TGIF NSFW: Outlander Rewritten as Trashy Kindle Scotsmen Romance

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Romance readers love their Scotsmen. When humanity is extinct and the intelligent bug people that take our place on this Earth begin to dig through the ruins to piece together what our dysfunctional societies were like, they will most likely encounter piles and piles of historicals about Scotsmen. From these texts they will infer that Scotland was home to a race of kilt-wearing, caber-tossing supermen with brogues that caused women’s undergarments to combust.

Diana Gabaldon managed to pull off a really neat trick. She created a Scottish historical romance – with time travel no less!- and managed to make it so classy that it is a the ultimate romance novel for people who wouldn’t be caught dead reading romance. The first novel, Outlander, sparked a multi-volume epic about time-traveling bigamist Claire Randall-Fraser  and her adventures with in the 18th century with a hot young Scotsmen that she marries while having a husband back in the 20th century. Her dilemma in the book is does she remain with Jaimie, who might just be the love of her life, or return to the relative safety of the modern age and her husband Frank? Seeing as Frank is subtly coded as an obvious Mr. Wrong (he doesn’t want to adopt any war orphans because he hates the thought of raising a child not biologically his own) and the series villain Jack Randall is his ancestor and a dead-ringer for him, any one with the smarts of a tree stump should see that boring, old Frank doesn’t stand a chance.

I think a large reason for Gabaldon’s success in making a romance novel ‘respectable’ literature is that she doesn’t spend a lot of time of syrupy descriptions of Jaimie’s Scottish hotness. She lets the character’s interactions speak for themselves. Though to be fair, a lot of the critical praise is coming from people who are comparing Outlander against a parody of a dreadful 70’s style bodice ripper that only exists in their imagination. In that spirit, this is what the Outlander blurb might have sounded like if it were one of those ‘schlock’ romances that litter the Kindle platform.

Outlander (Scottish Passion Conquers Time Book 1)

Claire Randall, a British World War II nurse, is vacationing with her husband Frank in the Scottish highlands after spending many years apart. Despite their attempts to rekindle their marriage, Claire can’t help shake the feeling after being separated by war they have become strangers. After touching the mysterious standing stones in the woods behind their inn, Claire is catapulted through time to 18th century Scotland. At first her only thought is get back to the standing stones and return to Frank’s side, but then she meets Scottish outlaw and freedom fighter, Jaimie Fraser. His manly arms and washboard abs soon make her thoughts of stodgy Frank all too infrequent.

Claire tries to remain true her marriage vows as she navigates the complicated internal politics of the Scottish clan that has taken her in. They don’t fully trust the English woman in their midst and Jaimie’s offer of friendship while she’s in this friendless place as a balm to her solace even as her wandering eye can’t help but notice his brawny thighs. When the villainous Capt. Black Jack Randall, a British officer out to break the Scottish independence movement, takes an interest in Claire, Jaimie offers to save her the only way he can – by offering marriage.

With no other way out and Claire tempted beyond reason to swap Frank out for a younger, hotter model with a bone melting brogue, she and Jaimie say ‘I do.’ It’s not bigamy if the husband you left behind hasn’t been born yet, right? But while Claire is busy discovering what Scotsmen keep under their kilts, the Scots and English are on a collision course for war. Will Claire reveal the truth about her origins and risk changing history to stop her Scottish allies from being massacred?

But the Scotts’ desperate struggle for freedom is not the only thing threatening to destroy Claire’s blissful new marriage. Claire has an unexpected rival. Someone else has taken notice of Jaimie’s broad shoulders and shapely, rock-hard buttocks. For the only person whose love for Jaimie is more passionate than her own is the brutal Jack Randal and the Captain’s love is even crueler than his hate.

 

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October Frights #3: Fatal Frame Series

This series of Playstation 2 games is a nostalgic blast from the past. It is definitely my favorite of the 3D survival horror franchises that appeared on the first two iterations of the Playstation system. I can’t say that I cared for Resident Evil (before the fourth game) and Silent Hill, mostly because of the tank controls that made moving difficult. Fatal Frame still moves clunky and a little too slow, but at least the character moves in the direction you want it to. Since you aren’t fighting with the controls, you can better appreciate the foreboding atmosphere as you explore the series’ haunted locales.

The Fatal Frame series is inspired by J-Horror cinema with its sense of isolation and preoccupation with pale-faced, lank haired ghostly women out to reap retribution on the living. In each of the games, a young Japanese girl is unfortunate to enter and become trapped in one of these haunting grounds and can only pacify the spirits out to get her by discovering the horrible history of what transpired there. The only way to do this is to survive long enough to piece together the evidence in old documents and strange visions about horrific rituals that can only be spoken about in hushed innuendo.

The only weapon capable of taking on these supernatural malefactors is the Camera Obscura. When the ghosts come out, the camera goes up and you can damage any specter that wanders into your viewfinder. The closer they get to you, the more damage you do, but if you wait til just the right moment, the viewfinder flashes red. If you press the shutter then, you’ll score a fatal frame for massive damage that will temporarily drive the ghost back. This is a good thing as you’ll often be facing down malicious spirits in tight quarters.

The first game starts out strong. Teenager Miku’s brother, a supernatural researcher, has gone missing. She sets out to find him by going to the Himuro Mansion, a rotting shell of an abandoned estate that is said to be haunted. When she arrives, she gets more than she bargained for when she quickly discovers that the members of her brother’s research team are dead and have become part of the mansion’s army of spooks. To make matters worse, she has an encounter with Kirie, the most wicked ghost of them all, who curses her so that rope burns start appearing on Miku’s extremities. Miku only had a few nights before the curse kills her.

The Himuro Mansion is three stories and an underground chamber of scares. You’ll never forget the first time you walk in and find ropes dangling from the ceiling of the entryway. The effect is almost enough to make you want to turn back.

The sequel, Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly, is my favorite of the Playstation trilogy. It takes the original concept and polishes it further to make a brilliantly terrifying experience. In this installment, twin sisters Mio and Mayu become trapped in village that dropped off the map after Mayu, in a mesmerized state, follows a red butterfly through the forest. The isolated All God’s Village has for centuries been the site of a terrible secret ritual involving twins. Something went awry during the last ritual and it wasn’t properly completed causing the village to be swallowed up by darkness and the residents to become ghosts.

Now that twins have arrived in town, the ghosts are determined to complete their ritual no matter what. Now Mio, the player character, not only has to find a way out, she has to find a way to break the hold the village has her twin. Mayu has become possessed by Sae, a homicidal ghost in a bloody kimono that is determined to play out the drama she had with her twin sister using the bodies of the twins.

Crimson Butterfly is a bigger game than its predecessor. You have a whole village to explore rather than the grounds of one mansion. While most of the time you’ll be exploring spooky abandoned houses, you do have some unique locations like fog shrouded graveyards and abandoned shrines even if you’ll be seeing them briefly. This somewhat backfires in that you’ll be going back and forth between the large houses throughout the game and the misty, dark streets are often empty, devoid of enemy specters to fight or evade and the harmless ghosts that appear and serve as both guideposts to your next location and jump scares.

Its true brilliance lies in the relationship between the twins. Mayu has an unhealthy co-dependence on Mio that echoes the similar dysfunctional relationship between Sae and her twin. With Mayu under the town’s evil influence, there is a definite sense that saving your increasingly creepy sister may be irreconcilable with your desire to save yourself. The story climaxes in two endings – which are determined by which difficulty mode you play the game on – but I always felt that the easy/normal ending (considered the bad ending) had more impact. The hard/nightmare mode ending is a ‘happier’ ending but just lacks the pure shock value of the bad end.

The final game of the Playstation 2 era is Fatal Frame III: The Tormented. I did not like this game. They tried to make it bigger and just made it bloated. There is more of everything. Instead of one playable character, there are three – one of which is a spiritual dunce and takes forever to dispatch ghosts with the camera. But he can move heavy objects. The short, punchy documents from the first two games are replaced by journals that go on forever. The haunted location of The Tormented exists in a dreamworld. The Manor of Sleep is large by itself but made larger because it starts to graft on sections of All God’s Village and the Himuro Mansion from the earlier games.

The Tormented is about a young Japanese photographer whose boyfriend was killed during a car crash. The protagonist, Rei, was driving that night and escaped the accident without injury. As such, she is ‘tormented’ over her guilt. At night, Rei starts to dream about the Manor of Sleep and encounters a ghost known at the Tattooed Priestess. The Tattooed Priestess draws in people grieving over loved ones and makes a tattoo appear on their body. It grows each time they dream about the house until it gets to a point that they fade from existence and leave only a smear behind them. Rei must explore the mansion with help from Miku from the first game and Mio’s (from Crimson Butterfly) uncle, Kei, who have also fallen under the curse.

In addition to the other things I don’t like about The Tormented, I feel like this one was just out of ideas. Instead of having the look and feel of a J-Horror film, The Tormented starts to rip off iconic movie moments. When Rei witnesses a curse victim turn into a smear on the wall and carpet it’s a direct reference to the movie Pulse. Rei goes to investigate a sound coming from the crawlspace above her closet and it’s an almost exact replication of the opening scene from The Grudge. I suspect some of the effective moments, like when Rei spots the Priestess through the steam in her shower, are actually pulled from movies I just haven’t seen.

Since you are divided between the creepy world of the Manor of Sleep and the waking world of Rei’s apartment, the relentless terror of having no escape is gone. Rei’s apartment is bright and safe in the early part of the game so the scares don’t begin until you go to bed at night and get pulled into the dream world. However, you aren’t stuck there. If things get to hairy, you can walk out the front of the mansion and return to the waking world until you are ready to go back in. This ability to retreat undermines the sense of isolation and helplessness. To give the game credit, Rei’s apartment does get corrupted the closer she gets to cracking the mystery behind the Priestess but you only see those set piece specters that don’t actually harm you. They are just there for scares and to photograph for bonus points.

It was all downhill for Fatal Frame in North America after the Playstation era. The fourth game was made for the Wii and stayed in Japan. We did get a spin-off for the Nintendo 3DS handheld system called Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir, a game that was aimed at showing off the AR function on that system. AR cards are basically cardboard slats that the 3DS’s camera can read and turn into moving 3DS images on the screen. Spirit Camera’s main idea isn’t bad. The player receives a mysterious notebook that draws spirits to their house. You use the handheld as the camera obscura as the game creates evil ghosts that only appear in the handheld’s camera viewfinder. It’s a neat idea, trying to create an immersive first person experience, but it falls short for one reason. The 3DS needs copious amounts of light (natural light works best) for it to work properly. Nothing ruins the oppressive atmosphere like a sunny living room.

It’s not all bad though. After the property sat dormant for a while, it was revived a few years back with Fatal Frame V. This did get an international release for the Switch as a digital only game. Unfortunately, I don’t have a Switch and have no desire to buy one. Still the franchise managed to produce two excellent horror experiences and I would count that as a win.

 

Manga Read Along: Red River Vol. 17 – Killer Queen

Spoilers! Spoilers! Oh my stars and garters there are spoilers! Visit the archives to catch up on prior summaries.

Yuri is now Gal Meshedi, commander of the Hittite armies. As part of her agreement with the Senate she can only marry Kail and become queen if successfully leads a campaign against the Egyptians, the other major power in the region. As they prepare the troops, Kail asks Yuri to come with him so they can speak in private. She hopes that he is going to say that Rusafa has been pardoned and will be reinstated as commander of the archery unit. However Kail does her one better. He appoints Rusafa as deputy commander, Yuri’s aide and direct subordinate, because he knows he can trust him to guard Yuri with his life.

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TGIF NSFW: Clue Rewritten as Trashy Kindle Erotica Blurb

This post is not safe for work. Please enjoy responsibly.

Clue or Cluedo as its known in Britain is best known as a board game, but it also spawned a movie and series of books. In the books, an idiot named Mr. Boddy keeps inviting over the six characters from the game – Mrs. White, Ms. Scarlet, Mr. Green, Col. Mustard, Mrs. Peacock, and Prof. Plum – who can’t stop from committing crimes on his property. Like the board game, you must use clues scattered through the short story case files to figure out who did what with what weapon in which room in the house.

I just the insane idea whatever if it wasn’t murder going down in the Body Manor but boinking. Copious amounts of boinking. I told you this one was going to be trashy and I really meant it this time. Lots of dirty puns ahead.

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October Frights #2: Uzumaki Manga Omnibus

Here is a spine tingling horror comic perfect for the Halloween season. I nearly put Red River on hiatus to do Uzumaki as a Halloween read along, but decided against it. Uzumaki is simply best experienced without each eerie vignette being spoiled. This handsome hardcover omnibus containing the three trade paperback volumes of Uzumaki on nice sturdy paper. Uzumaki follows Kirie Goshima and her paranoid boyfriend Shuichi, two teens living an isolated town in Japan, as they witness strange phenomenon concerning spirals.

At first it is small things, like little whirlwinds becoming common as they blow through the streets, but then people become obsessed with the shape. They start to act strangely, by hoarding spiral shaped objects or going into a panic when they see a spiral, but soon the residents of the town afflicted by the obsession start dying. The deaths are usually accompanied by a terrifying physical transformation as humans are twisted into a noodly loops or become large snails (complete with spiral shell). The smoke of their cremation fires form spiraling clouds in the sky and the ashes always fall into the pond at the center of the town. Shuichi’s parents are among the first victims and he is the first person to figure out what is going on, but as he is helpless to do more than protect Kirie, who always finds herself at the center of each strange incident.

And bizarre the incidents are. Some of the chapters are almost comical. Such as the one where Kirie’s hair is possessed by the spiral and begins to turn into flamboyant curls that hypnotize her classmates. But even at its most absurd, Uzumaki still manages to be very unsettling. Each chapter is self contained but the narrative slowly builds to its horrifying, apocalyptic climax. Junji Itoh relies heavily on body horror. Bodies are turned into grotesque mockeries of the human form. If you are squeamish and the idea of watching an eyeball get sucked into a spiral shaped void in the middle of where a face should be, Uzumaki is probably going to be more than you can handle.

October Frights #1: Neverending Nightmares

I love Halloween so get into the spirit of the season I thought I’d write some pieces about scary things. If the internet has taught me anything it’s that video games are scary. They must be. 95% percent of the creepy-pasta genre (short horror stories) revolves around the theme of ‘cursed’ videogames. This eerie little gem I’m about to share with you isn’t cursed but it delivers somespine tingling frights.

Neverending Nightmares is computer game (that has possibly been ported by now to Playstation) created by Infinitap Games. The concept is simple. Thomas, a disturbed young man, awakens in his dark, creepy house after suffering a nightmare about his sister, Gabrielle. Worried by the dream, he goes in search of her. This is not an easy task as the house is mazelike and vast. Strange things, like the weird old pictures on the walls and the way the entrance to the kitchen is boarded up, gives the early part of the game a very disconcerting feel when mixed with the creaking of the house and the low-key background music that nevertheless evokes a sense of rising dread.

That is until Thomas reaches a room filled with corpses and seconds later reawakens in his bed. Stepping out into the hall, the house is even creepier. Now the pictures are even more disturbing, the wallpaper is peeling and the shadows loom thicker and darker. It becomes clear that Thomas is not in the waking world. He’s trapped in a labyrinth of his own nightmares and must avoid the enemies that haunt the darkness as he searches for clues that can lead him back to reality.

There are two main environments: the old house and the asylum. You’ll visit them in the first two stages. Unfortunately, each play through has four stages and the final two stages are just variations of the first two. The path branches after the asylum level but all you’ll be visiting in the third and fourth stage that is different version of house that either morphs into its creepiest form, a darker and scarier version of the asylum or a level where the house and the asylum bleed together from wing to wing. While the final stages don’t lose the creepy factor (they are definitely the most frightening in terms of atmosphere and enemy design), the first two are the most polished when it comes to puzzles solving.

There is not much to the story. It’s kept extremely vague to accommodate the three possible endings. This is definitely more of a mood piece as what little bits of story you get are the products of Thomas’s fears and anxieties, which seem to pivot around his relationship to Gabrielle. His tie to her is never made clear. She’s identified as his sister in the first stage, but her role in his life changes from dream to dream. In the asylum stage she is his psychiatrist, a cold, uncompassionate authority figure, and in a later house stage is re-imagined as Thomas’s wife. Two of the endings offer insight into Thomas’s fixation but the third one (which is what I got on my first play thru) offers no pay-off and seems a very strange spot to end the game.

It’s hard to say if the lack of interactivity is Neverending Nightmares fumbles the ball or not. The stages are large but there is little to interact with. You seem to walk down shadowy hallways that stretch on far too long without running into anything. You can enter doors but more often than not they hold nothing of interest and there are few items to collect so it almost seems like a waste of time to explore. Thomas moves slowly. There is a run button, but he can’t keep up a sprint for long and if you happen to run into an enemy while just trying to move faster, his poor lungs may give out and you’ll be caught. However, when something does happen, you are almost guaranteed to jump and I can’t quite say the scares would be as effective without the dead space.

This is an interesting little horror game that I feel compelled to get out every year or so. It’s not the sort you’ll want to revisit frequently as its most effective when you’re memory of it starts to fade. It lacks big scares and suffers from a lot ‘dead air’ but just try to play it without noticing your palms are sweating. I find it deeply disappointing that the studio couldn’t get the funding for a proposed spiritual sequel entitled Devastated Dreams.

Manga Read Along: Red River Vol. 16 – Every Breath You Take

Spoilers, Spoilers! Oh my stars and garters, there are spoilers. As always, visit the archive for summaries of the prior volumes.

When we last left off, Yuri had just cracked the case of kaput concubines and barely survived an assassination attempt, only to land in the hands of another malefactor. She wakes up at the mercy of Rusafa, one of Kail’s subordinates whose been doing creepy thing like staring at Yuri with goo-goo eyes when no one’s watching and sniffing her discarded laundry. Has his love turned into dangerous obsession? Let’s find out!

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TGIF NSFW: The Great Gatsby Re-Imagined as Trashy Kindle Romance

This post is not safe for work. Please enjoy responsibly.

Here’s what F. Scott Fitzgerald’s tale would have been like if it had been a romance between two people instead of the romance a bunch of self-absorbed sociopaths had with themselves. This American classic was just begging to be parodied as a trashy billionaire romance. The only rich-people love story more passionate is the one between Scrooge McDuck and his swimming pool full of gold.

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