Review of “Sinister Universe” by R. Michael

Image by ChadoNihi from Pixabay

Plot:

The first to study the vastness of space with the new-christened interstellar engine finds “life” harder to define than previously believed. Their mission is to “explore, seek new life, and assess any threat” if they found sentient extraterrestrials. In doing so, they overturn some accepted science. For example, string theory will have to be modified. Its multiple universes don’t exist. There’s only one besides our own. Only one other universe exists. It bumps into ours occasionally, events which might be behind claims of the supernatural.

They discover a nebula on the edge of the galaxy and watch stars come into existence. The nebula goes dark.

Thoughts:

I read in wonder at the many things going on in this story. The good stuff winks out, and the bad stuff hits the fan. This is cosmic horror of in the vein of H. P. Lovecraft. The people have done little, if anything, to provoke the tragedy. Their only trespass is curiosity. Even then, the offending curiosity is not their own; it’s their job. Unlike Lovecraft, the story doesn’t build horror on horror but begins with the wonders of space travel and discovery. The crew sees stars being born! They start uncovering mysteries about dark energy and string theory.

Unfortunately, the ending was not a surprise. The rest of the story has me hooked.

Bio:

According to his blurb, author R. Michael lives in rural Minnesota and is happily married.  He has one son and a border collie foot warmer.  He has four books published on Amazon and has works published in 365 Tomorrows, Altered Reality Magazine, and Ink & Fairydust Magazine.

He also has at least one other story in Theme of Absence, reviewed here.

“Sinister Universe” can be read here.


Title: “Sinister Universe”
Author: R. Michael
First published: Theme of Absence, August 28, 2020

Review of “Jancy8146 and the RealHouse” by M. E. Garber

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Plot:

Our hero met Jancy8146 on the WorkerCubeFarm network, where he realizes that Jancy has it all figured out—the whole WhisperNet thing, the reason the people in the nice houses get ahead while the rest, like our hero, down in the Shanties barely get by. The WhisperNet allows them to connect at all points, not just through the usual devices.

Jancy and our hero have known each other for about five years, but they’d never met. Our hero refers to Jancy as “they,” indicating he’s unsure if Jancy is male or female. He joined WorkerCubeFarm when he got the factory job. Most of the people were there to bellyache about the government keeping them down, but there were some good people, like Jancy. When the network dissolved, he and Jancy stayed in touch until Jancy disappeared.

One day, an anonymous DM slipped by the spam filters. It extolled RealHouses and gave him links to an exclusive realtor. It was unsigned but ended with smiley faces. Our hero knows it is Jancy. Our hero wants—needs—a RealHouse.

Thoughts:

Many years ago, a person I knew on a particular board had a sig picture with a dog at a keyboard. The tagline read, “On the internet, no one knows you’re a dog.” Anonymity can pass for friendship and even, at points, intimacy. That’s part of what I see in this tale. Is Jancy male or female? Is the main character male or female? In the end, it’s not all that important. However, Jancy is not what he appears to be at first. After all, it wouldn’t be much of a story if they were, would it?

The story also pokes fun at the idea of getting ahead by leaving others behind.

I liked the twist at the end.

Bio:

According to her blurb, author M. E. Garber is an itinerant speculative fiction who sadly has neither an AI nor a RealHouse, but at least her phone is pretty smart. Her blog mentions a home in Florida. She occasionally blogs at megarber.wordpress.com and tweets pics of her ridiculously photogenic dog @m_e_garber13.

I agree, her dog is adorable.

The story can be read here.


Title: “Jancy8146 and the RealHouse”
Author: M. E. Garber
First published: Daily Science Fiction, August 23, 2020

Review of “The Curse of Frankenstein” (1957)

from IMDB

Saturday pizza and bad movie night with Svengoolie. So damn hot. Maybe we should have given up and just had ice cream in an ice Jacuzzi.

Plot: (Stop me if you’ve heard this one before….)

This movie’s take on Mary Shelley’s book begins with a priest (Alex Gallier) visiting a man (Peter Cushing) in prison who has been sentenced to die shortly. The man doesn’t want spiritual comfort. He wants to talk to someone who will believe his story.

It starts when he was a boy. After his mother dies, he inherits the Frankenstein fortune and hires a tutor, Paul Krempe (Robert Urquhart), to help him finish his education. For some reason, they wander into the medical sciences. Victor develops an interest in reviving the dead, and the two succeed with the cutest puppy ever. When Victor talks about building a human being from odd parts, Paul starts having second thoughts. Victor, on the other hand, goes shopping for body parts.

Just as Paul is getting ready to leave, Victor’s cousin Elizabeth (Hazel Court), arrives. As had his mother before him, Victor has been supporting her and her mother for years. Once the mother passed away, it seems only fitting the two should marry. Paul tries to talk Elizabeth into leaving. The maid Justine (Valerie Gaunt) also raises an objection. Apparently, Baron Frankenstein has been free with his favors and has promised to marry her. What is a mad scientist to do?

Thoughts:

The introduction of the tutor to the storyline provides a moral contrast. Paul constantly tells Victor that he’s crossing lines, that his creation is evil. He doesn’t balk at the puppy because, come on, who could say that about a puppy wagging his tail and licking their faces?

After a certain point, he stays in the Baron’s household not to rein in Victor, something he now sees as longer possible, but to try to protect Elizabeth. The danger to her is hinted at several times. Victor tells her nothing of his work and forbids her to come into his lab. At the same time, he promises that she will one day take part in his experiments. YIKES!

The physical degradation of the poor creature—who never learns to speak—is an indictment of Baron Frankenstein’s moral character rather than his skill as a scientist. He starts out ugly, looking like a stumbling corpse and ends up looking like a stumbling corpse with a bald spot, a reminder of the spot (…sort of…) where Paul shot him and killed him.

One of the (apocryphal?) stories Svengoolie told about the movie is that Christopher Lee complained about not having any dialogue as the Creature. He doesn’t. He shambles along, sometimes chained, sometimes not, murdering innocent townsfolk. “If you think that’s bad,” Peter Cushing is supposed to have said, “I’ve read the script.”

The end is not a big surprise. Evil guy, who never stopped when he had the chance, who killed people, who took advantage of his maid’s affections, and abused his own unholy creation, gets his comeuppance.

One of the things that struck me as goofy was the relative age of the actors. The actor who played young Frankenstein at the beginning of the film, Melvyn Hayes (not Gene Wilder), was about 22. Robert Urquhart, his tutor, was a suitable 36ish. The adult Frankenstein, Peter Cushing, was 44 while his tutor/partner remained… 36ish. Those Frankensteins must live hard, I guess.

This was an acceptable, but hardly a stellar, movie for Saturday night pizza and bad movie night. And the pizza wasn’t half bad either.



Title: The Curse of Frankenstein

Directed by
Terence Fisher

Writing Credits
Jimmy Sangster…(screenplay)
Mary Shelley…(based on the classic story by) (as Mary W. Shelley)

Cast (in credits order)
Peter Cushing…Victor Frankenstein
Hazel Court…Elizabeth
Robert Urquhart…Paul Krempe
Christopher Lee…The Creature
Melvyn Hayes…Young Victor

Released: June 25, 1957
Length: 1 hour, 22 minutes

Awards:

Guinness World Record Award 1957
Winner
Guinness World Record     Tallest actor in a leading role
Christopher Lee

Review of “Night Visions” by Holley Cornetto

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

Plot:

After eleven and a half years, he realizes he hates his wife. He isn’t sleeping well, and his hairline is receding. He wants a convertible. His wife snores and farts in her sleep. To make matters worse, she wants a baby. Maybe he should have an affair with some Brittany Spears look-alike—not as she is now, but some girl, er, young woman in pigtails and dressed up in a school uniform licking a lollipop, about twenty years old.

He wakes in the middle the night to find a stranger standing by his wife. He can neither speak nor move.

Stop! His mind screamed. Get away from her. No, do what you want to her, but let me go. Her biological clock is ticking, but I can still reproduce. You owe it to the human race to spare me.

A true knight in shining armor.

This is not the stranger’s last visit, and his attention to our (*cough*) hero’s wife grows all the more intimate.

Thoughts:

Having once been twenty years old, I can say with some degree of confidence that not many twenty-year-olds go around in school uniforms, pigtails, and licking lollipops just waiting for married older guys to stop by and have affairs with them. Forming relationships with twenty-year-olds is not like going to the store to pick up a quart of milk and a loaf of bread. Twenty-year-old women are what you might call human beings.

I suspect the author knows this and is showing how ludicrous the idea is without saying the words. Good for her.

Another interesting device is the nocturnal visits from the stranger. Is he real? He comes and goes. The author doesn’t offer an explicit answer. Again, good for her. Other elements of the story become more important.

I would like to have seen more of what the wife felt about her husband’s actions. She couldn’t have known about his fantasies, but she must have felt his coldness. At one point, she shows him the results of a pregnancy test. His response is, “Don’t put that in my face. You peed on it.” She simply puts the test in her bathrobe pocket. Wouldn’t such a reaction to news of his impending fatherhood hurt or upset most women? (I think at this point, I might have said something like, “Don’t like pee in your face, dear? Better hope it’s not a boy.”)

Just the same, the ending is logical. I enjoyed this little tale.

Bio:

According to her blurb, author Holley Cornetto is a librarian originally from Alabama but now living in New Jersey.

The story can be read here.


Title: “Night Visions”
Author: Holley Cornetto
First published: Theme of Absence, August 21, 2020

Review of “Incarnate” by Dani Atkinson

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

Plot:

There isn’t too much of a plot to this, only an explanation. A mother talks to her small child—probably an infant—and explains why he is god. He’s not god in the sense that all people are divine, but in the sense that he really once was god: smiting people, blessing people, and all that follows. He had an adoring priesthood.

The problem with all that, as the mother explains her restless child, is that humanity was commanded to love a god who was impossible to love. Yet, it was impossible NOT to love him. How were they going to work their way out of this dilemma?

Thoughts:

What I found striking about this little piece was not only the cleverness with which people solved the problem of loving a violent, abusive god but the author’s use of language. Most of this is done in baby talk, but it is not mocking or condescending. Her opening paragraph reads:

Once there was a god. And that god was you. Yes, you, sweetie!

Those words are hard to read without hearing the opening of the Gospel of John:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

While the ending was logical, I wasn’t crazy about it. If the premise is not unique, the presentation is novel and entertaining. I enjoyed it.

Bio:

About the only bio information I could find on this author was that she’s been published three or four times in Daily Science Fiction, and she hates writing author bios.

The story can be read here.

Title: “Incarnate”
Author: Dani Atkinson
First published: Daily Science Fiction, August 17, 2020

Review of “Night Monster” (1942)

from IMDB

(…Delayed…) Saturday pizza and bad movie night. Started adding salad. Not a bad idea. Saw the movie with Svengoolie.

Plot:

In one troubling early scene, emotionally troubled Margaret Ingston (Fay Helm) comes across the imperious housekeeper, Sarah Judd (Doris Lloyd), trying to clean blood stains out of the carpeting on the stairs. She tells her that’s the maid’s job. She also tells her to let her know when an expected visitor, a psychiatrist, arrives. Mrs. Judd tells her to go to her room as if she were ill or an unruly child.

Secretly watching this exchange is Agor Singh (Nils Asther), whose motives and place in the household are yet unclear. It’s creepy, but not as creepy as the next scene, when the poor maid, Milly Carson (Janet Shaw), tries to call the Constable about all the “funny business” going on in the house. Butler Rolf (Bela Lugosi) hangs up to the phone on her. She pulls off her maid’s hat and quits. Chauffeur Laurie (Leif Erickson), chewing on a toothpick and ogling her, tells her to never mind Rolf. He’ll drive her to the train station. He has to go there anyway.

Laurie’s first attempt at finding the train station is to drive the car off the road and into some trees. He then accosts Milly. She objects, gets out, and walks. Into the fog. She screams.

At the train station, Laurie meets three doctors, (Lionel Atwill, Frank Reicher, and Francis Pierlot), whose treatment paralyzed (… or did it?) his boss, wealthy Kurt Ingston (Ralph Morgan). The three have been invited to Ingston’s isolated country home, Ingston Towers. They arrive, with varying degrees of discomfort over the part they played in their former patient’s becoming disabled. The year before, another doctor was murdered in a nearby marsh, but let’s not talk about that. The same night the three arrive, Ingston’s emotionally troubled sister Margaret is expecting a psychiatrist (Irene Harvey) to visit her at the house as a patient.

Also in the company are neighbor Dick Baldwin (Don Porter), a writer of whodunits.

Back at the creepy Ingston Towers, Agor Singh gives a demonstration of how he can materialize matter through concentration.

That night, the first of the doctors dies a horrible death.

Thoughts:

There is a lot of creepiness to this flick but also a lot of confusion. I spent more time than I wanted to thinking, “How does this guy fit in?” and “What is this person doing here?”

As each grisly body turns up, the viewer ponders who was where. Sure, the housekeeper is a mean old witch, but why would she kill all those people? And Laurie is a grabby sleazeball, but why would he commit those atrocities? What about the neighbor, Dick Baldwin? He has a lot of time on his hands. Bela Lugosi as Rolf is officious and menacing, but would he kill? As an aside, it’s nice to see him in a tux and not have him turn into a bat. And why would he do such a thing? Is Margaret nuts or just chaffing under the thumbs of her brother and the charming Mrs. Judd?

Confusing, creepy, funny business. It was a little hard to sort out at first, primarily because there are so many people, but once the viewer gets their bearings, this is a fair-to-middling horror flick.





Title: Night Monster (1942)

Directed by
Ford Beebe

Writing Credits
Clarence Upson Young…(original screenplay)

Cast (in credits order)
Bela Lugosi…Rolf
Lionel Atwill…Dr. King
Leif Erickson…Laurie (as Leif Erikson)
Irene Hervey…Dr. Lynne Harper
Ralph Morgan…Kurt Ingston

Released: October 20, 1942
Length: 1 hour, 13 minutes

Review of “Specimen 913” by R.D. Harris

Plot:

Doctor Corinne Broadway, a highly esteemed in zoological research, is conducting experiments with Specimen 913, a sentient rat she has named Jeffrey. Jeffrey is not only able to calculate grade-school verb math problems, but he also shows manners. He asks for more challenging problems, but, as Corinne tells him, the protocol has already been determined by the people who are paying for the experiments.

Jeffrey is aware of something Dr. Broadway doesn’t want him to know. Others have informed him.

“Conversations between the peons here are not what you would call subtle,” he tells her.

Thoughts:

This is an odd little read, with both characters caught traps they cannot escape. The lab rat is a lab rat whose existence is in the hands of his human handler. The human handler also must dance to tunes others call. Dr. Broadway knows the questions she asks Jeffrey pose no intellectual challenge to him, but she must ask them and no others because they are the ones those who pay for her research gave her. Having to act against her better judgment does not stop there.

I don’t think this story is intended as a slight to scientific research. If I were to pretend to peer inside the author’s mind and hazard a guess, I would say it’s more of a statement about the corrupting influence of money.

This is a sad but enjoyable little tale.

Bio:

According to his blurb, when he’s not writing, author R.D. Harris enjoys time with his kids, watching cartoons, and retro gaming. His work has appeared in Terraform[Motherboard], Galaxy’s Edge, and Liquid Imagination. Even though he is a member of the Horror Writers Association, the only thing scary about him is his verb-subject agreements.

“Specimen 913” can be read here.




Title: “Specimen 913”
Author: R.D. Harris
First published: Theme of Absence, August 14, 2020

Review of “Other Life Forms Are The Most Of Our Problems” by Anya Ow

Plot:

This is more of a setting than a plot. The (unnamed) prime minister of Australia joins a meeting of government and military officials. Outside, bushfires rage, and an alien spaceship hovers, inert, over the Museum of Old and New Art in Tasmania. It is so inert that seagulls have begun to use it as a roosting site.

“So it’s already interfering with local wildlife,” The prime minister makes a note of this and adds, “Inform me immediately if the seagulls visibly sicken.”

This concern surprises the deputy prime minister. “Why? They’re just seagulls. Nobody will care. We let a billion animals die during the last fire season, and we still got reelected.”

This same heartlessness is shown to the protesters outside. Who cares if the treehuggers die? Granted the mess would be embarrassing—

Thoughts:

In the meeting room, a few raise concerns over what the prime minister is doing and saying, but there is also a chorus of faceless brown-nosers, whose encouraging words appear out of thin air, and who laugh on demand.

While I appreciate many of the author’s witticisms (seagulls roosting on an alien spaceship? Cute.), I also feel like this tale is much a reflection of whatever chunk of the twenty-four-hour news cycle one happens to be watching at any given moment. I could not enjoy this piece. It’s all too familiar because it depicts the same callousness reflected in every accursed news broadcast for at least the last four years or so.

Having said that, I know that the story is not the author. In her story notes, author Anya Ow, who lives in Melbourne, speaks of the devastating fires Australia experienced last year:

“…for everyone who volunteered, who raised money or awareness or helped during the bushfire crisis, thank you.”


Bio:

According to her blurb, author Anya Ow was born in Singapore. She is a graphic designer, illustrator, cat minder, and ex-lawyer living in Melbourne. Her work has appeared in venues such as Strange Horizons, Uncanny, and Aurealis. Her first novella, Cradle and Grave, was published this year. She can be found on twitter: @anyasy or at uneasy.com.

“Other Life Forms Are The Most Of Our Problems” can be read here.




Title: “Other Life Forms Are The Most Of Our Problems”
Author: Anya Ow
First published: Daily Science Fiction, August 10, 2020

Review of “Creature with the Atom Brain” (1955)

from IMDB

Saturday night pizza and bad movie night with Svengoolie, a bit delayed. Guess I need some of those atom rays to help me on my way. Not interesed in dying first to get them though.

Plot:

The opening credits roll over shots of an expressionless man (an uncredited Karl “Killer” Davis) walking down a wooded lane. He has prominent surgical stitches across his forehead and walks with a lumbering gait. He drives up to a large building and watches silently.

The expressionless man breaks through a window and attacks a casino owner who is putting the night’s take into a wall safe. The expressionless man asks, ambiguously, “Do you remember Buchanan?

“But you’re not Buchanan,” the gangster says, gun trained on the intruder.

“I don’t look like him, but I am him.”

The words don’t belong to the expressionless man, but to a third man, Frank Buchanan (Michael Granger), speaking through a microphone. He, along with (mad?) scientist Dr. Wilhelm Steigg (Gregory Gaye), has devised a way to reanimate corpses and control them through electrodes implanted in the brains. Steigg decries that his work, intended for the good of mankind (really?), has been been hijacked to serve evil. Buchanan wants revenge on those who sent him to prison and had him deported.

Later, the police find quite the puzzle of a crime scene inside the large building. There is an open safe with six thousand dollars inside and a dead casino boss, whose spine and neck bones look like they were broken by twisting. The window has been smashed in. The rods on the iron fence outside have been bent as well. Crime scene investigator Dr. Chet Walker (Richard Denning) finds bloody fingerprints and shoeprints. Oddly, they glow in the dark. He takes a carpet sample and sends the fingerprints for identification.

The next day, District Attorney MacGraw (Tristram Coffin) is found dead in his garage. The attacks look similar. What could the two—a crime boss and a district attorney—have in common?

Thoughts:

The opening scenes with the zombie are genuinely creepy and imbued with unspoken menace. Later, the viewer learns this monster, and others like him, are charged with atomic energy, giving them superhuman strength. They can both kill a full-grown man and bend metal with their bare hands. Bullets can’t stop them. Their blood is radioactive, as Dr. Walker’s busy Geiger counter reveals. They have no volition or even awareness—they are dead, after all—but are controlled by a vengeful Buchanan, making the atmosphere all the creepier.

The district attorney and the cops ponder whether robbery could be a motive in the death of the gangster in light of the six thousand dollars left in an open safe.

“Maybe [the thief] didn’t want to get into a higher [tax] bracket,” says Capt. Dave Harris (S. John Launer).

Later, when the reporters ask about the iron fence, bent into odd and pleasant concentric rosettes, Dr. Walker tells them the intruder must have been taking his vitamins.

The same Dr. Walker arrives home to find his wife (Angela Stevens), the mother of his child, bent over cleaning something. He makes sure to stop a moment to ogle her rear end. Yeah, this is how one shows appreciation of a life partner.

On the one hand, this movie has it all: creepy atmosphere, goofy science (when it wasn’t just wrong, e.g., confusing Galvani with Faraday for starters), a police procedural, zombies, a mad scientist (albeit a whiny one), mobsters, smartass lines, sexist attitudes that would make the Stepford wives pack up and go home to mother, and a big zombie-cop shootout toward the end.  On the other hand, it gets… dull, the one unforgivable sin. This should be non-stop fun. The snoozer sections weren’t so long that they spoiled the movie for me, but it did decrease my enjoyment of it.



Title: Creature with the Atom Brain (1955)

Directed by
Edward L. Cahn 

Writing Credits
Curt Siodmak…(story)
Curt Siodmak…(screenplay)

Cast (in credits order)
Richard Denning…Dr. Chet Walker
Angela Stevens…Joyce Walker
S. John Launer…Capt. Dave Harris
Michael Granger…Frank Buchanan
Gregory Gaye…Dr. Wilhelm Steigg (as Gregory Gay)

Released: July 1955
Length: 1 hour, 9 mins

Review of “A Ghost’s Story” by James Rumpel

Image by coombesy from Pixabay

Plot:

One day in 2009, Neil Burton perished in a hail of snow peas. He’d been trying to re-arrange thousand-pound crates of vegetables with his forklift while eating a sandwich, and things didn’t go well.

The angel who met him at his demise explained his time was up, so regardless of what he’d done that day, he would have died. He now had two options. He could spend an undisclosed amount of time in Purgatory, or he could stay on earth as a ghost until he saved the soul of a living person. He figured the latter would be easier, rather than waiting around in Purgatory for some predetermined (and unknown) time. Why not be proactive, right?

Neil quickly discovers the living can neither see nor hear him, making his mission nearly impossible. His hands pass through solid matter. He cannot even sit down. He merely spends his days floating along, hovering above the ground.

Ten years pass. Neil is in a playground, amusing himself by pretending to be struck by the kids on the swings. He hears laughter.

Thoughts:

There’s nothing profound here (unless you need instruction in not chowing down on a sandwich with operating a forklift), but it is entertaining. The reader feels for Neil, who while he might have been a slacker in life, made the best choice he could with the limited information he had.

The author manages to keep the piece light-hearted without letting is slide into the facile or (egad!) maudlin. I enjoyed this.


Bio:

According to his blurb, author James Rumpel is a retired high school math teacher who has greatly enjoyed using his newfound additional free time to rekindle his love for science fiction and the written word.

“A Ghost’s Story” can be read here.

Reviews of other stories by the same author can be read here:

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Title: “A Ghost’s Story”
Author: James Rumpel
First published: Theme of Absence, August 7, 2020