Clockwork Fairies and Cloverfield

This week I'm mostly going to talk about Cloverfield but first I have exciting news. I was able to get a sneak peek at a new book by Cat Rambo called Clockwork Fairies, and I've got an excerpt for you. The artwork for this gorgeous book is by Greg Manchess. The title story is about an inventor, told from the perspective of her pompous, narrow-minded fiancé. Ms. Rambo does an excellent job with a charming story told by someone whose face I feel like slapping. (I realize he's pretty much a product of his time and privilege, but still, wouldn't one little slap help enlighten him?)

An excerpt from the title story follows, then my little chat about Cloverfield comes after.

Clockwork Fairies

By Cat Rambo

Mary the Irish girl let me in when I knocked at the door in my Sunday best, smelling of incense and evening fog. Gaslight flickered over the narrow hall. The mahogany banister’s curve gleamed with beeswax polish, and a rosewood hat rack and umbrella stand squatted to my left.

I nodded to Mary, taking off my top hat. Snuff and baking butter mingled with my own pomade to battle the smell of steel and sulfur from below.

“Don’t be startled, Mr. Claude, sir.”

Before I could speak further, a whir of creatures surrounded me.

At first I thought them hummingbirds or large dragonflies. One hung poised before my eyes in a flutter of metallic skin and isinglass wings. Delicate gears spun in the wrist of a pinioned hand holding a needle-sharp sword. Desiree had created another marvel. Clockwork fairies, bee-winged, glittering like tinsel. Who would have dreamed such things, let alone made them real? Only Desiree.

Mary chattered, “They’re hers. They won’t harm ye. Only burglars and the like.”

She swatted at one hovering too close, its hair floating like candy floss in the air. Mary had been with the Southland household for three years now and was inured to scientific marvels. “I’ll tell her ladyship yer here.”

She left. I eyed the fairies that hung in the air around me. Despite Mary’s assurance, I did not know what they would do if I stepped forward. I had never witnessed clockwork creations so capable of independent movement.

Footsteps sounded downstairs, coming closer. Desiree appeared in the doorway that led to her basement workshop. A pair of protective lenses dangled around her neck and she wore gloves. Not the dainty kidskin gloves of fashionable women, but thick pig leather, to shield her clever brown fingers from sparks. One hand clutched a brass oval studded with tiny buttons.

Desiree’s skin color made her almost as much an oddity in upper London society as the fairies. My intended. I smiled at her.

“Claude,” she said with evident pleasure.

She clicked the device in her hand and the fairies swirled away, disappearing to God knows where. “I’m almost done. I’ll meet you in the parlor in a few minutes. Go ahead and ring for tea.”

#

In the parlor, I took to the settee and looked around. As always, the room was immaculate, filled with well-dusted knickknacks. Butterflies fluttered under two bell jars on a charcoal-colored marble mantle with lilies of the valley carved into it. The room was well-composed: a sofa sat in graceful opposition to a pair of wing chairs. The only discordant note was the book shoved between two embroidered pillows on the closest chair’s maroon velvet. I picked it up. On the Origin Of Species, by Charles Darwin.

I frowned and set it back down. Only last week, my minister had spoken out against this very book. I should speak to Desiree. I knew better than to forbid her to read it, but I could warn her against discussing it in polite company or supporting the heretical notion that humans were related to animals, which contradicted God’s order, the Great Chain of Being.

Mary, the Irish girl, brought tea and sweet biscuits with a clatter of heels that were muted when she reached the parlor carpet. I poured myself a cup, sniffing. Lapsang Oolong. Desiree’s father, Lord Southland, was one of London’s notable titled eccentrics, but his staff had excellent taste in provisions.

The man himself appeared in the doorway. His silk waistcoat was patterned with golden bees, as fashionable as my own undulating Oriental serpents.

“Ah, Stone,” he said. He advanced to take a sesame-seed biscuit, eyebrows bristling with hoary disapproval behind guinea-sized lenses. “You’re here again.”

“I came to visit Desiree,” I replied, stressing the last word. I knew Lord Southland disapproved of me, although his antipathy puzzled me. If he hoped to marry off his mulatto daughter, I was his best prospect. Not many men were as free of prejudice as I was.

With his wife’s death, though, Southland had become irrational and taken up radical notions. So far Desiree had steered clear of them with my guidance, but I shuddered to think that she might become a Nonconformist or Suffragist. Still, I took care to be polite to Southland. If he cut Desiree from his will, the results would be disastrous.

“Of course he came to see me, Papa,” Desiree said from the other doorway. She had removed her leather apron, revealing a gay dress of pink cotton sprigged with strawberry blossoms. She perched a decorous distance from me and poured her own tea, adding a hearty amount of milk.

“I’ve come to nag you again, Des,” I teased.

A crease settled between her eyebrows. “Claude, is this about Lady Allsop’s ball again?”

I leaned forward to capture her hand, its color deep against my own pale skin. “Desiree, to be accepted in society, you must make an effort now and then. If you are a success it will reflect well on me. Appear at the ball as a kindness to me.”

She removed her fingers from mine, the crease between her eyebrows becoming more pronounced. “I have told you: I am not the sort of woman that goes to balls.”

“But you could be!” I told her. “Look at you, Desiree. You are as beautiful as any woman in London. A nonpareil. Dressed properly, you would take the city by storm.”

“We have been over this before,” she said. “I have no desire to expose myself to stares. My race makes me noteworthy, but it is not pleasant being a freak, Claude. Last week a child in the street wanted to rub my skin and see ‘if the dirt would come off.’ Can you not be happy with me as I am?”

“I am very happy with you as you are,” I said. I could hear a sullen touch in my voice, but my feelings were understandable. “But you could be so much more!”

She stood. “Come,” she said. “I will show you what I have been working on.”

There would be no arguing with her—I could tell by her tone—but a touch of sulkiness might wear her down. Lord Southland glared at me as I bowed to him, but neither of us spoke.

* * * * *

Cloverfield

I finally got around to seeing Cloverfield this week. I know, I know, what took me so long? I get migraines easily and my two younger sons told me not to see it as the shaky camera work was sure to leave me reeling with what felt like a brain bleed. I listened to my boys and avoided the film but I kept wondering what exactly the monster looked like. So I finally watched it with the remote clutched in my sweaty little hand, ready to ditch it at the first twinge of pain. I made it through okay and discovered something startling.

While Cloverfield is marketed as a horror film it's really a romance with horror elements. I realize that's a bold statement for some of you but I have some evidence to back up my conclusions. About a year goes by before anything scary happens in the film. Instead we're at a surprise party, listening to a lot of gossip about a boy and a girl, who may or may love each other. (We also see a bit of footage of them taken one month previously, on the morning after, while they decide to go to Coney Island and have a fun day together.) They have an important history but aren't together and she gets mad at him and goes home, shortly before disaster strikes the city.

When the monster attacks the city the only thing the protagonist can think about is saving the lady he loves. Everything he does from that moment on is geared towards finding her, helping her and keeping her safe. And no, he doesn't just assume she can't take care of herself, he gets a voicemail from her saying she can't move and she's bleeding; a message that should send anyone to the rescue, even if the trapped person is Mr. Universe and normally capable of lifting an entire car while simultaneously fighting off a pack of angry mama bears.

When he gets to her building not only is she injured, her whole building is injured; knocked into the building next to it. But that doesn't stop our hero, who would likely scale Chomolungma herself if it meant bringing tea and oxygen to his beloved. You may have noticed that I haven't used any character names. That's because I can't remember them. Oh sure, I could look them up, but I think that would detract from the organicness of this column so we'll just call them Romeo and Juliette. (Yes of course this is a romantic tragedy. Did you miss the part about the monster?)

Romeo isn't the only one trying to rescue Juliette. A small circle of friends come with him, including an awesome woman I'll call Mercutio, because she is good in a fight, and a dude called HUD, whose name I remember because I work for a mortgage news company. HUD is the one running the camera and he has a crush on Mercutio.

The Cloverfield monster isn't the only one who comes to town; he is accompanied by some creatures about as big as a large dog, but with a lot more legs. I happen to think these are Cloverfield monster fleas, but I could be totally wrong. They may not be capable of knocking over a building but they're not exactly man's best friend. Mercutio earned my respect when these things appeared, beating the living hell out of them with a piece of metal.  Hooray!

I was intrigued that this film, which seemed to be aimed at the 16 – 25 year old male demographic, had such a strong love story. Is this why so many young men told me it was a terrible film? Because it's presented as one thing, horror, and is secretly another, romance? I enjoyed myself but then again when everyone tells you something stinks you bring your lowest expectations and those are not hard to surpass. Your mileage may vary.

One-Paragraph Review

This week's one-paragraph review is from Gastin who wrote in to say, " Vindictus, the first release of Nexon's new gaming site "Block Party", is a fast paced MMORPG based in a world threatened by demons, where you take control of a single fighter who has the fighting prowess to take on almost any enemy that crosses his path. With up to four players working together at a single mission, you and your friends have the ability to level up and enjoy together. The game runs on Valve's Source engine, so you know it will be fairly good graphics." Do you have a one-paragraph (or smaller) review you'd like to share? Send it in to me for consideration.  You can reach me at feedback@qualitytimeweekly.com.