Reed's Recommendation Corner: Viral Stories (a review of two novels about supernatural media)

 The internet is a wild, untamed place. It really got its start in 1990 (with the development of the world wide web) and the first website went live in 1991. This is the public web, not the original defense networks developed back in 1983 (TCP/IP services, which was a way for government computers to communicate with each other over a network, instead of through previous traditional methods that included mailing magnetic disk tapes). There's a lot of information out there about the history and development of this service that we can no longer function without, so I won't go super in depth here, other to say that it has become a vital part of our society. 

The internet has many dark corner, often difficult to access, where most people don't go. In this brambly mess, you can find hidden gems of lore around other forms of media. People love to dissect the meaning behind the carpet in "The Shining", the imagery in "Twin Peaks", and so on. There are websites, Reddits, and forum threads dedicated to finding old media, dissecting its history minute by minute and frame by frame. Myths begin, are passed around like shiny coins, and sometimes make their way into the zeitgeist. 

The two books I review below are about these kinds of viral media. I was heavily reminded of the Ring series by Koji Suzuki. The books really delve into the implications of media and how some of it has far reaching consequences for those involved and for those who indulge in it. 

The first book is titled When Ghosts Call Us Home by Katya de Becerra.

When Sophia's sister Layla decides to film a horror movie, Sophia enters into a whirlwind of terrifying special effects, surreal scenes, and a horrible injury that prematurely ends her potential career as a ballerina. "Vermillion" is filmed when Sophia is twelve, in a house that their parents are tasked with fixing up. It's an old Californian mansion situated near the ocean, with a dark and tragic history. It's history is full of extravagant parties, dark magic rituals, and a mysterious death. 

Five years later, a famous director wants to return to Cashore House to film a new movie - a documentary/love letter starring an older Sophia repeating some of the most intense scenes from the original film. Sophia has an ulterior motive. She is there to find her sister who has gone missing, and whose last known location was this house. 

Sophia has been following a fan website, where she learns about "The Path", seven signs that lead you to the actual Vermillion (a ghost) who will grant you a wish. Sophia just wants to find her sister and when she starts receiving the signs that mark the beginning of the path, she feels like she is headed in the right direction. 

I brought up the world wide web previously because it factors heavily in Sophia's journey. The website she follows is one that bounces around servers and web addresses and can be difficult to find, making it even more alluring as a fan site. At each step of the Path, she discovers more and more about the history of the house, about Vermillion, and what really happened during the original filming of the movie. There are moments that feel like found footage, especially at the end, where the reader is exposed to the house's darkness. At the end, we are still left with questions. It makes you want to track down the fan website and speculate with your online friends about what it all means. 

The second book that talks about viral media is Mister Magic by Kiersten White. 

There's a children's show that you remember being obsessed with as a child. You don't remember what channel it was on or what network it is with. It was about a circle of friends in a world of imagination, guided and disciplined by a man in a mysterious cloak and top hat. You remember the catchy songs about being good, cleaning up after yourself, and always, always obeying your parents no matter what. 

Thirty years ago, though, something happened, and the show simply ended without any real fanfare. A mysterious tragedy and fire are associated with its ending, but no one investigates. No one talks about it. On the internet, posts about Mister Magic always disappear and there are no surviving videos of this long running show. 

It survives in the minds of those who remember eagerly watching this strange show and those friends who formed the final circle before the end. Those same friends, now adults, are invited back to the house where they lived while the show was filmed. They are going to record a reunion podcast and announce the potential return of Mister Magic. 

However, something is wrong. The podcast host knows too much about each person and the house seems to be closing in on them. The friends are forced to face their past and the reality of the show. They are there to close the circle and to give up one of their number to continue the circle. 

Parts of this story are told in brief snippets of internet posts, almost straight off of Reddit. These lend to the viral nature of the show and really add to the idea of lore and conspiracy theories that abound around its end. It feeds the darker, hungrier magic of the show. 

Both of these stories really feel like CreepyPastas brought to life. Both get caught in your brain, furthering their momentum. These stories have power, and we are the ones who give it to them. For good or for ill.