Tag Archives: Twilight

Not Monsters


I’m just gonna let you ruminate for a minute on what that book means to you.

Go on, take your time, I’m in no hurry.

Have you got it fixed in your mind? Good. Now this isn’t a post about Twilight. In fact when I was composing my thoughts for this post in my head Twilight didn’t enter the picture until very late in the game. But once it did enter the picture, everything else seemed to fall into place.

Because Twilight is a book about vampires. The book didn’t invent vampires. It didn’t even invent the vampire romance. But what it did do (in my mind) was place the final nail in the coffin of true vampire horror.

You might think that I’m writing this as an indictment, but in reality this was inevitable from the beginning. Let’s look at that beginning, shall we?

I know you’re going back in your mind to Dracula (or perhaps if you are particularly well read, to Varny the Vampire) but you need to go back further. You need to go back to the time before vampires entered fiction. You need to go back to the time when they lived in the minds of men, passed on from mouth to mouth as folklore, whispered from the lips of mothers as a warning against unruly children. “If you’re not good, the vampires will get you.”

In the beginning vampires were monsters. Mindless, brutish, forest-dwelling monsters.

Then came the books. The notion of vampires passed from folklore into fiction. But in the passage something changed. The vampires were still evil, still frightening, but now they had become just a little more human. No longer were they forest dwelling brutes, bloated like rotted corpses and bereft of all but an animal intelligence. Now they were suave and sophisticated. Now they could walk the streets with their prey. They could pass for human until it the moment it was too late for their victims.

And from a certain point of view that change made them all the more terrible. After all, what is more terrifying that the monster who looks just like you? But it was the first nail in the coffin, the first step down the slippery slope that would end in stunning, sparkling, and above all safe Edward Cullen.

But like I said, this isn’t a post about Twilight. This is a post about monsters.

Because monsters have a problem. Monsters are cool.

I mean think about it, what little kid doesn’t like monsters? Dinosaurs, dragons, C’thulu? Show him those things, and he’ll say “Awesome!” and start wailing on them with his G.I. Joes.

Zombies? Ditto. Don’t even get me started on our cultural obsession with zombies. We’re not afraid of them. We’re fascinated.

And that’s the problem. Because in theory monsters are supposed to be scary. You’re supposed lie awake at night, afraid to go to sleep lest they show up in your nightmares. But instead we idolize them, we put them on a pedestal. Technically they’re still the bad guys, but really that just makes them all the more interesting.

But as someone who’s interested in fear in fiction, in making people uncomfortable with what they’re reading, I’ve noticed something interesting. Generally the most genuinely frightening parts of a story happen before the monsters ever show up.

Take for example, the horror film The Descent. In this movie a group of female spelunkers explore a remote cave and encounter human-like cave creatures who have become sightless because…I don’t know, they’ve lived down there for generations and they’ve evolved past the need for light? I mean, granted the movie shows that they kill stuff outside the cave for food and you’d think eyes would be an advantage there even if they hunt at night. Especially if they hunt at night. Nocturnal animals have amazing eyesight. Whatever.

Anyway, there’s some great scenes where these blind monsters are searching for the protagonists, and they’re walking right next to where they’re hiding, but they can’t see them (you’d think they could smell them or hear them breathing or something; I mean really, if you’re going to evolve away from using your eyes you could at least compensate through your other senses. But like I said, whatever.) These scenes are interesting, but in my mind they’re not really scary. They don’t reach into my stomach and twist my guts into knots with fear. Sure they might be good for a few jump scares, but that’s not really the same.

But there are truly frightening moments in The Descent. There’s the moment when one of the women is trapped in a claustrophobic tunnel with the cave shuddering and shaking, threatening to crush her under a thousand tons of earth and stone. There’s the scene where one of the spelunkers has to cross a yawning chasm using ancient equipment that starts to fail halfway through the traverse. These moments work because we can relate to them. We can empathize with the terror of claustrophobia, or with the fear of falling a very very long way down. These are examples of what I’ve started to refer to as the “not monsters” moments of movies, and personally I think there is far more to learn from their common earthy kind of terror than will ever be found in the pursuit of the supernatural slasher or the growl of the green skinned mutant.

In Richard Matheson’s book The Shrinking Man which chronicles the life of a man who is (you’ll never guess) shrinking, the most powerful moments are not the battles between insect-sized man and monstrous spider, but rather they come when the eponymous shrinking man is midway through the process, trying to cope with the fact that his wife has begun to think of him as a child and his young daughter has lost all respect for him.

In Stephen King’s It the single most unnerving moment of the book (for me) had nothing to do with the supernatural clown/spider and everything to do with a simple-minded bully who locks puppies in an old refrigerator until they die of asphyxiation.

I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point. We are human, and the terror we know the best is human in origin.

Most people I know don’t drive to work or go out with their families thinking, “I hope I don’t get bitten by a zombie today.” But they do think, “How am I going to pay my bills?” “What if my wife doesn’t really love me?” “A hundred years after I’m dead, will it matter that I lived?”

That isn’t to say there’s not a place for the monster in our stories. But if we truly want to gnaw at our readers, we must keep in mind that the ultimate terror is not in the fantastic but the mundane; it is in the known more than the unknown. The monster when used correctly is not a thing unto itself. It is a vehicle for something darker, something deeper. It is merely a shadow cast by the true terror that lies latent in the hearts of every one of us.

Bizzaro Book Review: Blindsight by Peter Watts

Okay, before I say anything else about this book, let me get this out of the way:


This book has vampires. And with the recent Twilight-fueled vampire romance craze, I would understand if at first glance you might be put off by that. But let me put your mind at ease.

This is not a romance.

Rather it is a high concept hard scifi journey to the edge of the unknown. There are spaceships and aliens, and people with multiple personalities and people with no personalities, and… You know maybe I should start over.

Because under the thick layers of scifi awesome this story is intensely human. It has aliens, and vampires and all the other stuff I said. But it’s not about that.

Rather, this story is about a man. A man struggling to be human. A man engineered to be a sociopath, a being completely without feelings, who is searching his soul for the spark of what it means to have feelings, to love and hate, what it means to be.

At it’s very heart, beyond all of the scifi window dressing Blindsight is really about a latter-day Pinocchio, a human marionette struggling to find the path to become real.

This is a theme that is repeated over and over throughout the book. The vampires appear human, but their minds are completely alien. And the aliens themselves…well I don’t want to give anything away, because the reveal is awesome.

This book will make you think. It dives into philosophical black holes, and somehow pulls you through with it until you emerge into a universe that looks slightly different from the one you left.

This is not a book to be taken up lightly, but do take it up. It is one of the best scifi epics I have ever read, and if I hadn’t stumbled across it while browsing manybooks.net the odds are good I might never have heard of it. So I’m doing my small part to spread the word.

Do yourself a favor and check it out. Blindsight is available for free, so it won’t cost you anything more than your time.

In Defense of Twilight


So here’s the deal people: I kinda hate Twilight. I tried to read it once, back in its heyday thinking, “Hey, this is super popular. It can’t be all bad.” But, oh was I wrong. The plot was banal and uninteresting, but even worse than that the prose limped along in uninspired fits and spurts that felt harsh and unnatural.

It was so difficult to stomach that after struggling through more than half of the book I gave up. Since then I’ve been an active participant on the Stephanie Meyers hate-wagon. I bash her writing as often as I can, I pick apart the bizarre threads of her plots, and I absolutely adore the Reasoning with Vampires website.


I am not a moron. There are some who may disagree on this point, but let’s ignore them, yes?

I know people who love Twilight. I mean really really love. When they read Twilight, it was the same experience for them as reading House of Leaves was for me. And there are millions of these people all over the world. Why?

We could be cynical and say that it’s all because of advertising dollars and irrational hype, but that doesn’t jive with me.

You may not know this, but I’m kind of a fan of P. T. Barnum. Everyone knows P. T. Barnum said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” But most people don’t know that he didn’t stop talking after he said that. One of the other things he said, in fact one of his core philosophies was this: “Do whatever crazy thing you have to do to advertise your stuff, but know this: if your product sucks all the advertising in the world won’t make it a success.” Okay, so he didn’t say it exactly that way, but you get the gist.

The people I know who love Twilight don’t love it because of advertising and they don’t love it because everyone else loves it. They love it because there’s something in there, amidst all the tangled prose and watered down plot that speaks to them on a very personal level.

When Stephanie Meyer talks about the inspiration for Twilight she tells the story of a dream that arrested her attention and inspired her to sit down and work on the story whenever she could grab a spare moment. In other words, the story meant something personal to her. It welled up from the very core of her being to the point that she could not stop herself from writing it.

That is what I believe has given the Twilight Saga the staying power it has enjoyed for so long. Of course there are problems with Meyer’s writing, but in spite of those problems millions of women have connected with that same tug of urgency Meyer felt when she first conceived the idea.

She wasn’t just writing a story. She was writing her story.

We could all learn a thing or two from her. We spend a lot of time trying to hone our craft and learn the intricacies of structure, but ultimately there is something greater than these things. If we’re going to write a story, we need to be sure it is a story we love. Because all the wonderful prose and perfect plotting in the world can’t replace what every story really needs: a soul.

Only when we give a little piece of ourselves dug from out of the deepest corner of our hearts will we be able to truly move and affect our readers.