Tuesday 21 September 2021

Dark Fiction: The Dust Mote Collector

Dark Fiction: The Dust Mote Collector

By Casey Douglass

There was a man who came to the realisation that his time was worth less than anyone else’s. No matter what he tried to cultivate or create in his life, to give others, or to take pleasure in, the returns on his temporal investment were either zero or negative.

The society around him was full of overly simplistic platitudes that only served to wind up the springs of his dissatisfaction engine. Fluffy ideas, such as the one about how working hard pays off, or the one about how finding your passion leads to a worthy life. It was nothing less than motivational porn with no happy ending.

The man reasoned that, as his life and his time seemed to be worth so little, he might as well spend it doing the most meaningless activity that he could think of. One without hope or pressure, one that grabbed his attention, one that had no end point, something that he could do until the day that he died.

The man walked to his cutlery drawer, rummaged amongst the smallest spoons and lifted out the one that seemed to feel the most balanced as it straddled his palm. He moved to a room in which the afternoon sun shone brightly. His hand pulled the curtains almost closed with the quiet rattling of plastic runners. A two inch gap was left in the middle of the join, for the sunlight to breach the shadows of the room.

The man stood just to the side of the sun-beam, his eyes taking a moment to adjust to the light conditions. A small darting movement at the edge of his vision caught his attention. He turned to look more closely but lost it. Another flitted by. He lost that one too. And so his life as a Dust Mote Collector began.

The early days were filled with him trying to track the motes. They acted like the tiny fish you might see on a wildlife documentary, shooting away as his small spoon approached them. The man got better though. He learned to move slowly, to hold his breath, to anticipate, and to stay perfectly still when it was needed.

The first mote that he collected glowed as it fell. Once it reached the shiny metal of the spoon, it appeared to vanish into thin air. The man knew that he’d caught it, even though the spoon felt no heavier. He caught the next one soon after. It danced and floated near him for some time before he successfully brought the spoon beneath it, giving it a secure, safe home.

As the weeks and months went on, the man sometimes found that he slipped into a pleasing reverie as he captured his targets. Sometimes the motes seemed like twinkling stars in the night sky, his hand becoming some kind of roaming black hole. At other times, he fancied he was some giant spiritual being, catching and ferrying the souls of the dead to the afterlife.

The spoon dazzled him when it caught the sunlight, his hand often trembled, and his body ached all over. His mind was largely free of thoughts, but the peace or tranquillity described as often coming with this state by spiritual or New Age literature, proved to be just more propaganda that didn’t apply to him. He wasn’t particularly surprised. Not thinking was reward enough.

He’s in his darkened room right now, standing in the shadows, his small spoon flashing in the light as he captures another intangible with its metal. His clothes rustle gently as he lifts the spoon closer to his eyes, searching for something in its shining bowl. Maybe one day, he’ll see it.

Thursday 16 September 2021

Dark Ambient Review: Corona - This Global Sickness Conspires Against Us

Dark Ambient Review: Corona - This Global Sickness Conspires Against Us

Review By Casey Douglass

Corona - This Global Sickness Conspires Against Us Art

Illness, and the threat of illness, have been staples of life for the last 18 months. Thanks Covid! Fear peddling, u-turns in public guidance, and the loss of many things that people take for granted, have picked up the glitter-covered dog turd that is life, lifted it to pursed lips and blown away the damned glitter. It’s no real surprise that Covid has become the inspiration for many creative projects. Corona - This Global Sickness Conspires Against Us is a dark ambient album from The Great Schizm, one that gives audio expression to the pandemic madness.

The album contains two long tracks, each of which were created at different times during the pandemic. The first, Corona, was created in Spring 2020, the time of the first lockdown in the UK. The second, Mutation, during the first six months of 2021, taking in the third lockdown, the explosion of a number of more infectious variants, and the vaccine rollout. The album description also explains that there was limited access to equipment during this time period, so I’d imagine that this imposed a fair few creative constraints on the project, or at the least, required a different way of thinking about certain things. (As a small aside, Ian Bogost’s book: Play Anything: The Pleasure of Limits, The Uses of Boredom, and the Secret of Games, is a worthy read on the notion of constraints aiding fun and creativity.) 

The first track, Corona, for me, had elements of an “abandoned factory” aesthetic. There’s a drone, clinking glass, hissing and hints of voices. A wind-like howl transforms into what seems like a warped radio transmission, and on into a more concrete voice. There are breath-like swells in the soundscape, sensations of mechanical movement and low vibrations. The track felt like walking through a large rusty inside space, weaving through rusted machinery, feet crunching on gritty concrete, golden sunlight fighting its way through dirt encrusted, high-up windows. As the midpoint approaches, things change into a quieter space, with what feels like a building rasping hiss that peaks in a distant, rumbling detonation. And this repeats a number of times. This second space feels more peaceful and lighter in many ways, quivering tones and warbling notes creating a feeling of things having moved on but still being bleak.

Track two, Mutation, for me, felt like a more “outdoorsy” space. It seemed windy and deserted, with church bells chiming above silent streets and birds chirping. It basically has a 28 Days Later vibe, although the early part of the film, not the “being chased by rabid sprinting zombies” part. Around the five minute mark, the impression of a number of whistles even gave me the idea of gangs hunting the streets, whistling in communication with each other. There are moments where I felt like I was inside again though, such as the time it felt like I was in an abandoned train-station, a dark chanting tone and faint gong impact seeming to suggest some kind of cult eking out an existence among the debris of the nine to five life. Things change up around the twenty minute mark however, when the sounds in the soundscape, such as a kind of marching rhythmic beat, led me to pondering if a robot police force was out on patrol. Yes, for me, this track was a little bit horror and a little bit science fiction. A pleasing mixture.

Corona - This Global Sickness Conspires Against Us is currently set to Name Your Price on Bandcamp. If you’re the kind of person who enjoys facing the darkness of life head on, not turning away and losing yourself in fluffy distractions, head over to the album page and take a closer look.

I reviewed this album by streaming it through the Bandcamp page.

Album Title: Corona - This Global Sickness Conspires Against Us

Album Artist: The Great Schizm

Label: Cloud Hunter Records

Released: 30 April 2020 / June 2021

Saturday 11 September 2021

Taoist Story “Maybe” Modern Rewrites

Taoist Story “Maybe” Modern Rewrites

Written by Casey Douglass

Taoist Story “Maybe” Modern Rewrites

I enjoy koan or parable style stories, as they often contain nuggets of wisdom in an easy to digest way. After such all-stars as the sound of one hand clapping, and the one about the tree falling in the woods, the story that I most often encounter is the Taoist tale about a Chinese farmer. This tale is often called “Maybe”, so that’s the title I’ve stuck with.

The story states that the farmer’s horse runs away. When other people find out, they commiserate with him and say “Bad luck!”. He just shrugs and says “Maybe.”

The next day, the horse returns with some wild horses in tow. “How lucky!” everyone exclaims, all except the farmer who shrugs again and says “Maybe.”

A short while later, his son is trying to tame one of the wild horses, but is thrown from its back, breaking his leg. “Oh dear, how unlucky!” the neighbours say. No prizes for guessing what the farmer says.

A war breaks out, seeing young people being drafted from the local village. The farmer’s son is spared because of his broken leg. “How lucky!” people cry. The farmer says... “Maybe”.


I love this story for the way that it depicts the virtue of patience and of withholding judgement from a situation. I also enjoy how it hints that the things that initially seem bad might turn out to be a blessing in disguise and vice versa.

In this social media, 24 hour newsfeed world, a dose of what this story is offering would certainly work wonders in the over-reactionary, over-emotive way that many of us view the world. Every setback is a catastrophe, every victory the most amazing thing ever. You know how you sometimes get someone doing sign-language at the side of the news broadcast? I’d like to add a weathered farmer who shrugs and says “Maybe” after every judgement about a situation!

Mind you, if I got my way and that actually happened, how long before he becomes the subject of an idiotic internet story that goes viral? Maybe something saying that the “Maybe Man” is a danger to society for fence-sitting, for failing to condemn evil actions and seemingly revelling in spreading uncertainty. You just know it would happen! Damn it!

The Maybe story isn’t all rosy for me though. Sure, it illustrates some nice concepts, but its simplicity is also a little irritating. If only life were so simple that every “bad” thing actually proved to be a blessing, and every “good” thing couldn’t be trusted to not kick you in the backside. A more realistic scenario for many would be that a good thing turns out to be a curse, and then three or four bad things happen that also turn out to be genuinely bad. Yeah, not such a wise tale now.

I still like Maybe though. I find it fun to think about (as if you couldn’t guess). A short while ago, I had the idea/urge to rewrite Maybe in modern terms. I mean, a farmer losing his horse and it coming back with some wild horse friends is very lovely, but how relevant is that to someone living in 2021? With that in mind, below you’ll find two of my attempts at bringing Maybe kicking and screaming into the technological age. The first is intended to be the most realistic. The second is a horror and humour-inspired rewrite with a few twists added to the formula. I hope you like them.

Maybe 2021 Rewrite

There was a young woman who spent her spare time coding a video-game. It was a labour of love that one day, she released. Even though it didn’t make much money, it was hers. Hackers got into her digital platforms and stole her source-code. They cracked it and released the game online for free. “How terrible!” the woman’s friends commiserated. “Maybe,” she replied.

The next day, the woman found that the exposure given to the game by the hackers had resulted in a massive surge in her legitimate game sales. Her game now sat near the top of the indie game charts. “How wonderful!” her friends cheered. “Maybe,” she replied.

The game went on to reach number one. At about this time, a flaw in her code was discovered, one that posed a serious risk to the personal data of the players. News spread and the store forced her to remove it from sale until she could fix the issue. She was unable to, and had to put it on the back-burner, and so the game stayed down. “Such a shame!” her friends comforted her. “Maybe,” she answered.

A short while later, an email landed in her inbox. It was from a large video-game publisher and it offered to buy, fix and distribute her game. The money offered was enough to set the woman up for for at least the next five years. “You’re so lucky!” the people around her cried. “Maybe,” the coder replied.

Maybe Horror Rewrite

One day, the zombie outbreak finally happened. No one really expected the leap from fiction into reality, least of all a young boy and his family. They waded through body-clogged city streets, and finally made it to a military refuge. The other displaced people told them that they were so lucky to get there just before it reached full capacity. “Maybe,” the boy replied, as he had an uncommonly wise head on his young shoulders.

During the night, the family woke to screams and cries, a previously undeclared bite had turned the whole camp into a buffet. The family grabbed what supplies they could and managed to sneak away. The streets stank of gas and fumes. The boy’s mother suggested that a pipe-line had cracked. She warned them not to even use their torches, as the smallest spark might grill them all. “How unlucky!” she hissed. “Maybe,” the boy hissed back, and got a clout for his troubles.

The family crept forward until the air seemed free of the smell of the gas. A rumbling flash of orange lit up the night sky back the way they’d come. The angry roars of cooking zombies floated to the family on the breeze. The father said that they were lucky not to be caught up in that. He stared at the boy, daring him to open his mouth. Maybe, thought the boy.

The family moved on for quite awhile, but it wasn’t long until the whup-whup of a helicopter pounded over their heads. It was heading to where the explosion had happened. It didn’t see the family, it didn’t even turn its searchlight on until it was more than a mile away. “The fire brought it!” the boy said to the glum-faced adults around him. “Fuck me!” he added, for effect. “Talking like that will get you in trouble!” his father warned. “Maybe”, the mother replied, as she watched the buzzing helicopter over the distant rooftops.

Monday 6 September 2021

Dark Film Review: The Influencer

Dark Film Review: The Influencer

Review by Casey Douglass

The Influencer

Social media is the amplifier of our time. Whatever you bring to it, it boosts it and shoots it out to other people who think like you do, while its algorithms feed similar themes from others, back to you. Certain people become very well known, gaining a massive following that businesses with bundles of cash eye greedily as an untapped revenue stream. The Influencer is a dark comedy thriller that follows one such popular person as they grapple with their “brand”, the lucrative contract that comes their way, and the forces that want to use them as a pawn in their own machinations.

The Influencer

Abbie Rose (Kasia Szarek) is a fashion, makeup and lifestyle vlogger, trying to manage her business and her brand. Nutrocon, an exploitative cosmetic company that treats women badly, tests on animals and pollutes the environment, offers her a tasty contract, one which promises to ease her money worries. Abbie signs and a short time later finds herself suffering a home invasion by bickering masked activists. What then unfolds is a manipulative scheme, one with Abbie as the key component, the activists making use of her large following, her image and the power of technology, to try to pull off their aims.

As a thriller, The Influencer does present the viewer with a number of mysteries to ponder, and I felt that it did a decent job of answering these questions as the story ticked along. I did successfully guess what was happening a number of times, but there were certainly moments that I didn’t see coming. One of these happened almost at the ending, where the actions of one of the characters did cause me to reappraise my opinion about them, which was a pleasing and satisfying surprise.

The Influencer

When a film sees its characters make use of technology or the internet, how these actions are portrayed becomes very important if the viewer has any hope of following along. Thankfully, The Influencer does a really good job of mimicking and representing the social-media apps and websites integral to the story, a smooth, clear user-interface sitting comfortably over the live action beneath. Another aspect that I really enjoyed was Thomas Yount’s electronic, retro-feeling score. It felt like just the right kind of soundtrack, both warm and bouncy yet dark and ominous too.

There is humour in The Influencer, but I have to admit that most of it wasn’t really to my own taste. The element that I found most humorous were the jokes that poked fun at the frequent shallowness of social media, particularly the scenes where Abbie’s captives threatened to release her private, “badly lit” pictures to the world if she didn’t play ball. This sees Abbie crumple to the ground in tears, fearing for her image and her brand, something that Kasia Szarek plays wonderfully. There is also a scene early in the film, where a group of dead-eyed interns fail to be roused by Abbie’s enthusiasm, which did tickle me.

The Influencer

The Influencer is a quirky look at the dark side of how some influencers can behave when large financial enticements become a factor in their lives. Sure, it takes things to extremes, but how often do we see someone raving about the latest video-game, headphones or fashion accessory, and then never mention it again? One of the most poignant quotes from the film for me was “It’s crazy the kind of influence you have when no-one knows who you are!” I’d guess that extends to the influencer in question not knowing themselves properly either, which just goes to show how complicated us humans can be.

Look out for The Influencer from 14 September on streaming platforms including iTunes, Amazon and Google Play. It will also be available on DVD and through various cable and satellite TV services.

I was given access to a review copy of this film.

Film Title: The Influencer

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Thriller

Production Company: Daisy Eagle Films, Wizard Cats

Distributor: Breaking Glass Pictures

Written, directed and produced by: Meghan Weinstein

Releases: 14 September 2021

Starring: Kasia Szarek, Shantelle Yasmine Abeydeera, Thea Cantos, Mark Valeriano, Victoria D. Wells, Ian Jones.

Music: Thomas Yount