Mini Review: Parasite, by Mira Grant

Grant_Parasite-HCJust for the record, no one could possibly convince me to read a futuristic horror novel about the tapeworm zombie apocalypse except for the Mira Grant, author of the Newsflesh Trilogy.  NO ONE.  Second of all, this book ends on a major cliffhanger.  I just…I can’t take the stress.  Now I have to wait MONTHS to find out if we are all going to die because of tapeworm zombies!  Aaaargh!

In case the caps lock wasn’t enough to tip you off, I loved Parasite and it scared the bejeebers out of me.  Here’s the basic plot:  In the year 2027, a company named SymboGen has virtually eliminated all diseases and allergies by means of a simple treatment.  People who become hosts for the bioengineered “Intestinal Bodyguard” live medically charmed lives.  But the parasites begin to take over their hosts, causing them to behave in a zombie-like state.

This book was exciting and horrifying and thought-provoking.  I cared about Sally, the protagonist, even when I was annoyed by her.  By setting the story in the very near future, and by never forgetting the mundane, Mira Grant makes the danger feel like an immediate threat.  I admired the fact that her characters have to do things like eat and sleep and deal with Bay Area traffic.  The book was firmly grounded and that increased the level of dread.  The level of science seems good overall.  Mira Grant did a ton of research to write the book, and it shows.  And I deeply appreciated a general absence of gore.  Grant seems aware that we, the readers, are grossed out by the mere concept of the story, so she doesn’t have to gross us out more with gore or with explicit tapeworm disgusting-ness.  When there is gore, it’s effective, because of the overall level of restraint.

You can find my full-length review at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.

Mini Review: Charming, by Elliott James

This gallery contains 1 photo.

Charming is – well.  It’s charming – sexy, funny, and engaging.  This urban fantasy introduces us to John Charming, who is a former Knight Templar gone rogue.  John is sexy, snarky, smart, a good fighter, and he loves strong, capable, smart women.  For once, you can judge this book by its cover.  If find the cover […]

Science at Work: It Came From Outer Space!

AstronautDuring budget crunches, it’s common for the public to ask why funding space exploration should be a priority when we have so many problems on earth.  In this month’s “Science at Work” feature, we look at some of the more immediately, tangibly practical things that space exploration has brought all of us.  I’m pulling a few highlights from these three webpages:,, and – be sure to click on them for more cool stuff that came to your house from outer space (or at least, as a byproduct of getting people and machines to space and back again).

So, what cool stuff has NASA done for you lately?  Here’s five examples:

  • Invisible Braces:  Invisible braces are made from translucent polycrystalline aliminua (TCA), which was developed by Ceradyne in conjunction with NASA to protect the antenna of heat-seeking missile trackers.
  • Memory foam:  This is the stuff that makes your Tempurpedic mattress so comfy.  It shows up all over the place these days – sports helmets, packaging for delicate equipment, cars, commercial aircraft, and amusement park rides.
  • Lifeshears:  You know those big things that looks like giant, terrifying hedge clippers that firefighters use to pry your mangled car apart so they can remove you from the wreckage?  If heaven forbid you are ever trapped in a mangled car, you can thank NASA for helping you get out.  The technology is the same technology that NASA developed to separate the space shuttle from the booster during flight.
  • Insulin Pump:  NASA developed a way to monitor astronauts vital signs continuously during long voyages.  This technology makes the insulin pump, which dispenses insulin according to the body’s levels of blood sugar, possible.
  • Cordless tools:  This started as a Black and Decker Project, became a Black and Decker and NASA project, and has since been used not only to develop my family’s weed whacker (a device without which we’d have to burn our house down completely and move) but also medical tools.

Here’s something NASA did NOT invent, despite the not so subtly altered photo above:  Tang.  Tang was invented by General Foods but has been associated with the space program since the astronauts drank it in 1962.  Teflon and velcro are also associated with the space program but were not invented by NASA.

NASA’s budget is currently about 0.5 percent of the Federal budget.  That’s half a penny per tax dollar.  For this, you get technologies that affect our abilities to handle medical problems, environmental issues, safety, and more.  The movement penny4nasa points out that we could double NASA’s budget for only half a cent more per tax dollar.  Not a bad deal for all of space.

Friday Book Club: Dracula At the Movies

SWT-Book-ClubsFrom silent movies to today’s 3D, Dracula inspires filmmakers because its themes continue to resonate with modern viewers, and because it is full of vivid, iconic imagery.  What filmmaker wouldn’t want to film the scene of Dracula crawling down the castle wall, face first?  Or the scene in which Van Helsing and Mina Harker take refuge in a circle made of crumbled holy communion wafers as Dracula’s brides  attempt to lure them into the open?  Or Vampire Lucy wandering the graveyard in her wedding/burial dress, clutching a child (dinner) to her lovely bosom?  The novel is perfect for the movies.

black and white photo of Bela Lugosi as Dracula

Bela Lugosi

It probably doesn’t hurt that the basic story of Dracula provides a good excuse for a filmmaker to sell gore, sex, and mayhem.

Leslie Nielsen as Dracula

Leslie Nielsen loves his mayhem!

And, in a perfect circle of longevity, every time filmmakers release another movie version of Dracula, more movie goers become interested in the book – and as their interest grows, so does the studios interest in making more movies grow.  That’s not even counting all the vampire movies more loosely inspired by Dracula (Interview with a Vampire, Lost Boys, Near Dark, The Hunger, Blade, etc.)

Christopher Lee as Dracula

Christopher Lee, creeping me out.

Here’s a partial list of movies (by year of release) more or less directly based on the novel Dracula.  My source is the wonderful New Annotated Dracula, annotated by Leslie S. Klinger.  Just for the heck of it, here’s a link to a review from io9 of the latest Dracula movie, Dracula 3D.  Directed by Asia Argento, it is supposed to be bad beyond all belief!  If you are in the Sacramento area, come visit us at the Arden Dimick Branch of the Sacramento Public Library on October 27, at 2PM, for our actual, real life, face to face book club discussion.  I hereby invite you in.

Gary Oldman as Dracula

Gary Oldman as Dracula in Francis Ford Coppola’s terrible, terrible adaptation.

Now for the movies.  I haven’t seen most of these movies so I can’t personally endorse them.  Be aware that I’m listing movies according to their link to the novel, not according to their quality, which may be minimal.

1921:  Death of Dracula (no copies remain)

1922:  Nosferatu

1931:  Dracula (starring Bela Lugosi!)

1953:  Drakula Istanbul’da  (a Turkish production)

1958:  The Horror of Dracula (starring Christopher Lee)

1972:  Blacula

1973:  Dracula (starring Jack Palance)

1978:  Count Dracula (starring Louis Jordan)

1979:  Dracula (starring Frank Langella)

1979:  Love at First Bite (a comedy starring George Hamilton)

1992:  Bram Stoker’s Dracula (directed by Francis Ford Coppola, it has very little in common with Bran Stoker’s version of Dracula.  I actually have seen this movie, and it’s HORRIBLE.)

1995:  Dracula:  Dead and Loving It (a Mel Brooks’ directed comedy starring Leslie Nielsen)

2000:  Dracula 2000 (directed by Wes Craven)

2004:  Dracula 3000 ( a sci-fi horror film that, weirdly, has no relation to Dracula 2000).

2008:  The Librarian:  Curse of the Judas Chalice (starring Noah Wylie as the badass librarian)

2013:  Dracula 3D (directed by Dario Argento)

For a more complete list, including such gems as Batman Fights Dracula, and Dracula’s Dog,  Wikipedia has a long, long list!

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D: “Girl in the Flower Dress”

Agents of SHIELD logoAnother good episode, although I still think it’s time for Skye and Ward to fill the background while Melinda May and Fitz/Simmons get something epic and character-building to do.  Remember this column is more of a “highlight” feature than a recap.  To find out the details of what happened, I recommend Television Without Pity, io9, or The Mary Sue, all of which have great recaps of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Speaking of Melinda May, do I have a dirty mind, or are she and Coulson ex-lovers?  Who might get back together at any minute, especially if Melinda has anything to say about it?  Because the way she suggested getting out the mats like in the old days was fraught with meaning.  Fraught, I say!  They have a torrid past, people!  You heard it here first!  And did anyone else notice that this conversation happened during the only time in the series so far when Melinda has been wearing casual clothes instead of what is basically body armor?  Might we start seeing Melinda, the person, soon as opposed to Melinda the weapon?

No, Agent Ward, it's not just you - we are all confused by this shirt.

No, Agent Ward, it’s not just you – we are all confused by this shirt.

And all this makes me wonder – does Phil remember the cellist?  Obviously he still has long-term memory but I wonder if he lost any memories from his pre-Loki weeks.  Coulson, you have a jet!  You can go visit the cellist in Portland!  Having lived in Portland, I guarantee you it’s packed with all kinds of things you can investigate, so you can even conduct these visits on work time.  As Tony says, “Keep love alive”.  Unless you and Melinda might…and I still think you and Maria Hill could…Oh, I’m sorry, were we watching something?

SO ANYWAY, this weeks’ theme is who people really are.  At first the theme seems to be that everyone would really love to have sex but would sooner perish than reveal such a fact.  Thus we have Melinda and the mats conversation, and Ward and Skye playing Battleship in an awfully chummy way (I prefer to think of them as brother/sister but it’s an adorable scene either way).  Skye has sex with an idiot ex-boyfriend (nice underwear, Skye!) and Fitz seems to take the reveal of the boyfriend’s existence awfully personally.  Meanwhile, the expendable bad guy of the week is manipulated all too easily by the Girl in the Flower Dress, Raina, who slinks about in pure evil villain fashion.  You know who she reminds me of?  A sexy version of Blofield from Dr. No.  Get this woman a cat.



But as it turns out, all this sexy vibe stuff is just an excuse to get to the bigger theme:  can you know who someone else really is?  At thins point, we know very little about anyone’s back story so everyone is a mystery.  But Skye’s dark secret is revealed to the group, and they are all clearly devastated that she lied to them, in a “we thought we knew who you were” sort of way.  Well, yeah – you did know who she was.  You knew she was a hacker with a secret hacker organization and a strong belief in basic human rights.  Which she is.

And BTW, could we please have the argument that Skye and her ex have about the ethics of S.H.I.E.L.D, only could we please have it between two characters who have higher levels of intelligence than a chia pet?  Because there’s an actual, valid argument to be had here and it lacks credibility when it comes from Skye and her idiot boyfriend, on account of how the two of them put together still lack the brainpower of a chia pet.

And of course this whole betrayal thing is laid out nicely in parallel with street magician guy who at first seems like a fairly decent guy who feels ignored but who ends up frying one of our two villains.  and of course he is betrayed by the flower dress woman who promises him that he will have fame and fortune and ends up stealing his platelets.



Here’s some more great lines from this week:

Great deadpan, when Skye’s idiot ex-boyfriend says to May, “So, are you guys just going to destroy all my stuff?”  To which she says,


Well, you asked, dumbass.

Coulson has the very best lines, of course:

“So we’re good, right?”

“They said he was kind of a tool”

“Oh crap.  They gave him a name”.

Hello, Scorch.  Ooops  - Goodbye, Scorch.

Hello, Scorch. Ooops – Goodbye, Scorch.

And the saddest exchange is between Skye and her ex, although no one cares because she and her ex are both such horrible morons during this episode:

“You’re not who you used to be”.

“You’re not who I thought you were”.

One last thing:  we now have a firmly established family dynamic on our team.  Fitz/Simmons are the babies of the family – cute little kids.  Skye is the bratty teenager.  Grant is her big brother.   Coulson and May are the parents.


Skye gets busted for having sex with her ex, who S.H..I.E.L.D. is looking for.  Specifically, she is busted while she is trying to find her shirt, by none other than a very angry Melinda May.  The only thing that could make Melinda May seem more like a very, very angry mom at that moment is that she never says the word “grounded”.  Seriously, it’s just so pianful.  And OMG, Coulson is so dissapointed, and so angry – it’s a great moment for Couson (“You’re lying NOW!”) because we get to see his facade crack a little.  He is furious.  When Loki stabbed him during The Avengers, Coulson looked a little annoyed, as though he was buying groceries and realized that he had left his wallet at home.  Now he is PISSED.

Yes, I find this affecting.  I'm not made of stone, people.

If Coulson was angry and disappointed in me, this is exactly the face I would make, too.  Stop making me feel stuff Skye, I’m getting all sniffly!

So, despite the entire existence of idiot ex-boyfriend, I thought this was a great episode.  There were smallish stakes (individual people might die or get hurt, Grant’s Battleship might get sunk).  There were personal stakes.  The thing with Skye’s ex was dumb but the shame and humiliation she experiences, and the sense of betrayal and disappointment that the team experiences  – that was powerful and real.  There were global stakes – an international group is trying to create super-villains, so that’s not good.

No highlights next week because no show next week – we’ll be back with this feature in November!

Wednesday Videos: 2 short Edgar Allan Poe movies

WednesdayVideoThe winner of the “Poe Project” film competition was the amazingly creepy Ligea, but there’s a special spot in my heart for Here, Puppy, Puppy”, which is loosely based on “The Black Cat”.  Incidentally, I got to meet the actress who plays Ligea, and she’s incredibly friendly and warm.  But I was very careful not to make her angry  –  just in case.