It has been a month since I’ve posted about video games. Mostly this is because I haven’t been playing too many. An surfeit of hobbies and responsibilities coupled with a dearth of free time equate to some judicious pruning. It doesn’t help that the kind of games I like to play, RPGs especially, require a lot of investment time. Needless to say playing a lengthy RPG in fits and starts isn’t necessarily the best way to play.
Right now I’ve been sinking time in Nier. Nier, while an RPG, isn’t a typical RPG for me. Nier is a bit of a strange bird, a sort of a JRPG take on an action-rpg. If you imagine that might be a bit problematic than you’re right but the game is frequently more right than it is wrong. I’ll start with that latter bit first which is definitely loading the screens….the many many many loading screens. Nier has you operating in and around a base of operations (your home village) with a considerable amount of back tracking and revisiting of areas in the course of adventuring. There isn’t a lot to keep you lingering once you’ve passed through an area once or twice and thus each area you have to pass through more or less puts you in autopilot until the next loading screen. Unfortunately each of these areas is also relatively small meaning transit time running from loading screen to loading screen is quite small. Now, if I’m being fair it should be noted that this problem isn’t new to RPGs and Nier’s loading screens are fairly quick but they do get rather tiresome.
The Painted Darkness
Brian James Freeman
Cemetery Dance, 2010
I’m on a bit of a horror kick again and was looking for something dark to read. After scouring the web, checking out Laird Barron’s Imago Sequence and Other Stories from the library, and being disappointed that we had no collections of Clarke Ashton Smith or Arthur Machen I settled, I can’t quite remember why, on Brian James Freeman’s The Painted Darkness. The Painted Darkness is a horror novella detailing a painter’s struggle with his own past; a past he can only barely remember. Before its release in December, Freeman offered up the novella as a free download. The Painted Darkness is now available in both ebook and printed form (both the Kindle and nook versions are selling for $2.99) and the novella is up for this year’s Stoker Award for Long Fiction.
The novella alternates between the slow reveal of a repressed childhood memory and the present day where Henry struggles with the repercussions of that memory. In that first tantalizing bit of forgotten childhood Henry’s father urges him to “paint against the darkness” and it is this phrase that becomes Henry’s mantra throughout his life and throughout the novella. There is a weightiness to that statement that is difficult to ignore and Henry’s single-minded adherence to that has, just recently driven his wife and young son away. What we are left with is a psychologically disturbed artist obsessed with his work trapped in a house with a creaky old boiler (in the basement) located in the middle of nowhere while a winter storm rages outside. That’s about as close to a perfect set up for some horrific nastiness as you can get.
Freeman’s slow build of tension and oppressive atmosphere has a very old school sort of feel. As each new tidbit of Henry’s childhood memory is revealed the weight of it seems to grow urging present-day Henry to greater and greater urgency, or at least lending his actions greater feel of urgency. The Painted Darkness is at its been when it is imbuing the mundane with a sense of quiet menace, or subtly injecting bits of the strange and uncanny into the mix. With a careful use of tone Freeman changes an abandoned tree house into an abattoir of dark secrets and transforms an ancient boiler into tentacled monstrosity.
The Painted Darkness works extraordinarily well at face value and doesn’t lose anything if one wishes to scrutinize it on deeper levels. Like many a great piece of horror fiction The Painted Darkness is at its heart a meditation on the incredible capacity of the human imagination. Like the novella’s mantra indicates creativity can be used to “paint against the darkness” and the healing power of creativity and creation is something well explored in countless other works. However, The Painted Darkness twists that notion in a very dark, and a very satisfying away. Explaining in detail would delve a bit too far into spoiler territory for my comfort but Freeman drops hints over the novel as to where things are going and even when the “truth” is revealed there is ample room for divergent interpretation.
With the domination of monsters in the horror world, the growing compilation of zombie, vampire and werewolf stories, it is always a treat to discover a horror tale that manages to do its own thing. If there one thing that makes or break a scary story that thing is atmosphere. Freeman exhibits a masterful command of atmosphere in The Painted Darkness. Managing to evoke the stifling isolation of Henry’s house and tainting the nostalgia of childhood with the terror of the unknown. If you’re looking for a quality tale to dim the brightness of these spring days (or to go along with April’s seemingly ceaseless rain here in the East) than you should look no further than The Painted Darkness.
Sometimes you come across something that speaks to you on a primal level. You see this think and your world is changed…forever. This is what happened to me yesterday when I saw this:
BAM! Your life will never be the same again! Super Dinosaur is the latest book, this time an all-ages title, by the nigh unstoppable Robert Kirkman. There is something about Kirkman’s work that goes back to the days of yore. His creations are homages to the classic brightly clad superheroes of the Golden Age. As my eyes wandered across the new release shelves and fell upon that stupendous cover you see above my face broke into a huge grin and I felt like a damned kid again. In that comic’s pages is all exuberance and fun of childhood unburdened by fear or alternate realities or crisises of any kind. It is silly, and fun, and just about all you could ask for in a comic.
Though its been a little over a year since I read Leviathan I was still pretty excited to get by hands on Scott Westefeld’s Behemoth. Before I even describe the novel I need to take a moment to say that whoever was in charge of cover art for this book should be fired; without question. For a novel sprinkled with the wonderful art of Kieth Thompson the steaming pile that they dumped on the cover is an affront to artists, or anyone with a modicum of taste, everywhere. It’s absolutely atrocious and does nothing to even hint at the adventure and excitement between its pages. (Note: It should be noted that the forthcoming third novel is blighted by a similar, IMO much worse, bit of nastiness).
I remember being mesmerized on my first read through of George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones. Newly returned to the fantasy genre and having subsided on diet of Robert Jordan, Raymond Feist, and a certain pony-tailed fellow who shall remain nameless for my first forays into fantasy as a teenager reading A Game of Thrones was like having a bucket of ice water thrown in your face. We throw around dark and gritty a lot these days and while that had been done before Martin there were few authors then and there are authors few now who do dark and gritty quite like Martin does. In truth there are few fates in the world that are worse than being a character in a George R. R. Martin novel.
A Game of Thrones is an extraordinarily difficult book to sum up. Even the official product description struggles to do a decent job; mostly failing.
Long ago, in a time forgotten, a preternatural event threw the seasons out of balance. In a land where summers can last decades and winters a lifetime, trouble is brewing. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the north of Winterfell, sinister and supernatural forces are massing beyond the kingdom’s protective Wall. At the center of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyielding as the land they were born to. Sweeping from a land of brutal cold to a distant summertime kingdom of epicurean plenty, here is a tale of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and bastards, who come together in a time of grim omens.
Here an enigmatic band of warriors bear swords of no human metal; a tribe of fierce wildlings carry men off into madness; a cruel young dragon prince barters his sister to win back his throne; and a determined woman undertakes the most treacherous of journeys. Amid plots and counterplots, tragedy and betrayal, victory and terror, the fate of the Starks, their allies, and their enemies hangs perilously in the balance, as each endeavors to win that deadliest of conflicts: the game of thrones.
Of course about 75% of that description bears little on the novel’s proceedings. It nails the fact the Starks are central to the story but it places far more emphasis the Wall and the events there than I ever would. I’m of the opinion that there is no succinct way to even begin to sum up this novel.
Megan Whalen Turner
Greenwillow, 1996 (pb. 2005)
So, I’ve had a difficult time reading Game of Thrones. I’ll go into further details about that when I finish and manage to put together my thoughts. In the meantime it should be suffice to say that I had to interrupt my reread with a little bit of light reading. Since Scott Westerfeld’s Behemoth is still checked out here at the library I scoured some rewards list for a Young Adult title to give a whirl. Over on the Nebula’s list was a title called A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner which, turns out is part of series beginning with The Thief, published in 1996 (and republished in paperback in 2005) and itself of a winner of the Newbery Honor. So, The Thief by Megan Whelan Turner became my refuge before the onslaught of blood and betrayal that marks the latter sections of Game of Thrones.
Subterranean Press Magazine, Spring 2011 (free here)
…And let me tell you, he is not the God of Jesus, he is the God of David, and the angry city killers and man killers and animal killers of the Old Testament. He is constantly jealous and angry and if there is any plan to all this, I have yet to see it.
This was the line that really sold me on Joe R. Lansdale’s recent piece of fiction for Subterranean Press Magazine. Reverend Mercer, the character speaking the above line, is sort of like a frontier version of a more ornery Solomon Kane. Not quite the right bastard that is John Constantine but definitely not the most agreeable of individuals. In The Crawling Sky Reverend Mercer arrives in the tiny Texas town known by the appropriate name of Wood Tick. Wood Tick is not the happiest places and the most honest and forthright individual there is the man they have chained up in their jail.
An entertaining adventure story The Crawling Sky scratches my itch for “weird west” fiction in an imminently satisfying way. The story’s largest problem is an overly long section of expository dialogue, but Landsdale infuses the conversation with some subtle use of dialect and an infusion of humorous asides from the titular character that renders this problem almost entirely forgivable. Lansdale’s descriptions of Wood Tick and its denizens, along with gems of dialogue like the following:
“No. I am good. I will take the horse meat, long as I can watch you fry it.”
“All right. I’m just about through whittling.”
“Are you making something?”
“No. Just whittlin’.”
“So, what is there to get through with?”
“Why, my pleasure, of course. I enjoy my whittlin’.”
indicate a distinctive flavor of dry humor that makes Mercer, and Lansdale, imminently readable. A bit of research shows me that there is one Mercer novel Deadman’s Road published by Subterranean back in October (it also included this story) though the title is no longer in print; which is a shame. Thankfully you can enjoy The Crawling Sky for free in the Spring 2011 of Subterranean Press right now.
I remember all those years ago, lurking in the wotmania OF Forums looking for something, anything, to read while I waited anxiously for the next Wheel of Time novel. I remember reading glowing posts about this guy named Steven Erikson and his first book Gardens of the Moon. I remember finally giving in and ordering the paperback from amazon.co.uk. The following years were filled with ridiculous battles, philosophic soldiers, and more powerful beings than any world should ever really contain. Along the way I laughed, I cried (maybe a little when a certain someone died), I cringed, and I occasionally struggled my way through the increasingly massive tomes of Erikson’s vibrant Malazan world. Finally here we are. The “final” volume, the confrontation that everything has been leading up to and the characters, so newer some older, now ready to make one final desperate last stand.
Not too much else to say here. I’m currently working on a reread of Martin’s Game of Thrones. I finished The Crippled God and should have a review up later this week, though like The Wise Man’s Fear above, this is a difficult title to review. Once I’m done with Game of Thrones I have every intent in digging into Abraham’s The Dragon’s Path.
I have a friend who, when we were in our primary school days, confessed that once while staying home sick for got hooked on soaps. This is a statement I would never let that friend live down. While I have never been the most discriminate of television watchers there are two things I’ve always managed to avoid: reality television (post-Real World/Road Rules, all 90s teens are exempt from that) and soap operas. I have been forced as of late to reconsider that last. Sure, as a (mostly) recovered wrestling fan I have acknowledged that the “sports-entertainment” embodied by the WWE is a soap opera of sorts but that isn’t what I’m talking about. Sometimes there is a show you get hooked on, a show that intellectually you’re not sure you really should be enjoying but you, for one reason or another, you can’t stop watching. For me that show, once something of a prime-time soap, is a little program called Kyle XY.