Book Review: Parasite

BookReviewLogoReview by Janette Edson

“Choose life. Choose Health. Choose SymboGen.”

Mira Grant (a pen name for American urban fantasy author Seanan McGuire) had her breakthrough with the three-part zombie series Newsflesh. She returns with the Parasitology series, starting with Parasite (Hatchette, 2013). And what a way to open the series, with a story that is combination of sleek corporate thriller and mind bending science. As a horror junkie obsessed with the most disgusting parasites, bugs and disease Grant’s new series, while a departure from her previous work, reflects of these passions.

13641105The story begins in 2027, and centres around Sally, who has miraculously recovered from a car accident that left her brain dead. Why has Sally recovered? Well it’s thanks to a tapeworm. Not any tapeworm, a worm that has been engineered so that instead of damaging its host heals and protects that individual.  The company SymboGen has developed this tapeworm that means you never need to worry about illness or medication again. SymboGen of course, has become a giant corporation, and nearly everyone on the planet who can afford a tapeworm has one. Continue reading “Book Review: Parasite”

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Where to Start with Weird Lit: H. P. Lovecraft

BookReviewLogoWelcome to “Where to Start with Weird Lit,” an occasional book review series on classic gothic, horror, and science fiction (a.k.a. “weird lit”) authors and titles from our own Medical Humanities editor Hanna Clutterbuck-Cook. This week we’re kicking off the series with a look at one of weird lit’s master crafters: Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890-1937).

~Anna Clutterbuck-Cook, Book Review Editor.

By Lucius B. Truesdell(Life time: Unknown) - Original publication: 1934Immediate source: http://www.hplovecraft.com/life/gallery.aspx, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36315129
H.P. Lovecraft (Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

Let’s go for a classic right off the bat: Howard Phillips Lovecraft, Rhode Island’s own pioneer of the tentacle’y.

Lovecraft’s biography isn’t nearly as tangled as his stories: born in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1890, lived most of his life there, and died in the same city in 1937, a victim to undiagnosed stomach cancer. He was married but he and his wife, Sonia Greene, didn’t actually spend all that much time together outside of a brief cohabitation in New York City. Arm-chair psychiatrists have been having fun with Lovecraft for decades; his letters and non-fiction writings open up a xenophobic, racist, misogynist, anti-Semitic nightmare world all their own and allow for brilliant parody along the lines of Mallory Ortberg’s “Texts from H.P. Lovecraft“:

I WENT OUTSIDE ONCE
IT WAS TERRIBLE
EVERYONE WAS WALKING DOWN THE STREET BUT THEY WEREN’T DESCENDED FROM THE MAYFLOWER.

Lovecraft’s stories are still pulling fans in — although once you’ve read through a few of his longer pieces, you may find yourself wondering why. His writing is verbose, hyperbolic, and often not all that good. But the appeal endures: film-makers, musicians, writers, visual artists all claim inspiration from Lovecraft; the best, of course, have taken their inspiration and turned it into something better than the original.

If you’re curious as to what the appeal might be, here are a few places you might like to start. (And I apologize for the quality of the online texts I’m linking to; you might find the Readability app useful. The story of Lovecraft’s copyright is almost as interesting as his biography and probably more tortured! Update: Thanks to an alert reader who sent along a link to the text archive I thought had vanished into the Internet ether: Electronic Texts of HP Lovecraft. You can also find a (very few) HPL texts on Project Gutenberg and some others on Internet Archive if you’re willing to brave the latter’s search function.)

There is always the classic: The Call of Cthulhu, the story that launched a thousand plushies. Cthulhu is really a two-parter: the first part tells the story of the unnamed narrator’s introduction to and initial researches into the Cthulhu cult itself; the second half is the retelling of the rising of Cthulhu’s dread city from the sea bottom. Cthulhu showcases just about every trick Lovecraft used regularly: faux newspaper narrative, documents from survivors, artistic artifacts, and so on as well as introducing the Big Squishy himself.

My personal favorite would be The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. I have very fond memories of sitting in the Fletcher Library in Burlington, Vermont, on a snowy day and reading this story. Ward is a novella-length piece with shades of many of the greats of gothic literature, including Dracula and Frankenstein as well as enough black magic, time travel, body-swapping, and demonic worship to keep anyone happy for a good long time. It also showcases one of Lovecraft’s weak spots: describing anything specifically. If you’re into audiobooks, Audible has several readings; I particularly like the one by Neil Hellegers and it’s less than $25 for an unabridged reading.

If you don’t have novella time, may I suggest The Rats in the Walls or Pickman’s Model? They’re both significantly shorter than either Cthulhu or Ward and are more of in the ‘shot in the arm’ mode of horror storytelling, rather than the slow, atmospheric burn of the longer stories. If you happen to live in or know Boston well, Pickman’s is particularly juicy. You may never look at the Boylston Street T stop in the same way again.

And then, of course, once you get hooked, you’re on your own. You can put cold iron your pocket — but it won’t help. Enjoy!

Friday Fiction Feature: Crimson Peak


crimson-peak-character-poster-mia-wasikowska-700x1037

On this Friday before Halloween we thought it appropriate to highlight a work of Gothic romance: the recently-released Crimson Peak by filmmaker Guillermo del Toro. Once again we bring you a review conversation between book review editor Anna Clutterbuck-Cook and reviewer Hanna Clutterbuck-Cook.

Anna: Okay, so let’s start with some non-spoilery observations. When you’ve been talking to friends interested in this movie, what are some of the “If you liked…then you should absolutely see this film” you’ve compared Crimson Peak to? I told one colleague it was “something like The Turn of the Screw meets Angels & Insects with a touch of Lovecraft.

Hanna:Uh — other — good movies? If you like del Toro, you should see this, no question. *Don’t* see it if you’re not  into Gothic or at least willing to unhitch your brain a little from Hollywoodized expectation because otherwise you may end up saying stupid things about how it ‘doesn’t make sense’ (not true!) and looking a moron.

Anna: Yeah, we’ve talked a lot in the past ten days about ‘what was up’ with all the reviews that thought the story didn’t make sense. (?) It was an incredibly tight Gothic script — heir to Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights (only with more sense), Northanger Abbey, Dracula … and I’d also make a strong argument that like Jane Eyre the core narrative is Edith’s self-realization as an adult person — coming into her own adulthood and finding her voice (er, and other strengths).

Hanna: Castle of Otranto and Mysteries of Udolpho, too. About the only thing it didn’t directly reference was The Monk. Everything else was there pretty much. And then you can just go on listing all the horror movie references which are kind of endless because that’s how del Toro rolls.

Anna: It definitely gestured back toward del Toro’s canon, although it skittered away from the more fatalistic endings, I thought. It’s unfair probably to say, “This wasn’t Pan’s Labyrinth” because nothing can be but it wasn’t that … hard? cruel? I say this even though I’d argue Pan’s is also ultimately hopeful in the sense of human beings choosing to be courageous in the face of overwhelming cruelty. This wasn’t quite that. Although Edith (Mia Wasikowska) is required to draw on her inner resources, to find the strength of character we know as viewers she’s had all along.

Without giving too much away, we can also talk a little about the three main characters and the (rather spare!) supporting cast … what did we think about the troupe of players?

Hanna: Nothing is as cruel as Labyrinth. This wasn’t meant to be — Gothic isn’t harsh like that; only realism is. I can’t help thinking it would’ve been stronger if they’d recast Jessica Chastain. I’ve never been a fan of hers. This is about as good as I’ve seen her be but if she could’ve stepped up her game a tad, it would have been incredible instead of merely quite amazing. I’m not sure who I’d replace her with, though, so there’s that. Possibly Carey Mulligan. But I’d replace almost everyone with her so I’m not sure it counts. Mia Wasikowska was incredibly strong, much better than I expected. And Tom Hiddleston effaced himself quite nicely without making a huge show of it.

Anna: I can’t recall seeing Chastain in anything before this, so I went in with no real expectation either way for her character. I appreciated that she didn’t overdramatize the part, which could have easily been a problem. You felt something was off, obviously, but she built to a crescendo at a pace that worked well in the overall story arc (I thought the pacing of the narrative, overall, was pretty strong).

People have compared Wasikowska’s role in this to her turn as Jane Eyre, which makes sense given the genre, but I actually found myself thinking more strongly of her portrayal of Alice? Something about the look in her eye (spoiler!) when she realized she’d battled her way through to survival. Hiddleston, I feel, figured out that his task — harder than it looks! — was to play Thomas in such a way as to make him present (and desired by Edith) yet rarely an agent of action. He’s almost entirely a conduit of the narrative from beginning to end.

[Mild spoilers after the jump] Continue reading “Friday Fiction Feature: Crimson Peak”