Happy Birthday, Stephen King

Today is Stephen King’s 70th birthday.

I’ve been reading Stephen King books since junior high school.  I can’t 100% recall which my first one was – it either Cujo or Firestarter – but once I started, I couldn’t stop.  I read everything in paperback up until I caught up to him in hardcover (which was probably The Tommyknockers), and then I read pretty much everything until I was in college (I think I stopped after Insomnia – which I remember not liking all that much, though I also had my DNA re-written around this time by DFW’s Infinite Jest, and so I probably wouldn’t have bothered with SK all that much anyway).

But even then, I’d dabble here and there – there were quite a few that I skipped, but I was a devoted Dark Tower fan and so I devoured those in quick succession, and while I’ve tapered off somewhat in recent years, I started dipping back into his newer work during the relatively solid 1-2-3 punch of Duma KeyUnder the Dome and 11/22/63.  I originally started writing this post last week when I was finishing my 9th or 10th re-reading of It, and I’m currently in the middle of Finders Keepers, the second book of the Bill Hodges trilogy.  (Regarding these Bill Hodges books – even if they’re not among his best work, they’re still engaging and fast-paced, and frankly I’m just impressed that SK decided to completely switch from horror to detective novels.  The guy has nothing left to prove at this point, and yet he clearly wanted to try something new, and for the most part he succeeds.  I can’t help but wonder if watching J.K. Rowling switch things up from Harry Potter to her Robert Gilbraith crime novels inspired SK to follow suit, just for the hell of it.)

So, yes, I’m a fan.  But a question I’ve been asking myself lately is:  why?  I don’t like particularly like scary movies or video games, so why on earth was I drawn to him in the first place?  Why did my mother let me buy those books?  Let’s leave aside the child murdering and grotesque imagery – if she knew what kind of language was in those books, she’d have a heart attack.  Even now I’m a little put off by how much Quentin Tarantino uses the n-word in his movies, and Stephen King uses that word more in one book than QT’s used in his entire body of work.   (I gently teased my mom about this the other day, and she was as surprised as anybody; she’s never read him.  I suppose she was just glad that I was a diligent pre-teen reader.  My wife points out that my parents were in the process of getting divorced at around the same time that I started really getting into SK, and so my mom can be excused for not doing her due diligence.)

I don’t know how to answer the question, to be honest.  Except that I do love a good story, and if nothing else, King knows how to tell stories almost as well as anyone ever has.  Yes, he has certain tics that, regardless of genre, he can’t seem to shake (50’s-era rock and roll lyrics, deliberately misspelled and racist signage, a tendency to punctuate his characters’ thoughts with Robin Williams-esque riffs).  And while I’m the sort of nerd who enjoys seeing how all of his books tie in to each other (a very specific nerdy impulse that David Mitchell is also working with, to my tremendous delight), he also literally throws himself into the end of the Dark Tower series, and even early in the first Bill Hodges book he throws in a reference to “that Pennywise clown from the TV movie”, which, I mean, come on.

This post was originally going to be a sort of meditation on my re-reading of It, which despite its ridiculous ending is still probably my favorite SK novel.  I wrote out some bullet points that I meant to expand upon, but I can’t right now (for various reasons), so let me just get them out of the way:

  • The last time I read it, according to my LiveJournal, was in 2002.
  • It is, without question, the most “metal” title of a horror book you could possibly have, and SK is the only author who could successfully pull it off.
  • I’ve read It many times, but this was the first time where I was consciously aware that I was older than the adults.
  • There are very few 1000+ page books I can read this quickly.
  • There is a vividness to SK’s writing that is unparalleled; one of the reasons why I tend to shy away from filmed versions of his work is that they’re largely unnecessary.  if I were to film these books, I’d be the set designer, the costumer, the casting director, the DP.  (There’s a shootout early in The Gunslinger and I know exactly how it’s supposed to be filmed.)
  • As I noted above, SK has a tendency to write like Robin Williams talks.  And if It had been filmed concurrently with the book, I can’t help but think Robin Williams would’ve been Richie “Man Of A Thousand Voices” Tozier.
  • Speaking of Richie: holy shit, Richie Tozier is Exhibit A of unconscious white racism.  Henry Bowers, the bad guy, uses the n-word quite a lot, but Richie’s voices are a litany of racist caricature, and even if that was the point, it’s still hair-raising; there’s his jaw-dropping Pickaninny voice, and his offensive Chinese Waiter voice, and yet somehow the kids mostly rag on him for his Irish Cop voice, if only because his Irish accent is terrible.  Now, when I read this book way back in the early 90s as a young teenager, I didn’t know this, and I’m not sure anybody else did either.  I know everyone is bothered by that super-creepy and weird sex thing that happens at the end, but let’s be honest here:  just about every word out of Richie’s mouth is fucking horrifying.
  • That said, I’m not sure anyone’s ever captured the aimlessness of empty summer afternoons better than he does in this book.
  • Also:  regarding the scariest parts of It – not Pennywise, frankly.  I remember being freaked out at the fortune cookie scene during the reunion, but now it’s almost silly.  Henry Bowers, on the other hand, is still terrifying.  As is Beverly’s father, and then her husband, certainly.  I still think that the final interlude about Patrick Hocksetter is among the creepiest chapters SK’s ever written.

Here’s a question:  at the time of It‘s publication, who was his audience?  I mean, the dude’s sold a bazillion copies over his career, and pretty much everything he wrote hit #1, so I’m sure he had a sizable percentage of most demographics; but if I had to ask SK one question right at this very moment, I’d be most curious to know who he thought he was writing to.  Does he have an image of the stereotypical SK fan?

I would guess that he doesn’t actually have anyone in mind when he sits down to write; first and foremost he’s writing the story, and whatever happens to it after he’s done writing is the reader’s problem.  And yet for someone who was self-aware enough to know how popular he was to bother writing under a pseudonym just to see what would happen, I am compelled to presume that his introductions addressed to his Gentle Reader or Constant Reader might’ve had a face.

I don’t know how to end this little piece; it’s a weird day here at the office and I’m a bit more scatterbrained than usual.  But I did want to offer up two fun links that I came across today:

  1. Kaitlyn Tiffany’s excellent, excellent diary of reading It for the first time this summer in preparation for the movie
  2. LitHub’s list of 12 literary writers discussing SK’s influence

 

What’s your favorite SK novel?

 

the devil in the details

Inspired by my previous post, I’ve decided to re-read It, for the however-many-nth time.  It’s comfort food, albeit a very strange sort of comfort food.  But these are weird times, after all.  To paraphrase a joke on Twitter from last week – I may not believe in the end times, but these last few weeks certainly feel like a dress rehearsal for the real thing.

It’s been several years since my last venture into Derry, and in the intervening years my reading habits have changed rather dramatically – being a Kindle convert will do that to you – and so even though I’ve read this book a zillion times, I was startled to discover a few details I’d not noticed previously.

I literally just finished re-reading the very first chapter – the sad saga of Georgie and the newspaper boat – and somehow never noticed that, in his desperate search for the paraffin in the dark basement (and the VERY RELATABLE terror of being a small child in a dark basement), he stumbles across a box of Turtle wax and is transfixed by the image of the turtle on the box.  He feels that he’s seen that turtle before, but in a different context, and he almost loses his train of thought in trying to remember.  Now, if you’ve read the book, the turtle is rather significant, but it doesn’t show up for another thousand pages.  I’ve read this book a gazillion times and yet, somehow, I never connected the dots until just now.

For those of you who’ve seen the movie – is George’s brief venture into the basement filmed?  I mean, the main thrust of that chapter is what happens at the end, not at the beginning, but I’m genuinely curious to see if they bothered to film that.  It’s a very small detail, but it’s the sort of detail that makes the book experience so rich and vibrant.


I’m not yet ready to talk about Destiny 2.  I’m only level 8, with a light level somewhere in the mid-70s or 80s.  I’ve been playing solo, and as such I’m allowing myself to grind here and there so that I can be a bit over-leveled for each actual mission.  And yet I’ve only completed 3 or 4.  I’ve seen a very tiny fraction of what the game apparently has to offer.  I think I’m enjoying it – certainly a lot more than the first one – and I look forward to getting some co-op in, as I think that’s where the game will truly shine.

I do have to share my friend Greg’s annoyance that you can’t truly pause, which is the sort of thing you have to worry about when you’re a parent.  I’d say the vast majority of players I’ve run into are all level 20, and so clearly they have way more time on their hands than I do.  That’s fine and good; I was never going to hop into the Crucible anyway.


I feel like I should say something about PewDiePie’s latest racial outburst, though there’s nothing I would say that hasn’t been said a lot better by people with much bigger audiences.   He’s apologized, though that’s not even really the point.  The reason why I don’t hop into Destiny’s Crucible or GTA V’s multiplayer or really any multiplayer is because, for the most part, playing with strangers online is an excruciatingly awful experience.  You hear that sort of language all the goddamned time.

It’s just that PDP, who has an audience of over 50 million people, helps normalize this sort of language and validates it for other people.  They might not consider themselves racist, but if you choose to use the n-word (or really any type of slur), you’re saying that you’re OK with racist language.  And it’s shitty, and awful, and negligent.  My 4-year-old is eventually going to get into videogames, and I’m sure he’ll be watching YouTubers, and while I will endeavor to guide him towards the right way of doing things and teach him not just about bad words but also about the power these words have, I’m not going to be able to hover over his shoulder forever.  And at some point he’s gonna hear some jackass use these words, and he’s either going to be offended, or he’s going to think it’s cool.  I only hope he makes the right choice.

free association

Sometimes I write here for you, whomever you might be.  I want to relate my experience playing a game or listening to music or reading a book, and maybe you’re experienced those things too, and so we can compare and contrast our separate experiences and sort of virtually pretend we did them together.

Sometimes I write here because I’m bored and have nothing else to do and so typing away at my desk makes me look busy.  This happens more often than not.

And sometimes – like now – I write here for me.  I have too many thoughts in my head and I need to get them out, and this is one of the only places I have, and whether or not you read this is immaterial.  Which is not to say that you reading this is irrelevant – I’m correcting typos and trying to make sure this is readable – but, well, look.  I’ve got stuff I’ve gotta figure out.


I’m stressed, man.  Depressed.  Mood swings all over the goddamned place.  My mom is back in the hospital less than 24 hours after getting released from the hospital, where she’d been for 3 weeks recovering from a broken pelvis – this would also be her 4th hospital stay this year, after a broken femur and a frightening bout of sepsis.  My dad and his family are in a somewhat hurricane-proof area of Jacksonville, Florida, preparing to receive whatever Irma has to dish out by the time it gets there.  I appear to have developed plantar fasciitis, which is a delightful perk of getting older and which makes walking around rather painful.  I’m stressed about money, which is a whole other thing that I’m not gonna get into right now.

Basically, what’s happening to the US right now – 2 major hurricanes, the west coast being on fire, and a steaming gold-plated turd in the White House hell-bent on making the worst possible decisions for no other reason than hating Obama – is a rather good approximation of what’s happening in my brain.


There’s some really good music out, at least.  Today sees the release of The National’s long-awaited new album, and Deerhoof have also released yet another brilliant collection.  The new LCD Soundsystem is hit-or-miss for me but it does contain the best lyrical couplet of the year (“You’ve got numbers on your phone of the dead that you can’t delete / and you got life-affirming moments in your past that you can’t repeat”).  I haven’t even had time to process the new Iron & Wine or King Gizzard or The War on Drugs or Grizzly Bear or Everything Everything or Rainer Maria, because I’ve been too busy listening to my Discovery playlist.


I’m not sure if I’m going to see the new It movie.  I’ve only seen bits and pieces of the Tim Curry TV series, as well.  Here’s the deal – It is, for me, the definitive Stephen King novel.  It’s the book I’ve probably read and re-read the most.  Other people prefer The Stand, or The Dark Tower, or whatever; It has always been the book for me.  It’s the reason why I’m attracted to big books.  One of the reasons why the book is so successful in instilling dread is specifically because of its heft; it literally weighs you down as you read it.  (Well, maybe not the Kindle version, but you get my meaning.)

I don’t need a movie version.  I don’t want a movie version.  The scene between Henry Bowers (the bully) and Patrick Hockstetter (the psychopath and arguably the single most creepy character in SK’s entire output) will always be more horrifying in my mind than it would be on screen – and considering what happens in that scene, I can’t possibly imagine it ever being filmed.

I suppose I’m glad to hear that the new movie is getting good reviews, but that doesn’t necessarily make me want to see it.  I’d rather just re-read it again.


Speaking of books, it’s been a while since I ran down what I’ve read.  I read Leigh Bardugo’s two Six of Crows books, which were great fun; I just finished the final installment in N.J. Jemisin’s Stone Sky series, which was astonishing.  I’ve started reading Bryant & May and the Burning Man, and I’m enjoying it even if I’m not 100% sure where it’s going.

I did complete my (admittedly low) Goodreads reading challenge, so I’m feeling a bit more relaxed in terms of what to take on next.  I think I need a break from trilogies and such; I could use just a one-off every now and then.


I wasn’t going to play Destiny 2, and yet, well, I bought it.  Of course I did.  I’m barely into it – indeed, I got stuck in a too-hard section and gave up last night – but it’s Destiny, all right.  Still arguably the best-feeling shooter I’ve played in a while, though I’m not necessarily the best authority on that front.

Do you ever have games stuck in the back of your mind?  I do.  For the longest time I had Max Payne 3 lodged in there, for reasons I can’t possibly begin to fathom; right now it’s a cross between Bioshock Infinite and 2016’s DOOM.  I don’t know what makes me think of them; they’re just there, like bits of a song that get looped in my brain.


OK, that’s enough yakkin’.  I gotta close up shop.  Have a good weekend.  Thanks for reading.  I think I feel better?  I think I feel better.

Good Things

Instead of being all sad and mopey and navel-gazing – AND BELIEVE ME YOU DON’T WANT ME TO GET INTO ANY OF THAT RIGHT NOW – I want to shine a light on some good things I’ve recently come across.  Ironically, a lot of the good things I want to share are kinda sad.  But, be that as it may, here goes:

1.  If you haven’t already seen it, Patti Smith’s tribute to Sam Shepard in the New Yorker is one of the best things you’ll read all year.  I’m going to be honest here and admit that I don’t know Patti’s music as well as I feel like I should.  But between this essay and her humbling, heartfelt performance of Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” at the Nobel ceremony last December, I am now compelled to start reading her memoir, M Train, post-haste.

2.  Speaking of books, I just finished reading Killers of the Flower Moon, and while I wasn’t necessarily bowled over by the somewhat dry quality of the prose, the story of the Osage Murders and how they directly formed the foundation of the FBI as we currently know it is staggering.  I can’t believe I never knew about this.  This is a necessary, heartbreaking story and it’s unfathomable that nobody knows about it.  Indeed, if karma is in fact a real thing, then it’s entirely possible that the Trump Presidency is our karmic retribution for our utter annihilation of the Native American way of life.

I…. I think I’m getting woke.

francine-pascals-had-elizabeth-been-privileged-the-wokening-paperback-paradise-17911572

 

3.  Today’s song of the day du jour is “itsallwaves” by Enemies.

 

And while I’m at it, here’s a little playlist of some songs that I’ve been enjoying of late – most of them are from Spotify’s Discovery playlists, and others just kinda showed up.  At some point I’m going to write a huge thing about Louis Cole, who’s been blowing my mind ever since “Bank Account” went somewhat viral earlier this year – I’ve been digging into his catalog and I’m continually amazed at how incredibly versatile and restlessly creative he is.  And yes, that is a Coldplay song in there; believe me, nobody is more surprised that I’m recommending a Coldplay song than me.

 

distracted and dismayed

Yes, it’s been a while.  No, I’m not dead.

It is very hard to write about videogames while Donald Trump is still President.  Indeed, it is very hard to enjoy videogames while Donald Trump is President.  I sit in my basement every night, intending to release pent-up energy by committing digital murder, and instead I pause whatever game I’m attempting to play and continue refreshing Twitter, because HOLY SHIT HOW CAN THIS POSSIBLY GET ANY WORSE [refreshes Twitter] HOLY SHIT IT GOT WORSE.  This has been going on for the last two weeks.

Nor do I have anything exciting to talk about, as I’d hinted at in the opening of my last entry.  The very short and necessarily non-specific version of that little vaguebook thing is that an amazing opportunity fell in my lap, and I went for it, but it didn’t work out.  It was the correct decision by all parties involved, even if I’m still a bit disappointed.  And I also ended up catching a horrific cold because of it.  That’s that, basically.

I’m kinda playing Prey at the moment, and also Injustice 2 for some reason (I was home sick yesterday and saw it was getting amazing reviews).  Prey is something that needs a bit more focus on my part to properly discuss, and I don’t have it in me today to get there.  I am enjoying it, though I also feel like I’m terrible at it, even on the easiest difficulty setting.  It’s hard to play it and not be reminded of any of the Bioshock games, though I think I’m enjoying this a little bit more than those games if only because the world and the story and the gameplay actually sorta have something to do with each other.   Prey is a hard game to binge on, though; I inevitably get frustrated or stuck and feel compelled to turn it off before I start souring on it.

As far as books go, the last book I mentioned here was “A Gentleman In Moscow”, which was wonderful.  After that I read “Waking Gods“, the sequel to last year’s excellent “Sleeping Giants“; it’s not quite as good as the original, but I’m certainly curious as to where it’s going.  Then I read Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad”, which is as amazing as everyone said it would be.  I am currently (and very slowly) reading Jeff VanderMeer’s “Borne”, which is also quite good and I have absolutely no idea where it’s going, even as I’m about a third of the way into it.

All right, I think I have to call it now.  I have medicine-head and work is piling up and I need to refresh Twitter again.

The Friday Funk

When even Twitter being adorable can’t snap you out of a melancholy mood, you know you’re in trouble.

dog.jpg

1. Here’s something positive – I’ve read a TON of really good books recently.  The last time I wrote about books, I was in the middle of reading George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo, which was great and I only wish I hadn’t rushed through the ending as quickly as I did.  After that was John Darnielle’s Universal Harvester (very good, even if the initial premise ends up fading away towards the end), Sarah Pinborough’s Behind Her Eyes (which started off a bit blah, but ended up being great, and has one of the most jaw-dropping endings I can recall), Ursula le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven (my first le Guin, and what a place to start!), Liz Moore’s The Unseen World (which was beautiful – although it, too, starts off in a direction that it very slowly veers away from), and then last night I finished Dan Chaon’s Ill Will, which was astonishing the whole way through.  I realized that I’d bought his earlier novel Await Your Reply a while ago but never read it, and so I’m reading it right now.  Instant fan.

2. All this reading has not yet turned itself into lyrics, but I’m getting there.  Slowly but surely.

3.  Game-wise, I’m still very much enjoying Horizon Zero Dawn although it’s a bit more difficult than I expected, and I’m currently trapped in a dungeon that I may not be able to get out of.  At the very least, it’s keeping me thoroughly distracted from wanting Zelda.  My rental copy of Nier: Automata arrived last night and I played the first hour, and it’s… pleasantly strange, though I don’t know if it’s where my head is at.  I may just need to power through HZD until Mass Effect Andromeda lands.

4. Speaking of which, I already pre-ordered ME:A on Xbox One, and since I’m an EA Access member I think I get to play it a few days early, and if that’s the case, I’ll probably have to put HZD on the back-burner, which means I might not ever get back to it.  HZD is the sort of game where you need the controls to feel fresh in your hands, and if I’m gonna spend 60 hours with ME:A, then HZD is going to be very difficult to get back to.

Keep your chin up, kids.  Trump can’t be president forever.

the Friday brain-purge

It’s been a weird month.  That week-long cold knocked my entire family on its ass, and even now I’m still finding it difficult to get back into my usual rhythms.  The day job has been busier, and my continuing lack of easy access to personal email and social media means I’m feeling a bit more isolated than usual.  (It doesn’t help matters that my iPhone 6 is starting to crap out; I’m tempted to upgrade to the 7, but I also know that the 8 is coming later this year, and – wait, who am I kidding?  I’m broke as hell.)

Oh, and that shitbag is still President.

Oh, and even though February is RPM month, I haven’t done a single bit of music work.

I had a bit of an eye-opening epiphany earlier this week.  We met with our tax accountant dude yesterday, and in preparation for our meeting I tallied up all of my video game purchases, as well as my Kindle purchases – as I did make a tiny amount of money from writing, and I could deduct all that stuff as “research materials.”  Point being, I spent a FUCKLOAD of money on games and books last year, and while I sort-of intuitively knew that at the time, it wasn’t until I saw the actual dollar amount that the realization fully hit home.

This out-of-control spending is not sustainable, is what I’m trying to say.  Even with a rental account, I can’t be spending nearly $2000 on games this year.  Considering that it’s only mid-February and I’ve already dropped $600 on PSVR stuff alone, and that I’ve got my eye on Microsoft’s forthcoming Project Scorpio, I’m already in trouble.  For whatever it’s worth, there’s only two new games that I can think of off the top of my head that I’m considering must-owns – Red Dead 2 and the new Mass Effect – and so everything else can, for all intents and purposes, wait.

Before you ask: no, I’m not planning on getting a Nintendo Switch.

I did just read an excellent book – Ben Winters’ Underground Airlines, and I immediately purchased his Last Policeman trilogy upon finishing it.  And I’m currently reading George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo, which is… I don’t know even know where to begin describing it, except to say that if this is what he can do in novel form, then I’ll read literally anything he writes from here on out.

Game-wise, I’ve been kinda slack lately.  I’m kinda dicking around in Yakuza 0, which is (fortunately) built to be dicked around with; the thing is, I’m really quite impressed with it.  The cut-scene writing is far better than I expected it to be, and the in-between silliness kinda works, in its own strange way.  And beating the shit out of random gangs on the street is weirdly fulfilling and satisfying.  It’s a very odd game, and yet it’s compelling.  I don’t know if I’ll have the patience or the time to finish it, but I’ve enjoyed the time I’ve spent with it so far.

I also rented Resident Evil 7, and while I’ve only played the first hour or so, I can already tell that (a) it’s very scary and (b) I probably won’t finish it.  I may give it one last look this weekend before sending it back.

Hopefully it won’t be two weeks until my next post.  But who knows.  I’m kinda operating under the assumption that as long as 45 is in charge, we could all die at any moment, and so I’m just going to enjoy myself while I can.

 

gluttony

1. Good news:  I may have figured out how to finish my album!  Let me rephrase that:  I may have figured out how to get myself properly motivated and energized so that I can finish this album.  Until I actually do get re-started, though, there’s nothing really here to discuss, and I get that.  But it’s gonna happen.  I’ve signed up for the RPM Challenge, again, but this time I actually have: (a) a plan, (b) some actual material to work with, and (c) 10 cover songs to work on in case something goes wrong.  Considering that the last RPM Challenge I signed up for is the one that started this album in the first place, there’s a pleasing symmetry in the idea that I could finish this where it all began.

2. I don’t necessarily like to spend my time shitting on things I don’t like – at least, not as much as I used to – but I do feel obligated to mention that I just finished reading one of the worst books I’ve ever read, and I’ve read a few Dan Brown books.  I bring up Dan Brown because the book in question, Kubrick’s Game, is basically a Dan Brown book, but for Stanley Kubrick film nerds.  I am a Kubrick nerd, and I’m also a sucker for secret society nonsense.  In any event, I read this i09 review, saw that it was available for $1.99, and downloaded it immediately.  And I feel compelled to warn you, now, to save your money and avoid this piece of shit at all costs.  What a colossally stupid waste of time.   Everything about it is dumb and contrived and poorly written and just… ugh, I don’t want to talk about it any more.  Avoid it.

3. Speaking of bummers, I just want to point out that in this 2nd week of 2017 – in these fragile days before possible nuclear apocalypse because someone said a mean thing about Donald Trump – I am now 0-for-2 in terms of finding keepers from Spotify’s weekly Discovery playlist.  Considering that last year’s Discovery playlists caused me to fall madly in love with 140 songs from bands that I’d never even heard of before, this does not bode well.

4.  Can we talk about this new season of Sherlock?  And how, while it’s still problematic in certain ways, it’s far more watchable than anything that happened in Season 3?  And that last night’s episode was, for lack of a better word, fucking insane, with an epilogue that legitimately caught me completely off guard?

5.  As mentioned previously, I went on a bit of a gaming-purchase bender in mid-December.  I bought a whole bunch of new stuff, I bought even more stuff that I’ve already played (and beaten) on other consoles, and then I somehow managed to score a PSVR unit and then felt obligated to buy a whole bunch of shit for that.  This is all to say that I now have a bit of a backlog – which is fine, considering that there only probably only 2 games that I can think of off the top of my head that are definitely coming out in 2017 that I legitimately give a shit about (e.g.Mass Effect Andromeda and Red Dead Redemption 2).

I bring this up because I spent last week replaying Diablo 3 for a 3rd time.  I played as a female Monk, for the third time.  And I had a fucking blast with it, and I find it maybe a little odd that I found it as enjoyable as I did.  I don’t know what the current critical consensus is w/r/t Diablo 3 – I know that for me, when I first played it on PC, it took a loooooong time before it started to click with me, whereas I clicked with the PS4 version nearly immediately.  I will admit that I bought it for the Xbox One purely because it was on sale and because of the ‘cheevos, but I also found myself drawn to it far more than a bunch of new games that I’ve not yet finished (i.e., Watch Dogs 2Dishonored 2Final Fantasy XV).

This could be because I’m pretty goddamned great as a Monk in Diablo 3.  It’s interesting (to me, at any rate); normally whenever I play a game – regardless of genre – if I walk into a room full of baddies, I tend to pause and consider what to do.  Not so in D3 – if I’m wandering around and see dozens of bad guys in the corner, I will buff my shit up and saunter over there and just straight-up wreck shit quickly, and it’s incredibly satisfying and it doesn’t even matter if anything good drops.  There is something so very pleasing about landing a gigantic kill combo that just won’t stop because my monk is quick enough to draw other mobs towards me before the combo meter collapses.  I have a strategy, and that strategy works, and even after a 3rd playthrough it’s still fun as hell.

Not all games work this way, as it happens.  I also bought some other older games that were on sale that I thought I might replay and get some ‘cheevos out of, and some of those games are much more difficult to re-enjoy.  Case in point:  Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, which I very much enjoyed on PS4.  Coming back to it now on Xbox One, it feels… antiquated?  And it’s not even really that old, honestly.  Maybe it’s just that I’ve switched between ACS and Watch Dogs 2 of late, and they both have just enough shared DNA that make it a bit more difficult to jump back and forth.  It’s not as easy for me to go back and revisit as Diablo 3, I guess.

I’m not ashamed of this, by the way; I have bought movies in multiple formats, and I’ve re-bought books in Kindle form when I already own the physical copy and I’m just too lazy to haul it around with me everywhere I go.  (Believe me, Infinite Jest is much more manageable on a Kindle.)  I’ve bought plenty of games on multiple consoles (I think I own Portal 2 for literally everything it ever appeared on), and it’s fun to experience things in slightly different contexts (or, at the very least, with more comfortable controllers).  It might not be the most cost-efficient way of doing things, but I’ve never claimed to be smart when it comes to money.

Anyway: I’m presenting my December backlog, because it’s insane, and because if I ever complain about not having anything to play I’m hoping that one of you will bookmark this blogpost and shove it in my face.

  • Xbox One sale (to play)
    • Dishonored 2
    • Watch Dogs 2
    • Gears of War 4
    • FFXV
    • ReCore
    • Sky Force Reloaded
    • Westerado
    • Stardew Valley
    • Oxenfree
    • Mafia 3
    • Battlefield 1
    • Steep
  • Xbox One sale (to replay for ‘cheevos)
    • Diablo 3  
    • Doom
    • Batman: Arkham Revisited
    • Saints Row 4 / Gat out of Hell
    • Metro Doublepack
    • Rayman Legends
    • Darksiders 2 HD
    • GTA V
    • Deus Ex MD
    • Far Cry 4
    • AC: Syndicate
    • Witcher 3
    • Skyrim HD (why????  why did I do this?)
  • PSVR and PS4 stuff:
    • Thumper
    • Rez Infinite
    • Batman VR
    • Rise of the Tomb Raider
    • The Last Guardian  (I am kinda-sorta waiting for a patch for this one before I get back to it; I am fascinated by it but the controls and camera are distressingly and distractingly bad, and I’d prefer to play it if they actually make it more playable)

The Year That Was: 2016

Ugh.

I just don’t have it in me, you guys.  It was all I could do to recover from George Michael, and then it was Carrie Fisher.  And these celebrity deaths, while temporarily distracting, still can’t thwart the nightmare that is the impending Trump presidency.

And yet:  all things considered, 2016 wasn’t that terrible for me, personally speaking.  Yes, I am a bit more in debt than I’d like to be, and I’ve put on a few pounds (the “Suburban 15”, as I’m calling them).  But life in the ‘burbs is quite nice, and my kid loves it there, and my wife and I are as happy together as we’ve ever been.  My office moved downtown which makes my commute a thousand times easier (even if it makes the rest of Manhattan a bit less accessible); and my day job itself is a thousand times less stressful (for a variety of reasons that I can’t get into in this space).  If I have any regrets, it’s that I didn’t finish my album.  At some point I will have to figure out how to get into a creative routine.  But that’s for another post (or blog, possibly).


As per usual, I can’t crown a Best Film, because I hardly saw anything beyond the big blockbusters that lingered in theaters long after their opening weekends.  I can say that Dr. Strange, while not my favorite Marvel movie, is certainly the most spectacular 3D experience I’ve ever had this side of Avatar, if only because 3D filmmakers have finally figured out that interior depth is more intriguing than random shit flying into your face.  Rogue One is terrific enough to seriously upend my wife’s desired viewing order for our son, when he’s old enough to start watching Star Wars.  Hell or High Water was great – and did quite a lot to show a side of America that us liberal elites in our cultural bubbles don’t often get to see.  I have not yet seen Arrival (though I did read the short story it’s based on); nor have I seen Moonlight or La La Land or any of the other likely Best Picture nominees.


I listened to a ton of terrific music this year, and for that I have Spotify’s Discovery Playlist to thank.  I have a lot of issues with internet-based algorithms, especially as the ones on social media tend to ignore the concept of linear time, but Spotify knows what I like and gives me a lot of it.  I don’t know if I could properly order a Top 10 list of albums, but I know they’d include A Tribe Called Quest‘s “We Got It From Here…”, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard‘s “Nonagon Infinity”, Steve Gunn‘s “Eyes on the Lines”.  I have custom playlists for my Favorite Songs of 2016, my Favorite Songs from The Discovery Playlist, and I also have Spotify’s curated Top 100 Songs which is a pleasing mix of both of the above, plus a few songs we listened to in the car that my son likes.


As for books:  I did read quite a lot this year, though as said elsewhere in this blog I feel that the number of books doesn’t reflect their inherent quality; I read a lot of short genre fiction because I was feeling pressured to hit my Goodreads number, and so while I enjoyed a lot of what I read, I don’t know that I read good stuff.  I’m not going to be doing a Favorite Sentences of 2016 post, in other words, because page-turners don’t often include beautiful turns of phrase.  That said, I’m looking at my spreadsheet, and I gave high marks to a rather fair amount of stuff.  The best of the best would include:

  • John Wray, The Lost Time Accidents
  • Anthony Marra, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
  • Daniel O’Malley, Stilleto
  • Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending
  • Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between The World And Me
  • Paul Tremblay, Disappearance at Devil’s Rock
  • Ted ChiangStories of Your Life
  • Nathan Hill, The Nix
  • Tana French, The Trespasser
  • J.M.R. Higgs, K.L.F.: Chaos Magic Music Money
  • N.K. Jemisin, The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate

Special credit to Drew Magary’s The Hike, which was an enjoyable enough read but whose last 2 pages provided one of the most stunning endings to a book I’ve ever read in my life.


And as for games:  boy oh boy, I have no idea how to write about this year.  I felt relatively unengaged with what I played throughout most of it – even as I finished a lot more games than usual – and then, probably brought on by a big of self-directed depression around my birthday in early December, I went on (and am still somewhat in the middle of) a gigantic spending spree primarily in an effort to boost my Xbox Achievement score past 100K.  The difference in my gaming attitude before this spree and after cannot be overstated.  I stopped keeping track of it in my spreadsheet, because it simply became too much to handle.

I don’t even know how to break this down, but here goes.  I’m going to separate the games I finished from those I did not, and I’ll leave some room at the end for all the shit I accumulated in December that I simply haven’t had time to finish/start/digest.

GAMES LEFT UNFINISHED, in roughly chronological order:

  • The Witness (ps4) – I’m just not smart enough to get very far into it.
  • Klaus (ps4) – I bought this because of a Kotaku recommendation, I think, and never got past the 2nd or 3rd level.
  • Broforce (ps4) – picked this up as a PS+ freebie and couldn’t make it past the first level.
  • Far Cry Primal (ps4/xb1) – I’d rented this earlier in the year and found it intriguing but also wishing it was freed from having to be a “Far Cry” game; then it was on sale for Xbox for a stupidly-low price and I decided to give it another shot.  It’s pretty good!  Still working my way through it.  I should also add that I also bought Far Cry 4 at the same time, also on Xbox, and I like that game a lot better the 2nd time around than I originally did.
  • Hitman (xb1) – I have played the first episode and liked what I played, but haven’t gone back to it at all since then.  I should also note that I finished the first episode with a walkthrough, because that is the only way I can play Hitman games.
  • Unravel (xb1) – a very charming but also fiendishly difficult platformer that became frustrating.  My kid loves watching it, though.
  • Ori Blind Forest DE (xb1) – I have every intention of finishing this at some point; I think I put it down right only because a bunch of stuff that will appear in the next category suddenly showed up.
  • Dirt Rally (ps4) – I love the Dirt games; it might very well be my 2nd favorite racing franchise behind Forza Horizon.  But this one did absolutely nothing for me, and I’m not even sure I finished the very first race.
  • Dangerous Golf (xb1) – possibly the most disappointing game I played this year, if only because it’s made by ex-Burnout people and there was a lot of fun potential.  The game simply feels like an unfinished and unpolished tech demo, with endless loading screens and finicky controls and cameras.
  • The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine – possibly my greatest regret of the year, that I haven’t finished this.  I actually went out and bought the complete Witcher 3 on Xbox One (even though I already own it on PS4) just so that I could replay the entire game again and then approach this specific bit of DLC with a fully-levelled and customized Geralt.
  • Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst –  I rented this on PS4 and found it dull and inspired; I downloaded it for free on XB1 and am willing to give it a few minutes here and there.
  • The Magic Circle – I’d heard interesting things about this when it came out for PC; the xbox port is kinda shitty and I lost interest.
  • Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens – this might very well be the last Lego game I attempt to play, sadly, at least until my kid is old enough to play without assistance.  I’m getting very tired of how broken these games are, always in the same ways.
  • I am Sestuna (ps4) – I would’ve played this more, I bet, if there’d been a Vita port.
  • Deus Ex: Mankind Divided – I made it almost to the end before realizing that I had to make a decision that I couldn’t have cared less about.  I think I want to give it another shot, though.
  • The Turing Test – I made it pretty far into this one before hitting the proverbial wall, sadly.  A pretty good puzzler, though, even if the narrative flails a bit.
  • Gears of War 4
  • Forza Horizon 3
  • Mafia 3
  • Battlefield 1
  • XCOM 2
  • Dragon Quest Builders
  • Dishonored 2
  • Watch Dogs 2
  • Final Fantasy XV
  • Steep
  • The Last Guardian
  • Stardew Valley
  • Dead Rising 4

That last bunch is all stuff that seemed to piled up all at the same time, most of which I’m still poking around with.  (I did send Dead Rising 4 back, though, because I don’t give enough of a shit.)  I’m not far enough into any of them to feel comfortable giving them a review, though I have every intention of giving all of them a fair shot.

I should note here that I still do not own a Playstation VR, and I’ve been checking every major retailer’s site at least once every few hours.  I need it.

I should also note that I did rent but did not enjoy Overwatch, and I will also note that my lack of enjoyment is simply a matter of personal taste – I suck at team-based multiplayer shooters, and I have no desire to learn how to play them better, and it is what it is.  I gather that it’s at the top of the lists for most other critics, and that’s fine.

GAMES THAT I DID ACTUALLY FINISH, also in roughly chronological order, including my informal scores from the spreadsheet:

  • Lego Marvel Avengers: C+
  • Firewatch: B+, and it’s only grown on me since I finished it
  • Superhot: B, and I would LOVE to play this again in VR
  • The Division: B, and I liked it a lot better than I expected to.  Never got into the PvP stuff, but that’s par for the course around here.
  • Quantum Break: C, the perfect justification for having a Gamefly account.  Spectacular to look at, and some of the time manipulation stuff is actually quite fun, but the overall experience was dreadfully shallow, the TV show half of the thing was super-dumb, and the final boss battle is one of the most frustrating I’ve played in years.
  • Ratchet and Clank: C-
  • Uncharted 4: A.  I understand there’s something of a critical backlash about this game at the moment, but I think that’s kinda shitty; I had a blast with this game, and if this is indeed Naughty Dog’s last run with it, they left on a very high note.
  • Doom: A.  I’ll confess that I finished this on easy mode, but that did not diminish my enjoyment of it one bit; I want to go back and play it on every difficulty, all the time.  This one’s stuck with me much more than I expected it to.
  • Trials of the Blood Dragon: C+.  I like the Trials games quite a lot, but the on-foot stuff was super dumb and broken and the whole thing felt rather uninspired.
  • INSIDE: A-/B+.  I gave this high marks after I finished it, but as time goes on I find the ending more and more… dumb.  That said, it’s still an engrossing experience, and one of the more engaging games I played all year.
  • Headlander: B.  Loved this game, and I should get back to it and try to 100% it (I’m currently at 88%).
  • ABZU: ?  I don’t know how to grade this.  I was not as smitten with it as I’d thought I’d be, nor did I find it as gorgeous as other people did.
  • Valley: B-.  There was an onslaught of intriguing indie games this summer, as you can see, and this one had some positive word-of-mouth.  It was… OK.
  • Picross 3D Round 2: A+, and one of the best puzzle games I’ve ever played.  Has to be in my top 3 for the year; I couldn’t put my 3DS down for the entire time I was playing it.
  • Virginia: ?  I suspect I’ll need to replay this again and see if anything changes.
  • Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare: B.  The grade is just for the campaign, of course, because that’s all I care about, and I’ll be goddamned if this isn’t one of the most fun Call of Duty games I’ve played since, well, Modern Warfare.  Had a blast with this, although it’s overshadowed by…
  • Titanfall 2: B+, and this would be the shooter of the year if not for Doom.  Hell, I might have to replay them both and see if this one gets the nod.

NOTABLE iOS GAMES:

  • Swapperoo
  • Train Conductor World
  • Solitarica
  • Reigns
  • Mini Metro
  • Human Resources Manager
  • Loop Mania
  • Sky Force Reloaded
  • Microsoft Solitaire (yes, really)

the payoff

[EDIT:  I realize that, as I’d guessed in the first paragraph, I’d forgotten to talk about a bunch of things; those work-related interruptions did indeed screw up my train of thought.  Additional thoughts will be added below.]

I’m having one of those days where I’m not particularly busy, but I can guarantee that as soon as I start getting on a roll here, I’ll be given some work to do.  I’ve been wanting to write here all week, frankly, and the whole week has been in this same sort of vein; I’m terribly idle right up until the moment I decide to be personally productive, and then I’ll get handed a large project within the next 1-5 minutes of that decision.  If I’m stalling here in this introductory paragraph, it’s because I’m reluctant to suddenly lose my actual blog-worthy trains of thought.

As it happens from time to time, I’m starting to have trouble articulating this blog’s primary purpose.  I like having a blog, and I don’t plan on deleting this one; it’s just that I simply don’t have the time/inclination to do any serious criticism here.  I’ve noticed lately that to the extent I write anything even remotely critical at all, it’s mostly just “I like this, I don’t like that.”  Superficial, not particularly hard-hitting, shallow.  Again, it’s difficult for me to find time to write the way I’d like to, and I’m currently in this phase where I’m having trouble really getting into things the way I used to, which has a tendency to result in apathy.  I’m not sure if this is a side effect of my new head meds or not; one positive side effect of these head meds is that my ability to simply let things be what they are is a lot stronger.

  • Westworld:  I’ve started to notice (on Twitter, at least) that there are regular watchers of this show who are becoming angry and impatient at the show’s very slow doling out of information.  There are too many mysteries and not enough answers, they say, even though we’re only halfway through the first season.  There is now a struggle between the pleasure of anticipation and the need for instant gratification, and I can’t help but wonder if Netflix and the culture of binge-watching has ruined the ability for a television show’s cliffhanger to be effective.  Westworld reminds me a lot of Lost, in this way, but Lost suffered from a different problem; Lost’s mysteries overwhelmed the show itself to the point where there were no answers that could ever possibly be adequate.  I remain very optimistic that Westworld will not suffer this fate; each episode has been meticulous in its construction and I remain confident that the showrunners know exactly what they’re doing.  (The show’s only made one real blunder, as far as I’m concerned – the dopey and crude lab techs from this last week’s episode are gross and annoying, and their scenes aren’t nearly as well-written as everyone else’s.)  In any event, I’m just grateful to watch Anthony Hopkins kill it on a weekly basis.
  • Cubs:  I am no longer the die-hard sports fanatic that I used to be; among other things, I found my intense superstitious behaviors to be an impediment to the simple enjoyment of watching a game (i.e., if my team needed to score a run / goal / touchdown, I’d have to leave the room and pee; I could only listen to the Yankees on the radio, even when the radio broadcasting became abhorrent to listen to, etc.).  Also my wife and I cut the cable cord a few years ago and live sports, for the most part, became something I simply couldn’t watch, which made this transition into the non-sports-caring person I am today that much easier.  In any event, I’m still terribly superstitious, as it turns out, and so even though I was rooting for the Cubs, I was terribly afraid of saying or doing anything that might jinx them.  The most I could allow myself to do was to “Like” the various Cubs-related Facebook posts that my family and friends posted, and that was it.  I know it’s ridiculous, and this is why I’ve forcibly stopped myself from caring so much.  [EDIT:  So, anyway, GO CUBS!  Very happy for all my Cub friends and family.  I, of course, didn’t watch.  You’re welcome.]
  • Games:  It’s big-budget first-person-shooter season, and as such I’ve decided to give in and rent the big three.  I’m still in the first mission of Battlefield 1, and while it’s technically very impressive I’m not, like, craving it.  My rental copy of the new Call of Duty is en route, as is Titanfall 2; I ordinarily would be happy to ignore both of these games except that their single-player campaigns have been getting surprisingly great reviews, and that’s the only bit of those games that I tend to get involved with.  So be it.  [EDIT:  I also ended up giving up on XCOM 2I can tell it’s a good game, but I also know I’m far too intimidated by it to give it its proper due.  I may pick it up again during a release lull, but I wouldn’t expect myself to get much farther than I already did.]
  • Books:  Man, it’s been a while since I’ve talked about books here.  The last thing I mentioned was The Nix, which I adored.  Since then, I’ve read:
    KLF: Chaos Magic Music Money J.M.R. Higgs A-
    The Tresspasser Tana French A
    Death’s End Liu Cixin B+
    Pym Mat Johnson B-
    His Bloody Project Graeme MaCrae Burnet B

    I am now currently reading I.Q. by Joe Ide, and even though I’m in the early going I’m enjoying it quite a lot.

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