Hi, lovelies. Here’s my month in books, movies, television, and games.
In Something is Killing the Children, a graphic novel by James Tynion IV (writer), Werther Dell’Edera (illustrator), and Miquel Muerto (colorist), a game of truth and dare leads a group of kids out into the woods — but only one comes back alive. It’s brutal, bloody, and viscerally violent scene, made all the more terrifying with the realization that other kids have gone missing.
When a mysterious young women with intense eyes that have seen too much arrives in town, she promises to hunt down and kill the monsters. But with families desperate for answers and revenge and the town spiraling into paranoia and desperation, events quickly grow out of her control, growing more and more deadly — and leading to a violent an tragic end.
This graphic novel is beautifully illustrated and brutally gory, with the horror being as much about the aftermath of such violence as it is about the monsters themselves. I’m also very interested in this world and the strange society our mysterious hero is a part of. I’m looking forward to reading more.
Algorithmic Shapeshifting is a gorgeous collection of speculative poetry by Bogi Takács. Including poems from the past decade along with previously unpublished work, the collection includes pieces that extend “from the present and past of Jewish life in Hungary and the United States to the far-future, outer-space reaches of the speculative — always with a sense of curiosity and wonder.”
There are many layers of beauty, pain, and compassion in this collection, which are perhaps best expressed through the words of the author themself —
“What do you see of me?
I live sandwiched in between rectangular walls
painted a nondescript gray,
a hundred stories underground
on a planet without an atmosphere.
I crave these little flares
of information and heart,
knowing I can offer precious little
of my lived experience in return.
Why do you love me, I wonder
as I lie back on my cot
and listen to the nighttime sounds
of the dormitory, the sneezes
rustles and coughs.
Our recycled air is always dry.
Why do you need me?
Do you see all the gray?”
— from “A Self-Contained Riot of Lights”
Written by Mary Kenney and paired with beautiful illustrations by Salini Perera, Gamer Girls gives a look into game development history, sharing the stories of many of the women who helped shape the world of board and video games, from the early days of programming to the present day. Each short chapter tells the story of how the designer, artist, songwriter, or storyteller came to video games and the challenges they faced in creating and developing their work and careers. Very inspiring.
Two fun thrillers I read this month were Hide by Kiersten White and Dark One: Forgotten by Brandon Sanderson and Dan Wells.
In Hide, a group of folks desperate for money agree to take part in an elaborate game of hide and seek within a giant abandoned amusement park — the last one to remain hidden wins a monetary prize large enough to change their lives. But as the days go one and players are eliminated one by one from the game, they slowly begin to suspect that something more sinister is afoot.
What makes this story work for me is the way the characters come together and play off each other, their different personalities clashing, the way little cliques are formed. Since White jumps between the perspectives of various characters, we are able to understand their motivations and what holds them back (which is also helpful in building tension).
Dark One is an audio novel (that I checked out from my library) that is specifically designed for the audio format — as it takes the form of a six-episode crime podcast. In each episode, college student Christina Walsh investigates the mysterious disappearance of a world-renowned violinist — someone who has not just gone missing, but has been entirely forgotten by everyone, despite her fame. As she delves deeper into the mystery, the truth only grows stranger and stranger.
Specifically designing the story as a podcast is a brilliant choice, bringing a sense of verisimilitude and immediacy. It’s wonderfully captivating and tense, and I really loved it.
If you’re interested in about how Dark One was created, check out episode 18..24 of the Writing Excuses podcast, in which the author does a deep dive on the book.
Books Finished This Month:
1. Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon
2. Something is Killing the Children by James Tynion IV (writer), Werther Dell’Edera (illustrator), and Miquel Muerto (colorist)
3. Dark One: Forgotten by Brandon Sanderson and Dan Wells
4. Hide by Kiersten White
5. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
6. Algorithmic Shapeshifting by Bogi Takács
7. Gamer Girls: 25 Women Who Built the Video Game Industry, written by Mary Kenney and illustrated by Salini Perera
Total Books for the Year: 28
Still in Progress at the End of the Month: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, The Game Writing Guide: Get Your Dream Job and Keep It by Anna Megill, Wandering Games by Melissa Kagen, and Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games by Tracy Fullerton
Short Stories & Poetry
“All the Ways to Hollow Out a Girl” by Gwendolyn Kiste (PseudoPod) —
“It’s almost noon on Friday when the neighborhood boys murder me again for the third time this week.”
“The House, the Witch, and Sugarcane Stalks” by Amanda Helms (Lightspeed) —
“The house wakes from its somnolence as the witch trudges up the path made of tarts. Through its rock-candy windows, the house scans her figure for any signs of hurt. The witch’s errands in the city make her nervous. And the house, being made of her magic and therefore of the witch, worries along with her that the wrong person might recognize her, or simply think they do.”
“Meditation” by Wendy Drexler (SWWIM) —
“The candle isn’t bothered by the flame, light doesn’t complain
when swallowed by dusk, pebbles don’t mourn the mountain
they’ve crumbled from, mountain lions fatten on feral burrows
that are wrecking wetlands, the Australian crocodile that makes
a fine meal of feral pigs doesn’t know it’s endangered,”
“The Curious Story of Susan Styles” by Catherine Lord (PseudoPod) —
“‘Susan Styles,’ the name is not a romantic one, and yet it is associated in my mind with a curious series of incidents, which, were I a member of the Psychical (or ghost investigating) Society I might have brought under the notice of that body.”
I always dig movies that work within the tight constraints of a clever premise combined with a (mostly) single location. Till Death meets that criteria with slick, blood soaked style.
When Emma (played by Megan Fox) is left handcuffed to her dead husband as part of a twisted revenge plot, she struggles to survive in the middle of nowhere during winter. The movie uses its limited space well, with Emma dragging her husband through every area of the house and surrounding yard in an attempt to find any means of escape.
The tone of the movie — both visually and emotionally — is icy cold, and I’m fine with that, because Till Death kept me well entertained and interested in what would happen next throughout.
New-to-Me Movies Watched Last Month:
1. Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (2023)
2. Pretending I’m a Superman: The Tony Hawk Video Game Story (2020)
3. The Signal (2021)
4. Till Death (2021)
I watched the first eight episodes of HBO’s Watchmen — and it’s one of those series that is so good, I’m a little frustrated with myself that I took so long to getting around to watching it. And I’m equally frustrated with myself that I didn’t realize there was only nine episodes — and I could have finished the story by now. But then, the eighth episode broke my heart so completely, I needed a break . . . and I suppose I’m getting ahead of myself.
The series focuses on a number of masked heroes, some of whom work within the law with all the complications that entails, as the law in this world isn’t always just. The story also deals with the fallout of a massive alien attack that destroyed New York — and yet also brought humanity together enough to prevent full-scale nuclear war. However, this did not even remotely solve the great problems of the world, such as racism and fascism, which remain prevalent, with the police being generally disinterested in following through with stopping these issues.
At the heart of the series is Angela Abar (known as Sister Night when wearing the mask), who is focused on finding out the truth about her grandfather, who mysteriously appears after being presumed dead — only to mysteriously disappear again. Her search brings her up against terrible truths and dangerous factions. It’s a phenomenal show (and I’m sure I’ll feel even more so about it as soon as I’ve seen the final episode).
Playing Giant Sparrow’s powerful and moving game, What Remains of Edith Finch, for a second time was just as wonderful and heartbreaking an experience as it was the first. In particular, this second time around, I was impressed by the way the game layers narrative through multiple unreliable narrators.
Primarily there is the titular character Edith Finch, who narrates most of the story in a journal. As she returns to her family home — pregnant and uncertain about her future — she explores the house, digging through the objects, photographs, journals, and messages left behind. Her words guide the reader (and player) through the rooms of the house and into the past, as she wonders why her family has maintained such a history of tragedy and loss. Is her family really cursed? Or has her family merely given into the narrative of being cursed, allowing it to lead them become reckless in the way they approach their lives?
Layered into Edith’s remembrances are the journals, letters, and photographs that she finds throughout each of the family members bedrooms — each one left just as it was like a shrine. Each of these mementos connect in some way to the family member’s death, some being memorials (such as poems or letters written about the family member) and others being messages of explanation or forgiveness (such as a footnote left on divorce papers or a note from a psychiatrist), and each one contains its own misconceptions, biases, or just plain idealization of the person writing them.
Reading these passages brings the player into the “memories” of the family member — with the gameplay reflecting the feeling being evoked by the words (with the memories of Edith’s brother Lewis Finch working in a cannery while simultaneously living a vivid fantasy life breaking me all over again). There a feeling of folklore in this exploration, of fairy tale and a kind of magic, even if that sense of magic is only in the eye of the beholder. We tend to see people with a golden perspective after their death, even when tragic, and that is the feeling here.
Even when considering Edith’s journey through the house, portrayed through the words in her journal, the player can notice that the house — which she has not visited in years — remains pristine. There is no dust, no decaying of fabric. No spiderwebs line the corners of the room, no rats have made home in the piles of books. The house and all of its contents remain preserved, much like the way Eddie tried to preserve the memories of her dead family members by creating shrines of their bedrooms.
What Remains of Edith Finch is a stunning exploration of memory and the kind of mythologies families build up around themselves. If the Finch family had not held so tightly to the idea of a generational curse brought over from Europe, if they had not clung to the memory of death so tightly (having built a cemetery before their own home), if they had let go of the past and looked to building a future, would more of the members of the Finch family be alive and thriving today?
It’s hard to say. Sometimes bad things happen, and sometimes they happen repeatedly over and over again to the same family to the point it almost feels like a curse. Sometimes — curse or no — the people in a family need to move on and get busy with the act of living instead of clinging to the past.
I love What Remains of Edith Finch. It’s one of those games that brings me into the realm of sorrow and longing in such beautiful ways that I find myself wanting to wash myself in the experience again and again. I cannot recommend this game highly enough.
Another fantastic game that I played this month was Norco, a point-and-click adventure game developed Geography of Robots. Set in a near-future New Orleans with communities ravaged by climate change and advanced technologies being utilized by mega-corporations to replace workers, Norco feels like a blend of the dystopian, cyberpunk, and noir genres.
Kay returns home after her mother died of cancer and finds her brother missing. With the help of a cybernetic robot that lives with the family, she searches for her brother — and along the way she delves her mother’s research into strange the strange things happening in Lake Pontchartrain, discovering corporate espionage, sentient AI systems, and mysterious objects from beyond human understanding.
The game involves moving through various maps, talking with various shady characters, and solving light puzzles. In particular, one of my favorite narrative and gameplay elements is the mind-map. During conversations, Kay will learn new clues (names, locations, and other elements). The player is then able to open up her mind map and make connections between these elements, which provides greater insights into how Kay perceives certain characters and situations, as well as opening up new areas of the game.
I dig the weirdness of Norco — the way it can go into the high strangeness of science fiction, while at the same time being grounded in the gritty reality of a world that leaves workers and disenfranchised folks to live in the mud and muck of flooded homes, a lack of viable work due to computers replacing workers, escape through drugs, and other major issues that arise when profit overtakes humanity. A fantastic game.
I also started playing Inmost, a narrative puzzle platforming game from Hidden Layer Games. The game features some beautiful pixel art and some fun platforming elements — and I’ll talk about it more next month, after I’ve completed the game.
That’s it for me! What are you reading? Watching? Loving right now?