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Friday, September 23, 2011

"Terminal Freeze," Blow By Blow

Copyright 2011 by Gary L. Pullman

I just finished reading Lincoln Child's novel, Terminal FreezeIt's 320 pages long.  I read it in five hours.  That's 64 pages an hour, or a little more than a page a minute.  I'm not bragging, just making a point.  By using the same method that I use, you can read novels quickly, too.  Why would you want to do so?  You can read more of them, gaining a better perspective on either an individual's entire collection of work, a better understanding of the entire genre itself in which he or she works, or a better appreciation of both an individual author's work and the genre to which the work belongs, all with a minimum investment of time.  In addition to reading the novel, I also wrote one-sentence summaries of each of its chapters as I went, so that, by the time I'd read the entire novel, I had a summary of the entire story, which enhances my memory of what I've read and provides a handy dandy means of evaluating and critiquing the novel, should I ever wish to do so.
If you'd like to follow the method of my madness (or the madness of my method), here's what I do when I want to speed up the reading process:

  1. First, read the blurb. A blurb is the text on the inside of a hardback book’s flyleaf (the paper cover in which hardback books are usually wrapped) or on the back cover of a paperback. by reading them, you’re saving yourself from having to read maybe fifty, or even 100, PAGES of the novel itself, and you will know the main character’s name, the setting, the basic storyline, and the names of lesser, supporting characters.
  2. Realize that a chapter can be summarized in one sentence. Then, read the chapter only until you can summarize it in one sentence.
  3. After each chapter, write a sentence that summarizes what it presented
  4. Keep a list of characters’ names, brief phrases that identify them, and the names of the places in which the action takes place.
  5. Skip most of the description and exposition. Read just the dialogue. By reading just the dialogue, you will be able to keep track of the story well enough to summarize it. Only dip into the descriptive or expository blocks of text when you need to do so to reestablish a sense of continuity and context--maybe twice or so every four or five chapters. You will find that you are skipping entire pages of the text and still know what’s going on.
  6. After reading and summarizing each chapter and updating your list of characters and settings, stop! You are done with the book. 

Here is the result of my application of this process to Terminal Freeze:

Chapter 1: The face of a melting glacier near Alaska’s Mount Fear falls away, revealing the mouth of an ice cave.

Chapter 2: Scientists exploring the cave find a monstrous beast (a gigantic cat) frozen in the ice.

Chapter 3: Although Usuguk, who travels south with his people, warns the scientists to leave the region, declaring that they have trespassed upon holy land, defiling it with their presence, the scientists refuse to leave.

Chapter 4: Kari Ekberg, a Hollywood location scout, arriving at the scientists’ research station to prepare for a docudrama about the discovery of the frozen beast, is given a tour of the facility--except for the northern section, which is off limits to her and everyone else, including the squad of soldiers who maintain and guard the post.

Chapter 5: As they escort Ekberg to the ice cave to see the beast, two scientists, paleoecologist Evan Marshall and evolutionary biologist Wright Faraday, explain their expertise to her.

Chapter 6: In an underground bunker below Virginia’s Appalachian Mountains, Jeremy Logan, allegedly a professor of medieval history, reads a secret memorandum concerning the deaths of a team of scientists who had been encamped at Mount Fear.

Chapter 7: Emilio Conti, the executive producer, begins filming on location, explaining that the host of the docudrama will arrive before the crew ascends Mount Fear to cut the beast from the ice--live, on camera, before millions of viewers.

Chapter 8: The Hollywood team’s legal representative, Wolff, shows the scientists a contract that their leader, Gerard Scully, signed, authorizing them to extract and thaw the beast’s carcass, on live television, despite the scientists’ objections.

Chapter 9: Using a laser and a diamond-tipped drill, the television crew extracts a block of ice in which the beast is entombed from the ice cave’s wall and transports it to a climate-controlled vault to thaw before the eyes of their television audience.

Chapter 10: Conti interviews Marshall, dramatizing the setting and dialogue, but angering the scientist when he asks him about his “dishonorable discharge” from the army, despite his having been awarded the Silver Star, and his refusal to carry a weapon, and Marshall refuses to cooperate further.

Chapter 11: Faraday reports to his colleagues that tests he’s conducted indicate that the beast is not the saber-toothed tiger they’d supposed it to be; it is at least twice the size of such an animal.

Chapter 12: An examination of the carcass--or what can be seen of it inside the block of ice--proves inconclusive as to the animal’s identity.

Chapter 13: The docudrama’s host, Ashleigh Davis, arrives, by helicopter, along with her trailer, which has been trucked in aboard an eighteen-wheeler driven by Carradine, an ice road trucker.

Chapter 14: Logan, identifying himself as a hitchhiker, who was picked up by Carradine on his way to deliver Davis’ trailer, introduces himself as the scientists gather to watch the docudrama host film a sequence of her show outside the climate-controlled vault.

Chapter 15: Marshal awakens to discover that a hole has been cut through the floor of the climate-controlled vault.

Chapter 16: Wolff locks down the compound so he can investigate and recover the carcass stolen from the vault, but the new arrival, Logan, is nowhere to be found.

Chapter 17: Faraday, having taken pictures of the hole in the vault’s floor, determined that the hole was made from above, not from below, as Wolff had supposed, which indicates that whoever sawed the hole through the floor knew the combination to the vault’s lock.

Chapter 18: Conti believes that the carcass was stolen through an act of sabotage to be disposed of and vows to make a documentary of the crime, asking Marshall to star in the film.

Chapter 19: Logan tells Marshall about the recently declassified memorandum concerning the deaths of the scientists at Fear Base.

Chapter 20: Josh Peters relieves McCoy Tyner, searching the compound for the carcass of the beast, and is attacked from behind and knocked unconscious.

Chapter 21: Faraday and the team’s graduate assistant, Ang Chen, tell Marshall of test results they’ve obtained on ice from the cave in which the creature was encased: it seems to contain ice--and a microscopic view of the photograph Faraday took of the hole in the floor suggests that the hole was made from teeth, not a saw, as if it had been chewed through.

Chapter 22: Logan reconnoiters E Level of the research facility, where he encounters the military leader, Sergeant Gonzalez, who tells him that the facility’s off-limits section had “extra berths” in it “that no military ever used” and is rumored to have involved the mauling by a polar bear of scientists who were involved in top secret work.

Chapter 23: After Marshall and his team’s computer scientist, Penny Barbour, put Conti, Wolff, and Ekberg on notice that the filmmakers will be sued if they libel or slander the scientists in their docudrama about the climate-controlled vault’s having been sabotaged, they inform the Hollywood executives that one of their men, Josh Peters, has been “torn apart” beyond the compound’s “security fence.”

Chapter 24: At Wolff’s request, Marshall examines the body, concluding that a polar bear could have killed Peters, but Wolff still insists that the creature’s carcass was stolen in an act of sabotage and suggests that Peters was killed to frighten the rest of them from continuing the Hollywood team’s search for the missing creature.

Chapter 25: Intent upon making a revised docudrama of the creature‘s theft and Peter‘s supposed murder as part of the sabotage of their original film, Conti sends one film crew to photograph the fearful reaction of the rest of the crew to the news of Peter’s horrific death and a second crew to film Peters’ corpse before it is put into cold storage.

Chapter 26: Logan discovers a notebook--perhaps a journal--that one of the scientists on the earlier, catastrophic, aborted mission kept while at Fear Base.

Chapter 27: A he prepares to leave the room in which Peters’ corpse is temporarily stored., having photographed the body, cameraman Ken Toussaint encounters “the face of nightmare.”

Chapter 28: Faraday reports to Marshall his suspicion that the ice that encased the creature was unusual and melted below the freezing mark, allowing the animal trapped inside, which may have been alive rather than dead, to escape after its ice prison had melted.

Chapter 29: Trying to pitch a screenplay to Davis, Carradine escorts her to her trailer, where they hear a loud knocking, which turns out to b Toussaint, hanging from one of the trailer’s window awning support arms, who, although he first appears dead, screams, “It plays with you! And then when it’s finished playing--it kills.”

Chapter 30: Toussaint, who has survived the attack upon him, describes his attacker as huge and equipped with many teeth; Peters’ corpse is missing; Wolff refuses to allow Carradine to drive the crew to safety in Davis’ trailer, which he offers to tow behind his eighteen-wheeler.

Chapter 31: Logan tells Marshall that the dead scientist’s journal hints at horrific events at Fear Base, and Marshall decides to take a snowmobile to visit the Tunits to see whether they can shed any light on the incidents, past and present, that have occurred at the research facility.

Chapter 32: When Allan Fortnum returns from shooting images of the Hollywood crew’s horrified reactions to Peters’ death, Conti gives the cinematographer his next assignment: stand by to film the monster as it tears its next victim apart--but Fortnum refuses to be party to this outrageous task.

Chapter 33: Both Davis and PFC Donovan Fluke, who escorts to her new accommodations, which are closer to those of the military troop attached to Fear Base to afford her better protection, are attacked by the monster.

Chapter 34: Visiting the Tunits’ settlement, Marshall finds it deserted except for Usuguk, who has remained behind to speak to the scientist, certain that Marshall would come.

Chapter 35: Sergeant Gonzalez orders the camp evacuated; everyone will ride in Davis’ trailer, which Carradine will tow with his eighteen-wheeler; meanwhile, Gonzalez plans to hunt for the beast; when Marshall returns, his colleagues plan to meet with him; only Conti and Ekberg refuse to leave, staying to film yet another revised docudrama.

Chapter 36: After Marshall tells Usuguk how he had accidentally killed his friend during the war in Somalia and had refused to cover up his mistake, thereby earning a dishonorable discharge, Usuguk agrees to accompany him on his hunt for the creature, but only as an unarmed advisor--and the shaman won’t share what he knows about the slaughter of the earlier scientific expedition party.

Chapter 37: Sergeant Gonzalez and his two men, Marcelin and Phillips, remain at Fear Base to hunt the beast after everyone else but Creel, Faraday, Scully, Marshall, Logan, Conti, Ekberg, and Wolff leaves in Davis trailer, which is towed by Carradine’s big rig.

Chapter 38: Conti and Ekberg plan to follow the soldiers, filming their hunt of the creature.

Chapter 39: Marshall returns to the nearly deserted research facility with Usuguk and learns of the monster’s killing of Davis and Fluke; Usuguk tells the others that he was the sole survivor among the earlier research party, “the one who got away.”

Chapter 40: The military troop, commanded by Sergeant Gonzalez and accompanied by Creel, the roustabouts’ foreman, follow the beast’s bloody tracks through the base‘s power station, and it attacks the group, killing Creel, after which Gonzalez retreats.

Chapter 41: Usuguk, a former soldier who had been stationed at Fear Base, tells the others how another, smaller spirit-beast killed the scientists of the earlier expedition and declares that the larger one awakened by the present expedition is an invincible and immortal guardian of the mountain in which Fear Base is installed--it cannot be killed, but it will kill them all.

Chapter 42: After crossing a frozen lake, the tractor-trailer is caught in a gust of wind that slams it into a rock and breaks one of the fuel tanks; the other tank is only one third full, and there is not enough fuel to take them the rest of the way to their destination, Arctic Village.

Chapter 43: Inside the base’s power station, the soldiers try to electrocute the creature, but to no avail.

Chapter 44: Following the soldiers, Conti, Wolff, and Ekberg find the bloody trail and Conti films Ekberg’s reaction to seeing the head that the monster had ripped from Creel’s body.

Chapter 45: Faraday finds that the monster’s white blood cell-rich blood makes it impervious to bullets but is hypersensitive to--and may be killed by--sound, so maybe they can convert the secret wing of the base into an echo chamber; meanwhile, Sergeant Gonzalez’s attempt to raise Conti and Ekberg on the radio is unsuccessful.

Chapter 46: Conti, having forbidden Ekberg to respond to Gonzalez’s radio call, orders Wolff and Ekberg to investigate a stairwell with him, and they feel pressure inside their skulls as the monster approaches them through the darkness.

Chapter 47: As Usuguk tells the party his people’s legends concerning the monster, Gonzalez, Sully, Marshall, Faraday, Phillips, and the shaman find an already-built echo chamber in the secret section of the facility.

Chapter 48: The creature kills Conti, but Ekberg escapes.

Chapter 49: Ekberg radios Marshall, advising him of Conti’s death and of her own risk, and, while Scully seeks batteries to operate the echo chamber’s sound equipment, Marshall rendezvous with Ekberg to protect her from the monster and lead her back to a site outside the echo chamber, where the monster can be ambushed.

Chapter 50: As the monster pursues them, Marshall and Ekberg retreat toward the ambush site, only to learn that no batteries are available and that the scientists have had to connect the sound equipment to a power source inside the echo chamber itself, which is farther than Marshall had anticipated.

Chapter 51: The sound equipment fails to stop the creature (as does a barrage of bullets), which attacks Scully, who is operating the sonar weapon, and tears him limb from limb.

Chapter 52: Marshall retreats with the sonar weapon into the echo chamber, where the sound is magnified, and, using a different set of “harmonics,” kills the monster with the sound waves, which cause its head to explode.

Chapter 53: Against all odds, Carradine’s big rig manages to haul the trailer to Arctic Village.

Epilogue: Logan suggests that the first beast was the second creature’s pet and that the latter had been searching for the former when it became encased in the wall of the ice cave.

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Paranormal vs. Supernatural: What’s the Diff?

Copyright 2009 by Gary L. Pullman

Sometimes, in demonstrating how to brainstorm about an essay topic, selecting horror movies, I ask students to name the titles of as many such movies as spring to mind (seldom a difficult feat for them, as the genre remains quite popular among young adults). Then, I ask them to identify the monster, or threat--the antagonist, to use the proper terminology--that appears in each of the films they have named. Again, this is usually a quick and easy task. Finally, I ask them to group the films’ adversaries into one of three possible categories: natural, paranormal, or supernatural. This is where the fun begins.

It’s a simple enough matter, usually, to identify the threats which fall under the “natural” label, especially after I supply my students with the scientific definition of “nature”: everything that exists as either matter or energy (which are, of course, the same thing, in different forms--in other words, the universe itself. The supernatural is anything which falls outside, or is beyond, the universe: God, angels, demons, and the like, if they exist. Mad scientists, mutant cannibals (and just plain cannibals), serial killers, and such are examples of natural threats. So far, so simple.

What about borderline creatures, though? Are vampires, werewolves, and zombies, for example, natural or supernatural? And what about Freddy Krueger? In fact, what does the word “paranormal” mean, anyway? If the universe is nature and anything outside or beyond the universe is supernatural, where does the paranormal fit into the scheme of things?

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word “paranormal,” formed of the prefix “para,” meaning alongside, and “normal,” meaning “conforming to common standards, usual,” was coined in 1920. The American Heritage Dictionary defines “paranormal” to mean “beyond the range of normal experience or scientific explanation.” In other words, the paranormal is not supernatural--it is not outside or beyond the universe; it is natural, but, at the present, at least, inexplicable, which is to say that science cannot yet explain its nature. The same dictionary offers, as examples of paranormal phenomena, telepathy and “a medium’s paranormal powers.”

Wikipedia offers a few other examples of such phenomena or of paranormal sciences, including the percentages of the American population which, according to a Gallup poll, believes in each phenomenon, shown here in parentheses: psychic or spiritual healing (54), extrasensory perception (ESP) (50), ghosts (42), demons (41), extraterrestrials (33), clairvoyance and prophecy (32), communication with the dead (28), astrology (28), witchcraft (26), reincarnation (25), and channeling (15); 36 percent believe in telepathy.

As can be seen from this list, which includes demons, ghosts, and witches along with psychics and extraterrestrials, there is a confusion as to which phenomena and which individuals belong to the paranormal and which belong to the supernatural categories. This confusion, I believe, results from the scientism of our age, which makes it fashionable for people who fancy themselves intelligent and educated to dismiss whatever cannot be explained scientifically or, if such phenomena cannot be entirely rejected, to classify them as as-yet inexplicable natural phenomena. That way, the existence of a supernatural realm need not be admitted or even entertained. Scientists tend to be materialists, believing that the real consists only of the twofold unity of matter and energy, not dualists who believe that there is both the material (matter and energy) and the spiritual, or supernatural. If so, everything that was once regarded as having been supernatural will be regarded (if it cannot be dismissed) as paranormal and, maybe, if and when it is explained by science, as natural. Indeed, Sigmund Freud sought to explain even God as but a natural--and in Freud’s opinion, an obsolete--phenomenon.

Meanwhile, among skeptics, there is an ongoing campaign to eliminate the paranormal by explaining them as products of ignorance, misunderstanding, or deceit. Ridicule is also a tactic that skeptics sometimes employ in this campaign. For example, The Skeptics’ Dictionary contends that the perception of some “events” as being of a paranormal nature may be attributed to “ignorance or magical thinking.” The dictionary is equally suspicious of each individual phenomenon or “paranormal science” as well. Concerning psychics’ alleged ability to discern future events, for example, The Skeptic’s Dictionary quotes Jay Leno (“How come you never see a headline like 'Psychic Wins Lottery'?”), following with a number of similar observations:

Psychics don't rely on psychics to warn them of impending disasters. Psychics don't predict their own deaths or diseases. They go to the dentist like the rest of us. They're as surprised and disturbed as the rest of us when they have to call a plumber or an electrician to fix some defect at home. Their planes are delayed without their being able to anticipate the delays. If they want to know something about Abraham Lincoln, they go to the library; they don't try to talk to Abe's spirit. In short, psychics live by the known laws of nature except when they are playing the psychic game with people.
In An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural, James Randi, a magician who exercises a skeptical attitude toward all things alleged to be paranormal or supernatural, takes issue with the notion of such phenomena as well, often employing the same arguments and rhetorical strategies as The Skeptic’s Dictionary.

In short, the difference between the paranormal and the supernatural lies in whether one is a materialist, believing in only the existence of matter and energy, or a dualist, believing in the existence of both matter and energy and spirit. If one maintains a belief in the reality of the spiritual, he or she will classify such entities as angels, demons, ghosts, gods, vampires, and other threats of a spiritual nature as supernatural, rather than paranormal, phenomena. He or she may also include witches (because, although they are human, they are empowered by the devil, who is himself a supernatural entity) and other natural threats that are energized, so to speak, by a power that transcends nature and is, as such, outside or beyond the universe. Otherwise, one is likely to reject the supernatural as a category altogether, identifying every inexplicable phenomenon as paranormal, whether it is dark matter or a teenage werewolf. Indeed, some scientists dedicate at least part of their time to debunking allegedly paranormal phenomena, explaining what natural conditions or processes may explain them, as the author of The Serpent and the Rainbow explains the creation of zombies by voodoo priests.

Based upon my recent reading of Tzvetan Todorov's The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to the Fantastic, I add the following addendum to this essay.

According to Todorov:

The fantastic. . . lasts only as long as a certain hesitation [in deciding] whether or not what they [the reader and the protagonist] perceive derives from "reality" as it exists in the common opinion. . . . If he [the reader] decides that the laws of reality remain intact and permit an explanation of the phenomena described, we can say that the work belongs to the another genre [than the fantastic]: the uncanny. If, on the contrary, he decides that new laws of nature must be entertained to account for the phenomena, we enter the genre of the marvelous (The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre, 41).
Todorov further differentiates these two categories by characterizing the uncanny as “the supernatural explained” and the marvelous as “the supernatural accepted” (41-42).

Interestingly, the prejudice against even the possibility of the supernatural’s existence which is implicit in the designation of natural versus paranormal phenomena, which excludes any consideration of the supernatural, suggests that there are no marvelous phenomena; instead, there can be only the uncanny. Consequently, for those who subscribe to this view, the fantastic itself no longer exists in this scheme, for the fantastic depends, as Todorov points out, upon the tension of indecision concerning to which category an incident belongs, the natural or the supernatural. The paranormal is understood, by those who posit it, in lieu of the supernatural, as the natural as yet unexplained.

And now, back to a fate worse than death: grading students’ papers.

My Cup of Blood

Anyone who becomes an aficionado of anything tends, eventually, to develop criteria for elements or features of the person, place, or thing of whom or which he or she has become enamored. Horror fiction--admittedly not everyone’s cuppa blood--is no different (okay, maybe it’s a little different): it, too, appeals to different fans, each for reasons of his or her own. Of course, in general, book reviews, the flyleaves of novels, and movie trailers suggest what many, maybe even most, readers of a particular type of fiction enjoy, but, right here, right now, I’m talking more specifically--one might say, even more eccentrically. In other words, I’m talking what I happen to like, without assuming (assuming makes an “ass” of “u” and “me”) that you also like the same. It’s entirely possible that you will; on the other hand, it’s entirely likely that you won’t.

Anyway, this is what I happen to like in horror fiction:

Small-town settings in which I get to know the townspeople, both the good, the bad, and the ugly. For this reason alone, I’m a sucker for most of Stephen King’s novels. Most of them, from 'Salem's Lot to Under the Dome, are set in small towns that are peopled by the good, the bad, and the ugly. Part of the appeal here, granted, is the sense of community that such settings entail.

Isolated settings, such as caves, desert wastelands, islands, mountaintops, space, swamps, where characters are cut off from civilization and culture and must survive and thrive or die on their own, without assistance, by their wits and other personal resources. Many are the examples of such novels and screenplays, but Alien, The Shining, The Descent, Desperation, and The Island of Dr. Moreau, are some of the ones that come readily to mind.

Total institutions as settings. Camps, hospitals, military installations, nursing homes, prisons, resorts, spaceships, and other worlds unto themselves are examples of such settings, and Sleepaway Camp, Coma, The Green Mile, and Aliens are some of the novels or films that take place in such settings.

Anecdotal scenes--in other words, short scenes that showcase a character--usually, an unusual, even eccentric, character. Both Dean Koontz and the dynamic duo, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, excel at this, so I keep reading their series (although Koontz’s canine companions frequently--indeed, almost always--annoy, as does his relentless optimism).

Atmosphere, mood, and tone. Here, King is king, but so is Bentley Little. In the use of description to terrorize and horrify, both are masters of the craft.

A bit of erotica (okay, okay, sex--are you satisfied?), often of the unusual variety. Sex sells, and, yes, sex whets my reader’s appetite. Bentley Little is the go-to guy for this spicy ingredient, although Koontz has done a bit of seasoning with this spice, too, in such novels as Lightning and Demon Seed (and, some say, Hung).

Believable characters. Stephen King, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, and Dan Simmons are great at creating characters that stick to readers’ ribs.

Innovation. Bram Stoker demonstrates it, especially in his short story “Dracula’s Guest,” as does H. P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, Shirley Jackson, and a host of other, mostly classical, horror novelists and short story writers. For an example, check out my post on Stoker’s story, which is a real stoker, to be sure. Stephen King shows innovation, too, in ‘Salem’s Lot, The Shining, It, and other novels. One might even argue that Dean Koontz’s something-for-everyone, cross-genre writing is innovative; he seems to have been one of the first, if not the first, to pen such tales.

Technique. Check out Frank Peretti’s use of maps and his allusions to the senses in Monster; my post on this very topic is worth a look, if I do say so myself, which, of course, I do. Opening chapters that accomplish a multitude of narrative purposes (not usually all at once, but successively) are attractive, too, and Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child are as good as anyone, and better than many, at this art.

A connective universe--a mythos, if you will, such as both H. P. Lovecraft and Stephen King, and, to a lesser extent, Dean Koontz, Bentley Little, and even Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child have created through the use of recurring settings, characters, themes, and other elements of fiction.

A lack of pretentiousness. Dean Koontz has it, as do Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, Bentley Little, and (to some extent, although he has become condescending and self-indulgent of late, Stephen King); unfortunately, both Dan Simmons and Robert McCammon have become too self-important in their later works, Simmons almost to the point of becoming unreadable. Come on, people, you’re writing about monsters--you should be humble.

Longevity. Writers who have been around for a while usually get better, Stephen King, Dan Simmons, and Robert McCammon excepted.

Pacing. Neither too fast nor too slow. Dean Koontz is good, maybe the best, here, of contemporary horror writers.

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