The Ruins by Scott Smith, Narrated by Patrick Wilson

Scott Smith pulls no punches with The Ruins, delivering an increasingly disorienting barrage of horrors until the reader arrives at what can be the only conclusion this story could have. There will be no ersatz happy ending shoehorned into the tale Smith shares with the progressively uncomfortable reader. I must rip that bandage off right away. The Ruins is a horror story that mingles body horror with the terror of isolation and the unknowable.
While on vacation in Mexico, two couples befriend a German tourist who was on a holiday of his own with his brother. When Mathias’s brother doesn’t return from an archaeological dig he’d ventured off on, the two couples and another tourist–one of a trio of Greeks who speak no English–join Mathias in his search. The journey takes them deep into the jungle of the Yucatan, far from the beaches and resorts crowded with revelers.
Following a crudely drawn map, the group manages to find themselves approaching a vine-covered hill where Mayan locals accost them for unknown reasons, though seemingly attempting to keep the tourists from venturing any closer to the mound across the clearing. When one of the tourists backs into the vines while trying to capture a photo of the language barrier-hampered exchange taking place, the Mayans’ attempt to keep the six of them from approaching the hill transforms into a merciless bid to keep the tourists from venturing back across the clearing.
As misfortune and decreasing odds of survival strain the group’s optimism and belief they’ll walk away from this misadventure unscathed, it gradually becomes clear that they’re facing something insidious and terrifying that defies comprehension. Discovering the truth behind the Mayans’ desperate need to keep the six of them confined where they are, threatens to push the group of friends and acquaintances beyond the limits of what they can endure.
Scott Smith does an excellent job of balancing the threats, making the experience feel as claustrophobic and intense as he can without placing the reader in similar circumstances. Between the Mayans patrolling the perimeter of the hill, the diminishing supplies, the environment itself, and the terrifying life inhabiting the mound, it’s always up in the air which hazard will prove to be the deadliest.
Patrick Wilson’s narration is both professional and competent, effectively differentiating the characters and articulating the narrative. He also successfully tackles Mathias’s accent and aloof character without dropping the ball.


Forgotten Dreams Lost Along the Way

When I enrolled in college as a double major, studying physics and chemistry, it was with grand, lofty dreams of working for JPL…after which I intended to travel to the UK and spend some time at Reading University, working in cybernetics. I wanted to transition from my dual majors to a Ph.D program in nanoscience & nanoengineering…education and expertise which I could utilize in efforts to develop artificial organs for transplant, better organs than those that we are born with, ones that could extend life indefinitely.
Instead I only made it three years into my undergraduate studies before real life got in the way…working full-time, raising children full-time, and attending college as well; it was simply too much to have on my plate, something had to give, and my higher education was being placed on the back burner far too often. My GPA was suffering, my ability to focus on necessary studies as well, and there was really no choice but to ultimately leave school…something that I really did not want to do, but schedules were too much in conflict.
Here I am, waiting to see the Mars landing, reminiscing about the dreams that I had for my future not altogether so long ago. My girlfriend received notice today that she was on the Dean’s List for her school where she is studying to be a medical assistant, and I was reminded of how I never had the requisite attention to put toward my education to do the same. I am reminded of how far short I have fallen from what I wanted for myself, what everyone seemed to believe I was capable of being.
Chandra wants me to cut down my hours to part-time and enroll in school again after she’s finished with her own school and gotten into a career where she is earning adequate income to compensate for the decrease on my end. I worry that I still won’t have what it takes…but I would do my best not to let her (or myself) down.
I wonder where my future will lead. I returned to my first love, writing…and I feel satisfied as hell doing so…if only I could really get back to it with as much focus and discipline as I need. I don’t know what to do, but I know that I need to do it.
That’s all…just some random thoughts for the night.
Land well on Mars, you beautiful piece of elegant machinery. Make us proud and increase our knowledge and understanding of the universe we’re such an insignificant part of. I am watching, and so are many others.

No Catharsis

There are times when I am forced to wonder if I am totally unsuited to relationships (not even solely romantic ones, but friendships and the like as well, though it is those of a romantic nature that I am speaking of here). In fact I am almost certain that I am not suited for it…but god damn if I am not trying.
A lifetime of failed relationships and truly unhealthy involvements really hasn’t prepared me for what I have in front of me. I’m insecure, I’m perpetually saying the wrong thing or saying things the wrong way, and I can’t help but feel that I am way out of my league with this woman.
I have positively no doubt that she loves me, and am even more certain of how I feel about her…that is not an issue at all. I don’t even know where the issue happens to arise, but they exist just the same. I don’t know how to communicate with her without it all coming out wrong, and I keep trying only to make it worse. I want to express the insecurities that I have, the fears and doubts, to open a line of communication with her that will facilitate reaching a resolution and maybe, just maybe, combatting some of this shit in my head and fixing some of the damage that has been done.
She is an amazing woman; beautiful, funny, sweet, smart as all hell, a better mother than she would ever give herself credit for being, she loves books, she loves the same movies as I do, and she is easily the most supportive and loving woman I could ever imagine having in my life, not to mention being overwhelmingly sexy…and I don’t go a day without wondering what the hell she could possibly see in me, while conversely begging the universe to never let her stop seeing whatever that might be.
I know how lucky I am, I am not the sort of imbecile who overlooks that sort of thing and takes it for granted…instead I am the sort of imbecile who wonders aloud how I could possible measure up against what I know she deserves. She is easily the best thing that has happened to me (outside of my children, because they are fucking magnificent examples of just how great life can be), and I want nothing more than to give her cause to feel the same way…just like I do, on a daily basis. I want her to look around at her life with me and feel the same sense of awe and wonder at how unexpectedly beautiful life has become, how surprisingly perfect things can be. I just don’t know how to be the man who can elicit such things…I don’t know if I even have it in me to be that sort of man. She would probably say that I already have succeeded, but she is sweet and she’s in love with me, so her perspective is biased.
I don’t know what the purpose may have been in sharing all of this. Maybe I was hoping for advice? Probably, I just wanted to put it all into words, straighten out my thoughts a little bit…and maybe stumble upon some catharsis that has eluded me so far, and eludes me still.
Damn it all. It was worth a shot though.