Posts Tagged ‘science fiction’

At seventy-two, King has told people he only intends to retire “when God tells me to.” Given his latest book, a 557-page science-thriller, I doubt God will be giving him that message anytime soon. And if he keeps writing stories like The Institute, I’m completely fine with that. Especially if I can eventually get on his radar someday.

The Institute centers on Luke Ellis, a twelve-year-old prodigy who is planning on going to Boston for college in the fall. He also has some telekinetic abilities, though he can’t do more than move an empty pizza pan when he’s excited. Still, that’s enough to put him on the radar of The Institute, a shadowy facility in the backwoods of Maine. His parents are murdered, and he is spirited away, used in experiments that are supposed to enhance the psychic abilities he and other kids and teens have. And as time goes on, Luke not only gets a better idea of what sort of things they’re doing at the Institute, but realizes with growing anxiety that he has to get away. Before he is changed permanently. At least, changed more than he already has been.

What makes this story so scary, even though it’s more science-thriller than science-horror, is its plausibility. You can totally imagine a shadowy government or shadow government organization kidnapping kids and using them for their own ends.* There are a lot of comments on or callbacks to the Nazi experiments on concentration camp victims, and as a WWII/Holocaust scholar, those comments are extremely warranted.

Aside from that, this book is good. The characters feel real, and the Institute is well thought out, adding to the feeling you could see some of this stuff happening. Luke is a likable protagonist, smart but not arrogant about it (in fact, he worries a lot about being too arrogant with his intellect), polite, and eager to help his friends. Likewise, the staff of the Institute feel real as well, particularly how they can do what they do and think of the kids as less-than-human.

As for the Institute, it’s big and is usually good at keeping the kids within the boundaries of the facility, but it also has its issues such as faulty equipment and staff rivalries, which makes it feel real. It could almost feel like your own workplace. Just evil and incredibly cruel.

Of course, the story isn’t totally perfect. I’m not going to fault it due to the fact that it’s not one of King’s terror-inducing stories like IT, we all know he’s great at writing more than horror. Nor am I going to fault the book due to the return of psychic powers. After all, stories where psychic abilities feature prominently, like Carrie and The Shining, are why King is a household name today. But I will admit the ending does feel a little expository and may not give everyone the sense of satisfaction people are looking for. That is a criticism I’m comfortable making.

However, on the whole The Institute is a strong entry into the Stephen King bibliography, a slow-burn that will leave you uncomfortable and yet unable to put the book down. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving it a 4.2. Whether you’re using your mind or your hands, I recommend lifting up a copy and giving it a read this Halloween season.

And that reminds me, welcome to October! As a horror writer, I’ll have plenty to share with you during the most wonderful time of the year (and yes, it is the most wonderful time of the year. Read this post if you don’t believe me). We’ll have reviews, writing updates, discussions of horror, and possibly a demonic summoning. Look forward to it, my Followers of Fear. And until next time, pleasant nightmares!

*Just so you know, I’m not going to directly comment on any parallels between this novel and current events, though plenty of people, including King himself, have done that already. My current job makes doing so difficult. If I ever get the opportunity to write full-time, that’ll change. In the meantime though, I’ll just keep my mouth shut and stick to reviewing stories on their own merits.

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My friend Matt Williams, who introduced me to Castrum Press nearly eighteen months ago as a prospective client, has published two books with Castrum. One of them, The Cronian Incident, has recently been released as an audio book. I’d previously read the book when it was released, so I was curious as to what it would be like as an audio book. Would my opinion of the book change because I read it with my ears instead of my eyes? Would the narrator totally ruin the story?

I started listening on the ride home from Mansfield on June 2nd, and finished it up today. And I have to say, I have some thoughts. Not on The Cronian Incident, though if you like hard science fiction and you enjoy a little mystery as well, I recommend it. No, on the experience of listening to a friend’s book on audio.

I’ve long held the opinion that authors have two or three different voices. There’s the one we use in our day-to-day conversations; the ones we use in our social media and blog posts; and our writing voices, the ones we use for storytelling. Our blogging voices may share similarities with our speaking voices, but our writing voices are another animal entirely. That voice is separating itself from us, the writers, to note details, describe point-of-views, and philosophize through the eyes of various characters. It’s storytelling, in other words, and that may have nothing to do to whichever writer that voice belongs to.

So here I am. I’m used to Matt’s blogging and social media voice. We often talk on Messenger and occasionally on each other’s blog posts. And his writing voice sounds nothing like that voice. It sounds instead like a lot of the sci-fi novels I read in high school and college, building this world for me involving space travel and cybernetic implants and robotic doctors and so much else. There’s a diverse vocabulary, incorporating more words than used in daily conversation. The characters see things differently than Matt might in a similar situation. It’s a bit of a change. One I’ve done more than a few times (comes with having so many writer friends) but still a change.

And then there’s the audio book. You recognize the scenes and the words, but it’s a voice different than what you read the book with. It’s someone independent of the author, your friend, telling you the story anew, giving their own takes on how the characters sound, deciding whether a specific passage should sound tense or humorous, etc. It’s kind of like if, in a creative writing class, your best friend shares their work with the class, and then instead of your friend’s voice, Neil Gaiman’s voice slipped out! It’s a bit of a shocker.

The good thing is, it’s a shocker you can get used to. Most of the shock comes from knowing the author, so once you get used to having someone other than your friend (unless your friend narrated their own audio book, that is), it’s an enjoyable experience. You can dive in and become immersed in the story. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what every writer wants to happen when people read their books.

But tell me, have you ever listened to an audio book based on a friend’s novel? What was it like? Let’s discuss.

Oh, and if you’re wondering if Rose will ever make it into audio book format, let’s just say my publisher and I have talked a bit about it, but it’s waaay too early to even get excited about it. Let’s just focus on making sure the paperback/ebook release goes well before we start planning anything else.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. If this post got you curious about The Cronian Incident, you can find it on Amazon and Audible. And remember, Rose comes out this Friday, June 21st. I’ll hopefully be posting preorder link tomorrow, so keep an eye out for that post. And until next time, pleasant nightmares!

My car, the Unholy Roller.

This past weekend was a busy one for me, all due to it being the Jewish holiday of Passover (which, if you’re unfamiliar, is us celebrating the events movies like Ten Commandments and Prince of Egypt are based on). Among other things, I somehow ended up tying the musical Hamilton to two different dinners, played a prank on my stepmom that I posted on YouTube (you can watch it here), ate more food lacking in yeast and drank more wine than is probably recommended, and watched a lot of anime and Lucifer.

However, what feels for me like the highlight of my weekend was something quite different. As some of you know, I only got my driver’s license this past July after nearly ten years of on-and-off instruction and practice, and my car, the Unholy Roller, this past October. Since then, I’ve had a number of firsts: driving to work, driving to the movie theater, driving on the highway without anyone else beside me, driving at night, driving in the rain, driving in the rain at night, driving at night in the rain on the highway (not something I’m ready to repeat anytime soon). And this past weekend, I racked up another first: my first road trip.

You see, I live in Columbus, Ohio and my dad lives in Cleveland, which meant I had to drive up to Cleveland to attend his Seder (Passover ritual meal), and then drive back the next day. And I was driving up by myself.

Honestly, I was more than a little nervous. I’ve never driven that long or that far on my own, and while I’ve gotten comfortable driving on highways, I’ll never like doing so. But I got some good advice before I embarked, and I made sure to have caffeine and snacks, as well as a full tank of gas, before setting out. And you know what? It went well. Very well. In fact, the ride back home was almost enjoyable. I listened to an audio book both ways, Red Rising by Pierce Brown,* which is one of my favorite science-fiction stories and which kept me calm in the absence of music. This allowed me to enjoy the passing scenery (Ohio has some lovely mountains and farmlands) and keep an eye on the road without getting antsy.

It was fine. Even better, it was fine. And dare I say it…it was fun at times. Lots of fun.

I guess this makes sense for Passover. The ancient Israelites had never been outside Egypt prior to the Exodus, and had no idea of what to expect, though they had been prepared for the trip for a while now. But they left, crossed the Red Sea, and…found numerous instances to complain and want to go back to Egypt, which eventually led to no Israelites entering Israel until all the generation who had known Egypt died off forty years later. But if they hadn’t freaked out and tried to turn around anytime they faced a small inconvenience, they would’ve enjoyed life in the Holy Land instead of dying in the desert.

And I went on a trip, with only a vague idea of what to expect. But I didn’t freak out every time a driver cut in front of me without signaling and tried to turn off and go home. And in the end, I got to my hotel in one piece, enjoyed dinner with my family, and somehow ended up rapping a mini-medley of Hamilton songs with the lyrics changed to reflect Passover (yeah, that was a thing. And it is something only heavy demand will make me repeat). And the next day I got home, easy as pie, with enough time afterwards to relax before cooking dinner.

I would love to revisit the Reformatory and reconnect with the ghosts there someday soon.

And perhaps I’ll do the trip again. I’ve applied for some vacation time at work, and I’d like to spend a few days in Cleveland with my dad and see some of the city’s sites, including the cemetery where James Garfield is buried (yes, I’m bringing the dowsing rods), as well as go back to the Ohio State Reformatory and check out some other haunted locations in Ohio. Now that I know I can, it should be a breeze.

Oh, and before I forget, on the way up I made a pit stop in the village of Bellville, Ohio, which I found to be quintessential small-town Ohio at its best. The Waze app on my phone had me drive around the place a little bit in order to get back on the interstate, and I was charmed by what I saw. Bellville feels like the perfect place to set a novel, and I even have an idea for one cooking in my head. I’ll have to visit again at some point so I can write it and make it feel real. Maybe after visiting my dad and the Reformatory?

I just hope nobody in Bellville minds their town being the setting of a horror novel. Otherwise, I might never be able to return!

Well, that’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m off to have dinner and then do some writing. In the meantime, I’m still looking for advanced readers for my upcoming fantasy-horror novel Rose, being released by Castrum Press. The story follows a young woman who starts turning into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems). In exchange for an early electronic copy, all I ask is you read it and consider posting a review after the book is released. If interested, please email me at ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com.

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

*They’re slight, but there are some parallels between Moses and Darrow, the main character of Red Rising, which is why I listened to it. Totally recommend the book, by the way. If you want a science-fiction story about a revolution of the have-nots against the haves in a dystopian world but want it to be much more immersive and smarter than Hunger Games, the Red Rising series might just be for you.

It’s no secret that, along with horror, I’m a huge anime fan. In fact, I’ve dedicated posts to my love of Sailor Moon and to my favorite manga of all time, Red River. And because I wanted a change of pace, I figured I’d put out a list of some off the anime I’ve been enjoying lately or continue to enjoy years after I watch them. Along with Sailor Moon and Red River, these might be good places to start delving into what has become a worldwide phenomenon over the past several years. Or if you’re already a fan and just want something new to dive into, these could be good choices.

And of course, I’d love to hear from people who have already seen these series and enjoy them as much as I do.

So with all that said, let’s dive in. Here’s 8 anime I recommend.

1. Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion

Another one of my favorite anime, this still influences me as much as Sailor Moon does. In a world where Britain is the Holy Britannian Empire and has conquered over a third of the world, an exiled Britannian prince in hiding in the recently-conquered Japan gains the power to control and influence people under certain circumstances. He dons a disguise and starts a rebellion against his father’s empire, while his best friend takes up arms against his rebel alter-ego on Britannia’s side.

An excellent show combining war, chess-level battle strategy, political intrigue, romance, high school drama, and giant robots. All in a cool two seasons that have spawned several mangas, games, a movie series, and even a new season coming out later this year (I will catch it as soon as I catch the movies, because apparently this season is a direct sequel to them). This is not a series to be missed, believe me.

2. Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid

A programmer by the name of Kobayashi (first name never mentioned) gets drunk one night, goes into the mountains, and stumbles across a dragon. She pulls a sword out of the dragon’s back, saving its life. The next day the dragon appears at Kobayashi’s apartment as a human girl to become her maid. Hijinks ensue.

This is one of the most popular animes out there right now, and it’s only thirteen episodes long! It’s just a silly fish-out-of-water story with dragons, but goddammit it is fun. They’re hilarious and heartwarming characters, learning to get along with this world and have a good time. I sometimes just watch some of my favorite episodes because they make me relaxed and lift up my mood. I highly recommend to anyone looking for a fun and laidback series with lots of laughs.

And it’s worth a watch just for the “How to Tame Your Dragon” joke in episode 2 (only available in the English dub).

3. Zombie Land Saga

A teenage girl named Sakura Minamoto dies in a car crash after she leaves for school one day. Ten years later she’s resurrected as a zombie, her mind and personality intact but her memories lost. That is crazy enough, but then the guy who resurrected her, a weirdo named Kotaro Tatsumi, informs her that she and six other zombie girls must form a pop idol group and become popular enough to somehow “save” the Japanese equivalent of the state of Idaho (sorry Idahoans, but the only time I ever hear anything out of your state is when there’s a presidential election). All while keeping their identities as zombies a secret from the public.

Considered by many to be one of the best anime of 2018 (including yours truly), this anime is a satire making fun of the Japanese idol industry as a whole as well as the anime focusing on them (yeah, that’s a genre). It’s hilarious even if you’re not familiar with either industry or genre, and it’s heartwarming too, with a cast of characters you grow to love and root for by the third episode. And it has the best examples of a trans character and a disabled character I’ve ever seen in anime. That alone makes it truly special.

You should give it a watch just for the outta nowhere rap battle in episode 2.

4. Shimoneta: A Boring World in Which the Concept of a Dirty Joke Doesn’t Exist

You know how there are people who believe if pornography and swearing were banned by law and sex education highly regulated, a more pure society would arise and people would naturally become better? Imagine if technology got to the point where that was enforceable and Japan somehow tried to make this happen. That’s the concept of Shimoneta, which follows a young man who wants nothing more than to be a moral, upright citizen and distance himself from his father, who was jailed for protesting the government’s efforts to over-regulate sex education and sexual content. Too bad he gets wrapped up with a classmate of his who is secretly a “dirty terrorist” and wants to decriminalize potty mouths and sexual content in our everyday media, and ends up founding an organization with her.

It’s a brilliant thought experiment on the part of the anime, and gives both sides of the argument, as well as what happens when either side becomes too extreme, a fair hearing. Of course, being anime it does it with as many dirty jokes as possible, to the point I’m surprised my floor isn’t covered in dirt whenever I watch it, but it’s still a brilliant anime. If you want a raunchy comedy with brains behind it, Shimoneta may be for you.

5. That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime

One of the latest entries in the isekai genre,* a 37-year-old businessman is stabbed to death after a mugging gone wrong, and ends up being reincarnated in a world out of a fantasy game. The thing is, he’s been reincarnated as a slime monster. Which normally would suck, but he soon finds himself becoming a protector for the many peoples living in the area he reincarnated in and taking on several foes with his unique powers. Within the span of a few episodes, this slime, renamed Rimuru Tempest, will become a great player to the events of his new world.

This anime has recently wrapped its first season, and a second season is already ordered for next year. Not hard to see why, with great animation/visuals, and relatable characters, especially Rimuru who is kind and funny and makes being a ball of slime look desirable. All set in a rich world filled with a variety of creatures with unique abilities and cultures. And my God, I think the society Rimuru creates should be the model for every community in the world who wants to make coexistence between different groups a thing. I’m kind of jealous.

6. The Rising of the Shield Hero

A darker isekai than the last entry, this is considered one of the most controversial anime in recent years (and its first season still isn’t over). A young man is transported to another world with three other teens to become the legendary four heroes who will save this world from Waves, invasions of terrible monsters bent on destroying the world. Problem is, he gets to be the Shield Hero, which compared to Sword, Spear and Arrow isn’t as cool. As if that weren’t bad enough, soon after arriving in this new world, he is betrayed and finds himself losing all his money, dignity and respect, even from the other three heroes. Alone, unable to trust anyone and still required to go save the world, he ends up buying a slave named Raphtalia to help him in his missions, and sets out to destroy the Waves. At the same time though, will he find a way to redeem himself and find hope again?

As I said, this is one of the most controversial anime of recent years, due in part to how the protagonist is betrayed (I won’t go into why here, you’ll have to watch the first episode and decide for yourself if you want to go further afterwards). However, I will say that besides that, it is a great story of someone going against impossible odds and trying to find hope again. I look forward to every Wednesday when a new episode comes out, and will be waiting eagerly for the next twelve or thirteen on the way.

7. My Hime

Also known as Mai-Hime, this is from the same studio that brought us Code Geass. A teen girl and her sickly younger brother go to an exclusive boarding school, only to find out that the girl is a Hime, one of thirteen girls selected to participate in a ritual that occurs in the area around the school every couple centuries. Armed with fire magic and a dragon named Kagutsuchi, she must fight off terrible monsters or risk losing all she cares for. But there’s a secret plot afoot at the school involving the Hime, and if she isn’t careful, the teen girl will be the latest victim to fall prey to the ritual’s dark purpose.

I own this series on DVD, and still break it out every couple of years. It takes what seems to be a lighthearted story and expertly adds darker elements over time, drawing us in to the plot as well as into the lives of these characters. I’d give it a try if I were you.

8. My Otome

A spin-off/sequel to My Hime (it’s heavily hinted the events of My Hime cause the events of My Otome), a teen girl goes to a famous school for Otome, women who use nanotechnology to become superpowered warriors and keep wars at bay by working directly for the rulers of different nations. The girl goes there hoping to become an Otome and find out who her mother, a former Otome, was. While there, she makes friends, falls in love, and becomes embroiled in a plot to take over not just the country the school is located in, but the whole world.

This anime features a lot of characters from the original anime (possibly reincarnated after several centuries), and a less cosmic/Apocalypse-themed plot, but at the same time allows these new characters to shine and has the same expert storytelling as the previous series. If you like My Hime, definitely check out My Otome.

Well, that’s eight anime I recommend. Thanks for sticking with me through this long article. But tell me, which anime peaked your interest? Have you seen any of the above-mentioned shows? What were your thoughts? And what would you recommend seeing? Let’s discuss.

And if you like anime and horror, maybe consider becoming an advanced reader for my upcoming novel Rose, about a young woman who starts turning into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems). The concept itself is influenced by anime and my love of the medium, and I think it shows. If this at all interests you, send an email to ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com and I’ll put you on the list. Thanks, and I look forward to hearing from you.

*For those unaware, isekai stories are about people from our world who end up in alternate worlds or dimensions with strong fantasy or sci-fi elements. They often end up becoming chosen heroes, going on quests, or otherwise becoming central to the events of the world they’re in. Sometimes these worlds are real life versions of video games the protagonist is playing prior to changing dimensions, is itself a video game, or has some video game elements. It’s one of the most popular genres out there right now. The more you know.

Well first off, I did order a hard copy of The Complete Works of HP Lovecraft. That should arrive by Thursday. In the meantime, now that I’ve finished reading his entire body of work,* I thought I’d take a moment to list my favorite stories of his work. Why? Because A) I want to, and B) despite the overuse of 18th century language and enough racism to make me want to punch the guy, there are some good stories here worth reading. And if anyone ever wanted to try HP Lovecraft but didn’t know where to start, and if they trust my reviews at all, I think this would be helpful.

So starting from Number 8 and working our way up, let’s go over my Top 8 HP Lovecraft Stories.

#8: The Lurking Fear

You ever go hiking or driving through a mountain range at night and expect something like Jason Voorhees to pop out? I have, and it’s enough to make you really question your decision to ever set foot in those areas. Such is the force behind The Lurking Fear, about a reporter who goes into the Catskill mountains to investigate reports of monster attacks on local villages, and comes across something much more sinister. It’s a story that takes advantage of its setting and using a monster unseen to create the sense of horror. And while the twist might be slightly predictable, it still does add to the sense of horror you feel reading it. Fans of the movie The Descent should especially like this one.

 

#7: Pickman’s Model

Art can both exhilarate and terrify, move people to tears and to action. And in some cases, it can even haunt us forever. Pickman’s Model follows an artist who becomes friends with the titular Richard Upton Pickman, an artist whose work tends to lean more towards the horrific, and how that art seems to have an effect on both the men and their environment. This is a scary story with a fun twist at the end that shows just how the world and art can play with each other and change each other in unexpected ways.

Also, I think if anyone wanted to update the setting to a high school art club and Pickman as an angsty teen, it would make a great student film. Someone please make that happen!

 

#6: Cool Air

Written during Lovecraft’s brief stay in New York City and considered by some to be one of his best stories from that period, Cool Air tells the literally chilling tale of a young man who becomes friends with a doctor living in the apartment above him who always keeps his apartment cold. The twist at the end of this story is also kind of predictable, but it’s got a great atmosphere and is engaging from beginning to end. Plus it’s one of the few times Lovecraft depicts non-white people in a positive light, which makes it worthy of a read in and of itself. Remember to read with a warm blanket handy.

The Colour out of Space

#5: The Colour out of Space

One of Lovecraft’s most memorable and beloved stories, this story about a crashed meteor and the strange colorful substance inside it that affects a farming family that can’t leave their old homestead has terrified generations of readers. It’s especially memorable for the unsettling atmosphere it creates and for being a great early example of the sub-genre of science-horror. I’d consider it perfect reading for Halloween and you’re in the mood for something creeping, agoraphobia-inducing, and just slightly weird.

 

#4: The Temple

This early Lovecraft story isn’t as well-known as some of his other works, but it’s a favorite of mine. When a WWI German submarine sinks a British sub, they start experiencing strange phenomena that slowly drives the crew members to the brink of sanity, as well as a place only seen in nightmares. Claustrophobic and full of just enough strange elements to make you feel very creeped out by the inexplicable nature of it all, it tends to stick in your mind once you read it. I hope someday there’s a big budget adaptation of the story, or even a small budget that maximizes atmosphere without excessive CGI. That would be the shit!

Or maybe it would just be shit, but I can dream, can’t I?

 

#3: The Call of Cthulhu

I bet many of you were wondering where this one would be on the list. The most famous of his stories and the one where the entity Lovecraft’s mythos is named after, it follows a professor who becomes aware of a dangerous, worldwide cult while going through his late uncle’s effects. Weaving its story slowly to make you really consider that this cult and its horrible god may not only be dangerous but very real, it’s endured for a reason. I would recommend this one to anyone looking to get the essence of Lovecraft in one story, as well as to check out the silent film adaptation from 2005, modeled to look out it came out around the same time as the story was published (though much better than your average silent film).

And remember, Ph’nglui mglaw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah-nagl fhtagn.

Spelled that correctly the first time around! Yeah baby!

Shunned House

#2: Shunned House

This Gothic horror story follows two professors who investigate a house where every previous occupant has come to an unfortunate end and discover a terrible entity within. While not as well known as his more cosmic-horror works, this story absolutely entranced and terrified me while on a car ride home from Detroit in the summer of 2016. Blending a setting whose rot you can practically smell with a welcome twist on an old monster (let’s just say, no sparkling here), Shunned House used to be my favorite story prior to the #1 choice, and I would recommend it to any horror fan out there.

Also, I have an idea for a ballet based on this story. Yes, you’ve read that right, a ballet. And I would help in any way I can to bring that to life. BalletMet (or any other ballet company) email me. Let’s talk and make it happen.

 

#1: The Shadow over Innsmouth

I only read this story last week, but it immediately became my favorite of his work. A young man makes a side trip to a small fishing village in New England, and discovers that the strange townsfolk all share a terrible secret. Gothic, unnerving and with more action than your average Lovecraft story, it’s a great story about how the desire for prosperity can lead to damning consequences for both you and your descendants. If you want Lovecraft at his best, this is the story I’d recommend above all others. Definitely check it out.

 

That’s my top 8 Lovecraft stories. And while, as I’ve said before, his works don’t really age that well, there’s plenty to pick up from these stories for even causal horror fans. And if you do, I hope you–holy crap, a portal from another world just opened up in my apartment. Excuse me while I go greet an entity from another universe and keep it from either eating all of humanity or impregnating everyone in my apartment building, I’m not sure which (I’m a little rusty on this universe’s language).

Until next time my Followers of Fear, pleasant nightmares!

Have you read any of these stories? What did you think? What others would you put on this list?

*Well, the official canon, anyway. Lovecraft also did a lot of ghost-writing and collaborations that aren’t normally included in collections of his work. Considering Through the Gates of the Silver Key is one of them, I can see why.

 

There’s a certain era of British history that writers write about maybe more than the medieval era. This era witnessed unprecedented growth and change for the British empire, as well as many of the greatest contributions to literature in the past three hundred years. Not to mention a whole lot of material for bodice rippers and horror stories.

I’m talking about the Victorian era. Named, rather obviously, after Queen Victoria, who sat on the British throne from June 1837 until January 1901. This has long been an era of interest to authors of a number of different genres, as well as among the general populace. Every year, hundreds of works of fiction come out set in that era: novels and short stories, movies, TV shows, comic books. We also have at least a couple of new books on any given topic of the era, and there are Victorian enthusiasts all over the world who research that age like crazy and even like to dress up as Victorians.

But what is it about the Victorian era that entrances people? Why do so many authors visit this age to write?* Well, I have a few guesses as to why that is:

  • The romance and glitz of the era. I think this is our first association with the Victorian age. I don’t know where or when this association popped up, but it’s the main reason. More than any other reason, there’s a romanticism to that age. Perhaps it might have something to do with the number of famous novels that came out during that era. A number of them have romance as an important plot or subplot. And as many of these books have endured the test of time, they’ve colored our associations of that age.
    Which brings me to the next point:

  • The literature. While I’m not the biggest fan of the Victorians’ writing style (racism aside, if he weren’t a halfway decent writer, I’d give up on Lovecraft for taking too much after them), it’s undeniable that many of the authors from that age left quite a mark on our modern literature. We still read Charles Dickens in classrooms across the world, and there are countless adaptations of A Christmas Carol out there. The Bronte sisters have all created works that have been held up as timeless romances for generations of readers. And as my good friend Angela Misri will tell you, no character has become more synonymous with the word “detective” than Sherlock Holmes. Truly the literature of the age has had an effect on our view of it.
  • An era of widespread change. Victorian Britain went through an amazing number of changes during Victoria’s reign. The most obvious, of course, was this was the age of the Industrial Revolution. Factories and manufacturing became the hub of the economy, and millions moved to the cities to find work. This change also contributed to a number of new work practices, as well as contributing to the overcrowding of cities and the widening gap between the rich and the poor that we still see today. This was also when Britain spread its empire across the world and into new territories, including parts of Africa and the Indian subcontinent.
    But there were other changes. For example, who was allowed to vote was widened, women gained many more rights, and education became available to the lower classes. And that’s just scratching the surface of the number of changes that occurred while Victoria was on the throne.

And of course, Jack the Ripper’s the perfect embodiment of the age’s dark side.

  • Victorian Britain had a dark and dirty underbelly. While most of us associate the era with glitz and romance, there’s a darker side to Queen Victoria’s age. Poverty was widespread, and many people struggled to make ends meet. Women often had to turn to prostitution just to get a bite to eat or a place to sleep for the night. Many turned to alcohol or opium to numb their troubles. This was the background that allowed Jack the Ripper to hunt down those prostitutes.
    On top of that, medicine, cosmetics, and foods were more likely to kill out of you than help you. Opium or arsenic in your gout cure, lead in your foundation, poor refrigeration and rat droppings in your meat. Hell, your clothes could choke you to death and the dyes could stain your skin for months. People bathed only once a week, and the rest of the time they used heavy perfumes to mask the smell. And if you lived in London, you could expect mud and shit to line the roads rather than bricks!
    And God help you if you had a mental illness. Or a woman who wanted anything more than being a dutiful wife and mother. You could get locked up and have cold water dumped on your head from great heights while doctors came up with all sorts of crazy reasons for why you were mad. Common reasons include not being religious enough, having faulty menstruation, or masturbating.
    Yeah, you laugh, but imagine having to live through it. Pretty nasty, right? It was even worse if you were Irish. The Irish potato famine was going on around this time, and let me tell you, the folks in Parliament could’ve done a lot more to help out with that.
  • It lends itself to many genres. This is probably the biggest reason of all: it’s adaptable to many stories. Historical fiction, obviously, but you’ll find the Victorians appearing in many different kinds of stories. Romances are often set in that world, but also science fiction (steampunk especially), horror stories (Gothic and ghost stories especially, and some cosmic horror too), fantasies (especially ones with fairies or little girls falling down rabbit holes) and of course, mysteries and thrillers.

All these and more are why the Victorians enjoy such staying power in our media. It’s a perfect storm of factors for making a time period not only endure in literature, but give it a special cast that makes it interesting to the writer and average person alike.

I actually first fell in love with the Victorians while in college. I read a manga set in Victorian England, and while it was heavy on the romance and glitz, it got me interested. I’ve kept reading since then, and found out quite a bit more. And seeing as during my research, I’ve come up with more than a few ideas for stories, all that research will definitely come in handy.

If you would like to dive into the Victorian world and learn a bit about it, here are my recommendations:

If you want a good intro to Victorian England, this might be a good gateway drug for it.

  • Emma by Kaoru Mori. In no way related to the novel by Jane Austen, this historical romance manga was my first real introduction to the Victorian period. Beautiful art and a simple yet engaging story.
  • Victorian Britain from The Great Courses. Narrated by Professor Allitt of Emory University, this series of lectures is a great overview of the period for the average visitor.
  • The Complete Jack the Ripper by Donald Rumbelow. You want to know the most about the most notorious serial killer in history and cut through all the rumor and bullshit? This is the book for you.
  • How to Be a Victorian by Ruth Goodman. You want to know what the average life of a Victorian was like? From rich to poor, this is the book for you.
  • Victoria: A Life by A.N. Wilson. A friend from college sent this to me as a birthday present. It’s a rather eye-opening look at Queen Victoria’s life and reign.
  • Unmentionable by Therese O’Neill. Want to know all about Victorian bathroom habits, and the stuff they don’t talk about in the bodice rippers or polite society? You will laugh yourself silly with this one. Trust me, I just finished it yesterday, I would know.

Well, I’ve about talked your ear off on this age. But can you see why? It’s a fascinating era, and it’s one that’s going to continue to show up in fiction for years to come (especially if I can write a good story or two in it). And it’s amazing how just one woman’s reign, the first in centuries in her country that nearly never happened (seriously, read how she became heir to the throne. It’s insane!), has endured as much as it had. Whether romantic and shiny or dark and seedy, there’s a story in this era just for you.

Do you enjoy or write about Victorian England? Why? Why do you think it’s so popular?

What media do you recommend for anyone wanting to learn about the era?

*I’m not suggesting, by the by, that this age is visited more than any other. One needs only look at the breadth of literature to see that storytellers are drawing from all of known history and even from dark prehistory to tell stories. I just chose Victoria’s reign because that one has special importance to me, as you can tell.

I’ve mentioned things like “Lovecraftian horror’ or “cosmic horror” before on this blog, but I’ve never really gone into what those terms mean. And given that someone on the Internet is probably wondering what those terms mean and I need a break from trying to figure out how to end a short story, I thought I’d take a moment to look over what it means when horror fans call something “cosmic horror.”

I actually summed up cosmic horror pretty well last month with a little joke that I shared on my social media. Here’s how it goes:

Knock knock!

Who’s there?

Yog-sothoth.

Yog-sothtoth who?

Your mind couldn’t handle the answer.

Now you’re probably confused by that joke. But in actuality, it summarizes what cosmic horror is pretty well. Namely, there are answers and truths to questions that the human mind can’t handle. And not just answers, but even beings, beings that don’t fit into any sort of recognizable mythology or concept of good and evil. In this sort of horror, humanity is the equivalent of ants in the grand scheme of things, and if they come across any of the things that they shouldn’t–beings of unimaginable size and power, truths that go against everything we’ve ever believed, abilities and technologies that seem blasphemous to human viewpoints–the very contact could kill us or drive us insane. And even if our minds survived in some recognizable state, we would be forever changed. And probably not for the better.

If you haven’t grasped why that’s so scary, let me use an analogy: imagine you’re a farmer living in England in 1066, and a man from the year 2166* comes by and tells you that the world isn’t flat, but round; that the Earth flies around the sun and not the other way around; and that space is a cold and mostly empty void rather than a sphere surrounded by God’s Heaven and angels. Well, you’d obviously think the man from 2166 was crazy. But then he takes you back to his time, and he lives on a ship orbiting the Earth. You see the round Earth below while you float weightless in space and see the dark void beyond Earth. And things like science, gravity, etc. mean absolutely nothing to you. And everything’s new and strange to you, lights too bright and shadows too dark, and the sounds you hear make no sense.

Can you start to see how this could tear at someone’s mind? That someone could be afraid of this?

A universe of incomprehensible beings and terrible secrets is the basis of cosmic horror.

And that’s why cosmic horror has been so popular since HP Lovecraft basically created it back in the early 20th century (which is why it’s also known as Lovecraftian horror). It basically takes the old Judeo-Christian concept of good vs. evil, God versus the Devil, etc, which is essentially a closed and somewhat understandable system, and throws it wide open to a universe where there are multiple forces, none of which are easy to grasp or empathize with, let alone categorize into good vs. evil.

But how do you write it? Well, it’s more than including big, powerful beings that drive people mad (though that is often a feature). They’re more a vehicle for the broader theme: a sense of helplessness, that the universe is big and dark and full of awful things, that humanity is inconsequential and our dealings with the big players never lead to anything good. That, and a sense of untapped mystery can’t hurt. Think the first two Alien films or a dark version of 2001: A Space Odyssey‘s aliens, and you might get the idea.

If you want a better grasp of cosmic horror, I’d suggest looking at some of Lovecraft’s stories.** I recommend The Temple, The Call of Cthulhu, and The Dunwich Horror. I also recommend checking out other writers who use cosmic horror, including Stephen King, Guillermo del Toro, and so many more. Heck, I’ve got a few stories that have some cosmic horror in them. If they ever get published, I’ll let you know.

Cosmic horror can be hard to wrap your mind around sometimes, but once you do, it can open you to all sorts of terrible worlds. And if you can stand what you find, perhaps you will delve deeper. Just be careful when you do. You might not be the same when you come up, after all.

Do you like cosmic horror? What cosmic horror works would you recommend to the unitiated?

*Assuming humanity lives that long, what with global warming and a rising population. You know it’s true!

**If you can stomach his racism. Yeah, I love his work and contribution to horror, but I hate what he believed. If he were around today, I’d either punch him, ignore him for being an asshole, or recommend he take some anti-anxiety medication, get some therapy and maybe some exposure to other communities.