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book cover art for Zoo City by Lauren Beukes and The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman

A while back I had the coincidental fortune to read Zoo City by Lauren Beukes directly after Phillip Pullman's The Golden Compass. For those not aware, a central focus in The Golden Compass is the symbiotic relationship between humans and inexplicable creatures called daemons. Daemons are the manifestation of a person's soul in the form of an animal companion, not entirely unlike a familiar. Humans and their daemons keep each other company, provide support, and sometimes act as an intuitive entity. Zoo City has a similar conceit, with the exception that only murderers have the misfortune of being tethered to an animal—or so it can be assumed. These people are referred to as aposymbiotes or "zoos" and are outcasted by society, doomed to a life restricted to the lowest rung of society.

At one point in Zoo City, Beukes makes a cheeky reference to a fictitious documentary within the universe called "Steering by the Golden Compass: Pullman's fantasy in the context of the ontological shift." Obviously, the novel is heavily inspired by the trilogy, and it got me thinking, why the hell should I not explore this? It's an interesting concept. These two works compliment each other strikingly well that it would be a shame not to cross-reference them in order to explore a few of the themes further.

Wearing Sin

Both books are rife with religious overtones, The Golden Compass being the most heavily afflicted of the two. A key element of both novels is the physical conceptualization of sin. In Pullman's universe, scholars have begun to suspect that a mysterious particle called Dust has a tangible connection to original sin via daemons, compounding permanently in a human once a child reaches maturation. Although Dust is only fleetingly referenced in the first installment of the His Dark Materials series, it plays a larger role explaining the bond between human and daemon later in the series. The antagonists' primitive understanding of the particle leads them to perform gruesome experiments in severing the bond between children and their daemons in an attempt to preserve their innocence. Once separation (called intercision) occurs, the host either dies or become a empty husk.

Intercision also exists in Zoo City, though it's never explained whether anyone has successfully separated from their animal in this manner. Often, the animalled person will perform separation or outright destroy their animal as a form of radical suicide. Such actions forcefully bring about the mysterious calamity known as the Undertow—a reference to hell's undertow—which is a zoo's ultimate fate. But I'll get back to that later.

It's easy to argue that animals in both universes symbolize a physical manifestation of the soul. Both novels support a system in which humans and their animals are aposymbiotic, or symbiotic beings that live apart from each other. It is impossible for people in either book to be removed from the vicinity of their animal without experiencing extreme negative effects, namely pain and severe anxiety. Furthermore, the physical state of each is directly passed to the other (in Zoo City, the connection seems to be one-way with the human influencing the animal and not vice versa).

In Zoo City, one is only unfortunate enough to be bestowed with an animal once they commit the ultimate crime. In religious circles, this is thought to be original sin. At first glance, applying these rules to The Golden Compass's universe legitimizes the theory that everyone is born with original sin; however, a few key things leave this open for debate in my opinion.

For starters, the rules are unclear. It's only implied that murder will land you with an animal familiar, but it's never fully explored whether this applies to indirect murder as well. My speculation is that this is likely true because it seems to work as a functional "shadow of guilt" that hovers over the person for the rest of their life. Given this theory, a possible interpretation is that original sin doesn't exist within the universe, and when applied to The Golden Compass universe, means that the initial speculation regarding the link between original sin, Dust, and daemons is false.

While this ultimately makes The Golden Compass incompatible or at least inconsistent within Zoo's universe, it supports the explanation given later in the His Dark Materials series (mild spoilers): Dust pertains to consciousness, not original sin. Where then, do the daemons fit in?

My belief is that viewing the animals in either novel simply as the personification of sin is reductive. Both of these works are about the conscious, self-awareness, and redemption. While Zoo's animals function as a scarlet letter for their owners, they are portrayed as loyal companions who care for the safety and wellbeing of their owners, and also grant their host access to an otherworldly talent, such the ability to find lost objects. Though most struggle to coexist with the burden of their sins either emotionally or physically, some are able to live out average lives.

Additionally, neither novel offers explanations as to the animals' true purpose. Daemons are capable of shape-shifting until maturation, which also coincides with the presence of Dust, so a possible interpretation for The Golden Compass could be the death of self. Or am I reaching too far?

The Undertow

Ahh, the Undertow. Described as a sort of apocalyptic undoing for zoos in Zoo City and always referred to as an entity. An ominous being of evil that exists to drag you to justice for your transgressions. The Undertow is coming for you. Applied to The Golden Compass, it defines a system that is consistent with the "rules" of both novels: if your animal dies, so you do and vice versa.

But it's not that simple. The Undertow is your karmic destiny, and it'll come for you eventually. In this regard, I don't consider it much removed from the notion of destiny (which plays a huge part in The Golden Compass). You can fight the Undertow, but for how long? You can rebel against your destiny...or can you?

It's a universal quandary that ties these universes together. Death is inescapable, but it's the way you handle that truth that defines you as a person.

Although they're radically different stories, they're great companion pieces. Each novel presents a complex world filled with utterly nerve-wracking action that spans the scope of the human psyche. Both authors paint their stories with a palette of grays so beautifully it's hard not to become immersed. It's that simple theme, the struggle against basic human nature that makes these two novels delightful reads.

Fitbit app graph data displayed on a smart phone

"Should I buy a Fitbit?"

Type that query into Google and see what pops up. I'll give you a hint: it rarely leads to a substantive answer. Article after article trying to explain the appeal of strapping an electronic device to your person to help show you how (un)healthy you are and the supposed benefits. It's a testament to consumerism as well as the marketability of healthy living that something so popular should leave its users struggling to articulate what, exactly, it does for them. Eventually, most reviews come to the same conclusion: the data is neat but kind of pointless.

Activity trackers might be trendy, but statistics suggest people seldom commit to them longterm, which might have something to do with the fact that we don't know what's to be gained by owning one. The number of registered Fitbit users far outweigh the number of active users, and that gap only grows every year. Understandable, given the confusion regarding their purpose. I'm a bit of a data junkie, so I was intrigued by the prospect of quantifying my health. But the question remained: do I really need one?

The short answer is, probably not.

But I bought one anyway. What follows is the detailed breakdown of my experience over the first month. For science.

Week 1:

Neat New Thing

So cool! So shiny! So chrome! (Not really.)

I wear the Fitbit constantly except while showering for the first week. I remark how comfortable it is and how quickly I adapted to its permanent fixation on my wrist. After the first few days, I develop a tender area where the heart rate monitor makes contact with my skin. The Internet advises that I'm wearing it too tight, so I loosen it even though I feel like it was already pretty loose to begin with.

Every night before I go to bed, I meticulously clean the band and sensor with either a mild face wash or rubbing alcohol. Tales of persistent rashes and MRSA horrify me into following this cleanliness ritual. By the end of the week, I've already ditched this habit.

Week 2:

All the DATAAAA!

I've become a Fitbit challenge addict even though I never win.

I've joined no fewer than five groups and added somewhere in the ballpark of 50 friends, only a few of which I know personally. This ensures that I receive a steady stream of challenge invites daily. I obsess over numbers, checking my step ranking several times per day. Since I have a desk job, this is depressing. I rarely hit the stock goal of 10,000 steps/day.

"How can someone average 100,000 steps every week?" I ask, on more than on occasion. "That's not possible, right?" I briefly consider deleting everyone who consistently ranks higher than I do. They disgust me with their smug, happy faces.

I go out of my way to get more steps, which inadvertently leads me to do some pretty dopey things, like pacing my kitchen late at night. Guilt creeps up on me. As an active person, why am I failing to meet the pre-defined metrics? Am I deluding myself about my level of fitness? I must do better.

After the initial "fun" of tracking my sleep wears off, I remove the tracker at night. It doesn't help that I'm convinced the damn thing is the reason why my sleep productivity always hovers under 94%. The band vacillates between comfortable and cumbersome too readily for my taste, and the rapidly flashing heart rate light—which is an eye-piercing neon green—jolts me awake when my arm isn't stuffed under the covers.

Week 3:

Unhealthy Obsession

I forget to wear the tracker for a few days because it's easily overlooked when not attached to me 24/7. This leads to a few worrisome meltdowns. What about the steps? My ranking is going to drop! Ugh, my "friends" are going to be all smug about how much better they're doing than me.

This is bullshit.

No one cares. Repeat it with me. No one cares.

Except that one dude who somehow manages to average 40k steps daily. Fuck him.

Week 4:

Stage Four: Mild Detachment

You know what's only tangentially cool? Going on vacation and being able to see that, WOW, you really did walk, like, a whole 5 miles when you were trying to find a halfway decent local food joint didn't look like a tourist trap. Or that you walked up so many flights of stairs that you hypothetically climbed to the top of a small mountain. Unfortunately, no one is interested in your vacation stories, and even less so in the weirdly specific data you have to accompany them.

Within the first month, it was already obvious that none of this information was making me a healthier person. A weirder, more neurotic one perhaps, but not healthier. Sure, it helped me identify my highs and lows, but then again, any tracking method can easily accomplish the same thing. Even writing down the words, "I worked out today," will give me the same basic overview of my health over time.

Some people claim that in order to get the most out of your wearable fitness tech, you need to go all in. Track your workouts. Track your food intake. Track your water consumption. Track every minor fluctuation in your weight. Maybe if I had made use of the native food tracking app (which is garbage), it would have proven more useful to me. But probably not. Maybe if I had paired it with Fitbit's Very Expensive Scale, I'd have had an epiphany about my body composition that would help me achieve Peak Fitness. But probably I'd obsess over those numbers even more, feeding into a toxic feedback loop pertaining to weight and body image. Hard pass.

I'll stick to wearing my Fitbit when I remember it, using it mostly as a touchpoint for my heart rate and the time. Once a week, I might still ooh and aah over the numbers, but I generally just ignore them. It's better that way.

cute ghost hovering over the word spoopy

It's almost Halloween and which means you only have a few more days to get your fill of deliciously dark and twisted entertainment before it's no longer seasonally relevant. There's plenty of books and movies at your disposal if that's your thing—and hundreds of "Best Of" lists for you to take your pick from—but if you're like me and prefer to segment your limited free time with bite-sized bits of content, the Internet is your best bet to satiate your cravings.

The unfortunate downside of turning to the Internet for your spooky needs is that it takes some serious work to filter out all the truly disturbing and horrific content floating around. If you're in the mood for risky clicks that may lead to eternal emotional scarring, just Google "creepy stuff on the Internet" (as it turns out, my definition of creepy might be misaligned).

But if you want fun-scary and only mildly disturbing? Don't worry, I got you covered.

WATCH


Teddy Has An Operation


Regardless of whether or not you ever performed surgery on your beloved stuffed friends as a child, you're no doubt familiar with the concept. This video morphs the idea into something pseudo-realistic. It's not exactly the stuff of nightmares, but it's weird enough to leave an impression.

Proxy: A Slender Man Story


Short indie horror films by Youtubers aren't usually synonymous with quality, but this one is incredibly well produced. Mike Diva is one of my favorite YT personalities/film directors because of his skill with digital effects.

Don't Hug Me I'm Scared


Are you a fan of stuff that makes you think, the fuck did I just watch? Perfect! This is right up your alley. Dont Hug Me is a series of British horror-musical short videos that juxtaposes Sesame Street-style puppets with macabre themes and disturbing imagery.

Take This Lollipop

blue lollipop with a razor inside the candy over the text "I dare you"

The scariest concepts are often the most relatable, and nothing's more hot topic nowadays than online privacy. This short film integrates with your Facebook (don't worry; the app doesn't store any of your personal information) to create a personalized scare. Check it out here.

11B-X-1371

After digging around, I've decided not to embed or link this video for personal reasons, so Google at your own discretion. Some places have this billed as a cryptic puzzle and possible promo for an upcoming Dan Brown movie, but after further analysis, it seems to be filled with disturbing coded imagery and threats, included tortured and mutilated women. Either way, it's definitely disturbing, and maybe not in a fun way.

PLAY


The Binding of Isaac

I've put a few hundred hours into the Binding of Isaac and it's reboot, Binding of Isaac: Rebirth. It's a twisted, sometimes funny dark and gruesome game that has strong religious themes. The gameplay is roguelike, meaning every playthrough is different; rooms, items, monsters, and bosses are randomly generated. The newest DLC, Afterbirth, is set to release the day before Halloween.

Five Nights at Freddy's

You can't play this one in your browser, but it's available on mobile and PC. FNaF is a series of jump-scare games that has spawned a massive cult following and potential movie release. At Freddy Fazbear's pizza—a kiddie hangout much like Chuck-E-Cheese—the animatronics come alive and roam free at night, and don't take kindly to strangers who hang around after the lights go off. There's a sprawling mythos surrounding the characters and events at the pizza joint over the course of the games that adds to the creepiness.

The Static Speaks My Name

If you're looking to pack maximum psychological fright into a ten-minute window, The Static Speaks My Name is a great choice. It's a bizarre experience that will leave you haunted.

Slender: The Eight Pages

The Eight Pages is a bit dated by Internet standards but it's still one of my favorites. The game was later re-released as Slender: The Arrival with even more creepy additions packed inside.

Deeper Sleep

Deeper Sleep is a point-and-click browser game (part 2 of a trilogy) in which the player navigates a lucid dreamworld. The atmosphere is unsettling and without relying on overtly in-your-face tactics like the FNaF franchise. Plus it's free.

READ


Creepypasta

Ahh, the infamous breeding ground of modern-day urban legends. The site houses the horrific legacies of boogymen like The Rake and Slenderman, and chilling shorts like Squidward's Suicide and Pokemon Black. Depending on which circles you run in, Creepypasta might also be synonymous with "awful stories with terrible writing" so your creepy mileage my vary.

Sixpenceee

If you're looking for all things weird and maybe the occasional Tumblr aesthetic post, Sixpenceee is a good reference. They post a good mix of real-life strangeness and fiction, and often reposts fan submissions.

Only Quality Horror

Quality Horror is a crowd-sourced blog that aims to only post, well, quality horror fiction.

SCP Foundation

The SCP (short for Secure, Contain, Protect) is a creative writing website that serves as a (fake) society for documenting paranormal and supernatural lore, somewhat similar to Creepypasta but with more stringent guidelines.

I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream

Okay, so this doesn't technically count as Internet-sourced, but it's worth a read. I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream by Harlan Ellison is a post-apocalyptic sci-fi short that won a Hugo award in 1963. It's also pretty disturbing.

LISTEN


Welcome to Night Vale

There's a rash of paranormal goings-on in the city of Night Vale, but it's probably best if you tried to not to look too closely. With a town motto of "If you see something, say nothing and drink to forget," you can expect anything but the ordinary in this podcast. Don't worry, I'm sure Carlos will figure it out. And now, the weather.

Pseudopod

Pseudopod features short fiction that is intended to deeply disturb. Stories may contain a bevy of themes that might be considered triggering, so listen at your own risk.

man on a bench wearing a box as a costume

Most peoples' Halloween traditions include parties, scary movie marathons, and lots of sweets. Mine involves coming up with cheap, last-minute costumes that approximately resemble pop-culture icons.

This year the costumes have a somewhat unintentional theme: badass ladies from popular cartoons. If you know me, you know how much I adore cartoons (and how little I watch tv in general). Cartoon characters' outfits are usually pretty straight-forward, so it's a win-win for everyone.

Stevonnie from Steven Universe

DIY: Stevonnie


For being a (so far) one-off character, Stevonnie is a popular cosplay. Stevonnie is an undeniably cute and meaningful character, but I speculate a large part of the appeal is that the costume is one of the few from the series that doesn't require body paint to pull off. The hardest part is making a gem, and thankfully there are plenty of resources to help you out.

Tina Belcher from Bob's Burgers

Bob's Burgers - Tina


Tina is my teenaged-self's Patronus. She's undeniably awkward and a huge mess of conflicting emotions, and she oscillates between different personality traits in her search for herself. She's figuring herself out without facing ostracization from her family or feeling ashamed for being a teenaged girl.

Her look is simple yet iconic, so the chances of being asked "So...what are you supposed to be?" all night long is slim.

Mabel Pines from Gravity Falls

Mabel Pines


Are you pure of heart? Pair a tacky turtleneck sweater with a solid skirt and a headband and you've successfully created a Mabel-inspired outfit. There are even tutorials for making face braces, if you're that committed to the role.

Bee from Bee & Puppycat

DIY: Bee & Puppycat


Bee & Puppycat is a series created for Cartoon Hangover on YouTube by Natasha Allegri, a former storyboard artist from Adventure Time. Bee is a slacker and generally unmotivated adult who is befriended by a sassy alien creature that uses her for his own ends. She has a few outfits that follow a similar theme of yellow + pink, but the most iconic is probably the sweater and shorts combo from the pilot. I can personally vouch for this costume's simplicity—I actually pieced it together one year for Comic Con

Scarecrow

DIY Scarecrow Costume


Since I usually include a few non-specific costume designs, I figured I should round out the list with a non-cartoon character. Now that overalls are back en vogue, it'll be easy to piece this one together whether you "shop your closet" or hit the thrift stores. The face makeup gives the costume the illusion of effort, and you can get as intricate or sparse with product as you like while keeping the spirit of the design. You don't even have to be good at makeup—just go ham with some eyeliner and a little blush and you'll be perf.

See more ideas at my DIY Halloween collection on Polyvore, and be sure to check out parts 1 & 2 of my Lazy Costume series. Do you have any easy costume ideas? Tweet me your Polyvore collection or leave a comment and you might be featured on the blog!

Lazy Halloween Costumes Part 1 | Lazy Halloween Costumes Part 2