Saturday, January 31, 2015

Blood Secrets

Blood Secrets
by Craig Jones

Half of a terrific modern gothic is better than none, so there'll be a receptive audience for this leanly promising suspense debut--which does just dandily until it has to start explaining itself, revealing, hysterically, its flimsy foundation. On page one, narrator Irene Rutledge Mattison is on trial for murder--we're not told whom she has killed--and the rest of the book is a 20-year flashback (""I'm going to tell you about the murder itself and the circumstances leading up to it""). Knowing Irene is headed for murder, we're primed to read tension into her initially low-key, crisply told story: her days as a star grad student; her attraction to tall, ugly, ""weird"" history major Frank Mattison; his obsessive reticence about the large, backwoodsy family he has cut himself off from. irene and Frank marry, despite frowns from Irene's father and friends, maintaining separate teaching careers even when baby Regina arrives--a bit of a bad seed spoiled by adored father Frank, just barely tolerated by Irene. But as Regina hits puberty, the roles change, and Frank's over-protective ways are driving Regina up the wall. likewise Irene, who worries about Frank's erratic behavior, especially when Frank's much older, estranged sister drops hints about a halfwit sister of Frank's--also named Regina--who long ago committed suicide, perhaps because of Frank's incestuous interest. Is Frank similarly inclined toward daughter Regina? Irene's in a panic, determined to protect Regina, still in love with Frank. There's a Rosemary's Baby-ish frisson when you realize before Irene does just who the danger to Regina is, but the long, feverish explanation/showdown that follows--revealing a vast incest-arama cult in Frank's family--is potboiler-silly-sensational, undermining the believability of all that has gone before. This dodo denouement doesn't come till the end, however, so chill-hungry readers can enjoy the nicely knotted domestic tension and aroma of undefined evil that first-novelist Jones fabricates so well till the moment of reckoning catches him up short.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Stand

The Stand
by Stephen King

The Stand is a post-apocalyptic horror/fantasy novel by American author Stephen King. It expands upon the scenario of his earlier short story, "Night Surf". The novel was originally published in 1978 and was later re-released in 1990 as The Stand: The Complete & Uncut Edition; King restored some text originally cut for brevity, added and revised sections, changed the setting of the story from 1980 (which in turn was changed to 1984 for the original paperback release in 1980) to 1990, and updated a few pop culture references accordingly. The Stand was nominated for the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel in 1979, and was adapted into both a television miniseries for ABC and a graphic novel published by Marvel Comics. It marks the first appearance of Randall Flagg, King's recurring antagonist, whom King would bring back many times in his later writings.

"The Call of Cthulhu"

"The Call of Cthulhu"
by H.P. Lovecraft

"The Call of Cthulhu" is a short story by American writer H. P. Lovecraft. Written in the summer of 1926, it was first published in the pulp magazine Weird Tales, in February 1928.

In the text, narrator Francis Wayland Thurston, of Boston, recounts his discovery of notes left behind by his granduncle, George Gammell Angell, a prominent Professor of Semitic languages at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, who died suddenly in "the winter of 1926–27" after being "jostled by a nautical-looking negro".

The first chapter, The Horror in Clay, concerns a small bas-relief sculpture found among the papers, which the narrator describes: "My somewhat extravagant imagination yielded simultaneous pictures of an octopus, a dragon, and a human caricature.... A pulpy, tentacled head surmounted a grotesque and scaly body with rudimentary wings". The sculpture is the work of Henry Anthony Wilcox, a student at the Rhode Island School of Design who based the work on his delirious dreams of "great Cyclopean cities of titan blocks and sky-flung monoliths, all dripping with green ooze and sinister with latent horror". Wilcox frequently refers to Cthulhu and R'lyeh. Lovecraft makes Wilcox's residence in the story the real Providence structure the Fleur-de-Lys Studios.

Angell also discovers reports of "outre mental illnesses and outbreaks of group folly or mania" around the world (in New York City, "hysterical Levantines" mob police; in California, a Theosophist colony dons white robes to await a "glorious fulfillment").

The second chapter, The Tale of Inspector Legrasse, discusses the first time the Professor had heard the word "Cthulhu" and seen a similar image. At the 1908 meeting of the American Archaeological Society in St. Louis, Missouri, a New Orleans police official named John Raymond Legrasse asked the assembled antiquarians to identify a statuette composed of an unidentifiable greenish-black stone, "captured some months before in the wooded swamps south of New Orleans during a raid on a supposed voodoo meeting". The idol resembles the Wilcox sculpture, and represented a "...thing, which seemed instinct with a fearsome and unnatural malignancy, was of a somewhat bloated corpulence, and squatted evilly on a rectangular block or pedestal covered with undecipherable characters".

On November 1, 1907, Legrasse had led a party of policemen in search of several women and children who disappeared from a squatter community. The police found the victims' "oddly marred" bodies used in a ritual in which almost 100 men—all of a "very low, mixed-blooded, and mentally aberrant type"—were "braying, bellowing, and writhing" and repeatedly chanting the phrase, "Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn". After killing five of the participants and arresting 47 others, Legrasse interrogated the prisoners and learned "the central idea of their loathsome faith": "They worshipped, so they said, the Great Old Ones who lived ages before there were any men...and...formed a cult which had never died...hidden in distant wastes and dark places all over the world until the time when the great priest Cthulhu, from his dark house in the mighty city of R'lyeh under the waters, should rise and bring the earth again beneath his sway. Some day he would call, when the stars were ready, and the secret cult would always be waiting to liberate him.[10]

The prisoners identified the statuette as "great Cthulhu", and translated the chanted phrase as "In his house at R'lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming". One particularly talkative cultist, known as "old Castro", named the centre of the cult as Irem, the City of Pillars, in Arabia, and referred to the Necronomicon: "That is not dead which can eternal lie, And with strange aeons even death may die".

One of the academics present at the meeting, William Channing Webb, a professor of anthropology at Princeton, states that on an 1860 expedition "high up on the West Greenland coast" he had encountered "a singular tribe or cult of degenerate Esquimaux whose religion, a curious form of devil-worship, chilled him with its deliberate bloodthirstiness and repulsiveness." Webb claimed that the Greenland cult had both the same chant and a similar "hideous" fetish. Thurston, the narrator, reflects that "My attitude was still one of absolute materialism, as I wish it still were.".

In the third chapter, The Madness from the Sea, Thurston discovers an article dated April 18, 1925, from the Sydney Bulletin, an Australian newspaper. The article reported the discovery of a derelict ship in the Pacific Ocean with only one survivor—Norwegian sailor Gustaf Johansen, second mate on the schooner Emma, which sailed from Auckland, New Zealand. On March 22, the Emma apparently encountered a heavily armed yacht, the Alert, crewed by "a queer and evil-looking crew of Kanakas and half-castes" from Dunedin, New Zealand. Despite being attacked by the Alert without provocation, the crew of the Emma were able to kill the opposing crew, but lost their own ship in the battle. Commandeering the Alert, the surviving crew sailed on and the following day discovered an island in the vicinity of co-ordinates of 47°9′S 126°43′W—despite there being no charted islands in the area. With the exception of Johansen and another man, the remaining crew died on the island, but Johansen was apparently "queerly reticent" about the circumstances of their death.

Thurston travels to New Zealand and then Australia, where at the Australian Museum he views a statue retrieved from the Alert with a "cuttlefish head, dragon body, scaly wings, and hieroglyphed pedestal". Travelling to Oslo, Norway, Thurston learns that Johansen died suddenly after an encounter with "two Lascar sailors". Johansen's widow provides Thurston with a manuscript written by her late husband that reveals the final fate of the crew of the Emma.

The uncharted island was described as "a coast-line of mingled mud, ooze, and weedy Cyclopean masonry which can be nothing less than the tangible substance of earth's supreme terror—the nightmare corpse-city of R'lyeh". The crew also struggle to comprehend the non-Euclidian geometry of the city. When the sailors accidentally open a "monstrously carven portal", they release Cthulhu: "It lumbered slobberingly into sight and gropingly squeezed Its gelatinous green immensity through the black doorway.... The stars were right again, and what an age-old cult had failed to do by design, a band of innocent sailors had done by accident. After vigintillions of years great Cthulhu was loose again, and ravening for delight".

Johansen describes Cthulhu as "a mountain [who] walked or stumbled..." and flees with the crew, almost all of whom die. Johansen and one crewmate return to the yacht and set sail, but note with horror that Cthulhu has entered the water to pursue the vessel. Johansen turns the Alert and rams the creature's head, which bursts with "a slushy nastiness as of a cloven sunfish"- only to immediately begin reforming". The Alert escapes, with Johansen's fellow crewmate having gone insane and dying soon afterwards.

After finishing the manuscript, Thurston realizes he is now a target, thinking, "I know too much, and the cult still lives".

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Hunt for Boko Haram

The Hunt for Boko Haram: Investigating the terror tearing Nigeria apart
by Alex Perry

Journalist Alex Perry explores the context to the Chibok kidnappings that inspired the global #bringbackourgirls social media campaign. Perry looks at the flawed foundations of the Nigerian state, the toxic legacy of North-South mistrust and the decades-long power struggles and corruption within Nigeria's ruling classes. He observes that Nigeria's booming oil economy means that the government has no reason to be interested in its electorate; so great is the imbalance between the government's domestic revenues and the taxation revenues on foreign corporations. Perry interviews generals, statesmen and citizens in his quest to find out who Boko Haram really are - global terrorists inspired by Al Qaida as the Nigerian government and others claim? Perry does not think so, his research points to a much more local but no less savage agenda spawned in a perfect storm of poverty, corruption, resentment, suspicion and fundamentalism. He shows how endemic abuses of power have set Nigeria up for such an outcome, and looks at some of the work being done to try to prevent Nigeria from descending into further anarchy or becoming an irrevocably failed state. First hand accounts of and interviews with victims of the violence sweeping Nigeria and some of those working to halt it are the foundation of this attempt to get as close as possible to the truth. Whilst, as one interviewee puts it, in Nigeria all truth is relative.

Cocaine Highway

Cocaine Highway: The lines that link our drug habit to terror
by Alex Perry

In Cocaine Highway, Alex Perry lifts the lid on a problem few are willing to talk about: direct connections between the recreational drug habits of the relatively rich and privileged in Europe, and the Islamists who fund their war against the west by smuggling narcotics.

Across much of Africa, drug trafficking is escalating in size, speed and international scope. East Africa has seen a sharp increase in the smuggling of heroin en route from Asia to Europe. Nigeria has become a world centre for the production of methamphetamine. Cocaine in transit from South America is corrupting countries and governments, and fuelling instability across the continent. With so many African governments relying on foreign assistance and military support, expedience and simple short-sightedness mean that many western governments inadvertently find themselves ending up as de facto partners to drug traffickers.

Perry navigates this dangerous territory by interviewing smugglers and anti-trafficking agents to reveal sophisticated enterprises that are, in the ungoverned spaces of West Africa, left largely undisturbed. He concludes that foreign interventions in Africa which wilfully ignore the cocaine trade risk not only helping create the conditions that inspire Islamic militancy, but funding it too.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Horse Soldiers

Horse Soldiers
by Doug Stanton

In this absolutely riveting account, full of horror and raw courage, journalist Stanton (In Harm's Way) recreates the miseries and triumphs of specially trained mounted U.S. soldiers, deployed in the war-ravaged Afghanistan mountains to fight alongside the Northern Alliance-thousands of rag-tag Afghans who fought themselves to exhaustion or death-against the Taliban. The U.S. contingent, almost to a man, had never ridden horses-especially not these "shaggy and thin-legged, and short... descendents of the beasts Genghis Khan had ridden out of Uzbekistan"-but that was not the only obstacle: rattling helicopters, outdated maps, questionable air support and insufficient food also played their parts. Stanton brings each soldier and situation to vivid life: "Bennett suddenly belted out: 'It just keeps getting better and better!' Here they were, living on fried sheep and filtered ditchwater...calling in ops-guided bombs on bunkers built of mud and wood scrap, surrounded by Taliban fighters." In less than three months, this handful of troops secured a city in which a fort had been taken over by Taliban prisoners, a tangle of firefights and mayhem that became a seminal battle and, in Stanton's prose, a considerable epic: "Dead and dying men and wounded horses had littered the courtyard, a twitching choir that brayed and moaned in the rough, knee-high grass."

Night Shift

Night Shift
by Stephen King

Night Shift is the first collection of short stories by Stephen King, first published in 1978. In 1980, Night Shift received the Balrog Award for Best Collection, and in 1979 it was nominated as best collection for the Locus Award and the World Fantasy Award. Many of King's most famous short stories were included in this collection.

TitleOriginally published in
Jerusalem's LotPreviously unpublished
Graveyard ShiftOctober 1970 issue of Cavalier
Night SurfSpring 1969 issue of Ubris
I Am the DoorwayMarch 1971 issue of Cavalier
The ManglerDecember 1972 issue of Cavalier
The BoogeymanMarch 1973 issue of Cavalier
Gray MatterOctober 1973 issue of Cavalier
BattlegroundSeptember 1972 issue of Cavalier
TrucksJune 1973 issue of Cavalier
Sometimes They Come BackMarch 1974 issue of Cavalier
Strawberry SpringFall 1968 issue of Ubris
The LedgeJuly 1976 issue of Penthouse
The Lawnmower ManMay 1975 issue of Cavalier
Quitters, Inc.Previously unpublished
I Know What You NeedSeptember 1976 issue of Cosmopolitan
Children of the CornMarch 1977 issue of Penthouse
The Last Rung on the LadderPreviously unpublished
The Man Who Loved FlowersAugust 1977 issue of Gallery
One for the RoadMarch/April 1977 issue of Maine
The Woman in the RoomPreviously unpublished