Culture Consumption: December 2023

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


System Collapse is the seventh book in Martha Wells’ Murderbot series — one of my all-time favorite series and one of the few that I feel compelled to continue reading after the first few books. Murderbot is still its sarcastic self, but lacks the usual confidence when it comes to facing incoming dangers and protecting its humans. The harrowing events have left their mark on Murderbot. Although its mechanical aspects are able to recover quickly, its organic bits are marked by trauma, causing panic attacks. But life doesn’t stop for trauma and new dangers arise while the team works to help the surviving colonists on an alien remnants contaminated planet. I love the way this book continues to evolve this character and its relationships with the bots and humans who have become its family. This is such a wonderful series.

Books Finished This Month:
1. System Collapse by Martha Wells
2. The 2023 Rhysling Anthology, edited by Maxwell I. Gold

Total Books for the Year: 40

Still in Progress at the End of the Month: The Haunting of Alejandra by V. Castro, Professional Techniques in Video Game Writing, edited by Wendy Despain, and Wandering Games by Melissa Kagen Fullerton

Short Stories & Poetry

The Creature from the Black Lagoon is your father” by Brandon O’Brien (Strange Horizons) —

“Ma does tell me I just like my father.
These days, down to the exhaustion.
I wouldn’t know. My young memory only have
three saved dates of his face,

the desire to cling to someone’s hand
and having nothing worth grabbing.”

Harvest of Bones” by Eugenia Triantafyllou (The Deadlands) —

“The third time I see the bones is on the day all is lost.

We sit around the big oak table, the other women and I, unsure of ourselves. We lost the war. That’s what the young soldier tells us. He looks miserable and emaciated. There is dirt under his nails and on his ragged clothes, as if he’s been digging his way out of his grave. Unfortunately, he is not from our village. He is no one’s lost son, or brother, not a lover either. He is just a messenger.”

Convergent Evolution” by Kenzie Allen (The Rumpus) —

“In a city of seven hills,
you told me once, there is no fate—

kismet: a coincidence
we mistake for grand design.”

Lying Flat” by Lynne Sargent (Strange Horizons) —

“It has been knocked flat—
the line between
collapsed and at rest.


How to distinguish
cause and effect without errors
of denying antecedent
or affirming consequent?

Can we dowse that line
between self-flagellation
and self-defense?

What boundary arbitrates
passivity when disability is designed
designated as divine punishment, just

I’m Going to Die of Something” by Theodora Goss —

“I wish I could live forever. Don’t you
want to live forever, like the ancient
gods, always young and beautiful?
No one ever told them that ambrosia
damages the liver or kidneys,
that it contains saturated fats
or too many calories.”


I had a fantastic time with both M3gan and Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves.

M3gan (2022)

M3gan is a PG13 horror movie with a lot of wit. When a robotic engineer (Allison Williams) is faced with the death of her sister and brother-in-law and finds herself in charge of her young niece, she completes the development of a life-like toy doll empowered by AI — simultaneously hoping to distract her niece from her grief and further her career. The doll quickly advances and begins taking her intent to protect her owner to deadly extremes. While it’s not particularly frightening, it’s clever and fun.

Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves (2023)

Honor Among Thieves focuses on a team of thieves who make a terrible mistake, leading to their imprisonment — and they have to commit more crimes and scheming to correct their mistakes and maybe even save the world. This cast of characters — Edgin, a charming bard (Chris Pine), Holga, a surly barbarian (Michelle Rodriguez), Simon, a sorcerer who lacks any confidence (Justice Smith), Doric, an egalitarian druid (Sophia Lillis), and Xenk, a humorless paladin (Regé-Jean Page) — are absolutely delightful. The charisma between the actors is fantastic and this movie is a delight to watch.

New-to-Me Movies Watched Last Month:
1. M3gan (2022)
2. Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves (2023)
3. Hell Camp: Teen Nightmare (2023)


Poster for the third season of demon slayer, showing a multitude of characters in action
Demon Slayer: Swordsmith Village Arc (2023)

I watched the new season of Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, also known as the Swordsmith Village Arc. Following the events of the previous season, Tanjiro Kamado travels to the Swordsmith Village to have his sword repaired once again. While in the village, he grows friendly with more demon hunters and is forced to confront upper tier demons when they attack the village. As with previous seasons, Tanjiro is a charming character and it’s always interesting to see how he is able to connect with people and strives to do good. The battles this season were equally compelling and epic, with fast panning cameras and villains that push our heroes to their limits. Also — and this is important — the theme song is back to being just as epic as the first season. I love it.

I’ve started watching The Tiger King (years after all the hype) just to see what’s I’d missed. While it is a wild series of characters and events, it doesn’t quite hold my full attention. I will probably continue watching (at least the first season), but it may be on as background to whatever else I’m doing at the time.


A man shines a light into the dark with strange opjects circling the air
Alan Wake (2021).

I adored Alan Wake (Remedy Entertainment) and the way it weaves a creative meta narrative into its gameplay. Alan Wake is an author of thriller novels, who has found himself facing depression and anxiety due to writer’s block. Hoping for a reprieve, Alan and his wife Alice travel to a small town, called Bright Falls, Washington. As soon as they arrive in this quaint community, however, things go horribly wrong. Alan wakes up in a car accident with no memory of what happened during the previous week and his wife missing. While desperately searching for Alice, he must face off against darkness-possessed enemies attempting to kill him.

As a writer, I loved the mind-bendy concept of (mild spoiler) Alan’s written words becoming reality due to the high strangeness of the mountain lake area in which he’s visiting. One of my favorite parts of the game was seeking for the manuscript pages scattered everywhere and how they revealed perspectives of side characters or provided clues of future events. It made the experience so much more fascinating to me and made me more invested in the overall world and storyline. I also really enjoyed the way the game mixed in live action elements as a reflection of the way the Darkness and the “magic” of this world twists reality.

On the flip side, my least favorite part of the game was the combat, which involves shining your flashlight on the enemy to disperse the darkness protecting them and then shooting them with your gun. Sometimes — such as when you’re being swarmed by multiple enemies, some of which sneak up behind you — this can feel unnecessarily punishing and sometimes I became so frustrated, I had to turn off the game and chill out until I cooled off and could approach it later. At first I thought it was me and that I just wasn’t a good enough player — until I listed to the Dev Game Club podcast, which assured me that I was not alone in my frustrations. Another thing that would have been good to know before hand is that “easy” is really more like the “normal” mode and “normal” is actually “hard.” If I had known that, I would have opted for the easier mode, which probably would have helped. 

Despite that, I love this entire storyline and I’m so excited to play more games from Remedy — particularly since all of the games are connected within the same universe. My plan is to play Control next, followed by Alan Wake 2.  (I may also play Quantum Break, since I love time manipulation stories.)

A video game image of a group of teenagers facing each other in the dark
Until Dawn (2015)

Until Dawn (Supermassive Games) is essential an interactive horror movie. The story revolves around a group of teens returning to a remote mountain cabin a year after the disappearance of their friends (twin sisters). Upon their return, they find themselves facing a deadly killer intent of picking them off in terrifying and cruel ways (a la slasher movies) — as well as other dangers that the mountain presents.

Inspired by the concept of the Butterfly Effect, the game features choice-based mechanics (similar to The Walking Dead or Life is Strange), illustrating the way small choices can result in unforeseen outcomes. In addition, the gameplay also includes quick time events (which I usually hate) and an interesting “don’t move” mechanic (in which the player has to hold the controller completely still) in order to add a sense of urgency and tension necessary in a horror experience. This combination of choices can result in various endings, which range from everyone lives to everyone dies (and multiple combinations in between).

For the most part, Until Dawn is a fun time, these gameplay choices have viable consequences, such as when the player has the option to play it safe or take riskier shortcuts when attempting to save a friend. At other times, it’s not always clear what previous choices led to the current event, which can be frustrating.

Another frustration was the fact that it was not always clear when an action would move me forward in the game, cutting me off from exploration. At multiple points, I dropped off a ledge — thinking it was just an item to pick up — only to find myself unable to return to the previous area and search for more clues and collectables.

There are other instances in which the player’s actions are in direct conflict with the scripted storyline. For example, in one particular instance, the player is presented with the “don’t move” mechanic — but it doesn’t matter how well you perform the action. Every time, no matter what, the character will step out, drawing the attention of the enemy and leading to an NPC’s scripted death. It’s a frustrating moment, because even if the player doesn’t do anything wrong in their gameplay, they are still punished with a terrible outcome. It would have been much better to have the “mistake” be tied to an occurrence not within the player’s expectation of control.

Nevertheless, I had a good time with Until Dawn — and I’m currently trying to decide if I’m going to play it through again just to see different outcomes for the various characters. For those interested, Game Maker’s Toolkit has an excellent video essay on whether or not Until Dawn makes for a good horror movie, and I like their perspective of viewing the experience as being the horror director.

I jumped back into God of War (Santa Monica Studio) — and was surprised to realize that I had left off in the middle of a huge boss battle with a dragon, which was hilarious. During my interim of not playing I also completely forgot all of the controls, so I immediately got curb stomped by the dragon. A bit more fumbling around, though, and I got things under control and defeated the massive dragon. So, I’m ready to get back into it and finally finish the game.

Suckered in by the constant ads, I decided to give Royal Match (Dream Games). The game is essentially what is presented in the ads — a color-matching puzzle game (with a few levels that involve saving the King from a terrible fate). In between levels, you can help upgrade rooms in the palace (though there is no personalization in this), which unlocks prizes to help with gameplay. As far as these types of mobile puzzle games goes, it’s a good time. Nevertheless, I ended up deleting it a few weeks later since it was sucking up a lot of my passive time, and I already have Two Dots for that purpose.

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