Horror writer David Nickle is a master of the creepy -- the reveal at the end of the horror story that lodges in your brain and revisits you in goosepimply moments of fear. I stole the idea of ambulatory thumbs in Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town from one of his short stories ("The Unshackling of Thumbs"), because once I read that story, the image just wouldn't get out of my head.
But with his new novel, The 'Geisters, Nickle manages to capture another of horror's delicious thrills: spookiness. From the first page, The 'Geisters exudes a hindbrain-teasing sense of lurking menace, the haunted-house creak of an impending apparition. It's a spectacular feeling, and Nickle tightrope-walks it for 300 too-short pages, building to a climax that's spooky, creepy and scary besides -- and all the moreso because of that long journey on the verge of fear.
Geisters is the story of Ann LeSage, a girl who manifests a violent and elusive poltergeist she calls the Insect. We meet Ann as she is about to get married to a lawyer named Michael Voors, who bemusedly resolves the cognitive dissonance of salt-shakers that move on their own without resorting to supernatural explanations. Ann knows better. She knows that the Insect has escaped from the mental prison she built for it after it killed her parents and turned her brother into a quadriplegic. As she and Michael depart for a lavish Caribbean honeymoon -- paid for by Michael's mentor, a rich winery owner -- the Insect manifests more frequently and in ways that grow ever more violent, culminating with their return flight making a disastrous emergency landing that kills her husband. That death sets her on a journey across America, hunted by people who seem to know the true nature of the poltergeists -- and who have a darkly erotic relationship with them.
The story is a white-knuckler from page one, and Nickle is a master of luring you into thinking that the supernatural can be rationalized and systemized, only to reveal, time and again, that the orderly patterns we try to make of the irrational are figments of our imagination. I was off-balance and more than a little scared throughout.
Nickle has posted the first chapter to his blog.
The book's also got its own power-ballad:
Kari Maaren wrote and performed this anthem for the book on her uke.
John Schwartz has a colorful profile of Bill Nye the Science Guy
in the New York Times, exploring his evolution from science-lesson-explainer for kids, to a defender of fact-based reality against pundits on TV who say climate change, evolution, and, you know, evidence-based reasoning and science in general is a bunch of hooey. — Xeni
John sez, "Last fall, you guys ran a story about 'Backyard Blockbusters,' my feature documentary on fan films (such as 'Troops', 'Hardware Wars', 'Star Trek: Phase II", or the 'Raiders of the Lost Ark" adaptation) and fan filmmakers.
At the time, the focus was on helping the film get into the Arclight Documentary Film Festival, which was successful - we got in and screened there, and the film has been playing festivals and conventions since. While the film doesn't have a distribution deal yet (backup plans for self-distribution are still being considered), I've put the first 12 minutes of the film online to give people a taste of what the film is, and hopefully generate some interest."
Backyard Blockbusters - First 12 minutes
The Guardian commemorates the reissue of Isabel Marks's 1901 classic "Fancy Cycling" by publishing a sweet gallery of Edwardian ladies and gents doing bike tricks: "Marvel as these tailored tricksters demonstrate how to pick up a handkerchief without dismounting, ride backwards while seated on the handlebar, and 'tilting at the ring'"
The NSA's first large-scale domestic surveillance project began in 1945 — when the organization began reading American's telegrams. — Maggie
In general, women outlive men. This is not a new idea. But what you might not know is that the effect can't be explained by some simple hand-waving about risk-taking men, or war, or the allure of the Marlboro Man. In fact, the tendency for men to die at a higher frequency than women happens at every age group — even in utero. Fetal males die more often than fetal females. So what makes the men-folk so delicate?
NPR's Robert Krulwich investigates. — Maggie
MERS is the SARS-related virus that's killing people in the Middle East — and the government of Saudi Arabia, where most of the outbreak is happening, has been reticent about releasing information on infections and deaths
. Now, the government of Jordan has admitted that the earliest recorded outbreak, which happened back in April of 2012, actually infected at least 10 people, rather than the previously reported two
. It sounds like this revelation was the result of an internal re-evaluation of previous records, rather than the suppression of something the government had long known. But it gives you a good idea of how bad the epidemiological information on MERS is right now, and how little we know about it. — Maggie
Everything a dissection table should be, I suppose. I'm absolutely mesmerized by the utility of this tool, developed by Anatomage and Stanford University's Division of Clinical Anatomy. Particularly for its ability to give anatomy students unprecedented access to special cases. Instead of waiting for a body with just the right kind of brain malformation or liver damage to come in, you can just call up the desired images from the computer and use them whenever you want.
As for the creepy: Well, for some reason it's just a little more disturbing to see a perfectly healthy naked lady sprawled out on the anatomy table, as opposed to old, wrinkly naked people or people who have clearly recently been in poor health. (Also, potentially NSFW, natch.)
Neuroscientist have attached an electronic "backpack" to dragonflies that jack into the insect's brain and wirelessly transmit the data back to a base station. Howard Hughes Medical Institute researcher Anthony Leonardo and his collaborators hope the telemetry will deepen our understanding of how dragonflies target and catch their pray. (via Wired)
It's time again to play Digging for Hoffa! Today, the FBI will dig in a field north of Detroit based on a tip from alleged mobster Tony Zerilli. Apparently, Zerilli claims Jimmy Hoffa was buried in a shallow grave about 20 miles north of where he was last spotted 38 years ago. (via CNN)
Two doctors have written a really fascinating analysis of the history and economics of health insurance that will make our current U.S. system seem even more ridonculous than it already did
. — Maggie
Nine people who have not recently made any sweeping judgements about biotechnology.
Last week, I told you about the US Supreme Court ruling that made it illegal to patent naturally occurring DNA. In that article, I talked briefly about the fact that the new ruling doesn't cover all DNA. It's still perfectly legal to patent synthetic DNA, and the court documents referred specifically to complementary DNA (aka cDNA).
This is where things get murky. Complementary DNA is a thing that can be both natural and synthetic. And, as a laboratory creation, it's an important step in a common method of replicating naturally occurring DNA. All of which leaves some holes in the idea that the Supreme Court ruling is a simple "win" for open-access science, patent activists, and patients. After all, if you can't patent a gene, but you can patent the laboratory copy of the gene, what's that mean? It's sort of like not being able to patent a novel, but being able to patent a copy of its contents that's had all the white space removed. It seems like everybody is a bit confused by this. So I wanted to take a moment to at least clarify what cDNA is and what some people, on different sides of the science/law/biotech divides, are thinking about it.
It starts with some stuff you learned back in junior high — how information from your DNA gets turned into actual working proteins.
Read the rest
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