Gwendy’s Button Box

This story is a perfect example of the amazing nature of King. He and Chizmar created a tale that is just phenomenal. The possibilities are endless with the concept they presented here, and I would LOVE to see it come back in a more lengthy work from either or both of them. I was excited to pick the novella up and I tore through it in a matter of hours. It was a very smooth and lively read that kept me guessing and kept me captivated.

Gwendy Peterson recieves this strange box from a strange man who seems to be something a little more than human – classic King characterization. I love that she just followed through with the situation, even though she questioned everything that was happening, she literally did the exact opposite of what she should have done when approached by a strange man who says he’s had his eye on her – right down to literally taking chocolate from a stranger. I loved seeing her questioning her actions and what is going on around her, but, like Pandora’s own secret-filled box, she can’t resist.

I liked the idea that this box, like many inanimate objects in King’s works, has a greater power over her life and over reality itself. Gwendy’s whole life is changed one small bit at a time. She starts to lose weight, she grows up to be a knockout, her parents stop drinking and those people who disrespect her seem to quickly get theirs. She pulls her levers and gets her silver dollars and her candy, and she avoids the buttons at all costs – until she doesn’t. The concept of a random strange box out there that contains the power to cause some sort of devastating natural disaster to any part of the world – or the whole thing – with just the push of a button is mesmerizing and terrifying. Gwendy handles that with a similar grain of disbelief, which leads to her pushing the red button for the first time.

I really loved the way the authors made the Jim Jones massacre a direct result of this curiosity. King is great at including actual historical events in his works, especially in the last ten years or so. She pushes the button after careful consideration, choosing a part of the world that was very sparsely populated just to see if it really did blow everything up. The next day she sees the story of Jones’ cult and its mass murder/suicide. The fact that King and Chizmar used this tragedy as a way to explain the power of the box was awesome to me, suggesting almost that the box itself had the power to make people go completely insane and do the most asinine things imaginable (an idea later supported by green teeth killing her boyfriend). I was interested in reading of Gwendy’s life after she accepted the true nature of the box. She continued to be affected by whatever power the box had, and she respected and feared it more than ever, not pushing the buttons again until she had to and even weaning herself off of the candy and trying to let the box be just a thing she rarely thought about.

I was a bit surprised at the way the book wrapped up after the box got its way, by causing the murder of the boy Gwendy loved. In regards to that event; I felt almost like it was like the box was telling her that she belonged to it as much as it to her, and it would not tolerate her indifference anymore. The boy who  had started making fun of her – whom the box sent on a terrible course in life – broke into her home and waited on her to come back. When she did Gwendy’s boyfriend fought to keep her safe until the box presented itself to the attacker. Gwendy gets to see the box that has sent her on this course be the very tool that takes her happiness from her. It definitely breaks something inside of her. I loved the fact that she used the red button to both kill the boy and make his body disappear. It was an insanely creative way to bring home the literal “this button will get you whatever you want” element. From this point on, though, I felt like the end was a bit rushed. We got some vague descriptions of Gwendy’s life and pursuits after those events, and then the man in black was there to take the box and be on his way.

I really enjoyed the story. I felt a lot of familiar vibes, with the nature of it reminding me a lot of King works like “From a Buick 8,” “11/22/63″and things in that vein. I love the idea that there are beings out there, sometimes with devices, sometimes without, who are charged with watching over the world and being the door between dimensions or timelines. That element has always fascinated me, so this story is definitely one of my new favorites.

That being said, the only real complaint I had was, as I mentioned, it was a bit short and the end came a bit quickly. I think it could have been fleshed out and become more novel-length, but at the same time it would really be a lot of the same thing if that were the case. Gwendy loves the box, it loves her, she forgets the box, it tortures her, etc… I would have liked to se what would have happened if she actually tried to get rid of it or destroy it. Would it have retaliated against her personally, killing or hurting her, or would it have gone after someone she loved because she was its designated protector? So many questions… I do think I would have gone a little more in depth in her life post box-murder, but that’s just me. I would like a few more words about what happened to her after, too. And, for that matter, how was she chosen? Who is the man who gave and took the box? Did he make the box or is he likewise charged with its protection? If it’s the latter, why does he give it to others to protect? I can ask questions all day, but the bottom line is this; the book was great, and I will remain somewhat hopeful for a related tale.

What did you guys think? Did you, like me, find yourself enthralled with the mysteries of the box and what it can do? What do you think of stories like this in general? If you have any suggestions of works in a similar vein, please share them. It’s right up my alley.

As always, make your comments on what you’d like to see and discuss next. I look forward to hearing what everyone likes to read, so it’s always fun for me! Also, in case you  haven’t been keeping up or need a reminder; I’ve returned to Wattpad! I’ve been using the free service to present a horror story that I’ve wanted to write for a while and to experiment with a noir detective fiction tale that I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback from. I’d love it if you guys would check any of my Wattpad works out. Don’t forget to comment and vote on the stories so they can be exposed to more readers. Check it all out here (https://www.wattpad.com/user/DameanMathews)

I hope you enjoyed the book, and I hope you’re enjoying the book club. If you have any other ideas for what sort of content you’d like to see on the blog, let me know about that, too! I’m here for you guys and I want to make sure you get what you need and want! have a great rest of July and look for my August announcement in the general vicinity of the 2nd or 3rd!

The Circle

This book was incredible. The parallels between this and other dystopian thrillers are immensely weighty. At times it was like I was literally reading a prequel to 1984. I was very eager to dive into this book after seeing a trailer for the movie in theaters a few months or so ago (I know, I know, sue me), and I knew I couldn’t see the movie without first reading the book! I finished the novel well before the release of the movie, which comes out today, so there are no worries there. Enough small talk, though; let’s jump right in.

First and foremost, as I said before, this book almost read like it could be a prequel to 1984. The ideas of the Circlers and their almost incessant need to make everything known was incredibly ominous. I can’t count the times that I thought it was almost like watching the development of Big Brother. The cameras, the mandatory participation, all the way to the ending. That ending! Man!

We enter the story with Mae, who seems just as innocent as one would imagine; a small-town girl moving to this huge opportunity. We see that she (and some around her) understands just how much bigger than her The Circle really is. As Mae immerses herself in the work she is given, we see her start to open up a little, but she has many questions. There are many instances where people like Eamon Bailey and others make comments about knowledge and the fact that they feel everything should be known. Mae is very taken aback by this idea at first. It seems like she understands the importance The Circle has in the future of the world, but she also sees the importance of privacy and separation. This quickly seems to die out.

Mae keeps herself slightly distant from The Circle at first, not attending many parties, leaving campus a lot and generally letting herself live as if she was working a standard 9-5 job. She left The Circle behind when she left The Circle. This didn’t work for the company. They addressed this a few times before Mae was faced with a situation that really threw her out of herself. In the middle of trying to fit in and find herself in The Circle family, Mae has some sexual encounters with a young, shy man named Francis and a slightly older, mysterious and impossible to find man who only tells her his name is Kalden. These encounters do a little bit of work towards making Mae a closer part of The Circle and helping her focus on the job itself. But this work is nothing compared to what happens as her parents continue to deal with her father’s MS and associate with her ex-boyfriend, Mercer. She had slowly grown more accustomed to being more open and public with her life, but it was Mercer’s first big resistant moment that made it sink in for her. He more or less told her that she was a part of what was wrong with the world, saying The Circle was crossing too many lines and she needed to grow up and see the truth. She left her parents house that night and had the experience that lead to her becoming the poster-child for citizen transparency.

Mae getting arrested really broke something in her, I think. The fear she felt at knowing she could lose her position changed how she looked at everything, and Eamon Bailey helped push that through her head. He encouraged her to feel that showing everyone everything at all times was the best way to live her life. This way of thinking, needless to say, was a game changer.

Mae started wearing her camera and documenting everything, helping The Circle with its attempt at closing in on the world and consuming everything to be consumed. The story really gains so much weight at this point. Mae slowly becomes a different person. She goes from a girl who is mortified at the thought of one person seeing her perform a moderate sexual act to being perfectly fine with taking millions of followers into the bathroom with her. The Circle’s (for lack of a better term; or is this the best term?) brainwashing of Mae really culminates and reaches its most dangerous level when she speaks up and suggests developing the mandatory voting technology that is Demoxie. The very name of this program, to me, sounds like poison. Demoxie influences everyone around the world to make their voice heard, which, although a great idea, has consequences. In addition to recording the answers, The Circle has the power to record who answers, and how. Much like Mae was able to look and see who voted her as not being awesome in a demonstration of the technology (that in itself is an experience that really allowed us to see into the damaged psyche Mae has developed, or maybe just revealed, through the text), any government organization may have been able to convince The Circle to allow them to see how its citizens voted. For that matter, Circlers themselves have access to the information. Anyone who may have voted against a popular idea could thus be singled out for their voices.

The real life-changer for this comes when Mae is given control over the technology to look for people – any person – all over the world. The first instance is likely helpful. Circlers and audience members are able to help find a fugitive and bring her to justice. But then Mae decides to take the situation further. She decides she wants to look for Mercer, who had AWOL after deciding to go “off the grid” in an attempt to hide from Mae and The Circle.

This search would have been all fine and dandy, had she known when to call off the dogs. I literally cringed as I read how intense the unnecessary chase scene became after Circle followers tracked Mercer to a house in the woods. He fled in fear and anger as Circlers and Mae followed him with no explanation as to why. Mae used The Circle’s technology to literally chase Mercer to his death. He drove off a bridge because he became so desperate to find a way to get away from the power of The Circle. That moment was very powerful to me.  I feel like it represented everyone who has ever stood up to a government or an organization that has too much power. There is so much that can be said about that scene, that idea.

But Mae couldn’t see it. She was wounded by his death, but not enough. Kalden (who turned out to be Ty, the FOUNDER of The Circle) tried to get her to  help him shut the whole thing down before it became too powerful. But she wouldn’t have it. She couldn’t. She talked so many times of feeling the black tear in her mind, her soul, and by the end of the book she was convinced the tear, rather than representing the innocence and humanity that was being walled off, represented “not knowing”, which is something The Circle was strongly against, of course.

The final insight we really get into Mae’s mind is all it took for me to both lose the last of my respect for her character and make me want ten more books. Mae’s friend Annie has literally become comatose due to the stresses of The Circle (can we be sure it isn’t something Bailey or Stenton did on purpose?) and all Mae can think about is how she finds it an unbelievable injustice that she can’t see into her friend’s mind. She can’t read the thoughts of the woman who is lying on the bed in front of her. Obviously, my first thought here was the budding idea for the Thought Police, but I digress.

Overall, I thought this book was absolute genius. David Eggers did an amazing job, and I look forward to checking out other works from him. From the time I started reading until the last word, I was enthralled. That being said, this book isn’t exactly the type of thing I typically choose to read for pleasure. But it’s easily in my list of top books. Whether that’s top 50, top 25, or even top 100, I couldn’t begin to tell you. I’ve read so much that the list does change fairly often. But this one is there. The style Eggers wrote this book in is very conversational and matter-of-fact. I didn’t get hung up on any dialogue issues and I don’t recall anything that was over-exaggerated or unclear.

My biggest compliment and biggest complaint for the book would likely be the same. It was very open-ended. From the point we leave Mae, as she considers talking to the founders about finding a way to expose thoughts to the same transparency as everything else, I feel like anything could happen. We know that Kalden (Ty) is still a part of The Circle, but we don’t know where, in what capacity, or what punishment may have been applied to his position. In other words; we have no idea of his motives, or if the mention of his position is even correct. They may well have just told Mae that as a cover. If it is true, what’s to stop him from either continuing to attempt to coerce Mae, or find someone else to help him overthrow the totalitarian organization that grew from his brainchild? Even more, I still feel like there is some way Mercer could be alive. Maybe he jumped from the truck and clung to the bottom of that bridge until it was safe to walk away. Maybe Ty knows this and he’s going to work with Mercer to overthrow The Circle. One way or another, I do think there’s enough possibility to bring this idea back for another round. Come on Eggers, what do you think?

Regardless, this was a great book and it really makes you think about the dangers of continuing down the path of total technological control that we are going on. What did you think of it? Do you agree with Mae that knowledge should supersede privacy? Or should we cherish the privacy of the independent human? There are so many questions! And for that matter, there are so many things that I didn’t really have the space to address here (the terrible things this expansion of knowledge uncovered about Annie’s family, for one) that I would love to hear your thoughts on. Leave me comments or send me messages and let’s have some great discussion on this book! As always, share your ideas for future books at any time and let’s spread the club far and wide.

Spring is here

The seasons have changed again, and it is a great feeling! The days are longer, the air is fresher, the morning birds are singing again and – most importantly – motivation is coming back! I’ve been hit with a few new ideas in the last week, and have found myself writing some new material again in what little bit of free time I have.

So far I have worked on starting two new pieces that I feel pretty positive about. For the most part these works just came to me out of the blue (one even as an interesting, albeit slightly disturbing, half-dream while I was dozing off one day) and they’re pretty interesting. I know I tend to make a similar post every spring and summer, if not every season, but to me the changing of seasons really is a magical thing. I really love to see the sunshine come back and the days start to stretch. There’s nothing like enjoying a late evening on a warm Spring or Summer night. Granted, I no longer have my private balcony to write on, but that’s a different story!

The change of seasons can work inexplicable magic in the lives of artists. Just as I’ve written before, muses and inspiration can take infinite forms, but one that works for many of us is the feeling of peace at the end of a long Summer night. Seeing the light fade as the lightning bugs start to flash through the air, and hearing the night come alive around you. There’s not much better, especially when you’re in the mountains. Of course, I don’t have much city-living to compare that to, I’ll take it at face value. Regardless, we are coming on that time again, and I’m excited for what it might bring my way. I would love to get a few more great works out and get some print material circulating.

Speaking of that, I’m still well underway on getting my Amazon collection revamped so I can get it in print. I actually have an opening to try and sell the print copies at this year’s Appalachian Heritage Writers Symposium ( June 10, 11, link here; https://appheritagewritersym.wordpress.com/ ) and I’m hoping for some great feedback.

In other great and awesome news, I wanted you guys to be the first to know that I have been accepted as a contributing author to this year’s Spring edition of Jimson Weed. Many of you may remember that this is the journal that I was Managing Editor of for about two and half years, so it’s a great honor to be back in the running as a contributor. I can’t wait to see my name in the journal again! My story “Lefty Smith and the Right-Handed Corn” was the work selected for this issue, and I’m excited for the chance to read it in front of people. It’s a story I came up with while teaching at the aforementioned writers symposium in 2015, and I’m excited to see it get some attention. It’s a very folk-tale type of work and it’s not really like anything I’ve done before. Hopefully it will be a hit!

What sort of news is happening in all of your lives? What changes are you seeing come with the new season’s appearance? What are you looking most forward to in the Spring and Summer? Do you even like these seasons? The questions are endless.

Just a reminder, my review on “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” will go up Thursday, March 30, since this month ends on a Friday. I’m going to go ahead and start soliciting everyone for book choices for April’s review as well. I really want to reading frightening sort of dystopian-type novel this time, so wow me with suggestions! That choice will be announced on Tuesday, April 4.

Anyway, I hope you’re all well, and I look forward to seeing your suggestions and your comments on the seasons!

“Logan” movie review

I don’t think I’ve ever actually reviewed a movie on this site before, but if there is a movie that deserves it, it is definitely “Logan.” I’m going to warn you all now; if you haven’t seen this movie, you may want to hold off on reading, because there will definitely be spoilers ahead.

For those of you that may not know it, Wolverine is my absolute favorite comic book character of all time. There are so many awesome things about this animalistic little brute that blow my mind. With that in mind, there are almost as many representations of the character as there are comic strains with him in it. Of course, the various representations within those strains adds an infinite amount as well, but that would almost definitely send us down a rabbit hole, and who knows where we’d land. My favorite  of the many representations of Wolverine is definitely Hugh Jackman, followed at a close second by the cartoon version voiced by Cathal J. Dodd in the 1990’s hit X-Men: The Animated Series. This was the absolute best Saturday morning cartoon by far (of course, it was followed closely by Spiderman, but again, rabbit hole).

I’ve followed Jackman’s take on the character since he first donned the spiked hair and adamantium claws in 2000 and I’ve loved the way he does it. The pain and absolute rage he can portray capture Wolverine like I don’t think anyone else could. “Logan” brought both of those things to a whole new level. In this movie we find James Howlett making money driving the rich and privileged around in a limo in Las Vegas. He’s a little older, a lot grizzlier, and a whole lot worse for the wear. The man who once popped his claws with barely a second’s thought  now limps around, his grey hair blowing in the wind.

When we first encounter him he’s forced to “come out of retirement” to save what’s his as some punks try to strip his car. With a shotgun blast to the chest that doesn’t want to heal and claws that will no longer fully extend, the old man struggles for a good few minutes to take out the threat. He eventually gets pissed off enough to get the job done, taking arms and legs off of the thieves as they pump him full of bullets. We see him full of wounds, covered in scars, and having to force the bullets out, where they once would have just pushed their way out a matter of seconds. And we have no idea what’s going on.

The story continues as Logan goes to Mexico and we get little bits and pieces of the story along the way, from the rogue Caliban who is helping Wolverine care for an ailing Xavier, to the Reavers who are hot on the trail of some secret experiment, Logan is thrown back into the fight that he has tried so hard to escape. This movie gives real insight into the pain and torture Logan and Xavier feel. The world they live in – in 2029 – I might add, is now devoid of mutants. No new mutants are being born, and the old ones have disappeared or been killed. We are given to understand that the three mutants we encounter are all that remains, but there isn’t much of an explanation for why that is until much later in the film.

The story of the most brutal mutant anti-hero’s final hour is also the darkest and most brutal story in the franchise to date. The raw emotion and turmoil Mangold hands us here is just phenomenal. Wolverine is now nearly defunct, literally having to pull his claws out by hand at one point, his body not healing itself much at all. This isn’t explicitly said to be fact, but at one point Logan suggests that it is the adamantium – the very thing that makes him unbreakable – that is breaking him down. That alone gives you a huge insight into the mood of this movie.

As the strange little girl who we soon realize is X-23 comes into  the mix, the story grows more and more intense, with Wolverine having to uproot his plans to sail to the middle of the ocean with Xavier in order to take the little girl to what she is sure is a haven. Of course, the bad guys don’t want that. Trouble follows the trio (Wolverine, Xavier, and Laura) through half the country as they attempt to flee to safety. More is slowly revealed about the state of the world, even giving a mention of the possibility that Xavier’s fits of psychic attack due to his degenerating brain may be why the X-Men are no longer there to save the day.

For me, despite the fact that this is the last of Jackman’s Wolverine films, it is absolutely his best. He is such a dynamic actor that he can go from playing a savage, angry brute one second, to a pained and dying mutant the next in the blink of an eye. The biggest surprise for me in this movie was that, after all of the battles Wolverine has been through, he is finally pitted against a more brutal and angry version of himself in two scenes. X24 (something largely made up for the movie, but loosely based on some androids and genetic experiments from the comics) is a clone of Wolverine that exhibits all of the rage and none of the conscience of the weapon-turned-savior. I loved seeing Jackman’s older, more fragile Wolverine duke it out with what may be the best enemy possible – the beast that he used to be.

With a strong Western theme, a lot of cursing, (almost) enough violence, and a story that seriously broke my heart, I give Logan five and a half out of six claws way up in the air. For me, the only thing that could have made this movie better would have been the reveal that Jackman would remain in the roll and the character would live on. Of course, another couple of hours would have made saying goodbye a little easier as well.

I really didn’t have any problems with the flow of this movie, or its execution, other than to say that I would have welcomed even more violence as our anti-hero was getting his last hoorah. Although I won’t spoil how it happens, I will admit that I do find the death of Wolverine to be a bit flat in a way. To be taken out the way he is after surviving blades, bullets and even nuclear bombs, is a little sad – yet fitting. It’s the one thing that hadn’t really been tried yet, honestly. And, in my opinion, it does beat the way he died in the comic strain from 2014. Being covered in molten adamantium was a terrible way to go.

After  seeing the way the movie was brought about, and seeing the way it was done, it is no surprise whatsoever that it dominated the box office to become the #1 movie in the world. The biggest question I really find myself having to ask at this point is; where do we go from here? If you’re a comic fan, you know that these characters die almost as much as they breathe and they (almost) always come back. From the multiverse, to clones, to time travel, somebody somewhere finds a way to bring back our favorites. But will it happen with Wolverine? Jackman has already mentioned a couple of people he thinks could rock the claws in a successful way, including Tom Hardy and Shah Rukh Kahn. But how could it happen? Is some fluke going to bring him back from the dead as is, or is someone going to pull an alternate version out another universe (more importantly, can the Marvel Cinematic Universe handle that kind of mind-screw)? The latter could explain why he looks different, of course. I don’t know. All I know is that this piece of the puzzle fit incredibly well and definitely didn’t see us deal with chromed claws or a weird, mute Deadpool.

If I don’t stop myself here, I’ll talk about the movie for days – believe me. So what did you think of “Logan?” Are you a fan of the way Mangold wrapped up the solo story of the larger-than-life Wolverine? How about that amazing, heart-wrenching performance from Dafne Keen as Laura/X-23? Or the emotionally destroyed Xavier who barely registers as the man from previous films? Leave your comments below or send me a message let me know what you thought! And keep this review going for those who may be interested!

Preparing for dystopia

The world has certainly kept turning since January 20. But that’s really the only way we can say it. Global citizens have watched, many in unabashed horror, as the new leader of the free world has stomped on countless toes and attempted to create little more than an industrial, alienating wasteland of our once-great country. Don’t get me wrong, I still love the U.S.. I still see that, as a citizen of the United States I have countless opportunities to see and explore the world in ways others may not, and I fully respect the great country I live in. But the danger is here nonetheless.

Just in the last month we have heard about how certain people should be banned (but not banned) from the country, we’ve heard that actually counting the heads of those present to get a number is clearly a dated practice that doesn’t mean anything, we’ve heard how large a threat grizzly bears pose to the public school system, and we’ve realized that some people think an industrial pipeline is more important than preserving the resting place of the dead. And that’s just the drop of the hat.

I have kept my over-sized nose out of the discussions of politics that are rampant on every form of news and social media available, but I do want to share my very real concern for how much worse things may realistically end up getting before they get better.

Just today I’ve been seeing the news of an overturned regulation that now allows coal mines in my region to once more dump their waste into streams. This particular practice has led to filthy, sulfurous, uninhabitable water for a good portion of my area. The repercussions of this practice have only recently started to see a reversal. I honestly fear what problems may start to arise from these things alone. I look to the future and, sometimes, I find myself unable to see little more than a ruined, smoking hole in the ground that is not unlike the disaster showed us at the climax of countless apocalyptic movies. But, (and on a much less serious note)it would appear Mother Nature has also picked up on the problem and is working to rectify the situation.

Thousands of people in my region have been hit by a severe strain of the flu this week, leading to around a dozen counties in my neck of the woods going so far as to cancel school for multiple days in an attempt to slow the spread of the illness. I hope I’m not the only one who sees the truth here. We are now entering the real-life culmination of the events in Stephen King’s “The Stand” – and our new president is Randall Flagg.

What other explanation is there? He walks out, looking somehow less than human, feeding off of human suffering and strife, turning as many people as possible against one another, while the rest of the people around him are fighting a severe version of the flu that medicine doesn’t seem to be able to help. Schools are closing, streets are filling with people shouting for change and help, hospitals are being overrun …. My only question now is; where is Mother Abigail when we need her? Who else is going to throw down the Walkin’ Dude and bring us back to a moderate form of social peace? Or, if that can’t happen, where is Roland, who will stop the fall of the tower and bring order back to the realms. Shout out to those of you get the interconnected references of a King fiend here.

In all seriousness, though. There are some administrative decisions being made by “those in charge” that are going to continue to cause problems for those of us who, like Atlas, are left holding up the rest of the world. Wow, that was pathetically conceited and hopelessly deep. I’m in a league of my own today, huh? Basically I just wanted to share that the world is slipping into rough shape, but that we can still survive and use humor to get through life. Most importantly, we can compare the real-life horror story that surrounds us to literature and find true peace to comfort us as the world burns!

I’ve shared my own ideas of the lack of existence of true democracy many times, so none of you really need to hear that again, I’m sure. So the question of the day must be; what book are you reading now? What fictional world are you pushing your consciousness into in order to escape the harsh mundane reality of everyday life? And, more importantly, what’s next?! I hope all is well for everyone here, and I hope I’ve at least brought a smile to a few faces. Keep reading, writing, watching movies and enjoying the world while we have the chance. My review of Thirteen Reasons Why will go up next week and then I’ll be ton the lookout for the next big review, so send me your ideas and let me know what we should read. Have a good February, a good weekend, and make sure to take advantage of any half-priced candy you see!

 

*Image rights remain with the creator.