Hotel Transylvania 2

This week is off to a good start with the release of Lost Trails 2: Forgotten Tales of the Weird West which includes my Lovecraftian horror story “Reckoning at the Alamo.” I wrote about the anthology in detail over at David Lee Summers’ Web Journal on Saturday. Yesterday, I joined several of my fellow contributors to the anthology Gaslight and Grimm on a podcast discussing the anthology. I had the chance to briefly mention my forthcoming novel The Astronomer’s Crypt. Of course, as noted in the podcast, some of the stories in Gaslight and Grimm are pretty dark in their own right. If you want to check out the show, visit The Catholic Geek: Gaslight & Grimm. The podcast was great, chaotic fun. Afterwards, I took time to hang out with the family and watch Hotel Transylvania 2.

Hotel_Transylvania_2_poster

As it turns out, I haven’t seen the original Hotel Transylvania, but my kids brought me up to speed with the one bit of information I needed to know. Human Jonathan Loughran has married Mavis, the daughter of Count Dracula, who runs a hotel for monsters in Transylvania. Jonathan and Mavis had a child named Dennis.

The conflict of the movie centers around the question of whether or not Dennis is a vampire like Mavis or a human like Jonathan. Mavis’s dad, Count Dracula, of course wants Jonathan to be a monster. Jonathan’s family would like Jonathan, Dennis, and Mavis in the “human” world of California. All of this becomes a simple metaphor for race relations. Can we love another who is somehow different than us? It’s a sweet family film with few surprises and a few laughs.

Of course it plays on several vampire tropes. The vampires can’t go out into the sun without heavy duty sunscreen and they can hypnotize humans. What’s more, the vampires can all transform into bats and other creatures. As I’ve said before, this is something I’d love to see explored more in vampire stories and media.

The monster world is filled with other creatures besides vampires. We also see Frankenstein’s Monster, the Mummy, the Blob, and the Wolfman—complete with a litter of ferocious pups. I liked the joke where Frankenstein’s Monster introduces himself as Frankenstein, but backtracks to explain that technically he is the Monster. Interestingly, there is actually literary justification for the monster calling himself “Frankenstein” since he sees himself as the son of his creator.

For me, the very best horror-comedies such as Young Frankenstein and Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein offer a few genuine scares to offset the laughs. Hotel Transylvania 2 makes an effort on this score, but for the most part, it comes off like the safe camps it pokes gentle fun at. You never have the feeling anyone was really in danger. Despite that, the movie was a fun way to spend an evening with the family and might be a good way to introduce younger children to the classic monsters we all grew up with. Just don’t forget to pull out the real classics when they get a bit older!

The Other Scarlet Order

About a year ago, I posted that I’d discovered another Scarlet Order title about vampires. At this point, all four volumes of Dance in the Vampire Bund II: Scarlet Order have been released in English and I’ve just finished reading the set. Here we see them pictured with my two Scarlet Order novels.

Scarlet Order Books

As it turns out, there are some interesting ways Nozomu Tamaki’s Scarlet Order manga are similar to my novels. In his story, the queen of the vampires, Mina Tepes, starts finding clues to the origins of vampire kind. In much the same way, the origins of vampires plays an important role in my Vampires of the Scarlet Order. In the manga series, nanotechnology is used to attack Mina’s headquarters. In Vampires of the Scarlet Order, nanotechnology also plays an important role, but it’s more directly related to the origin of the vampires. Likewise, both series involve mysteries that span the ages.

In my series, the Scarlet Order refers to the team of vampire mercenaries led by Desmond Drake. I think I can say without spoiling anything that Nozomu Tamaki’s Scarlet Order refers to a new direction for vampire kind as a whole.

It’s worth noting that in the manga, although Mina Tepes is several hundred years old, she maintains the form of a young girl. Since she’s romantically interested in the werewolf Akira Regendorf, this creates more than a few scenes that I found uncomfortable to read and see in drawn form. That said, my Scarlet Order vampire Mercy Rodriguez was turned as an older teen—albeit one who had already borne two children—and retains that form. After all, the Scarlet Order vampires remain as they were when they become vampires. I could imagine some readers might be just as uncomfortable reading about Mercy as I was about Mina at some points.

Despite this one issue, I would recommend Dance in the Vampire Bund II: Scarlet Order to mature vampire fans. What’s more, it would be interesting to see a crossover between the two series. I think a meeting between Mina and Desmond could prove quite interesting!

You can find out more about my Scarlet Order novels at:

Finally, I’ll wrap up with some news. I just completed reviewing my editor’s second pass of The Astronomer’s Crypt. The book should be moving on to copy edits soon. I hope I’ll have a release and a cover reveal before long. Be sure to stay tuned!

Varney the Vampyre

Over the last three years or so, I’ve been reading the penny dreadful Varney the Vampyre. It’s taken that long partly because my edition is 1166 pages of tiny type and partly because penny dreadfuls were largely written to fill a weekly page count more than edited for quality. Nosferatu-Varney At times, it could be quite the slog and more than once I thought I wouldn’t bother to finish, but I finally persevered and made it through.

There’s a very good article about Varney at the Victorian Gothic Blog. I especially like their plot synopsis and definitely agree the final section of Varney is the best. Throughout the novel, the titular hero is villainous, sympathetic, romantic, and even interviewed. In 1166 pages, he embodied just about every major vampire trope I can think of. If I had to tell you what Varney most reminded me of, it was Dark Shadows—not necessarily in the sense of quality, but in the sense that reading Varney was not a little like following a Gothic soap opera!

My edition of Varney credits the writing to James Malcolm Rymer. However, the original penny dreadful contained no writing credit. There is some debate as to who actually wrote Varney. Most point to Rymer or Thomas Peckett Prest. In fact, Wikipedia says it was both. To me, it seemed like Varney must have been written by at least two people and perhaps more. Varney is a long, rambling story and parts are definitely better and tighter than others, making me think there must have been at least two, if not more writers involved.

I was fascinated to see that in the final section, Sir Frances Varney interacts with historical figures such as Oliver Cromwell and King Charles II, especially since this is something I like doing in my historical vampire fiction. Although the storyline focuses on Varney, my favorite characters ended up being Admiral Bell and his steward Jack Pringle, who end up being Varney’s foils in much of the book. Unlike Dr. Van Helsing who works to outwit Dracula, Jack and the Admiral often foil Varney’s plans unwittingly by just being in the right place at the right time!

I’ve mentioned it before in other posts, but one of my favorite elements of the vampire lore in this story is that Varney requires moonlight to heal. If you shoot him on the new moon, he might die. Furthermore, he can walk around in broad daylight. However, it’s the moon that gives him his power to recover from injuries. I thought that was an interesting idea that could be used more in vampire fiction.

As you read this, I’m working my way through the second editorial pass on my novel The Astronomer’s Crypt. I hope to return it to my editor by the end of next week, then it’ll go to the copy editor for final cleanup. I’ll have more news soon!

Blacula

I enjoy watching good horror B-movies from time to time. Sometimes I discover some great moments and find a few surprises. Blacula is one of those films that I’d heard about a long time ago, but never managed to watch. Blacula-Poster Recently, I discovered the title character was played by William Marshall, an actor whose work I admired from such TV series as Star Trek and The Wild Wild West. It was enough for me to push the movie up to the top of my viewing list.

There’s no question, Blacula is a B-movie with several plot holes and a low budget, but it also included some interesting story ideas and, for better or worse, may have even introduced some tropes to the vampire genre. The best scene in the movie is arguably the opening in which William Marshall plays Mamuwalde, an African Prince who petitions Count Dracula to help end the slave trade. Dracula shows himself to be a truly heinous villain, by not only embracing the trade, but then turning Mamuwalde into a vampire he deems “Blacula” and locking him in a coffin so he may listen to the death of his beloved wife Tuva. I gather Marshall worked with the writers to develop this opening, which gave the film both some dignity and an interesting twist. Plus, it helped to show Mamuwalde as an early example of a sympathetic vampire.

After the credits roll, we cut to a pair of embarrassingly stereotypical gay interior decorators buying the contents of Dracula’s castle to ship them to Los Angeles. Once in Los Angeles, they free Mamuwalde from his coffin, unleashing him on the city. He soon meets Tina, a woman who he recognizes as the reincarnation of his wife, Tuva. The idea of an undead monster meeting his reincarnated lover first appeared way back in The Mummy starring Boris Karloff, but I think this may be the first time the trope appeared in a vampire film. Of course, it’s become common since then, appearing in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Dracula Untold and We Are the Night to name a few.

The movie continues with a fairly straightforward vampire movie plot. Mamuwalde seduces Tina, while leaving a trail of bodies in his wake. Dr. Gordon Thomas, a pathologist for the LAPD is on the case and discovers all those Mamuwalde kills are turning into vampires. One of my favorite humorous scenes involves Thomas sweet-talking his wife to help him go the cemetery to dig up one of the recently deceased. I asked my wife whether or not I’d have to sweet talk her, and she answered I might have a hard time stopping her from helping. Though she concedes she would make me do the hard work of digging while she kept watch!

I hesitate to give spoilers in case you want to watch the movie for yourself, but the ending involved what I think may be the first instance of a trope that’s now common in vampire fiction and film. I will say that the scene is well played by William Marshall and involves some suitably creepy special effects.

One of my personal favorite aspects of Blacula is that Mamuwalde transforms into a bat, an ability shared with two of my Scarlet Order vampires, Marcella and Daniel. Although the effect is cheesy in this movie because of budget limitations, I’ve wondered what it might look like with quality CGI. So far, the closest I know is Dracula’s transformation into a swarm of bats in Dracula Untold.

I found it refreshing to see a predominantly black cast with some great parts for the women as well as the men. Also, it turns out William Marshall wasn’t the only Star Trek veteran in the cast. A morgue worker is played by Elisha Cook Jr., who Trekkies might recognize as Samuel T. Cogley, Attorney at Law. In the end, while I’m hard pressed to call Blacula a great vampire film, it is a fun diversion for a vampire fan’s afternoon and you might even discover where some classic tropes were introduced into the genre.

Cover of Dragon's Fall: Bondage

Finally, I’ll wrap up today’s post by noting that I have three copies of Dragon’s Fall: Bondage to give away. These are Kindle ebook copies which present the complete first part of my novel Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order. All you have to do to get one is leave me a comment telling me about a favorite classic vampire film and give me a way to contact you. You must be over eighteen years of age to enter. I’ll give away copies until they’re gone.

Monitoring the Skies

My editor wrote this past week to let me know she’s back at work on The Astronomer’s Crypt, my tale of what happens when frightening humans, supernatural creatures, and astronomers collide at an observatory during a terrifying storm that knocks out all the power. I’ve spoken a bit about ghost sightings at the observatory, but sometimes we deal with things even more frightening than ghosts. This last week, I spent a night working a team from the University of Arizona’s Spacewatch program, who came up to the Kitt Peak 4-meter to look for Near-Earth Objects or NEOs. Tame as that name is, NEOs are basically those objects that could collide with the Earth, ending life as we know it. Here’s the team at work in the control room.

Asteroid Hunters

The folks in the image are Bob McMillan and Jim Scotti. We were working on a full-moon night, which really isn’t optimal, but because we had a large telescope with good image resolution, we could look objects when other telescopes might not. This allows Bob and Jim to calculate more precise orbits than if they only observed closer to new moon.

The Spacewatch Program is part of a nationwide search trying to identify all objects in the solar system 140-meters or bigger. As it turns out, small asteroids present a hazard just because they’re numerous. Large asteroids are a hazard because of the amount of damage they can cause. 140-meters was determined as an intersection between these classes of asteroids. There’s no question a 140-meter asteroid would do damage. To give you an idea of how big that is, it’s about three times the size of the 17-story tall building we were sitting in:

4-meter

As it turns out, I have written a story about Spacewatch identifying an asteroid on a collision course with Earth. In this story set in the not-too-distant future, our heroes successfully destroy the asteroid, but there are unintended consequences. The story was featured in Wondrous Web Worlds, Volume 7, which you can find at Hadrosaur Productions or the Alban Lake Bookstore while you’re waiting for The Astronomer’s Crypt. I hope to have more news soon!

When Only the Moon Rages

In my craft or sullen art
Exercised in the still night
When only the moon rages
And the lovers lie abed
With all their griefs in their arms,
I labor by singing light

These are the opening lines of the poem “In my craft or sullen art” by Dylan Thomas. I’ve long thought they beautifully express what its like when a writer, and particularly a horror writer, is developing a story or a poem. I turned to these lines when I was looking for a title for a collection of short stories and poetry I published back in 2001.

When Only the Moon Rages is a collection by Wayne James. Moon_Rages There are stories about creatures of the night, people of the stars, and individuals who dare to live in those dark places few have the audacity to tread.

One story features Lieutenant Lawry, an ordinary soldier on an alien world who must fight to keep an unknown, violent creature from killing his men. In another story, Sergeant Frank Blacklin strives to keep children alive against insurmountable odds on a hostile planet. Turning his attention to Earth, Wayne James tells the story of Robert, a man who lives in a nightmarish United States gone mad, where the enemies of the State are so numerous, their bodies are pushed into a gaping trench.

Other stories are set in the present day. In one, a respectable businessman falls for a woman turned on by crime. In another, a lonely man deals with the odd neighbors down the street by buying an assault rifle. It’s clear to me Wayne James spent many hours honing his craft “when only the moon rages.” The result might be expressed in one of his own poems:

Metallic bones shoot music—
notes flash across the hypersphere,
dance between magenta nebulae.

Although the collection is fifteen years old now, I think there’s still a lot of relevance in Wayne’s writing. I hope you’ll join me on a journey to the land when only the moon rages. The collection is available at Amazon.com and Hadrosaur.com

Vampire Novella Giveaway

Back in 2009, my publisher approached me with a proposal to write a series of five interconnected novellas, which would be released as ebooks, featuring my Scarlet Order vampires. Once all five novellas were released, a print edition with all five novellas would be published. The series was called Dragon’s Fall and the first two novellas were released as planned. When the third novella was in production, the publishing company changed owners and the new owner decided to forego the remaining novellas and went straight to the final combined edition, which is the novel Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order.

Cover of Dragon's Fall: Bondage

As it turns out, those first two novellas are still available and it occurs to me this is a great opportunity to give readers who haven’t sampled my world a taste of the Scarlet Order vampires. I’m giving away five copies of the first novella, “Bondage.” Set in Hellenistic Athens, “Bondage” is the story of the slave Alexandra. Sold to Theron, a mysterious banker, she wonders about her new master who is never seen during the day. As time goes on, she notices that slaves called upon to serve Theron in his chamber in the night do not return the next morning.

When Alexandra’s turn comes she learns Theron is a vampire who binds his slaves, takes his pleasure with them, then drinks their blood. She refuses to be a victim, but as she fights his embrace, Alexandra ingests some of Theron’s blood. Now a vampire herself, she becomes Theron’s concubine. Yet even as she learns the ways of the vampire, Alexandra yearns for freedom…

I’m giving away five copies of the Kindle edition of the novella at Amazon. Follow the link below for details. You’ll find out instantly whether or not you won.

Click here for a chance to win an ebook copy of “Bondage.”

Please note, this book is recommended only for readers eighteen years or older. If you already have read Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order, you’ll recognize this as the first part of the novel, which now goes by its original title, “A Gorgon in Bondage.” If you’re a new reader and you win the novella and enjoy it, be sure to write a review on Amazon and then pick up a copy of Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order so you can read the rest of the story!

The Town Where Only I am Missing

“The Town Where Only I am Missing” is the literal translation of “Boku Dake ga Inai Machi,” an anime and manga better known in the United States as ERASED. Erased My college-age daughter recommended the show to me and it marks the first time I’ve watched an anime series as it was being aired in Japan. It tells the story of Satoru Fujinuma, a manga artist, haunted by his childhood, when three children were abducted and murdered. Satoru also has the power to slip backwards in time along his own history and relive events, which has allowed him to save lives, but also leaves him the worse for wear.

Satoru’s mom is a former news announcer who sees the person she suspected of being the murderer from years ago. The problem is, the murderer is aware of her attention and strikes first, killing her. In order to save his mother, Satoru slips back in time eighteen years until he’s ten years old—the time two of his classmates and another child are killed. With the knowledge of of his twenty-eight-year-old self, but in the body of a ten-year-old kid, he must prevent the murders that have haunted him, so he can prevent the murder his mother.

Normally, my taste in horror runs to the supernatural variety—ghosts, vampires, monsters from the beginning of time—that sort of thing. Stories about serial killers usually don’t engage me much. However, this story is played more for the mystery and suspense than for the potential horror aspects and the time travel premise is handled in a sufficiently fresh way to make this story particularly engaging. In fact, this show demonstrates some of the most nail-biting cliffhangers I’ve ever seen.

I’m hard pressed to say the series was perfect. Satoru seemed to have an easy time convincing his classmates to help him. Also, I guessed the identity of the murderer two or three episodes before that person was revealed and we weren’t exactly given a lot of suspects to keep us guessing. That said, J. Michael Straczynski, the creator of Babylon 5, once said it’s not whether or not you know the story’s ending, but how good the journey is getting there. In this case, I felt ERASED took me on a very satisfying journey. Although the show isn’t billed as horror, it created characters I genuinely cared about and, at times, felt scared for their safety. The series did this a minimum of on-screen violence—a restraint anime isn’t always known for.

You don’t have to be missing from the town where ERASED is set. You can stream episodes for free on Crunchyroll.com.

Rich Vampires

A common vampire trope I’ve touched on in some of my reviews is the notion of “rich vampires.” Count Dracula is typically portrayed as quite wealthy despite the fact his castle is in near ruins in the novel Dracula. The vampires of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles are all fabulously wealthy. Jean-Claude in Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake novels is a savvy entrepreneur. Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s Count Saint-Germain is rich. The list goes on.

Christopher Lee

Christopher Lee

Generally speaking, the idea is that the vampire either starts out wealthy or finds ways to invest what money they have and just through the act of not dying accumulates vast amounts of wealth. Now, I’ve often questioned this, because on a long timescale, banks aren’t that stable. Also, the idea of governments backing banks is a fairly recent one. Even then, on long timescales, governments rise and fall limiting their ability to guarantee anyone’s investment.

What’s more, if you actually adjust the markets for inflation, the growth may be less than you might expect. For example, if you invested $1.00 in 1950, you would have $7.00 in 2010 once you adjusted for inflation. Not bad, but hard to say that you’d get rich unless you started with a large investment. Also, the only reason there’s been that much growth is a period of rapid market rise in the 1950s and again in the 1980s.

This is the reason the Scarlet Order vampires are mercenaries. They needed to find a way to survive in the world of humans and fighting for human causes allowed them to do just that. Desmond Lord Draco is rich, though not fabulously so, just because he’s been good at stashing gold in out of the way places and keeping it from falling into his enemies’ hands. Other members of the Scarlet Order aren’t so financially adept.

Visiting the website TV Tropes, I discovered a new spin on this idea that I hadn’t really considered before. paperbackbookstanding_849x1126 (1) They suggest that vampires not earning an income can be a metaphor for the drain vampires would place on society. Not only do they drain blood from people, but they drain those resources people would use to survive. The Scarlet Order vampires would be offended by the idea.

If you’d like to discover more about the Scarlet Order vampires, visit my website to read the first chapters, see some reviews, and discover more about Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order and Vampires of the Scarlet Order.

Earth vs. Aliens

In recent posts, I’ve written about some of the ghost stories I’ve heard about from assorted observatories. However, there’s another topic people frequently ask about, and that’s whether or not I’ve ever seen a UFO or evidence of aliens. The short answer is that I have not. The closest I’ve come is that my undergraduate advisor, physicist C.B. Moore of New Mexico Tech, claimed to be responsible for the Roswell Incident, but that’s a story for another time.

In fact, looking up at the stars night after night, it’s hard not to wonder about the possibility of alien civilizations. There are so many and we now know that many of those stars have planets. It’s hard to imagine that life hasn’t evolved out there somewhere. Now what will that life be like? I hope it will be peaceful and benevolent and we can learn from our contact with it. Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee this will be true. In fact, Stephen Hawking recently said in an interview with the newspaper El País, “If aliens visit us, the outcome could be much like when Columbus landed in America, which didn’t turn out well for the Native Americans. Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonize whatever planets they can reach.”

Earth-vs-Aliens

This essentially summarizes the premise of T. Jackson King’s space opera novel Earth vs. Aliens. As the novel begins, astronauts mapping objects in the Kuiper Belt beyond Pluto’s orbit encounter an alien ship. The aliens offer to open diplomatic ties and invite the human captain to a meeting. When the humans arrive, the aliens pounce on them and attempt to eat them. Thinking fast, the humans left behind aboard the Uhuru—Jack Munroe and Max Piakowski—find a way to defeat the aliens and return home, but not before learning that by going beyond the orbit of Pluto, humans have shown that they are now subject to proving themselves and if they fail, they will be subjected by one of the many races of the stars and used as food stock.

Despite this clear threat and video footage of the initial attack, not all humans believe the alien threat. Without the support of Earth, Jack and Max must find a way to learn more about the predatory aliens and keep them from conquering the solar system. Through a series of engagements, they find allies among fellow humans and capture alien technology that help in their campaign. The upshot is an exciting novel with enough solid physics to make it believable and a look at several plausible predatory alien species with advanced star drives and weapons. In the end, the novel’s most compelling question is whether or not humans are a sufficiently dangerous predator to stand up to the alien threat.

You can find Earth vs. Aliens in paperback and ebook formats at Amazon.

The 1979 movie Alien demonstrated that predatory aliens can be a great subject for a horror story. Although T. Jackson King opts to tell a more science fictional story, he does show why encounters with aliens could be truly terrifying.