, and Machiavellian to a frightening, even downright terrifying, degree. Not any one character – or at least any one major character – in “A Series of Unfortunate Events” is as interesting as Lemony Snicket is in “All the Wrong Questions”.

The series also does a much better job handling the theme of moral ambiguity. ASoUE ended on an anticlimax; the majority of the questions Snicket sets up aren’t answered and the moral standing of several characters is muddied for no apparent reason except that it helps the author get his message across; it certainly doesn’t improve the story. Questions about characters are raised, but the book ends without coming to any conclusions. Perhaps there’s a good message there, but it’s wrapped up in a poor story.

AtWQ’s ending is anything but an anticlimax; in fact, “Why is this Night Different from All Other Nights?” is about as perfect a conclusion as Snicket could have possibly written. This time the theme of moral ambiguity actually makes the book stronger; the main mystery driving the series is answered but your entire perspective about everything you’ve read has totally shifted – for, you see, you’ve been asking the Wrong Questions.

So, to all who are thinking about trying out the series, I end my article with this:

Your question throughout the series is almost certainly going to be “Why does Hangfire want the statue of the Bombinating Beast so badly?”

But that’s the wrong question. The right question is this: What lengths would Lemony Snicket go to in order to end Hangfire’s villainy?

The series is not superversive, but especially for fans of “A Series of Unfortunate Events” it’s highly recommended.

“A Series of Unfortunate Events” Netflix Review

As I’ve documented, “A Series of Unfortunate Events” is very much not superversive. That said, after writing two articles on the series I thought I’d give my first impressions on the Netflix series. Currently I’m almost done with the first half of “The Wide Window”, the fifth episode in the series (each book takes up two episodes; since “The Wide Window” is book three I’m on episode five of eight in the first season).

Rapid Fire:

– First off, I loved it. I want to make that clear now so all criticisms are remembered in that light. These are minor flaws I’m picking on. That said…

– Neil Patrick Harris as Count Olaf is a mixed bag. He wasn’t sinister enough in “The Bad Beginning” but his acting gained more range and subtlety by “The Reptile Room”, and now that I’m in “The Wide Window” (which I consider one of the series’ better books) I think he’s managed the perfect combination of terrifying and hilarious (“Please call me by my first name: Julio” cracked me up).

– The death of Uncle Monty (oh come on, the book is 18 years old now, I’m not going to bother with spoilers) was perfectly executed. That was legitimately heartbreaking, and DARK.

– Like NPH, I wasn’t sold on the children’s performance as the orphans at first, but I thought they did better and better as the series has gone on. They were all somewhat stiff in “The Bad Beginning”, but their acting in “The Reptile Room” was spot on, and so far they’ve done quite a good job in “The Wide Window”.

– I am REALLY unsure how much I like all the integration with the larger conspiracy subplot in the background. Don’t get me wrong, some integration was necessary, but I think this might be a step too far. We know too much too soon. I’m especially unsure of how much I like the big twist at the end of “The Bad Beginning”, though I would bet money that those people aren’t who we think they are. Maybe they could make it work – we’ll wait and see.

– As I was worried about, they unfortunately weren’t willing to commit to all of the darkness in “The Bad Beginning”. The scene in the book – which I recently re-read – where Klaus confronts Olaf on his plan to marry Violet, and Violet reveals he has kidnapped Sunny, is not funny AT ALL. Not in the slightest. It is absolutely terrifying, and disturbing. There isn’t a hint of a joke in any of it.

But the Netflix version added some subtle jokes to the scene. The jokes were very dry, and they were in keeping with the tone of the series, but they were still jokes. The show wasn’t able to commit to the full darkness, and it was a bit disappointing.

Ditto with the scene where Olaf slaps Klaus in the face. In the book, the whole theatre troupe laughs at him, but in the show, everyone goes silent. The book makes it clear that not only do they have no allies, everyone even approves of their mistreatment. The show lessens the sting, even if only a little bit. It was slightly disappointing.

Now the good stuff!

– The hook handed man and the person who looks like neither a man nor a woman (hereafter “the androgynous person”) were a delight. I cracked up when Olaf yelled to the children what they were supposed to do while dinner was cooking and the andogynous person suggested “We can wait patiently”. Also, apparently there is honor among thieves, because when the hook-handed man gambles with Sunny, he keeps his word when he loses.

– There is so much fan service it is ridiculous (in a good way). Throwaway lines, background shots, hints and references, there are TONS of Easter eggs for the eagle-eyed fans to catch.

– The tone is dead-on pitch perfect. Awesome! It’s a terrific adaptation.

– Most importantly of all, Patrick Warburton as Lemony Snicket is PERFECT, and I mean perfect. I can’t imagine anybody executing the character better than the series has done. He’s so freaking good, and so funny, that just by having him there I’m willing to forgive a ton of the series’ (in my view, minor) flaws. Seriously. I can’t emphasize enough what a dead-on flawless portrayal and interpretation of the character it is.

A final note: I was in the comments section of a review article cheerfully joining in on an active discussion with other ASoUE fans, a scenario that as you might imagine doesn’t happen particularly often. At one point, after a long, interesting conversation where many intelligent points were made, I linked to my Castalia articles on the book series, so people could see in more depth why I had an issue with the ending without me having to spell out my full case in detail again.

Later I again respond to somebody making a case why I thought the ending of the series – which is an explicit endorsement of moral relativism – is morally repugnant. Instead of an attempt to refute my points or offer an intelligent disagreement, a commenter wrote this:

I find it funny that somebody who writes on a website for Vox Day’s publishing house is trying to criticize someone else for promoting a “facile and evil philosophy.”

That was his whole response.

There you go. Doesn’t matter how intelligent my points are or how well I articulate them, I write on the blog of a publishing house that employs Vox Day as the editor-in-chief. So clearly I’m evil.

Sometimes there’s not much more to do but shake your head and hit “block”.

For the interested, my comment:

Snicket stacks the deck so much that by the end of the series he has essentially creates circumstances that force the orphans into a position of moral relativism – a lie.

Moral relativism is the philosophy of hip faux-Nietzche teens. Adults learn, ultimately, that just because bad people do good things and good people do bad things doesn’t mean you’re forced into a pattern of secrets and lies. Heroes and villains exist, and you can always choose what to be. But Snicket takes away agency and presents a facile and evil philosophy as unavoidable truth. It’s not. It’s a lie.

I expand here:

By book the twelfth, it becomes more clear than ever that Snicket has stacked the deck completely. He essentially forces the Baudelaire children into a situation where they are forced to burn down a building and leave people for dead. Stacking the deck is good to create conflict and amusing situations; it is not good to convince people that sometimes it’s necessary for children to burn down buildings and leave people for dead.

Now we reach book the thirteenth. In book the thirteenth, Snicket goes even further and tries to make the case that good and bad are a relative thing that doesn’t exist at all. To do this, he sets up Ishmael. Ishmael is essentially a man “Beyond good and evil”. The island’s customs, in very clear terms likened to religion, (Snicket uses the term “opiate of the masses”, a term Marx uses to describe religion), are set up by Ishmael as a way to control the unthinking people.

The Baudelaires, abandoned with Olaf for the apparent crime of rejecting the religion of the island, are forced again into an alliance with him, further cementing the idea that, as people beyond good and evil (religion, which they are smart enough to reject) they, Olaf, and Ishmael are in fact of a kind; they are the overmensch.

Later, some members of the island plan on a revolution, to overthrow Ishmael, and a false choice is set up: Olaf or Ishmael. Nobody tries for the third option – rejecting both and living according to an objective morality, where nobody is beyond good and evil and morality is determined not by customs but by natural law, discoverable by human reason and that all humanity is answerable to. People are either too stupid or too wicked, you see, to do the right thing, or else are forced into circumstance to do bad things – which means those things really aren’t good OR bad either way; morality is relative, right?

Ultimately we learn that Olaf, the Baudelaires, their parents, and Kit Snicket are really not so different, since they all lied at various times. This, itself, is a lie; just because people sometimes make bad decisions doesn’t mean you can’t choose to be a hero – a volunteer – or a villain. But no; we all either go with Ishmael and die, or stay with Olaf on an island alone.

And the series ends with the Baudelaires keeping secrets from young Beatrice; the opportunity of them simply telling the truth is something Snicket doesn’t even consider, because he doesn’t see a problem with lying. Everybody lies, said Dr. House.

It’s a wicked lie itself.

First Thoughts on FORBIDDEN THOUGHTS

Others will no doubt post about more coherent thoughts about Superversive Press’s new anthology, FORBIDDEN THOUGHTS, but…here are mine:

Wow…it is so exciting to see something go from a glimmer of an idea to reality! And then see it fly off the shelves (electronically). Here’s how it happened:

About two years ago, a friend of mine wanted to put together a charity anthology for the Charlie Hebdo artists. She said, “Send me the most controversial thing you’ve ever written!”

Well, I don’t normally do controversial per se. But I sat down and prayed a bit to see what would come to me. I had just read Face-to-Face with Jesus by Samaa Habib, one of the best books I’ve ever read, and my mind was full of thoughts about her experience. So, I sat down and wrote the. most. controversial. story I was capable of conceiving.

The story is called “The Test of the Prophet”.

At first, I thought I’d done quite well. My mom immediately worried that it would get my shot, and my atheist Liberal friend called it hateful. But, my Muslim friend loved it and took it home to Pakistan to show her parents. (Life can be strange sometimes!)

By this time, however, I realized that the first anthology wasn’t going to fly. But I REALLY wanted to do something with my story. It was the best thing I had ever written.

But what can you do with a super controversial story in this age of safe spaces and trigger warnings?

Then, in the midst of the Sad Puppy fervor, I caught a glimmer of an answer. Jason Rennie, editor of Sci Phi Journal and the brilliant mind behind SuperverisveSF, suggested in the midst of a flurry of Sad Puppy emails, that the authors involved get together and do an anthology of anti-PC stories, kind of a modern Dangerous Visions–putting into story form all those thoughts that the SJWs don’t want people to think. Basically, doing what SF is supposed to do, posing difficult questions.

Those of us on the email chain decided on the title: Forbidden Thoughts.

I LOVED this idea. Here was my answer to what to do with my controversial story.

So, I kept on Jason about this, and I kept on the other authors. When a few were too busy to be able to fit writing a new short story into their schedule, I convinced them to submit incendiary blog posts.

So we now had a volume with stories by, among others, John, Nick Cole, Brian Niemeier, Josh Young, Brad Torgersen, Sarah Hoyt, and, a particularly delightful surprise for me, our young Marine fan friend, Pierce Oka. Plus, non fiction by Tom Kratman and Larry Correia submitted some of his original Sad Puppy posts–the thing that started it all!

But we still needed a Foreword.

Last winter, during one of our SuperversiveSF chats, we had invited the one reporter who reported truthfully on Sad Puppies, an amusing and irreverent fellow named Milo Yiannopoulos. Just as the chat was scheduled to begin, Milo was informed that he had been deverified on Twitter. This made it so that he was never able to attend our chat. He made it clear that he regretted this and kind of owed us.

So, I asked Jason to see if Milo would let us cash in our favor in the form of him writing the Foreword.

He did!

Milo wrote an excellent Foreword. We put the stories in order and voila! A delightfully thought-provoking volume that reminds me of the daring stories one found the pages of Science Fiction volumes in my youth.

There is one other delightful story that goes with this volume. Last summer, as we often do, we spent a week in Chincoteague. Our teen writer fan (some of you may have seen the victory dance she did when John won Dragon Award), asked if she and her family could join us, so we and the Freeman family spent a wonderful week together.

As I arrived on Chincoteague, I got an email from Jason informing me that he had read a submission by April, and it was really chilling. He thought it would work for Forbidden Thoughts. So, when April walked into the house we were renting for the week, I got to inform her that her first published piece would be in an anthology with John and I!

She was so stunned that she had to call me the next morning and ask me to explain it all again. Lol It was a delightful moment.

Now Forbidden thoughts is live! There will be an official Launch party with a live chat on Inauguration Day.

So, Politically-Correct friends, you might want to avoid this, but the rest of you, come join in the fun!!!

You are not supposed to read this book.
You are not supposed to think about reading this book.
In fact, just plain thinking at all is unacceptable.
You have been warned….

On Amazon!

(Print version coming. Probably by next week.)

Comments

 

Review: “Byzantium”, by Stephen Lawhead

As I’ve noted in the past, I LOVED Lawhead’s Pendragon Cycle and King Raven (Robin Hood) trilogy. I consider Lawhead one of the most superversive writers in the field today, and I find it likely, as admittedly little as I read the genre, that he is the greatest living writer of Christian fiction.

“Byzantium” is one of his higher reviewed books on Amazon. It has near-universal critical acclaim out of over 200 reviews. It is a historical novel about a ninth century monk named Aidan who travels with a group of monks on a pilgrimage to Byzantium, where he has a vision that he will die. Along the way he is kidnapped by vikings, and that is the start of the many adventures that follow on Aidan’s quest to reach the city, find his brother monks, and return home.

So what do I think of it?

This was a really, really good book. It was SO CLOSE to being a great book…but not quite.

First, the good – and the good is REALLY, really good. The best part of “Byzantium” is his parallel of Aidan’s loss of faith with the viking Gunnar’s gain. It’s fascinating to see how in each scene where Aidan sees God’s abandonment, Gunnar sees His presence – and always at the moments of greatest suffering. I want to avoid spoilers here, but I’ll simply say that whenever you see Aidan curse God, you can be sure to parallel it with Gunnar praising Him – and both views seem to make perfect sense! It’s a neat trick.

The prose is pitch-perfect. It’s telling that you get several reviewers talking about how difficult the prose is, followed by reviewers calling it simplistic or pulpy. That’s because it’s neither. Lawhead strikes a balance, making his prose both elevated and eminently readable.

Lawhead also knows how to build suspense. Several scenes are almost unbearable to read, because you’re desperate to see how they’re resolved. The attack by the Vikings at the beginning of the book is as tense and exciting as any scene you’ll read, as is the final battle at the end.

All right. It’s an excellent book…but it could be better. Now the bad:

Lawhead’s timing – or pacing – or whatever you want to call it – is curiously off. The moment when Aidan loses his faith should be a horrible and epic moment, yet it was prompted not by a great loss, but by…not dying? Aidan enters Byzantium, knowing from a vision he will die there, but leaves alive…and the fact that his vision was wrong leads him to conclude God abandoned him.

Huh? That’s like thinking God abandoned you because He decided to change His mind and NOT kill you. It..sort of makes sense? But not quite? It feels kind of cheap. And keep in mind, Aidan decided this BEFORE any great tragedy happened. Not dying WAS the tragedy. Not that long after he leaves, something REALLY horrible happens to Aidan. THIS should have been The Moment, but it’s not. It’s just another data point Aidan uses. His loss of faith doesn’t read like a monk who suffers profoundly and loses hope because of how many bad breaks he got, but like a guy who’s upset God didn’t act exactly the way he expected him to. Aidan is a learned monk. That isn’t what the spark should be.

And then the ending…after undergoing this profound loss of faith, we go through chapter, by chapter, by chapter, where he gets steadily worse. At his very darkest moment, where you think there’ll be a turning point…nope. No turning point. He remains resolute for months, perhaps years, after his greatest departure from his priestly vows.

Okay, fine. Well, surely something amazing and profound happens to turn him around? Or perhaps he slowly builds up his faith over many months, aided by his friends and brother monks?

Nope. He gets worse and worse, to the point he decides to renounce his brother monks forever.

Until he’s just…cured. Like that. In one day. Because of a short conversation with a friend and a really vague vision, one that didn’t even seem particularly helpful. He goes from awful soul-crushing despair to holy man of God within TWO PAGES…and then the book ends.

Aidan suffered to lose his faith; he should gain it back through hardship and effort, not the work of a day talking with a friend and a night of sleep, ONE DAY after he decides to renounce his vows forever.

Lawhead gave him a moment of redemption that he – Lawhead – simply did not do enough to earn.

(Lawhead has a similar, if lesser, issue in the book “Merlin”. At one point Merlin is kidnapped by pagans for years and is taught mystical arts. But his kidnapping apparently had absolutely no psychological effects on him and is barely mentioned again after he is allowed to go, nor do those characters ever appear again. Huh?)

Anyway, those are two VERY big flaws. For a lesser author, it would be enough for a poor review. But Lawhead is too good, and does too good a job comparing and contrasting Aidan and Gunnar’s spiritual journeys, for me to call it anything less than a really excellent book.

Buy the book. Read it. Love it, even. But know in advance its flaws. They’re big, and they’re there. I recommend his King Raven Trilogy and his Pendragon Cycle, particularly “Arthur”, “Pendragon”, and “Grail” (book three of “Arthur” is somewhat rushed for reasons beyond his control but contains perhaps his best writing, and a pitch-perfect ending), if you want truly GREAT Lawhead.

But for fans of his work, or of good adventure stories, or historical fiction, or Christian fiction, this is still an excellent, high quality novel. I unreservedly recommend it. Grumblings aside, it deserves most of its critical acclaim.

Two New Trailers

Both Marvel!

First, “Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2”:

Next, “Spider-Man: Homecoming”:

My thoughts…

GotG 2 looks absolutely fantastic. The second best trailers Marvel has ever done (next to the amazing stuff they put out for “Civil War”). Almost everything about that trailer works. I suppose the action seems pretty pedestrian, but when was that ever the point in the GotG films?

“Spider-Man”…hmmm (I almost wrote SMH until I realized that was the acronym for “Shaking my head”. Pluses: Tom Holland, avoiding the origin story completely (since we don’t need it), being the first movie to actually have street level superheroics (which I’ve always been fond of), and an EXTREMELY retro costume that hearkens allllll the way back to Spidey’s very first appearance (WEB WINGS!!!!).

Here’s the thing, though: None of that has to do with the trailer (except that it makes it clear we’ll be seeing some street level superheroics, which is nice).

What the trailer DID show:

– As mentioned, the heroics appear to be relatively low scale in comparison to the other Marvel movies – the only other Marvel film that didn’t involve huge world-wide or worse catastrophes was “Ant-Man”* (I suppose “Captain America” too, but that was barely even a superhero film – aside from some fancy jumping and Hugo Weaving’s face it was basically just a PG war movie after you get past the super-serum at the beginning). I can’t confirm that this will be the case for sure, of course, but it SEEMS that way. Either way, the focus on street level heroics is something the films have never done and is much appreciated.

– “Homecoming” seems to be trying to get a balance in its humor level between the more serious Marvel films and the outright comedies of “Ant-Man” and “GotG”. This is a good sign, since that’s exactly the tone “Spider-Man” should shoot for.

– The “John Hughes movie meets superhero movie” vibe is very strong, which is great. I approve.

– I really like the plot arc they’re going for. It’s something really different from Marvel’s other films, and I appreciate that.

The downsides…

There seems to be a LOT of diversity casting going on, from Peter’s best friend to his romantic interests. In theory, this makes sense. Peter goes to High School in NYC, right? Of course it would skew very multiracial. It’s something they hardly would have considered back when Spider-Man began.

But – and maybe it’s just me – this sort of thing makes me jumpy. The truth is that decisions like this are never made in a vacuum; we live in a society that is pushing diversity on us from every angle…and the people pushing diversity are almost always the SJW’s. See the comments from the creators of “Rogue One” and “The Force Awakens”. See “Hamilton”. See Kevin Feige fumbling around while trying to justify casting a Scottish woman to play the oriental mystic in “Doctor Strange” (As good as Tilda Swinton was I mourn the missed opportunity to cast Jackie Chan). In Hollywood, everything is calculated: It’s never just about story. There’s always an underlying narrative being pushed.

That said…the truth is, this is right in line with the Marvel formula. Marvel plays a very careful balancing act when it comes to race. Their theory – at least in their films – seems to be this:

– Cast a lead who seems like he’d be a good fit for the character, regardless of what race the character might be. So far it’s been white male heroes, but with Black Panther and Captain Marvel movies coming out, they seem to have no issue casting for other races and sexes. It’s just that their most popular heroes are white males, so when they wanted sure bets that’s who they went with. Now that they can take more risks, they’re branching out.

– Try to stunt cast/diversity cast the minor roles. That’s why we see the Falcon, Black Widow, a race-bent Baron Mordo (and the Ancient One, of course), Rhodey, and even the small detail of adding an oriental to Captain America’s Howling Commandos. The point here is to blunt criticisms of racism and sexism without alienating the fans of the original comics.

This is a very clever plan, and one Marvel has instituted successfully in every single one of their films (backlash around “Doctor Strange” seemed to pose a brief threat and provoked a silly response from Feige and the director before being shut up by the quality of Swinton’s performance and the presence of the always welcome Chiwetel Eijofor). It essentially satisfies everybody, from the die-hard fans to all but the real die-hard SJWs, who can’t be satisfied in any case.

“Homecoming” would worry me more if it didn’t fall right in line with that. Neither of the love interests appears to be Mary Jane (reports Zendaya would be playing the role appear to be exaggerated – if she’s supposed to be MJ she’s at least MJ in name only), who is one of the more recognizable female characters in comics, so that’s good (the only one I recognize is Liz Allen, who I believe was on a Spider-Man cartoon from a few years back). Otherwise, we’re seeing basically what we always see: White male lead (as befits the character), mixed race background players.

It just worries me that his best friend AND his love interests seem to be mixed race. Is this fair? Maybe not. Marvel doesn’t have a history of messing up its movies with shoehorned politics, and the movie itself appears to be utterly unconcerned with racial issues. But I noted it and am at least not going to be surprised if “Homecoming” skews more SJW than the average Marvel film.

Otherwise, the trailer strikes me as unremarkable. It hits every checkmark of what I want to see in a Spider-Man film, which means it’s certainly successful on the metric of “Am I still going to go see it after watching this trailer?”, but…I don’t know. I forgot what happened in it almost immediately after I watched it, but I can pretty much quote the GotG trailer verbatim. It has a fun vibe to it and gets across what it has to, and I look forward to seeing it, but it does it in a very by the numbers way.

…Also, if Spidey is holding that ship together, they made him VERY overpowered (though I suppose Tobey Maguire singlehandedly stopped a train in its tracks, so I guess it’s not exactly unprecedented).

In summary, after a lot of rambling:

“Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2” trailer grade: A, marked down from an A+ for generic action scenes

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” trailer grade: B+. For all my griping I have to admit that I’m very happy with where they’re taking this and it made me really look forward to this film.

Looking forward to the summer!

*Having Hydra spread secret agents around the world and having a war start vetween Asgard and the Frost Giants do indeed count as

CASTALIA Full Review: “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”

Image result for fantastic beasts and where to find them poster

From left to right: Tina, Newt, Queenie, and Jacob

(My quick review is here.)

I have a love-hate thing going on with J.K. Rowling.

On one hand, her personal and political opinions are obnoxious, nasty, contemptible, and make it very, very clear that she hates and despises people who think like me. And that’s not even to TOUCH the “Dumbledore is gay” controversy.

ON THE OTHER HAND – Her books are so whimsically entertaining, with such excellent characters and an engaging world, that even when I leave for awhile I find myself getting drawn back in almost in spite of myself.

I haven’t read much of “The Cursed Child”, but from what I have read, and what I know from the plot, I am deeply unimpressed; it is obvious that Rowling was not the writer.

Rowling has been criticized by some for going “Lucas” on us, that is, partially ruining what we loved by adding unnecessary backstory and removing some of the wonder. Honestly, I don’t agree. “Going Lucas” is something that does happen, but it happens because of the George Lucas’s of the world – that is, good idea people but mediocre writers. Continue reading

A Halloween Story Repost: “Closure”, by MJ Marzo

Much like “The Nightmare Before Christmas”, “Closure” is a story that can be happily read twice a year, Halloween and Valentine’s Day, being both a ghost story and a love story…sort of. Is it superversive? We’ll let you decide.

MJ Marzo is the author of two stories in the critically acclaimed collaborative novel “God, Robot” (be sure to leave a review!), and the assistant editor under the name Mariel Marchetta. You can find her soon as the assistant editor, and co-author of the frame story, of the upcoming anthology “Tales of the Once and Future King”.

And without further ado, “Closure”…

The woman’s house lacked the crystal ball and dim lighting of every other place Robert had visited, which he took to be a good sign. There were no tarot cards, or bowls of powder. The very fact that they were meeting in a living room and not some seedy, back alley parlor was a novelty.

Robert squeezed the hand of the woman next to him lightly, both of them pacing the room while they waited for their hostess to return. The hand was clammy and had a slight tremor. The short blond woman smiled uneasily.

“Bobby, are you sure about this?” she whispered to him.

“What makes you so unsure?” he asked, smiling as he took in his surroundings.

“Well, this isn’t exactly what I pictured when I think of a medium. It’s certainly not like any of the places we’ve been to so far.”

He took both of her hands, looking into her concerned eyes. “That is precisely why I’m so excited Christy! No smoke and mirrors. This is going to be the one. I can feel it.”

His optimism was infectious; Christy couldn’t help but give her fiance a brief kiss, her own confidence rising to match his.

The woman they had come to see–a tall, thin woman in her forties, with streaks of grey running through her hair–walked in rubbing her hands on an apron tied around her waist.

“I’m sorry,” she apologized, “I had to get the cookies in the oven for my  son’s soccer team. Please, sit down, sit down. We’ll get started.”

The woman’s nervousness only added to the authenticity of this experience. Finally, he was going to get answers.

“So…I’m afraid I’ve never done this for, uh…payment before,” She started. “Or for something like this. Usually it’s little things. Favors for the neighbors.”

“That’s perfectly okay, Mrs. Keller,” Robert answered, “We haven’t had any luck with people who call themselves professionals.”

This seemed to calm her down a bit. “Please, call me Edith” she said, smiling. She wiped her hands on her apron once again, finally folding them in her lap.

“Well, why don’t we start with why you’re here?” she asked tentatively. “The advertisement mentioned something about your wife?”

“You see,” Robert explained, “Christy will actually be my second wife. My first wife Sandra, she…” He seemed to have trouble continuing. Christy took out a tissue she kept in her pocket–it was obvious that she had done this before. Robert waved her hand away and ran his hand through his beard.

“She died of breast cancer,” He continued. “Such a wonderful woman, full of life even until the end. I don’t know how I survived without her–until I met Christy of course.” He grabbed her hand, lightly tracing circles on the back with his thumb.

“We met a year later when I decided to go back to school to get my degree and got engaged six months later.” Christy finished.

The back and forth between the couple felt almost rehearsed. Edith could tell that they must have told this story many times before. Robert took a photo out of his pocket and began to tear up.

“And you want me to see if I can help you contact your dead wife?” Edith asked gently. Robert nodded, wiping tears with the back of his free hand.

“I just can’t get married without knowing Sandra is okay with it. That she approves. We’ve been to so many other places that have told us what we wanted to hear, but I just never felt like they were really her–when it is, I’ll know. We’ve postponed the wedding for five years while we’ve searched for someone who could help us. I’ve put my entire life savings into offering a reward–at this point we can’t even afford a wedding. If things go well today Christy and I will just go to the courthouse.”

Edith couldn’t help but be impressed at the patience of his fiance, who looked to be trying very hard not to let her disappointment show.

“Well, I’ll see what I can do. May I see the picture?” Robert placed it gently into her hand. The picture was of a rather plump woman with a short bob of red hair. Despite her size, her dress suggested that she was very confident in her body. Edith held it in her hand and began to concentrate.

The couple sat on the couch, hand in hand, waiting anxiously for only a few minutes, but what seemed more like hours. Robert felt a twinge of guilt shoot up his spine as he watched Edith close her eyes and furrow her brow with effort. Was it really fair to put so much pressure on her?

But all of a sudden it changed. Edith relaxed, her eyes opening slowly. She placed the picture, very carefully, on the glass coffee table in front of her.

“Robert?” She said, her voice different. It became deep, with the slight rasp of a habitual smoker.

Robert’s mouth dropped open. It amazed Christy that after all this time, he still had that initial reaction. “Sandra?”

Robert. Oh my god, I didn’t think I would ever see–”

She stopped, her eyes flitting to his and Christy’s hands clasped together. “Who is this?” she asked, her smile now forced.

Unlike Christy, Robert was oblivious to the poison dripping from that seemingly innocuous sentence.“She’s why I wanted to talk to you. This is Christy. She’s my fiance–”

“YOUR WHAT?!” She got up from her seat, throwing her hands in the air. Robert put his arm around Christy protectively and pulled her closer to him. Christy thought that leaving might have been the better option.

“You’re engaged?” Sandra screeched. “Why the hell did you think I wanted to be dragged here for that?”

“I–I–I just thought–” the man stammered.

“What, that I wanted to be her bridesmaid? When did you decide this was a good idea?”

“We met a year after you were gone,” He muttered, but unfortunately his words did not escape the scorned woman’s tongue.

“You mean I was barely cold in the ground,” She snarled, “And you’re already with this…this…skinny bitch!”

Excuse me?”

“Christy, please don’t–”

“YOU STAY OUT OF THIS!” The two women screamed.

Robert shrank as far into the couch cushions as he could, praying no one in Edith’s family was returning soon.

“I would rather be skinny than some fat-assed cow, I saw your picture, how Bobby ever found you attractive I have no idea–”

“At least I have a chest, people are going to look at you and think my husband is gay!”

“You mean my fiance!”

“No. MY husband!”

At this point the two women were leaning into each other, their hands resting on the glass coffee table.

“Girls, maybe we should calm down.” Robert suggested weakly.

With an unholy screech of anger, Sandra flipped the coffee table to the side. It flipped over their heads, hitting the wall and shattering. Reflexively Robert tackled Christy to the ground, guarding her from any shrapnel; it was a miracle none of them were hit.

When Robert looked up, Sandra was only glaring at them. “You protected her and not me?” she huffed.

Robert couldn’t even find words. He only opened and closed his mouth like a fish.

“I know when I’m not wanted.” Sandra answered simply, and with that she had disappeared. Edith stumbled backwards and fell back into the chair she had started out sitting on.

“Did it work…?” she asked weakly, her voice back to normal. “Did you get to speak to your wife–oh my God, what happened in here?” she gasped. seeing the remnants of the coffee table scattered throughout the room and Robert and Christy huddled together on the floor.

“That was absolutely ridiculous!” Christy shouted, getting up from under Robert and smoothing out the wrinkles in her skirt. Robert got up as well and stayed silent.

“Robert and I have been to dozens of these people–five years–the most humiliating scam we’ve ever been subjected to–flipping a coffee table? We could have been killed!”

Edith looked absolutely confused. Christy put a hand on Robert’s arm. “Bobby, I’m so sorry it didn’t work out. Get your coat and we’ll get out of here.”

But Robert was not leaving; in fact, he had moved away from Christy and sat down. Taking a pen and his checkbook, he began filling out a check.

“I’m very sorry about the table,” He said evenly. “But you’ll have plenty left over to buy yourself a new one.”

“You’re giving her the money?” Christy exclaimed. “I mean, I want to marry you Robert…But what about finding someone who could actually talk to Sandra?”

Robert ripped the check out of the book and gave it to Edith, who took it with trembling, disbelieving hands.

“Yes,” He said, the tension gone from him body, looking more tired than ever before, “I had forgotten. But that’s Sandra all right.”

He took Christy’s hand and left without saying another word.

“Robert, I’m so sorry–” Christy began, but was stopped when Robert grabbed her around the waist, spinning her around and laughing.

“We’re finally getting married!” he exclaimed.

“But–But Robert–You’re not upset?”

Upset? Why would I be upset?”

“What about everything you said? About wanting her approval?” She held her head lightly, growing dizzy. Robert had, at this point, spun her three times.

“From her? Christy, I got something better! I’ve realized how lucky I was to get out of a marriage with that bitch!”

With that, he finally stopped spinning her around. Taking her hand again, the happy couple set off towards the courthouse.