Short story: The Midnight Game

She’s home alone – parents away for the weekend, brother sleeping over with one of the boys up the street, only the dog and the cat left for company.

She invited friends to stay but everyone’s busy, no one’s texting her back. She’s watched a movie, then another, and now she’s bored, restless. She paces back and forth, silhouetted against the bright windows, the cat trying to squirm out of her grasp. Behind her, film credits scroll up the television screen.

The cat leaps away and curls up in the middle of the dog’s sleeping cushion. She pulls a face, picks her mobile phone, throws it back down on the couch. She trudges into the study, slouches into the chair at her father’s computer. No messages, no emails. The screen’s soft glow outlines her hair.

The dog yelps and scratches at the kitchen door. She lets it out. She stands in the open doorway, beautifully backlit by white light emanating from the house, and an idea comes to her. It spreads across her face, hidden in shadow. She’s remembering: a sleepover with her friends, several months ago. Laughing and shrieking through hackneyed horror stories, pretending the decades-old slasher movies they’re watching are scary, whispering names at bathroom mirrors and waiting for poltergeists that never appeared.

A girl at the party – a friend of a friend of the host, someone nobody else had met before nor seen again – suggested a game. The Midnight Game, she called it, gleefully explaining it was an old punishment ritual the pagans invented. … 

 

Book review: Clockwork Angel, Cassandra Clare

I’ve been a reader of Cassandra Clare for a while: in the early ’00s I enjoyed her Harry Potter Draco trilogy (pretty much the only fanfic I’ve ever read, I swear!), I lapped up the Very Secret Diaries like everyone else on the internet, and last year I consumed her The Mortal Instruments trilogy in about a week.

Thus I am qualified to say that Clockwork Angel, the first instalment in The Infernal Devices trilogy, is her best work yet.

So Devices is basically a prequel to Instruments (it’s not necessary to have read Instruments to get Devices, though I’d recommend it), set in a late-19th century London infested with demons and “Downworlders” – Clare’s term for vampires, werewolves and other supernatural beasties. Fortunately regular humans, or “mundanes”, are protected by the Shadowhunters: an elite band of warriors descended from angels (more or less).

Tessa Gray comes to this world from New York City, searching for her missing brother Nate, and soon encounters two teenage Shadowhunters and best friends: the beautiful, arrogant Will (who’s basically the same character as Jace from Mortal Instruments, at least at this stage in the trilogy), and the sensitive, sickly Jem ((for the record: Team Jem! Will is the Bad Boy, and I’m not into the Bad Boy.)) . Naturally a love triangle begins to blossom, as Tessa is pulled into a dangerous mystery building in the Shadowhunter world.

The individual elements of Clare’s works are rarely that original, and that goes for Clockwork Angel – there’s the usual steampunk tropes, familiar demon-hunting tropes, the character-types you’ll find in most YA novels, all wrapped in customary snark – but that isn’t an insult. Clare has a knack for combining stuff we’ve seen into an enjoyable, compelling story.

Clare’s writing adopts a Victorian style which suits her well, but be warned that Angel is very heavily geared towards setting up the next two parts, Clockwork Prince and Clockwork Princess – don’t pick it up yet if you’re the type of reader who interprets “tantalysing clues” as “frustrating loose-ends”.

Fortunately I am not that type of reader. Clockwork Angel is entertaining, dare I say ripping stuff, crammed with invitingly detailed world-building – I even read it during my lunchbreak at work, and let me tell you, I don’t do that for just any book.

 

Another 50 interesting Wikipedia articles

See: #29

  1. Magician. Throughout history, there have been many who have claimed having secret knowledge meant having great, often supernatural, power.
  2. Black magic. The argument of “magic having no colour, and it is merely the application and use by its user,” backs the claim that not everything termed as “black magic” has malevolent intentions behind it, and some would consider it to have beneficial and benevolent uses.
  3. True name. In Scandinavian beliefs, more magical beasts, such as the Nix, could be defeated by calling their name.
  4. Plot device. MacGuffins are sometimes referred to as “plot coupons”, as the protagonist only needs to “collect enough plot coupons and trade them in for a dénouement”.
  5. Magic in Harry Potter. “The most important thing to decide when you’re creating a fantasy world,” J.K. Rowling said in 2000, “is what the characters can’t do.”
  6. The Black Spot. It was a source of much fear because it meant the pirate was to be deposed as leader, by force if necessary – or else killed outright.
  7. Questing Beast. The strange creature has the head and neck of a serpent, the body of a leopard, the haunches of a lion and the feet of a hart.
  8. Apport. Apports reported during seances are likely the result of magic tricks.
  9. Literary technique. Genres are defined by literary elements, schools of literature are defined by literary techniques.
  10. False document. Frankenstein draws heavily on a forged document feel, as do Dracula, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and many of the works of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells.
  11. Matter of Britain. William Shakespeare seems to have been deeply interested in the legendary history of Britain, and to have been familiar with some of its more obscure byways.
  12. List of psychic abilities. Inclusion in this list does not imply scientific recognition of the existence of an ability.
  13. Transhumanism. Transhumanist thinkers predict that human beings may eventually be able to transform themselves into beings with such greatly expanded abilities as to merit the label “posthuman”.
  14. Augur. The jus augurale (augural law) was rigorously secret, therefore very little about the technical aspects of ceremonies and rituals has been recorded.
  15. That that is is that that is not is not is that it it is. This relates a simple philosophical proverb in the style of Parmenides that all that is, is, and that anything that does not exist does not.
  16. Whale fall. Beginning in the 1960s, deep sea trawlers unintentionally recovered other new mollusk species including limpets (named Osteopelta) attached to whale bones.
  17. Lluvia de Peces. Witnesses of this phenomenon state that it begins with a dark cloud in the sky followed by lightning, thunder, strong winds and heavy rain for two to three hours.
  18. Sakoku. In 1845, whaling ship Manhattan (1843) rescued 22 Japanese shipwrecked sailors. Captain Mercator Cooper was allowed into Edo Bay, where he stayed for four days and met with the Governor of Edo and several high officers representing the Emperor. They were given several presents and allowed to leave unmolested, but told never to return.
  19. Sound of fingernails scraping chalkboard. It was determined that the median pitches are in fact the primary cause of the adverse reaction, not the highest pitches as previously thought.
  20. Stronsay Beast. Its fins were edged with bristles and it had a ‘mane’ of bristles all down its back.
  21. Boiling frog. Journalist James Fallows has been advocating since 2006 for people to stop retelling the story, describing it as a “stupid canard” and a “myth”.
  22. Color of water. It is a common misconception that in large bodies, such as the oceans, the water’s color is blue due to the reflections from the sky on its surface.
  23. Beast of Gévaudan. The first official victim of the beast was Jeanne Boulet, 14, killed near the village of Les Hubacs, not far from Langogne.
  24. Mopery. The word is based on the verb “to mope”, which originally meant “to wander aimlessly”; it only later acquired the overtones of “bored and depressed”.
  25. Ice block expedition of 1959. The expedition was an enormous success, judged both by the end result and by the media attention generated for the company, and has been called “the world’s greatest publicity stunt”.
  26. Spectral evidence. Rev. Cotton Mather argued that it was appropriate to admit spectral evidence into legal proceedings, but cautioned that convictions should not be based on spectral evidence alone as it was possible for the Devil to take the shape of an innocent person.
  27. The Grinning Man. “I looked around and there he was… behind that fence. Just standing there. He pivoted around and looked right at us… then he grinned a big old grin.”
  28. Dyatlov Pass incident. Notably, the bodies had no external wounds, as if they were crippled by a high level of pressure. One woman was found to be missing her tongue.
  29. Tama. As station master her primary duty is to greet passengers. The position comes with a stationmaster’s hat; in lieu of a salary, the railway provides Tama with free cat food.
  30. L’esprit de l’escalier. The German word Treppenwitz and the Yiddish word trepverter are used to express the same idea.
  31. Boston Molasses Disaster. “Molasses, waist deep, covered the street and swirled and bubbled about the wreckage. Here and there struggled a form — whether it was animal or human being was impossible to tell.”
  32. Glass delusion. A 1561 account reported a sufferer “who had to relieve himself standing up, fearing that if he sat down his buttocks would shatter… The man concerned was a glass-maker from the Parisian suburb of Saint Germain, who constantly applied a small cushion to his buttocks, even when standing. He was cured of this obsession by a severe thrashing from the doctor, who told him that his pain emanated from buttocks of flesh.”
  33. List of linguistic example sentences. A partial list of linguistic example sentences illustrating various linguistic phenomena.
  34. Monty Hall problem. Even when given a completely unambiguous statement of the Monty Hall problem, explanations, simulations, and formal mathematical proofs, many people still meet the correct answer with disbelief.
  35. List of misquotations. This does not include quotations that were actually blunders by the people that said them.
  36. Elvira Madigan. Sparre and Madigan fell in love, but their love was impossible, partly due to the fact that Sparre was married and the father of two children.
  37. Zener cards. There are just five different Zener cards: a hollow circle (one curve), a Greek cross (two lines), three vertical wavy lines (or “waves”), a hollow square (four lines), and a hollow five-pointed star.
  38. Folly. Follies often look like real, usable buildings, but never are.
  39. Infinite monkey theorem. The theorem illustrates the perils of reasoning about infinity by imagining a vast but finite number, and vice versa.
  40. Preikestolen. During the four summer months of 2009, approximately 130,000 people took the 3.8 km (2.4 mile) hike to Preikestolen, making it one of the most visited natural tourist attractions in Norway.
  41. Netherlandish Proverbs. Bruegel’s paintings have themes of the absurdity, wickedness and foolishness of mankind, and this painting is no exception.
  42. Jorōgumo. In the Edo period, a beautiful woman enticed a man into a quiet shack and began to play a Biwa. While the man was distracted by the sound of the instrument, she bound him in spider silk threads and ate him.
  43. The Hum. The local Hawaiians also say the Hum is most often heard by men.
  44. Nyotaimori. In some parts of the world, in order to comply with sanitation laws, there must be a layer of plastic or other material between the sushi and the body of the woman or man.
  45. Blivet. Also known as a poiuyt, or devil’s fork or widget.
  46. Oni. They are humanoid for the most part, but occasionally, they are shown with unnatural features such as odd numbers of eyes or extra fingers and toes.
  47. Tulip mania. At the peak of tulip mania in February 1637, some single tulip bulbs sold for more than 10 times the annual income of a skilled craftsman.
  48. Tree That Owns Itself. The current tree is sometimes referred to as the Son of The Tree That Owns Itself.
  49. Morganatic marriage. It is also known as a left-handed marriage because in the wedding ceremony the groom holds his bride’s right hand with his left hand instead of his right.
  50. Nyarlathotep. He wanders the earth, seemingly gathering legions of followers… through his demonstrations of strange and seemingly magical instruments. These followers lose awareness of the world around them.

Click here to read part one of this series, 50 interesting Wikipedia articles, or click here to read part two, 50 more interesting Wikipedia articles.

 

What a sad, frustrating, backwards little country we live in

Actual bride and groom not pictured

On the weekend I went to a wedding which was quite lovely. The bride looked beautiful. The groom wore a kilt. (He’s Scottish. There was much bagpiping.)

However. During the ceremony, the celebrant announced that marriage is “the union of a man and a woman, to the exclusion of all others”. My boyfriend and I rolled our eyes at each other, but we’ve been to enough weddings together in the last several years to know that this line wasn’t a passive-aggressive dig from the newlyweds or a last-minute insertion from a crazy celebrant. The law demands celebrants say it (a requirement added in 2004, when former prime minister and evil reptile John Howard amended the Marriage Act).

Later in the night, the bride – who, again, looked beautiful, and who I’ve known since I was 10 – approached me and my boyfriend. She kindly apologised for the “exclusion” line. She had asked the celebrant not to say it, but it’s a legal requirement – if it’s not said at one’s wedding, one’s marriage could be deemed invalid.

So this is the state of things in Australia: not only is same-sex marriage off the cards in the short-term, but opposite-sex couples are forced to insert nasty reminders of bigotry into their marriage ceremony even if they personally support same-sex marriage ceremonies.

What a sad, frustrating, backwards little country we live in.