Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Goodbye, 2014

I try not to post personal blogs when things are bad. I'm worried they'll come across petulant or whiney, that I'll come across childish. I'm afraid if anyone reads it they'll roll their eyes and say, "Oh harden up you big fucking baby." But let me just say:

2014 has been hard.

In some big ways, it's been a great year. 

I quit a job that made me miserable for three years. We traded in our oldest, crappiest car for something new, reliable, and safe.

We bought a house - this last one was a think we'd been really building up to in 2013, and there were times where it almost felt like it wouldn't happen. But it did, and we love it.

I got a new job, and it felt like being released from a life sentence. The specter that had hung over me for three years was gone, and I no longer felt like burying myself in a hole in the ground every day. The weekend wasn't a depressing countdown until misery returned. My boss was awesome, my work, while not flashy, was fun, and the people were nice.

If you'd talked me me around August-October, I would have been on top of the world.

But my awesome boss left, and a new one arrived, and things took an immediate nosedive. In the meantime, my wife had a car accident. We were forced to make due with just one car, which was fine until she was laid off. Despite really trying, she's yet to find another job. The money we had saved up has dwindled to nothing, and now we talk about how much we can get away with eating and still stretch our meals for two or three days.

There have been bright spots, but while 2014 started with a ton of promise, it has contorted into a pretty abysmal finish.

That's not even counting all of the other awful bullshit that's come bubbling to the surface like an overflowing toilet: all the black people being killed by cops and vigilantes, Leelah Alcorn, and the struggle of the protestors in Ferguson and across the country--terrible events that I am not directly affected by, but that I witness and that weigh heavily in my heart.

Right on the tail end, things are starting to look up, maybe, a little, for my wife and I, at least. And I'm going to hope that they will keep looking up. I'm going to make resolutions, regardless of how futile and silly they seem, and I'm going to work to make 2015 a better year. Some things are out of my control. But I will do what I can with what I have.

This sounds like a sad-sack of a blog post, but what I'm coming away with as I finish it is grim determination. Things have been shitty lately. But by God, I will take control of the aspects of my life where such control is possible and I will polish this turd, squeeze blood from the stones, and spin any straw I can get my hands on into gold.

Life is what you make of it. Give me the goddamned lemons so I can get to making lemonade already.

Welcome 2015. Let's do this.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Waiting

I've been waiting.

Whenever life gets difficult (which almost always means whenever WORK gets difficult), I draw inward. I stop checking the internet almost entirely, except for things like Facebook--which is hardly checking the internet, as it's just my family on there.

I don't write much, if anything, when things get like this. I can't focus on it. Instead, I dive into other types of activity. I create things. Often, I cook or do some basic maintenance around the house--mechanical type tasks that don't really take the creativity that coming up with stories or blog posts does. It's easier.

For about a month or so, I've occasionally considered going to write something for the blog, or writing on a story. But I've stopped myself. I was waiting for something. I'm not sure what. I think I've been waiting for things to settle down...maybe? But I'm not sure they ever will. Life, I've found, goes through ebbs and flows, ups and downs. Things lately have just been a down.

In spite of a really terrible time with work lately, my life has been very good. I've discovered that I absolutely love cooking. Christmas, my favorite holiday, is right around the corner. Those things are good.

I hope things have been good with you, too.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Halloween Recommendation: THE BAY


As a rule, I do not like Found Footage movies.

It started as a unique artistic tool to create a certain amount of grittiness and the illusion of reality to certain types of movies. Since then, the move market has been inundated with an absurd number of movies all with the same style. I do not like it because many movies use the Found Footage concept as a crutch and a cheat. You don’t have to use good editing or camera technique because the people holding the camera wouldn’t. And it’s often used to try to spice up what would otherwise be a mediocre movie.

In practice, however, there are several Found Footage movies that I have begrudgingly discovered I liked. Some I like in spite of the Found Footage component--The Last Exorcist--and some I like because they figured out a way to use the technique in an interesting and/or impressive way--Chronicle.

In that latter category, add the movie The Bay.

This is one of those movies that I didn’t know anything about and only added because Netflix said I’d give 4 stars.

When I started it, I was extremely disappointed to discover the film was ANOTHER Found Footage movie. Like we don’t have enough of those goddamned things. But, despite my already being put off by the format, I pushed on. I wanted to at least give it a chance. And I’m glad I did. what I thought was just going to be another Found Footage movie was actually a mockumentary-expose-styled horror film about political corruption and environmental disaster.

The cleverness of The Bay comes from the structure. The film starts very narration heavy, with a girl on a webcam infodumping a ton of set-up and history. She doesn’t disappear completely, but once the scene has been set, the film does use her more sparingly, usually to provide additional details about the film clips we’re seeing.

The Bay also figures out a clever way to avoid the “Why is he still filming this shit?” problem that many Found Footage movies do by using multiple cameras from different characters as well as a variety of sources for B-roll footage. They use a girl’s Face Time chat, police dash cams, security cameras, home videos, audio recordings a la news coverage of 9-1-1 calls, and even photographs with narration. While I’ve seen a few Found Footage films try the “filmmakers killed making a documentary, here’s the uncut footage” route, this takes “raw” footage from all over incident and puts it together to form a narrative. This film feels like a thorough documentary.

The film isn’t just impressive on a technique level, though. The actual “monster” set up is pretty scary as well.

The folks living in this small New England town are engaged in some crab festival when people start bleeding out of their skin, experiencing strange swelling in their abdomens, and developing disgusting blisters and sores. When the police start finding bodies all over the city, their first thought is that a serial killer is loose because the people are missing limbs, tongues, etc. However, they soon link the dead bodies with the spike in sick people rushing to the ER. The source of the sickness? Everyone was exposed to the local water.

Because of the different types of videos, this movie almost feels like a mashup of others. A young couple attacked by something in the water, which is captured on film, feels like a scene from Jaws, whereas the video of a woman slowly wandering through the middle of a crowded pier, bleeding from her skin and screaming for help as dozens of people simply stand by and watch feels more like something out of an infection movie, like The Stand.

The film does a good job of laying out the mystery and doling out the information of exactly what is in the water, intercutting footage from the day of infection with footage of two scientists studying the bay a month or so earlier and a doctor at the hospital working with the CDC to get to the bottom of things.

All in all, after getting over my initial annoyance that this film was found footage, I found this is one of those movies where the format actually aided the film, creating a very unique and interesting experience that justified their decision to use this technique, the same way The Matrix justifies using slow motion action sequences.

If you’re looking for a movie to watch this Halloween, I highly recommend The Bay, which is on Netflix currently.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Engaging in the Offness of the Shaking


Taylor Swift, former country-singer/songwriter turned pop star, has a song that has been playing incessantly on the radio for some weeks now. It's called "Shake It Off." As far as pop songs go, it's relatively harmless, a fluffy, upbeat little diddy. But since the radio station has decided that this song is the ONLY song they want to play around here, I've started noticing little things that are strange to me.

There's this...it's not a rule per se, but it's a common idea that there's a thing called the "Rule of Three." We as people generally seem to like a list when it's got three things in it. We won't snap and go on a puppy-kicking spree if someone uses only two things in a list, but in general, that's where things in our brain seem to work out best. The best example is joke lists. Say someone wanted to put something in their Twitter bio for a joke. More often than not, it would read:

"Bobby Gluesniffer is a father to his two children, a husband to his patient wife, and the ruler of a micro-civilization living in his belly button."

If you cut out the second item in the list, the punchline comes too abruptly.

The reason I bring all of this up is because in the song "Shake It Off," Taylor Swift constantly violates the rule of three, and it's started driving me bonkers.
"I stay out too late
Got nothing in my brain
That's what people say, mmm-mmm
That's what people say, mmm-mmm"
 Why is there not a third thing in that list? WHY IS THERE NOT A THIRD THING IN THAT LIST??? GRRRRRR!

She does that four times. Four times she lists two things, and then just repeats "that's what people say" twice. I get that it's symmetrical, but it bugs me.

What bugs me more is Taylor Swift's diversion into cool talk.
"Hey, hey, hey. Just think while you've been getting down and out about the liars and the dirty, dirty cheats of the world, you could've been getting down to this. Sick. Beat."
 First of all: AAAAAGH IT SOUNDS LIKE MY MOM TRYING TO TALK LIKE A HIGH SCHOOLER, BLAAAAAGH.

But also: the beat isn't really that sick. It's a very mediocre boring beat. And if she's referring to what follows that portion? Well...it's a cheerleading chant. A relatively common sounding cheerleader chant.
"My ex-man brought his new girlfriend
She's like "Oh, my god!" I'm just gonna shake.
And to the fella over there with the hella good hair
Won't you come on over, baby? We can shake, shake, shake"
Two things about this cheerleading breakdown:

1) She violates the rule of three again. My ex man, fella over there with the hella good hair, and I REALLY feel like there should be a third thing that to make this breakdown feel worth it.

2) My wife and I got into so many debates about this part.

My wife, whom I STRONGLY DISAGREE WITH says that the new girlfriend is the one talking about how she's going to shake. But clearly Taylor Swift is the one going to shake. IT'S THE WHOLE POINT OF THE SONG. "The haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, but I'm just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake, shake it off." She's shaking off her troubles!

It usually goes like this:

Me: Taylor Swift should really use some better ammo against her ex-man's new girlfriend. I mean...she just says "Oh my god"? So what? Does that make her vapid? Because I'm pretty sure Taylor uses that in some of her other songs. Just seems like she has no reason to hate on her other than...that her ex-boyfriend started dating someone else.

Wife: She does use something else. She's like, "Oh my GOD, I'm just gonna shake." She's just an idiot on the dance floor shaking it around.

Me: No, the SONG is called "Shake It Off." Taylor is the one doing the shaking. She's shaking off her bad feelings over seeing the new boyfriend.

Wife: No, you're wrong.

Me: It's the whole point of the song.

Wife: Nope. New girlfriend is shaking it all over the dance floor.

Me: No--well, I mean, maybe, but Taylor specifically is shaking it.

Wife: Nope.

Me: Yes she is! She's shaking off her troubles! It's the whole point of the song!!!

Wife: I think you're mistaken.

And so on. I think she just likes to torture me.

I give Taylor Swift's "Shake It Off" a stale cherry Pop Tart out of fliverteen stars.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Thoughts on THE MIRROR EMPIRE


As you might remember, I was reading Kameron Hurley’s The Mirror Empire. I finished it about two weeks ago. It was incredible. How she’s able to come up with so many interesting ideas, characters, and motivations, and get them all across without heavy infodumping...I mean...holy cow, guys. I broke out in some serious green envy-hives reading it.

Initially, I started this post as simple a spoiler-free review to give out some brief thoughts about some of the book’s juicier bits, but goddamn if this book doesn’t have layers on layers on layers. So, I’ve pretty much given up. Don’t read this if spoilers bother you is all I have to say. Go, buy the book (may have to be on Kindle or Nook since people burned through its first printing like a high-schooler with his first credit card), then come back and read my thoughts if you care, okee dokee?

Okee dokee.

Let me prepare you: this book has a steep learning curve. Now, absolutely do not avoid reading this book because you think it will be tough. It will be. But oh my GOD it’s good. You just have to take it slow and use the glossary when needed. She introduces, subtly, slowly, with the skill of a master surgeon, a fuckton--a metric fuckton if we’re being scientific--of stuff in this novel.

Part of the brilliance of the book is how basically every choice Hurley made seems to have been purposefully made to fuck with your expectations. Narratively, socially, interpersonally. Some things are obvious. Some things are super subtle. It tries to avoid almost any norm that you’ve read in mainstream fantasy. It tries to push you. If this book isn’t taught in a college class of some kind or another, some professors aren’t doing their jobs.

Part of the learning curve in this book comes from being introduced to three different cultures--the Dhai, Saiduan, and Dorinah, plus a slave culture--the dajians, and an alternate universe version of a culture. That’s not a joke by the way. The plot of this book is “Invaders from an alternate universe attempt to take over the world.” Seriously, that’s fucking awesome, right?

The culture you probably spend the most time in is the Dhai culture. The biggest difference between them and us is that they are entirely consent based. That means they expect and require consent for even the most cursory physical interaction. One of the most striking moments for me was early when a disable character tripped and started to fall and another character grabbed her to stop her from getting hurt. He did it reflexively, and it was something good, but he still immediately released her and started profusely apologizing.

The implications of a “no touching” culture is fascinating. What if we had to ask permission, not just to kiss, but for any physical touching at all? There might be some things that some might miss, like when someone places a comforting hand on your shoulder when things are shitty. On the other hand, 1) not everyone is a big fan of the touching thing anyway, and 2) violence would be pretty much nonexistent. How could it? You can’t hit someone without touching them without consent, and who would consent to that? I bet they’ve got insults that would make Shakespeare jealous, though.

As I read, I started to get a sneaking feeling that there was more going on than the obvious metatextual pushback of rape culture. I mean, it’s definitely that, too. But WHY do the Dhai have this culture? I got the feeling, as I read, that the Dhai didn’t used to be the pacifists they are at the start of the novel. I think they used to be pretty violent and brutal, and they developed their consent culture as a rejection of their old ways.

I don’t have the time or the space to go into each culture in depth and their differences and nuances when compared to each other and to us. Suffice it to say, they’re all very fleshed out.

I also want to talk about the use of gender in the novel.

The Dhai’s view of gender is very complex, with FIVE genders: male passive, male aggressive, female passive, female aggressive, and genderless.

I couldn’t quite figure out what the difference was between passive and aggressive. One character, who becomes the leader early in the book, is male passive. He seems...normal? People are a little icked that he’s a dude ruler since the position has only ever been held by women, but he’s not, like, a complete airhead. At first I thought “passive” meant that he was one of those “roll with the changes,” doesn’t want to make decisions, “I don’t know, what do you want to do?” kinds of fellows, but he gives out orders, makes tough decisions, and acts all leaderly.

It’s entirely possible that was the point: that even their five gendered system is inadequate because, although identifying as both male and passive, he exhibits active, aggressive tendencies anyway.

As a counterexample, another character is male aggressive, and I can see, if “passive” and “aggressive” refer to their temperaments, how he could be described as aggressive. It’s not in our traditional understanding of masculine aggression, but he definitely works to try to get things to serve his own self interest. The descriptions used for him are kind of similar to the kind used for femme fatales. He uses his looks to get what he wants. He flirts. He lies to get out of doing things he doesn't want to do, or so that he can do things he does want to do. None of this is malicious and hateful, though. He’s a likeable character.

Moving away from the Dhai culture, though still talking about gender, I want to talk about The Scene. This is potentially triggering, so I have an image at the start and end of the section so you can skip past if you want, or you can bail out here. Your choice.

****

There’s a couple in the book, Anavha and Zezili. Zezili is an officer in the Dorinah army. Anavha stays home and takes care of the house. Where the earlier depictions of gender are subtle and nuanced, this one is blunt and obvious: Zezili is a woman and Anavha is a man, an obvious role reversal.

Blunt and obvious doesn’t mean bad. It’s clearly intentional. Where the other characters’ complex representations of genders serve to pick apart the reader’s understanding of gender and how our gender binary doesn’t make sense, Zezili and Anavha are there the swing a wrecking ball through the reader’s understanding of gendered roles in relationships and the horrible ways they’re simplified and portrayed in fiction.

There is a scene in which Zezili comes home stressed out, angry, frustrated with affairs in the military. Her husband comes in wearing his skirt and with his make up on. The scene eventually leads to Zezili raping Anavha.

If this is the scene that everyone was upset about, I didn’t quite get what the big deal about the scene was. It’s not really graphic. It leaves out the gory details. I mean, it’s clear what happens, but the narrative pulls back from their perspective so that it happens off the page. I’ve witnessed some horrifying rapes in fiction: The Hills Have Eyes (1 & 2), The Last House on the Left (so bad I had to close my eyes and plug my ears and wait for it to be over because I got so upset I nearly passed out), even Susannah’s rape in The Dark Tower 3 was WAY more graphic and horrifying. King goes into explicit details in that. It’s always a struggle for me to get through.

Not to minimize rape, which is horrible. I’m saying this depiction of rape was relatively tame compared to many others. If this is the scene that upset people, my guess is that it was a WOMAN raping a MAN that upset them. Which is obviously the point of that scene, to show how disempowering and horrifying those situations, yet they're used so cavalierly in fiction.

Actually, the scene that upset me even more came later. A group of women break into Zezili’s house, drunk, and decide since she’s not there, they'll have their way with her husband. That scene was more disturbing to me than the previous, but it wasn't because it was a MAN being molested and assaulted. It was because it was more graphic and from Anavha’s terrified point of view. But even that scene, as unpleasant and disturbing as it was, was not half as graphic as the Susannah scene mentioned previously.

****

This post is already much longer than I intended, and I'm still not done. There are still so many things I could talk about: the role biraciality plays in the story, mental health disorders, physical disabilities, the magic system, the SENTIENT, MEAT-EATING TREES, or even the implications of knowing the existence of a multi-verse.

All of the neat worldbuilding would be nothing, though, if the story wasn't good. But it is.

I am jealous of how rich and real her characters feel. Each character is unique, each has different motivations and back stories.

Lilia is a disabled asthmatic with as much grit and strength as a war-hardened general.

Roh is a clever boy only too aware of how fleeting his powers and position are and horrified by the projected path his life will take, and so is desperate to find another way.

Zezili is a mixed race officer in a military tasked to commit not just a genocide of her people, but also to cripple their entire economy by eliminating the backbone of it, all to make room for foreign invaders.

Anavha is a world-wearied self-harmer who has a secret powerful gift that has just been forcibly thrust into a cruel world he’s ill-prepared for.

And there are many more.

If you were on the fence about this, I hope you'll give it a shot. But most of all: don’t give up if you feel like the book is too complex for you. It’s not. It may force you to re-examine what you believe about the world around you, but that’s what the best genre fiction should do.
_____________

Quick pro tip: Use the glossary. There are definitions for all of the place names, satellites, and slang terms they use. There’s also something else that I was too stupid to notice until I was 3/4 of the way through the book: the glossary includes most of the character’s names.

When I was reading, I struggled to keep up with the two A names, the two K names, the two G names, etc. At one point, I thought, “Man, I wish there was a name glossary as well.”

There was. I’m an idiot. Don’t be an idiot like me. This will help you SO MUCH until you get used to things.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Great Debate: GONE GIRL **SPOILERS**

Image from Wikipedia
***ALL OF THE SPOILERS, SO MANY SPOILERS! OH GOD TURN BACK NOW OR RISK ALL OF THE SPOILERS OH THE HUMANITY***

**Seriously, this book (and movie) does have some pretty awesome twists that it would be a shame if you ruined them for  yourselves. If you REALLY don't care, don't say I didn't warn you.**

A while back, my wife and I saw the movie Gone Girl, the David Fincher adaption of Gillian Flynn's fantastic novel. I love Gillian Flynn. I bought Sharp Things a little over a year ago because it had a blurb by Stephen King on the cover--and I fucking love Stephen King, but I quickly became enamored with Flynn's stories. They're usually about women, but Flynn’s women characters are kind of terrible people, and usually extremely fucked up. They're bleak as hell. Deliciously so.

As everyone in the world has mentioned, the second half of Gone Girl is where things get interesting. In the second half, it's revealed that Amy orchestrated the entire kidnapping herself. Once her journal entries run out, Amy herself takes over narrating alternate chapters from the moment of her disappearance onward. And Amy is a goddamned monster. Nick may be a shitty human being, but Amy is a selfish robot hellbent on manipulating everyone and everything to get what she wants. She is a textbook sociopath.

I’ve read a few essays by some women (and men) that think the point of the film is “Bitches be Crazy.” And I get coming to that conclusion because Amy does exhibit all of the worst things people say about women. Amy is definitely crazy. But NPR's Linda Holmes wrote a post that put into words what I’d been thinking since reading the book:
"What has always kept Amy from troubling me in this particular sense is that she does the things she does not because they are in her nature as a woman, but because they are in her nature as a psychopath. One of the problems with the relative paucity of interesting female characters is that they become responsible for representing all women, for speaking to What Women Are Like. The more scantly represented any demographic group is, the more each person seems to reflect upon everyone. But here, it has always been perfectly clear that Amy is an aberration. She is a woman, but she is not only a woman. She is also a monster, and the second half of Fincher's film is, in many ways, a horror movie about the great difficulty — and eventually the impossibility — of defeating her."
Another interesting read of the movie I've seen, however, is taking Amy as an empowering figure. My wife thought this, and at first I thought she was crazy. But I've seen it popping up a few times online, so my wife’s not alone. And looking at it a certain way, I see why. In my wife’s mind, Amy was a scorned wife taking revenge against her awful husband. She said that, obviously she went too far with her vengeance, but Nick was a shitty, unfaithful person, a cheater that had anger issues and generally made Amy feel unsafe, unloved, and that he deserved what she did to him. This idea is supported by some particularly awesome and insightful commentary on society’s treatment of women by Amy.

There was a telling moment in the movie theater where, after Amy's return, when Nick and Amy are trying to out maneuver each other and see who can screw the other one over more, Nick learns that Amy has gotten herself pregnant using some of Nick's stored sperm, and he knows he'll need to stay for the sake of the child. For just a moment, he gets pissed off, grabs her by the neck, and shoves her, hard, backward into the wall. Everyone in the theater gasped.

It was an amazing moment of movie making and storytelling. Nick had been mostly very restrained up until that point, served very well by Affleck's quiet, whisper-like voice. There were moments where he got angry--in one outburst, he shattered a glass on the floor because the police clearly thought he killed his wife and it pissed him off--but mostly he portrayed either confusion, annoyance, or quiet anger at his situation.

It was interesting to me that everyone viewed that moment for Nick as crossing a line, and doubly interesting when compared with the over-the-top rage and violence (hurling her against a stair banister) exhibited in the fake moment of violence that Amy describes in her diary.

Amy faked YEARS of diary entries, her own murder, ran away, and left the crime-scene just sloppy enough that people would believe careless, kind of dumb Nick tried to clean up the crime scene and was just too stupid to do it properly. She creates an anniversary scavenger hunt where each clue has multiple layers, both a meaningful place for him and Amy, but also a place where he cheated on Amy with his mistress--which he obviously couldn't admit to the cops without looking like the sleazeball he is. She also got credit cards in his name and intentionally bought up a bunch of Dude Stuff to make it look like Nick wanted to get rid of Amy so he could live the Ultimate Dude Dream of video games, stupid toys, sports, and chicks.

And, as they point out, Missouri has the death penalty.

Amy wanted to ruin Nick. Not just have him arrested. Not just have him murdered by the state. She wanted to destroy every aspect of his life. She wanted his relationships with everyone he knew ruined. She wanted every person in the country to hate him. She wanted his very character to be destroyed completely.

After all that, after finally getting Amy home so he could be cleared of murder, after trying desperately to figure out a way to prove she’d orchestrated the whole thing, to find that he'd been outmaneuvered, that he’d have to stay to protect that child, he snapped.

My wife and I debated about this for hours,

The key, in my opinion, to understanding this story is to remember that the Amy of the second half of the movie--the cold, calculating monster--has been the real Amy the whole time. The sweet, well-meaning, complicated woman from the first half of the book/movie--the diary entries--was a fabrication, created to garner sympathy. It was part of her plan to frame Nick. She wasn't real.

Sociopaths are master observers, master pretenders. She wanted life a certain way and put on a costume that would grant her that life. She liked the way Nick presented himself when they met because it complemented the kind of life she wanted. When she realized that was only an ideal, that people are always more complicated than they seem at first, that you can’t always be on your best behavior, she got mad. Nick was robbing her of her dream.

Nick choosing another woman over the ultimate “ideal” woman--the Cool Girl--that she crafted specifically for Nick was the push too far. It would be like how a chef feels when someone rejects her three course gourmet meal for McDonald’s. She wanted him punished.

Although Nick is clearly the more sympathetic character, in the book, Amy drags him down to her level. He becomes, by the end of the book, just as scheming, just as conniving, just as ruthless as she is--if not as smart or clever. And the absolute best part is: he likes it. Because, in the book, he admits that he likes the type of person that Amy forces him to be, even if that force is the threat of death--of himself or the baby. He gets off on the game of cat and mouse. It’s the most fucked up version of Mr. and Mrs. Smith imaginable.

The movie, however, pulls back on this a bit. It makes Nick seem too sympathetic, like he’s just a victim of circumstance. In the movie, Nick stays for the baby. Sure, his sister, Go, says that he secretly likes it, but there’s no real indication that that’s so. The deadly, fucked up tango is significantly reduced. And that is a shame because that is my favorite thing about the book. In the book, Amy is a monster, but by the end, Nick is not much better. They deserve each other even more by the end of the novel than they do at the beginning, Each forces the other into their idealized role, into the type of partner each wants the other to be. In the movie, Nick is too sympathetic at the end for my taste.

I want to do one more post about this, because while I felt obligated to cover the Amy vs. Nick thing that everyone else has been taking about, there’s another aspect of the move and the book no one has touched that I've seen.

Next time, I want to talk about Amy’s character foils.

Oh my God I wish I could write like Flynn.

So, did you see Gone Girl? Or read the book? What did you think?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Looking Back: ETERNAL DARKNESS

Image from Wikipedia
As Halloween creeps ever closer like an ax-wielding madman, the world turns their attention to the spookier side of life. My wife and I plan to watch a horror movie a weekend (although, technically our first horror movie will be tonight because we were a bit busy this weekend with important things…*glances at TV playing Gilmore Girls on Netflix* *shoves TV into closet*).


I've never had much experience with horror video games, which is odd considering how much I love everything else horror. Unfortuantely, I can only think of a handful of horror games I played growing up: Reisdent Evil 3, maaaaaybe you could call Geist a horror game, and I could see a strong argument made for the latter half of Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune being horror--those basement mutant things were scary as fuck.


Burying the lede in a dozen bloated corpses at this point, the reason for this particular post is this: shopping around for some good modern horror games made me think about one of my absolute favorite games in high school/college and how desperately I want a remake/sequel/updated rerelease: Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem.


If somebody told me that the game didn't do well at least in part because of it’s unwieldy name, I wouldn't be surprised.


I joke, but I also think I know exactly why this game failed: it was a rated M game on the GameCube, which lead to it being looked over by the kind of audience that would have been interested in it since they bought PS2s and XBoxes, and being passed on by people who primarily bought the GameCube for the more family-friendly titles Nintendo is known for.


It’s a shame, because Eternal Darkness did fun, awesome things with the gaming experience at the time. Namely, the sole purpose of EDSR was to troll the gamer.


The actual plot of the game was good: you basically play through a series of H.P. Lovecraft short stories. You play as different people in the same lineage as they keep finding the same book and experiencing sanity-shattering hauntings, monsters attacks, and demons crossing over from some other plane.


That part about “sanity-shattering”? Yeah, they take that literally in this game.


Most games have health meters--your HP, your magic energy, maybe the number of spells you can cast or bullets you have left--but the real magic from this game comes from the Sanity Meter. Whenever you encounter monsters as you solve puzzles and explore whatever creepy place this level features, your sanity slowly begins to dwindle. You have to do certain things to keep you sanity meter up, such as kill the monsters. The lower your sanity meter goes, the more the game starts to fuck with you.


I don’t mean the monsters.


I mean the game.


Some examples: once, while saving my game, the game save window came up. But instead of the options to save or cancel, the window said, “Would you like to delete this game?” with only one option: Yes. I tried hitting the B button to back out of the menu, but it simply said, “Deleting your file…” a progress meter filled up, and the game reported, "Your game file has now been deleted.” The game screen had three open files available.


Although I knew what was happening, a small part of me worried...what if it really was deleting my game?

Image from: 50 Most Memorable Moments in Video Game History via Crave Online
A standard if you have low sanity is for cockroaches to crawl around on the inside of your screen, occasionally obscuring your vision, but the game can be even more rude:


Once, I entered a room where the controls were reversed.


Once, I entered a room with no entrance or exit, only to discover that I was entombed in a cellar, ala “The Cask of Amontillado.”


Once, my character’s head exploded in a fountain of blood just as I took aim at some monsters.


Once, I entered a room full of monsters, and the game reported that my controller was unplugged. However, my controller was plugged in. I pulled it out, blew on it, and plugged it back in. The window didn’t go away. (By the way, it wasn’t an in-game window either. It was the standard GameCube “controller unplugged” window. Impressive design, I’m telling you.)


Image from: User zvarri of GiantBomb's Eternal Darkness Wiki
None of these things are permanent. Each time the game tricks you, you deal with the cognitive dissonance for about a minute, long enough to go, “Okay...WHAT THE FUCK?” Then the screen flashes white and things are restored to just before you had your freak out.

This game pulls you in and forces you to question yourself as much as the character.


The only real downside is there isn't much incentive to stay sane. Going insane makes completing missions more difficult because you're constantly distracted from your goal, but it doesn't make the missions harder, just longer because you have to wait out the hallucinations. The game doesn't really punish you for losing your sanity beyond the cool trolling, and since that's the coolest part about the game, it is also a bit of a fault.


Given the changes in interface and gaming since that game came out (exclusively for the GameCube, SUCK IT PS2 FANS, SUCK IT!!!), it would be amazing if some game developer were to decide to remake the game--or make a sequel*--for the PS3, PS4, or XBox One. I would slather myself with honey and gyrate sexily to Prince music to get a copy.

Think of all the ways that you could get totally fucked with in the new gaming environment. Maybe the game tricks you into thinking you’ve accidently joined Online Play. Some young pre-recorded team of people “talk” to you while you play. Maybe they hassle you a little (not in the horribly vitriolic way that is so common online, but rather shouting “n00b” at you or making jokes about your trophy/achievment collection or whatever).


Or imagine if it took you “back” to the Playstation Home Screen? Or pretended to restart your Playstation? Good lord there could be some cool mind-fuckery going, and that’s not even considering how amazing and terrifying it could be just on an emotional level as your character slowly goes insane and starts seeing things.


Seriously, if there’s a game developer out there that just so happens to read this blog, PURSUE A SEQUEL BECAUSE THIS WAS AMAZING! I have never played a game so immersive. On the one hand, you’re constantly aware that you’re playing a game because of the interface gags, but on the other hand, you get to experience the same kind of mental fuckery your character goes through.

If you do have a GameCube, I highly recommend trying to hunt this one down. The graphics are super outdated at this point, but it will be well worth your while, just to spend a little time with an early 2000’s horror game curiosity.

________________________

*UPDATE: Of COURSE they would try to make a sequel to the game. But apparently, because everything is awful and the world is a garbage heap from which nothing beautiful can ever grow, their Kickstarter failed. Twice.

Fuck everything. *grumble grumble grumble*

*paws longingly at sequel*

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

And That's Time

From Wikipedia
This is a post that is so completely not anything special that I cringe to write it, but it's my blog and I often post thing that I personally am thinking about and going through. So, y'know, bear with me.

I've been thinking a lot about time management lately and how I'm not very good at it. I have a lot of things that I want to do, and I'm not very good at getting to all of them. I'm also not very good at prioritizing where I can get to some of the things some of the time.

Sometimes, I get inspired, and I rush through a day trying to accomplish as many of the things as possible before collapsing into bed far too late and having to drag myself out of bed early the next morning to try to do it again. This kind of furious sprint through activities doesn't usually  make it past 1 or 2 days.

Sometimes, I try to schedule my time out so that I can get to different activities on different days. This technically should be a workable schedule except for 2 things: 1) There is almost always some pressing matter that fucks up my schedule, which forces me to re-prioritize--which I've already admitted not being good at, or 2) I find that scheduling out every minute of my day stretching on into infinity is something that I just can't handle and I start to crave spontaneity, reading when I should be writing, writing when I should be reading, watching great gluts of TV when I should be doing either of those other things.

Things that almost always go by the wayside? Basic household chores. My house is usually a mess. The dishes are sporadically done. We eat out too much because I don't want to cook.

So the problem comes, how can I get to all of the activities that I want to accomplish--reading some, writing some, watching a little TV--and still get to the activities that I need to do--dishes, laundry, cooking.

I get off work at 5, but I don't actually get home until around 5:30--on a good day. If I want to sleep well and not feel like waking is being punched in the face by an angry sun god, I need to get to bed around 10:00. So I have about 4 1/2 hours, on a good day, to get things done in the afternoon and evening.

This is a question that literally everybody faces. I get that. And, like I said at the top, I realize that there is absolutely nothing new about this post or struggle to anyone in the world. But it frustrates me that each time I try to get my days into something resembling a schedule, it falls apart. It's like my brain immediately rebels at the first sign of structure. If I try to tell myself I'm going to come home, watch The Daily Show while I eat, and then go do the dishes, I'll freak out, go hide in the office for several hours, and watch random YouTube videos, all the while screaming, "YOU CAN'T TELL ME WHAT TO DO, BRAIN!"

I hope to figure this thing out soon. Maybe I'll try the scheduling thing aga--

*sprints away to the office*

*sounds of cat videos playing*

SHUT UP, BRAIN, YOU CAN'T TELL ME WHAT TO DO!!!!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Monday Call to Action

This is your week's call to action.

It’s Monday, and the temptation is to phone it in. You just came off of the weekend. You’re tired. You haven’t “fully woken up” yet. Tomorrow will be a better day to do whatever it is you need to do.

Maybe you need to do the dishes. Maybe you need to do the laundry. Or pick up your house. Fix that leaky faucet. (Honestly, why is the leaky faucet such a prominent cliché? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a leaky faucet in my life. Leaky pipes, sure, but the faucet? Not that I can ever remember. Er…anyway…)

Or maybe you need to sit down and write some words.

People mock New Year’s Resolutions as that yearly time where we say we’re going to do something to improve our lives, but then JOKE’S ON US WE’RE LAZY HUMANS HA HA! Maybe consider this your New Week’s Resolutions and resolve to get your shit done.

I have things I need to get done today. Dishes that need doing. Laundry. And words. I need to get words on paper today. Preferably a bunch. At least a few.

Go out and conquer the world this week you crazy monkeys.

Allons-y!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Things Other People Did by My Age

Via Wikipedia
I stumbled on this page on Kameron Hurley's blog where she listed things people did by her age (at the time--27). I got curious, so I clicked through and checked on my own.

So what have other people done by 25?
The future mythologist Joseph Campbell decided to move to Woodstock to read the classics for five years, nine hours a day. Living on very little, he would make himself readily available as a dinner guest. 
Orson Welles coscripted, directed, and starred in Citizen Kane. 
By this age, Charles Chaplin had appeared in 35 films. 
P. T. Barnum bought a "160-year-old" slave woman and began a career in show business.
Janis Joplin made her first recording, "Cheap Thrills," which grossed over a million dollars within a few months.  
Chris Burden created "Painting Shoot," which involved the artist being shot in the left arm by a friend. 
Charles Lindbergh became the first person to fly alone across the Atlantic, thus winning a $25,000 prize. 
Fayette, N.Y. farmhand Joseph Smith founded the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. He claimed he translated the Book of Mormon from some golden tablets revealed to him by the angel Moroni. 
Bavarian painter Aloys Senefelder invented the lithograph. 
French engineer Benoit Fourneyron invented the first waterwheel turbine. 
Sarah Bernhardt scored her first triumph, being asked to repeat her theatrical performance before Napoleon III. 
Activist Mollie Steimer became the first person to be deported from both the United States and the Soviet Union. 
Physician Roger Bannister broke the four minute mile. As he collapsed unconscious into the arms of his trainer, the loudspeaker announced, "The time was three..." The uproar of the fans drowned out the rest of the announcement.
 Wow. I have been fucking lazy. I need to buckle down and get cracking on things.

Maybe after this next episode of House?

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Peering Into the Darkness

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the horror genre and what it means to me.

I love horror movies. I’ve loved them since I was little. I got up early every Saturday morning to watch Goosebumps. I stayed up late watching Are You Afraid of the Dark? episodes. And I even remember watching the TBS version of Tales from the Crypt.

(Sidenote: Did you know there was a cartoon version of Tales from the Crypt? It was called Tales from the Cryptkeeper, and it was a kiddie version of TftC. There was also a TftC game show where kids were expected play their way through the Cryptkeeper’s house while he occasionally popped up and mocked them. Ah, those were the days, eh?)

I quickly graduated to adult horror movies. My mom was very laissez-faire when it came to what I watched and read. I saw The Terminator before I was in 1st grade. I destroyed the horror section of the local movie rental place long before the MPAA said I was even allowed to watch. I was recommended and even encouraged to read Stephen King when I was probably only 10 years old.

That freedom to consume whatever I wanted instilled a love of the horror genre that continues to this day. Lately, I’ve been jonesing for a good scary movie, and I've been scouring the dungeons of Netflix for a fix. But something has been troubling me.

If you'll bear with a little technical geekery for a moment: the ratings Netflix shows you are what they think you'll rate the programs based on how you've rated other things in the past. I've always been a generous rater, so it's dismaying that a majority of the horror stuff is ranked at around 1 or 2 stars.

What does that says about me and the genre of my youth? Have I grown tired of it? Or is there just a lot of crap being put out nowadays? Because I'm a child of the 90's, I hate it when the Man tries to put me in a box. I RESIST LABELS, MAN! I'M A COMPLEX INDIVIDUAL! So I'll frequently add movies that Netflix doesn’t think I’ll like because I’m worried I’ll miss out on something awesome. Netflix can't know my True Soul, man. Or maybe I just don’t like feeling like I’m predictable.

The sad fact is, Netflix is often right about me.

Pondering about all this made me start pondering the horror genre in general and what it means to me. As I've gotten older, I've gotten better at being able to appreciate something, but still recognizing the flaws. And as much as I love horror, there are some recurring themes and ideas that, as I’ve matured, I find troubling--and not in the good way.

For one thing, misogyny has a strong presence in horror. (Although, one could argue that misogyny has a strong presence basically everywhere, but that's neither here nor there.) Horror is a brutal genre, and I don't mean to imply that characters can't be run through the wringer--literally in some cases. But it's all about patterns, and one pattern I've pick up on is how frequently horror features women in particular being raped, beaten, tortured, and otherwise harassed. And although guys are certainly maimed and killed as well, from my observations, it's less frequently, and the guys aren't sexualized and objectified like the girls are.

A great example is the Survivor Girl trope. I've heard a few horror historians try to make the case that this trope isn't sexist because the Survivor Girl bests the danger. She may be tortured, but the audience is rooting for her and experiences vicarious joy when she comes out triumphant. While that may be the intention, the problem is it sometimes doesn't come across that way. "Rape/Revenge" is such a common storyline it's a subgenre. And admit it, part of the reason you watch horror movies is to see the creative and gross ways people get killed, not because you care if anyone lives.

Fear of the Other is another common trope that pops up. It taps into our neanderthalic fear that people from outside of our tribe will hurt us--because usually they would. But let's face it, when it comes to Things that Go Bump in the Night, human beings kicked all the asses. We won. Humans now dominate the planet, and because of the internet, we're increasingly a global community. Meeting people from all backgrounds and walks of life is easier than it's ever been. And yet, Fearing the Other still happens in modern society. In this case, though, the "Other" isn't some invading tribe or some hostile nomads encroaching on our hunting grounds. It's average folks from other religions or cultures that are just trying to live their lives but can't because ignorance and intolerance leads to their harassment or deaths. Since stories are often the barometer to measure our cultural weather, you can tell who or what mainstream culture hates and fears from our stories.

A great example of this is how frequently the villains of horror movies are gay or trans. This usually serves as a twofor since the villain being a minority (LGBTQ) makes them different than the majority, but it also denotes a "hidden" nature since the villains don't usually present as such until a dramatic reveal. Buffalo Bill's mirror dance in Silence of the Lambs and the big reveal of Sleepaway Camp are classic examples.

And then you've got the stories that teach you that learning is scary. That knowledge is bad. Curiosity killed the cat and left its guts scattered across three cornfields. After all, many of the things that cause the Big Terrible Things to happen are Man treading in places where only God should dwell, or studying ancient things that Should Be Left Alone. Don't read the Necronomicon, you'll summon Cthulhu or the Deadites. Don’t clone that person, they'll be a killing machine because they weren't created by God and don't have a soul. Don't try to cure cancer, you’ll start the zombie plague.

These stories, again, come from primal fears. Don't stick your hand in that hole, it might not be a hole but a mouth that'll tear you to shreds. But frequently, the best solution to solving your problem is learning more about it. In fact, ignorance is what often causes you to stick your arm in the hole and have it bitten off. If you'd studied more before blindly sticking your arms in holes, you would've noticed the jagged teeth, the rasping breath, the wild, staring eyes.

It’s not that science doesn't overstep and misjudge. Hell, doctors used to prescribe menthol cigarettes to asthmatics to help with their breathing problems. However, when science oversteps in these stories, the implicit solution to the problem is frequently ignorance, avoiding learning, as opposed fixing the problem through more study.

Again, I love horror. It's healthy, cathartic, and necessary to confront the darker aspects of our existence and see that we can overcome sometimes--or even that we can’t. These are things that are important for our mental and emotional development.I just wonder if it’s possible to write a horror story that’s pro-education. That doesn’t resort to raping women for cheap scares. That embraces foreign cultures rather than shoving them away as something to be feared and destroyed.

Because THAT is horror that I would lap up like coke laced Snickers bars.

It’s what I’m trying to figure out how to write.