A stand alone short story that originally appeared in Book 26 of the Wild Cards universe.
The only thing you need to know is that Wild Cards is set in our world, and an alien virus has been infecting people in rare outbreaks. It kills 90% of victims, makes ugly monsters of 9% (Jokers) and gives 1% random superpowers (Aces).
A very personal short story that I’m proud of and want to find a wider audience for.
This story is quite personal to me as my youngest daughter is severely disabled and I’ve attempted to give her representation in the Wild Cards world in a way that doesn’t simply overwrite disability with super-ability, but combines the two. A follow-up story, The Visitor: Kill or Cure, can be found for free on the Tor.com website.
By giving away this story for free I am hoping to interest new readers in the Wild Cards universe.
I was impressed with how seamlessly this book blended its science fiction and fantasy elements together. While the science fiction themes did appear first, it didn’t take long at all for that to change. The inexplainable things that happened to Angela, the protagonist, hovered between these genres, although they dipped into the fantasy explanations for how everything worked a little more later on in the storyline. Viruses can do all sorts of strange things to a person, so it made sense to me to leave plenty of room for magical or mythical plot twists as well as share with the audience what scientists had discovered about this plague. Who says you have to pick one answer over the other, after all?
It would have been nice to have more character development. Angela showed some promising signs of personal growth, but I found many of the supporting characters to be pretty two-dimensional. While I wouldn’t expect them to be as well-developed as they might have been in a full-length work, there was definitely room for improvement here. This was especially true for the care workers who mistreated Angela and the other residents of their nursing home.
Speaking of the main character, I found it very interesting to figure out what she knew about the world she lived in given how difficult it was for her to travel or move her own body. She was incessantly curious about the lives of her fellow residents as well as the lives of the workers who looked after them, and she did everything she could to gather any scraps of information that she might overhear from someone else’s conversation or a news story playing on the television. Some of the scenes explored the various types of abuse that are inflicted upon people who are disabled far too often. As tough as it was to read those scenes, they provided even more clues about Angela’s fascinated with the outside world and why she was so keen to learn more about it.
This is part of a series, but it works perfectly well as a standalone story.
The Others is a 2001 gothic paranormal suspense film written, directed, and scored by Alejandro Amenábar about a woman named Grace who was raising her two young children alone in a crumbling, old mansion in Jersey while her husband was away fighting in World War II.
After all of her servants mysteriously disappeared, she slowly realized that their beloved home may be haunted by something truly dangerous.
Both Anne and Nicholas suffered from a rare inherited illness called xeroderma pigmentosum that caused severe photosensitivity. That is to say, neither of them were medically able to be exposed to any amount of sunlight without suffering serious and possibly permanent side effects from it.
This family lived in a house shrouded in darkness not only emotionally but physically as well. Grace covered all of the windows with thick, light blocking curtains to ensure that not a single ray of sunlight damaged their small, fragile bodies.
I strongly recommend sticking to spoiler-free content like this before watching this film. There are major spoilers about it floating elsewhere on the web that can ruin the ending if you’re not careful.
The one exception to this is for viewers who are sensitive to sad stories about children. If this is you, please research this thoroughly or ask me about it privately before diving into it. That’s all I can say publicly without wandering into spoiler territory.
One final note in this introduction: I decided to review The Others now because as of a few months ago there is a remake of it currently in production that is slated for release in 2022. My hope is to review the remake a few years from now and compare it to the original.
Grace was an overwhelmed mother who was raising two medically fragile children alone during wartime. She was a devout Catholic whose desire to protect her children was only surpassed by her determination to raise them to share her beliefs no matter what.
Anne was Grace’s oldest child, an inquisitive and bright little girl. At approximately eight years old when this story occurred, she has just begun to reach the age when she was beginning to question her mother’s point of view.
Nicholas was Grace’s youngest child. He loved fairy tales and legends of all sorts, the more imaginative the better. At approximately five years old, he still had a concrete understanding of how the world worked and what his place in it should be. He believed everything his mother said without question and sometimes clashed with Anne when she talked back.
Mrs. Bertha Mills was the nanny and housekeeper hired by Grace after all of the previous servants in their home mysteriously and simultaneously disappeared. While she had a few old-fashioned notions about child rearing, she deeply cared about her charges and did everything she could to make their lives easier.
Mr. Edmund Tuttle was the no-nonsense gardener and handyman who was hired by Grace. He preferred solving physical problems like repairing broken household items to tackling emotional issues.
Lydia was the hard-working, stoic maid. She was mute and unusually socially withdrawn. Mrs. Mills knew her best and would sometimes interpret what Lydia was attempting to communicate with her body language.
This is one of those timeless films that gets better with every rewatch. I have nothing but complimentary things to say about it!
Grace, her children, and Mrs. Mills were the characters who took up most of the screen time. I was initially surprised to see such a small cast, especially since two of them were children who knew little out of the outside world and weren’t old enough to do too much investigating on their own.
While this was a little unusual for the paranormal genre, it turned out to work perfectly for a plot about a family that was quite socially and physically isolated from the surrounding community for reasons that can only be partially explained in this review.
Given the current pandemic and all of the lockdowns it has prompted, I don’t think I need to explain to any of my readers how difficult it is to be cut off from other people for a long period of time. We all know that feeling far too well even if the vast majority of us aren’t actually living in haunted estates in rural France at the moment.
Anne was my favourite character. She was old enough to realize something had seriously gone wrong in her home, but she was still young enough to talk about things that the adults in her life were desperately trying to hush up. I loved seeing how her strong sense of justice was developing and how she reacted to the thought of shying away from the truth that was slowly being unveiled in her home no matter how many attempts there were to run away from it!
The relationships between all of the characters were complex. I must be careful about how I talk about them to avoid spoiler territory, but I had a wonderful time seeing the various sides of their personalities that were drawn out of every character depending on who they were interacting with at the time. These ever-changing circumstances made Grace and Anne feel especially well-rounded because of how often the audience was able to get to know them in completely new ways as their story was revealed.
Without diving too deeply into the plot, it was also thrilling to meet characters who elicited so many different emotions in me. Sometimes Grace’s behaviour enraged me. In other scenes, I had an overwhelming sense of compassion for this emotionally fragile woman who had been thrown into circumstances that were far beyond her capabilities to handle.
This pattern was repeated with every main character. Just like us, they were complicated individuals whose personalities and characters were filled with every shade of grey imaginable. What not to like about that?
Finally, one of the things I adored the most about this film in general involved how many clues were given about what was really going on. Honestly, I missed many of them the first time I watched The Others, but they were sitting in plain sight during my next viewing. Yes, many of them were subtle, so I won’t blame any of you for overlooking them as well. The fact that they existed only made me love this story even more. There’s something amazing about thinking you’ve figured out a plot only to truly grok it the second or third time around.
I could gush about The Others for another thousand words. Do yourselves a favour and give this film a try if even a single sentence of this review piqued your interest!
Content warning: racism, sexism, a few brief scenes involving blood, death of a pet, and sexual harassment. I will only mention the first three items in this list in my review.
The Shape of Water is a dark fantasy romance about a lonely janitor who falls in love with an amphibious humanoid creature who is being held in captivity by the U.S. government. It is set in 1962 in an undisclosed government facility.
This film was directed by Guillermo del Toro and written by del Toro and Vanessa Taylor. It won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, as well as other honours at the Golden Globes, British Film Academy Awards, and the Critic’s Choice Awards.
The tags for this post do contain mild spoilers. I will not be discussing them in detail today but wanted to label this correctly for future readers.
Elisa was a mute woman who worked as a cleaner at a secret underground government facility. Her dear friend and chosen family member Giles described her as “the princess without voice.” She has a whimsical personality that found joy in little things like dancing down the hall or gently interacting with everyone she met.
While I can’t go into her backstory without sharing spoilers, I will say that she was someone who was quite alone in the world. She had no genetic relatives to rely upon.
The Amphibian Man could not speak, but he was intelligent. Very little was shared about his background in this film other than the fact that he was the first of his kind discovered by humans.
As mentioned above, Giles was Elisa’s dear neighbor and friend. He’d worked as an adverting illustrator for many years but was struggling to find work as his industry switched from painting to photographs for the imagery in ads.
He was a kind, gentle, creative man who could be a little absent-minded when it came to looking after basic needs like fixing himself dinner. Like Elise, he was quite alone in the world for reasons I’ll leave to future viewers to discover for themselves.
Zelda was Elisa’s co-worker and friend who served as her sign language interpreter at work. Her personality was assertive and opinionated, the opposite of how Elisa generally behaved.
Richard was a United States Colonel in charge of the project to study the “asset,” as they referred to the Amphibian Man. He followed protocol strictly and was obsessed with getting the results his bosses expected.
Dr. Hoffstetler was the physician who was given the responsibility of figuring out the physiology of the Amphibian Man’s body. The U.S. government hoped to learn how to create astronauts who could better adapt to the rigours of space exploration by learning how this creature was capable of breathing both air and water.
Fleming was the laboratory’s head of security. He was a rigid, unfriendly man who expected perfection from himself and everyone around him.
Prepare yourselves for some gushing. This was such a good story.
There was an immensely satisfying amount of foreshadowing. I’d imagine that anyone who is familiar with the romance or science fiction genres could spot the biggest plot twists coming ahead of time. This wasn’t the sort of film that relied on the audience not knowing what to expect next. It was how the characters reacted to them that was important, and this was something the filmmakers showed beautifully.
The cinematography was beautiful. I was immediately drawn into the plot thanks to how much effort was put into constructing this era. It was also interesting to watch shots that had important things happening in both the foreground and background. They added so many layers of meaning to the storyline.
I did find myself wishing that the racism, sexism, and other types of discrimination in this era was presented in a more nuanced manner. In my experiences with sexism and biphobia, a lot of it can be subtle depending on who is around and what prejudiced folks think they can get away with. People can convey so much with body language and the words they do (or don’t) use that I was surprised by how blatant everything was here.
Perhaps things were radically different in 1962 in this regard. I wasn’t alive then and will defer to people who may say this portrayal is more accurate than I originally thought it was. But I still would have liked to see these topics handled a little more sensitively. (I will also defer to other reviewers to discuss their personal experiences with racism and ableism as it relates to this point).
With that being said, I still really liked seeing how these various types of prejudice were not only expressed but intersected with each other and this is my only criticism of a film I otherwise loved. The storytellers did a good job of showing how someone might be advantaged in one area (e.g. race, social class, or gender) while still oppressed in others (e.g. disability or sexual orientation).
The numerous references to water in this film were well done. They included everything from bathing to hard-boiling eggs, and they were just the tip of the iceberg. One of the things I enjoyed the most as I was watching it was to take note of all of the aquatic-themed moments that needed a little more effort to take notice of. It was satisfying to add them to my list of these references and try to guess where the storytellers would subtly introduce the next one.
This isn’t a criticism in any way, but I did want to make note of the disclaimer about blood in this tale. There were a few scenes that included characters who were bleeding from non-accidental injuries. While the violence that caused these injuries was briefly shown on screen, I always like to warn my readers ahead of time about stuff like this. I’d be happy to discuss it in full, spoiler-y detail in private with anyone who needs to figure out if this is the right thing for them to watch.
I’d heartily recommendThe Shape of Water to anyone who enjoys the romance or speculative fiction genres.