The Unexpected Parcel–Part 1

Late last week, quite out of the blue, I received a mysterious brown parcel in the mail. I did not recognize the return address, nor was I expecting a package of any kind. The box was unusual only in its nondescriptness. Intrigued and slightly apprehensive, I brought it into my house (this was the first mistake) and opened it up (this was the second, and crucial).

The package contained one (1) contributor’s copy of Polluto issue 8 (“In Space, No-One Can Hear You Dream”). No explanation. A serendipitous accident, I thought at first, until, flipping through the book, I came upon a name that made me feel temporarily as though my spirit had migrated through the pores of my skin and was wheeling in invisible tempests around my vacant but still-animated body.

The name was my own.

The title of the story is “Outer Space! ~A Memoir~”. I can assure you, it is no memoir. It appears to be a work of pulp science fiction, but for three exceptional details:
1) It is clearly unfinished, yet has been published without any note or explanation from the publisher.
2) It describes, in familiar detail, a time and place with which I am absolutely unacquainted.
3) Most strange of all, I cannot recall ever having written it.

I cannot imagine what a development such as this might signify. I don’t think I can afford to imagine it. Is it possible I wrote it, and subsequently lost all knowledge of having done so? Did somebody else write it in imitation of me? To what purpose?

I’ve attached a few photographs of the mysterious book. You may find them of interest.

I will peruse the text for further evidence. Perhaps an investigation into the less immediately perplexing content might elucidate this mystery. If not, it will likely make for some entertaining reading, and a fine book review. In the meantime, you can check it out for yourself. You may find something amiss, something I miss. Something vital to the future of the cosmos, perhaps. Something

Introducing Terrorflicks

You may not have heard of In the world of online horror reviews and news, this fresh-from-the-grave hub is still moldy behind the ears, so to speak. You may have heard a whimper from them, a moan, a distant ghastly wail. Or you may have heard nothing. Dead silence.

Either way, you ought to have heard of them. For a website fixated on zombies, demons, and enough blood to paint twelve hell-portals, they’re shockingly friendly and fun. They recently published an article highlighting re-imagined, minimalist horror movie posters, which gives you an idea of how diverse their content is. It’s not just reviews. They’ve got a series called “Stayin’ Alive” which provides tips on surviving genre-standard predicaments. They have quizzes. They review games, music, trailers, books, and shorts in addition to feature-length movies.

Oh, and they recently published a review of mine, a grudge match pitting the Spanish handheld-camera demonic-zombie fun-ride REC 2 against the sequel to the Hollywood remake of the first film, Contagion 2: Terminal. Don’t be fooled by their common origins: these are totally different films. And even the worst of the two is frightfully decent.

The two flicks face each other through several rounds in which they prove to be eerily evenly matched. Whenever the match seemed decided, the underdog came delivered an out-of-nowhere left hook that left the prevailing champ blinded. Take, for example,

Location: Terminal vs. Tenement

As its subtitle suggests, “Quarantine 2” moves the series away from its cramped, dingy apartment building and takes to the sky, courtesy of Trans Sky airlines. As anybody who’s spent any serious time in the air knows, however, airplanes can be just as dingy and cramped as the seediest tenement block. From insufficient overhead lights and ink-black windows to lots of close-quarters sniffling, “Quarantine 2’s” first act admirably captures the malaise of air travel. When a crazed passenger attacks one of the flight attendants, resulting in a turbulent emergency landing, the change of scenery doesn’t necessarily make anything nicer. If anything, the scuffed walls and labyrinthine clutter of Las Vegas Airport’s “ramp-up staging area” is darker and seedier than most other real-world locales I could name. Don’t mistake its comparably wide-open spaces for a lack of zombie hiding spot — “Quarantine 2” milks those stray forklifts and sinuous conveyer belts for all they’re worth.


In contrast, “REC 2” stays close to home. It’s a nostalgic return trip to the site of the original outbreak, mysteriously silent upon the arrival of the Special Forces team called in to clean up the mess. The apartment building still has a few secret passages to disclose — a few of which stretch the imagination when you consider the scale involved — but the majority of the journey is through all-too-familiar territory. Balagueró and Plaza made terrifying use of every toilet, closet, and stairwell in the original film, as the pools of blood coating nearly every surface attest. There are still some scares to be pulled out of crawlspaces and hidden chambers, but there’s no denying that its American cousin wins for originality. Plus, the use of an already blood-soaked area means “REC 2” has to hit the slippery ground running, resulting in a few tumbles in the first act when not enough tension has built to justify high-stakes scenes.

Advantage: “Quarantine

Read the full review, and discover the winner, here.


PSA. We’ve all seen the acronym, but what does it mean? Professional Skaters Association? Pish. Prostate-Specific Antigen? Please. Professional Sports Authenticator? Don’t make me laugh. No, a PSA is a Public Service Announcement (not to be confused with a PDA, either a Public Display of Affection or a Personal Digital Assistant, as the situation requires).

What are some examples of a PSA in action? Well, for example, one could say, “Black Clock #14 is a sleek magnum of literary content. I worked on both the print and epub versions, and both are available to order now. It will expand your mind and your chest and might even save you from a bullet one day if you can find a chest pocket big enough to hold it.”

That would be a pretty good PSA, and sound advice, no less. Another classic example is “The British are coming, the British are coming!” As you can see, the PSA is something of a historical tradition. “Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” may well be the first PSA in recorded history, the first of many related to the recall of dangerous or contaminated produce. For more historical and contemporary examples of the PSA, see here. For more on Black Clock, go here. And, once more, sleep safely.

The End Is Come

There are some things that must be said for endings. That all good things, for instance, must come to them. That they tend to occur synchronously with new beginnings. That the existence or nonexistence of happy ones is ultimately debatable.

Here’s another one: that one has been reached with this, my final column for Innsmouth Free Press. And it’s a doozy. A few centuries shy of 3000 words, it tackles not one but four browser-based games from ludic experimentalist Gregory Weir. There’s also mention of china dolls, mold fairies, and antiquated handbills. It contains worlds, in plural. I won’t lie: this review is no fractal form. No snippety-snap can accurately portray its whole, just as endings may hint at, but never fully encapsulate, their beginnings (the reverse may not necessarily be true). However, in the interest of concluding on the same path we set out on, I’ve included a tidbit here, as is my tradition.

Organising the half-shattered china dolls in the attic of my ancestral home, I came upon yet another antiquated handbill, identical in nearly all particulars to the first. It read:

Greetings (or should it be Farewell?) Innsmouthians,

Leave-takings are such trouble. While we were not able, in the end, to provide quite the breadth of experiences I intended, I believe it has been a good season. We have shown you historic Silent Hill, as well as its renovated town centre. We have been to the rural Northwest; the campus of the G.U.E. Technical Institute; and we have ventured as far abroad as Norway and the Orient. We offered an extensive tour of New York City’s Central Park, and we have given you the thrill of a zombie infestation in addition to more prurient titillations.

Now, at the close of the season, A Pistol and a Flashlight would like to offer you something unheard of: For the price of a single ticket, you may embark on a fantastic, four-part adventure. The point of departure will be the depths of the ocean; we will stop in the Nameless City beneath the sands before journeying, via a special procedure, to dreamed-of reaches of space. Our final stop – the final stop for me – will be that archaeological wonder of ruins and shadow known only as ‘Looming’.

Following this “blow-out” tour, the doors of this establishment will be closed for the season – perhaps for good. I thank you, sweet Innsmouthians, for your valued patronage and remain, as always,


[the signature is as illegible as the first]

Read the full review here. And sleep safely.

~the end~

And It Gets Weirder

When I was a kid, I had an anthology called Microcosmic Tales. Correction: my brother had an anthology, which I frequently, and eventually permanently, appropriated. It was exceptional in that the stories were selected by Isaac Asimov, whose name I knew despite having never read his stuff, alongside Martin Greenberg and Joseph Olander, whose names I still don’t know despite having never read their stuff. The other defining characteristic of the book was that it featured 100 stories, and each of them was considered a “short-short,” often no more than two or three pages in length, some less.

I now know that calling something a short-short says just as much about its form as it does about its length. At that point, though, I barely even recognized how short those stories were; I was writing 2-3 page science fiction stories myself around then. What I did know was that these stories represented everything enjoyable about science fiction boiled down to its essence. There wasn’t room for them to be bad: they were barely long enough to establish a single concise idea or theme, then cap it off with an (often humorous) plot twist. It was like finding a VHS with the last 5 minutes of 100 different Twilight Zone episodes; in a word, utter mindfuckery. And thence began my love affair with idea-centric fiction.

That’s probably why I jumped at the chance to review the inaugural issue of One Weird Idea, a new e-format periodical, for Innsmouth Free Press. The really nice thing about idea-centric fiction is that, even if the writing is just awful, it always gives you something to think about. Like all those movies that fell off the Matrix train. To my great pleasure, the writing in OWI was surprisingly good…well, a lot of it was, particularly for such a self-consciously “genre” publication. I had this to say about the stories in general:

They traffic in predetermination, hyper-connectivity in the post-Information Age, or the triumph of New Age mysticism over scientific rationalism. In fact, the title’s a bit imprecise: It’s not the ideas that are weird, it’s the world shaped by them. What gives these stories their power is the same threat that has loomed over science fiction from the beginning: more than a “What If?” scenario, these are worlds on the verge of becoming, the imaginable – but not always desirable – futures nascent in the ideas and technologies of our age. In the end, they are always about human nature, and the latent question is always: Will we be able to adapt to the times, or will we change the times to adapt to us? Which possibility is the more horrifying?

Read the full review here.

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