Recent Things Wot I Like

I remain confused as to what I’m gonna be doing with this blog.  Indeed, I remain confused about what I’m doing on the internet, as a general rule.  I turn 43 at the end of this week and I am feeling old and uncool and yet I’m also feeling that I don’t have to care anymore about trying to appear cool, because it literally doesn’t matter.  This is not the place you go when you want to know if something’s cool.  This is the place you go when you’re curious as to what’s going on in my brain.

So maybe, now that Tumblr is gonna die a very quick death in a few weeks, and Twitter is, well, Twitter, and Facebook is rapidly becoming a place for kid photos and Twitter screenshots, maybe this here site will become what I originally always meant for it to be:  a blog.  Blogs aren’t cool.  But I’m gonna be 43 and I’m not cool, either.  My hair is grey and I’m overweight and as an adult and a parent I am far more involved in the state of the world than I ever thought I’d be, and because the world is fucking insane* I overindulge in various media and medications, both recreational and non-, because otherwise I’d be in a padded room muttering about emoluments.

So let’s get cracking, then.  

I have finished Red Dead Redemption 2 and I don’t know how to talk about it.  It’s gonna get its own post, for sure.  But the short version is akin to something I said on Twitter the other day, that it feels less like a game that I played and more like a show that I binge-watched obsessively for 2-3 weeks – not all of it was fun, but it was engrossing as all hell, and the feeling of the world is unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced from a game.  For those of you that are my parents (i.e., you don’t watch TV), it’s also sorta like being wrapped up inside a huge novel and then emerging afterwards and not knowing what day it is.  

Here are other things I am in the middle of enjoying, because I feel obligated to spread positivity:

I was gonna start working on my Books of 2018 post, and then I started reading this book, and HOLY SHIT everything changed.  If nothing else, I urge everybody who is reading this post to go to their local bookstore, find a copy of this book and read the preface.  I dare you to not buy the book immediately afterwards.  Tommy Orange is a major talent with an incredible voice, speaking in a language that none of us know as well as we should.  

https://www.stereogum.com/2023673/the-1975-a-brief-inquiry-into-online-relationships-review/franchises/premature-evaluation/

I don’t know if I’m gonna do a Music of 2018 post, if only because my music listening habits have become far more idiosyncratic than I can manage and I have no idea how to take stock of everything I listen to anymore.  Hell, I haven’t even written about my headphones, which are without question the best headphones I’ve ever used in my entire life.  And, again, I’m old and the music that’s popular these days makes me feel even older.  Anyway.  The 1975 are a band that I probably shouldn’t like, but I’ll be goddamned if this song isn’t kicking my ass all the way around the block.  For a bunch of 20-something British blokes, they’ve got some serious balls making an album this strange – while also including absolutely gut-wrenching anthemic singles like the above.  

*this is maybe the most appropriate metaphor for what it feels like to be alive right now*

Weekend Recap: Beatles / Murakami / RDR2

Re: the new 2018 stereo remix of The White Album

It’s never been my favorite Beatles album.  Lots of great songs on it – especially from Lennon, which I’ll get to later on – but there’s also a fair amount of stuff I tend to skip over.  Even though my first exposure to the White Album was at summer camp at least 30 years ago, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve listened to “Good Night” all the way through, and that’s because I also can’t physically sit through Revolution 9 without getting anxious.

I feel compelled to back up for a second and give some context here.  Feel free to skip this little mini-bio, though it’ll hopefully explain where I’m coming from.

I am a Beatles nerd, though I would never in a million years consider myself an expert.  (At some point I need to get my hands on one of those coffee-table books that detail every single recording session, because there’s tons of fun trivia in there that I still don’t know about.)  I am a devoted fan of everything from Rubber Soul onward, and my favorite album at any given moment is either Revolver or Abbey Road.  When the stereo (and mono) CDs came out on 9/9/09, I took the following day off from work and binged.  (Also played a fair amount of Beatles Rock Band, I believe.)  I took a deep dive into those new releases with my kick-ass headphones and suddenly heard a ton of stuff I’d never noticed before.  And while my ultimate ranking of albums didn’t end up changing all that much, I did gain new appreciation for pretty much everything.   (Also, for whatever it’s worth, I found that the mono remixes were far better than the stereo remixes, if only because the stereo remixes were still very much hard-panned, making them distracting to listen to over headphones.)

I’m a nerd also in the sense that I tend to approach their albums with this weird sense of reverence, as if the albums were sacred texts meant to be studied, as if they were caverns of knowledge in which I have to entomb myself inside.  I never just pop on a Beatles album; I isolate myself from the rest of the world, put on serious headphones, and dive very, very deep.

Anyway, these new 5.1 surround-sound stereo mixes are something else entirely, and I adore them because they sound like what my memory of Beatles songs sound like – they are suddenly and quite vividly three-dimensional.  In the same way that “Getting Better” on the new “Sgt Pepper” suddenly sounded extraordinary, I have to give props to the new mix of “Birthday”, which is a song that I normally skip over at every opportunity, because it is dumb as hell.  In this new mix, however, it fucking rocks the fuck out.  Do yourself a favor and listen to what happens after the drum break following the first verse:  the gigantic E chord that comes in after that break sounds absolutely enormous.   (Hell, go back and A/B the old stereo mix with this new one, too:  it’s still a completely different animal.)  It’s the sort of jaw-dropping sound where you can just tell that the engineers went “holy shit, that sounds AMAZING” when they played it back.  And the whole album sounds like that.

My favorite Beatle has always been Paul, even though – or perhaps because – he is a cheeseball who writes extraordinarily beautiful melodies.  The Beatle that I feel the closest kinship with is George, because he – like me, when I was in bands in college – was the youngest, and while he was an incredible songwriter in his own right, it’s awfully hard to fight for album space when you’re competing with Lennon/McCartney (and this is also how I felt trying to write songs for those bands back in the day).  This being said, I’d also have to say that the White Album contains the best overall collection of Lennon-penned songs.  I mean, yes, “I Am The Walrus” is probably my favorite John song in the whole catalog, followed very closely by “Come Together”, but it’s hard to beat “Dear Prudence”, “Sexy Sadie”, “Cry Baby Cry”, “Yer Blues”, “I’m So Tired”, “Julia”, “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide…” in terms of sheer consistency.

I have not yet given the bonus material enough passes to offer any definitive statement on them, beyond that they sound fantastic and they’re super-fun for someone like me, who likes to hear how these “sacred texts” originally formed and evolved.  (As an example, they include Paul noodling around and then finding that little “Can You Take Me Back Where I Came From” thing that follows “Cry Baby Cry”.)

I can only hope that they go back and give this deluxe stereo treatment to everything else.  Especially Revolver, because holy shit I can only imagine what “Tomorrow Never Knows” will sound like.

Re: Killing Commendatore, by Haruki Murakami

I used to be a huge Murakami fan, and then “1Q84” came out and disappointed me so much that I started to reconsider if I actually liked the stuff I used to like.  I didn’t know if it was the translation that was off, or if it was the actual text, but it felt like a thousand pages of nonsense, interspersed with surprisingly and shockingly juvenile attempts at erotic writing.  I have continued to buy his stuff but I very rarely feel motivated to give it a proper go.  That said, I have this enormous backlog and I feel obligated to get through it, and I’d heard enough positive things about KC that I figured it was finally time to give it a shot.  And, well, I’m not yet finished with it, but what I’ve read thus far has been excellent.  I’ve come to realize that part of what annoys me about Murakami is how utterly passive his main characters are; everything happens to them, they never go out and make any decisions on their own.  That still happens here, to a certain extent, but at least it’s justified by what’s happened to the main character before the book begins; without spoiling anything, his passivity makes a bit more sense.  I don’t know if it will stick the landing, but then again, in a book this surreal it’s hard to say what the ending should be.  To put it another way, I’m still invested in what’s happening and I’m willing to see it through the end.

Re: Red Dead Redemption 2

I have some complicated feelings about RDR2, the long-awaited sequel to one of my favorite games of all time.  On the one hand, quite a lot of it is incredibly tedious, and when compared to other open-world games that the original inspired (i.e. The Witcher 3, Assassin’s Creed Origins / Odyssey), it feels almost antiquated in terms of quality-of-life stuff.  On the other hand, it is staggeringly beautiful and almost begs you to play it while “in character”; the slow pace and tedium is a deliberate choice by the designers to make you feel like you are inhabiting the actual persona of Arthur Morgan.

And, of course, on the third hand is the knowledge that this game was built under extreme crunch conditions for quite a lot of its staff, and there’s a guilt that accompanies my purchase, because my purchase equals acceptance of harsh working conditions.  It also doesn’t help that all that extra work is absolutely shown on screen.  The attention to detail in this game is simply extraordinary.

I’m still somewhere in Chapter 3, which means I’ve got at least another 40 hours left to go.  I’m sure there’ll be a few quality-of-life patches between now and then, too, which may address some of the weird bugs and glitches (not that there’s been a lot, mind you, but there’s certainly a fair share).  So I’m not quite ready to get into how I’m feeling about it, especially since I’m still figuring that part out.

But I will say that it’s engrossing and beautiful and overwhelming, and in these troubled times we’re living in, it is very much what I need right now.

shame

I know, I know, I know.

Things have been weird over here, to be honest.  There’s been some medical issues, family-wise, that have taken up a lot of my available brain-space.  There’s been some general all-consuming fatigue; even though I tend to fall asleep the second I hit the lights, I haven’t felt particularly well-rested in months.  The day job hasn’t been that busy, but it’s almost always busy when I decide to start writing here.  (I’ve already been interrupted twice in this paragraph alone.)

And then, of course, there’s the crippling fear that everything I say is profoundly stupid.  Or that my “deep thoughts” that take place during late inebriated evenings are so obvious that nobody else bothers to say them out loud.

Still, I’m paying for this blog, so I might as well get my money’s worth.


I  have a Kindle problem.  My list of unread books on that thing is fucking absurd.  Let me put it this way – if I don’t buy anything until I finish what’s unread, and I maintain my current reading pace, it would probably take me at least three years before I got caught up.  (No joke – I decided to make a spreadsheet of all the unread books on my Kindle and it came to over 140.)  It is stupidly easy to have this problem when it comes to Kindle books.  If I owned physical copies of my books I’d need a new house, and the shame would be all-consuming.  But Kindle books are cheaper, and often go on sale, and the *zing* of endorphins from buying something and then having it appear in your hands literally seconds later has never diminished.

I have more than a few librarian friends who probably want to kick me right now, and they’re absolutely right to!  I am filled with shame, is what I’m saying.  But I’m also determined to actually get through that insane backlog.

Fuck it, here’s that backlog.  I’m currently reading Wrecked, volume 3 in the IQ series.  If you see anything here that you think I should read sooner rather than later, please let me know.

Killing Commendatore Haruki Murakami
Wrecked Joe Ide
French Exit Patrick deWitt
In the Distance Hernan Diaz
The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle Stuart Turton
Foundryside Robert Jackson Bennett
Magpie Murders Anthony Horowitz
The Merry Spinster Daniel Mallory Ortberg
Six Four Hideo Yokoyama
The Shape of the Ruins Juan Gabriel Vasquez
Transcription Kate Atkinson
Six Scary Stories compilation
Our Kind of Cruelty Araminta Hall
The Beekeeper’s Apprentice Laurie R. King
The End of the Day Claire North
The Reason I Jump
Naoki Higashida and David Mitchell
The Left Hand of Darkness Ursula K. Le Guin
Notes from the Fog Ben Marcus
theMystery.doc Matthew McIntosh
Florida Lauren Groff
The Last Samurai Helen DeWitt
The Sudden Appearance of Hope Claire North
The Incorruptibles John Hornor Jacobs
Calypso David Sedaris
Less Andrew Sean Greer
Last Call Tim Powers
The Infatuations Javier Marias
Fade Away Harlan Coben
History of Wolves Emily Fridlund
The Book of Disquiet Fernando Pessoa
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki Haruki Murakami
Origin Dan Brown
Reservoir 13 Jon McGregor
The Historian Elizabeth Kostova
The Space Between BDete Meserve
Zeroes Chuck Wendig
Star of the North D.B. John
Olive Kitteridge Elizabeth Strout
Slow Horses Mick Herron
The Only Harmless Great Thing Brooke Bolander
I’ll Be Gone In The Dark Michelle McNamara
Portnoy’s Complaint Philip Roth
A Brief History of Seven Killings Marlon James
American Pastoral Philip Roth
Arcadia Lauren Groff
Kitchen Confidential Anthony Bourdain
Only Human Sylvain Neuvel
Tell The Machine Goodnight Katie Williams
Uprooted Naomi Novik
Invasive Chuck Wendig
Blackfish City Sam Miller
Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs Lisa Randall
Church of Marvels Leslie Parry
Leviathan Wakes James S. A. Corey
The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daugher Theodora Goss
Twilight of the Gods Steven Hyden
The Woman Who Smashed Codes Jason Fagone
Fates and Furies Lauren Groff
The Tragedy of Arthur Arthur Phillips
The Buried Giant Kazuo Ishiguro
Thief of Time Terry Pratchett
2666 Roberto Bolano
Neverwhere Neil Gaiman
How to Stop Time Matt Haig
The Seventh Function of Language Laurent Binet
Awayland Ramona Ausubel
This Is What Happened Mick Herron
The Wide, Carnivorous Sky John Langan
New York 2140 Kim Stanley Robinson
The Lost City of the Monkey God Dougles Preston
Seed to Harvest Octavia Butler
Golden Son (red rising 2) Pierce Brown
Shadow & Claw Gene Wolfe
Grist Mill Road Christopher Yates
The Afterlives Thomas Pierce
I’m Thinking of Ending Things Iain Reid
Peace Gene Wolfe
The Martian Chronicles Ray Bradbury
A Wizard of Earthsea Ursula K. Le Guin
Sword & Citadel Gene Wolfe
All the Birds in the Sky Charlie Jane Anders
Dead Mountain Donnie Eicher
The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley Hannah tinti
The Anubis Gates Tim Powers
A Once Crowded Sky Tom King
Norwegian By Night Derek Miller
A Legacy of Spies John le Carre
The Force Don Winslow
The Power Naomi Alderman
The Inheritance Trilogy N.K. Jemisin
The Big Sleep Raymond Chandler
The Essex Serpent Sarah Perry
The Tsar of Love and Techno Anthony Marra
The Solitudes John Crowley
A Perfect Spy John le Carre
The Long Goodbye Raymond Chandler
The Karla Trilogy John le Carre
Dhalgren Samuel Delany
Love and Sleep John Crowley
Daemonomania John Crowley
Endless Things John Crowley
Mindhunter John Douglas
The Dark Net Benjamin Percy
Medusa’s Web Tim Powers
Hex-Rated Jason Ridler
The Punch Escrow Tal Klein
A Man of Shadows Jeff Noon
The Paladin Caper Patrick Weekes
Mongoliad 1-5 compilation
Mongoliad 1-5 compilation
Mongoliad 1-5 compilation
Mongoliad 1-5 compilation
Mongoliad 1-5 compilation
So Much Blue Percival Everett
The Answers Catherine Lacey
Homegoing Yaa Gyasi
The Prophecy Con Patrick Weekes
Wolf Hall Hilary Mantel
Foundation Isaac Asimov
Sandman Slim Richard Kadrey
Liminal States Zach Parsons
I Sing the Body Electric Ray Bradbury
A Moment on the Edge Elizabeth George
Moonglow Michael Chabon
The Princess Diarist Carrie Fisher
A Great Reckoning Louise Penny
A Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall Will Chancellor
The Singing Bone Beth Hahn
The King in Yellow Robert Chambers
(R)evolution PJ Manney
Ulysses James Joyce
J Howard Jacobson
Life after Life Kate Atkinson
Book of Numbers Joshua Cohen
Amnesia Moon Jonathan Lethem
The Harder They Come TC Boyle
The Humans Matt Haig
You Austin Grossman
Ubik PKD
The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch PKD
The Malice of Fortune Michael Ennis
The House of Rumour Jake Arnott
The Flamethrowers Rachel Kushner

I will talk about AC:Odyssey eventually, but not yet.  I’m enjoying it – quite a lot, actually – but there’s so much of it and I’m kinda racing through the story so that I can get to Red Dead Redemption 2 as soon as possible.  One thing I’ll say about Odyssey, though – and, indeed, with other huge open-world games like this and, say, Witcher 3 – is that if you were to map my traversals, they’d mostly be straight lines between objectives, with some meanderings to nearby question marks.  I wonder if the designers anticipate that sort of pathmaking.

 

 

Summer’s End

It’s the Friday before Labor Day.   It’s my son’s last day of Pre-K.  It’s a little weird over here.

And as always, I continue to wonder what I’m doing with this blog.


I’m on a book-reading tear of late, which is a fun thing to be in.  Since my last post, I’ve finished reading four more books (The Bone Mother (which is very creepy) and the Gameshouse Trilogy (which is great and very short)) and am switching between three or four other novels all at once.  I don’t normally juggle books like this, but that’s how my brain is working at the moment, and I’m inclined to let it wander as it wants.

As I continue to pine for a new David Mitchell novel, I find that Claire North is a more than adequate placeholder; I’ve now read five of her novels and am also in the beginning of a sixth, and her other two are on the to-read pile.  She’s doing some remarkably interesting things in the literary science fiction genre, and I’m more or less on board for anything and everything else she’s going to write.  She wrote the aforementioned Gameshouse Trilogy, which is excellent; she also wrote The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, which is one of the best books I’ve read this year and is certainly one of the most unique takes on time-travel I’ve ever encountered.


As for games:  well, the big fall release season is fast approaching, which means (among other things) that if I don’t get a handle on my backlog now, I never will.  First priority is to give some quality time to the X port of Nier:Automata.  There are a great many people whose opinions I deeply respect who love the shit out of this game; I’m about 8 or 9 hours into it but I’m not quite there yet.  The combat is serviceable, but the world design is empty and feels unfinished… the most interesting thing about it is how unnerving some of the enemy dialogue is, but I’m not quite sure that’s enough.

I’ve reached a point in Dead Cells where I’m probably never going to get that much better, and that’s OK.  I think I mentioned last week that I’m now at a point where, if I get good drops, I can usually defeat the Concierge.  There is SO MUCH MORE to do, of course, but it also requires me to be far more skilled than I will ever be.  I’ve gotten my money’s worth; I just know that there’s only so much I can bang my head against a wall, and I’d rather continue feeling good about that game instead of frustrated.


Beyond that, it is what it is.  Just trying to keep my head above water, in these troubled times.

Have a lovely holiday weekend, everyone!

Everything All At Once

I’ve got some nerdy stuff to talk about – that’s what this blog is for, after all – but I also just want to give a shout-out to my 5-year-old son, who has been racking up some significant cultural milestones this summer.  In the last 2 weeks alone, he’s watched E.T. and Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure with us, and he’s now on his 2nd Choose Your Own Adventure book (from my own personal childhood stash, I might add).  He starts kindergarten right after Labor Day.  Everything is happening too quickly.


Music:  Lots of good music out lately, and there’s three albums in particular that have been kicking my ass all over the place – The Beths, “Future Me Hates Me” (turns out the whole album is great, not just “Happy Unhappy“); Louis Cole, “Time”; and Bad Bad Hats, “Lightning Round.”


Books:  I’ve been getting lots of reading done, too, and most of what I’ve read lately has been great.  I’d mentioned a few posts ago that I had been flipping around between 5 or 6 different books, unable to get stuck in any of them; well, I got out of that rut, somehow, and I’ve been on a roll.  Here are the highlights of what I’ve finished since June:

  • Phenomena, Annie Jacobsen.  This is a thoroughly researched and quite absorbing history of the US Military’s research into ESP and psychic abilities.
  • The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, Claire North.  Without question, one of my favorite books I’ve read this year, and certainly one of the more unique takes on the time-travel genre.
  • The Book of M, Peng Shepherd.  One of the more fascinating apocalyptic novels I’ve read in a while, with a deeply affecting ending.
  • The Cabin at the End of the World, Paul Tremblay.  Home invasion, doomsday cults, weird synchronicity.  Disturbing and tough.
  • 84K, Claire North.  After reading Fifteen Lives, I decided I’d read whatever she writes.  This is a bit more avant-garde in its prose than I was expecting, though that’s not a knock against it; it’s still very affecting and the weird prose rhythms actually do a remarkable job of conveying the speed of an inner monologue.
  • The Price You Pay, “Aidan Truhen.” Aidan Truhen is somebody’s pseudonym, and I’ve read more than one rumor that it’s actually Nick Harkaway, who is one of my favorite authors anyway.  Regardless, this is very much like a Jason Statham “Crank” movie, but in novel form, and it’s hilarious and completely insane.
  • Vicious, V.E. Schwab.  Kind of a Flatliners vibe to this one, though that’s only barely scratching the surface.
  • Roadside Picnic, Arkady Strugatsky   This has been on my to-read list for a while, and I think I ended up buying it because Amazon had it on sale.  In any event, this is a seminal work of Russian science fiction, and as such it’s quite unlike anything else I’ve ever read.
  • The Third Hotel, Laura Van Den Berg.  I’m not sure I fully understood this book, but that’s not to say that it wasn’t a fascinating read.
  • Fever Dream, Samanta Schweblin.  I think I read this in about an hour, and the title is accurate.
  • Joe Hill, Strange Weather.  I think I prefer his shorter fiction to his novels.  All four of these are pretty terrific, though “Aloft” is almost certainly my favorite.
  • The Marsh King’s Daughter, Karen Dionne.  Just finished this yesterday.  It’s a much smaller story than I thought it would be, but that doesn’t diminish its power; it’s a ferocious and captivating story.

Games:  I had been playing around with No Man’s Sky NEXT, but I got stuck on a shitty planet with no resources and I probably have to start a new game, which I’m not looking forward to.  I also spent an hour or so last night playing God of War NG+, and it’s hard for me to accept that GoW only came out 4 months ago, because it legitimately feels like it’s been 10 years.  (That game is still really goddamned good, by the way, and NG+ is a perfect reason to revisit it.)

That said, there’s really only one game that’s been taking up space in my brain of late, and that would be Dead Cells.

The word “rogue-like” makes me itchy.  I’m not attracted to difficult games, especially games where death sets you back all the way to square zero.  I’m kinda over the retro art style that has pervaded the indie scene for the last 5 years or so.

And yet Dead Cells is one of my Game of the Year contenders without even a moment’s hesitation.  I loved it so much on Switch that I ended up buying it again on Xbox, if only because I had a feeling I’d be better at it with the X controller.  And I am!  (I’ve now managed to get past the Concierge on both systems, and if that’s as far as I end up getting, I suppose I can live with that.)

I don’t really know where to begin with this game.  I feel like I’m lacking the proper vocabulary.  The subtle gems of sublime game design that I’m picking up here – for all I know, they may be incredibly obvious to the veteran player.  But for me they are all new, and so they are blowing my mind.  I tried to imagine what this game would be doing to a much younger version of me, one still getting into gaming and who had better hand-eye coordination – would this game still be important?  Would I appreciate it?  Because right now I’m torn between stopping this post and pulling out my Switch and firing it up, or falling down another rabbit hole of Spelunky, or also further examining the other excellent 2D platform-vania games currently taking up space on my Switch memory stick – OwlBoy, Hollow Knight, Iconoclasts.

I don’t know enough about the genre to know if the things Dead Cells does are truly innovative, or if they’re simply iterative of what’s preceded it.  To my untrained eye, then, it feels positively revelatory; it’s a retro-feeling game that does a ton of smart, subtle things.  Yes, the levels are procedurally generated, which is smart because you’re necessarily going to have to run through them over and over and over again, but they’re also – somehow, magically – paced similarly, which is to say that even though the map is always random, you will eventually become familiar with each map’s style to anticipate what lies offscreen.

And because everything is randomized, including (eventually) your starting weapons, you end up giving yourself different goals.  And if I start the game with shitty drops, I know my time is better spent just farming cells and then hauling ass to the next checkpoint if I’m running low on health, rather than scouring every nook and cranny.

I know I’m not very good at the game yet, because I often need to replenish my health, and I’m sure that very skilled players will eventually beat the game without taking a single hit.  It’s fine, though.  I’m OK with not being good.  This is one of the few games I’ve played where I’ve been motivated to get better, instead of feeling endlessly frustrated and quitting outright.  (I’m never going to get into the Souls games.  It’s just not gonna happen.)  It’s a perfect game for the train, and it’s just as enjoyable on a big-screen TV.  If you haven’t picked it up yet, get it.

overabundance

I’ve had to take a break from the news.  Let me rephrase that:  I’ve had to take a break from getting emotionally invested in the news.  This is not to say that I’m fine with what’s happening.  I’m still reading Twitter and my RSS newsfeeds 24/7.  It’s just that somewhere within the last few weeks – between the revelation that we’ve been keeping babies in cages and the fact that the President of the United States of America committed treason in front of the entire world on live television while standing next to Vladimir Putin and nothing has been done about it – I’ve reached maximum outrage.  I can’t get any more angry and upset or else I will literally explode.  So I will basically be maintaining this slow boil of maximum outrage until something actually happens.

I’ve also found that being in this perpetual state of treading water means that I can’t concentrate on anything else.  I know I haven’t written much here lately, and a few weeks ago I mentioned that I’d kinda hit a dark place.  I think what happened is that my brain needed to shut down, and I decided to let it.  If I can’t enjoy books or games, then OK; let me take a break from that stuff, too, because feeling obliged to indulge in hobbies that aren’t giving you any pleasure because you don’t know what else to do you with yourself creates a whole new level of meta-depression and I’m not sure that any of my current prescriptions can handle that.

Anyway, I had a really nice weekend.  Did some chores, ran some errands, had a quality day with the boy up at my mom’s pool yesterday, giving my wife a much-needed chance to decompress, and it was nice to know that I was still capable of enjoying myself.

And so I got in early to the office this morning, saw that there wasn’t all that much to catch up on, work-wise, and decided to see if I had anything to write here today.  On days like today, sometimes the best way for me to shake some ideas loose is to just write down some bullet points and kinda-sorta free-associate from there.  And as it turns out, there’s quite a bunch of stuff that has been percolating.  So here you go.


1.  Ready Player One.

I read the book when it first came out, and I remember only two things about that experience:  (1) it was kinda dumb, and (2) while there’s a lot of fun ’80s trivia, none of it is terribly obscure.  I thought about that for a while, too, because I couldn’t decide if that was a deliberate choice by the author to make the reader feel smart, or if that truly was the depth of the author’s knowledge of 80’s pop culture.  Other, smarter people than me came forward in the run-up to the movie’s release to offer more thoroughly detailed receipts of why that book is a piece of shit (this one in particular is noteworthy); their arguments make sense to me, and I only wish I’d noticed them back when I first read the book, because I certainly wasn’t going to read it twice.  I am the target demographic for that book, after all – a white American middle-class male who grew up in the 1980s – and if it felt paper-thin on first read, it wasn’t gonna get any deeper on a second run.

Having Steven Spielberg direct the film version is a pretty obvious choice – indeed, he was Ernest Cline’s first choice – though I’m surprised Spielberg actually decided to do it, especially since so much of the book relies on heavy Spielberg knowledge, and the film sorta goes out of its way to avoid it.  Maybe he didn’t want to appear self-indulgent?  In any event, it’s just straight-up bizarre to make a film out of a book that so heavily fetishizes the 1980s that very pointedly ignores the single largest influencer of 1980s pop culture, while also being directed by that very same dude.

This is a minor quibble, of course.  The film does the best it can do with the source material, but that doesn’t make it good.  And a lot of that comes from the character of the revered Mr. Halliday, the minor deity who starts this whole easter egg hunt in the first place.  For one thing, the very fine actor playing him is sorta going full Tropic Thunder a bit, which is upsetting.  For another, look – the world surrounding Ready Player One is clearly a dystopian nightmare.  Any self-identified trillionaire (who also apparently doesn’t care about money) could do a hell of a lot to heal the world with that money, instead of making the world even more obsessed with a fictional creation that basically rewards nerds that have a hyper-specific interest in someone else’s hobbies.

I could go on, but I’ve already spent too much time thinking about it, and the more I think about it the more annoyed I get.

2.  Replaying No Man’s Sky.

Yes, I’d already spent somewhere between 50-100 hours playing it the first time on PS4, and I ran out of steam shortly after realizing that I’d fucked up the Atlas Point story progression, meaning I’d never get the “true” “ending” unless I wiped out my save and started from scratch.  The game was a bit of a grind but it wasn’t necessarily unpleasant; I think I just realized that the game wasn’t going to surprise me anymore.

So fast forward two years to this brand-new NEXT update, which I also decided to buy for the X, figuring that if I was going to restart from scratch, I might as well get some Achievements for it, and also play it with better technical performance.

Is it worth it?  That is a tough question to answer.  I’d make the argument that while this new update is probably a better introduction for brand-new players than the original game was, its most receptive audience is probably lapsed players like me, people who will remember the basic rhythms and can better appreciate the new changes.  Because the game is not intuitive, and even though there’s a better tutorial now, there are also a bunch of new systems to learn, and the whole experience is far more complicated than it used to be.

NMS is less of a space exploration game and more of a survival game without zombies.  You are constantly scrounging for materials, dealing with hazardous climates, and juggling inventory space (which there is never enough of) in order to make sure that, at the very least, your ship has enough fuel to launch to a new spot.  I don’t yet know if the overall narrative has changed all that much; I’ve only played for an hour or so, and I’ve already restarted once because the first planet I landed on was severely toxic and made everything way more urgent than I was ready for.

One thing that the game is good at, however, is showing just how goddamned immense the universe is, and the graphical upgrades are very, very pretty.  (Twitter’s been showing off a lot of amazing screenshots lately.)

I’m gonna stick with it for a bit; there’s not that much else that’s occupying my time, and being able to stick Spotify in the background makes it very easy to space out to, pun sorta intended.

3.  Clicker Heroes 2.

Hoo-boy.  I’m not ready to talk about my helpless addiction to idle clickers just yet.  (As I write this very post, I have a separate tab with Clicker Heroes 1 running in the background.)

The big difference in this one, as opposed to every other idle clicker game on the planet, is that you only pay once.  Idle clicker games are tailor-made for micro-transactions, and I’m guilty of being a whale for several of them.  So being able to not have to worry about falling into that pit with CH2 is a huge relief.

Is it good, though?  Man, I don’t know.  I don’t know how to explain my thing about idle clickers.  Indeed, I’ve thought about pitching several different publications about my infatuation with the genre, if only so that I could figure it out for myself, but I’ve never gone beyond the initial brainstorm because I think there’s also a fair amount of weird self-imposed shame that goes along with it.  Idle clicker games scratch a very hyper-specific itch that is, for me, impossible to explain.  Nor can I explain why some of them “click” for me, while some of them very definitely do not.  I suppose the appeal in CH2 (as in CH1) is learning how to best maximize efficiency, which is not something I ever thought I’d be interested in, but here we are.  There are also presumably tons of online discussions and forum threads about strategies and such but I’ve never read them; I think I’d get too depressed if I suddenly found out that there’s a far more efficient way to build your character and that I’d wasted a few years of my life for nothing.

4.  Books.

So I think I mentioned that I finished my Goodreads challenge, which isn’t even all that impressive since I deliberately set the bar low so as to not make it a source of anxiety.  Now I’m kinda flipping back and forth between 5 or 6 books at a time, because I’m having trouble getting sucked into anything.  What I really need right now is a new David Mitchell novel, and while I think he’s working on at least two of them at the moment, none of them are in my possession.  So I’m kinda just going back and forth between a bunch of recent purchases and the enormity of my backlog.  Speaking of which…

5.  Backlog.

Polygon is about to start “backlog week“; I could probably knock out 20,000 words every day if I participated.  I have a backlog in almost every creative medium I can think of, and it’s overwhelming.  My Kindle has 131 books on it right now, all unread.  I’ve maxed out my Spotify library (twice!) with albums I’ve been meaning to check out and never get around to.  My videogame backlog is too insane to bother cataloging.  I am a digital hoarder and I think I have a problem.

And I haven’t even mentioned the Nintendo Switch!  Jesus.  I have way too many games for that thing and I’ve spent proper quality time with maybe 3 of them.

OK, maybe I should stop this post before I get too depressed.

How To Fall In Love With A Song

Hey everybody.  I’m back at work for the first time in a week and I need a break from thinking about our treasonous president, so come with me as I recap some non-political stuff.


I just returned from my first trip to the West Cost; 3-4 days near Seattle, with some near and dear ex-Brooklyn friends.  Sincerest apologies for not telling everyone else that I know in the Seattle area that I was in town – this was a very quick visit (and also a birthday gift for my wife) and we just didn’t have the time to schedule anything beyond what we’d planned.  (And judging from Facebook, I apparently know a lot more people out there than I thought!)  All that being said, I adored Seattle, and I want to go there again.  As soon as my body adjusts to the time change, that is.


I want to start a new mini-feature here.  I’ve gone on and on before about how Spotify’s weekly Discovery playlist sometimes knows me a little bit too well, and so I’ve decided to catalog those specific songs that I immediately fall in love with and listen to a thousand times in a row.  (I’ve also started compiling a separate playlist with those sorts of songs, but one thing at a time.)  In this instance, the song in question is “Happy Unhappy” by The Beths.  I am obsessed with this song and I need to break down why.

I’m not particularly fond of this lyric video, so I’d rather just have you close your eyes and put on some very good headphones and crank that shit up and then steer you to the following perfect moments:

1st:  the guitar production is pristine.  Also, the guitar arrangements are glorious.

2nd: in the chorus, the way the bass hangs on the 1 instead of the 4 at approximately 0:53 – it adds a wonderful propulsion and tension.

3rd: they’re from New Zealand, and so any word with a long “o” has a particularly wonderful shape to it – “own”, “stone”, “tone”, etc.

4th:  I’m not necessarily one for lyrics, but I love these lyrics.  Especially the ambiguity of the line “so I could forget you / like I really want to”.  Her delivery of the entire song is excellent.

5th:  Listen to the harmonies and the interlocking guitar lines after the solo (at approx 2:31).  I LOVE THAT KIND OF SHIT.

Finally:  There’s this little weird snare hit right at the end (2:58) – most likely a happy accident that they decided to keep – and I adore it.


I don’t know if I’m doing to do a Top 10 Games list this year, but if I were, I’d like to note that The Crew 2 is my current front-runner for 2018’s Most Pleasant Surprise; it’s essentially Forza Horizon with a lot of quintessential Ubisoft touches, but if you turn off the insipid dialogue and put on your own tunes, and just select events from the menu rather than driving over mostly barren landscape, it’s very nice.  I’m playing it on the X, and two things are also immediately apparent:  (1) this game is gorgeous, and (2) it has some of the most remarkably fast loading times I’ve ever seen, especially in an open-world game.


By the way, the addition of Groups on the X is WONDERFUL.  It’s basically the same thing as the Folders option on the PS4, albeit slightly less elegant, but it makes sorting out my backlog a hell of a lot easier.  (I should add that I have an 8TB external hard drive on my X, which is why being able to sort out 200+ games into custom groups is very, very necessary.)


Oh, and before I left for Seattle I started getting back into Ni No Kuni 2 on the PS4; I’m finally at the point where I’ve started doing some of the city-building stuff, and it’s quite pleasant.  I think Henry is a little too young for it, but it’s also pretty accessible; I might try to get him involved as I continue along.


Also: I’ve been playing the shit out of Switch lately.  Captain Toad Treasure Tracker is super-fun, and that one has gotten Henry’s attention, especially as the controls are pretty simple.  This actually is much better experienced in hand-held mode, as opposed to docked; some of the puzzles require touching objects, and using your finger is far more intuitive than the weird motion-control reticule thing on a TV.


And finally, I apparently beat my 2018 Goodreads challenge a short while ago.  I did kinda purposefully set the number low (to keep myself from feeling unnecessary pressure), and the current number includes books that I haven’t yet finished.  So I haven’t officially crossed the 35-book threshold, though I should be there shortly.

OK, that’s the news.  Good morning!  Good afternoon!  Good night!

How The Hell Is It June Already

There are any number of reasons why it’s taken me so long to get back here; none of them are terribly interesting.  Suffice it to day that sometimes there simply aren’t enough hours in the day; and sometimes, when there are, those hours are best spent taking a nap.

I will say this, even if it sounds corny:  I am trying very hard to only put positive stuff out into the world.  And sometimes that means not saying anything at all.  I know I’d said not too long ago that this blog might turn into something a bit more LiveJournal-y, but to be honest I think I’d rather keep that stuff between me and my therapist.  I don’t want to use this space to whine or complain; it’s not fun to write, and I’m sure it’s not interesting to read.  So I’m gonna try to… um… not do that.

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It’s been almost a month since I’ve been here, so let’s dust off the cobwebs and get up to speed.

BOOKS:

In my last substantive entry I wrote that I was halfway through volume 3 of Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive.  I finished it shortly thereafter, and I’ll say this for it:  the series is great, but it’s also exhausting, and I’m probably not going to re-read anything before volume 4 comes out.

And in the intervening time I’ve also read:

  • Agents of Dreamland, Caitlin Kiernan
  • Black Helicopters, Caitlin Kiernan – I’d read Agents last year, and remembered loving it, and wanted more of it because it was so short.  Black Helicopters has nearly the same cover art, and so I thought it was a sequel; it’s not, and the two books are only very tenuously related.  You can read them in a few hours, for whatever it’s worth.
  • The Dark Dark, Samantha Hunt – I thought this was going to be a collection of horror stories; it’s not.  But it’s still very good, and certainly there’s more than a few stories that got under my skin.
  • The Outsider, Stephen King – Tangentially related to his Bill Hodges trilogy, this is more of a supernatural mystery novel than anything else; it’s also much better than the Hodges books, and largely devoid of his usual tics and mannerisms.
  • Dead On Arrival, Matt Ritchel – Great premise, super-shitty writing.
  • Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro – I don’t know why it took me so long to get to this, but I did, and it’s great.  It didn’t necessarily knock me over the way it has for friends of mine, but it’s still a marvel.
  • The Thief, Fuminori Nakamura – A very short philosophical meditation on pickpocketing, power, and fate.  Illuminating, though slight.
  • Clockwork Boys / The Wonder Engine, T. Kingfisher – I’m not sure what prompted me to pick these up; I’m not sure I’m going to finish them.  It’s almost as if the author conjured up an unlikely band of misfits based on standard fantasy tropes and then decided to write fan fiction about them.

MUSIC:

My last post made a loose promise that I’d start livestreaming from my basement the next time I started writing music.  Ha ha ha ha ha, no, that didn’t happen, and it’s probably not going to until I re-learn how to use all my software.

I am listening a lot, though, which is usually a good sign that I’m going to start working again.  Spotify’s Neo-Psychedelic Rock playlist is really, really good.  The new Neko Case is also really good, as is Oneohtrix Point Never, Wooden Shjips, Ryley Walker, and Stephen Malkmus.  However, I’ve mostly been listening to Peter Gabriel, now that most of his catalog is back on Spotify.  I’ve been wanting to do a cover of “Digging in the Dirt” for 25 years, and I’m only now starting to get an idea of how to approach it.


GAMES:

I’m gonna be honest – I’m a mess right now, game-wise.  I have a backlog that is too intimidating for me to deal with, and an attention span that can only handle about 30-45 minutes at a time, and shooters are starting to feel distasteful again.  I picked up OnRush and Vampyr, and they’re both very conceptually interesting, though somewhat rough around the edges… and I’ve been dabbling in DLC for Assassin’s Creed Origins and Far Cry 5, and I’m not necessarily feeling those…

The one thing that I have been playing – and enjoying quite more than I ever expected to – is Yoku’s Island Express, which is a 2D platformer that uses pinball mechanics.  It is lovely and charming and gorgeous and totally the sort of whimsical escapist adventure that I need right now, and I cannot recommend it enough.  I liked it so much that I bought it for both my X and my Switch – it’s a perfect handheld game, and it’s also beautiful on a big TV.

I don’t have any E3 predictions to offer up, and there’s only a few things that I’d like to hear are coming:

  • release date for Psychonauts 2;
  • the existence of Portal 3;
  • any news whatsoever on whatever Rocksteady Studios is working on; rumors point to a Superman game, which, meh.  But I’m willing to check out anything they’re working on, if only because their Batman games are so phenomenally good;
  • and also Diablo 3 on Switch.

Old and In The Way

1. I took my much-needed mental health day yesterday, although as it turns out I was also legitimately sick with bad allergies and a worse stomach, and so most of my day was spent sleeping.  This is not a bad way to spend one’s time, especially since I don’t get much of an opportunity to indulge in it.  But it wasn’t the ideal “batteries-recharged” sort of break I was hoping for.  Still, I take what I can get.  At the very least, it was a break from News.

2. I’m roughly halfway through “Oathbringer“, Brandon Sanderson’s massive 3rd volume in the Stormlight Archives.  I re-read the first two massive volumes (because it had been a while, and I’d forgotten quite a lot), and then I had to read the little novella that he specifically asks you to read before starting Oathbringer properly, and so here I am.  I think I’d be enjoying it more if I hadn’t read so much of it already, if that makes any sense.  Or, rather – I’m very much ready to read something else.

3. So:  I think I’m at a point in God of War where all the stuff that’s left requires me to be really good at the game (i.e., the volcano trials), or really patient and also really good (i.e., the endless farming grind for Mist Echoes), and I’m not sure I’m ever going to be that good.  This is not necessarily a bad thing – I definitely got my money’s worth, and for the most part that game is extraordinary – but I suppose there’s a part of me that’s sad that I’m not going to ever 100% it, especially since there’s not that much left to do.  This is less a criticism of the game and more just a reflection of the reality that I’m not as good at games as I thought I was.  This is a bitter pill to swallow, though I suppose it was inevitable; I’ve been gravitating towards playing things on lower difficulty levels for a while now because my time is limited and I like to see as much as I can, and anyone who goes out of their way to taunt a 42-year-old dad for playing single-player games on easy has too much spare time on their hands anyway.

4. On the flip side, this also means that I’m free to dip into my backlog again.  Ni No Kuni 2, I am all yours for the time being.  And also Yakuza 6, of course.  But I’m probably done with Far Cry 5, I think.  I’m at the point in that game where there’s not enough side stuff to do because I’ve done most of it already, which means I sorta have to engage with the narrative, and the narrative is soooooooo bad.  It’s rare that I come across a game where the story is just profoundly and offensively stupid, but here we are.  Oh well.

Anything exciting happening out there?  Tell me some stories.

Weekend Recap: Staking My Claim

I feel like too much of my idle time is spent being annoyed with social media.  It’s impossible to quit, even if the recent Facebook privacy bullshit makes my blood boil.  And I’m getting bored of myself telling everyone I’m taking a break.   There’s nothing more annoying than logging into Facebook with the sole express purpose of telling everyone that I’m taking a Facebook break, especially since my “breaks” tend to last about 45 minutes.

So, then, I think I’ve finally started to get a handle on how I want to deal with social media.  Which is to say:  I’m gonna start posting here more often (or, at least, as often as I can), and probably only here; this blog gets pushed to my FB and Twitter and Tumblr (which I think I still have?), and so I won’t necessarily vanish, but that’s gonna be about it.

So it’s gonna get a bit more LiveJournal-y around here, is what I’m trying to say.  Be warned.


So the boy turned 5 on March 31st, and then he promptly had the flu for the next 5 days, and so last week kinda just fell apart.  Both my wife and I had been teetering on the edge of coming down with it, too, though I think it’s over now.  His fifth trip around the Sun can only get better from here, right?  Let’s hope.


Now that the basement is back – and better than ever – I’ve been rearranging my music area.  The big news is that I’m getting a brand-new iMac delivered next week, while I’m home on a mini-staycation.  This means that, at long last, I can finally start getting back to work in earnest.

I’ve been re-listening to the stuff I recorded back in 2015, when this album was really getting started (gasp – has it really been three years already?), and while some of it has gone a bit stale, I’m still really happy with quite a lot of it.  And so to be able to return to it with working equipment and a fresh attitude in a really pleasant environment is basically a dream come true.  This is all I’ve wanted since we moved out to the ‘burbs in the first place.  Believe me, I will be Instagramming the shit out of my work space once the computer is set up and ready to go.

I can’t begin to tell you guys how often I’ve considered giving up and just throwing the demos up on Soundcloud or whatever.  I’m really happy with this stuff but I’ve been so frustrated in my inability to finish it, whether it’s making the formal transition from demo to actual recording, in a real studio with real musicians and a real engineer, or even just finishing one (1) goddamned set of lyrics that don’t make me gag.  I don’t think I can afford to bring a full band into the picture, but ideally I’d like to send my finished tracks to a producer I know for a proper mix – I may have to raise some funds for that, but we’ll get there when we get there.  The point is – it’s been three years since I started this thing, and I still like it.  So I’m gonna get it out there.


In the course of getting my workspace set up, I stumbled across some hilarious photos/headshots that must’ve been taken in the late 90s, and MAN.  I have some thoughts.

So there’s a couple things to point out here.

  1. As I’ve probably mentioned here, this album that I’m working on is inspired by a somewhat traumatic re-read of my college and post-college diaries.  And those photos that you see here are, in fact, from that very same time period.  All the neurotic insanity that I was scribbling down on a super-shitty word processor was coming out of the dude in the photos above.  This is hilarious.
  2. I keep joking that it’s only taken me 42 years to finally figure out my look, but it’s absolutely goddamned true.  The doofus in the pictures above had absolutely no idea how to look good.  I never truly felt comfortable in my own skin and clothes and outward presentation until very, very recently, and it’s weird to see these photos and barely recognize myself in them.
  3. I’ve spent most of my last few years of therapy sessions talking about this period of my life (1993-1999), because it’s where, for lack of a better term, the most stuff happened to me.  The best stuff, the worst stuff, the most inane stuff, the weirdest stuff, the scariest stuff, the most heartbreaking stuff.   (My life before college was tumultuous, as is everyone’s, but it wasn’t particularly noteworthy, and it’s been relatively drama-free since 2000, when I met the woman who would become my wife.)  And it just kills me to think that during this era, I looked like that.

*sigh*


Not much to report on the book front.  I’ve been re-reading the first two books of Brandon Sanderson’s “Stormlight Archive” series because I haven’t yet read the third, and even though I like them they get a bit long.  You’d think that I’d be able to re-read these books a bit faster, since I’ve already read them, but instead I’m kinda just putting it off altogether.  It is what it is.


Finally, a few words about Far Cry 5.

I’m around 22 hours into the campaign; I’ve beaten 1 of the 3 sub-bosses, but I’m mostly just screwing around with the world itself and doing everything I can to avoid actually dealing with the story.  This is one of the few times where I’m actually quite grateful that this open world is so stuffed with things to do, because it makes the avoidance of the narrative that much easier to handle.  So while I’m only a third of the way into the campaign, I’ve found dozens of underground bunkers and collectible items and weird side missions, and that shit is great!  So much fun.

But my god, I’m not sure I’ve ever been so compelled to keep playing a game that is so unrelenting in its narrative awfulness.  There’s so many other directions this game could have gone, and it annoys me to no end that they went in this particular direction instead.  To be fair, it definitely has that “over-the-top” Far Cry vibe, but it’s not rooted in anything that is relevant to this moment in time, which is frustrating if only because it has so many relevant things in it.   (There is a side mission that involves you recovering what could only be “the pee tape”, though why it’s in a cult outpost in rural Montana instead of a Russian hard drive in a well-protected safehouse is… well, who knows.)

Whatever; this is the game we’ve got.  Being angry at it because it’s not telling the story I’d like it to tell isn’t fair.  And yet to take it on its own terms is madness.  Nothing about the story makes any sense.  Nothing about this fictionalized Montana, where literally everyone who isn’t a cult member has a stash of heavy weaponry and an underground bunker and yet are wildly impotent in the face of danger, makes any sense.  Any activity that requires talking to a non-player character is frustrating and awful and ridiculous.

AND YET IT’S SO PRETTY AND THE NON-LINEAR STUFF IS SO GOOD.

There are two somewhat spoiler-heavy articles that I’ve read recently that articulate my problems with the game better than I ever could.  And honestly, now that I’ve had the ending spoiled for me, I feel a little better in how I approach the game in the first place.  Anyway, if you’d like to know what I’m dealing with, and you don’t mind INCREDIBLY MAJOR SPOILERS, I heartily encourage you to read the following: