Dystopian/Post-Apocalyptic – Along the Winter Rails: 11 – “Wait & Run” – by Fanni Sütő

winter rails_1 Copy

The wait was excruciating. My every breath echoed on the damp cave walls and my sighs were magnified and duplicated as though I was standing in the company of ghosts. My life was over again. I lost the strength I gathered during my journey I became soft and mellow, when I need to get out again I am going to be crashed.

What happened to the children? What was all this commission and why was I spared in the end?  Was I as much of a coward as I thought myself to be or was I just being wise, taking the girl’s advice and trying to keep myself alive? Hard questions and there was no easy answer and again a time became when I had too much time to think. Suddenly, I felt grateful for all the noise and chatter of the children, they were so loud I never had time to look into myself.

But the most important question concerned the future and not the past or the present. What will I do if I have to go again, where would I go? In this world of wolves even the safe places were dangerous. All the last havens froze centuries ago and we had nothing g else to warm us but the snow. I wondered what happened if I turned back and returned to my village. I had become a bride from over the rails but my blood was still singing of home. They would probably kill me for disobedience or humiliated me in front of the whole town. I didn’t really know but I could imagine everything. The more I thought about however, the stranger it seemed that nobody ever rebelled against going,  girls just bowed their heads and followed the orders to go out into the cruel, white world.

I gave in to those principals once and I didn’t want to make the same mistake twice. I wanted to stay. What could be so horrible that I couldn’t bare it? I looked into the face of death many times on the journey why should I be afraid of anything.

I made the resolution; they were not sending me anywhere. I grabbed my bag and made my back to the library just to find myself face to face with one of the older girls.

“Are you crazy?” she whispered, “you were told to stay put and out of sight and you just come back, walking all careless and leisurely. This place is full of Hunters! They took Ginger and if you don’t get out now, they will take you too! Come on, I was sent to guide you out via the Long Channel.”

“ I am not going anywhere. Let them take me to the place they took Ginger, what do I care? At least I would have company. I am not going out again to wander alone in the snow and freeze to death”

“You don’t have a choice. Ginger’s final words were that we should get you out of here and I am not going to disobey her.

I was going to argue with her when a tall man, dressed  all in fur and  pelt burst into the room.

“Dragonfly Study: 33″ – Sun & Petrichor – by Geneva Lerwick


Dragonfly Study: 33. By Geneva Lerwick. This is the 33rd photo in a Dragonfly Study taken at Prairiewood Farms in Minnesota. All pictures will be of different dragonflies in their natural environment along the Long Prairie River Valley. This is the 33rd picture in a 57 image series from Geneva Lerwick. Click here to see the first Dragonfly picture from this study. 

“Confessions of a Test-a-Holic” – Surly & Inanimate – by Lori Hawks

They taunt me in the morning when I first get out of bed,
There’s a pile inside my garbage can, their faces tinted red.

I squint at them, snap photos, and manipulate the hue,
Then I post them with the question, “Do you see one line or two?”

They’re simply made of plastic, yet their power is immense,
Like a hit of pure adrenaline; the high can be intense.

They stink like morning urine, still I grasp them in my fist,
The stench shouldn’t be shocking, after all they measure piss.

I score them at the Dollar Store then order more online,
I replenish my whole stash using One-Click, Amazon Prime.

From pink dyes to the digitals, I’ve sampled many kinds,
I’ve experienced an ecstasy in seeing double lines.

The fancy ones estimate just how many Weeks you’ve been,
But can’t begin to guesstimate if you’ll miscarry or when.

I’ve shattered and then gutted them, just before their trashing,
Without an ounce of remorse; they deserve a fucking smashing.

They’re amateur fortune tellers with twisted crystal balls,
I’ll stop using them in airports and in public bathroom stalls.

Forget the Twelve-Step Program; it won’t matter what they say,
I am thirty-five and childless; it’s the Test-a-Holic way.

Lori M. Hawks is wanted by her public library for overdue book fines. She has loved writing ever since she began drawing in Crayon on the walls above her crib. Her childhood summers were spent enjoying classic texts such as Word Bird. Her favorite TV show was Reading Rainbow. As a grown-up, Lori has taught English and composition for eleven years. She enjoys attempting yoga, spoiling her two cats & husband when she is not battling M.S. or infertility.

“Labyrinth” – Poetry – by Linda Browning

Orbiting lives
Pulled together by emotional gravity
Then flung to the outer limits, to their apogee
Returning to center—alone.
Long trajectories, sharp curves, sudden changes in direction,
Gossamer touches in passing.
No barriers but steadfast guides.
Walk away. Walk toward. Walk in shoulder-to-shoulder synchrony.
Returning to center—together.

Linda Wasnick Browning has been many things, probably none of which has had a major impact on the world. She has worked as an archaeologist, organizational analyst, educator, trainer, financial planner, and recruiter. The role Linda has found most fulfilling has been that of mother and she continues to find opportunities to love, teach, mentor, and coach children and youth through community soccer and church activities.

“Vampire” – Slippy Realism – by Kevin Morris

The owl’s mournful cry caused the young woman to gaze up into the
night sky. Death glided gracefully overhead in search of his prey.

“I salute you my friend,” the woman said raising her hand to signify her respect.

Her coal black hair blue in the rising wind. She licked her full red
lips and smiled. Briliant white teeth reflected back the light of the
moon. She, to
was in search of her prey.

Kevin Morris is the author of multiple short stories and novels. He began to write seriously in mid 2012. All of his writing takes place in my spare room surrounded by books. Being blind he uses a standard laptop with Jaws (software which converts text into speech and braille allowing me to access my computer’s screen). 

Art House Shout – “Arcana 2014″ – by Patrick W. Marsh


If you’ve got some time available this weekend for a small visit to the dark fantastic, check out the small and quaint convention called Arcana, which takes place in Bandanna Square every year in the orange rains of October. A smaller event, Arcana offers the chance to interact one-on-one with guests of various creative disciplines. Last year, I was a vendor at Arcana, and I loved my experience. I met Tim Kirk, talked to a variety of writers and artists, which included the well-established Roy C. Booth. Tim Kirk gave me the best two-word answer when it came to getting established in the creative art: “Be stubborn.” I’m loathing myself for not being able to make it this year, but I cannot stress how important this event is to emerging artists and writers, and to the preservation of dark fantasy. If you like Lovecraft, this is the place to go.  Check it out for insightful panels, rare items like old books and records, and one of the most relaxing and professional conventions in all of Minnesota.

For more information about Arcana 2014, please click here to be taken to their homepage. 

Cocktail Hour – “Vintage Highball with Pate & Crackers” – by Prairiewood Farms

pate and highball

Vintage Highball

Add to ice
2 oz of bourbon
2 oz of club soda
1 sprig of mint

Pate and Crackers

4 oz of softened cream cheese
4 oz of room temperature liverwurst
1 T of finely minced onion
1 T of soft butter
Combine cream cheese, liverwurst, onion and butter.
Spread on top of your favorite crackers.

From Prairiewood Farm. Settle into Fall with a vintage Highball and a nod to October Fest with Pate and crackers. 

Television Review – “ROUND 20: Lost Girl Vs Continuum” – by Nick Housewright

Versus Round 20 Cover

Canadian Action Import Hour

The Fight: One of the ways cable channels fill up their programming is by licensing network shows, and in fact this is actually where the networks make their most profit. SyFy though, has long licensed various genre shows from overseas; England, Australia, and Canada. While they have optioned many such shows in the past, currently their two biggest are both Canadian action shows: the time-travel themed Continuum, and the monsters-among-us themed Lost Girl.

What are the shows about? Continuum follows a cop named Kiera Cameron (Rachel Nichols) in the year 2077 who is sucked back in time to our present day when a group of terrorists attempt to use an experimental time machine to escape their execution. In the present day the terrorists (called Liber8) attempt to stop the future from happening by altering the past. The intriguing twist here, is that while the terrorists are clearly evil, the future they oppose (which Kiera attempts to protect) is a ruthless corporate-run authoritarian dictatorship.

Lost Girl follows a succubus (typically a female demon, but here all the monsters are referred to as “Fae”) named Bo (Anna Silk), who ends up becoming an independent detective rather than choosing between either the “light” or “dark”. She inevitably investigates a string of cases of the week involving a wide array of monsters while attempting to toe the line between the two sides (and inevitably getting involved in a sinister over-arching scheme each season).

At least this is how the shows start out.

So, what are the shows really about? Similar to the time-travel Looper, Continuum seems to be about cycles of violence and conflict. The show quite literally investigates these themes through time-travel: whether people can change their future or if they are trapped by bad decisions. Most obviously this is commented on through Alec Sadler (Erik Knudsen when young, William B. Davis when old) who helps Kira in the present, and will one day grow up to be ruler of the corporate run future. The show also deals with how far people will go to protect loved ones (or in Kira’s case, to get back to them), and is able to decently interrogate this without delving (too much) into the familial clichés I have grown to loathe over the course of this column.

A cliché I have come to loathe due to its prevalence in soooo many shows, most recently: Lost Girl. While it attempts to be somewhat racier (A succubus drains souls/life force through sexual activity), it inevitably seems to be all (only) about family, what makes it up, etc. Bo’s parents are inevitably found out to be… less than great, so that Bo’s friends and lovers inevitably become her true family, who she will fight for to the end… yada, yada, yadda.

Acting in Continuum: Continuum’s cast is pretty decent, though they are unfortunately not always up to the emotional turns that the writers ask of them. Rachel Nichols is good for the action and investigation parts of the show, but struggles to really sell the more emotional parts of her character journey –which is unfortunate as the loss of her future family becomes heavier the longer the show goes on. Erik Knudsen is similarly handicapped, sometimes he is able to sell his emotions well, but other times he just comes off as petulant (though admittedly he is playing a teenager). Victor Webster perhaps fairs the best of the main heroes playing Carlos Fonnegra, the Vancouver detective who becomes Kiera’s partner after she infiltrates the modern day police force.  As is often the case, the villains end up more compelling, though it’s a toss-up if this is because they are more mysterious and therefore more interesting. Tony Amendola as Kagame, the one-time leader of Liber8, and Hugh Dillon as the sinister Mr. Escher, both end up being more intriguing then the ostensible heroes.

Acting in Lost Girl: Lost Girl is pitched on a level closer to the campier earlier seasons of Xena: Warrior Princess, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, than even those shows’ later more serious seasons. For better or for worse, the cast rises to (and does not exceed) those modest levels. That being said, I do have a soft spot for Ksenia Solo’s Kenzi, Bo’s comic-relief criminal sidekick. Rick Howland is also somewhat more compelling as Trick (this is the kind of show where everyone has one or two syllable nicknames), the enigmatic bartender at the only Fae only bar in town. Zoie Palmer as Dr. Lewis, and Kris Holden-Ried as Dyson, Bo’s Female and Male love interests respectively, are basically fine playing the stoic man-of-action, and the conflicted doctor with a (increasingly) tragic past. Then there’s Anna Silk herself as the titular lost girl; I saved her for last since this is another case where the lead may be the only thing holding the show together. Silk is equally good as both the emotional center, and the sexual center, since the show’s racier (but not more than TV-14 level sex) attitude require her to portray the smoldering sexpot just as much as the butt-kicking hero. Which she is fortunately equally adept at playing.

Writing in Continuum: Here’s where the shows really start being different. Continuum’s writing staff, led by creator Simon Barry, have crafted an ever-evolving increasingly complex time-travel epic. Maybe I’m overselling it. However, the show takes chances: starting out as a fairly episodic story where Kiera attempts to foil Liber8 each week, and slowly evolving into an on-going story featuring multiple competing interests. By virtue of the show’s time-travel and bleak future setting, it is unclear who the “real” villain actually is. Even Kiera becomes less obviously the “hero” as the story unfolds. Still, the writers are smart enough to both ground the story in the character’s motivations and to keep the story moving at an increasingly breakneck pace so that the show never gets too bogged down in the plot machinations.

Writing in Lost Girl: I guess I already alluded to the style of Lost Girl’s writing when talking about the show’s actors. Basically each week she must solve a case, or help someone, or, as the show nears each season’s finale, defeat some new megalomaniac. The show’s attempts at character development are usually centered on increasingly weird twists. It has a running theme of Fae ownership of humans which… I’m not even sure I know what to say about this? Suffice to say there’s a lot of sex in place of real emotions on this show, and while the twists pile up to form the kind of magic-induced convoluted storytelling only this type of genre show is capable of, it never quite reaches the same levels of lunacy that a show like Sanctuary does. It just ends up being the atypical more is less situation -though I’ll admit that my patience was tested a lot more than usual because I watched this show in large chunks.

Production in Continuum: Continuum’s production team shows what can be done on a limited budget. The show is able to deploy CGI judiciously to portray the sci-fi tech of the future – and the future itself in several short but effective scenes. The show is also smart enough to actually shoot Canada for Canada, an authenticity which lends a sense of place that is usually missing from many much more expensive shows (which ironically still shoot in Canada). The production is uniformly sleek and exciting, and while there may be a bit too much shaky-cam in the action scenes, this is a problem with even 100 million dollar blockbusters these days, so it’s hard to complain too much.

Production in Lost Girl: Lost Girl meanwhile, is a study in either the writers not caring what their budget actually is, or the production staff just not being up for a challenge. The show’s monsters range from being endearingly campily cheap, to just being embarrassingly bad. The action choreography also ranges from being pretty serviceable to being pretty cheesy. This being said, I actually think the set design on the show is pretty good, even if it too often defaults to the amber color palette that directors seem to think screams “magic”.

Overall: Full disclosure: I try to watch every episode of a show that currently exists (or has aired) before writing about it for this column. Because of this I have had to marathon several shows. Major Crimes was enjoyable enough, Warehouse 13’s last seasons were much better than I expected. Continuum was fantastic, but Lost Girl… nearly killed me. So much so, that I’ll admit that I didn’t make it through the end of the fourth season. It’s actually an interesting study in storytelling, even more so than the budget limitations I earlier talked about. Lost Girl, while the setting does slightly change, and more and more characters are added, generally resets to a status quo of sorts, so that the show remains largely episodic season to season. Continuum meanwhile, while certainly attempting to tell a singular story each episode, builds one long continuous story that gets more and more complicated as it goes. I prefer these sprawling long-form shows, but it’s telling that Lost Girl is headed into a (admittedly final) fifth season, while after three seasons it is looking increasingly likely that Continuum is going to be cancelled (without a conclusive ending).

Winner: Yet still I must give it to Continuum. Perhaps it was because I was watching it straight through, but Lost Girl’s generic cheaply made monster-of-the-week episodes, while occasionally pretty fun –especially in the earlier going- eventually blurs together into one dull slog. Continuum perhaps doomed itself by becoming too complicated too fast –a problem that many shows with ambitions of long-term storytelling face in later seasons. One of my favorite shows, Person of Interest, fully morphed into a serialized adventure mid-way through its third season, and unfortunately its ratings are now lower than when it was more episodic. Yet I’m repeating myself; the bottom line is that I will always favor riskier more ambitious storytelling over safer more generic fare.

Next Week: I was planning to only do another week of SyFy shows, but lets just keep going: more SyFy –SyFY for the rest of my life! Also, Lost Girl put me in the mood to talk about some really bad storytelling, and SyFy definitly has a lot of that. So next week I’ll look at a couple of signature mini-series they produced: expensive adaptations of well-known fantasy and science fiction novels, in this case: Dune, and Earthsea.

“Intention and Inattention” – Elitism for All – by Ozgur K. Sahin

A perceived conflict that has become more and more common in recent decades is the moral conflict about killing.  Really it is specific version of a broader conflict about hypocrisy, but the conflict is composed of a variety of scenarios involving killing animals for food, mercy killing, judicial killing (death penalty), war and soldiering, and protesting (or other forms of non-violent activism and revolution).  The basic question is, “How can you kill and not be a murderer?”  Or in its more cliché form, “If you kill murderers, what makes you any different from them?”

I find it astounding that this question makes its way into popular literature, television, and social debate as though it is some deep and vexing dilemma, when the obvious answer is “intention.”  When the legal system euthanizes those who kill for fun or compulsion without remorse or empathy, a different reasoning and process leads to the same outcome on a very basic level (meaning the result is usually more humane and less prolific in terms of body count).  As Ken Wilber put it, “Real violence is almost always ended by stronger violence in saner hands.”  The “sanity” factor is the key difference (and before anyone says “who gets to judge sanity?” yes, there are objective tools for that).

Now I do not mean to say there are no valid arguments against the death penalty, against war, against armed revolution, etc.  What I am saying is the hypocrisy argument is not usually one of them (though I have seen it apply sometimes to specific situations). The only kind of killing that people of this mindset seem to condone is merciful euthanasia for the terminally ill, and while I understand that mercy is the intent behind that killing, I find it very hypocritical to validate the issue of intent in that case while denying the validity of intent in every other case.

It seems to me that the real argument is that no one should kill anyone who doesn’t want to die, and that has clear roots in the pluralistic feeling that people should not give anything to others that is unwelcome (labels, pain, poverty, lies, truth, death, etc).  It is a view that only champions alleviating suffering, which is a noble concept, but turns sinister when combined with a failure to perceive suffering as a normal, natural occurrence rather than an isolated indicator or right or wrong.  Pluralism values context above all things, giving rise to the consideration of what others want or need, but when suffering enters the discussion, it seems that any context that paints suffering as a necessary natural or logical consequence of other non-evil realities is often thrown right out the window.

The whole dilemma has that “who-are-we-to-judge?” flavor that I mentioned in my article about nonjudgmentalism, and is thus a magnet for narcissism.  Narcissism is all about manipulating images, even more than about manipulating truths or high opinions.  Narcissists have images of themselves that they want others to buy into, and while they don’t always want to portray themselves as “best” or “most honest” or “kindest,” any judgments that contradict their chosen images are cause for dissatisfaction and narcissistic injury.  Narcissists feel like they are the main characters of their own movie, not necessarily the best ones.

Most of us who try to be considerate with our labels and judgments do so because we don’t want to cause unnecessary pain and we want to leave room for people to be dynamic, changing creatures that are not defined in a single instant of life.  But to narcissists, leveling labels and judgments that they don’t like or agree with is itself a crime.  “Don’t say anything about me that I wouldn’t say about myself” is an accurate summation of a narcissist’s view, and “don’t do anything to me that I wouldn’t do to myself” is just another variation on this, and that includes killing.  The very viewpoint we meekly adopt to avoid causing any suffering (necessary or unnecessary) and to not marginalize differences within and between people and communities is the very viewpoint narcissists expect of everyone but themselves because it is the only one that allows them to do whatever they damned well please.

But narcissists still want to be allowed to do things to other people that those people don’t welcome.  They still want to be allowed to hurt people when it suits them.  How does anyone do that without violating this so-called “compassionate” stance they pretend to adopt?  How do narcissists get away with carrying out their real agendas without tearing the fake masks they want everyone to buy into?  Fortunately, any stance that is hazy about the relevance of intent can be manipulated quite easily.  Whether you kill for fun or kill for justice, intent can be used to pin you down…unless you paint the killing as a simple by-product of what your real intention was.  Then you didn’t mean to kill anyone, but it was a regrettable consequence of what you were trying to accomplish, whether that was “expressing anger” or “teaching a lesson” or “quashing the riot” or “following your faith.”  The phrases “I didn’t mean to” and “I wasn’t trying to” are the very battle cries of narcissism.

That guy in the black SUV weaving in and out of traffic to get ahead of everyone else wasn’t trying to cause an accident; he was just trying to get to his appointment on time.  That woman who cheated on her boyfriend didn’t mean to hurt him; she just felt afraid of real intimacy.  As I said, what narcissists really want is a philosophy that lets them do whatever they want, and what that implies is that they don’t want to have to consider other people at all.  In the above statements, and any similar ones you will hear from any narcissist, there is the unspoken assumption that what they wanted was what really mattered most, and they can’t be held accountable for the consequences as long as they did not deliberately intend for the consequences to occur.  Of course she didn’t mean to hurt him.  Of course he didn’t mean to cause an accident.  In order for either thing to be intentional, these people would have to consider the needs, or even the existence of others as independent beings.  If you’re running a marathon, you don’t mean to step on ants…it just happens.  And we are all ants in the marathon of every narcissist’s life.

And so narcissism escapes the dilemma of intention via the tool of inattention.  But just as there are lies of omission, there is callousness of omission.  Empathy is not something narcissists want to be bothered with, and if we hold them accountable for it, they swing into action with the very same tepid version of the golden rule that excessive pluralism handed to them, and say we are violating their inalienable right to do whatever they want and be perceived however they want.  Too often, we answer the “I didn’t mean to” and “I wasn’t trying to” battle cries with sympathy, because we feel that doing something by accident is better than doing it deliberately.

But that is because we are too obsessed with outcomes and have not examined intention thoroughly.  We let our own attention be redirected where narcissism prefers.  “He didn’t deliberately cause an accident,” we say as an excuse, but this is not an absence of intention.  Rather it is an indication of some other intention—in this case, the intention to place his own desires ahead of the basic needs of others.  And honestly if that wasn’t deliberate either, then what we really need to do is body-check this man’s life so hard that he starts recognizing the need to start being deliberate with other people.  I don’t think it is an accident that narcissism and ADHD cases have both measurably increased in the last 40 years.  Being careless and heedless with others automatically leads to harming them, and claiming all of the wreckage left behind as “accidents” is simply an indicator of narcissism.

Personally, I feel that a pattern of accidents and carelessness is WORSE in many ways than deliberate vindictiveness, because if a behavior is deliberate, at least there is more of a possibility that the person can stop it.  I find it ironic that many people view the death penalty as a greater social injustice than lax drinking and driving laws.  Until we have adequately examined the role intention plays in our lives, we will remain unable to adequately respond to the toll inattention takes on them.

“Dragonfly Study: 32″ – Sun & Petrichor – by Geneva Lerwick


Dragonfly Study: 32. By Geneva Lerwick. This is the 32nd photo in a Dragonfly Study taken at Prairiewood Farms in Minnesota. All pictures will be of different dragonflies in their natural environment along the Long Prairie River Valley. This is the 32nd picture in a 57 image series from Geneva Lerwick. Click here to see the first Dragonfly picture from this study. 

Apocalyptic/Horror – “The Greenland Diaries” – Day 55 – by Patrick W. Marsh

Author’s Note: This will be the last entry on The Greenland Diaries being published on Calamities Press. This was a preview before our first publication project, which was The Greenland Diaries: Days 1 – 100. To find out more information about it, please click here to visit The Greenland Diaries main page.

More drumming, more thick-dark nights, more clouds of dust and pollen waiting outside the shed door every morning when I rattle it open to the daylight. Every morning it blinds me, throwing round orange blobs on the outside of my vision, which dances away after a few irritated seconds. I need sunglasses, but when I wear them I hear my girlfriends chirping voice about looking like a stoner, or “like I’m too cool for school.” I loved how corny her humor was—it was straight from the heart, without a lot of thought.

I’ve just realized, having paged through previous entries of my diaries, I’ve never bothered to explain why my dog has the title “Snowy,” even though she’s a small brown dachshund. My favorite comic growing up was The Adventures of Tintin by Hergé. I always wanted a little dog that could bite the ankle of a ruffian, or unlock a prison door with a paw. Now I have her, but this world makes those adventures look like a hazy dream that brews at early morning. Tintin never had to worry about the night, about the monsters coming, and even if he did—he’d figure out how to get rid of them.

How could anyone with such a ridiculous Cow Lick head take on villainy with such ease? How would he do looking like me, a homeless-looking surfer with a random bald spot? Did the Cow Lick give him confidence?

I need really need to shave my face. I just don’t want to spare the water to do it. I might have to though; the itchiness burns up my cheeks to my nose. I wish the modern vanities would vanish from my personality, but I guess the whole word was running on it until the drum, so it probably has some staying power.

No sign of Gerald in our plant-wriggled neighborhood. I have absolutely no idea where he could be, or where he might’ve wandered off to. I scavenged a little bit further out into the plant-full houses. The vines wrapped everywhere in long green strands and sheets of ivy. There inside houses, outside them, they’re even in between the walls in vein-like highways. What’s feeding them? It’s rained only once since the drum began. I’ve set containers out in random spots around my house. I’m hoping the monsters don’t notice. When things first started with the drum and the dark, they’d come inside my house looking for the slightest hint of life. Even with my recent run-ins with them, they haven’t done bothered with their search and destroy missions.

What’s coming?

I can feel something running behind the hot air, something hidden but enraged. The flowers are everywhere, yet, they don’t smell like anything no matter how many times I stick my face in them. I wasn’t much of a flower connoisseur, but don’t flowers typically smell like something. I wish I had some sort of book on the plant kingdom.

Hmmm… I’m not sure those words are correct.

Genus? That sounds more accurate, I wish had bothered with biology class a little bit more. I remember the book being giant and unwieldy. Life is apparently complex, yet it still flows by everyday like an easy string of water.

Tomorrow, I’m going to explore outside the neighborhood looking for Gerald. We’ll walk all the way down to the Rainbow and the lake next to it. I might grab some water to shave. The lake water can’t be all that polluted now, there are no boats, no people. I wish I could remember the name of the lake.

Tonight, before I sneaked into my shed to write, I noticed a few lights on at a house just down the block. The majority of the houses are completely swept up with vines, so not even their siding or decks glow through. Through their wild skin I know I saw a few lights though, and there were people around them. I watched their silhouettes. They were cutting a cake and blowing out candles behind a dining room window. I know I saw it.

I heard their laughter.

Music Review – “Scar Symmetry: The Singularity” – In Prog We Trust – by Nick Vukelich

Scar Symmetry cover

Scar Symmetry – The Singularity (Phase I: Neohumanity) Review

It should come as no surprise that I like Scar Symmetry. A combination of power, progressive, and melodic death metal falls directly into my wheelhouse. This new album has had some hurdles to overcome but it clears them without breaking a sweat. The first album of a 3-part concept album trilogy, and the first after the departure of founding guitarist Jonas Kjellgren, The Singularity is a welcome return to an earlier Scar Symmetry sound. Keyboards, which had taken a backseat on the last 2 albums, are back with a vengeance and there are elements reminiscent of Devin Townsend that get me even more amped for Z2 than I already am.

The production on previous Scar Symmetry albums is great, with the exception of Dark matter Dimensions, and The Singularity continues the trend nicely. Guitars are exceptionally heavy, while retaining the ability to sling some gorgeous full chords, and the keyboards littered throughout add melodies that I really enjoy. The bass and drums fill up the rhythm section perfectly and really give the songs the depth they need to shine. The vocals, handled by Roberth Karlsson and Lars Palmqvist, blend with the instrumentation and serve to add that signature flavor that this band is known for.

As stated before, The Singularity, is going to be a 3 album concept trilogy. I’ve covered a fair amount of concept albums in the past and some are concepts just in the lyrical department, while albums like this, wrap the whole package as one. So it feels like one long piece of work, while maintaining individuality between individual songs, and this is one of my favorite traits of concept albums that are executed really well. Lyrically Phase I is about the divide between those who are for the use of artificial intellects (referred to as Artilects) and those who oppose the use of such things to stem the rise of artificial intelligence. It’s some excellent sci-fi story work, stemming from roots in the real world, and I would expect nothing less from Scar Symmetry. With the exception of The Unseen Empire I generally like the sci-fi themes they work with lyrically.

The three musicians in Scar Symmetry are, and always have been, some of my favorite. Per Nilsson has impressed me with his playing from the first time I heard Chaosweaver off of the Symmetric in Design album and he only continues to blow minds with each subsequent release. The guitar work on Phase I is truly great. Rhythm parts are memorable, and the leads on display are some of my favorite that Nilsson has ever committed to tape. The bass playing has never been flashy, it isn’t necessary to be so, but it thickens up the rhythm exceptionally well. That’s not to say there aren’t some fun bass lines hidden throughout the album though, the bass lines under the solo section on Neuromancers are a great example. The drumming continues to balance thick grooves with more intense blast bleats, but the subtle flourishes are what set Henrik Ohlsson apart from other drummers. The drum parts can get crazy but in the end they serve the song, and they serve it well.

Scar Symmetry has always been a band that has a vocal section that is powerful, huge, and impressively epic. After the departure of original vocalist Christian Älvestam the band hired the two vocalists mentioned above. One to primarily carry on the role of lead clean vocals and one to focus on lead harsh vocals. Christian had an unbelievable control over his voice, going from brutal guttural growls to soaring melodic clean vocals, and the idea of him being replaced adequately was not something many people gave much credence to. However after 2 albums I feel like Roberth and Lars have really come into their own. The duality of harsh and clean vocals is still there, however, it feels like they are more comfortable in their roles now. The vocals haven’t ever truly suffered in quality, but Phase I has some of my favorite vocal parts of any of the bands catalog.

When the lyric video for Limits to Infinity was released I was admittedly a little disappointed. It was a poor choice for a lead single, for a while I wasn’t sure if I was even going to pick up this record, but in the end my desire to see what these guys had cooked up won out and I picked it up. They had released another lyric video for the song Cryonic Harvest which should have been the first song out there, however since I was so unimpressed I hadn’t bothered to check it out, and that song has quickly become one of my favorite from the album itself. The problem with releasing songs like this is that the sound quality really suffers, and the constant distraction of the graphics for the lyrics makes it impossible to concentrate on what is really important, so I think the best way to release tracks early is to just have the album art be the focus and let the songs speak for itself. This is a great album and one that can be enjoyed by old fans or new. This is only the beginning of what Scar Symmetry has in store for this story and I can’t wait to see where the next two phases take us.

Production: 5/5

Flow: 5/5

Musicianship: 5/5

Vocals: 5/5

Label: Nuclear Blast


Nonfiction/Memoir – Faceplant 32 – “Maps” – by Jacob Steinbauer

Rewind back to fifth grade; I forgot this. When not trying to usurp video game high scores by deleting my competitors’ winning streaks, I was very well behaved. Very well behaved. You see, money was involved. Not stupid real green cash money, the kind that required you to drive or walk somewhere to spend, but red, yellow, and blue money. Red meant respect. Yellow belong. Blue. . .I forget what blue was for, something to do with inside voices? Listening maybe? Shrug.

Mrs. Kalina awarded this money to us for honorable deeds related to each of the three categories. You get in line promptly every day for recess or gym, then you are where you belong, you might get a yellow dollar. You follow instructions and maybe you get a blue one. Or a red one. It was hard to tell where the lines were, and I remember disagreeing with the money color appropriated more than once.

Regardless, every month she held an auction. Some items required certain money colors, others were free-for-alls, with things like candy, stickers, pens, art supplies, paper—yeah, we bid on construction paper, and it was surprisingly a hot item—and whatever else the teacher wanted to pawn. But we always knew that the grand auction with all the really, really great prizes would happen on the last day of school. We’re talking twelve packs of soda, king-sized Butterfinger bars, stickers the size of your face, brand new crayons with gold, silver, and bronze. Yeah. Crazy shit, no stops, everything an eleven year old needs.

Including maps. Maps of everywhere. Mankato. Minnesota. The United States. Asia. Africa. Europe. Antarctica for crying out loud. The entire world stretched out at the bottom and top like the joyous meeting of a cavern stalagmite stalactite stalagctmite (or column if you want to be boring about it). Ocean floor maps, elevation maps, mountainous contour maps. It was the world and everything in it! The point? Mercator and his projections had charted the road my good behavior bucks wanted to take.

Patiently I saved. I would not be outbid. Not by anyone. I kept tabs on the behavior bucks other students received, especially the good kids. Kids like Carl, the principal’s daughter, Katie, who was in our class, et cetera. . . I don’t remember if I had list of what they had and what they spent, but I wouldn’t put it past fifth grade Jacob. As with strategy games like Settlers of Catan, I tend to build silently until blazing across the finish line in one huge turn. BAM! Largest army, longest road: lugubrious losers the lot of you!

Anyway, the grand auction finally came. The other kids bid on pop rocks and 10¢ candy. There may have been a remote-controlled car that we were all supposed to covet, and I guess some of the kids must have as groups of us started pooling resources to buy and share things. Crap. I never thought of that. What if kids like Carl and Katie combined their might to depose my schemed ambition? But there they were, too, spending on stickers, candy, and all sorts of other worthless junk.

And then fifth grade was over.

Wait. What? What do you mean goodbye? What’s this have a nice summer bull? As all the other kids started filing out the door to buses for the last time as grade school children, I crept over to Mrs. Kalina’s desk with a fat, PHAT wad of fake monies. I had hundreds. I mention again, I had been saving this since the beginning of the year, had spent none, and was one of the top earners in the class. I could have outbid the three kids who combined for the car.

—What about the maps?

—Oh, yeah, go ahead.

—We’re not going to bid on them?

Obviously not, school was over.

—You said you wanted them and nobody else did.

Well sugar shit. She could have told me that before the goddamn auction. In retrospect, she had probably awarded them to me mentally already, for my excellent behavior or, if for nothing else, because I was not my brother, Eli (you have no idea the strain he put teachers through, not only with his learning disability but also with his sharp, lawyer-like grasp on fairness, or the exploitation of the idea of fairness anyway. Being one year behind him, our teachers always expected the worst from me and accepted—if I may say so—the best).

Anyway, this is a classic example of a scriptural message at church, that, thinking back, may have even been that year. While expounding the message during the homily, the priest told a story of a boy who mows lawns for a neighbor. The neighbor asks him his price, which the boy sets at $15 per lawn. The boy is overjoyed. He needs the money; he would have done them $10, perhaps less. One day he’s sick and his older brother agrees to mow the lawn for him. When the boy asks his brother what he’s going to spend the $15, the brother says, “What’d mean? I got $20.”

You can see where this leads. If what you have already makes you happy, should seeing someone else get more take that happiness away? As an adult, I see both the warning in this as well as the holes—this metaphor is not watertight. But I did get what I wanted; I got the maps. So could I really complain because I didn’t get any of the junk that, only moments early, I thought of as just that?

I wouldn’t have any of that junk today. I do still have a love for maps. I have a series of 19th century maps of London I found online while trying to prepare for a trip to that city. East Chaep is misspelled on one of them. As a would-be editor, I feel sorry for that cartographer every time I see it. I still have some places to go, some lawns to mow.