The Pre-Thanksgiving Reckoning

It’s the day before Thanksgiving, which means that I need to start thinking about organizing my year-end lists.

I’m gonna be honest with you; right now everything’s a bit of a mess.

My games list is basically trash; I bought a lot of games but barely finished any of them, and there were long stretches this year when I was utterly disinterested in anything I was playing.  I’m kinda-sorta back in the swing of things now, but it’s doubtful that I’ll finish – or even get close to finishing – the stuff that will appear on everyone else’s lists.

Music-wise, well… I feel like I’ve talked about this before, but as I have no short-term memory and since this is my own personal blog and I can talk about whatever I want, please indulge me if I’m repeating myself:  I simply don’t listen to music the way I used to.  My commutes are too short to properly digest albums, and now that my day job has turned off access to Spotify, I don’t really get to listen to music during my down time.  Most of what I’ve listened to this year is my Discovery playlist, which continues to have a very high batting average; my Favorites From the Discovery playlist is currently 120+ songs deep, and that’s pretty much all I listen to.  Some of my favorite artists released very good albums this year, but I couldn’t tell you what they were.  (Indeed, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard have released four (4) albums already this year, and they’ve promised a 5th before year’s end; I feel tremendous shame that I still haven’t finished my album, which is almost 3 years old at this point.)

As for books – I can probably do a pretty good Books list this year.  I have found that the most effective and most enjoyable form of escaping the news is to get lost in really good books, and as such I’ve enjoyed nearly everything I’ve read this year, and I’ve managed to read quite a lot – far more than I expected to, at any rate.  I don’t know if I’m going to continue to do the Goodreads challenge next year, although I should note that setting the bar artificially low removes a great deal of self-imposed pressure.


On that note, I just want to give a brief shout-out to John Hodgman’s “Vacationland”, which I devoured yesterday and which I can confidently say is one of the best books I’ve read all year.  Rather than the very funny fake-trivia books that he’s famous for, these are memoir-ish essays about middle age and parenthood and home ownership and nostalgia and they are all very funny and they ring very true.  Hodgman is not just a funny writer – he’s a very good writer, which makes his comedy that much more effective; he crafts his prose with pitch-perfect pacing.

In other book news, I finally finished Michel Faber’s “The Crimson Petal and the White”, which was absolutely brilliant except for the ending.  Not that the ending is bad, from a narrative standpoint – it’s ambiguous and unresolved, and that’s OK – but rather it’s very sudden, as if Faber simply ran out of gas and decided he couldn’t write another word.

had intended to start the new Brandon Sanderson, but instead I read this LA times review/overview of John Crowley and decided I needed to read everything he’d written.  I’ve been missing David Mitchell’s fiction something fierce, and it sounds like this might be a suitable stop-gap.  So I’m at the beginning of Little, Big, and we’ll take it from there.


My son and I beat Super Mario Odyssey last night.  Which is to say – we defeated Bowser, skipped past the credits, and now we are back in the Mushroom Kingdom, ready to do whatever happens next.  I’m not sure who was more excited.  Every time we found a moon, he’d jump up and give me a high five.  We evolved our play sessions over time; at first he’d control Mario and I’d be the hat, and eventually we decided that every time we landed in a new area, he’d get the controller and run around and see what there was to see, and when it was time to actually do stuff he’d give me the controller, and then when a moon showed up he’d grab the controller back and collect it, and then we’d high five.

Lots of high fives in our basement over the last week or so.  It made me very, very happy to be able to share that experience with him.  I know I’ve said it a zillion times here, that I inadvertently skipped over the classic Nintendo era in my childhood, and so I’m glad that Henry gets to make up for it, and that I get to participate.  Indeed, he wants me to participate.  For the last week, you can tell that he starts getting excited as he gets closer and closer to finishing his dinner, because he knows that as soon as he brings his empty dish to the sink we get to go downstairs and play.

I never had that.  I didn’t expect it, of course – video games were a new thing when I was a little kid, and I never expected my parents to be engaged with it.  (Nor did I particularly want them to, for that matter.)  But I’ve loved gaming since I was 5 years old, and now that I’ve gotten Henry interested, it’s something we’re going to be able to share together – just the two of us, a father/son thing – for a long time to come.


At some point I’m going to write my thing about idle clickers.  Because I have a thing for idle clickers, and I appreciate that it’s somewhat ridiculous to have a thing for idle clickers.  In any event, I just wanted to link to this thing about the upcoming Clicker Heroes 2, and how the developers decided to do away with the free-to-pay / pay-to-win thing specifically because it bothered them, ethically and morally, and I think that’s pretty amazing:

Games are inherently addictive. That alone is not a bad thing, until it gets abused. In Clicker Heroes 1, we never tried to abuse players with our real-money shop, and for the most part we designed it without the shop in mind so that you never have to purchase rubies to progress. Despite this, we found that some number of players spent many thousands of dollars on rubies. I can only hope that these people could afford it, and that they were doing it to support us, and not to feed an addiction. But I strongly suspect that this is not the case.

We made a lot of money from these players who spent thousands. They are known to the industry as “Whales”. Great. If you’re rich, please be my guest. But we don’t want this kind of money if it came from anyone who regrets their decision, if it made their lives significantly worse as a result. Unfortunately, those who have a problem are usually in denial about it, and would be too ashamed to ask us for a refund. We would give the refund in a heartbeat. It’s not like we have artists drawing each ruby by hand. It costs us nothing but payment processing fees.

We really don’t like making money off players who are in denial of their addiction. And that’s what a large part of free-to-play gaming is all about. Everyone in the industry seems to rationalize it by shifting the blame, assuming way too much cognizance on the part of their victims. People can make their own decisions, right? But it just doesn’t sit well with me. Despite very few of our players having complained, it felt wrong when we started doing it and it still feels wrong now.

I am one of those “whales”, and I’ve had to reckon with that quite a lot over the years, going back at least to the halcyon days of Farmville.  Even as recently as a few weeks ago, I’ve forced myself to delete a ton of apps off of my phone in order to resist the temptation to buy boosters.  (Needless to say, I didn’t even bother taking Battlefront 2 out of the rental envelope, loot boxes or no.)   So I’m grateful that a game developer is, at the very least, cognizant of this phenomenon, and that they’re directly changing their development philosophy because of it.  I should also mention that I still have Clicker Heroes running in another tab at this very moment, because – as noted above – I am insane.


Have a wonderful holiday weekend, everybody; eat, drink, be merry, sleep late, and don’t discuss politics.

 

Weekend Recap: Dismantling the Patriarchy and Playing With Expensive Toys

Well, it took a little while, but I’ve finally caught the cold that’s been running around my house for the last week, and I’m very fortunate that I’m out of sick time and vacation time at my day job and also that my day job is now suddenly extremely busy with very time-sensitive stuff and the acceptable margin for error is even more nil than usual.  The timing couldn’t be better.


So I’ve been reading Michel Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White, which is an absolutely gorgeously-written book about some rather unfortunate subject matter, given the recent news developments about how all men are trash.  I don’t mean to be flippant about that, by the way – men are fucking trash, and if there’s one good thing about the disastrous Trump presidency it’s that the patriarchy might finally come crumbling down, and good fucking riddance to it.

I don’t think my own actions have been as horrific as, say, Louis C.K., but that doesn’t necessarily get me off the hook; I was a shithead in my 20s, and I didn’t know that I was a shithead at the time, and it sucks.  Facebook has that little “memories” thing and it was almost exactly 3 years ago today that I went back and re-read my college diary and was simply aghast at how shitty a person I was, and the whole thing still makes me nauseous.  All I can do, now, is raise my son to be a better man than I used to be.  I’d like to think that I’m at least a halfway decent man now, and that’s really only because of a concerted and conscious effort and my eternally patient wife straight-up telling me when I’m unconsciously mansplaining or being a jerk.


As noted above, I’ve been kept away from writing here for a while.  I’ve been wanting to pop in here and write about, oh, I don’t know, my new Xbox One X and how my son and I have been playing Super Mario Odyssey together, which is really all I’ve ever wanted to do with him.  Let’s start with that, then, because it’s wonderful.

Henry loves Super Mario Odyssey.  We’ve been playing it in 2-player mode, where he’s Mario and I’m the hat, although he’ll hand me his controller when he needs help getting to a tricky place or when there’s a boss fight.  And more often than not he’s just happy to watch and show me where to go, and when we collect a moon he goes “YES!” and gives me a high-five, and it’s like, man, this is the best.  I’ve said it here a million times – I never had a Nintendo system in my house; I had an Atari 2600 when I was a little kid, and then my younger brother had a Sega Genesis, and so I’ve never had the Nintendo nostalgia that everyone else in the world has.  But seeing my kid go nuts over Mario is awesome.  I’m so happy to be able to share this experience with him.   (In fact, when I was getting him dressed this morning, he told me he had Mario dreams, and he couldn’t wait to play some more with me tonight.  Plans = made.)

As for the Xbox One X:  well, look.

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I don’t (yet) have a 4K TV, but I can tell you that the difference between the OG XB1 and this new XOX is night and day.  It’s much quieter, everything loads much faster (even the stuff that hasn’t received “enhanced patches” perform better – The Witcher 3 loads at least a full minute quicker than before, and it seems to perform much smoother too), and the stuff that has received updates is even more pronounced.  Wolfenstein 2 on XOX, in particular, makes the OG XB1 look last-gen.

I’ve been spending the most time with Assassin’s Creed Origins (heretofore AssOrgy), and yeah, that game looks really nice.  I’m still in the early going – I’m only level 15 or so, and I’ve just gotten to the Hippodrome – but it has a wonderful sense of pace to it.  Feels a lot like Witcher 3, actually, in all the right ways, and this game’s open-world structure seems to suit the nomadic player character quite well, in that it makes sense for him to be wandering around and picking up missions here and there, helping out where he can.  I’ve seen some chatter on Twitter that while people like AssOrgy, it’s not necessarily a great Assassin’s Creed game; I suppose that’s a fair assessment, given that the “assassination missions” feel a lot less scripted than they used to, but overall I really like the direction this game is moving in.  In fact, the only bits that I’m finding myself missing are the environmental puzzles, though supposedly that element starts to show up a bit later, once you reach Giza and the Pyramids.

I understand that there’s a fair bit of confusion as to who the Xbox One X is actually for.  I can tell you this:  it’s for me, the Xbox fanboy who has been disappointed by the performance of the Xbox One and wants a comparable experience to the PS4.  And who also has a little bit of extra cash (or doesn’t care about excess credit card debt).  Is it necessary?  No, probably not, but I don’t regret my purchase in the slightest.  It makes my existing library look and perform drastically better than it did, and so I’m all for it.  If you’re looking to take the plunge and upgrade, I would highly recommend buying an external hard drive and backing up your current Xbox One and moving all your games over to it first, as it makes setting up the X1X a twenty-minute breeze.  (For whatever it’s worth, this is the one I have, and I bought it because Major Nelson uses it too, and it was on sale at the time.)

the necessity of distraction

You ever take an allergy pill and then drink too much caffeine?  It’s all the physical symptoms of an anxiety attack but you’re also very zoned out and breathing very deeply.

Hi, welcome to my Wednesday afternoon.  My job is slow at the moment, and I have all this nervous energy that I need to expel.  So I’m gonna talk about all the crap I’ve bought of late that I haven’t had the time or inclination to enjoy.


Before I get started with some aimless rambling and babbling, I just want to thank everyone for their support this past week.  We did end up putting Lily to sleep on Saturday, and it was awful and gut-wrenching and sad, but hearing from everyone really did make a difference.  I am in the midst of another one of my love-hate spats with the internet and social media, but in this particular instance it was really nice to feel like all our friends around the world were giving us a much-needed hug.

I suppose I should also say that I’m fine, as far as the horrific event that took place in lower Manhattan yesterday afternoon.  Indeed, my office is so close to it that I could see the men in white hazmat suits milling around as I ran a quick errand this morning.  I was never in any danger (though I had been walking right there only a few hours prior), and I never had a chance to get anxious because by the time that the actual, real news was starting to come in, it was already over.  I suppose it might seem weird that I’m not really all that messed up about it, but, I mean, what am I gonna do?  I’m already a nervous wreck about the world in general.  I’m just glad it wasn’t worse.


I’ve been in a non-stop escapist fiction mood of late, reading lots of horror and thriller and mystery stuff, and I needed to switch things up just a bit.  So I’m now three chapters into The Crimson Petal and the White, and it is gorgeous in ways I haven’t yet even begun to parse.  I enjoyed Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things, and everyone on Goodreads who saw that I’d enjoyed it told me to immediately drop everything I was doing and start reading Crimson Petal; it’s been a few years, but here I am.


I am desperate to talk about Stranger Things 2, except that I haven’t finished it yet.  Assuming that the wife is amenable, we will watch the final 2 episodes tonight.  Yes, I am aware that a lot of people have very intense problems with Episode 7; I also just read a thing that the Duffer Brothers are aware of this but felt it necessary to fully tell the story they wanted to tell.  Given that I am fully on board with this season – even more than the first one, and I adored the first one – I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

I will say this, in the meantime – one of the things that I love about ST is how people actually cooperate with each other and believe each other and don’t act stupid for the purpose of plot contrivance.  It worked remarkably well in the first season and it’s working even better here.  Also – genius casting of Sean Astin and Paul Reiser.  (I noted on Twitter the other day that people who recognize Sean Astin from LotR and not The Goonies make me feel incredibly old, and then a friend reminded me that 16 years passed between the Goonies and LotR 1, and that 16 years have also passed since LotR1 and ST2, and holy shit I am old.)


In my dog-related grief, I accidentally did a thing and bought a Nintendo Switch, plus Zelda and Mario (and then Golf Story and also Stardew Valley).  So that’s happening.  I’ve been able to play maybe 15 minutes of Zelda, Mario and Golf, and they are all things I want to continue playing, so that’s nice.

I also have Assassin’s Creed Origins and Wolfenstein II burning a hole on my Xbox One’s external hard drive, and I’ve played just enough of both of them to know that I’d rather play them on my Xbox One X, which is supposedly arriving next week although I haven’t yet received any shipping information, which is unnerving.


 

in the idle hours

Well, I haven’t lost WordPress access just yet, so… here we go.

I started this post last week, but couldn’t finish it because of work stuff.  I was gonna work on it yesterday, but yesterday was awful and I felt silly for bothering with this sort of post.  Today, however, I am doing my best to engage in self-care and so I’m gonna take a cue from kottke.org and do a little rundown of all the various media I’ve taken in lately.

Ann Leckie, Imperial Radch Trilogy.  This has been on my to-read list forever, and now I’m finally getting around to reading it, and it is just as good as I’d hoped it would be.  And let me tell you, when the world is falling to shit and you can barely keep it together, there’s nothing quite like knowing you’ve got a good book to wrap yourself in.  It’s a security blanket for the soul.

Stephen King, The Bill Hodges Trilogy (Mr. Mercedes, Finders Keepers, End of Watch).  I’m gonna give this a solid B.  It’s not top-shelf King, but it’s crime fiction rather than supernatural horror (at least the first two books are, anyway), and he does a pretty good job of keeping the pages turning.  That said, the main three protagonists are utterly forgettable, and while the villains are compelling and memorable, they’re also rather stupid, which deflates a lot of the tension; you’re never worried about the ending.  And as noted above, the first two books are grounded in the real world while the third book goes off into a telekenetic/mind-control thing, which creates a weird paradox; on the one hand, it’s probably the best book in the series because it’s the one that is closest to King’s strengths; on the other, it totally upends the very grounded reality of the first two books.

The Matrix.  I don’t know what it is, but I feel like everywhere I look, people are talking about The Matrix again.  And pretty much everything the wife and I have watched together recently has reminded us in some way of the first Matrix movie, and so we decided to just re-watch it.  And you know what?  It still holds up, for the most part.  Yeah, some of the dialogue is hokey, and the love story simply doesn’t play, and the visuals are a bit dated (if only because they’ve been copied to death).  But every single shot in the film is iconic, and the film itself is so radically ambitious, and it’s still as entertaining as it ever was.  I’m philosophically opposed to reboots, but if the Wachowskis wanted to re-make this film with current technology, I’d be OK with it.

The Matrix Reloaded.  You know, if you edit out the stupid cheesy bullshit, this is a pretty kick-ass film.  It’s not nearly as unwatchable as I remember it being.  Though I’ll always fast-forward through the end-of-the-world disco sex party, because that is just straight-up ridiculous.  And yeah, the scene with the Architect is a bit too wordy for its own good, even if the ideas discussed are interesting.

Math Rock.  I am a huge music nerd, and every once in a while I fall off the deep end into a heavy-duty obsession with old-school prog rock.  (When my son was born, this changed slightly and I became OBSESSED with live Frank Zappa from 1972-73.)  Now, it seems, Spotify has decided that I’m due for some modern math rock, and, once again, Spotify is correct.  In particular, I’ve been listening to a shit-ton of a band called Feed Me Jack, who I think I just read are no longer together, which is a bummer; in any event, they made a rather sizable amount of music in a very short amount of time, and it’s all really good.  And here is another playlist of some of the better stuff I’ve found via the Discovery playlist:

 

By the way, my Spotify Time Capsule is HILARIOUS.  I got a little inebriated the other night and considered live-blogging my reactions to this mix, if only because I haven’t heard some of these songs in 20+ years and the me of 2017 is so completely different than the me that listened to these songs over and over and over again when they were new.  I could give you 500 words on my reaction to hearing “Right Here Right Now” alone.

As for games… eh.  I’ve got a huge backlog and there’s a bunch of stuff coming out soon and yet every time I sit down to play, I’m totally unable to relax and stay involved.  Maybe I need a break.

I’m considering signing up for NaNoWriMo this year, because I need to get my brain’s writing gears moving again, and if I’m ever going to finish the lyrics for this album I should probably just get in the habit of stringing a whole bunch of words together anyway.  A couple years ago I had a great idea for a book, and I even took some writing classes to flesh some of it out… I still really like my first chapter, even if the rest of the story fell apart on me.  And then I was going to write a memoir-ish thing about my college/band years, and I could probably fictionalize that enough to keep myself from having another nervous breakdown like I did the last time I tried it.  So even if I’m not writing here as much – and I’m gonna be trying to reduce the amount of time I spend on FB and Twitter and such – I will do my darnedest to keep the words happening somewhere.

I hope you’re well.  We’re gonna get through this, somehow.

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.

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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.

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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.

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