Archive for March 2013

Charlotte Armstrong and the Case of the Weird Sisters

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When I recovered from the relentless terror of Shirley Jackson's House on Haunted Hill, I searched for another novel that flies out of the gate like a rocket-powered robin, whispering horrors in my ear with the loveliest of voices.

A re-release of Charlotte Armstrong's Case of the Weird Sisters fell into my lap, and more than made the grade. Armstrong maintains a a fierce commitment to suspense and character, even as certain aspects of the narrative fall flat.

Alice Brennan trips lightly through a poorly thought-out engagement into the house of the titular weird sisters, each nursing a debilitating handicap and a desperation for cash.

As I read it, 3 other series came to mind: Hercule Poirot, contemporary Doctor Who and a whole body of self-referential film noir.

These may sound unrelated. They're not.

Each case relies upon an interloper who not only happens upon the mystery, but also ingratiates him (let's face it, usually him) self with the primary players in the case.

I love The Case of the Weird Sisters unabashedly, even though it lays bare some of the most problematic aspects of the type of storytelling I describe. Doctor Who, despite being a science-fiction yarn, may represent this storytelling best: it relies upon the viewer relating to the earthbound narrator, who controls the story until the Doc appears. At which point, the Doctor takes over all agency, and our earthbound audience stand-in becomes nothing more than an observer.


::experiences sudden worry that the Charlotte Armstrong reading audience MAY NOT crossover to the Doctor Who audience, but c'est la vie::

Armstrong belies this; Alice is the lead, through and through. In fact, you can practically sense editorial medding; the tale's too feminine somehow, starting and ending with her love life, so we have to introduce MacDougal Duff as the lead, even though he leaves five pages in, only to reappear at the 27% mark.

That's a sizable chunk of the novel, ample time to forget that Duff even exists. And when he commandeers the narrative, our emotional hook becomes less strong. He enters the scene without any real connection to the characters (his knowing Alice is a silly coincidence at best) and absolutely no stake in how events turn out - he can always just leave.

This sort of thing can be written off as a necessary evil in a weekly tv show, but in a self-contained novel, it's a curious choice, and one that robs the narrative of urgency. We want this to be about Alice. The eerieness of the House of the Weird Sisters perfectly reflects the cobwebs in her own mind. As she works to sweep them away, we want to be with her, not with the interloper.

All this notwithstanding, the novel was a great read, and I'd recommend it to anyone. Despite the weirdness of Duff's interruption, he's as entertaining as any of the other characters, and that's what saves the novel. Armstrong's greatest strength is crafting the atmosphere, and I have to say, I was sorry to leave.


On the Veronica Mars Kickstarter

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Duty dictates that The Oncoming Hope writes of Veronica Mars. For before The Oncoming Hope adopted a whole range of Doctor Who related aliases (aliasi?), all the internet handles (and the Oncoming fashions) were based on Veronica Mars (and as fans know, you can never just call her Veronica).

I actually can't believe I get to write about this show again. I discovered both blogging and fandom through it, and even though we obsessives eventually went our separate ways, we still run into each other in the darkest corners of the internet...

...or so it seemed.

For we were the few who watched the show when it aired.

But we do not begrudge those who found it after season 1, on the recommendation of one thriller writer whose name rhymes with Freven Ding.

Screen shot 2013 03 19 at 10 52 14 PMScreen shot 2013 03 19 at 10 52 36 PM

We do not begrudge the Whedon-ites who found the show after prominent guest appearances by Willow, Cordelia, and Numfar himself.


We don't even begrudge the sorority girls who found the show after the CW cross-promoted it with guest appearances by Kristen Cavalleri (like...who?) and various other members of America's Forgotten Top Models.

But we do begrudge this:

Screen shot 2013 03 19 at 10 44 45 PM

Cause here's the thing about Veronica Mars. It was genuinely niche, a show for the geeks, from a time before geeks controlled the pursestrings.  Marvel hadn't yet assumed its disturbing stronghold on Hollywood and geek culture, Doctor Who was still that weird show on PBS with tinfoil aliens and styrofoam sets, and Star Trek wasn't even a lens flare in JJ Abrams' eye. So being the first to watch it is meaningless; there's never been any kind of mainstream push behind it.

Few watched Veronica Mars when it aired, but we desperately wanted all our friends to watch it. Even TWOP couldn't hide its unabashed glee (and this was when TWOP gave positive reviews to NO ONE (before it was bought out)) at this weird little show that was technically perfect and wonderfully plotted (read the season 1 recaps if you think I'm kidding; "glowing" barely scratches the surface).

So when I think about this Kickstarter, I don't think about it as a means for the WB to test out new production models, I don't think of it as surrendering some private nerddom to the mainstream, I think of it as what it is; a bunch of super fans had the chance to fund something they love. This beloved thing was never going to get any mainstream or institutional support. This is not Firefly, which had twice the ratings of VM when it aired, and already had its shot at a movie.

I think of this as a paean to what the internet used to be. When fandom wasn't manufactured, when it depended on a small group of people desperate to love and to promote the thing they loved. They didn't need to own it, they didn't need to feel like it was their own, they just felt that it was special enough to be shared.

And so it is. Every one of my close friends from high school and college eventually caught up to it, on the strength of my love for it. They love it too, and I never feel like their love is worth any less than mine; I just feel grateful that they gave it a chance.

This Kickstarter, no matter the implications, will connect more people with a show that they're likely to love. And for that, I'm grateful. And for the first time, I opened my wallet.

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