Beyond the Threshold is EXPANDING

Hi all!

This is just a quick update about what I’ve been up to, and some changes you will notice on Beyond the Threshold. As much as I love writing flash fiction, there is so much more within the realm of speculative fiction that I want to explore. As you may have guessed, I’ve always been a lover of books, comics, TV and movies. I spent 7 years in post-secondary education for film studies, so when it comes to discussing film and TV, I really can’t shut up. So I’m expanding Beyond the Threshold to leave room for things such as more book/comic reviews, and Top Lists for a variety of topics regarding TV and movies. I’m currently writing for a pop culture website, so a lot of this content will be linked to those published articles. And, of course, I will also continue to post my own fiction here too.

Thanks for all the support – I hope you’ll enjoy the expansion. Stay Strange!

3 Days, 3 Quotes Book Tag – Day 3

It’s the final day, and a final thank you to Irene of Books and Hot Tea for tagging me on this one. It’s been more difficult than I had anticipated – finding those perfect words. But at least I’ve gotten to revisit some of my favourite books!

So, one last time, here are the rules:

  • Thank the person who nominated you
  • Post three different quotes in three consecutive days
  • Nominate three new bloggers each day

To end, I’ve chosen an eerie quote from Angela Carter’s short story, “The Lady of the House of Love.” It’s been published in a collection of her works, The Bloody Chamber.

She herself is a haunted house. She does not possess herself; her ancestors sometimes come and peer out of the windows of her eyes and that is very frightening.

A sorrowful and grim passage that well represents the tone of Carter’s fairytale retellings. I recommend this collection to anyone who has outgrown fairytales as told by Disney, and is longing to return to their darker, more powerful, roots.

Thanks for reading!


Today I nominate Friendly Fairy Tales, ronovanwrites, and C.M. Rininger. Feel free to join in, or pass.

3 Days, 3 Quotes Book Tag – Day 2

Day 2, and once again, a thank you to Irene at Books and Hot Tea for tagging me.

Here are the rules:

  • Thank the person who nominated you
  • Post three different quotes in three consecutive days
  • Nominate three new bloggers each day

Today I bring you a thoughtful prose from Weaveworld by Clive Barker. The story is magical, and dark, and (at times) convoluted due to its dense use of language. It makes for an extraordinary read though, and you can pull quotes from it for days. So here’s mine:

Nothing is fixed. In and out the shuttle goes, fact and fiction, mind and matter, woven into patterns that may have only this in common: that hidden amongst them is a filigree which will with time become a world.

As the first page of the story, this grandiose introduction invites the reader to fully immerse themselves into the world of storytelling, and to think about what it really means to life into characters. I recommend the book to all writers, and to anyone intrigued by words and how they come together to create meaning.


Today I nominate The Writer’s InkwellNightmares, Daydreams and Imagined Conversations; and HemmingPlay. No pressure, but feel free to join the fun!

3 days, 3 Quotes Book Tag – Day 1

A big thank you to Irene of Books and Hot Tea for tagging me on this one – it’s going to be a lot of fun. If you’re a book lover, be sure to stop by her blog for her awesome posts on all things lit.

Here are the rules:

  • Thank the person who nominated you
  • Post three different quotes in three consecutive days
  • Nominate three new bloggers each day

So I’m going to kick this off with a quote from one of my favourite books, Let the Right One In by John Lindqvist. It’s not one for beautiful prose; but this complex, multi-levelled, narrative does have a lot to offer in every line. Using the guise of a vampire thriller, Lindqvist seizes the opportunity to discuss the innocence of coming-of-age, starkly contrasting a pre-teen boy’s sweet simplicity with the ugly world in which he lives. One of the most difficult topics he tackles, is sexuality.

Elias. Elias. A boy’s name. Was Eli a boy? They had… kissed and slept in the same bed and… Oskar pressed his hands against the bathroom door, rested his forehead against his hands. He tried to think. Hard. And he didn’t get it. That he could somehow accept that she was a vampire, but the idea that she was somehow a boy, that could be… harder.

 

Oskar’s struggle with his romantic feelings for Eli throughout the novel are some of the most genuine moments the book has to offer. I highly recommend this one for anyone looking for a true coming-of-age tale, tarnished with a gritty darkness that is intense enough to stay with you at night.


Today I nominate Tiffany – Book and Coffee Addict, Magic of Stardust and Words, and 23 Galaxy St. Cosmic City. Hope you join the fun, but don’t feel obliged 🙂

 

Kindred (Octavia Butler): Book Review

Science Fiction; Historical Fiction; African American Literature ♠♠♠♠♠

Author: Octavia Butler

This book was published in 1979, the first science fiction novel to be published by a black woman. It holds a rating of 4.14 on Goodreads.

Having just celebrated her 26th birthday in 1976 California, Dana, an African-American woman, is suddenly and inexplicably wrenched through time into antebellum Maryland. After saving a drowning white boy there, she finds herself staring into the barrel of a shotgun and is transported back to the present just in time to save her life. During numerous such time-defying episodes with the same young man, she realizes the challenge she’s been given: to protect this young slaveholder until he can father her own great-grandmother.

A perfect book – Kindred is a balanced blend of science fiction and historical fiction, providing an original and thoughtful framework through which to consider black American history.

I’ve read slave narratives, and seen period films dealing with slavery. They are gut-wrenching, difficult, pieces to get through. They elicit emotional and visceral reactions, exposing a dark reality that many of us are relieved is left in the past when the book ends or the credits roll. But how can we connect with these characters who are living in a completely different world than we are today? We can’t, not entirely. And it’s a problem that Butler solves with one simple plot device: time travel.

Dana and Kevin are characters we can relate to. She is a modern black woman and he a modern white man. Perhaps reading this book in the 1980s would have made their interracial relationship stand out more, but in returning to the book in 2016, it’s hardly jarring. In fact, it makes them seem even more modern; even easier to relate to. So when Dana finds herself to have inexplicably travelled across space and time from her California living room to the antebellum south, she is a perfect point of reference for the reader. The reader is forced to consider, along with Dana, what aspects of modern life one can has taken for granted, and how one would adjust to life as a slave in 1815.

More to Offer than Violence

The immediate concern for Dana, of course, is safety. What we know of slavery is its brutal and dehumanizing nature. Reading slave narratives often means having to read first hand accounts of violences and atrocities many of us prefer to believe no person can be capable of committing. But there it is, written outright, stirring up the most intense emotions. Kindred deals with this in moments, but consciously focuses more on Dana’s adjustments to her new role and how she reasons herself into submission when she has to. The story is more about the struggle of accepting certain terrible things, and learning to appreciate what remains in 1976 (or today). So when the violence happens, it is emotionally painful to read, but it doesn’t happen on every page, which seems like a wise decision on the author’s part. This way it doesn’t lose any of the more squeamish or ignorant readers, because the book has so much more to offer than the stark reality of violence. It’s not just a story of strength and survival of the body, but of the mind.

Race, Romance, and Desire

(SPOILERS BELOW)

Dana and Kevin have already chosen each other despite the objections from friends and families who have not been able to understand why a black woman and a white man would fall in love. But they have. And if they think that’s tough in the 1970s, that they might make it through the treacheries of the antebellum south seems damn near impossible. When Kevin ends up on the plantation with Dana, she instantly fears what may become of him; how the ideology of the times may taint him. She never outwardly thinks he’ll become a bigot, or leave her – but her fears lie just below the surface. Meanwhile, Kevin simply can’t adjust. The master/slave role they have to take on to stay together is so unnatural to him that he can’t quite feel it, or play it. It’s both frustrating and beautiful to watch him, a white man, struggle to fully understand what he is witnessing. He remains an observer on the outside, simply unable to blend. But when he gets trapped in that time and place, stranded when Dana unexpectedly time travels home without him, he’ll have to learn to. Back home, Dana is determined to find her way back to him – whoever, or whatever, he may be by then.

Then there is Rufus – the white boy who keeps inadvertently calling to Dana, ripping her from the comforts of 1976 to his father’s plantation. He finds himself in love with a free black girl, Alice, and she and Rufus will someday become Dana’s great great grandparents. When Dana first meets Rufus and makes this connection, he is still just a young boy who can’t seem to stay out of life-threatening trouble. Each time she comes to him she must save his life, secretly insuring their family line. But each time she comes to him he is a little older, a little meaner, and a little more a plantation owner’s son. Soon, it becomes clear that his love for Alice, although “true”, is one of obsession and possessiveness. Dana watches it unfold, knowing it’s how it must be if her great grandmother will ever be born.

Final Thoughts

This book is a triumph in both Sci-fi and Black Lit. It’s touching, emotional, powerful; and yet it never pushes itself over the edge that is so readily available in slave narratives. I give it 5 spades ♠♠♠♠♠*.

*My rating is based on a five-spade system. The rating is decided based upon how well/uniquely the book: 1) develops story and plot; 2) develops characters; 3) accomplishes or deconstructs the conceits of its genre; 4) raises thought-provoking issues; 5) discusses important issues. This system has been developed according to my own definition of what makes a book "good." It is therefore subjective.

Cry Wolf (Patricia Briggs): Book Review

Supernatural; Romance ♠

Author: Patricia Briggs

This book was published in July 2008, the first of the Alpha & Omega series. It holds a 4.11 rating on Goodreads. The series is now a graphic novel series, as well.

Anna never knew werewolves existed, until the night she survived a violent attack… and became one herself. After three years at the bottom of the pack, she’d learned to keep her head down and never, ever trust dominant males. Then Charles Cornick, the enforcer—and son—of the leader of the North American werewolves, came into her life.

A werewolf tale with very little bite, and a pathetic protagonist for whom you may root out of pity, or grow terribly bored with. The latter was my experience.

To preface, I am very fascinated with wolves and pack structure, and my favourite werewolf narrative to date has been the film Ginger Snaps. I also enjoy the Bitten TV series, although I had never read any werewolf fiction before Cry Wolf (unless you count the shorts in Angel Carter’s The Bloody Chamber and Stephanie Meyers’ depiction of the werewolves in Scarlet). I chose Briggs because I had read that she was known for her action-packed stories and strong female lead, Mercy Thompson. Cry Wolf takes place in that same universe but is, as far as I can tell, altogether different. It has an original (if sometimes laughable) take on pack structure, and a sterile take on romance within it.

Anna, the Victim-Hero

The heroine of this book, if you can call her that, is Anna. As the protagonist, the reader should be able to rightfully predict a certain level of character growth and heroism, but I got none of that out of this book. It’s important to note that Anna is a victim, and has been for years. Treated as a submissive wolf within her former pack, one can only imagine the tortures she would have endured. That she survived should be telling of her strength, but the trauma overpowers her.

I appreciate that Briggs took the realistic route here and let Anna be a wreck, but it was very difficult for me to spend 300 pages in the headspace of a victim. Specifically, a victim of male dominance. Surprisingly, the difficulty did not spring from any sort of too real depictions of the abuse, and maybe that was the problem. The details of Anna’s story are grazed over so it’s difficult to really feel them with her. Instead, I just found myself rolling my eyes every time she’d cower or crumble because I wanted her to stop being so pathetic. I couldn’t sympathize because, it seems, the author didn’t really want me to.

She has been saved from her pack by Charles, a werewolf enforcer whose standing basically makes him a prince. A real fairytale, right down to the lack of true connection. In fairytales, the prince sweeps the princess off her feet, away from the evil stepmother, the end. In the same way, Anna and Charles’ connection seems as though it was instant, based on nothing, and surviving on nothing. No spark; just a desire to be mated. And yes, the word “mate” is on every other page along with some form of “you’re mine.” Turns out, Charles chooses Anna as a mate because she is an Omega. In wolf packs, the omegas are the bottom of the food chain acting mainly as servants to the others, bullied to no end. Sometimes, they tire of the abuse and wander off to find new packs where they might challenge an alpha and gain better standing. Not in Briggs’ world. Omegas have special powers to soothe and comfort, are less violent, and more valuable. So Charles didn’t really fall in love with Anna, just her omega scent? Beautiful.

By the end, she finds her true strength. It’s not violence or kicking ass. She’s a soother. And when it comes down to it, and witches need to be fought, she might step up. I wasn’t very impressed with whatever (I won’t say what) is supposed to pass for her growth from victim to hero.

Narrative and Plot Development

I also wasn’t impressed with the story or plot development which is slow in most places and convoluted in others. Briggs’ writing is always grammatically correct, but this can sometimes lead to a boring read. There aren’t any prose that scream creativity or passion or even atmosphere and tone. They’re just words, followed by more words – usually “mate”, “mating”, or “mine”.

The story grabbed me in the first few pages which are told from the perspective of a mysterious man in the cold Montana wilderness, who risks his life to save a young man from being attacked by a beast, becoming one himself. Personally, I liked this idea and wanted to know a lot more about the rogue. A true horror narrative was somewhere in there but it didn’t develop. Instead, most of the pages are dedicated to Charles and Anna’s relationship and how she is trying to overcome her fears. I expected more action than I got – and why were there witches? I’m still not sure if it worked for me.

However, I did like how Briggs swapped character point-of-views often enough that the reader can learn about others. It was done well enough.

Final Thoughts

With a 4.11 rating, I know a lot of people loved this book and will disagree with my criticisms. That’s fine. To each their own. Paranormal romance has never been my thing, and Cry Wolf was simply not the type of werewolf story I was looking for when I picked it up.

I give it 1 spade: ♠* for creativity.

*My rating is based on a five-spade system. The rating is decided based upon how well/uniquely the book: 1) develops story and plot; 2) develops characters; 3) accomplishes or deconstructs the conceits of its genre; 4) raises thought-provoking issues; 5) discusses important issues. This system has been developed according to my own understanding of what makes a book "good." It is therefore subjective.

 

Unwind (Neil Shusterman): Book Review

Dystopia; Young Adult ♠♠♠♠

Author: Neil Shusterman.

This book was published in June 2009, the first of the Unwind dystology. It holds a 4.19 rating on Goodreads.

Connor, Risa, and Lev are running for their lives.
The Second Civil War was fought over reproductive rights. The chilling resolution: Life is inviolable from the moment of conception until age thirteen. Between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, however, parents can have their child “unwound,” whereby all of the child’s organs are transplanted into different donors, so life doesn’t technically end. Connor is too difficult for his parents to control. Risa, a ward of the state is not enough to be kept alive. And Lev is a tithe, a child conceived and raised to be unwound. Together, they may have a chance to escape and to survive.

This book is a haunting, disturbing, and thought-provoking. When I first began it, I was skeptical. Young Adult fiction doesn’t always do it for me, and I was opposed to the lack of backstory it seemed to offer. The reader is told that a war has taken place and as a result abortion is illegal – but unwinding teenagers is commonplace. My immediate thought was that a pro-life society could not devalue the life of teens so readily. Not laying out the course of events that would lead to such a society seemed like a misstep on Shusterman’s part. But once I finished the book I realized something crucial that I wish had been made clearer by the author; the unspoken beauty of this work is that it is not simply another dystopian world, but one of utilitarianism: the ethic that the best moral action is the one that has the greatest ability to maximize the well-being of the many as opposed to the one. This social approach removes emotion and personal attachment from the equation all-together. As a result, it’s cold and terrifying.

Social Values and Reproductive Rights

The key to understanding this world is to acknowledge that it’s less pro-life than it is pro-optimal-functioning-society. And everyone has to earn their right to life within it. That means, by the time you’re a teenager, you have to have given society a reason to deem you valuable. The parents who choose to unwind their kids are not considered bad people, but good people for understanding the value of a strong, thriving society made up of only strong, thriving people. Yes, it’s a little master-race-y, isn’t it? So obviously, as an ideology it’s problematic and it inherently devalues anyone who is different.

Learning the stories of the unwinds forces the reader to think about what, in this society, is valued, what is not, and how those ideals can be manipulated. And while aborting babies is now illegal, storking is perfectly accepted. This is the act of leaving your newborn on a doorstep, which will make the homeowners legally responsible for it. If that sounds crazy, it’s because it is; and it begs us to consider the issue of reproductive rights and what happens when they are eradicated.

Race

The portrayal of the Other is quite unique in Unwind. In one of my favorite passages, the character Cyfi is described as “umber.” He explains that the term “black” was once used, but was switched to umber, in honor of a mixed-race artist who always used the color umber to paint images of people from African ancestry. Soon after, white people began being referred to as sienna. Cyfi says these are “Better words. Didn’t have no value judgment to them. Of course, it’s not like racism is gone completely, but as my dads say, the veneer of civilization got itself a second coat.”

It should be noted that this reference to his “dads” is the readers first indication that Cyfi is being raised by a gay male couple. In the casualty of very few words, a lot is said; but not much about sexualities is mentioned otherwise.

Religion

The afterlife is obviously  huge aspect of this book, but so it the concept of the Tithe plays a huge role in this book. According to Christianity, members of the religion are supposed to practice tithing: giving one tenth of what you have back to the community, and God. In a world of unwinding, some religious families allow this to apply to their children as well.

A main character, Lev, is a Tithe. He was born, the tenth child, specifically to be so. On his 13th birthday, he will be unwound, considered in this circumstance a great honour for his family and to his God. Lev has been raised with this belief and feels strongly that it makes him special. But when his pastor expressed his own doubts about the world and God, Lev is forced to question everything he knows. As he struggles to find a new version of himself in a world that looks quite different than it did mere hours earlier, Lev finds himself trotting a new path – and it’s one that is both righteous and dangerous.

Final Thoughts

The subtly with which the story unfolds is actually its genius. What I disliked about the book at first, became what made it so powerful by the end. Slowly but surely, all of the issues caused by a purely Utilitarian society come to light: the value of life, the definition of consciousness, medical science, race, religion, and terrorism.

The issues explored throughout the book, however passingly, are jarring enough to make you stop and think. More discussion would have been welcomed, but ultimately it’s still a strong narrative structure featuring well developed characters.

I give this read 4 Spades: ♠♠♠♠*

*My rating is based on a five-spade system. The rating is decided based upon how well/uniquely the book: 1) develops story and plot; 2) develops characters; 3) accomplishes or deconstructs the conceits of its genre; 4) raises thought-provoking issues; 5) discusses important issues. This system has been developed according to my own understanding of what makes a book "good." It is therefore subjective.