Halloween Reading

In the lead-up to Halloween, I’ve been indulging in a mix of comic books and novels that fit the season. Throughout the year, I’ve been reading the Van Helsing Versus the League of Monsters miniseries published by Zenescope Entertainment. This month saw the release of the finale, so I took time to re-read the entire series. October’s selections for the Vampyre Library Book Club were the first two novels in Charlaine Harris’s “True Blood” series, Dead Until Dark and Living Dead in Dallas.

At their roots, Halloween and horror fiction are about humans facing the one thing they can never escape—death. The confrontation can bring out the best and worst in people. They might face death with bravery and dignity or they might do everything they can to run away from it. They may even try to cheat death, but that usually has horrible consequences.

The “True Blood” novels tell the story of telepathic cocktail waitress Sookie Stackhouse who has started dating a vampire named Bill Compton. In Dead Until Dark, a murderer is stalking women who date vampires. Of course, Sookie would like to see this murder caught before they come for her. Along the way, her grandmother is killed, her brother is thrown in jail, and Sookie must face the real murderer. In the second novel, Bill is asked to bring Sookie to Dallas to help solve the mystery of a vampire’s disappearance. She ends up a captive of a church who wants nothing more than to see all vampires destroyed. I’ve been enjoying these novels because Sookie is an ordinary person who rises to extraordinary heights when confronted by death.

Van Helsing Versus the League of Monsters is sort of a cross between a superhero comic and those great Universal Monster Mash-ups of the 1940s like Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man or The House of Frankenstein, which adds Dracula to the mix. Zenescope’s title character is Liesel Van Helsing, daughter of the famous vampire hunter. In this set of comics she teams up with other Zenescope heroines such as Robyn Hood and Angelica Blackstone to face off against Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, a group of werewolves and more. As with most comics, the heroines of Van Helsing face death with a quip upon their lips and stylish action, but they are ready to throw their lives on the line for humanity.

Both sets of books are good fun romps. Of course, both have vampires in common. I’ve long been fascinated by the different ways vampires are used in fiction. Sometimes they’re the implacable monsters who have seemingly defeated death. Sometimes they exist as a metaphor for addictive behavior. Some vampires are heroes and many are villains. I’ve long thought an extended life could either be a blessing or a curse. It all depends on what you do with it.

My Halloween reading doesn’t tend to stop on October 31. I’ll keep reading scary stuff well into November. Somewhere around Thanksgiving, I may turn to some lighter fare to get into the spirit of Christmas. Or maybe I’ll keep reading spooky stuff. Of course, it wouldn’t be Christmas if there weren’t a few ghosts lurking in the shadows. With that in mind, allow me to present you with a couple of Halloween treats. First is a reminder that Vampires of the Scarlet Order is November’s selection for the Vampyre Library Book Club. You can learn more by joining the Facebook group at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/663608917753704. I’ll be sharing behind the scenes looks at the novel throughout the month, then Vampyre Librarian Steven Foley will interview me at the end of the month. If you attend, you’ll be entered to win some cool prizes.

If you’re more interested in ghostly scares, you can pick up the ebook edition of my novel The Astronomer’s Crypt for just $1.00 at Smashwords until November 15. In the novel, astronomers, ghosts, drug dealers, and a monster from the beginning of time collide at a remote observatory during a violent thunderstorm. Use the coupon code YL57J on checkout. The book is at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1025608

Happy Halloween!

Gamera

I think it’s fair to say that I grew up watching a lot of media from Japan. A lot was anime such as Tetsujin 28, Mach Go, Go, Go, and Gatchaman, perhaps better known here in the United States as Gigantor, Speed Racer, and Battle of the Planets respectively. However, I can’t overlook the role of giant monsters, or kaiju. Godzilla is clearly the most famous, but when I was a kid, my hero was Gamera.

I was thrilled to find Blu-ray copies of Gamera’s first eight films a few weeks ago. I’ve slowly been working my way through them. I’ve run into some people who think Gamera is part of the menagerie who battled Godzilla during his ongoing reign as King of Monsters. In fact, Gamera was the property of an altogether different movie studio. Godzilla’s stories were filmed at Toho Studios. Gamera was competitor Daiei’s entry into the kaiju arena.

For those not familiar with Gamera, he’s a giant fire-breathing turtle with tusks awakened from arctic ice during a dogfight between US and Soviet forces. Although he goes on a rampage for energy in the first film, he seems to have a soft spot for humans, and children in particular. In later films of the series, he’s revealed to be something of a guardian for humanity, protecting them from other monsters. The first eight films take place during Japan’s Shōwa period—the reign of Emperor Hirohito.

To be perfectly honest, the first eight Gamera films are far from great cinema. There’s a good reason several of them were featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000. However, I’ve long had the sense that the people behind the film series knew their limitations and had fun with them. At one point Gamera defeats a shark monster called Zigra, then plays a couple of bars of his own theme song on its back. Afterwards, he does a little dance. Another great moment comes in Gamera Super Monster when Gamera is ordered to go on a rampage by aliens and knocks over a sandwich board advertising a Godzilla film. Scenes like these make me think the Shōwa Gamera films have more in common with the 1960’s televised Batman than with films like Manos: The Hands of Fate filmed just down the road in El Paso, Texas.

As it turns out, Gamera was reimagined for a trilogy of really good films in the 1990s. These Heisei-era Gamera films gave a solid backstory to the titular turtle. He still attempts to protect mankind as a whole, but he’s still a giant monster and is prone to mass destruction. Not everyone likes Gamera in these films. The Heisei-era Gamera films also presented some cool glimpses into life in many different parts of Japan. I highly recommend Gamera: Guardian of the Universe and its two sequels.

My love of these films is a small part of what makes me the writer I am today. As a kid, I was drawn to the action and good-natured humor of these films. If it weren’t for these films, I probably wouldn’t have sought out more serious Japanese films like those of Akira Kurosawa, which gave me a deeper appreciation of Japanese culture and storytelling. Writing what we know is, among other things, writing what interests us. So watching Gamera films as a kid, was a first step toward writing my novel The Brazen Shark about samurai resisting cultural change in an alternate, steampunk Japan.

If you’d like to learn more about The Brazen Shark and my inspirations for the novel, I’ll be interviewed on the radio this Friday, July 13 on KTAL Community Radio from 12:30 to 1:00pm Mountain Daylight Time. My friends in Las Cruces can listen on the radio on 101.5 FM. For my friends outside the area, you can listen at: https://www.lccommunityradio.org/stream.html