Hi, lovelies. Here’s my month in books, movies, television, and games.
When I purchased Eric LaRocca’s Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke and Other Misfortunes, the cashier paused to tell me, “This one’s messed up.” Having now read the three stories in this horror collection, I can heartedly agree with the cashier’s sentiments.
In the titular novella, two women meet online and begin a deeply intimate relationship that unveils their darkest desires. Written through emails and chat transcripts, the story shows just how far we are willing to go to obtain the love of others. It’s a captivating and disturbing exploration of human desire.
The following two stories further explore the depths people are willing to go to achieve approval and acceptance from the people around them. “The Enchantment” is the story of a couple who agree to be caretakers on a remote island, until a stranger suddenly appears by boat, shattering their solitude. In “You’ll Find It’s Like That All Over,” a man attempts to return a lost item to a neighbor only to find himself caught in an increasingly harrowing series of wagers.
This is a powerful and unsettling collection of stories — and I loved it. I’m looking forward to seeing more work from LaRocca.
In The Daughter of Doctor Moreau, Silvia Moreno-Garcia provides a retelling of the classic H.G. Wells tale, The Island of Doctor Moreau, bringing the story to the Yucatán peninsula in Mexico. Dr. Moreau and his daughter, Carlota, live in an isolated and remote estate, where the doctor performs experiments to blend human and animal into intelligent hybrid creations. Other than the hybrids, the only other companion that Carlota has known is the alcoholic overseer, Montgomery Laughton, who is escaping the ghosts of his past by finding sanctuary at the estate.
Carlota loves her sheltered existence on the estate, which from her perspective is perfect in every way. However, her world is jolted when the handsome son of her father’s patron comes to stay for a visit and begins making overtures of love.
This is another phenomenal novel from Moreno-Garcia. I love her choice to tell the story from both Carlota and Montgomery’s points of view and how she builds the relationships between them and the strange family housed on the estate. It’s also a gorgeously wrought world, weaving elements of Mexican culture and history into the tale. I love it.
Andrea Gibson’s Lord of the Butterflies is a gorgeous collection of poetry that explores gender, mental health, American culture, love, and relationships with wisdom and compassion. Her work is lyrical and moving, and this will likely be a collection that I’ll return to again and again when I need something uplifting.
“The heartbeat is actually the sound made
by the heart valves closing.
If you, my love, ever hold a stethoscope to my chest,
I will tell you to listen for the silence in between.
What is and what will always be yours
is the sound of my heart
Writing for Games: Theory & Practice by Hannah Nicklin is a fantastic book for anyone interested in delving into writing stories and developing narratives for games. She provides a solid theory for storytelling and story structures and how these basic elements fit into the development of games. I love that Nicklin also thinks about the various ways in which people learn by including case studies, and a practical workbook with exercises designed to allow the reader to apply the knowledge they gleaned.
Books Finished This Month:
1. Roadqueen: Eternal Roadtrip to Love by Mira ONG Chua
2. Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke and Other Misfortunes by Eric LaRocca
3. Writing for Games: Theory & Practice by Hannah Nicklin
4. The Daughter of Doctor Moreau by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
5. Lord of the Butterflies by Andrea Gibson
Total Books for the Year: 5
Still in Progress at the End of the Month: Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir, Erase the Patriarchy: An Anthology of Erasure Poetry edited by Isobel O’Hare, and Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games by Tracy Fullerton
Short Stories & Poetry
“The Difference Between Love and Time” by Catherynne M. Valente (Tor.com) —
“We first met when I was six. Our fathers arranged a playdate. The space/time continuum looked like a boy my own age, with thick glasses in plastic Army camouflage-printed frames, a cute little baby afro, and a faded T-shirt with the old mascot for the poison control hotline on it. Mr. Yuk, grimacing on the chest of time and space, sticking out his admonishing green Yuk-tongue.”
“30th Birthday” by Alice Notley (Poetry Foundation) (Note: Click through to the original poem to see the proper spacing) —
“But if I’m dark I’m strong
as my own darkness
my strength the universe
whose blackness is air
But if I’m alive I’m strong
“The Goldfish Man” by Maureen McHugh (Uncanny Magazine) —
“I live in my car.
It’s both worse and better than you’d expect. It’s an old Subaru hatchback so I can put the back seat down and sleep. I have all my stuff in the back but I have a space where I can lay.”
“Dorothy, in the Dementia Ward” by Noel Thistle Tague (SWWIM) —
“Dear plaque, dear tangle, dear knot
of undoing, dear daily vanishings—
keys, directions, sisters dead and alive
—dear harbinger of strangers, dear you:
the beads slipped the string again, just
as I was about to fix the clasp.”
“Eulogies Scribbled Inside a Hello Kitty Notebook” by Carlie St. George (PseudoPod) —
“I didn’t know him well. Nobody did, really: he was the new kid. But he was funny, and he was cute, and I probably would’ve said yes when he asked me out, except that’s when the gullet-eaters attacked, and he didn’t know not to scream. Stuff like gullet-eaters and werewolves and carnivorous pixies didn’t happen at his old school, I guess.”
“Chinese Female Kung-Fu Superheroes” by Teresa Mei Chuc (Poetry Foundation) —
“They jump from roof-top
to roof-top, do a backward flip
down to the concrete floor and land
perfectly on two feet.
The metal of swords clang,
the body moves with the precision
of a praying mantis striking
“Mother Trucker” by Wailana Kalama (PseudoPod) —
“My mother hits the moose in the pitch black of 4:32 a.m. There’s almost nothing to see, just a blur of limbs burnt sepia by the headlights of her truck. But it’s the noise that really grinds its hooves in—a startling, thunderous clap that blooms from the moose’s body into the hood, into the steering wheel, shaking the world around my mother with shocks and aftershocks, and all that metal and flesh that make up her and her truck absorb it like a dried-out towel.
But that isn’t the strangest thing that happens that day.”
“Unmaking” by Avra Margariti —
“The viridian tendrils in your windowsill, sprouting
through dirt, a hope signal—I snip them
while you sleep and your dreams bitter and darken.”
Glass Onion is an entertaining sequel to Knives Out, both of which offer an interesting twist on the murder mystery genre. The new movie leans into satirical comedy more, presenting a group of influencers, business leaders, and politicians (all terrible people) who feel beholden to an eccentric billionaire and join him on a weekend on away on a private island to play a murder mystery game. The plot thickens, however, when Benoit Blanc (portrayed by Daniel Craig with a mixture of intelligent gravitas and Southern charm) arrives with what turns out to be a fake invitation. Though I didn’t quite love it as much as the first film, it still provided some fantastic humor and excellent twists along the way.
The latest animated Disney movie, Strange World, was epically good fun. The story is about a man who has become a farmer of a plant that produces electrical pods, which power the entire community and society. When the the source of that power is threatened, he reluctantly begins an adventure to discover how to save it. I always love science fiction that leans into the weirdness and takes its characters on an epic adventure. This movie does that while also presenting a cast of great characters and exploring intergenerational trauma.
Moonfall, which is about the moon suddenly loosing its orbit and falling toward the earth is an epically fun disaster movie, a la favorite films from the 90s (such as Independence Day and Armageddon).
New-to-Me Movies Watched Last Month:
1. Thor: Love and Thunder (2022)
2. Strange World (2022)
3. Moonfall (2022)
4. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (2022)
The Last of Us, episodes 1-3, are out and the general consensus is that this is the best video game adaptation to have ever been made — and I would agree with that sentiment. The show takes the premise of the game — in which a heart-hardened man is tasked with taking a girl on a journey through a world full of infected hordes and worse things like raiders, militant groups, and other dangers — and brings it to life with powerful brilliant storytelling. It draws on the best parts of the game, condenses where needed (mostly gameplay that would not be effective in TV form), and expands on the characters and world to make it feel more alive. It’s brilliant.
And episode 3 was incredible, offering a beautiful, powerful, and surprisingly hopeful love story in the midst of apocalypse. An amazing episode of television.
I was gifted a Backbone for Christmas, which is essentially a controller that attaches to your phone. Along with providing better controls when playing on my phone, the Backbone also came with a month of Xbox Gamepass, which has provided me access to a number of indie and small games that I might not have been able to play otherwise. It’s been a great month of games.
Somerville is an adventure game from the new studio Jumpship (founded by one of the developers of Inside, one of my favorite games). When an alien invasion suddenly shatters their quiet night at home, a man journeys through the ruins trying to find his family.
The gameplay involves solving simple puzzles and light platforming, in which the player (as the man) uses an alien device that merges with light to melt the remnants of the alien technology. Some of the movement was occasionally frustrating, as the player is often forced to move at a slow walk while moving through certain levels and the depth perception of where the character is located on screen is sometimes hard to judge. However, the art design is beautiful, providing stunning imagery of the alien ships and the extensive ruins and the puzzles are generally fun. In addition, the story is both grounded in the connection between the man and his family, while also being mind-bendy with a wild ending that allows for multiple interpretations of exactly what the aliens are and what their purpose is. I had a great time with this game, which took about four hours for me to complete.
Pentiment is a narrative-driven adventure game from Obsidian Entertainment. Set in 16th century in the fictional town of Tassing, Bavaria, the game centers on Andreas Maler, an illuminator (artist) working at the local Abbey. When a murder of a prominent noble occurs, Andreas begins an investigation in the name of helping a friend. The player is able to wander around the town, interviewing various characters in an attempt to get at the truth — despite the fact that there never seems to be enough time and the answers seem hard to unravel.
One of the many things that makes this game so compelling to me is how it presents various perspectives on the truth (eliminating any clear objectivity) and how it deals with the passage of time. As the title hints at (a pentiment is an underlying image or forms that have been painted over), the “truth” is often a layering of stories and time.
Pentiment is a game I’ll likely play again, as I’m curious how the different choices that the player makes affect the storytelling and how the various truths layer upon one another.
The puzzle game, Unpacking, from Witch Beam studio, has a delightfully simple premise. The player is presented stacks of cardboard boxes within a series of rooms. As each box is unopened, the player chooses where to place the objects within the home, having to adjust to make sure that each book, t-shirt, collectable, and toothbrush has its proper place. This game is delightful and relaxing in its gameplay and, without the use of dialog or explanations, also manages to tell a lovely story about a woman growing up, finding her place in the world, and discovering and falling out of love.
Townscaper is a toybox created by solo developer Oskar Stålberg. The game features no objectives or storytelling; it just presents a beautiful little town creation tool, in which the player can build beautiful, strange towns and cities, with as much complexity as they’d like. I had quite a bit of fun testing this one out and exploring the combination of construction and color. Absolutely fun.
That’s it for me! What are you reading? Watching? Loving right now?