Culture Consumption: April 2018

Here’s my month in books, movies, television, and games.

Books

Orphaned Lewis Barnavelt is sent to live with his oddball, wizard uncle in a strange mansion with a next door neighbor who’s a witch. Everything is cheerfully weird until Lewis learns about the clock in the walls, always ticking away with a subtle, persistent malice. I didn’t know about this book series until I saw the trailer for the forthcoming movie (which looks like it will be quite fun), and I’m so glad I picked it up. The reality of living in a home with a clock ticking down to … something is wonderfully haunting and creepy. And yet, the story maintains a joy for magic and youthful discovery. Also, finding out that the book includes illustrations by Edward Gorey was a bonus delight.

The trailer looks like the movie could be a fun adaptation.


The Tower of Antilles by Achy Obejas is a beautiful collection of short stories, centered around the Cuban experience, both on the island and as an immigrant elsewhere. These stories explore the nature of individuality, with the question “What is your name?” being the entry point for both the opening and closing stories. There’s also a thread of queer experience throughout many of these stories. One the many story that was resonant for me is “The Cola of Oblivion,” in which a young woman returns to Cuba only to be addressed with the old grievances of her family there. It builds to a heavy conclusion, bearing the burdens of family expectation that stayed with me long after I finished the story. (This was an ARC provided by the publisher.)

I picked up a copy of The Gecko and the Three Grave Robbers by Cheez Hayama at the Silicon Valley Comic Con, because I enjoy supporting indie creators when I can. The comic retells a story the author’s father told about growing up in post-war Vietnam. Although I had a bit of trouble following the timeline of events, I enjoyed the art and the tale. The Gecko also includes an adaptation passage from Andrew X Pham’s fantastic travel memoir Catfish and Mandala. The illustrations work well to build the emotion of the moment in which Pham accepts the hospitality of stranger — bringing back memories of his mother.

The Gecko and the Three Grave Robbers by Cheez Hayama

I also finished up the Song of the Lioness quartet with The Woman Who Rides Like a Man and Lioness Rampant. This was a delightful ride, with the story wrapping up nicely — bringing back old villains, revealing new friendships, and coming to terms with love. This quartet was a beautiful, perfectly fun adventure. Again, I find myself wishing I could have read it when I was young, because I would have been in love with Alanna.

One of the many things I really enjoyed about this series in general is the way it handles sex. Alanna has several partners over the course of the series, and it’s treated as natural that she would experience attraction and desire. At no point does anyone ever shame her for these relationships, and when the men come into contact with each other, most of jealous drama is left completely out of the picture. The decision of who she chooses to love is left entirely up to her with little-to-no pressure from the men who care for her. I loved that.

Books Read Last Month:
1. The Woman Who Rides Like a Man (Song of the Lioness #3) by Tamora Pierce
2. Lioness Rampant (Song of the Lioness #4) by Tamora Pierce
3. The Gecko and the Three Grave Robbers by Cheez Hayama
4. The House with a Clock in Its Walls by John Belairs with illustrations by Edward Gorey
5. The Tower of the Antilles by Achy Obejas
6. The Can Opener’s Daughter by Rob Davis

Total Books for the Year: 14

Still in Progress at the End of the Month: The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction by Jeff VanderMeer

Short Stories and Poems

The Monster” by Crystal Connor, PseudoPod — Maleka doesn’t believe her family when they tell her there are things in the woods and doesn’t believe in the charm given to keep her safe — so she tosses on her road home, only to be be driven off the road by a creature which seems at first seems to be a deer before it shifts into something else. This story is powerful, growing in intensity as Maleka flees from the monster chasing her and discovers new dangers along the way.

Red in Tooth and Cog” by Cat Rambo, Escape Pod — After her phone is stolen by a small AI can opener, Renee become fascinated by the strange ecosystem of robots in a nearby park. This story made me want a little pet robot of my own, so I could feed it batteries, microchips, and bolts and watch it augment itself into a new being.

Iron” by Elisabeth Acevedo, Poetry Magazine — “And although I am a poet, I am not the bullet; / I will not heat-search the soft points.”

Movies

Glen was my favorite character in The Walking Dead (until he met his untimely death), so I was excited to  Steven Yeun in a new movie. In Mayhem, an office building is locked down after a virus spreads through the office staff, reducing all of their inhibitions to zero — people begin destroying the office, attacking each other, openly having sex, and acting out their worst impulses, In the midst of this recently fired Derek Cho (Yeun) and aggrieved, former client Melanie Cross (Samara Weaving) fight their way up from the bottom floor to the top brass for some well-earned revenge. Mayhem was fast paced, violent, and fun, with a dark sense of humor throughout. I could have done without the  voice over explanations, but I enjoyed the story, action, and stick-it-to-the-man theme.

Mayhem (2017)
Mayhem (2017)

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Persuasion is an adaptation of a Jane Austin novel, in which a young woman rejects the proposal of the man she loves due to the influence of her family who felt he was beneath her. Years later, he returns wealthy and famous from his service in the war. There’s something particularly lovely about this story in which old heartache is at the center, with forgiveness being the path to love. I’ve never read the novel, but now I definitely want to.

Persuasion (2007)
Persuasion (2007)

I also really enjoyed Ready Player One for it’s fun adventure laced with nostalgia, and although a lot of people hated it, I had quite a bit of fun watching King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (maybe because I’m a sucker for Arthurian legend, even if the adaptation strays far from the source material).

Beautiful. Makes me want to read the book.

New-to-me Movies Watched This Month:
1. Ready Player One (2018)
2. Persuasion (2007)
3. Mayhem (2017)
4. Cheap Thrills (2013)
5. The Purge: Election Year (2016)
6. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017)
7. Coco (2017)
8. Doctor Strange (2016)

Television

I was delighted by season one of The Good Place, and season two was also great. The first two episodes dragged a little bit, but it’s hard to talk about the second season without spoiling the end of the first. At any rate, the show quickly picked up the pace, settling in to the show’s charming humor combines with clever situations, and the characters are still interesting, each with their own character growth despite being in the afterlife. The show continues to be great and threw some nice surprises in by the end, so I can’t wait for the third season to come around.

The Good Place, season two.
The Good Place, season two.

I’ve been wanting to launch into the second seasons of Jessica Jones and The Handmaid’s Tale, but haven’t been able to mentally commit to watching either as of yet. It’s a weird thing I’ve discovered about myself these days, in that I tend to want something soothing to watch at the end of the day, so I tend to turn to the familiar as opposed to something new, which feels risky. Which is to say that for the last half of the month, I have been rewatching episodes of Doctor Who (Doctors Nine and Ten) and Fullmetal Alchemist.

Gaming

Inside (from Playdead) is a 2D scrolling puzzle game, in which you play a young boy traveling through an research facility set in an apocalyptic-seeming world. The graphics are beautiful and eerie, with heavy mists and shadows and beautiful depth to the backgrounds — which is combined with some stellar sound editing for a truly unsettling experience. The Orwellian world of Inside is rich with story layers, with more to notice when played a second time around. I’ve enjoyed the experience of this game so much that I’ve played it twice for fun and am working my way through a third time in order to achieve the hidden alternate ending. It’s fantastic from top to bottom.

And since I loved Inside so much, I immediately followed it up with indie game designer Paydead’s debut game, Limboalso a 2D scrolling adventure game. In this case, you play a kid in a stark, bleak world. The visuals are a gorgeous, minimalistic grey scale. However, the gameplay and puzzles were less intuitive for me and, therefore, the experience was a bit more stressful than fun at times. I didn’t quite enjoy it as much as Inside, but it was still excellent.


That’s it for me! What are you reading? Watching? Loving right now?



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3 Replies to “Culture Consumption: April 2018”

  1. Limbo and Inside were super cool! Somewhat unique, but I could make some vaguely similar game recs if you’re interested. Do you have a console system, or are you playing on iOS?

    Have you watched Santa Clarita Diet? That’s a much less dark show that I think you’d enjoy.

    1. I would love to see some similar games! For Inside and Limbo, I played on my phone. Although I also have an Xbox360. (I’m thinking of getting a playstation, so I can play some older Final Fantasy games, but that’s down the road a bit.)

      I haven’t watched Santa Clarita Diet yet, but I’ve seen the previews and it totally looks up my alley. 🙂

  2. These are the games I think you might like, based on your reviews of Inside and Limbo:

    Contrast – Game mechanic involves periodically becoming a shadow to move around on flat surfaces. Cool visuals, a bit of a story that gradually unfolds. I can’t remember how tricky the puzzles get.

    Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons – Story that gets surprisingly emotional, with some puzzles. In the console game, you control each brother with one of the two controller sticks, which is an unusual innovation. Don’t know if the iOS version replicates that experience somehow.

    Firewatch may or may not be available on any platforms you have. It’s mostly an interactive story with an interesting setting and a somewhat horror element.

    If you get a PlayStation, also check out The Unfinished Swan.

    I feel like there was one more game I was going to mention, but now I can’t remember it (or I miscounted my suggestions). I’ll add if anything else comes to me.

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