Horror and Ghost

by anonymous

Some things are scary. It can be the unknown in a dark alley, an old doll at a flea market, some irremovable stains, or simply the monsters under our beds. Sometimes it’s not physical, but only some unreasonable feeling in our guts. And sometimes it’s a whole composition of deeply rooted human fears, a cursed or blessed item, and the gut feeling combined.

That is what the woman in “Sleeping Dogs”, a short story written by Kirstyn McDermott, experiences. The story is part of Cthulhu Deep Down Under Volume 2, a collection of horror short stories published in 2018.

Our protagonist, a thirty-year-old woman called Ghost, is asked by her newest client to locate and secure a figure with only a sketch of the item. After a horrific nightmare, Ghost has a hunch about where to start and travels to Australia. A few weeks without any positive developments pass before she finds a new lead and eventually detects the required item. But as soon as she acquires it, her gut feeling and the people around her start to behave in strange manners, as if they are driven by other forces.

Ghost – a rather fitting name for the main protagonist of a horror short story, don’t you think? – has the ability to detect lost items. Not in the way a common detective would, but rather in a paranormal way. She is no magician or witch, yet always accompanied by a feeling in her guts that works like a metal detector, intensifying when her target gets closer.

Said gut feeling isn’t too scary, to begin with, but what makes the story sort of uncanny from the very beginning is the object Ghost has to locate. According to her client and her assistant, the last time the figure had been seen was about sixty years ago, and there are only two living people who ever caught a glimpse of it and could describe it.

But Ghost is encountered with the first real horror when she finds herself seemingly drowning, choked by muddy water, and surrounded by darkness and cold. A dream? A vision? It feels like it’s best to not know the answer.

The unknown which lingers in the darkness, in the “utter blackness that has never known the touch of light” (McDermott, 16), is something commonly feared by humans. It’s a deeply rooted instinct trying to protect us from potential dangers which remain unseen. Such invisible dangers and fiends are harder to deal with since most humans solely rely on their ability to see, instead of using their other senses.

Our protagonist luckily doesn’t have to face the fear of darkness for much longer but the next horrific element she encounters isn’t less frightening in any way, introduced by a strong inexplicable pain in her head. Ghost calls it a migraine, but a pain described as “colors [that] fracture and pulse in the centre of her vision, spreading rapidly, [making] her temples throb, [and causing] a dull ache […] along her jawline” (McDermott, 21) seems way too intense and sudden for a normal occurrence of migraine. This pain, and the fact that it was caused just by removing a wax seal from the figure’s box, revives the uncanny atmosphere in the short story. A strong migraine might not sound too scary for most readers but it is followed by a scene in which people around Ghost and the object start behaving oddly; somebody tries to steal the bag with the figure, and other people try to forcefully enter her hotel room. Ghost calls it a “matter of the walking dead” (McDermott, 25), referring to the people as zombies, which already sounds alarming. I think the idea of the stereotypical zombie would feel less sinister, considering that there is a visible cause that leads to people being zombified, but in the short story’s case, there is no disease, no chemical weapon, no virus; just an old figure. An old figure that erodes some sort of aura, strong enough to affect people close to it, within an unknown radius. This aura leads to people being externally controlled, by some force neither explained nor further investigated, but it’s safe to say that the affected people are not in charge of their bodies.

The short story makes use of several ways to create horror, angst, and an uncanny feeling. Deeply rooted fears, voices without origin, nightmares, and the fear of not being in charge of their own body; though luckily, our protagonist doesn’t have to experience them all. Using those different kinds of tropes creates a rich diversity of moments that might make you shiver in fear and expectation. Additionally, an allusion to a city mentioned in one of H.P. Lovecraft’s horror stories, “The Call of Cthulhu”, guides the reader’s mind into deeper spheres of horror.

The story begs the question: Should we always “let sleeping dogs lie” or should we, just like Ghost, wake them up and face them? Or is such adventurous behavior exclusive to stories and tales only?

What horrors might await once you start digging deep enough? You may go on a journey yourself, or maybe you prefer to follow another story’s protagonist. Either way, let me ask you: “What are your feelings about finding a lost city?” (McDermott, 30).

Pat Grant’s “Blue” – A Reading Diary

by Jo Hoffs
cartoon boy shown doing several steps of surfing

Pat Grant’s Blue is a graphic novel about surfing, about community, about migration and conservatism. First and foremost, it is a story about xenophobia, and about a blue alien race migrating to the fictional town of Bolton. We meet Christian, a Bolton citizen who starts off his story by complaining that the blue aliens “pretty much own the whole town now” (Grant 25). Christian is angry and frustrated – he wants everything to remain the way he knew it from his childhood, a time he spent surfing and having fun with his friends.

Once Christian starts telling the story of how he went looking for a corpse along the train tracks, I was immediately reminded of the novel The Body by Steven King – a similarity which was intended, as Pat Grant explains in an essay at the end. A huge theme in The Body is friendship and finding a sense of belonging somewhere. The four boys in The Body come from difficult family situations where they are either abused or neglected. During their adventure together, they find a sense of community and make some – not always positive – memories. In Blue the feeling of community and friendship also plays a part. Here, it is expressed through one of Pat Grant’s passions: Surfing. Christian, the protagonist of the story, like Geordie from The Body, tells the audience about his youth: A time where he often missed school to go surfing with two of his friends, “the only ones with families lousy enough to let them get away with it” (Grant 38). Christian still longs for this time, because it was a time when there were no blue people in Bolton yet. “You play spot the Aussie around here these days”, he tells the reader. As an introduction to his character, this is perfect because it immediately shows some of his main characteristics: He is a racist middle-aged man missing the days when he was not confronted by the existence of other cultures yet. At the time when Christian and his friends are looking for the body, the blue people have just arrived in Bolton, making it a huge topic of discussion among them. The first time they meet a blue person themselves the friends are already prejudiced wanting the immigrants to go back to “Oogety-Boong Land” (Grant 55).

from: Grant, Pat. Blue. Top Shelf, 2013.

The allegory of immigrants as a blue alien species in this graphic novel is interesting but at the same time confused me a bit. In my opinion, the political implications weren’t always clear, which doesn’t have to be a bad thing but in a story so heavily focused around a political issue, it weakens the material. On the one hand, the inhabitants of Bolton are biased against the immigrants for xenophobic reasons, as it becomes apparent on page 28, when racist slogans like “we grew here, you flew here” are shown. On the other hand, the blue aliens according to Christian do not take good care of the city, as there is garbage everywhere and the plants are dead (page 25). Without reading the author’s essay at the end, I would not have been sure if this story is actually pro-immigration.

When it comes to the visuals of the story, I like the drawing style and the use of the light blue color in contrast to the black, grey, and sometimes brown colors used for the Bolton natives. Sometimes there are dozens of panels on one page, which gets overwhelming to me personally if there are many word balloons to read (e.g., Grant 58). Another nice touch to the story was the Australian slang words in the dialogue. However, this also complicates the reading experience for those who are not familiar with Australian slang. Footnotes would have been helpful here.

While I enjoyed the story and its different themes – community, racism, generational conflicts, bullying – it left me a bit confused as to what to take away from the story. It feels to me like the author attempted to take the story into multiple interesting directions but failed to properly work out any of them. There is no character development on Christian’s part, no other characters to give some kind of a satisfying conclusion and especially, there is not much of a take-away from the story. Nevertheless, I would recommend this graphic novel, as I think it’s possible to have many different views on it and speaking from experience, every re-read helps you discover new aspects.

Works Cited

Grant, Pat. Blue. Top Shelf, 2013.

Human Beings Playing God

by Mara Geißen

My first intuition about a book titled Ghost Species was that it would be about ghosts in some way. However, it is not about the living dead haunting somewhere, but much more excitingly about the re-creation of past and forgotten DNA – the topic that occupied me the most while reading the book. The creation of life that no longer exists. Not only animals, like mammoths, but the creation of a Neanderthal kept me very engaged. In short, people are playing God in the book, and I wonder how that is morally feasible. The creation of autonomous, independent, and above all intelligent life seems to be no longer the exclusive province of the divine. Evolutionarily speaking there are a few reasons why for example dinosaurs, mammoths and other human species no longer exist. Natural life evolves, improves, and learns from ‘mistakes.’ It becomes more robust against diseases and adapts to new environmental conditions.

Although Eve is created out of supposedly good intentions, it is rather questionable and interferes with nature. The aim is, of course, to solve a major problem on our planet; global warming. Davis states that the human and the environment no longer make sense and that it is up to human beings to re-engineer the world (cf. p. 19).  But should a human-made problem be solved by another intervention in nature? What problems would arise then? In the Jurassic Park and Jurassic World films, for example, you can very clearly see the negative effects of human intervention in nature and in the restoration of extinct living creatures. After that, the dinosaurs that already exist are not ‘enough’, and people start experimenting. How far would the experiment ‘Eve’ go? Eve would most likely be just the beginning of an experimental series, which goes beyond the actual intention of saving the world and possibly ends in mixing the DNAs of different Homo species to create the ‘perfect’ human who doesn’t get sick, who is strong and highly intelligent at the same time.

From the very beginning, Kate wonders if what they are about to do is right. A living person in a laboratory feels morally wrong (Bradley 43). From a scientific point of view, it would be a huge achievement to resurrect Neanderthals though. Kate in particular shows that despite her scientific nature, she thinks the whole project is morally wrong. This is shown, of course, when she kidnaps Eve from the lab and to prevent her from being treated like an experiment and an object. It is also acknowledged, as it is mentioned in the book, that it is definitely a breakthrough in science. No question about it! Nevertheless, one should consider how inseparable human reconstructions behave, feel and weigh the consequences carefully. No human being on earth would probably like to grow up in a laboratory, having to go through all the tests without being allowed to lead a ‘normal’ life. This raises the question of why these people are created at all if they are not allowed to be human.

Ghost Species – about the Fallacies of Capitalism

by anonymous

The Australian novel Ghost Species by James Bradley talks extensively about the nature of human life, nature vs. nurture, finding your place in the world, etc.

Underlying its positive messages to these topics is a frankly horrifying depiction of how far a human being can go in pursuit of glory. This boils down to one character: Davis Hucken, a mogul who tries to use his vast fortune and technology to supposedly “solve” humanity’s woes that they caused themselves and to be seen as a hero for it (Totally not Elon Musk).

Though the focus is on Kate Larkin and her adopted daughter Eve, a resurrected Neanderthal who was born through a surrogate mother, Davis exists as a necessary device for the plot to happen in the first place, as the story is really about Kate and later Eve trying to get by in a world that is slowly falling apart around them. Davis might not be responsible for the state of the world, but he uses it as an opportunity to make money. To “wow” what is left of the world. To play God.

Though it is not what the novel was going for, the lack of focus on that conflict is a bit disappointing. Aside from Kate’s perspective, with her only friend being Yassamin, another mother, the readers don’t really get a glimpse of what the rest of the world does or what it is thinking. Unlike the Hunger Games, the book acknowledges the existence of non-English continents and that other people do actually exist in that world and are just as concerned about the state of the world as anyone else is. Yet, there is never a focus on these global issues.

But that begs the question: If nobody is there to witness these “wonders” Davis is pulling out of his sleeve, why is he is doing this? Besides the obvious, clear case of Savior’s Syndrome that he seems to have, with Kate clearly stating that he’s too sociopathic to be on the spectrum (Thanks, Kate!). But is he? While he is a modern Frankenstein (as others have pointed out) in more ways than one, he not only creates a thinking being out of nothing but then tosses it into a world to fend for herself. One might argue that he might’ve read Frankenstein and realized that refusing to take responsibility for his creation might be a bad idea. But then again, why is he doing this without anyone there to tell him how “great” he is?

Easy answer: To play God. When a person is presented with limitless power in a world that is more concerned with keeping itself together, something goes “crack” inside that person’s mind. They delude themselves into believing that they can not only do anything they want but also get away with it. That’s why Davis ‘should care: He would care about the glory if someone gave it to him, but he seems to be mostly bored out of his mind.

However, Davis disappears from the story once Eve takes over as the main character. What might’ve happened in those thirty years when Kate and Eve lived in hiding, then accepted funding from him for a good home? While he still had some power before they disappeared, it is most likely that his efforts were fruitless and that he should’ve focused on fixing the earth first, then bringing back the extinct species. While a few lines of dialogue do imply that he did try to counteract Global Warming, why is this supposedly just a side project that none of the main characters bat an eye at?

What is telling is that Kate and Jay were truly the only people who questioned him at any point. As far as the readers know, the other scientists might’ve accepted Davis’s money with a smile only to whisper “What a lunatic” under their breath.

Ghost Species shows exactly what happens when you let a megalomaniac man-child with too much money out in the world. They start building palaces and cathedrals out of glass. Then they use the same material to build animals and believe that they can actually be livestock. Then they build people, believing that not only do they actually think, but they also happen to enjoy their company and aren’t just here because they can’t run away. But glass has a tendency to crack and break.

Let’s speculate about de-extinction!

James Bradley’s novel Ghost Species is part of the genre of Australian speculative fiction. A main topic of his speculations is based on the de-extinction of extinct species such as the thylacines (also known as the Tasmanian tiger or wolf), woolly mammoths, and Neanderthals (cf. 20, 21). But would this be possible? Well, let’s find out!

         But before we can think about whether it is possible in real life, let’s see how de-extinction works in the novel. Apparently, to ‘re-create’ (Bradley, 20) species you only need a sample of the genetic material, an egg, and a surrogate of a related species. The first successful example in the novel are thylacines. Thylacines are apparently a ‘good choice’ (Bradley, 16) as their genetic material is ‘relatively intact’ (Bradley, 16). Additionally, Dunnarts were used as surrogates and an artificial pouch to raise them as they were born undeveloped (cf. 17). The de-extinction of the neanderthal Eve was similar with a DNA sample and human surrogate (cf. 40f.). 

         So now that we established how the novel approaches de-extinction; let’s think about how it would work in real life. According to Nancy Huang resurrecting extinct species depends on the DNA. Nearly identical to the process in the novel, to resurrect an extinct species we need the nearly complete DNA of a species, an egg, and a surrogate of a related species (cf. Huang). To successfully clone an animal, one needs an intact nucleus which can be put into an egg that had its nucleus removed. The egg then has to be implanted into a surrogate of a closely related species (cf. Huang). And apparently this has been tried. According to Charles Q. Choi there has been an attempt to de-extinct an extinct species, but the clone died just minutes after birth. In 2003 frozen skin was used to clone a bucardo (also known as Pyrenean ibex) with domestic goat eggs and Spanish ibex or goat-ibex hybrids (cf. Choi). This attempt was unsuccessful as many of the implanted eggs did not result in successful pregnancies and the only to term carried bucardo only lived a few minutes. (cf. Choi).

         This shows that de-extinction is possible but complicated as a close relative of a species is needed. And even if the pregnancy is a success, the survival of the baby is unknown as is whether they can reproduce. There are many other open questions that only time and technical innovations can answer. Until then, we have to speculate. But as shown here, speculation isn’t that far off!



Bradley, James. Ghost Species. Hodder Studio, 2020.

Choi, Charles Q. “First Extinct-Animal Clone Created” https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/news-bucardo-pyrenean-ibex-deextinction-cloning. Accessed 19 Dec 2022.

Huang, Nancy. “How Close Are We to Resurrecting Extinct Species?” https://now.northropgrumman.com/how-close-are-we-to-resurrecting-extinct-species/ Accessed 19 Dec 2022.

How not to Shape the Future

by anonymous

The question of whether reproduction is still a morally responsible thing to do has been a highly debated topic which has recently even expanded onto the mainstream discourse. The predominant approaches we’ve seen are firstly the assumption that the earth is overpopulated by humans and that humans should induce population decline by simply having fewer kids. This mindset is popular, especially among younger, liberal western audiences. On the other hand, many deny the current problems resulting from too densely populated areas and the mismanagement of resources. Conservatives mostly believe that overpopulation and even climate change are myths created to pacify and scare the population. Their desire to form an opposition and to guarantee an advantage to their associated group fuels the rejection of such problems. Lastly, the most rational and humane approach comes with the realization that there are enough resources for even more humans, but current systems favor an uneven distribution that gives superficial advantages to those few hoarded resources. The novel Ghost Species represents a fourth approach to this conflict through the character Davis. Davis believes that reshaping the natural balance will secure a future for humanity. He reappropriates many aspects of the aforementioned views, but they ultimately get warped by his narcissistic and megalomaniac personality. He believes in human-made climate change, but his snooty nature also leads him to believe that he’s able to manipulate and control nature. I believe he also sees himself as a philanthropic person that uses the resources available to him for what he deems the greater good. His logic is flawed though. He sees how humans destroyed micro and macro systems through pollution resulting in changed parameters, interspecies relationships, and population numbers. He thinks he’s not only able to reverse this process but to improve the now damaged systems by inserting new species into them and even emulating natural selection.

Now let’s take a look at how Davis tries to achieve the goals that his twisted ideology established for him. He tries creating new more effective ecosystems to combat the declining state of the earth and the resulting end of the human species. He does this by resurrecting extinct species. Most importantly for us, the Homo Neanderthalensis depicted by the neanderthal Eve. The end of the book goes to show that he not just failed to succeed with his plan to conserve the modern human world but also possibly created a new apex species that are better adapted for the new harsh world to come.

Him creating life is immoral because he doesn’t create Eve so that she can flourish but to help his own species. Unborn life in general is never able to consent to its own creation. Eve is to be born into a specifically non-sustainable world as an experiment to regain balance. Davis doesn’t intend for her to become a being but only to deliver harmony to humankind. Like Kate who refuses to have children because she was born into an inappropriate environment, Davis also should refuse to bring life into a dying world. Eve is unable to follow her predetermined path which leaves her stranded in an uncertain world. He bans himself and the whole world from a livable future by seeking to bring back the past. Davis didn´t succeed and now the future lies in the hands of Eve.

The thoughts and actions of Davis who thinks of humans as the superior race, that together conquered the need for a god, ironically dooms humanity for an apocalypse and gives rise to a world beyond his imagination.