Tag: books

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.

The Final Post of 2017

1. Since finishing up my Books of 2017 post, I ended up finishing 3 more:

  • Denise Mina, “The Long Drop”, which I’ll give a B; it’s a fictional retelling of a true event (i.e., the events leading to the hanging death of Peter Manuel, a brutal serial killer in Glasgow in the 1950s).  Quite absorbing and dark, and also GODDAMN those people can drink.
  • Mohsin Hamid, “Exit West”, which earns an A; a beautiful and melodic love story as seen through the eyes of refugees, and also there are magic doors.
  • Patty Yumi Cottrell, “Sorry To Disrupt the Peace”, which gets a B; I don’t know how to describe this book at all, except it’s a remarkable look at mental illness from the mind of someone who probably doesn’t realize that they are incredibly mentally ill.

And now I’m reading Daryl Gregory’s “Spoonbenders”, which is long enough that it’ll almost certainly end up being my first finished book of 2018, and which can probably best be described as a book version of The Royal Tenenbaums, but about a family of psychics.

2.  Due to a sudden and unexpected influx of Amazon gift cards, I, um, bought a 55″ 4K HDR TV.  It is not the best 4K HDR TV one can buy, and indeed the transaction happened so fast I didn’t even have time to properly make sure I was getting what I actually wanted (I probably should’ve waited to do some actual research), but it was (a) available and (b) cheap and (c) it showed up on Tuesday.  So that happened.  Now I just need a decent sound bar and my gaming room will be complete.

3.  I still don’t know if I’m gonna do a Games of 2017 post.  I’m looking over what I played this year and despite other people saying that this was the best year in games since 2007, there’s only a handful of games that I can say are worth a damn.  Or maybe it’s just me.  I played a lot this year but I don’t know that I enjoyed very much.  I still can’t get into Breath of the Wild, which is probably heretical to admit, but there it is.  If I had to round up a top 5, it’d probably look something like this:

  • Horizon Zero Dawn
  • Assassin’s Creed Origins
  • What Remains of Edith Finch
  • Gorogoa
  • Super Mario Odyssey

There’s a ton of stuff I didn’t finish, and there’s even more stuff that I never even got to.

4.  Similarly, I don’t think I’m going to do a Music of 2017 post, but for wildly different reasons; I got turned on to a ton of amazing music this year, but I can’t necessarily say I listened to all that many new albums.  My Favorites from the Spotify Discovery playlist is at least 150 songs deep, though.

5.  And I didn’t watch nearly enough TV or film to even bother pretending to make lists for those things.  I think I can safely say that Baby Driver was the most fun I’ve had in a movie theater in years, and the best shows I watched were DarkStranger Things 2Legion and… hmm… I’m forgetting something, I know it.  (I only made it 3 episodes into Twin Peaks.)

This is almost certainly my last post of 2017, and given that I’m restless, I may end up doing a redesign over the next few weeks or so.  In any event, here’s hoping you had a lovely holiday, and I hope you have a much better 2018.  Indeed, I hope we all do.

2017: The Year in Reading

As of today, 12/22/17, I’ve finished 50 books this year.  I’m gonna be honest; a lot of what I read was a bit trashier than usual.  I read a lot of escapist fiction, a lot of genre fiction, the sort of books that you’d buy at an airport before a long flight.  I needed junk food, and I allowed myself to indulge, thoroughly.

And yet, you know what?  When I look at the grades I handed out, I enjoyed pretty much everything.  There were a few exceptions – one book I described as “one of the dumbest books I’ve read in a long, long time” – and there were a few books that I picked up and simply couldn’t get into, though I haven’t yet decided if I’m giving up on them for good or not.

In any event, because most of what I read was short, fast, and dirty, I’m not sure I have enough highlighted Kindle passages to do my “Favorite Sentences of 2017” post.  It is what it is.

I suppose I should arrange this list in tiers.  All lists are presented in the order in which I read them.  You’ll notice some trilogies are staggered; for the most part, and this is weird, the second book usually dragged a bit but was necessary to get up the otherwise excellent finale.  All italicized blurbs are directly from my GoogleDoc; I should probably admit up front that my memory is shit and next year I should write my blurbs in a bit more detail, because I barely recall reading some of these – especially some of the ones I loved.

A+ 

  • Dan Chaon, “Ill Will”
  • Amor Towles, “A Gentleman in Moscow”
  • Colson Whitehead, “The Underground Railroad”
  • John Hodgman, “Vacationland”

These are the four best books I read all year.  “Ill Will” took me by complete surprise and had me riveted from cover to cover; “Gentleman in Moscow” was a complete delight; “Underground Railroad” should be required reading for literally everyone in the USA; and “Vacationland” is the best thing Hodgman’s ever written, which is saying quite a lot.


A

  • Ian McGuire, “The North Water”  – riveting, bleak as fuck, very satisfying conclusion.
  • Ben Winters, “Underground Airlines” – remarkable.
  • George Saunders, “Lincoln in the Bardo” – stunning; only wish I hadn’t raced through the end.
  • Liz Moore, “The Unseen World” – didn’t quite go where i thought it was, but it’s marvelous.
  • Caitlin R. Kiernan, “Agents of Dreamland” – i loved this, and only wish it wasn’t so short. would love to see this fleshed out. MORE SIGNALMAN
  • John Crowley, “Little, Big” – ethereal and dreamlike, massive and dense, gorgeous and weightless.

 


A-

  • Neal Stephenson & Nicole Galland, “The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.” – very good. could be a good franchise starter, or not.
  • David Grann, “Killers of the Flower Moon” – heartbreaking. a story that needs to be told, even if the writing is a bit dry.

 


B+

  • Christopher Boucher, “Golden Delicious” – (started at end of Dec ’16) a wonderfully whimsical hybrid of Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America and The Phantom Tollbooth.  Full disclosure – CB is a friend of my wife’s from high school.  But I’d give this book high marks anyway.
  • Jeff VanderMeer, “Borne” – very interesting, didn’t quite live up to expectations but still engrossing
  • Ben Winters, “The Last Policeman #1” – a standard-issue detective story but with a magnificent premise, and very well written.
  • Ben Winters, “World of Trouble (Last Policeman #3)” – a very good finale to a very engrossing series.
  • Leigh Bardugo, “Crooked Kingdom” – very satisfying conclusion to 6 of Crows.
  • N.K. Jemisin, “The Stone Sky” – excellent ending to a brilliant trilogy.
  • Ann Leckie, “Ancillary Justice (book 1)”
  • Ann Leckie, “Ancillary Mercy (book 3)” – I didn’t write blurbs for each of the three books; this is an excellent trilogy and should be read in one go.
  • Paul La Farge, “The Night Ocean” – beautiful, haunted love story.
  • Michel Faber, “The Crimson Petal and the White” – very long, but very good; ending is very abrupt.
  • Ottessa Moshfegh, “Homesick for Another World” – what a dark, fucked up group of stories.

 


B

  • Federico Axat, “Kill the Next One” – pretty good, twisty pyschological thriller. every time i thought i knew where it was going, it swerved. the possum remains an enigma.  (EDIT: I have no idea what I mean by that.)
  • Anthony Horowitz, “Moriarity” – that’s a pretty good twist at the end, i’ll give it that.
  • John Darnielle, “Universal Harvester” – really interesting premise, marvelous writing; the thread gets lost towards the end, but that’s ok.
  • Andy Partridge, “Complicated Game: Inside the songs of XTC” – very wonky, probably only meant for hard-core XTC nerds.
  • Sarah Pinborough, “Behind Her Eyes” – kind of a trashy novel at first, but it gets better and features a real-deal mindfuck of a twist ending.
  • Ursula K. Le Guin, “The Lathe of Heaven” – yeah, it’s a classic.
  • Dan Choan, “Await Your Reply” – covers a lot of the same ground as Ill Will, but still very interesting.
  • Dexter Palmer, “Version Control” – meandered for a bit, but the ending was quite good.
  • Sylvain Neuvel, “Waking Gods (Themis #2)” – very quick read, much like the last one. lots of surprising deaths. fun, if slight.
  • Leigh Bardugo, “Six of Crows” – reminds me quite a bit of the Locke Lamorra books.
  • Stephen King, “Mr. Mercedes” – if SK wants to start writing murder mysteries, this isn’t a bad way to start
  • Stephen King, “End of Watch” – an above-average trilogy, with this final installment returning to SK’s supernatural roots… too bad the characters aren’t particularly interesting.
  • Ann Leckie, “Ancillary Sword (book 2)”
  • Matthew FitzSimmons, “The Short Drop (Gibson Vaughn #1)” – fun, somewhat Jason Bourne-ish.  you can see this as a movie pretty easily.
  • Matthew FitzSimmons, “Cold Harbor (Gibson Vaughn #3)” – a satisfying conclusion from the meandering of book 2
  • Denise Mina, “The Long Drop”- very absorbing, quasi-true-crime account of a Glasglow serial killer from the 50s.

 


B-

  • Ben Winters, “Countdown City (The Last Policeman #2)” – a step back from #1, but still engaging.
  • Patti Smith, “M Train” – The first few chapters were great… and then they basically repeated themselves for the rest of it.
  • Christopher Fowler, “Bryant and May and the Burning Man” – standard-issue murder mystery.
  • Stephen King, “Finders Keepers” – very loose connection with previous novel; not his best. interesting villain, though.
  • Jac Jemc, “The Grip of It” – a spooky haunted house story that never quite resolves.
  • Matthew FitzSimmons, “Poisonfeather (Gibson Vaughn #2)” – a step back from #1, but necessary to start the events of book 3.

 


C-

  • Jonathan Lethem, “A Gambler’s Anatomy” – he’s still a great writer, but this was boooooorrrrrrring

 


F

  • Derek Taylor Kent, “Kubrick’s Game” – one of the dumbest books i’ve read in a long, long time.  Dan Brown would throw this out.

 

 

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.

The Year That Was: 2016

Ugh.

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

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


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


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


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

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

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


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

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

GAMES LEFT UNFINISHED, in roughly chronological order:

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOTABLE iOS GAMES:

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

the payoff

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

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

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

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

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

that thing where everything sucks

1. First thing’s fuckin’ last:  my first piece in Videodame’s Co-op Campaign is up, in which me and my buddy Sara start our discussion about Uncharted 4.  I’d deliberately avoided talking about U4 in these pages because I knew this thing was going to start up, so go on and give it a spin, why don’t you?

2. I’m in a weird place, gaming-wise.  I’m not playing anything with any enthusiasm.  Work has been killing me and my three-year-old is a vortex of I’m exhausted, for one thing, and so if I do end up playing anything it’s not for very long; I’m inching along in Witcher 3: Blood and Wine for this very reason.  (Also, I appear to be wildly under-levelled for some of the sidequests, and so I’m kinda just treading water.)  I gave up on Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, because it was hopelessly dumb; one particular side quest has a broken Runner’s Vision thing which kept sending me off a ledge too high for me to survive, and it’s not like I particularly cared about what I was doing.  I’ve more or less given up on Trials of the Blood Dragon, because the off-bike stuff is soooooo bad.  My rental copy of Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens should be arriving next week, but if the demo is any indication, it’s still the same old broken platforming bullshit that’s been plaguing this series for years.

I honestly can’t remember what else is on my plate at the moment.  I beat the new Gauntlet mode in Swapperoo, my current iOS GOTY candidate; woo-hoo.

3. I’ve read a hell of a lot of books lately, though.  Of note:

  • I finished Justin Cronin’s “City of Mirrors”.  Among the few friends of mine who’ve also read it, I probably have the highest opinion of it; I think, if nothing else, that it ends quite well.
  • Victor LaVelle’s “The Ballad of Black Tom” is a very short Lovecraftian novella that inverts Lovecraft’s latent racist attitudes into something much more powerful.
  • Joe Hill’s “The Fireman” is a really interesting premise and an absorbing read, though I wouldn’t call it a horror novel.
  • Daniel O’Malley’s “Stiletto” is the 2nd installment of his Rook series, and it’s arguably more entertaining than the first entry; the premise is essentially if the X-Men were running the British Secret Service and defending the country from other supernatural forces.  Very witty, very clever, and this 2nd book is very exciting indeed.
  • Sylvain Neuvel’s “Sleeping Giants” had been popping up in my periphery for a while, and I started it last night on the train and finished it this morning.  If this is the beginning of a new franchise (there is at least one more book coming next year), consider me signed on.
  • And now I just started Emma Straub’s “Modern Lovers”, which is very much NOT action/sci-fi.

4.  This eulogy for Other Music is hitting me in the feels. I might as well have written it myself.

…My scramble for self-identity was tied up in records, and Other Music was where I went to get myself sorted out. What did I like? What did I want? Which section did I want to start flipping through first, and what did that say about me? The classification of a person via her cultural preferences and proclivities—maybe that’s something we should be glad to wave goodbye to. One is no longer either a punk or a goth, In or Out; one merely is.

But it’s also why I think of Other Music as an integral player in my making, and why witnessing its end feels especially personal. We all experience some version of this dissociation a million times in a life: a drawbridge being raised behind you. The sense that you couldn’t re-create yourself now if you tried. When I needed it to, Other Music turned the whole notion of “Other” into something prideful—it forced me to make a choice about who I thought I was, or could be—and for that I’ll always be grateful, beholden.

And just like that, the day job is busy again.  Until next time!  [Exits, pursued by a bear]