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In which I explain America’s Obsession with Zombies

A very nice piece on Chicago Talks by Shanice Harris explores zombies a bit, using everyone’s favorite zombie expert, yours truly.  Check it out!

…Dr. Brendan Riley is an English professor at Columbia College Chicago and teaches a class entitled Zombies in Popular Media, which has been in existence since 2007. According to the course description on Columbia’s website, it is “a course exploring the history, cultural significance and horrifying circumstances of zombies as they appear in film, television, books, etc”.

The idea of no self control seems to be what drives fans of the epidemic.

“Zombies, as a horror figure, are particularly interesting and exciting because at our core one of the things that is very scary is the idea of not being in control of ourselves anymore,” said Riley. “And I think Zombies represent that menace: the fear that we would lose control of ourselves to either animal instinct or being without sense and without knowing what’s going on.”

Riley asserts that there is a difference between the fascinations of zombies versus the fascination with the zombie apocalypse.

“The zombie apocalypse is frightening, not only because of the fear of the zombies, but also the fear of the breakdown of the social order…the need to survive and the need to protect yourself is a particularly frightening ordeal.” … (Read the rest)

Tweets from 2013-12-15 to 2013-12-21

5 Creepy Christmas songs

Feminist Frequency explores a few Christmas songs:

I have to say, I agree about most of Sarkeesian’s analysis of the songs, particularly “All I want for Christmas is You” and “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas.”  I have to say that upon reflection, her points about the other songs are strong too, but they make me sad because of my nostalgia for those songs:

  • Santa Baby — I love Eartha Kitt’s voice in this song and I love its use in Mixed Nuts.  I think the song can be seen with a cynical bent looking at a woman talking to her “sugar daddy,” but that doesn’t make it any better.  I have to admit that it’s pretty bad, and will probably be unable to listen to it the same way as I could before.  “Santa Benz,” by voicedude (from Santastic) is a good mashup that might still be listenable.
  • “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.”  Sarkeesian gets this one wrong.  The child is NOT seeing an affair, it only believes it’s seeing an affair.  The Santa in the song is absolutely supposed to be its dad.  It’s supposed to be a little creepy but ultimately funny because the child doesn’t understand the situation. She also missed her opportunity to comment on the Kip Addotta classic “I Saw Daddy Kissing Santa Claus” in which the child believes his father is having a gay affair with the elf from the North Pole, only to discover that it’s Daddy and Mommy doing a little role-playing.
  • “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” Sigh.  Sarkeesian is right about this song.  I am very fond of this one, but the clincher for me was her discussion of the way the man responds when the woman says “The Answer is No,” which is to ignore her wishes.  That said, I like the gender-reversed version sung by She and Him on their Christmas album.  I suspect every time I hear this song in future, I will now think of it as the Date Rape song.

One other thing she gets wrong?  The creepiest Christmas song.  It’s this specific cover of “Jingle Bells,” which I think of as “Jingle Bells as performed by the Siberian Prisoner Camp Chorus.”

 

This looks like a shot from IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE

Merry Christmas banner, Raleigh NC

Merry Christmas banner, Raleigh NC

Doesn’t this look like the lighting from Potterville in the alternate future of It’s a Wonderful Life?

Tweets from 2013-12-08 to 2013-12-14

Happy Birthday, Avery

Eight years ago today, Avery was born and our lives were never the same.  Happy birthday, sweetheart.

eight years

eight years

This is a good chance to thank all the people who have helped Jenny and I with the wonderful but tiring task of raising little ones.  To our family and friends, thank you so much for all you do for Avery, and for us.  We love you.

What really sunk the titanic? Zombies. (I review Deck Z)

Deck Z: The TitanicDeck Z: The Titanic

Deck Z: The Titanic by Chris Pauls and Matt Solomon

As you can tell from the cover and the title, Pauls and Solomon ask “What would happen if there had been zombies on the Titanic?” Then they answer that question.  The novel is a straight-forward, well-written adventure tale without much depth, but quite enjoyable anyhow.  A few thoughts:

  • Pauls and Solomon construct a reasonably good premise that gets the zombies onto the ship and resolves well enough.  It seems a little on the nose to use Germans, since Nazi zombies are a pretty standard trope, but the age of chemical and biological warfare was upon us, so the timeline for a noxious disease and espionage works well.
  • I don’t know a lot about the history of E. J. Smith, but it looks like the military experience the authors give him is not part of his actual life.  It’s too bad they couldn’t either a) find someone with real military experience to hang the story on or b) concoct a military experience that more closely matches his real life.
  • The zombies in the story are pretty well described, with lots of gooey gore and a standard mix of slow-zombie traits.  The novel doesn’t clearly explain how/whether those killed by zombies reanimate, or if it’s only those infected with the disease who do.  The use of disease as a vector worked well and made the story flow smoothly.
  • The authors do a pretty good job of describing the ship in detail.  As a bit of a Titaniac myself, I was worried that my knowledge of the ship’s particulars would get in the way of the tale, but the authors did a great job with this aspect.  They work many keystone touches of the Titanic story into the tale, including the flooded mailroom, the telegraph operators, and many others. They hang most of the blame for the incident squarely on J. Bruce Ismay’s shoulders.
  • My one complaint about this would be that the bow and the stern seemed to be confused at one point, and that the reconstructions I’ve seen about the ship breaking in half (including James Cameron’s movie) make the way that part is described in the book a little hard to believe.

A note on ethics: I’m a bit conflicted about this idea — the adding of zombies into real-world events. It’s worth asking whether there’s any harm in this kind of fictional historical silliness.

All in all, Deck Z tells a pretty conventional zombie story that clearly springs from its premise.  The quick narrative and tight writing work well, and the tale fits most of the signposts one would expect in a story about the most famous ship disaster in recent history. While the zombie tale itself isn’t that innovative, it’s definitely worth a read if you, like me, are in the intersection on a venn diagram of Titanic enthusiasts and Zombie enthusiasts.

(Get your own copy from Amazon)

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Behold: the creepiest Santa you will see today

Christmas "Santa" New York

Christmas “Santa” New York

I don’t know about you, but I think this Santa is massively creepy.  Look at the man on the far right — he thinks so too.  “Don’t go over there, little girl! Are you nuts?!”

“I think Crabtown would look lovely in the autumn…” (Another furniture construction project)

For the first time in six years, we decided to put up the Christmas Village, one of my favorite decorations of the holiday season, but something I’ve had to keep squirreled away while the children were too young to be trusted around it.  But when we started contemplating putting up the village a couple weeks ago, we realized we didn’t have a good place to put it.  So we decided on the dining room wall next to our china hutch, but now we faced another problem — what to put it on?

So last weekend, with Finn’s help (mostly checking in on me and then doing his own thing nearby), I built a table to put the village on.  Here’s the play by play:

I started with two 2 x 4 x .75 boards for the table and border, and two 1 x 2 x 8 for the legs. I ripped both boards so they were 18″ wide, then cut the second one at 16″, so I could make a table surface that was 64″ wide and 18″ deep.  Then I ripped the remaining 6″ planks down the middle so I had 8 feet to use as 3″ border around the bottom.

Raw materials Cut lumber

I joined the two table-top pieces using four welding plates, then used corner brackets to attach the border.  The screws that came with the brackets were a little too long, so Finn and I took a second trip to the hardware store for a box of 5/8″ size 8 screws.  Then I added corner brackets along the sides of the border for stability.  The seam isn’t perfect, but since this table will be used with a tablecloth, good enough.

Border and joined plates joined side border

Next come the legs.  Using hinges, I fastened the legs to the table-top.  This way, when we’re not using the table, the legs can just swing into the table body for easy storage.  I drilled holes through the border and the leg, so when the leg is in standing position, a bolt goes through and held in place with a nut on the inside.  This keeps the legs from folding up while the table is standing.

Hinged legs hinged legs 2

Then I put the table in place.  I discovered that though I had intended to leave about 1″ on either end for wiggle room, I actually built something with only about 1/4″ clearance on either side.  YIKES.  If it had been any longer, I might have had to move the china hutch an inch over, which would have been a nightmare.  But it fit like a glove.

table in place Table with village

And so our village is out again.  And we discovered that we have NO room for expansion.  Looks like I’ll build another table for next year to put along the wall to the left of the current table.  Mwa ha ha.

village in place 2 village in place 1

See also: Project Book Shelf

Parallel universes, a murderous family, a battle for all of good and evil, and SCIENCE: October / November comics update

Science: Ruining Everything since 1543 Cura Te Ipsum Year One

Science: Ruining Everything Since 1543 by Zach Weinersmith

Weinersmith’s Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal comic continues to be a highlight of the webcomic world, so when he KS’d this collection of cartoons about science, I leaped on it right away.  The book collects a variety of comics, from single-panel jokes to strips to four or six-page minicomics.  All are linked through thematic use of science and scientists.  It’s been a long time since I read a collection of “funnies,” but this one works out well.  I particularly like the “life of a scientist” section that was added to the end of the book as one of the KS stretch goals.

Cura Te Ipsum Year One by Neal Bailey and Dexter Wee

When Charlie Everett tried to kill himself, he was stopped at the last minute by … himself.  He quickly discovers that he, Charlie Everett, can travel between universes, and that a war is raging across the multiverse between, well, the good Charlies Everett and the evil ones.  It’s a cool concept that works out very well — when your characters can reach into any universe, they find all kinds of versions of themselves, and each either kills himself or gets recruited (or sometimes killed too).  It’s a weird story, but very compelling.  You can find the continuing comic online at curateipsum.com.

Saga of the Bloody Benders Santa vs. Dracula

The Saga of the Bloody Benders by Rick Geary

Geary has a precise penciling style that serves his true crime subject very well.  He draws expressive faces and tells terrifying tales.  This particular volume in his ongoing series details the story of the “Bloody Benders,” a family of murderous homesteaders in Kansas who murdered travelers and stole their goods.  Despite being suspected of wrongdoing, the Benders escaped justice for most of their lives.  The straightforward style of his art makes the mundane circumstances in which these horrible deeds were performed all that much more chilling.  (In my pre-blogging days, I also read Geary’s The Beast of Chicago and The Borden Tragedy.) See also: Cottonwood, a novel about mid-1800s Kansas that includes the Benders as a side-story.

Santa Vs. Dracula by Ed Power and Melissa Dejesus

When Dracula realizes that Santa can go into any house whenever he wants, he launches an all-out war on Father Christmas and all his holiday allies.  What follows is a witty, goofy, knock-down, drag-out brawl.  It’s Frosty vs. Frankenstein’s monster! It’s Igor vs. Mrs. Claus! It’s elves vs. emo vamp kids!  While the story arc is pretty shallow, the comic does exactly what you’d expect.  There are lots of funny quips and clever ideas (such as Santa’s security force being called the “Silent Knights”).  Power and Dejesus even set up the comic for a sequel.  Well worth a read.

I just realized three of these four comics came to me by way of Kickstarter.  Only Rick Geary’s comic was published by an established press.

Tweets from 2013-12-01 to 2013-12-07

Amazon Associates are back

I got this email Thursday:

We’re pleased to announce that the Amazon Associates program is again open to residents of the State of Illinois. We’re now able to re-open the program because the Illinois State Supreme Court recently struck down legislation that had forced Amazon to close the program to residents of Illinois. Amazon strongly supports federal legislation like the Marketplace Fairness Act that’s now pending before Congress, which is the only constitutional way to resolve interstate sales tax collection issues.

So the long and short of it is that the affiliates program is back on.  This doesn’t really mean anything for you, dear reader, unless you’re inclined to buy a book or movie after I review it here, in which case following the link from my blog means I get a little something from Amazon maybe eventually.

No pressure or anything, but I wanted to let you know why I’m linking to Amazon again.

Covers, Parodies, the Beastie Boys and the Christmas Rockers

A few bullets about covers, creativity, music, etc.

  • I recently wrote about the fracas with the Beastie Boys and Goldiblox, coming down (like many people in those early days) with a quick judgement against the Beasties.  Of course, subsequent discussion has shown that the situation was more complicated than it appeared at first blush.  Some commenters pointed out that Goldiblox was certainly aware of the controversy their work would cause, and in fact had an aggressive response ready in case the Beasties objected.  What they didn’t seem to know was the element of advertisement and Adam Y’s dying request that BB music never be used in ads.  Lots of coverage about this, but I encourage you to check out the links posted by Thedrellum and Trauman in the comments a couple days ago.
  • One of the albums I downloaded for December is a Christmas compilation called Christmas Rocks! Among its many songs is the Tommy Tutone cover of 867-5309 / Jenny, called “867-5309 / Jenny (Christmas Version).”  It’s a bizarre song, transplanting lyrics from other Christmas songs (like “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”) onto the biggest hit TT had.  It’s particularly funny, and kind of sad.  But it starts with a scat-sung “ho ho” and includes the philosophical question “What is Santa’s area code, anyway?”  I can’t help but imagine the men of Tommy Tutone in the same situation as the Bill Nighy character in Love, Actually–completely aware that there’s no artistic merit in making the music, and wading in anyway.
  • Another weird thing about the Christmas Rocks! album is the number of songs that are rock ‘n roll covers of Christmas standards performed by anonymous bands.  Many of these are made to sound as close to the originals as they can, like the cover of “Chanukah Song / Hanukkah Song” in which the vocalist mimics Adam Sandler’s vocal tics and quirks.  These bands have hilarious names.  18 of the 45 songs on the album were performed by “Christmas Rockers”, “Christmas Players,” or “Rock Heroes.”  I can’t help but wonder about these bands — who recruited them? Who were they?

Now, enjoy Tommy Tutone.  Be sure to listen for the “ho ho!” at the beginning.

Want a novel with a Zombie dressed like Santa Claus? You got it.

I Saw Zombies Eating Santa Claus

I Saw Zombies Eating Santa Claus

I Saw Zombies Eating Santa Claus: A Breathers Christmas Carol
by S. G. Browne

Alex Winter, the undead narrator of Breathers, finds himself the object of incessant experimentation and torment at a government research facility.  He escapes and, because of his long white hair and beard, quickly dresses as Santa Claus.  The story that follows is an amusing little Christmas tale, a blend of humor, horror, and holiday cheer.

A few thoughts:

  • I’ve read Browne’s short story “Zombie Gigolo,” so I can attest that he has no shortage of verbiage or vocabulary to describe the unheimlich experience of the undead.  Given that this book has a jaunty Santa on the cover and will probably be aimed at non-hardcore readers, he wisely keeps this aspect of the tale rather muted.  But I appreciate the careful consideration of the role putrefaction takes in the Breathers world.  Gas bloating, for instance, makes zombies fart.
  • The book includes a sub-plot about a child with disappointing prospects for Christmas (as all holiday tales must), and the interaction between her and Alex works very well.  The resonance with the daughter he hasn’t seen is quite strong and well-written.  Browne gives real pathos to the story.
  • I like the fine line the book explores about the ethics of zombies eating people.  I’m sure this is more fully covered in Breathers, but he gives it just the right amount of consideration here. One premise Browne uses is that human meat helps zombies regenerate, meaning they must eat people to stay ‘alive.’  It creates a great tension, but also allows for a future story where human analog has been invented and zombies can be people like the vampires in True Blood.
  • I think Browne’s assessment of how people would generally deal with zombies is apt — there would be some who have an “animal’s rights” approach to the question, but many would allow all kinds of horrors to be perpetrated on them, just as most of us who don’t pay attention to where our meat comes from allow for the animals we eat.  Browne draws a connection to our treatment of “terrorrists” since 9/11 that resonates strongly if you let it.
  • This book has multiple zombie Santa Clauses.  Tell me that isn’t awesome.  You’re wrong.  It’s awesome. (To be clear, I mean zombies dressed as Santa Claus.  I don’t mean the actual supernatural present delivering elf is turned into a zombie.)

All in all, an entertaining holiday tale that’s ALSO an entertaining zombie tale.  Enjoy it with egg nog and a little bit of breather, seared medium rare.  Get your own copy from Amazon.

I haven’t read Breathers, but I will have to go back and check it out.  I’ve heard a couple student presentations about it and it always thought it sounded good, but just haven’t gotten to it.  Get your own copy from Amazon.

Child hangs a Christmas stocking, and makes you want to cry

Methodist Orphanage Christmas Scenes

Methodist Orphanage Christmas Scenes

There’s a long history of telling sad stories about children at Christmas, and I guess this blog has now joined that tradition.  I originally thought this was just a cute photo of children in a Christmas scene.  But then flickr kicked me in the gut with the label: Christmas Scenes from a Methodist Orphanage.  It’s a cute picture anyway — just don’t ponder it too long.