REVIEW: Bloggers, Conspiracies, and Zombies – Oh My!

By Tom Quinn

In 2014, the dead rise from the grave and begin attacking the living. The living, however, are a hardy bunch, and twenty years later society still hasn’t crumbled. Then a trio of bloggers follow a presidential hopeful on the campaign trail, and all hell starts to break loose. Again.

Such is the opening of the Newsflesh trilogy by Mira Grant, a series that grabs you by the jugular and doesn’t let go until it’s done with you. It’s tempting to hold this trio of books (in chronological order: Feed, Deadline, and Blackout) up against other mainstream zombie lit, like World War Z (by Max Brooks), but it wouldn’t be fair to either. In WWZ, the zombies take center stage, and the story revolves around humanity’s struggle with them. But the zombie uprising is in the past in Newsflesh – they are an environmental hazard, but they are not the main focus of the story. That honor is reserved for the conspiracy that only grows deeper and more dangerous as the blogging team digs their noses (and heels) in even further.

The real way this series shines is through its characters. Georgia Mason runs “After the World Times,” a politically-oriented site. Her brother Shaun runs around poking dead things with sticks on camera, and their friend Georgette “Buffy” Meissonier writes stories and poems and is the resident genius tech guru. At first, they’re hard to believe as real people – they feel too much like archetypes, and the first book of the trilogy – Feed – is initially mired down with pop culture references. However, once the story gets going, each character grows a third dimension that morphs and changes over the rest of the series in ways that make you begin to truly worry for their safety.

The cast of characters grows over time, eventually going so far to include full on government agencies. There’s also a sense that since Grant was able to get away with the events and set-up of the first book so effectively, she could throw caution to the wind and really screw the characters up, entangling their lives with each other in ways that anybody – pre or post apocalypse – can identify with. It’s an impressive feat, especially with the ever-present background threat of a zombie attack at any time. Which is to say nothing of the occasional outbreak and actual zombie hordes that appear at many of the most inopportune moments.

Taken as a whole, this trilogy is an excellent adventure and conspiracy story that features copious undead, likeable characters, shifty government agencies, and a zombie bear. If you’re planning on reading at the park, beach, or on a trip, make sure to pick this series up. You won’t be sorry you did.

Tom is a writer, a photographer, and a libertine. He’s currently heading a new story-a-week project that can be found at yearofthewriters.tumblr.com.

(CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

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REVIEW: ParaNorman

By Kristy Harding

I was ten minutes late to a Friday night showing of ParaNorman. Since it had only been out for a week, I was worried that I would have a hard time getting a seat. You can imagine my surprise, then, when I got to the theater and discovered that it was almost completely empty.

ParaNorman was released with high expectations as a follow-up of sorts of the hit movie Coraline, yet, even with such a high bar, the critics were not disappointed. As of this writing, ParaNorman has an 87% on Rotten Tomatoes.

So, why the empty theater?

I’ll admit after watching the trailer I was a bit concerned that ParaNorman would be just a cleverly-animated butts and farts movie, but I was surprised to find a funny, atmospheric horror film with delightful characters and a fairly nuanced examination of mob thinking.

That’s a lot of different stuff to cram into one movie, but ParaNorman pulls it off. The plot was such a faithful example of the hero’s journey, I found myself going through the steps in my head as I watched: This is the part where he resists the call to save the town from the witch, now we discover that Grandma is really a mentor figure, now we watch him do battle with the threshold guardian who has been protecting the town, and so on. While this made the plot rather predictable, it also meant that the filmmakers had plenty of room for nuance in other places.

Like Coraline, the setting was gorgeous. As someone who grew up in New England and has spent a significant portion of my life in or near Eastern Massachusetts, I am difficult to please with New England settings, but dark woods and eerie town made me genuinely nostalgic for the North Shore.

Norman’s best friend, Neil, was one of the most endearing side-kicks I’ve seen in a long time. He could have easily been reduced to the stereotypical bullied-yet-easy-going clown found in every high school, thrown into the mix for comic relief. Instead, he is presented as a nuanced kid who drew the short straw on life and faces each challenge with a mix of resignation and acceptance.

In fact, none of the characters felt thrown in or like plot devices. Everyone Norman encountered had a place in the web of relationships in Norman’s small town and this connection is where much of the film’s heart and humor came from.

Maybe this nuance is why the theater was empty the night I went to see ParaNorman. It’s difficult enough to give a sense of the subtleties of this film in a review, but in the trailer the film’s complexity was absolutely lost. After such a short tour of the theaters, I can only hope ParaNorman will be available to stream before Halloween and gets the vindication it deserves in the Netflix afterlife.

Kristy Harding is the founding editor of Paper Tape Magazine. She can be found @kristyharding and kristyharding.com.

REVIEW: A Very Brief Introduction to Ray Bradbury

By Tom Quinn

On June 6th, the world lost one of the great writers of the 20th and 21st centuries: Ray Bradbury. Bradbury was one of my favorite authors, and the favorite author of many people in the world. His books touched millions, and his stories have helped shape the way people imagine and think of what a story can be. He wasn’t perfect in his storytelling, of course – one of Bradbury’s problems (possibly his most prominent) was his habit of writing dialogue in the way he wanted people to talk, not in the way they do talk. But then that can be forgivable, and it’s very easy to forgive in the stories that he penned.

Below is a list of books of his you should read. The list is in no way comprehensive or complete (something that would be a feat for an author who wrote even half as much as Bradbury), but it’s a good list to start on if you’re not very familiar with him yet. Have you been wondering what made him so good at what he did, and why people will be missing him for years? Well here’s where you can get started.

Fahrenheit 451 – Arguably the most famous of Bradbury’s novels, Fahrenheit 451 is more about books than it is about the totalitarian dystopia that forms its background. The protagonist is a fireman – called that due to his job of setting literature on fire. His job is to turn books into funeral pyres, and he, more than anyone, is in a perfect position to show the cost of such an act. The story is at turns prophetic, worrying, and chilling as he casts the death of literature and society’s ability to comprehend and understand against the emergence of more and more technologies (such as the smart TVs predicted in this book) that have come to dominate everyone’s lives. This may be a perfect introduction to Bradbury.

The Martian Chronicles – A collection of shorter stories that, linked together, chronicle the rise of a human civilization on Mars, and fall of the indigenous Martian one. A somewhat haunting book, and sitting somewhere along the murky science fantasy line. It’s about loneliness, about hope, about exploration and the need to survive. It’s also a much faster read due to its size and style, so if you’re a slower reader or short on time, this might be a good route to go.

The Illustrated Man – There is a man, and he encounters a man whose tattoos move on their own. They tell stories, and the stories they tell are dark the way shadows at night are dark, and are just as enchanting. Be forewarned: The Illustrated Man feels a bit different from other Bradbury stories, and as such can be a bit more difficult to get into if it’s your first one.

The October Country – This book is much more fantasy than it is sci-fi, and firmly establishes Bradbury as an author that can bounce between the two at will. The stories are as tragic as they are hopeful, and absolutely wonderful to read from the moment you pick it up to the moment it ends. It’s also another one of his short story collections, so it can be a bit easier to digest in that way.

Something Wicked This Way Comes – Children versus a dark carnival. Innocence and childhood versus the evilness that lurks inside us all. An engrossing story of what happens when one tries to shine a light into that darkness, and the fortitude it takes to keep that light on. Be forewarned: his language in this one can waver a bit, sometimes becoming a bit difficult to read as Bradbury gets caught up in his own turns of phrase. But it’s still completely worth it.

Dandelion Wine – A seemingly simple story of the summer of 1928, in Green Town, Illinois. It mostly focuses around Douglas Spaulding, the twelve year old protagonist who explores the town with his friends and younger brother. But Dandelion Wine does not stop with just him, instead dancing around the town, sharing the lives of its residents, spinning all together into a recollection of a time gone by, when the world was a magical place full of mystery and excitement. One particularly interesting fact about this book (and, subsequently, Ray Bradbury’s influence): astronauts aboard the Apollo 15 mission named a crater on the moon after this book. Go ahead, look up Dandelion Crater, and see if you aren’t suddenly interested in giving Dandelion Wine a shot.

If you have a favorite Bradbury novel that went unmentioned here, hop on Twitter and tells us about it @PaperTapeMag.

Tom is a writer, a photographer, and a libertine. He’s currently heading a new story-a-week project that can be found at yearofthewriters.tumblr.com.

(CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

REVIEW: David Chelsea in Love

by Kristy Harding

Usually I do to graphic novels what I did to Persepolis: I tear through them in an afternoon and end up disappointed that I didn’t give myself the chance to get to know them better. David Chelsea in Love was a graphic novel first for me. It actually took me several weeks to read.

It wasn’t because it was bad. It was actually good enough to give me the disorienting-in-a-good-way feeling I always get when a book manages to convince me that it’s taking me somewhere else. The scenes that take place in Portland made me nostalgic for my last trip to Portland, and the characters were so well drawn that I could remember each one and tell them apart even though there were a lot of them, and they flip-flopped between Portland and NYC swapping relationships continually.

The thing was, even though David Chelsea in Love was good at taking me on a trip, that particular trip wasn’t always a trip I wanted to take. Most of the time, it was like that friend who continually complains about relationship problems because they need to tell somebody, and they don’t actually care if anybody is listening. When you have too many of your own problems to deal with, you let their call go to voicemail or sit there nodding your head and feeling a little used, but when you’re lonely and relaxed it can pass for friendship, especially over a pint in a loud pub.

The book was full of two person dialogue between David and Minnie in which they attempt to define and redefine the terms of their relationship. Because of Minnie’s quirky personality and David’s awkwardness with polyamory, it was amusing at first to watch David try to answer questions like: How do you negotiate a romantic relationship with someone who thinks her only shot at real love flew by when she was seventeen? What do you do when you get your girlfriend pregnant, but you’re not her primary relationship? Eventually though, the book began to run in a predictable cycle of craziness, breakups, and painful attempts to be friends.

Taking so long to finish the book came with an interesting side-effect, though. If you spend enough time with the relationship- problems friend, you eventually figure out that you’re getting to know them, maybe even better than you know anyone else. By the time I finished David Chelsea in Love, because I spent such a long time with it, I felt like I had experienced it much more than any other graphic novel I’ve read.

And that’s probably the biggest reason why I don’t mind the space it’s taking up on my desk as I write this. David Chelsea in Love is a whiny friend, but it’s still a friend.


Kristy Harding is founder of Paper Tape and can be found @kristyharding.

REVIEW: Five Books, One King, and Four Musketeers

By Tom Quinn

You’ve most likely heard of The Three Musketeers and The Man in the Iron Mask. With all the movies and the fame, it’s difficult to not at least know of them. You may not have read either, though, on the basis that they’re by a 19th century French author, and books of that era can sometimes be difficult to work through due to their language usage. What you might not know – in fact, what you probably don’t know – is that those books are actually the first and last (respectively) in the explosive and exciting Musketeers saga.

Known commonly as the D’Artagnan Romances (named after the main hot-headed but loyal musketeer, D’Artagnan), the series starts during the reign of Louis XIII, whose wife is carrying on a love affair with an English Duke, and whose prime minister essentially controls the crown. Over the course the books, Alexandre Dumas takes the reader on a journey through the end of Louis XII’s reign and into the childhood and eventual rise to power of Louis XIV, France’s so-called Sun King.

At the start, D’Artagnan is just a hot-headed kid from Gascony who wants to make his fortune as one of the king’s Musketeers. He’s so determined that he even tries to get into a duel with someone (who will eventually become a major character) within the first few pages of the first book, meaning the series hits the ground running, and fast. In fact, in the first 62 pages of The Three Musketeers, there are at least three duels, three more near-duels, a street brawl and a house very nearly being burnt to the ground. Dumas, as an author, does not mess around.

The Three Musketeers is absurdly famous, and for good reason. The book is exciting. It’s a fast paced story, full of likeable (or at least believable) characters and all the swashbuckling action you could hope for. It’s an adventure book that has political intrigue and the meanings of friendship and honor close to its heart, leading the characters on an international adventure as they try to prove themselves by saving the lives of those they love, be it through proclaimed duty or feelings. Interestingly, D’Artagnan himself is not one of the Musketeers that the book is named for – that distinction belongs to three men that go by Aramis, Athos, and Porthos in order to hide their identities, and subsequently things in their past or present they wish to keep out of reach of those that would harm them.

As has been said, The Three Musketeers is only the beginning of the story. You can read this book on its own, enjoy it, and leave the cast to continue their adventures, or you can see what actually happens next in Twenty Years After. As the title suggests, this one picks up twenty years after the end of the events of The Three Musketeers. Loius XIV is a child, the prime minister rules the country, and the Musketeers have gone their separate ways, pulled apart by time. But D’Artagnan is not one to rest idly, and has soon embroiled himself (and his friends) in another adventure, this one involving two civil wars in two separate countries, one of which threatens to dethrone Charles I from the throne of England.

Twenty Years After focuses more on intrigue than adventure, but it still doesn’t lack. Dumas has his ineffable quartet on high speed horse chases, hatching tricky plots, and even on the front lines of the civil wars themselves. Still a fun time, Twenty Years After leaves the reader needing more – unlike The Three Musketeers, the ending feels much more open ended, pulling you onward deeper into the storylines as they branch further and further apart.

When it was originally written, the saga was written as a trilogy, the books starting with The Three Musketeers, continuing on in Twenty Years After, and finally wrapping up with The Vicomte de Bragelonne. However, the final book is actually so large (268 chapters), that the English translations tend to break it up into three books: The Vicomte de Bragelonne, Louise de Vallière, and The Man in the Iron Mask.

Once it hits that end trilogy, the story takes a distinct turn, focusing much more heavily on Loius XIV than on D’Artagnan and his friends. That said, the Musketeers do not go away. In fact, they begin finding themselves on opposite sides of a political rift that begins with the designs of one to usurp the throne and replace the King. Then things get crazy.

Ultimately, the only potentially weak link in the series is Louise de Vallière, in which Dumas relates the story of Loius XIV and his love affair with one of his wife’s maids of honor. That story reads like a Shakespearean love farce, as it takes place entirely in a country retreat with all of the court members. Push yourself on through it, though, as parts near the end are where the seeds for The Man in the Iron Mask are sewn, and you will not want to miss that background.

Ultimately, if you’re only in this for a simple adventure story, The Three Musketeers has you covered. But if you want a full-blown saga, this is the one to read. Enjoy, and remember: All for one, and one for all.

Tom is a writer, a photographer, and a libertine. He’s currently heading a new story-a-week project that can be found at yearofthewriters.tumblr.com.

(CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

REVIEW: Sleeping Beauty: Sleeper Hit?

by Jacob Rubin

The most expensive Disney movie at the time, Sleeping Beauty (1959) was one of the most arduous projects the Disney studio ever undertook, resulting in it being in production for six years. The backgrounds of this piece, developed by Disney animator Eyvind Earle, were inspired by early Renaissance paintings, and looked almost otherworldly with the character designs. The multi-plane camera, the revolutionary animation tool Disney popularized and employed in his films from the beginning, was pushed to its limits (at the time) to show the complete scope of King Stefan’s domain, with copious amounts of well-envisioned background characters, and deeply detailed buildings within the little kingdom, all animated separately in layers, creating a terrific sense of depth.

Later, as we get into the film’s more sinister side, and we witness Maleficent’s home life, surrounded by green flames and gruesome little gremlins (eerily similar to the creatures dancing around the Chernabog in the “Night on Bald Mountain” segment of Fantasia (1940)), we see that the same approach that made us feel so immersed and comfortable in the setting can also scare us, as the villain’s world feels more real than it ever has (compared to the evil queen’s dungeon in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), or Captain Hook’s ship in Peter Pan (1953)). Thanks to this, Maleficent feels like a real threat to our heroes, whereas other villains have just felt like mere obstacles to get our happy ending.

This brings us to Maleficent herself. Villains have always been essential in films like this (the medieval heroic quest-type), and the evil witch who curses Aurora with the horrible jinx that makes her have an adverse reaction to spinning wheels would have to be a malicious creature indeed. Maleficent is clearly influenced by the evil queen from Disney’s first feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The pair of them have similar motives, and, like any good villain, are pushed on their quests by selfishness and jealousy, hoping the amount of chaos they can cause with their magic, large or small, will grant them what they want. However, unlike the evil queen, Maleficent beats around no bushes. She comes down from her realm of terror to call the king and queen out on their fatal mistake in excluding her from the princess’ christening, executes her vengeance swiftly, and gets the hell out of there (presumably to return to her realm, which may in fact be Hell). She does so all while maintaining her unbreakable composure, and never loses her cool until her minions fail her years later.

Maleficent is a chilled, cunning plotter, who only raises her voice when she finds it necessary. Of all the threats in the early-era Disney films, hers seem the most real, as we see how effortlessly she curses Aurora, how easily she tempts the princess to the spinning wheel, and how simply she surrounds her castle prison with thorns. (She also turns into a dragon, but that looks like it takes some planning.) By contrast, we have Captain Hook in Peter Pan, a bumbling doofus. Though clever, his plans are easily foiled once Peter Pan appears, due to his loud and childlike persona.

In the classic hero-verses-villain story, the more potent the villain, the more the story is about them. Every story needs an antagonist, but the degree of relevance of the antagonist varies from story to story. Maleficent is a potent villain, and the story of Sleeping Beauty is about how Aurora, Philip, and the fairies overcome her. All plot points and issues to tend with relate to Maleficent in one way or another. Captain Hook is a less effective nemesis, but Peter Pan isn’t about Peter Pan fighting Captain Hook, it’s about Wendy and the Darling children discovering Neverland and what that means for their childhood.

Not only does Sleeping Beauty have the first real villain, it also has a developed romantic lead. Before Sleeping Beauty, the princes in the Disney Princess movies are underdeveloped cardboard standees with little to no dialogue (outside of singing, and they’re lucky if they even get that). In the studio’s previous film, Lady and the Tramp (1955), Disney learned that a love story works more effectively if we’re seeing both sides of the relationship, and not just the pretty girl pining after the haircut in the regal clothes. With that, we are given Prince Phillip, the first fleshed-out Disney prince.

Phillip flirts, dances, engages in slapstick with his horse, confesses his new love of Briar Rose (the name Aurora uses when she’s in hiding) to his father, defies the rules, and fights – with a sword and everything – to earn his happy ending instead of simply having it handed to him like the princes before. Admittedly, yes, he’s not nearly as explored as he could be, and can’t even hold a candle to Tramp or some of the later Disney heroes, such as Aladdin in Aladdin (1992) or Captain Phoebus in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996), but there are steps taken with Phillip toward real consistent heroic development for the studio. This was severely helped by giving him a first name. You’d think giving major characters first names would be a no-brainer, but it looks like it took them a few years to figure that out.

Sleeping Beauty represented many firsts for the studio, but also ended an era. The next film, 1961’s One Hundred and One Dalmatians, was shot using Xerox cels, a major time-saver for the studio. This means that Sleeping Beauty was the last film to rely on the traditional technique of hand-inking every frame, and the subsequent movies had much more fast-paced and spontaneous animation. This is very evident in 101 Dalmatians, as well as The Sword in the Stone (1963) and The Jungle Book (1967), which would be the last film produced under Walt Disney’s supervision, before his death in 1966. Sadly, Sleeping Beauty was something of a fiasco, and only made back slightly more money than it cost to produce (it cost $6 million, and made $7.7 million). Though the second highest grossing film of the year, Sleeping Beauty – like Fantasia and Alice in Wonderland (1951) before it – was an artistic struggle that saw mixed critical reception in its time. Today, however, it is one of Disney’s most popular princess films, and has been called one of the best animated films ever made.

Jacob Rubin is an Oakland-based writer and comedian, currently finishing up his undergrad in Creative Writing at Goddard College. His piece for Paper Tape was part of a larger project on Disney film, the research process of which made Jacob happier than he has ever been in his life. He can be followed on Twitter at @jacobsrubin.

(Licensed: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)