Saturday, December 8, 2018

TV Review: George R.R. Martin’s ‘Nightflyers’

A corridor in a spaceship.

Last post I talked about Nightflyers, the new science fiction-horror TV miniseries based on George R.R. Martin’s novella of the same name. As much as I said I was looking forward to its premiere episode, I didn’t watch it. That is, I didn’t watch it on its premiere night which was last Sunday. It was on in my area at 10 and I normally try going to bed before that time on Sunday nights. So I taped it on my old TV-VCR-in-one and finally watched the debut episode last night. (No, I don’t have a DVR.)

The debut episode came across well as the science fiction-horror that the novella was made to be. It would be a 100 percent slasher-in-space if violent gore was at the centre of this series in which so far it isn’t. What is at the centre is a power that kills people and is hiding on the spaceship. Like all great science fiction-horror, the setting is fitting. The series takes place on a colony ship called the Nightflyer which is dark and gigantic yet claustrophobic in it’s interior much like the Nostromo in Alien. The episode provided plenty of suspense and good pacing of the movement of events. It opened good in introducing the conflict: the ship’s biologist has gone psycho and is swinging an axe, chasing the ship’s psychiatrist. Then the story goes back to the beginning of events to unfold its way to show what started the killing spree which, of course, we won’t know the complete cause until the end of the series. So the opening scene serves as a kind of preview of coming attractions. The biologist isn’t the only one that goes psychotic on board the ship, by the way, and so the terror doesn’t end at the beginning. You can take comfort in that.

As with many of today’s science fiction and horror TV series’s episodes, Nightflyers Episode 1 ends leaving the viewer in suspense, in this case with a cliffhanger. I definitely have no problem with cliffhangers, in fact, I like them. The problem that I do have with TV series that’s episodes leave off at suspenseful points is when they are too dependent on doing so. When they’re too dependent on the suspenseful ending, they often drop off with out any kind of conclusion which this episode does.  Of course, the episode can’t have too solid of a conclusion since the series is built on a continuous story line. The problem is that it doesn’t have a satisfying conclusion on the subplot level. Because of this nothing is resolved and so there is no sense of completion. An ending like this is a big let-down to the audience because it’s making viewers want to watch the next episode and so is serving not much more as a marketing gimmick. Hopefully it won’t be that way with every episode in this series.

Most everything else about Nightflyers, so far, is done well. The characterization is okay and believable enough, the visual and sound effects are good considering that it’s a television show, and the story presents itself clearly.

Nightflyers is airs Sunday through Thursday, 10 PM/9PM Central on the SyFy Channel. If you miss an episode or the show’s scheduled time slot doesn’t work for you then record it on DVR or, if you’re a vintage rat pack like me, VCR. Or you can watch for free past episodes streamed at!

Have you been watching Nightflyers? If so, what do you think of it so far?

Until next time . . .

Saturday, December 1, 2018

George R.R. Martin and Mixing Sci fi with Horror

An alien spaceship flies through space.

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving and are looking forward to the holidays. Me? I had a great, but very busy Thanksgiving with the family and so had to skip a weekend of posting. As far as the holidays go--I’m getting there. What I’m looking forward to right now, though, is the new science fiction-horror series that premieres this Sunday night on the SyFy channel, Nightflyers!

George R.R. Martin’s Nightflyers

Nightflyers is based on a novella by Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin. According to the LA Times, he novella actually had two versions, the shorter version which was published in 1980 and an expanded version published three years later. Then in 1987 a movie based on it came out but, because it got so scant of an audience, it fell into oblivion. It fell into oblivion to everybody except those who are into B-rated and cult films such as myself although I haven’t seen this one. Neither have I read either version of the novella. In fact, tomorrow’s TV adaptation will be my first time experiencing anything by Martin. So, no, I have not even read or seen Game of Thrones. I’m not a big high fantasy (or sword-and-sorcery as some call it) fan, although I will read it and watch it now and then. But I haven’t covered that genre like I have science fiction and horror.

Martin’s novella combines science fiction and horror. In a Los Angeles Times interview, Martin even defends the mixing of these two genres when he speaks about his response to a critic’s comment: “Around 1978 or ’79 I was reading some science fiction criticism by a writer doing history of the genre, but he put forward the theory that science fiction and horror were opposites — they were fundamentally incompatible, you couldn’t blend them. And when I read that I said, ‘Well! I’ll see about that.’ . . . ‘Nightflyers’ was one of those that came out of the ’70s and early ’80s when I was on that kick.” And so his science fiction-horror novella came out of that argument, an argument I totally support.

However, another novella of his was also inspired by this argument: Sandkings. Martin says in an article at The Verge, that the success of of this science fiction-horror bookinspired him to keep blending SF and horror . . .” The article also says that, in response to the upcoming Nightflyers series, Hulu is streaming a film adaptation of Sandkings. It’s actually a pilot episode for the 1990s revival of the 1960s Outer Limits TVseries which often mixed horror with sci fi.

Why Science Fiction and Horror Mix So Well

So what makes science fiction and horror mix so well? For one thing, they both deal with the unknown. Many people fear the unknown in which, needless to say, fear makes horror. In horror fiction, the unknown traditionally is supernatural: vampires, werewolves, witchcraft, ghosts, etc.

In science fiction, on the other hand, the unknown is natural or technological phenomena: outer space, genetic mutations or engineering, robots, aliens, among others. The science in sci fi is often futuristic or new discovery and so society is unsure of its future impact. But the best example I like is outer space. Starting in the 1950s, many science fiction-horror movies were set in space because it’s been the most unexplored territory in history. Anything can happen out in the cosmos. Like the setting in a lot of gothic horror, space is dark, abysmal, forbidding and even cold. Compare that to an old, dark house in a supernatural horror story (and remember, space, at least by human standards, is pretty damn old)! Like anything can be lurking in a huge, dark house so can anything be lurking in deep, dark, unexplored space. Hence, you’ve gotten movies such as It Came from Outer Space in the 1950s, Alien in the ‘70s and perhaps the TV series adaptation of Martin’s Nightflyers will be a reminder of just how horrifying space and unexplored science can really be.

But another element that space provides in science fiction like dark settings provide in horror is isolation. Martin says in the above L.A. Times interview, “Space is an incredible setting for a horror story because you are isolated.” In much horror there is a sense of psychological isolation if not physical. Often the haunted house is isolated in a far off setting such as the mountains or a remote countryside. But as victims die off, the surviving characters feel isolated and more vulnerable. In science fiction, space is isolating because a spaceship, regardless of its size, is infinitely dwarfed by it and this effects the psychology of the crew in which the result is often madness. Because Nightflyers involves such elements and themes, it can be considered the mixed genre of science fiction-horror.

Nightflyers premieres Sunday night, Dec. 2, on SyFy. And if you can’t wait until then, watch Sandkings which is now streaming at Hulu! Do you plan to watch Nightflyers? Have you read the novella or seen the 1980s movie? Feel free to leave your answers in the box below!

Until next time . . .

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Far Out Fantastic Finds: The Unpublished Novel of ‘The Thing’

A reptilian eye stares out from a mass of ice.

One of the things for us science fiction writers and fans to be thankful for this Thanksgiving is the greats of the genre’s golden age which was roughly from the 1930s to ‘50s. One of those greats is John W. Campbell. He had a big influence on science fiction and helped popularise the genre especially as editor of his Astounding magazine, now known as Analog Science Fiction and Science Fact. You can also say his novella, “Who Goes There?”, eventually influenced the mixed genre of science fiction horror when it was adapted into the 1950s film, The Thing from Another World, which in turn lead to two remakes: John Carpenter’s The Thing in 1982 and director Matthijs van Heijningen’s 2011 version (that some refer to as a “prequel”). So when Alec Nevala-Lee uncovered the manuscript of an earlier, unpublished, full-length novel version of Campbell’s story, it must had been as thrilling as it is for the Antarctic expedition in “Who Goes There?”/”The Thing” when they uncover the shape shifting alien frozen in ice which later terrorizes them

Alec Nevala-Lee was doing research for his book, Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction, when he uncovered themanuscript in an archives collection at Harvard. Entitled Frozen Hell, Campbell had derived from it the shorter, novella version that made it to publication as “Who Goes There?”, as explained at According to The Verge, the manuscript was fragmented when Nevala-Lee found it. Not long after, John Gregory Betancourt, manager of independent publishing house Wildside Press and of Cambell’s literary property, edited the novel manuscript into a completed version and has been raising funds through Kickstarter in order to get the book published. The funding goal of $1000 has been surpassed by more than $100,000 (as of the writing of this post). Betancourt, an award winning author, will write a sequel to the science fiction horror novel

The discovery of the manuscript is definitely a significant addition to Campbell’s known history. I’m a fan of Campbell, the original “Thing” movie and Campbell’s science fiction horror novella that it was adapted from. I read the novella only about a year ago in a collection of his work, A New Dawn, and it was really well-written along with other stories in the book. However, I’m not a fan of books completed by people other than the authors who started them, since it’s easy for contradictions in style and vision to show up. Even so, Frozen Hell, being from a manuscript started by Campbell, will probably give us some good insight on “The Thing” story. That being said, it would probably have been better to market copies of the fragmented manuscript to fans of “The Thing” story line and Campbell. With a good introduction by the editor and maybe some annotations, the unfinished manuscript would be part of a complete book as a study of the author’s work.

Frozen Hell is scheduled to release in ebook, paperback and hardcover formats in January 2019, the dead of “arctic” winter. The book will have interior art by award-winning sci fi/fantasy artist Bob Eggleton who will also be doing the art for the cover, says Betancourt at his Kickstarter page

Do you think Frozen Hell can live up to John Campbell’s original style and vision of storytelling after being completed by another author? Why or why not? Feel free to leave your answers in the box below.

Until next time . . .

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Procrastinating Writing the Story by Writing the Character Profile

A moon man frowns and winks.

Last year for National Novel Writing Month, a.k.a. NaNoWriMo, I wrote my first full novella. However, I didn’t finish the first draft until sometime around the new year. I’m not sure if it will be much different with the novella I’m writing this year. I haven’t been meeting the minimum goal I originally set for myself which was 1,250 words a day. It shows that I don’t have the attention span to write long works. However, I compromised with myself saying that if I don’t feel I can make it to 1,250 words a day, considering that my day job takes up most of my time, then I’ll shoot for one page a day give or take a little. I say “give or take a little” because the numbers of words vary between pages in almost any kind of writing.

I’m also behind because of procrastination. Or what I at first thought was procrastination. I’m the kind of person who likes to plan things when it comes to projects rather than just dive in. Although I’m not a fan of outlining the story before writing it, for longer works, such as novellas, I like to write out a brief outline so I’ll have a rough idea where to go with the story. If I don’t I may never get the first draft finished. Besides making a story outline, I’ve lately also been making a character outline before writing the actual story. The character outline is basically a very brief character profile. I learned how useful this can be at one of the writers panels I attended at WorldCon back in the summer.

When you think about it, characters make the story. We as people automatically make stories in our own daily lives. The decisions we make lead to results, good or bad, and when put together those results turn into stories. For example, Mike wakes up to his alarm clock to go to work. But then he decides not to go because he’s tired of doing a routine job. So he calls in “sick” and goes to the movies instead. But one of the supervisors who happened to have the day off sees Mike at the movie theatre and squeels on him. Mike gets a phone call from his boss who says he’s fired. All those decisions Mike made led to events and together they added up to a story—a very simple, mundane story, but a story nevertheless.

I’ve discovered over the years that, if I work the main character into the story as I’m writing the rough draft it’s a hell of a lot harder for me to go anywhere with it. And so I get a wave of writer’s block. That’s because I don’t know the character and so don’t know what she would do in given situations. So if you make a basic character profile—a listing of qualities such as the person’s age, sex, occupation, her number one interest or pass time, a few physical traits, and of course her name—you have a better idea of how she would react in a certain situation. So yes, part of my “procrastination” was through creating the main character before writing the actual story. But then again, like society makes history, characters make stories. So someone has to be in the story to trigger the events in order to make the story.

So when you write out your plan for your novel or novella, whether that plan is a brief story outline or a brief character profile, you can’t really be procrastinating because you are writing even if you’re not writing the story itself. Do you plan your main character before writing your story or do you write him or her in as you are writing the rough draft? Feel free to leave your answers in the box below.

Until next time . . .

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Day of the Dead/ After-Halloween Book Giveaway

A comic book cover depicts three skeletons in a graveyard playing instruments.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

I hope you all had a groovy Halloween and are having an awesome Day of the Dead weekend. Some of you may be asking, “What is Day of the Dead?” To get the answer to that question, check out the short documentary below. It’s an oldie but goodie since the narrator seems to be well informed for the time it was made in (the 1950s). It gives at least the basics of this holiday which is, contrary to many of the people’s belief in my own Latino culture, similar to Halloween although it has it’s own unique flavour. Speaking about flavour, like on Halloween people who celebrate Day of the Dead hand out candy, particularly candy skulls. Are they candy-covered, real human skulls? Well, watch the video and find out! Speaking about skulls, that’s one unique difference between Mexico’s holiday and the U.S.’s (not to mention Northern Europe’s) holiday—whereas Halloween uses a Jack-o-lantern as its holiday icon a skull serves that purpose for Day of the Dead. Like Halloween, Day of the Dead has ghosts, only most of them are the ghosts of loved ones invited in by the living. But are these kindred spirits real? Again, watch the video and you just might find out.

So, Halloween is over, but not quite over if you consider traits that it shares with Day of the Dead. After all, almost every culture has some sort of ritual that honours their deceased in some sort of way. The mythologist, Joseph Campbell himself said, as did the psychologist Carl Jung before him, that all cultures share a universal myth, that myth coming from something called the archetype. But I’m not here to give a lecture on psychology or even mythology per se. I’m here to share Mexico’s, my ancestral culture’s, Day of the Dead and something else . . .

As I said, Halloween is done, but not all of the celebration of the supernatural is over yet. My newest book, “The Boo Brothers: Two Tales of Terror”, you can say reads as a Day of the Dead story. After all, the title story in this two-tale book has skeletons in it. So, if you missed purchasing “Boo Brothers” to read for Halloween, you can still read it to celebrate the season. And consider this my Day of the Dead gift to you: you can have a copy of the book for free at Amazon! But I suggest you go get it now because this offer only lasts until 11:59 PM Pacific Standard Time, Sunday November 4th!

How familiar are you with the Mexican Day of the Dead? Do you feel it shares a lot of elements with Halloween? Feel free to leave your answers in the box below.

Until next time . . .

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Book Cover Reveal: 'The Boo Brothers'

A vintage Halloween Skeleton Decoration.

Well, my newest book, “The Boo Brothers: Two Tales of Terror” is somewhere floating around in book limbo. However, my book cover illustration is here in completion. So I decided to do a cover reveal for you today.

I just submitted “The Boo Brothers . . .” this afternoon after going through all the technical procedures and setting it up using the Kindle Creator. Kindle Creator is a new free tool provided by Kindle Direct Publishing that makes it much easier to format your e-book for publication. Much easier, that is, if you know how to use it. Because this was my first time working with it, I was familiarising myself with it for the past two days. But even learning how to use it isn’t that tough compared to other types of software.

So, my book is at Amazon only not live. According to Amazon, it can take up to 72 hours for an e-book to appear in the Amazon store although most of the time that I’ve self-published a book it’s taken less. Either way, my book should be out in time to add to the rest of your good Halloween reads. So I suggest to keep checking Amazon between now and the 31st. You can also visit my Facebook page for updates and where I will definitely announce when “The Boo Brothers . . .” goes live on Amazon. (Kind of sounds like a pop concert, doesn’t it? But just remember, that’s “Boo Brothers” not “Blues Brothers”!)

And now the book cover reveal (illustration only) with synopsis . . .

Two boys trick-or-treating down a sidewalk--one in ghost costume and the other a semi-transparent ghost.
Credit: The blogger

Synopsis for "The Boo Brothers: Two Tales of Terror"

The Boo Brothers consists of two teen tales of terror. Appearing for the first time in book format is the title story: two boys steal a Halloween decoration from an old, mysterious mansion and pay the consequences. In the second story, "Coming Out", a high school kid discovers himself going through a second puberty and it sucks—blood! These tales come from the deepest fears of that isolated realm that lies between childhood and adulthood. They are sure to entertain with fright.

Let me know what you think in the box below or at my Facebook page. And if you drop by neither between now and the end of the month then I hope you have a happy, frightfully fun and safe Halloween!

Until next time . . .

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Book-To-Movie: Review of ‘The House With a Clock In Its Walls’

An antique wooden clock reading five-minutes-to-twelve.

Before director Eli Roth adapted it to film, the closest that John Bellair’s YA novel, The House With a Clock In Its Walls, came to a movie was as a short film featured in a made-for-TV Halloween special. That was back in the ‘70s, not too long after the book had released. Entitled Once Upon a Midnight Scary, it was an hour-long anthology featuring three short films, the last being “The House With a Clock In Its Walls”, narrated by Vincent Price who encouraged young viewers to read the books these films were based on. That encouragement definitely worked with me. I saw it when I was around 9 and read House With a Clock when I was about 25. Okay, so that encouragement didn’t work the first time but did work the second time, when I saw the Vincent Price special on VHS. I’ve read the book at least twice and loved it. So when September’s release of the big screen adaptation was announced back in the summer I was like “Yeah! Finally!” Well, I saw The House With a Clock In Its Walls a couple of weeks ago. I wasn’t disappointed. However, viewers, such as myself, who have read the novel may not be as impressed with the terror the film offers as those who haven’t read it. Even so, it still offers plenty of suspense and awe.

House With a Clock released on good timing. It premiered in theatres at the end of September, just in time for the Halloween season and is very Halloween-ish like the book while it doesn’t limit itself to the theme and so is perfect viewing and reading for anytime of the year. As far as story goes, the movie, overall, stays faithful to the book. Lewis moves in with his Uncle Johnathan after his parents have passed away and soon discovers a deadly secret in his uncle’s creepy but fascinating mansion. The secret is connected with a strange, loud ticking of a clock that is hidden somewhere in the house and that his uncle and their neighbour and friend Mrs. Zimmerman are desperately trying to uncover. However, after Lewis gets a hold of a necromancy book he accidently raises from the dead the evil husband and wife magicians, Isaac and Selena (“Serenna” in the novel) Izard, who had hidden the clock and now try to drive Johnathan and Lewis out of the house. But Johnathan, Lewis and Mrs. Zimmerman won’t give up without a fight, literally.

Jack Black plays his role as Johnathan Barnavelt really good and comes across as the eccentric that the character does in the book. Owen Vacarro who plays Lewis isn’t bad but the development of the character in the movie could have been made with a better emotional connection to the audience like it is in the novel. Cate Blanchett plays good the part of Mrs. Zimmerman especially in relation to Johnathan with the light-hearted humour of condescending remarks the two characters toss back and forth to each other which is also shown in the book.

Unlike in the novel, Isaac Izard plays a larger and more present role in the film than his wife, Selena, does. In the book, the emphasis was the other way around between these two characters. Even though he is out-right menacing in his haggard features, in this film Selena isn’t that menacing in her appearance like she is in the book. She is much younger than he (or at least appears to be, witches can disguise themselves, right?) and made up to meet society’s standards of beauty but, still, she is just as evil in her actions and demeanor as she is in the novel. (Think Wilhelmina in ABC’s Ugly Betty, if you ever watched that sitcom, only more occultic.)

An addition to the movie is that Lewis is trained as a wizard by his uncle much more than he is in the book. Maybe this was added to compete with the Harry Potter films and their more recent brainchild, Fantastic Beasts. Even so, this addition to Lewis’s character works.

As I said, people who have read the novel won’t be as struck by the frightful scenes as much as those who haven’t read it. Still, the movie as a whole mesmerises. Both the surrealism of Johnathan’s house and the magic that it holds, such as changing images in stained glass windows and a living chair, will amuse audiences. Also the black magic of the Izards will do the same and hold viewers in suspense. The Izards even take their magic further than they do in the book when they launch a horde of monsters against the good magicians.

A few elements in the movie may make it questionable whether it’s suitable for family viewing. Some of the crude humour is a little overdone although it doesn’t ruin the rest of the film like with too many movies made for younger audiences. However, as in the book, the occult is referenced a lot which may make this film not suitable for children under the age of 8. It’s hard to say because only parents know their own kids best. Or they should.

I have to admit, not even the movie adaptation of The House With a Clock In Its Walls with it’s awe-inspiring special effects and fantastical, gothic settings can do justice to the book. The book had more going on in it and looks further into the characters’ lives and psychs than the movie. In fact, compared to the book, the events of the movie are kind of rushed. But, overall, the big screen adaptation interprets the novel well and still amuses and offers plenty of suspense. I hope to see a sequel since the book had two of them. But I also hope this movie will encourage kids and even adults who have not read the novel to read it.

Until next time . . . 

Coming Soon to Amazon!

Now Available at Amazon!