Category Archives: Science Fiction

How to Survive a Paranormal Storyline

 

“Cara Mujer” by Cesar Tort.

Congratulations on your new home, job, vacation spot, construction project, antique gift, or other plot device that has invited a restless spirit into your formerly-peaceftul storyline!

While most of the characters who take the time to look up what to expect in a haunting are the protagonists, I’d like to give a special shout-out to all of the supporting characters who were attentive enough to realize that something was seriously wrong with this new development in your lives. The fact that you figured this out so soon speaks well of your chances of making it to the end.

On the topic of the changes you’ve noticed, you’re not hallucinating, exaggerating, or imagining anything. Those noises you’ve been hearing late at night when no else is around are real, and the spirits are only going to amplify their attempts to grab your attention if you don’t act now.

Unlike post-apocalyptic storylines, secondary characters aren’t doomed to die in these tales, and not every protagonist is guaranteed to survive either. Sometimes everyone lives. In other cases, everyone dies. Every haunting is unique in this regard.

So much depends on what sort of spirit you’re dealing with, how quickly you figure out that they are a threat, and how intelligently you respond to the escalation in their behaviour after that.

All characters regardless of their role in the plot should follow these rules if they want to survive:

  1. Escape through one of the rare and usually obscurely-marked exit doors. If you happen to notice what is really going on before the end of the first scene and the spirits have shown themselves capable of any violent behaviour at all, this is by far your best chance for survival. This technique generally doesn’t work, though, which leads me to the rest of this list…
  2. Research the history of the haunted item or location. Visit your local historical society, library, senior centre, nursing home, or any similar place that may have first-hand accounts of how your ghost died and what he or she may needs in order to move on to the next world. If the first hints of a haunting happen when these places aren’t open to the public, looking up any information you may already have online is an acceptable substitute as long as you follow up on any leads you found first thing in the morning.
  3. Don’t tolerate any distractions until you’ve completed the previous assignment. Any character who attempts to downplay your concerns or delay your research for any reason at all is a threat to your survival. They almost certainly will not be doing this on purpose, but this doesn’t make them any less dangerous. Avoid them as much as possible until after the climax has ended (assuming they survive that long).
  4. Look for discrepancies. Sometimes newspaper articles, diaries, eyewitness testimonies, and other pieces of evidence are incomplete, accidentally inaccurate, or even purposefully fabricated for any number of reasons. If the various accounts of the spirit’s life and death are contradictory, keep digging until you’ve found more clues about what really happened. Do not discount any records immediately, but also avoid assuming that you know the whole story this early on in the plot. You almost certainly do not.
  5. Never split up the group in a haunted building. Does this even need to be said anymore? No matter how tempted you may be to speed up your exploration of the grounds, we all know that this never ends well for ghost-hunting groups that attempt it. Stick together and stay alive.
  6. Call in a psychic. Yes, I know that they aren’t always helpful in these sorts of plots. Some of them act like they’ve never met a vengeful spirit before, and others honestly don’t seem that psychically sensitive at all! I’m not saying you should take everything they say as the unvarnished truth, but they may be able to provide pieces of the puzzle that no one knew about at the time of the victim’s violent or sudden death.
  7. Listen to the psychic’s recommendations. If they tell you the spirit is violent and dangerously uncooperative, follow their instructions on how best to deal with such an entity without delay. This includes moving away from your dream home or giving up on that desperately-needed trip if that’s what they recommend. Nothing is worth risking your life over.
  8. Don’t bother throwing away or destroying haunted objects. As thrilling as it might be for readers who are brand new to this genre to see the horrified look on your face when that doll or other item magically ends up right back in your home in pristine condition, everyone else know that this is nothing but a waste of time. Call in a second psychic instead if you really insist on dragging out the rising action or climax.
  9. Burn the bones. If there’s one thing that Supernatural has taught me, it’s that the fastest way to permanently get rid of a ghost is by finding their grave and burning their remains. Make this a priority if appeasing the spirit in other ways doesn’t work the first time you attempt it.
  10. Double-check your work. Just because you think you’ve found the right grave or performed the correct ritual doesn’t mean there are no loose ends flapping around out there in this part of the plot. Don’t let down your guard until you’ve made sure that you’ve destroyed everything that’s tying the ghost to this realm and you really have reached the conclusion after all.

Final Thoughts

A few of you are probably wondering if you’re actually in one of those rare paranormal stories that involves a completely harmless spirit. The fact that you read this far means this is extremely unlikely to be true. Even the most mischievous ghost who had a truly friendly nature would stop immediately and reveal their identity if they frightened someone. It’s only a joke if everyone is laughing along!

The fact that you’re worried enough about your haunting to read this essay means that you’re not dealing with one of those rare spirits that is only rattling your dishes or opening your kitchen cabinets as a lighthearted attempt to grab your attention.

Listen to your intuition. If you do that and follow the steps listed above, you still stand an excellent chance of living long enough to either see the ghost move onto the next world or transferring to a safer place to live yourself.

Previous posts in this series: 

How to Survive a Post-Apocalyptic Storyline.

Saturday Seven: Library Books I’m Reading

Saturday Seven is hosted by Long and Short Reviews.

Based on my mother’s deep love of books, I’m guessing I was a baby the first time she took me to the library. At any rate, I have no memory of life before I knew what a library was or why they’re so special. They always have been and always will be part of my regular routine.

Most of the stories I blog about here are science fiction or fantasy, but I read many more genres than those. Today I thought it would be fun to show you seven of the library books that I’m either currently reading or plan to start reading soon.

 

1. The Sunlight Pilgrims by Jenni Fagan.

Most of the climate-based post-apocalyptic stories I’ve read over the past decade have assumed the Earth is going to become unbearably hot. This one assumed it would freeze.

I haven’t started this one yet, but I’m curious to see how it will be different from the other post-apocalyptic tales I’ve read.

2. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins.

I honestly know very little about Wilkie Collins as an author or the story of The Woman in White in general. It’s something I requested from the library because I’m slowly working my way through classic novels that appeal to me for the sheer fun of it.

One of the many nice things about being an adult is that you have the freedom to do this. I enjoy the classics so much more now that no one is assigning them to me or making me take quizzes about them.

 

3. Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World by Paul Stamets.

If you haven’t seen the last few episodes of Star Trek: Discovery, stop reading this section now if you want to avoid all spoilers for it. I won’t go into any unnecessary detail here, but I have to talk about it a little bit in order to explain why someone who has no interest in having her own garden is reading a book about gardening in the chilly depths of February. (LOL!)

One of the guests on After Trek, the after-show for this series, told the fans to read Mycelium Running a few weeks ago. He said that there was something in this book that would give us a clue about what will happen next in this show.  I took his advice, and I can’t wait to see how the science in this book continues to play out on the small screen. The writers are doing an excellent job of mixing the science of mycelium networks into a fictional universe so far.

4. Mass Starvation: The History and Future of Famine by Alex de Waal.

It blows my mind to think that there are still famines happening on Earth in 2018. The historical portion of this book is definitely going to be interesting, but what I’m looking forward to even more is reading this author’s thoughts on how to end famines for good. It’s high time our species did just that.

 

5. Runaway Wives and Rogue Feminists: The Origin of the Women’s Shelter Movement in Canada by Margo Goodhand.

This is a part of Canadian history that I know absolutely nothing about. I’m looking forward to finding out how domestic violence shelters were first invented and who were responsible for all of the hard work that goes into starting something like that up.

Women’s shelters are so underfunded and overcrowded now that I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been to create them in the first place. There is still so much work to be done in this area.

6. An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments by Ali Almossawi.

I have a silly confession to make. Half of the reason why I requested this from my local library is because I freaking love the cover.

It also seemed like it would be a humorous break from the darker and more serious topics I generally read about.

7. Treknology: The Science of Star Trek from Tricorders to Warp Drive by Ethan Siegel.

This is a book that had an exceptionally long waiting list at the library, so I was thrilled when it finally showed up for me a few days ago.

My spouse and I both enjoy Star Trek for different reasons. He likes to try to predict what is going to happen next, while I’m fascinated by all of the science and technology advancements that have been shown on the the various Star Trek series.

When I was a kid, I desperately wanted to order dinner from a Replicator and play in a Holodeck program for an hour or two.  Honestly, I still want to do that stuff! Maybe someday we’ll live in a world where such things are possible.

If you’re a library nerd like me, what books, movies, albums, or other items have you recently borrowed from there?

Saturday Seven: Series That Should Be Turned Into TV Shows

Saturday Seven is hosted by Long and Short Reviews.

A friend of mine is absolutely obsessed with Game of Thrones. I’d guess that at least a third of the conversations we have somehow include a reference to this show. Even though I’ve never actually watched Game of Thrones, I’m beginning to understand a lot of her references to it because of how much she talks about it.

The more she gushes about it, the more I think about all of the series that I’d love to see brought to the small screen. All of them are so full of dazzling details about their worlds that it would take a few seasons of a TV show to even begin to fully explore what they have to offer.

 

1. The Earths’ Children series by Jean M. Auel. 

This series has it all: adventure; action, mammoths, romance, unsolved mysteries, Neanderthals, and even a stubborn pet wolf that occasionally refuses to do what he’s told.

Ayla, the main character, was a human who was orphaned at the age of five in an earthquake. She was discovered and raised by Neanderthals. The Clan of the Cave Bear told the story of her highly unusual childhood. The sequels showed what happened after she was disowned by the folks who raised her and forced to eke out a living alone while she searched for signs of other humans.

Without giving away any spoilers, I was not happy with how the final book ended due to how many conflicts were still left unresolved in the last scene. If this were made into a TV show, we’d have another chance to resolve those issues for the characters.

 

2. The Neanderthal Parallax trilogy Robert J. Sawyer.

If only all of you knew how tempted I was to talk about nothing but Neanderthals today! I love stories about them, and there are a lot of great ones out there. I might just have to blog about them on a future Saturday Seven post.

The unusual thing about this series is that it’s set in the present day. Ponter Boddit, the main character, accidentally pierced the veil between his Earth and our own early on in the plot and ended up accidentally getting transported to our universe. On his alternate version of Earth, humans died out tens of thousands of years ago while Neanderthals like him had become the dominant species.

I can’t tell you anything about the Neanderthals’ version of Earth without giving away major spoilers, but I was fascinated by all of the cultural and physiological differences between them and us. Some of them were things that I never would have thought of as a possible difference between our two species.

 

3. The Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson.

This series immediately came to mind when I saw the film The Martian a few years ago. Colonizing Mars would be an incredibly expensive and difficult endeavour for the first few generations to do it.

Based on how much audiences loved watching Matt Damon’s character figure out how to survive alone on such a harsh planet, I think there would be an audience out there who would like to see Nadia Cherneshevsky and her team struggle to create the first Martian settlement.

Future generations in this trilogy even eventually terraformed Mars into something very Earth-like with lakes, forests, and everything else you’d expect from a habitable planet. How cool would that be to see on the small screen!

 

4. The Xenogenesis trilogy by Octavia E. Butler.

This series began with a massive nuclear war that (supposedly) killed every last human on Earth. The main character’s husband and son were among those dead.  When she woke up in an unfamiliar place hundreds of years later, she had no idea why or how she was still alive. It turned out that an alien species called the Oankali had intervened at the last possible moment and saved a small percentage of humanity from certain extinction.

That paragraph alone could provide enough fodder for the first season of a TV show, and that barely scratched the surface of everything that happened in this trilogy. Not only did the main character have to grieve the loss of her family, she had to figure out why the Oankali had saved a small percentage of humanity and what they wanted from us in exchange.

 

5. The Quintaglio Ascension trilogy by Robert J. Sawyer.

I have five words for you: intelligent dinosaurs who can speak.

Afsan, the main character, was about to go through a rite of passage that would make him an adult in the eyes of his society when this tale began. His species worshipped a heavenly body known as the Face of God. Every Quintaglio (which is their name for their reptilian species) must go on a quest to observe it when they become an adult.

The problem was, Afsan noticed something about the Face of God on his journey that contradicted a major tenant of his religion. He then had to decide whether to reveal this knowledge or keep it to himself.

The world building was extremely well done. Afsan had a deeply reptilian understanding of the world, and it showed in how he responded to all kinds of situations that a human would have a completely different response to. For example, the way his species treats their young is nothing at all like how humans treat their young. He would be as horrified by some of our practices as we would be of his, and that would make for must-watch television in my opinion!

 

6. The Avalon series by Marion Zimmer Bradley. 

I was never particularly into any Arthurian legends, but I loved this series immediately. The Mists of Avalon retold the legend of King Arthur from the perspective of his sister Morgaine. While The Mists of Avalon was technically made into a mini-series many years ago, the next six books in the series have never received the same treatment as far as I know.

They really fleshed out this world, though, and I think it would be wonderful to finally see the entire story from beginning to end on the small screen. One of them, Ancestors of Avalon, even described how and why Stonehenge was created. Sadly, I’ve forgotten most of the plot of that book, but now I really want to reread it. I am just a little bit obsessed with Stonehenge in general, so it would be really cool to see those scenes come to life.

 

7. The Watership Down series by Richard Adams.

Anyone who has read this blog for a long time and remembers how much I love rabbits won’t be surprised by the final entry on my list at all. I can’t imagine many things more interesting than an entire TV show about a warren of rabbits who are desperately trying to find a new home.

While there were cute and fuzzy moments just like you’d expect from this species, there were also a lot of heart-pounding action scenes. Life is frightening and dangerous for prey species. This is even more true when a large group of rabbits are trying to move to a new home through completely unfamiliar and often dangerous territory. I think this book would make a fantastic TV show because of that.

Have you read any of the books on my list this week? What series do you wish would be turned into a TV show?

Winter Worlds I’d Like to Visit

Toronto has been enjoying milder winter weather this past week or two, but it looks like our temperatures are soon going to plummet once again.

Every time this has happened during the winter of 2017-2018, my mind has drifted to the stories I’ve read about imaginary or otherworldly wintery places that appealed to me for a wide variety of reasons. Winter is my least-favourite season of the year, but it does become slightly more appealing when I think about experiencing it in places that are nothing at all like Toronto.

Narnia as It Was During the End of The Long Winter

From C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.

I spent four years of my childhood in Laramie, Wyoming, so C.S. Lewis’ descriptions of a world where it was always winter actually sounded kind of familiar to me.

We could experience snow there at any point between September and May. Even the brief Wyoming summers were much colder than the ones I experienced later on in life when my family moved back to the midwest.

Some kids might have been frightened by the idea of a winter that never ended. I liked the long, snowy winters of my childhood, though, and wasn’t particularly bothered by the idea of them lasting forever. (Although, now that I’m an adult, I feel very differently about this topic!)

One of the nice things about the reign of Jadis, the White Witch who cursed the land with everlasting winter, was how resourceful the creatures who lived there learned to become. The book never exactly described how they managed to find enough food to survive for so many generations in the bitter cold, so I’m going to have to assume that both magic and luck were involved.

My favourite scene in this book was the one where Lucy and Susan noticed the first sign that The Long Winter was coming to an end. I won’t give it away for anyone out there who hasn’t read this story yet, but it was a very fitting twist on what many people consider to be the best part of this season.

Alaska as It Was in 1920

From Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child.

Jack and Mabel, the main characters in this tale, had no idea what was happening when they first caught glimpses of a child running around in the Alaskan wilderness alone in the dead of winter.

This is the kind of story that can’t be pinned down to any one genre, and that’s one of the many reasons why I love it so much.

Is it a fantasy tale about a childless couple whose overwhelming desire to be parents magically summoned a daughter for them?

Are the main characters’ sometimes-bizarre interactions with their daughter a metaphor for how unresolved grief can pop up in all kinds of unexpected ways over the years?

Did Jack and Mabel meet a real abandoned child who had somehow figured out how to survive in a fiercely cold and unforgiving environment before they took her in?

The winter weather in Alaska could easily be used to support any of these theories. It could almost be considered a character in and of itself because of how influential it was on how the plot unfolded. While I wouldn’t want to experience that time and place for more than a few minutes, I am curious to know what it would feel like to live in a small, isolated cabin in the middle of a gigantic Alaskan forest during one of their many blizzards.

Jack and Mabel must have yearned for spring unbearably by this time of the year.

I have a very strong opinion about how this book should be interpreted based on the clues provided by the weather, the characters, and the circumstances under which the child is found, but I won’t share it publicly to avoid giving anyone spoilers for the ending.

Europe as It Was 30,000 Years Ago

From Jean M. Auel’s The Mammoth Hunters.

The Mamutoi were the first band of humans that Ayla, a human girl who was raised by Neanderthals, had ever met.

Other than the joy of seeing a herd of mammoths in person, by far the most appealing part of this book to me was how closely-knit the Mamutoi were. The climate they lived in was far too cold to allow for much outdoor time during the winter at all, so this tribe spent those months indoors working on small projects and celebrating various festivals.

The best scenes in this book showed what it was like for roughly twenty adults and children to live in a cramped space together for months on end. Yes, there were times when the introvert in me wondered if anyone ever went outside for the express purpose of having a few moments of pure silence, but there were many other times when I saw the benefits of this kind of living arrangement.

For example, the children in this tribe were doted on by everyone. They knew who their parents were, but they also all felt perfectly comfortable going to any adult for food, comfort, entertainment, or to learn new skills.

Chores like cooking, cleaning, and taking care of people who were too sick, injured, or elderly to do certain things for themselves were also shared pretty evenly. Given how lonely Ayla had been earlier in her life, this doesn’t seem like a bad way to spend a winter at all.

What winter worlds from your favourite stories do you wish you could visit?

4 Things I’m Hoping to See in the New Twilight Zone Reboot

A few days ago, I heard that The Twilight Zone is going to be rebooted. This was incredibly exciting news since I watched reruns of many of the original episodes of this series when I was a kid.

While I am growing a little tired of watching rebooted shows in general, I’m also curious to see how The Twilight Zone is going to be re-interpreted in 2018. The world has changed quite a bit since the first episode aired in 1959, after all.

There were so many parts of the original series that I loved, from the plot twists to the clever re-imaginings of what society could possibly be like.  It would take many posts to talk about all of them, so I decided to concentrate on the four biggest ones for today.

If this reboot really impresses me, I do reserve the right to blog about this topic again in the future.

By the way, don’t click on any of the links I’m about to share if you’re planning to watch the original series and want to avoid spoilers for them. All of the links go to Wikipedia summaries of the plots of these classic episodes.

Social and Political Commentary

For example: The Eye of the Beholder, Time Enough at Last, and The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street.

As I mentioned above, one of the things I loved the most about The Twilight Zone was their commentary on American life in the 1950s and 1960s.

The original scriptwriters weren’t afraid to critically examine any number of social ills, especially when it came to exaggerating or inverting them in order to show the audience just how ridiculous or unfair those issues were when viewed from the perspective of outsiders or of people who were most seriously affected by them.

I would be very surprised if the new writers didn’t continue this streak, but I’m hoping they push the envelope much further than it was pushed decades ago. I’d love to see much grittier episodes about the very real dangers of xenophobia, for example, or why blindly following authority figures is so dangerous.

Creepy Children

For example: Mute, Stopover in a Quiet Town, and It’s a Good Life.

Children whose personalities and/or supernatural abilities are creepy are one of my favourite tropes in the horror genre in general.

While there weren’t a ton of examples of this in the original series, the small number of episodes that included children who weren’t what they seemed give me hope that this trope will be used again in the reboot.

Horror in Ordinary Settings

For example: Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, To Serve Man, and Long Live Walter Jameson.

There’s something about encountering a monster or other malevolent entity when you least expect it that makes such an experience far more frightening to me than it would be if the characters and audience knew from the beginning what was coming.

The original series did a fantastic job of finding ways to scare the audience without relying on traditional props like a haunted house, a cemetery, or other spooky places. I could have listed many more examples of this kind of storytelling in this section. It was something that the original writers returned to over and over again, and for good reason. Suddenly being shocked by the turn of what sure seemed ordinary events is one of the cornerstones of this series.

Hopefully that means that the new crop of writers will continue this trend. I strongly suspect that this is exactly what they’ll do, but only time will tell if my prediction is correct on this point.

Purposefully Questionable Science

For example: The Midnight Sun The Last Flight, and The Little People.

While I normally expect the science fiction I read to at least attempt to ground their stories with some kind of scientific explanation for why such a thing might occur, I won’t be too annoyed if the new The Twilight Zone occasionally releases episodes that doesn’t bother doing this for the sheer joy of asking questions like, “what would happen if the Earth began moving closer and closer to the sun?” instead.

I’m not a sci-fi purist by any means. There is plenty of room for silliness in the genre if you ask me, and I hope we see it in this series. It’s not like modern science fiction is always accurate! I’ve read and watched plenty of contemporary sci-fi that bends the rules of biology, chemistry, astronomy, and physics just as much as folks did 50 years ago.

Are there any other fans of The Twilight Zone in my audience? Will you be watching the reboot? What do you think of rebooting old shows in general?

5 Classic Science Fiction Books That Everyone Should Read

There’s something about the snowy days of January that makes me want to curl up with a classic science fiction novel and not lift my head up again until April. I’m not entirely sure why I have this urge. Maybe it’s because burying my nose in something that was old and often assigned in English… Read More

5 Christmas Movies That Are Worth Rewatching

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! Despite the fact that I don’t actually celebrate any major winter holidays, there are still a decent number of Christmas movies that I could watch every year and never grow tired of. I should warn you that some of the entries on this list are a little unorthodox. Sentimental films… Read More

4 Movies I’m Looking Forward to Watching in 2018

So far, 2018 doesn’t seem to be offering quite as many movies that I’m looking forward to watching as the end of 2017 did. This is a good thing, though, since my to-watch list of movies in general is still quite long and I haven’t actually managed to catch any of the movies in that… Read More