A man was looking at melamine boards. He checked their lengths for defects, then raised them it to eye height and held it straight ahead to see if it was straight. He was doing a terrible job of it, taking too long about it and picking a bunch of boards that even from five metres away, Gwen could see were sub-par.

The customer had probably never had to check boards before. He'd probably learned the technique out of a book or a YouTube video. Men who were just starting in on woodwork tended to be like that. There seemed to be a weird belief amongst men that woodworking is in the blood, and so asking for help was admitting something was wrong with them.

They seemed perfectly okay with asking about paint, though. Colours. Women's stuff. A bloke could be forgiven for not knowing. ...continue reading "Do It Yourself – Chapter 9: The Phial"

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Did you know I knew how to play this? From which part of me did this knowledge reside? From this mind? From these hands? From this heart? And reading and speaking. Not so much things learned as things remembered. – The Monster, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein 1994

Begone! I do break my promise; never will I create another like yourself, equal in deformity and wickedness. – Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

Kenneth Branagh: Better at looking visionary than being visionary.
Kenneth Branagh: Better at looking visionary than being visionary.

Now I've been a little harsh on some of these movies. I'm about to get much harsher. A lot of horror movies are low budget jobs, and it shows, so if I'm being harsh about Teenage Frankenstein or Blackenstein it's in the knowledge that these were quickly made cheapies, put together by third-string creative people. If I say they're bad, I do so with little expectation that they might have been good.

1994's Frankenstein, aka Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is a different kettle of fish. A major cinema release made by some extremely talented people (and Kenneth Branagh) it could have been good. Really, it could. Robert de Niro as the Monster? An inspired piece of casting! Helena Bonham Carter, Ian Holme, Cherie Lunghi, Tom Hulce, Richard Briers and John Cleese (!) are all fine actors. Hell, I'm not a fan of Branagh, I think he's a huge ham. But if there's a role that you ought to be able to get away with hamming up, surely it's Victor Frankenstein.

Directed by Branagh, the cinematography is by Roger Pratt, (who also worked on 12 Monkeys, Batman, Brazil and a bunch of Harry Potter movies). There's enough more talent in this movie than the average Oscar night. I actually started trying to add up all of the Oscars, BAFTA and Golden Globe wins and nominations of people working on this film, before getting depressed and stopping. Dozens. The answer is dozens.

And yet, the movie stinks. ...continue reading "Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein – 1994"

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Leonard

When I was a kid in the 1980s, I used to watch a show called 'Great Mysteries of the World'. It was just a slight repackaging of an American series from the 1970s called 'In Search Of...', a show comprised of a series of short documentaries about mysterious or unusual phenomenon, hosted by Leonard Nimoy.

I used to love it. It was as cheap as hell, and the phenomena described in the episodes were ranged from the mundane to the questionable to the 'holy crap, are you kidding?' Mostly,  they were in the third category. They were all underscored by sinister electronic background music, and Nimoy's deep, serious voice to make them sound intriguing.

If Karl Kolchak had quit writing for the newspapers and gone into TV, In Search Of... basically the show he would have made. Episodes covered things like Bigfoot, ESP, UFOs Atlantis -- the usual suspects of 1970s weirdness. They were presented with minimal skepticism and maximum nonsense. The episode on the pyramids, for example, is filled with bizarre fringe theories, balanced against a ten second interview with a real archaeologist who just looks confused and says that they're just big tombs. That's a pretty slender chain to anchor a documentary series to reality, but it's better than many episodes get.

Now here's the thing: I'm really skeptical about this stuff. I don't believe in the Yeti, or flying saucers or ESP or any of that. Oh, I love these things as fictional tropes, but tell me that they're real and I will raise my right eyebrow, like, really high. So I lost interest in the series at about the age of ten, and never saw it again until well into middle age.

Looking over it again now, I can't really bring myself to condemn the show. I should, I know. It takes a bunch of things that are basically a steaming pile of bull and does its level best to make them seem plausible. This was my problem with it as a kid: it takes unsupported ideas and makes them seem respectable.

Here's the thing though: as an adult, I've come to admire the show for doing just that. I no longer think the show's adoption of the documentary mode discourages critical thinking about crazy nonsense. I think it encourages skepticism about the documentary mode. There's a lot of serious nonsense presented as well researched, fact-checked truth-telling. In this context, seeing a bunch of people in flared jeans and fitted t-shirts rambling about swamp monsters is a timely reminder that it ain't necessarily so.

When In Search Of... was repeated on the History Channel a few years back, it came with a disclaimer at the beginning, explaining that the theories presented are not the only explanation for the phenomenon they described. I've heard a lot of people scoff at this, saying that it was a fig leaf, to protect the channel from the criticisms of skeptics. Have you seen some of the crap on the History Channel? They aren't worried about the criticisms of skeptics. No, all the disclaimer did was set In Search Of... apart from the History Channel's other nonsense. This stuff is crap, the disclaimer said. The other stuff... don't think about that too hard.

The other thing I like about the show is the range of material it presented. After it ran through the usual subjects like Loch Ness and UFO abduction it started picking less usual topics -- the Lost Dutchman Mine, the Hope Diamond, Indian Astrology or Count St Germain. It's not a good definitive resource on these topics, but it does what a good documentary should do, and gives the viewer a little taste in the hope that they go on to learn more.

So for all its many, many flaws, I don't believe that I have it in me to dislike or disapprove of the show. It's silly, it's dated, it's mostly wrong. But it's also fun, mildly scary and it serves as a reminder:  'non-fiction' is not the same as 'fact'.

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2

From the South Hertling Super Centre Newsletter February 29th , 2016:

Robbery Nearly Strikes Super Centre

By Karl Wintergreen

Last week, an armoured car was robbed on Wellington Rd, mere moments away from the South Hertling Supercentre. Had it been a mere fifty metres south, the car would have been within the precincts of our beloved Supercentre. This, apparently, would have justified the expense of an additional issue of this newsletter, to write about the exciting crime. But, since it took place a whole fifty metres away, I was unable to write about it until now. Also, I am not allowed to devote the entire issue to the crime, since I still have to make space for that piece about how Place 'O Pets teamed up with the local high school to raise money for Guide Dogs.

Some of you are probably interested in that crap. Sheeple. ...continue reading "Do It Yourself – Chapter 8: The Newsletter"

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"Ow!"

Captain Stellar had couple of lengths of two-by-four in his trolley. When he reached the cashier he realised he'd put them in the wrong way around, and the woman at the checkout couldn't get at the barcodes. It was a stupid mistake. Cycloman always did that and Stellar would have to correct him, and now here was Stellar doing it himself.

Annoyed, he'd flipped the two-bees end-over-end. He must have whacked the poor cashier while he was doing it. Her eyes were shut tight in pain, and was clutching her temple.

"Oh! I'm so sorry!" Stellar said. "How careless! Here, let me…"

Let me what? Apply a tourniquet? Kiss it better? What could he do? What could he do?

The cashier let go of her forehead and smirked. There was no bruise; no cut. "Nah, I'm fine. You're the third person I got with that one." ...continue reading "Do It Yourself – Chapter 7: Diversion"

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This hour, when I momentarily expect my release, is the only happy one which I have enjoyed for several years. The forms of the beloved dead flit before me, and I hasten to their arms. - Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

They will never be rid of me! - Baron Victor von Frankenstein, Revenge of Frankenstein

Do you like it? I sell artisnal organs in tanks via Etsey. Keeps me out of trouble.
Do you like it? I sell artisnal organs in tanks via Etsey. Keeps me out of trouble.

The Revenge of Frankenstein is the second of the Hammer Frankenstein movies, starring Peter Cushing and directed by Terrence Fisher. It is interesting in that it contains no obvious revenge. It is followed by the Evil of Frankenstein, in which Frankenstein does seek revenge, but is not noticeably evil. Go figure. ...continue reading "Revenge of Frankenstein – 1958"

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"Will this take an LED bulb?"

Sadie McGregor looked up from the manifest she had been checking, to see a huge fat man. At first she took him for a glutton, but a closer look told her he was not. Perhaps he had a glandular condition? It didn’t matter. What mattered was the box he was thrusting a standard lamp at her.

"It will take any bulb with a standard Edison screw," she said.

"You sure? I don’t want to have to bring it back."

Sadie looked up from her manifest and gave the man her full attention. His eyes widened, startled and he swallowed hard. This often happened to people on the receiving end of Sadie’s full attention. She stared further into his eyes. His soul was in relatively good shape, other than some mild office pilfering and... ah. A short, doomed affair that he’d never told his wife about. He really should tell her.

"Here,’ she said. "I will show you." ...continue reading "Do It Yourself – Chapter 6: Luminiferous"

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Axel sat in the loading dock. It was nearly midday and it was as hot as an oven. A little drop of sweat made its way down his face to the point of his chin. It hung there for a moment, then dropped down to the green collar of his Handy Pavilion shirt, where it soaked into the fabric. Axel ignored it. His eyes were focused on a spot between the Place O’ Pets’ building and a parked truck. He could only see a little sliver through this gap – a busy roadway, and beyond that a small section of concrete wall, painted an unpleasant yellow.

The DIY Barn.

The enemy.

“Hot out, eh?”

Axel was aware of the voice in the same way he was aware of the drops of sweat down his face--there, but distant from his thoughts. He heard his own voice reply: “Going to get hotter, they say.” ...continue reading "Do It Yourself – Chapter 5: The Shirts"

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Gwen sipped her coffee in the breakroom that smelled of smoke. She didn't light up herself. She smoked, but she did not care for tobacco. For all his laxness on OHS, Marlon did not appreciate it when anything else was smoked in the workplace.

She drummed her fingers on the plastic table. There was much on her mind. She lived a simple life, and seldom found herself with great moral choices to make. What Pennington offered… It can’t have been the right thing to do. And yet, how could she say no? Legally, Pennington’s plan was probably legal. No law against it – or if there was, it were part of some old law against witchcraft, something that remained on the books even though no one had cared since the dark ages. No, there was no law against it exactly. But there were similar things, modern things that were pretty damn illegal. ...continue reading "Do It Yourself – Chapter 4: Coffee Break"

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I had worked hard for nearly two years, for the sole purpose of infusing life into an inanimate body. For this I had deprived myself of rest and health. I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart. – Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

I created a monster, when I created that monster! – Professor Weirdo, Milton the Monster

Using the dark arts to create a monster. Children's entertainment!

So far, I’ve been looking at Frankenstein stories that are overtly Frankenstein stories. That is to say, ones that have Frankenstein in the title and a character who is named 'Frankenstein' in them. Of course, that is only a fraction of Frankenstein media. There’s a whole bunch of stories that are in some way Frankensteinian without using the name directly. Some of the stories I have in mind might be debatable, but I think the Milton the Monster cartoon can categorised as a Frankenstein story without too much controversy. ...continue reading "Milton the Monster – 1965"

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