Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Top Ten Videogames of the Year, 2016

While a terrible year for many things, 2016 was phenomenal for games. Not only do I passionately love more releases this year than normal, but I could easily make a Top Ten list out of games that aren't for me but that I've watched people explode over.

Stardew Valley
, Overwatch, Darkest Dungeon, Civilization 6, Pokemon Sun and Moon, Uncharted 4, Owlboy, Dishonored 2, Titanfall 2, Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes... The hits have kept coming all year. After multiple years of AAA console games lagging badly, those companies have finally started fulfilling their promise. At the same time, indie developers have continued their explosion in amazing output. It's been a pleasure just to listen to different players gab on what's captivated them. Developers endorsed games from genres I'd never known they even played in before.

In some cases, I just haven't had the time and money to play things yet. I'm sure I will like Firewatch and Uncharted 4: A Thief's End when I have the opportunity to play them. One game noticeably absent is No Man’s Sky, which I’ve held off playing since the developers are working on so many content patches. It sounds like it will be an entirely different game with all the updates next year. Given how polarizing the release was, and how busy my writing schedule got in Autumn, I figured I’d wait.

As with every year, I’m going to list my Top Ten Games of the Year. As with every year, I’m including ties where I don’t see any reasonable comparison for one title being ahead of another. Because ranking art is silly, and if we’re going to be silly, then let’s go all the way. This year there’s a three-way tie for first place, followed immediately by a three-way tie for fourth place. We even open on a tie.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Bathroom Monologue: Reconsider the Lobster

Humans: ill kill and eat anything that looks good
Lobster: I'm a bug that lives underwater.
Humans: eh still
Lobster: With claws!
Humans: bet I can crack em
Lobster: I taste like pencil erasers.
Humans: i got butter
Lobster: I release poison when I die.
Humans: i loves a challenge

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

My Favorite Things in Books, 2016

The longer the live, the less I believe in objectively good literature. Even subjectively good literature is a concept deserving some scrutiny. When we listen to someone "love" a book, they're generally gushing about one part of it. Too Like the Lightning's plot twists, or Uprooted's dauntless quirkiness.

So this year I don't want to tell you about the "best books" I read. Instead, let's talk about my favorite things in books. Those things that define our memories of the book long after we've put it down. Come with me. Let's enjoy things together.


The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson
There is this theory that all Secondary World Fantasy is told to us in translation. The people of Wizard of Earthsea and Sword of Truth don't actually speak English - they live on planets where there was never an England. So all such works are in a contrived translation to us. But that translation has almost always default to a nigh-facsimile of Proper British or Chicago Manual Style English. Thus Sorcerer of the Wildeeps is jarring because its dialogue is relayed entirely in levels of African American Vernacular. Consider:

“Y’all do what you want,” said Mosteyfa called Teef. “But this nigga here?” They called him that for the obvious reason: long, snaggled, missing… “Is going all the way to Olorum.”… pewter-black, moss-green, yellow… “My ass ain’t tryna go right back up to the desert.”… cracked, carious, crooked. “A nigga need some rest behind that motherfucker!”

Demane felt much the same, crudity notwithstanding. A unanimous rumble rolled across the gathering of brothers.

“Anyone?” said the captain. His right hand pantomimed a man walking away, left hand waving goodbye.

“Come this far,” said some brother, “might as well go on.”

“I ain’t never seen Olorum, noway,” said another brother.

“Silver full-boys, y’all!” said a third. “Much as we can grab, y’all!”

There is nothing any more contrived about any of this language than Lord of the Rings's Middle Earth having tobacco and potatoes, or all the Fantasy novels that use the words "aphrodisiac" and "volcano" in worlds where worship was never held for Aphrodite or Vulcan. Wilson mentions "volcanic" in his first chapter, which has to be deliberate. This is fiction highly informed by cultures ignored by too much of mainstream American Fantasy. And while it has great contents all the way to the monster stalking the heroic party at the end - and that monster is the freaking coolest Fantasy monster this side of Helene Wecker's Golem - it's the language that allows access to so much character and culture. After this and The Devil in America, Kai Ashante Wilson has proven one of the most promising voices in our genre.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

I Was Reading a Classic Last Night, And...

I suddenly beheld the figure of a man, at some distance, advancing towards me with superhuman speed. He bounded over the crevices in the ice, among which I had walked with caution. I was troubled: a mist came over my eyes, and I felt a faintness seize me; but I was quickly restored by the cold gale of plummeting ratings. All of us at CNN perceived, as the shape came nearer (sight tremendous and abhorred!) that it was the wretch whom we had created. I trembled with rage and horror, resolving to wait for its approach, and then close with him in mortal combat. He approached; his countenance bespoke bitterness, anguish, combined with disdain and malignity, while its unearthly ugliness rendered it almost too horrible for human eyes. But I scarcely observed this; rage and hatred had at first deprived me of utterance, and I recovered only to overwhelm him with words expressive of furious detestation and contempt.

"Devil," I editorialized, "do you dare approach me? and do not you fear the fierce vengeance of my arm wreaked on your miserable head? Begone, vile insect! or rather, stay, that I may trample you to dust! and, oh! that I could, with the extinction of your miserable presidency, restore those victims whom you have so diabolically murdered!"

"I expected this reception," said Trump. "All media hate the wretched; how, then, must I be hated, who am miserable beyond all living things! Yet you, my creator, detest and spurn me, thy creature, to whom thou art bound by ties only dissoluble by the annihilation of one of us. You propose to slander me. How dare you sport thus with life? Do your duty towards me, and I will do mine towards you and the rest of mankind. If you will comply with my conditions, I will leave them and you at peace; but if you refuse, I will glut the maw of death, until it be satiated with the blood of your remaining friends."

"Abhorred monster! fiend that thou art! the tortures of hell are too mild a vengeance for thy crimes. Wretched devil! you reproach me with your creation; come on, then, that I may extinguish the spark which I so negligently bestowed."

My rage was without bounds; I sprang on him, impelled by all the feelings which can arm one being against the existence of another.

He easily eluded me, and said --

"Life, although it may only be an accumulation of anguish, is dear to me, and I will defend it. Remember, thou hast made me more powerful than thyself; my height is superior to thine; my joints more supple. But I will not be tempted to set myself in opposition to thee. I am thy creature, and I will be even mild and docile to my natural lord and king, if thou wilt also perform thy part, the which thou owest me. Oh, CNN, be not equitable to every other, and trample upon me alone, to whom thy justice, and even thy clemency and affection, is most due. Remember that I am thy creature; I ought to be thy Adam, the best Adam. Sad! Apologize!”

Monday, November 7, 2016

"Where I'm From, We Eat Our Parents" is live at Daily Science Fiction!

I'm tickled to be back at Daily Science Fiction this month with a new story: "Where I'm From, We Eat Our Parents."

The story follows Fiend, a tentacle monster with romantic intentions. *Actually* romantic intentions. He's found a great girlfriend and the biggest conflict in his life right now is meeting her parents.

I might be riffing off a genre you've heard of on the internet. But will you admit having heard of it? As with "The Terrible," DSF's editors have let me publish some of my inner weirdness. I owe thanks to my beta readers: T.S. Bazelli, Nadya Duke, and Leigh Wallace.

You can read the story by clicking here.

Friday, October 28, 2016

The Halloween List: We Are Still Here


After I finished The Guest, I got on the elliptical and loaded up Netflix. By pure coincidence, We Are Still Here was next in my queue, and opened… on a couple coming home after the death of their son.


We Are Still Here is still a very different movie – the couple begin experiencing strange phenomena around their house, like pictures their son hated falling over and cracking, or voices in the basement. It turns out this is a new house they’ve just moved to, hoping to get away from some of the grief, but they suspect something has followed them here. But the locals explain that horrible things once happened in this house, and they’ve always found it eerie. We begin to question what is watching them.

What unfolds is one of the finest recent haunting movies outside James Wan’s The Conjuring series and The Wailing. While this is also a period piece, set in the 1970s, We Are Still Here uses the visual style of film rather than digital, and has best-in-class costume design and make-up. Characters often felt familiar to me because I knew adults like them in the early 1980s when I was a child.

There’s a great charm, too, to casting so many actors with fading looks, receding hairlines, and other touches of age that the crew don’t cover up. They feel aging in a way that Hollywood tends to hide. It nails its period better than any other Horror movie I’ve seen since House of the Devil.

The house they’ve bought also lacks glamour. The ground and upper floors are both worn, not in need of repair, but with the scuffs and chips of time. It brought me back to times spent in old Maine houses. Only the basement seems odd, with its hole in the wall that might as well lead directly to Hell.

Especially if you have Netflix and are craving a haunting for Halloween, this is a great pick. Indie Horror seems to be grasping period pieces better than ever before.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Halloween List: The Green Room (AKA Patrick Stewart?!)

Patrick Stewart plays the leader of a ground of backwoods skinheads trying to kill a Punk band.


Patrick Freaking Stewart. Captain Picard. Professor X. On his evilest day he was Captain Ahab, which was fine because that guy came out of a classic novel. The moment that Stewart walks into The Green Room and casually asks for the situation before instructing his fellow skinheads on the best way to break into a locked room and kill off the rest of the witnesses, it is jarring. This is Stewart barely changing his accent, just dropping a little of his warmth to fit in with the other drug runners.

The simple plot follows a never-gonna-be Punk band playing in the least popular venues. After doing an afternoon show at a taco hut, they drive into the woods for a rural bar. In a movie with several awkwardly funny moments, they open their set with a song deriding Nazis, while skinheads in the crowd check their swastika shirts and SS tattoos. I don’t believe in blaming victims, but at a certain point you might be asking to be the victims in a Horror movie.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Under the Skin Vs. It Follows (Vs. Sexuality)


Today's is going to be a long post. Instead of just writing independent reviews of the two hot-topic films, I want to talk about them in relation to each other. If you haven’t gotten to them yet, I won’t spoil the third act of either. But Under the Skin and It Follows are very interesting Horror movies to have come out so close to each other – they’re both films about victimization, but from opposite sides of it. They’re both about predators hijacking sexuality for their own unknowable ends.

But most people I know like one and loathe the other. When they condemn whichever of the two they dislike, they label it sex-negative. I disagree with that reading for either film. Rather, both feel rooted in Horror’s history of finding something desirable and finding a way to make it terrifying. Friday the 13th did that with cabin vacations; Jaws did it for swimming; and it’s easy to forget, having grown up with John Carpenter’s Halloween, that the holiday wasn’t always so blood-soaked, but rather that movie helmed a change in cultural attitudes around the holiday.


Unfortunately Halloween also helped cement tropes about sexuality in Horror. The tropes are unhealthy, and even baffling when you find the liberal attitudes of their screen writers and directors. John Carpenter and Wes Craven were startled when people confronted them about things latent in their work. It's why Craven went out of his way to subvert some of those tropes in Scream.

So when Horror turns sex into an actual theme, it has to be mindful. Slasher Movies didn’t originally intend to punish teen sexuality, but it became a tradition, and one that It Follows deliberately fights back against. Under the Skin goes for something weirder.

Let’s look.

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Halloween List: The Guest


The Guest s another of those movies I watched knowing nothing about. It's such a pleasure to take recommendations from friends and find out the premise of a movie as it unfolds. This is a particularly nimble film with a very sticky opening, and if you want to just dive into a Thriller this weekend, The Guest is a good shot.



My vague first paragraph out of the way: The Guest is about a family mourning the death of their oldest son, and are interrupted by a mysterious stranger who says he deserved in the military with him. He quickly ingratiates himself with stories and awkward politeness, and whenever their other children get in trouble, he's there to help. Except in breaking up a fight, he's surprisingly vicious. Often we catch him watching the family with dead eyes, like everything he's doing is an act. But if it is, then why is he here?
It feels like a piece of 80's B-cinema, a worthy successor to The Stepfather, except the dangerous man is this time filling the empty role of a brother. It's greatly helped by a synth-heavy soundtrack that tickles at the Stranger Things part of your brain.
He's not just a stalker - he intervenes with a school principle, local drug dealers, and a misbehaving boyfriend as though he really has the family's best interests in mind. But he'll kill to preserve those best interests. You're waiting for either a secret malice or his overprotectiveness to boil over when the family's daughter calls the military. Just one phone call scrambles people through the chain of command, until Fringe's own Lance Reddick shows up to rein the mystery man in. It's a lot of fun pretending the movie is a secret episode of Fringe.
You can go back and forth over whether this is Horror - it's more of a cheesy Thriller with moments of high intensity, and that happens to take place on Halloween. But by the end, it completely validates itself as an October watch. We have to hunt a bad guy through the school's freaking Haunted House display!

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Halloween List: Train to Busan and Flu

Today I’ve got two hot films from Korea, including one of the biggest Horror movies of the year. It’s going to be a good day.

But before we start, I have to talk about an unfortunate parallel. Our first movie, Train to Busan, is fictional Horror about zombies on a train headed to one of South Korean’s biggest cities. But this October, the real Busan was struck by a massive typhoon. If you have any spare money, please consider donating to relief efforts.

Train to Busan

For all the buzz this has gotten as Korean revitalizing the zombie genre, I’m almost surprised to report that Train to Busan is… just another zombie movie. There is no great innovation in Horror or change to the zombie formula in this movie. Instead, it’s two hours of people stuck on a train, trying to fend off zombies from the rear cars. If somehow you are craving more zombie-smashing and tragic losses of survivors, then this is for you.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Halloween List: Creep and The Good Neighbor

Today we're talking about two movies I knew nothing about. These were recommended by good friends and I went in completely ignorant. Particularly in Creep's case, knowing nothing so greatly helped. I can't imagine enjoying that movie as much if I'd watched trailers full of bits from throughout the run time. I'll be sensitive about exposing too much of the plots of these movies, because if they sound fun to you, they're much more worth discovering as you're watching.

Creep (streaming on Netflix)

The great test for a Horror story is this: if the story was stopped at the end of any given scene, would you want to start it back up and see what happens next? In my little parade of Horror Movies so far, only Under the Skin and Pontypool have been this good at acing the test. Creep is expertly designed, a tight Found Footage movie running just 1:17.

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Halloween List: Shin Godzilla is a Return to the Soul of Kaiju Film

It’s a two-second shot that defines the movie. The camera points up a cramped street as wreckage overflows into it, literal tons of boats and cottages rolling up the pavement like waves in a hellish river. A single young man runs from the camera and the tide of destruction so fast that his limbs are losing coordination. We don’t see him escape this street, and we never see him again. We can only hope he made it out of here. Shin Godzilla is an angry movie, angry that government has failed to save us, and insistent that it do better.

Shin Godzilla is the most political entry in the series since the original in 1954, which was an allegory for the horrors of the atomic bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Eventually kaiju film became more about giant monsters and robots fighting each other, and while fun, Shin Godzilla is from an older school. Godzilla has always been a hybrid of metaphors, and this movie shares influences from the 3/11 earthquake, Fukushima reactor incident, and recent tsunamis. It’s unnerving from its haunting score, to the camera so frequently switching to the point of view of his victims seconds before they die, to the pure nightmare fuel of Godzilla’s new appearance.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Halloween List: Tremors and Bone Tomahawk

Today is another one of those weird coincidences. Both of my movies were set out in the west - Bone Tomahawk attempting to blend Westerns and Horror, while Tremors is wonderfully cheesy Horror simply set out in the lesser-populated parts of Nevada. These are two movies that definitely wouldn't talk to each other at a party.

Tremors (streaming on Amazon Prime)

From the distant past of 1990 comes Tremors! A favorite of mine that I hadn’t watched in over a decade, and it ages very well.

Tremors is a classic 90’s B-Movie, cheesy and earnest, with an absolutely wild monster design. The “Graboid” is a prehistoric monster that tunnels under the ground, with an elephantine body, a mouth guarded by carapace mandibles, and inside lurk multiple obedient snakes that serve as biting tongues to drag prey down inside the beast.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Halloween List: Pontypool and Southbound

Welcome back to The Halloween List! I'm already overjoyed with this project, as it's giving me fascinating movies to watch during otherwise grueling exercise sessions. I'm gradually rebuilding my lung capacity on the elliptical, which is great to do, but flares up my neuromuscular syndrome. A good show or movie takes my mind off things, and today's features definitely did that. I'm still thinking over the strangeness of Pontypool.

"What's Pontypool?" you ask. Well...

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