Brown River Queen cover art

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Problematic Paranormal: Ghost VS Dynamite

Maybe you believe in ghosts. Maybe you don't.

I believe ghost hunting reality shows have truly jumped the shark.

I won't name the show, because the guys making it seemed like good guys doing what they believed was right, but when your ghost hunt culminates in blowing up a 'ghost trap' with very real dynamite it's time to re-examine your investigative protocols.

First of all, the ghost trap featured in the show. They constructed what has been called a 'devil's toybox,' which is simply a cube, about a foot on each face. The interior surfaces of the cube are lined with mirrors.

The premise is that the hapless ghost enters the cube only to find itself unable to exit, because the mirrors prevent this. How do mirrors prevent this?

Because, you know, they're mirrors. Reflective and, um, stuff. Partly magic. Magic, because apparently the ghost is forced to remain at the center of the cube and ponder its own reflection for all eternity, which is quite a trick considering their lack of optical surfaces or detectable reflection.

Curse you, moderately reflective surface!

Another problematic feature of the so-called ghost trap is this -- if a ghost passed freely through the mirror to get into the box, why can't it do the same to get out?

A mirror is nothing but a sheet of glass backed by a reflective substance. Silver was once commonly used, but the mirrors you get at Walmart use cheaper reflectors (probably aluminum), so there goes any kind of superstitious mumbo-jumbo about the mystical properties of silver. After all, you never see vampire hunters or the like cry 'Halt, vile spectre, for I wield the power of sacred aluminum!'

Side note: Telescope and other special optical instrument mirrors place the reflective surface on the front, to prevent refraction as light passes through the glass. They are called 'first surface' mirrors for this reason. That science moment brought to you by the letter I (for incredulous).

If you want to get really snippy with the whole ghost trap critique, wouldn't it be necessary for each and every interior seam to be perfectly reflective? Since that's impossible to achieve with flat mirrors cut and glued to plywood, wouldn't the 'ghost' (which hasn't been proven to exist anyway) simply slide out through any imperfect and therefore unreflective joining of walls?

Okay. Forget all that. I'll give them a pass -- let's say some mystical property of mirrored surfaces does act to block the movement of spirits. You've caught a ghost, huzzahs and Miller Lites all around.

That still doesn't explain what these ghost hunters did with the trap after confining their ghost.

They took the trap outdoors, put dynamite around it, and blew it up.

Eat C4, Casper.

Okay, that's a first for a TV ghost hunting show. Dynamite, things blowing up? Not the usual visuals.

But really?

Let's say the mirrored cube did somehow trap a disembodied spirit.

What possible good would blowing up the trap do?

Wouldn't the spirit simply be freed? One second it's pondering its lack of a reflection and wondering why it can traverse space and time but can't pass through an eighth of an inch of cheap mirror glass. Then some guy presses a button, and BOOM the mirrors are rapidly-expanding clouds of dust and the plywood cube is a million windborne splinters.

Wouldn't the ghost simply float away, possibly to return to its home and resume bedeviling the unfortunate homeowners?

Not according to some. Trap the ghost, detonate the trap, problem solved. Roll credits and previews for next week's show.

Sorry, I cannot complete the mental gyrations required for that to make sense. If a being is immaterial, neither mirrors nor dynamite can interact with it. If a being is NOT immaterial then it can be seen, photographed, and probably even heard screaming to be let out of the bloody box.

Now, I'll be the first to admit the mirrored ghost trap has a certain dramatic appeal. I plan to steal the concept and use it as soon as I can in a book or story, simply because A) it's cool and B) it has a certain intuitive logic about it. Mirrors creep people out, always have -- so naturally they would affect ghosts in some way as well. That's how our brains work. We're always making sense of out a nonsensical world.

But that doesn't make any of it real.

So I'm pretty much giving up on ghost hunting shows. Not ghost hunting, mind you -- just the TV depictions of it.

I do wonder what's next for that particular show. Will they go after pesky poltergeists with shoulder-launched missiles or hidden Claymore mines? Will viewers be treated to one-sided firefights between ghost hunters armed with shotguns and unseen ghosts returning fire with silenced ectoplasmic spook rifles?

If the network smells ratings, possibly so...

Work on the new Markhat book continues. Hey, I do have a favor to ask -- if you read the last Markhat book, BROWN RIVER QUEEN, and you liked it, how about giving me a quick review on Amazon? Reviews mean sales, and sales mean money, and money lets me buy dynamite to blow up ghosts. You do want to see ghosts blown up, right?


So please, a review, if you will! Thanks.

Speaking of reviews, check out this review of ALL THE PATHS OF SHADOW. Look, too often book reviews themselves aren't much fun to read, but this one is a hoot. And yes, Meralda does spend a lot of time in her laboratory doing math....


Finally, a record review. Record as in vinyl music LP, and review as in not a review because I can't play the album.

I didn't know I couldn't play the album at first. It's a standard-sized album, entitled Strange Cacti, by Angel Olsen.

I carefully put the record on my turntable and then scurried upstairs to get to work.

The first song started.

Now, I bought this album based on whim and caprice. I'd never heard of Miss Olsen, or her music. I have no idea what her style is. The earnest, bearded young man at the record store praised my choice, so I thought I'd stumbled on a hidden gem.

The sounds emanating from my homebuilt speakers were anything but precious, though. If ghosts in traps sang, this is what their songs would sound of -- discordant, growling, unintelligible.

Okay. I'm an open-minded dude. Pink Floyd has some weird intros too -- A Group of Small Furry Mammals in a Cave Grooving With A Pict, anyone?

So I kept listening.

It got worse. Growling, keening, muttering. The music, too, was strange -- slow, dragging, like a funeral procession gone inexplicably underwater.

Thor looked up at me, his head tilted in doggie confusion. He listened with me for a moment, and then he came to his feet and, for the first time in all my years with dogs, he began to howl at the record.

I went downstairs, sure I was experiencing some sort of turntable malfunction. I tried a different track with the same results.

Then I looked at the tiny print on the record label, which indicated the album might be a 45, rather than the usual 33 RPM record.

The jacket said nothing of the sort. Indeed, the jacket is so secretive it's hesitant to even reveal the album's name.

I switched to 45 RPM, and the sound quality improved, although the vocals do seem, to put it kindly, distant.

Anyway, I haven't made up my mind about Strange Cacti, since Thor won't let me play it without growling.

Okay, back to work for me! Have a good week, people. Be nice to strangers, kind to animals, and show cheese who is boss.


  1. Your dog knows best. Never ignore the advice of a dog unless it involves eating roadkill or ...well, eating. However, if the dog won't eat something, take that as very sound advice NOT TO EAT IT.

    As for the mirrors, I have given it some thought. Perhaps the ghost does have a reflection and it cannot go towards itself (maybe it's scared of ghosts?) Perhaps in the rules of ghostland, a ghost's energy is reflected back from mirrors so the ghost is trapped because the harder it tries to exist, the more the reflection pushes against it. I doubt your tv ghost expert imposters actually know this as I just made up the rule. In fact, they weren't even clever enough to come up with a good rule. PTTTH.

    Okay, so that explains the mirrors. HOWEVER, nothing explains the dynamite. My guess there is that they when watching tv, they noticed that all movie trailers consist of gun battle, guy kissing girl, car chase, and something blows up. So they decided they must have these events in their show to be successful. They started with blowing something up. Who knows if there will be a car chase, a gun battle or a love scene next, but if you watch long enough, I am certain they will appear.

    1. Maria,

      I was hoping they'd at least trot out the old 'mirrors as portals to the Otherworld' angle. That's how I'll make my fictional ghost trap work -- ghost flies into one mirror and comes out the one across from it in the cube! Hah hah, Casper. Gotcha!

      But the dynamite use was just inexcusable.