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Seasonal Recommendations

October 19, 2012 Leave a comment

Today, I will be making some recommendations for entertainment. In keeping with the spirit of the local deciduous flora, these recommendations will focus on the temporary nature of all known life and the hideous deaths that await us all at the end. Suggested consumption of these various titles includes occasions of depression, hopelessness, and Hallowe’en parties. Also, despite the various media represented on this list, I expect full participation.

Slender Men can cooperate; so can you.

Film

R-Point: Classic Korean horror set during the Vietnam War, this movie has fantastic atmospherics and an interesting take on the “vengeful ghost” trope. While there is a long-haired girl in a white dress, she isn’t the only confused, eerie presence to haunt the Korean soldiers deployed to the titular location. Such things must be expected from a mournful bog that collects the souls of the dead like raindrops.

A Tale of Two Sisters: Yes, Korea has put out some absolutely top-notch horror films in its time. This one delves deep into the confusion and paranoia of psychosis with singularly-disturbing visuals and a fevered pallor. In the years since my first viewing, it still remains among my top horror films of all time.

The Eye: You probably remember seeing ads for the American remake of this one with Jessica Alba. While decent, the original film by the Pang brothers outshines its progeny. In what some may call a Chinese take on The Sixth Sense, the protagonist learns that not all of the people she sees are there in the strictest sense. Free of Shyamalan’s pathological need for a twist, however, this film focuses on the absolutely terrifying aspects of such an ability.

Like that scene.

Games

Rule of Rose (PS2): A true masterpiece of psychological exploration. Sure, Silent Hill 2 had dead-wife-something-something-dong-headed-guy-raping-mannequins going for it, but Rule of Rose braves the fear, cruelty, and jealousy of childhood while making you battle fish-headed orphans and vomit-spewing mermaids. Also, it is a rare horror title that comes equipped with an honest-to-God, I-shouldn’t-be-crying-this-much-over-a-game ending.

Kuon (PS2): A lesser-known title, this game utilizes two separate characters to tell the story of a priest gone mad with power. Set in feudal Japan, you must explore a sprawling mansion for clues to mysterious disappearances. Unlike Rule of Rose, the protagonists have decent arsenals to deploy when confronted with spirits and monsters, but the game is no less frightening for your exorcismal powers. Running isn’t an option, either, as it attracts very unpleasant attention.

Amnesia: The Dark Descent (PC): The only PC game to date that I actually had to psych myself up to play. Playing as intended (in the dark with headphones), this immersive, dungeon-crawling fever dream synthesizes the best of Gothic horror with a Lovecraftian sanity system to create panicky, ball-shrinking experience that is not easily forgotten.

Fatal Frame (PS2): Can’t get through a list like this without giving this one a substantial nod. Combat in this game consists of staring at the most terrifying thing in the room until it’s close enough to pluck out your nosehairs, then taking its picture. It may sound simple, but when you’re facing a woman who slithers out of the ceiling to the sound of her choking on her own hair, your underthings tend to get warmer and wetter. Unnerving auras, creepy visuals, and a twisted story make this one of the best survival horror games on any platform.

Disagreements welcome.

Books

House of Leaves: I’m not easily frightened by books, which is why this is the only entry in this section. In all my years of reading, the only book to give me actual chills was Mark Danielewski’s convoluted, misshapen debut. Much like Naked Lunch, this book captures everything that terrifies me about the thought of losing my sanity. Some of the worst nightmares of my life were fever dreams when I was a child, and this book revives that feeling of sheer uncomprehending terror.

Now that mine are out of the way, I’m curious: which specific interactions with creative media triggered your Paleolithic survival instincts?

Categories: Uncategorized

Authorly Bits

September 28, 2012 Leave a comment

Many things have happened this month. The sheer volume of things defies comprehension, making rude gestures and crude noises at it from the safety of diplomatic immunity. Not all of these things were related to publishing stuff, but enough were that I can justify making a post about them.

First off, I’m working through my lineup of guest posts and interviews for various blogs leading up to my launch date. The first of these is an guest post over at The Qwillery which goes live tomorrow and features a brief discussion on Weird West. They will also play host to an interview on launch day (October 30th aka HOLY SHIT FOUR POINT FIVE WEEKS AWAY)I’ll also be doing interviews with My Bookish Ways and Civilian Reader and more guest blogs at Falcata Times and Book Chick City. A busy lineup for someone who can’t manage to update his own blog with any consistency, but I’m thrilled at the opportunity to be featured on so many fantastic sites.

Next comes the long-awaited arrival of my ARC of The Dead of Winter. The excitement with which I anticipated its coming temporarily rewired my practicality protocols, demanding that I actually do UPS’s job for them and pick it up at the hub instead of waiting for them to fail at delivering it two more times. Opened in the car forthwith, the ARC quickly made its way home with us.

So delicious. Also, the book looks good.

A very large part of me wanted to enshrine it behind glass, never to suffer the passing of time and the hazards of this cruel world. It must stay pristine, trapped in time, kept in this perfect material realization. I imagine new parents feel something similar upon receipt of a child, at least until the thing opts to void its innards all over the couch for the seventh time in a week. Fortunately, I will have no such issues with the lovely item I received. However, much like a child, I could not protect it from the world forever. Before I knew it, the damned thing started following me to work.

Not now, Zeniba. I have shit to…oh, it’s you.

Courtesy of the Robot Overlords, those residents of Great Britain and Ireland interested in the book may enter to win a copy of this very same ARC over at Goodreads.

While I was thus engaged in dealing with one unruly offspring, my second-born chose that same week to remind me that it still has some gestating to do. Time split yet again as I began working on the requested revisions while proofing The Dead of Winter and getting a jump on my guests posts. Fortunately, the overall household stress maintained a more-or-less even keel, as Tori successfully defended her gargantuan research project the Friday before my children began squalling for attention.

Lastly, with the arrival of the ARC, my launch party planning has begun. Hosted by the wonderful Old Firehouse Books, the joyous occasion will take place at 6:00 PM on October 30 (OHMYGODTHATISINTHIRTYTHREEDAYS) and will feature a reading, a signing, and a cake. If you don’t come, I can’t promise that I will save you a piece of cake; I expect any leftovers will be voraciously devoured by my postpartum blues. We might be able to work out getting you a signed copy of the book as a consolation prize, though.

You could feed it to your infant and then claim that your children devoured mine.

So yeah, September has been busy and exciting. It is also the vanguard of the next six months, which will see Tori graduated with her Master’s degree, two of my books published, all of the usual holiday cheer, and possibly the completion of a third manuscript. Oh, and also possibly moving. And I am shit at defending against Zerg rushes.

Categories: Writing

Lessons Learned at ChiCon 7

September 7, 2012 2 comments

I arrived at WorldCon 2012 with few goals: meet my fellow Angry Robots, don’t make a statistically significant ass of myself, and learn how to behave like a professional writer by observation. Now that the re-entry dust has settled and the respiratory infection has been shown to the door, I can reasonably believe I accomplished those goals. More importantly, however, I came away with a number of lessons that I will take with me into all future conventions.

1. Alcohol-to-food budget ratio should be at least 1.5:1

The first night of the convention, I informed my colleagues that I was looking to learn and adopt a professional writer’s behavior patterns. They immediately told me to get skilled at drinking. Though imparted with joviality, a few nights in the hotel bar taught me the immense truth behind such lighthearted comments.

Not pictured: exaggeration

Once the realization set in, I quickly became the bane of the hotel wait staff by water-logging myself every night. I’m not a teetotaler by any means, but I simply had not included 3-4 drinks at the…generous hotel prices into my daily budgeting. While there is a certain appeal to being the only sober person in a conversation, temperance doesn’t lend itself to a loosening of the tongue. I’m naturally withdrawn, and a few drinks would have put me more at ease in the many unfamiliar social situations. Henceforth, I will plan for this in calculating trip expenses, or I will buy a bottle of rotgut at the corner store and bring a flask into the bar.

2. A reinforced immune system is one’s greatest ally

Con crud is a well-documented phenomenon. One day, a pandemic apocalypse film will depict the initial infection spreading from San Diego Comic Con instead of a casino or airplane. However, the general consensus seems to be that con crud is something that hits you after the fact: you start languishing at the end of the con, realizing with growing dread and resignation that your first few days back home are going to be miserable.

Five days of this in exchange for a ten-second chat with Neil Gaiman.

However, things are entirely different when you’re one of the people responsible for distributing con crud. Both Tori and I came down with head colds early into the convention, leading me to believe that we brought them with us. This made for notably lower energy levels, strained breathing, goofy-sounding voices, and fevered hazes clouding everything. None of these are particularly useful when trying to meet new people and have a good time. Said illness even short-circuited my golden opportunity to interrupt George R.R. Martin for a bit of fanboy gushing. My fever had not yet robbed me of enough sense to figure that infecting the man with a respiratory virus wasn’t the best first impression to make. Next time, adequate immuno-defensive preparations will take place well in advance.

3. Stay in hotels with complimentary wifi

While wandering through the lower halls of the convention, I passed by a group of forlorn-looking temporary walls identified by a single hand-written sign: “Message Board.” This inspired a brief speculation on what correspondence between con-goers must have looked like in years past. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of social coordination at the convention this year happened via social networking. Myself not being in possession of a phone with a “data plan” or “apps”, I intended to rely on my Nook tablet and complimentary hotel wifi to facilitate meet-ups with other members of Team AR. These hopes were quickly dashed by the $13/day price tag attached to the hotel’s wireless service.

My attempt to mask my shock may not have succeeded.

Thus stymied by my own fiscal conservativeness, I was at a serious disadvantage when attempting to locate people for meals, panels, signings, readings, and glasses of water. Rustic as I am, the hotels I frequent offer wifi and continental breakfast with the price of admission. Until such time as Tori and I deem it necessary to purchase data plans for our phones, I will be searching out such lowbrow hotels for future convention lodging.

4. Everyone I met was essentially fantastic

Sadly, this is not one lesson I expect to stand the test of time. Repeated exposure, increased sample size, etc.  That said, the Angry Robot/Strange Chemistry corps and their affiliates are wonderful, friendly, hilarious people. I felt singularly quiet and dull by comparison, and I unfortunately can’t blame this on my illness and sobriety.

I kick ass at networking.

Feeling pressured to make an impression is a singularly horrible feeling that I happen to know quite well. The diverse array of clever, intelligent people around me intimidated me into orbiting their conversations more often than not. The writer’s life is not as solitary as I had hitherto believed, and my social skills will need some serious working out if I am to minimize future instances of awkwardly crunching ice in the midst of fast-flying conversations.

With these lessons in hand, I am eagerly anticipating the next convention that comes my way. Despite the illness, the awkwardness, and the expense, I had an absolutely marvelous time at WorldCon 2012. Thanks to everyone who endured my croaking, my sobriety, and my contagiousness to make it such a memorable experience!

Categories: General

Cora: New Vegas – Episode I

August 24, 2012 Leave a comment

Note: this is the first in what will probably become a series. I recently picked up Fallout: New Vegas and found myself thoroughly enjoying the post-nuclear Western vibe. Acting upon the overwhelming impulse, I created a character resembling my vision of Cora Oglesby in such a world. What follows is a chronicle of her adventures through New Vegas. Yes, I am writing my own crossover fan fiction.

I ain’t got no clear memory of what happened. Best I can figure, some feller gave me a right smart smack when I wasn’t looking. Woke up feeling fit to split like a melon that’s been left in the sun too long. Pudding-headed though I was, I thought I heard voices coming from somewhere close, so I looked around a bit. Sure enough, some city feller and a pair of roughnecks was looking me over like I was a second place hog at the county fair. Before I could so much as open my mouth, the feller in the suit made his business clear.

Them city boys can get to the point when they want.

Way I see it, that should’ve been my ticket to the hereafter, but it wasn’t. Somehow, I held on long enough for some other folk to pull me right back out of my grave. Came to for the second time with a different feller looking at me. This one said he was the doctor who’d patched me up. Even gave me some sort of fancy mirror to make sure everything was where it should be. Never been much of a looker, mind you, but the doc patched me up so’s a body couldn’t even tell I’d taken a bullet between my teeth.

Doc asked me a few questions to make sure my brains wasn’t scrambled or nothing. Turns out my thinker wasn’t no worse for the trip to the boneyard, so he gave me back my gun and a funny-looking outfit besides. Ain’t never been much for looking fancy, but can’t say I was fit for a ball in that getup, neither.

Ben would’ve laughed himself sick.

Having done what he could, Doc sent me on my way. Said he didn’t have no idea who that fancy feller was who shot me, but told me to ask around town. Maybe some of the other locals had a notion, he said. Didn’t have no idea where Ben was, neither. Guess I was alone when they found me. Still, he had a point, so I made for the nearest saloon. Happened to be the only saloon in town, meaning it was where all the locals wet their whistles. I had me a powerful thirst of my own that needed tending to. Seems dying does that to a body.

I wasn’t inside more than two ticks when this big old bear of a dog jumped up and started making himself known. My hand was already on my gun before some young sprout grabbed the mutt by the scruff and yelled at it to simmer down. Introduced herself as Sunny Smiles. Right funny name if you ask me. Still, she had herself a fine-looking rifle across her back and seemed to know her way around that dog of hers, so I reckoned she couldn’t have been all bad. Sure enough, I introduced myself and we got along just fine. Turns out little miss Sunny needed some help with local critters, salamanders or some such. I told her I was a fair shot with a rifle, so off we went into the desert for a spot of game hunting.

Bagged me my fair share of them things, too.

We shot up enough lizards to make the rest tuck tail and get. Sunny Smiles got this big old smile on her face then, saying that the town’s water supply was safe again. We both helped ourselves to a few sips before heading back into town. Sunny didn’t say much on the way, which left me to wondering where that damn fool husband of mine had got himself to. Nowhere good was my guess. Couldn’t rightly make up my mind on what I ought to do first, find his sorry behind or get on the trail of them as tried to kill me.

Before I could puzzle it out, we was back at the saloon. A drop or two of rotgut would set my thinking straight, I reckoned. Could almost taste that fire in the back of my throat. Problem was, when I made my way over to the bar, the lady bartender had herself a whole other mess of trouble that had nothing to do with a thirsty customer.

Lucky for her, I had me some experience with her sort of trouble.

 

To be continued…

 

Categories: Games, Short Fiction, Writing

A Strange Craving

August 3, 2012 Leave a comment

Lately, I’ve found myself at the behest of some rather odd desires.

Google image search for “odd desire”: this and a chess set made of dicks.

Disappointingly, these desires have very little to do with any sort of experimentation. No additional fruit will be purchased at the store this weekend. These desires would seem much more ordinary were I a 14-year-old girl, I think. Since I am not, I am forced to conceal them from colleagues and passersby alike (the desires, not the 14-year-old girls). Were I to voice them, I would surely become the victim of sidelong glances, queries into my well-being, and swirlies. Thus, the only avenue of expression left to me is the one place nobody ever sees anything: the Internet.

I really want to play Harvest Moon.

“lol fag”

Okay, so maybe not Harvest Moon specifically, but I’ve really wanted to play some sort of production-themed game. I’ve had my eye on the new(ish) Rune Factory title for awhile, but I’ve become almost exclusively a PC gamer these days. As such, I was thinking about picking up Sim City 4. User reviews insist that the game has a steep learning curve, though, and financial frustration isn’t exactly the escapism venue I’m hoping for. Even if I were able to triumph over the economic hardships of the Simverse, I’m not sure SC4 would scratch this particular itch. I’ve even toyed with the idea of becoming a manufacturer in EVE, but my lack of supporting skills, a private station, nine years of training, and twelve hours of free time per day put me at a disadvantage in that particular market.

What is perhaps even more perplexing is where this desire originated: fuck if I know. I’m usually content with my RPG/MMO/TBS/Steam sale cocktail, so I have no idea why I suddenly have a craving for a particular type of game. Hell, even having a game craving is rather rare for me. The urge to play a specific game will occasionally hit (almost exclusively when I don’t own said game), but I usually pick the evening’s entertainment on the fly. Why, then, do I have a powerful urge to grow crap on a pretend farm? Perhaps my electronic conscience is demanding nonviolent entertainment for once. Perhaps I am looking for even more non-stressful ways to relax. Perhaps I am feeling the need to create something again and am desperately hoping to stave it off with pointless games before it becomes another book.

This counts as literature, right?

Oh well, time to go play more Civ. If anyone has any recommendations for Harvest Moon-esque games for PC, I’m open to suggestions.

Categories: Games

Guest Post – Lie to Me: Guild Wars 2 & the Evolution of MMOs by Rob Haines

MMO beta weekends are odd little snapshots of gaming; throw a bunch of early-adopters into a expansive game world for 48 hours and watch most of them never make it out of the starter zones before you shut up shop and delete everyone’s progress. That said, the hours I sunk into the Guild Wars 2 beta this past weekend were anything but wasted.

I could wax lyrical for hours about the things I loved about GW2 – my Asura’s personal story of stolen inventions and warring tech enclaves; the communal events that rewarded people for playing together without being dicks about it; that not once did I have to deliver 20 rat scrota to some guy with a punctuation mark halo – but I couldn’t help but consider how GW2, alongside other interesting examples of the latest wave of MMOs, are helping to progress the genre away from its stereotype of ‘grind monsters for loot’. No matter how good the world and the lore and the end-game content of an MMO are, if the primary aim of the game is simply to kill the same gaggle of foes over and over again for hours at a time it becomes like working a shift on a production line. Endless repetition, broken up by occasionally sweeping up discarded debris from the floor.

The trick seems to be to make a game which actively rewards doing interesting things, then filling the world with fun stuff to do. In GW2, you gain more XP from exploring nooks and crannies than you do from smashing an army of random mobs. You get big XP bonuses for killing more than ten different types of enemy a day, or for clambering to the top of buildings and mountain peaks for Assassins Creed-style camera-swirl viewpoints (even if the actual jumping controls are decided unsuited to the precision being asked of them). You progress even faster by joining randomly-occurring local quests which flash up in the corner of your screen, quickly degenerating as an influx of players struggles to cooperate, stringing together combo attacks or working to revive downed players. And it mostly works.

After a weekend of play, Guild Wars 2 reminds me of Disney World. You wander through brightly-coloured worlds full of automata spouting pre-recorded lines, and there’s always something new to look at, some new toy to play with or ride to experience. And just when things are beginning to feel predictable, a spontaneous parade erupts and everyone’s cheering and having fun.

Until you come back again for the second day; you’ve already been on the rides you gave a damn about, and when an identical parade erupts just as spontaneously for the new arrivals as it did back when you saw everything with neon-tinted glasses, the illusion begins to waver. The world is never as dynamic as you think it is, but while you can believe in it you’ll have a lot of fun.

But I can’t imagine going back to Disney World for a third day; all I’d have to look forward to is the slow degeneration of fine illusion into mundane reality. Perhaps GW2 can sidestep that through progression – by day three I’d be levelled up enough to move out of the starting zones and into the wide world – but whether the full game can keep up that sense of momentum throughout is beyond the bounds of a weekend of play. And if not, at least I won’t be spending fifteen bucks a month for the pleasure of grinding my way to level 80.

Rob Haines is a writer, podcaster and ex-turtle biologist. You can find him at Generation Minus One [http://www.generationminusone.com], or follow him on Twitter (@rob_haines).

Categories: Guest Post