Guest Post: Three Video Games to Give You a Fright!

Today post is written by Josephine B., my younger sister. Enjoy!

Hey dudes! Halloween is almost upon us, so here are some spooky games to play!

1. Five Nights at Freddy’s

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In the game you work as a security guard at Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza. The animatronics are allowed to wander at night, so you sit in the security office and watch the animatronics on cameras. The objective is to keep them out of the room and to survive the night.

One of the best things about the game is that your only defense, if one of the animatronics appears too close, is to close the door. Just waiting for something to appear creates a sense of dread.

There are multiple jump scares, but the scariest one is when the animatronic Foxy can be seen running down the hall. The other animatronics can’t move on camera but are still creepy because they just lurk in the other rooms, and it’s quite terrifying when one appears right outside the door.

Based on the characters and gameplay, I rate it 5 out of 5.

2. Left 4 Dead 2

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This is a first person shooter game where a group of survivors have to battle zombies to get to a safe place. You have to fight not only zombies but also awesome mutated infected known as “specials.” There are different campaigns you can play and they all have an awesome choice of melee weapons, such as a machete, a katana, or an axe.

The specials are cool because they each have their own different attacks. The Smoker, for example, grabs you with his tongue. The witch is pretty deadly if you startle her, so beware every time you hearing crying.

The game has multiplayer which is awesome because you have to work together to get to the end. It’s also fun playing with other people and competing to see who get the most kills!

Because of multiplayer and zombies, I rate it 4 out of 5.

3. Dead Space

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In this game you answer a distress call on a spaceship. When you arrive, you find all the people are missing and the creatures, called “necromorphs,” attack. You get separated from your teammates so you have to find your way back to them and escape the ship. Now you have to go around fixing things and killing necromorphs.

The reason I like this one a lot is because it’s set in space and being in space is pretty terrifying. The scariest thing about the game are the sounds that the creatures make and how creepy they are (check out the Guardian necromorph at 3:00 in this video.) The like to scare you by jumping out of vents! You get to buy really cool weapons like a flamethrower and a saw.

Based on the creatures, I rate it 4 out of 5.

TFW Your Jewelry is CURSED: The Amulet by Michael McDowell

Meet The Amulet, the most travelin’ piece of jewelry around. It passes from heir to heir to heir and when it clasps  around your neck, you find yourself with an unquenchable thirst to kill. The only catch (though the catch on the necklace is invisible and unbreakable) is once you kill, your turn comes shortly and gruesomely thereafter.

It saves the taxpayers quite a bit on trials and such.

Welcome to Pine Cone, Alabama, where the wives are all haranguing, and the husbands much harangued. It’s a mean little town kept alive only by the Pine Cone Munitions factory, and it’s about to be a whole less alive once The Amulet is done wreaking its bloody havoc.

Poor Sarah Howell finds herself suddenly caring for her comatose husband, Dean, whose bandaged face hides the damage done by an exploding rifle before he can be sent off to fight in Vietnam. Her hateful mother-in-law Jo Howell blames the entire town for Dean’s injuries; she makes a gift of The Amulet and chaos descends.

McDowell’s sense of location is on point, all dirty southern heat and dusty southern roads. His inventive deaths are gruesome predecessors to the death-porn franchises of Final Destination and Saw. Even though events grow more and more ludicrous as the Amulet passes from person to person (there’s a ceiling fan scene that quite defies belief), it’s too late. You’ve picked up the Amulet and it won’t let go until you pay the final price.

*Applesauce and Lye

  • Jo Howell joins McDowell’s memorable matriarchs alongside Big Barbara (The Elementals) and Hannah Slape (Katie.) She is a particular breed of nasty. Listen when she denies to Sarah that the amulet is some kind of cursed: “A amulet don’t work, Sarah, it just sits there. It’s got no moving parts, it’s not like a watch. What can it do? You saw the thing. It was just a piece of metal with a chain on it. Got it from Montgomery Ward.” Sick burn, Jo!
  • JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER!
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    Published 1979, 5th printing, Avon Books

    I love cheesy 80’s horror covers. See the amulet in the corner? I imagined it a little different. I also couldn’t figure out if those people were just randos or supposed to be characters. Look! They’re all tangled up in the chain! And there’s blood! Trigger warning: This is “A NOVEL OF PURE TERROR.”

  • Reading Tunes Recs: Bottom of the River by Delta Rae, Southern Gothic playlist by Spotify

 

Steampunk Frankenstein: This Monstrous Thing by Mackenzi Lee

Steampunk Frankenstein!

Or to be obnoxious about it, Steampunk Frankenstein’s Monster.

This Monstrous Thing by Mackenzi Lee reimagines the Frankenstein myth in a steampunk Victorian era, where men and women with clockwork body parts tick through the streets of Europe. These gear-driven people are viewed as less than human by many, distasteful at best, abominations at worst. And isolated in an abandoned castle on the edges of Geneva lives a man called Oliver, made alive again thanks to cogs and gears and the ingenuity of his younger brother, Alasdair.

As a “shadow-boy,” someone who illegally provides clockwork limbs to those without, Alasdair and his family live in fear of discovery and capture. Alasdair suffers the additional fear of keeping his brother’s reanimation a secret. When an anonymously published book titled Frankenstein, appears, mysteriously paralleling the lives of Alasdair and Oliver, it only serves to increase the paranoia and distrust of “clockwork men.”

The story is fair, the setting rendered somewhat flatly despite it’s potential; the grimy world of Steampunk has always seemed to impress more with aesthetics than actual mechanical ingenuity.

The book illustrates several fascinating points, however. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, while a bit of a slog to actually read through, is still relevant today. In an afterword, author Mackenzi Lee describes Frankenstein as a “science creation myth,” reflecting the anxieties of the day as reason began to do a serious bid with religion. Tell me that doesn’t resonate with the fears of cloning and genetic engineering that pervade our modern worries. What does it mean when you can choose your baby’s sex or their eye color? How do we cope with the idea that one day, we might not even need bodies to make new humans?

Lee chose to tell her story reflecting industrial anxieties and how these people with mechanical pieces were somehow seen as less than human. These days, augmentations like pacemakers to animatronic limbs barely cause us to bat an eye. But these parts merely replace something lost, or keep us alive when our heart is wont to prematurely fail. What about when we start upgrading?

In Homo Deus, author Yuval Noah Harari suggests that humans may one day attain the ability to become amortal, meaning that our bodies can be made to last much longer than our natural lifespan. It doesn’t mean a good old separation of head and body, or other physical trauma, wouldn’t kill us, only that the things that typically do kill us–heart disease and cancer–will be conquered and new technologies will allow us to live on, provided we avoid I-5 in rush hour and stay off ladders.

The ethical implications are enormous. This technology inevitably will start out very expensive, meaning that very few will be able to afford it. Does life then become measured by your bank account (as though it isn’t already)? And then if people start living doubly long, how in the hell are we going to house and feed them all?

Of course, it may just happen that our technological wonders will become sentient and enslave us anyway and then we won’t have to worry about any of that.

*spare parts

  • I got tricked again into reading another YA book!
  • JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER!:

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    Library binding, published 2015, first edition.

    Hmm, not very steampunk-y. I see zero gears, cogs, or goggles. I do see the clock tower mentioned in the book, being rude and trying to take out the “M.” There’s some random lightning, which may be an homage to Shelley, but since the narrative doesn’t involve any reanimating bolts, maybe just inaccurate? I don’t know if the guy is supposed to be Alasdair or Oliver. He’s blurry so I can’t make out any non-organic parts.

  • Scott Westerfeld is a YA author who writes about teenagers and stuff, but knows how a steampunk cover should look:
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    Now that’s steampunk!

A Werewolf’s Purpose: The Wolf’s Hour by Robert McCammon

“What is the lycanthrope, in the eye of God?”

I don’t have much experience with werewolf literature. The unfortunate examples of recent memory extends to the lame The Wolfen by Whitley Streiber and the even lamer portrayal in Stefanie Meyers’ Twilight series. Much of recent werewolf material relegates the werewolf to sidekick/nemesis status, markedly inferior to their (usually) vampire frenemies (True Blood, Underworld.) 

There are a few examples of the werewolf receiving the treatment it deserves, from classics like Werewolf of London (1935), The Wolf Man (1941), and An American Werewolf in London (1981), but when we look at the pantheon of literature, there is little room for the werewolf alongside the Draculas and Frankensteins of world.

The werewolf is often depicted as a lonely, hunted creature. In Robert McCammon’s The Wolf’s Hour, the “wolf” in question also happens to be a nazi-fighting hero as well, using his powers to serve the Allies in WWII. As Michael Gallatin questions his purpose in the world, he tries to find it in fighting against the forces of brutality and evil.

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I’m usually a little reticent to accept stories involving Nazis. Instead of building a villain from ground up, it’s easy to *insert Nazi here* and have a ready-made, instantly evocative force of evil.  McCammon labors, though, to show you just how brutal and heartless these Nazis (and their sympathizers) are, and with the current climate threatening a resurgency of white supremacy, it’s never a bad idea to remind ourselves of the dangerous extremes brought about by ideas of racial superiority and eugenics.

At times, The Wolf’s Hour seems little more than a WWII spy novel whose hero also happens to be a werewolf. But the flashbacks that detail Gallatin’s early life, how he came to be a werewolf and lived with a pack in an isolated Russian forest, bring life and depth to a brooding hero who muses on the nature of his being while cracking skulls and crunching noses. The full horror of Nazi atrocity is on display, from the lewd cruelty that serves as entertainment for upper crust SS officers to the despairs and torments of a Nazi concentration camp. When one Nazi officer meets his end in a pit of murdered prisoners, the image is as befitting as it is horrifying.

As in Swan Song, McCammon’s apocalyptic epic, The Wolf’s Hour is impressive in its breadth of vision. But it is the peculiar paradox of werewolf Michael Gallatin that leaves the biggest impression. Often, the man turned werewolf serves to illustrate humanity’s “bestial” nature, or what we would be capable of if our humanness did not keep this primitive side in check. But as a wolf, though Michael Gallatin may serve his instincts by killing and eating prey, serving the circle of life, he never reaches the heights of cruelty attained by the Nazi machine. Indeed, the wolf is capable of seeing a world that is out of reach our of dull human senses, and appreciating that beauty in a way we could never understand.

I am reminded by a quote from Dostoevsky in The Brothers Karamazov:

People speak sometimes about the ‘bestial’ cruelty of man, but that is terribly unjust and offensive to beasts, no animal could ever be so cruel as a man, so artfully, so artistically cruel.” 

The werewolf is never as much a wolf as it is the reflection of our darker natures, the face lurking just behind the deceptive mask of humanity.

*full moons

  • In 2011, McCammon published a collection of novellas that continue the adventures of Gallatin the Werewolf, called The Hunter in the WoodsI haven’t read it yet, but wouldn’t mind spending more time with the green-eyed werewolf.
  • McCammon’s artwork has an interesting continuity to it. Somebody’s always watching!

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Just a Girl and Her Hammer: Katie by Michael McDowell

Katie Slape likes her hammer. She also knows when your pockets are brimming with cash. She’s pretty good at convincing you to part with that cash, and pretty handy with that hammer.

Michael McDowell’s 1982 novel about a psychic psychopath and her nasty predilection for murder is punchy and brimming with gore. Not for the delicate of stomachs, there’s some pretty memorable imagery, including some involving stomachs, exploding and worm-ridden and the like.

The title is somewhat misleading, as the novel revolves the plight of our heroine, Philo, a determined young woman whose impoverished life becomes a litany of insanity and tragedy thanks to Katie, her conniving stepmother, and brutish father.

Set in 19th century, post-war America, the novel’s setting is grimy and grimly alive, a character in its own right. McDowell’s talent for creating memorable spaces for his characters shines again, from the dusty streets of a New Jersey village to the sparkling sidewalks of Saratoga, to the smoky hell of a train wreck in a dark forest.

It’s the kind of novel that necessitates a long, hot shower afterwards; stomach-churning and bluntly told. The setting and time evokes echoes of Lizzie Borden and her suspected crime. Trade a hatchet for a hammer and a middle-aged spinster for a teenage telepath, and the rhyme could just as easily go…Katie Slape took a hammer…

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That hammer looks a bit like a hatchet…hmm

Valuable lessons abound: Sandbags may leave less marks but are not quite suitable for efficient kills. Large sums of cash should be left at home. Always be wary of teenagers. Dog karma is strong.

The big questions go unanswered, if they’re even important. The cracks out of which this vile family oozed remain undiscovered. Sometimes the only explanation for evil is evil, and nothing more.

*bits of gore

  • For more excellent horror by McDowell, check out The Elementals, a southern gothic ghost story set on an isolated spit of land that harbors more than just sand.
  • Damn, but dogs always get short shrift in horror stories. What does it say about me that I can handle all matter of exploding eyeballs and spattering brains but start weeping if a dog so much as sneezes?
  • There’s a pretty fantastically described train wreck that reminds me of a real train crash that occurred in 1867. For some real-life horror, read about that in The Angola Horror by Charity Vogel.

 

I’m So Poor I Can’t Even Pay Attention: Memory, Mind Palaces, and the Hellmouth in My Basement

One of the more incredible aspects of my reading journey is how I’m always finding links between the books I read. Whether I consciously choose my next book based on triggers from a book I just finished, or whether I sometimes stretch a little to make the associations, there’s always a thread of continuity from one book to the next, and suddenly the map of the books I read blossom like a web of interconnectivity in my mind.

I’ll begin the last book I finished, Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer. Nominally the story of a journalist who decided to delve into the arcane subculture of memory championships, where participants memorize decks of cards, unknown poems, and strings of numbers all for the sake of challenging the memory and the dubious honor of the title “memory champion.”

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The book delves into not only the history of the tradition of memorization, prized in a time when books were scrolls and the printing press was still a distant future invention, but the function and creation of memory, the savants who memorize entire phone books and those who, due to brain damage, are incapable of creating new memories.

The book does not delve deeply into any of these subjects, but functions as a tour of the many, many different aspects of memory. There’s declarative and non-declarative, semantic and episodic, verbal and visual types of memory, working memory (where did I put my glasses?) and long-term memory.

The most fascinating aspect is method by which memory champs employ their immense skills of remembering: the memory palace. Coined in an apocryphal story about Simonides, the mind palace is a place or route, real or imagined, that exists in your mind for the purpose of creating a spatial architecture where you can deposit the things you wish to remember (grocery lists, the presidents of the United States, the complete works of Charlaine Harris) and then “remember” them by taking a journey through the space.

Your memory palace can be a simple as your childhood home, as complex as an entire town, or completely imaginary.

The reason this method is so effectively is simply that our brains evolved to process and remember spatial information much more effectively than verbal information. Language has only existed the last 10,000 years or so; the earth much, much longer.

The creation of these mental maps, while ingrained in our DNA, is made difficult by a world in which constant stimulation, hyper-multitasking, and information overload is the order of the day. In trying to process and remember everything, we end up retaining very little. It’s easy to watch 24 straight hours of youtube videos and awake from our fugue with several empty doritos bags and absolutely no memory of what we watched.

The irony of being a spatially savvy species, for me, is that I have struggled for my whole life with navigation, finding myself easily lost in cities and zombie-infested wastelands alike. The advent of GPS only further handicapped my navigational skills, to the extent that the only places I can reliably navigate are work, the grocery store, my mom’s house, and the dog park.

To help ameliorate my lack of skill, I read The Lost Art of Reading Nature’s Signs by Tristan Gooley, which is full of little tips that one can use to help navigate, mostly in nature, but also in cities and all the in-betweens.

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While I now know how to find the North Star and can estimate the length of time to sundown using my knuckles, the biggest takeaway is simply this: slow down and look around you. Look at which side of the tree the moss is growing on, notice which direction the wind is coming from. Look at the sky. Look at the ground. Stop for just a second and appreciate the present moment. Listen to the birds.

How does this jive with memory palaces and remembering your grocery list? Because when we notice the world around us,then every walk we take becomes a potential memory palace, a space that we can snatch from the physical world and implant in our minds, places we can fill with Civil War generals or Pixar films or every World Series winner or whatever we’d like.

I decided to test out this memory palace thing with all of the books I’ve read this year, 67 so far. I took a house that I lived in for a few years, large enough to accommodate at least 100 (my reading goal) and began in the basement. I not only tossed objects around, but created a storyline that included everything from a possessed Christmas ornament to a possessed tree, incorporating real life props like that creepy old chest in the basement and the moment when I learned that Osama Bin Laden had been killed. Because so many of the books I read are horror books, the whole experience was genuinely creepy at times.

But did it work?

Yes, yes it worked, and the ridiculous story I created as I traveled around my old house and fled the apparent hellmouth in the basement was a little difficult and a lot of fun.

Woman No. 17 Hitting the Thematic Checklist

Sitting in a tire shop is not my ideal Sunday morning; I wasn’t the only patron to bring a book, and though I surreptitiously tried to suss out what the other ladies were reading without looking like a creeper, I only ended up looking like a creeper.

While the tech replaced my tire, I was able to finish Woman No. 17 by Edan Lapucki. The blurb on the cover describes the novel as “sinister and sexy” (which is weirdly also my Tinder profile.) And like my Tinder profile, it doesn’t really live up to the hype.

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The story presents the dual viewpoints of a well-off woman and her nanny, the women a generation apart, both preoccupied with their roles in the world as well as their mothers. In addition to the classic “my mother was a psycho omg am i my mother” conundrum, there is also an artsy slant that questions identities and whether we can put them on and take them off like clothes and at what point our assumed identities become part of us (see: Masks All the Way Down.)

There are so many Liberal Arts Intro Class themes that the novel tries to explore, the reader is in danger of a slipped disk from all the whiplash.

IN ADDITION TO THE ABOVE MENTIONED THEMES: the role of art in the world. A classic “am I an artist?” crisis.

IN ADDITION: a nonverbal son and how we treat the disabled as less than.

IN ADDITION: Approximately eight million flawed or straight up sociopathic woman. Cue Gone Girl/The Girl on the Train comparisons.

IN ADDITION: Representation of the female body on film as exploitative or powerful, dependent on the lens. Cue a really terrible art project that serves to upend the male gaze with dick pics. Subversive!

IN ADDITION: Poverty porn.

The story is compelling, the train wreck of these woman’s lives compulsively readable as they make poor choice after disastrous decision. If the novel hadn’t tried to capture so many different liberal arts elective course titles, the whole story would have felt more unified and might have led to a more satisfying ending.

*WOMEN NOS. 1-16

  • One pertinent lesson of this novel is to not let your mom use twitter. There’s actually a wide array of social media usage in this novel, including Snapchat and Craigslist. Regardless of the app, the characters in this novel manage to create disaster with every post and tweet and email they send into the world.
  • Just add booze? In my blog about Dead in the Water I complained about the lazy character shortcut of making a character a pedophile in order to telegraph to the reader just how evil the character is. Equally annoying is making a woman a boozer to depict how broken she is. Just add booze! Insta-flaw! I know this was used prominently (and as a plot propellant) in The Girl on the Train. Has it become more prevalent, or am I just noticing it more?

 

Cut the Chit-Chat and Get the F Out!: Ararat by Christopher Golden

The title of this blog post paraphrases a line spoken by a character late in Christopher Golden’s novel, Ararat. It also accurately describes the experience of reading the novel (or listening, as I did) and suffering through long passages of pointless arguing amongst a group of people trapped together in a most improbable situation: Inside Noah’s Ark high up on Mount Ararat.

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See what happened was…there was an earthquake and an avalanche, which opened up a cavern in the side of Mount Ararat. The cavern turns out to be the interior of an ancient ship, and soon a large cast of characters, including a pair of fame-seeking adventurers, a priest, a covert operative, a documentarian, a UN representative, local Turks and guides, a professor and a host of grad students, phew…are holed up inside the ship. Their main object of interest is a certain cadaver which appears to be something other than human.

*mild to moderate spoilers*

And in case you’re not attuned to the finer points of Demons 101, the cadaver helpfully has horns. Like demons do.

Soon, all the members of the crew are acting a little odd and there are long stretches of pointless infighting, bizarre dreams, and grade-school musings on belief and religion. Even when they get stuck in a gruesome version of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, they still find time to argue and grouse in between horrific murders. As the demon plays a round of Possession Russian Roulette with the survivors, there are some nonsensical (and unecessary) plot machinations to explain what seems inherently unexplainable.

In service of blood, gore, and arguing, some of the story’s more interesting elements are sold short. For example, the characters ask why the ship is so high on the mountain, but never revisit it or even posit a theory. Sure, if we want to go with the classic story, it was a flood, and if it was a flood, what kind of implications did that have worldwide? Who were these people and what were they running from? And most importantly, why in the hell did they take a damn demon with them?

Another shaky element detracting from the strength of the story is the tepidly described setting. It’s a mountain. It has snow. Blizzards. An ancient ark. The setting is a character itself, but at times remains as one-dimensional as some of its human counterparts.

This is a book ripe for film adaptation. The setting is wonderfully claustrophobic, an ancient rotting ship in the side of a mountain, a blizzard raging outside, the natural tension of a multinational cooperation exacerbated by a little demonic influence. Cut out some of the sniping and get to the action and we could have a serviceable film.

* “Then as God had bid him to do/ he took on animals two by two” (this poem!)

  • Christopher Golden’s novel Snowblind is in talks to become a TV series sometime in the future. Pretty decent novel with some silly shenanigans at the end.
  • The “Rosemary’s Baby” vibe at the end of the novel almost redeems everything that came before it
  • I don’t understand why demons have to adhere to certain mortal rules, such as holy water or Latin. If they operate on a different metaphysical plane than humans, why should they be subject to our language or physical objects like crucifixes? I mean, they can possess us and make our heads spin around!

 

This is how it will be when you drown: Dead in the Water by Nancy Holder

This is how it will be when you drown. – Dead in the Water by Nancy Holder

If you ever come across a copy of Nancy Holder’s Dead in the Water, published in 1995 and winner of the Bram Stoker Award, pick it up and read the first chapter. It contains phenomenal, graphic description of drowning far from the romantic auspices of classical literature.

 

Ophelia’s Drowning Fail

 

When Holder writes “You turn around to see your friends again. And they’re farther away than you thought they’d be. A lot farther,” it’s evocative of Stevie Smith’s 1957 poem “Not Waving But Drowning.” The choice of second person POV lends the chapter it’s power, effectively removing away the narrative screen between the reader and the action. It’s not some random unnamed character who’s drowning. It’s you. 

Unfortunately, the rest of the novel never comes close to evoking that emotional punch.

It’s a great setup: A group of castaways are picked up by a luxury cruise ship when their own doomed freighter sinks on its way to Hawaii. Unsubtly named The Pandora, the ship and its eye-patched captain are not what they seem. Could it be they are on a ship where all the evils of the world are percolating below its shimmering, mirage-like exterior?

Like the ship itself, the novel is an incoherent jumble of dreams, hallucinations, images, graphic violence, and characters perpetually feeling sorry for themselves. Throw in Lorelei the water spirit, excessive quoting from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and an insidious fog (because when is fog ever benign?) and the novel ends up more confusing than compelling, verbose but hardly visionary.

  • Reading Pet Peeve Alert: Lazy uses of classical myths to evoke (incorrectly) an association. Pandora was a woman whose curiosity caused her to accidentally unleash evil on the world. I don’t see how that corresponds with a murderous ghost-captain who sinks ships and enslaves the souls of the drowned in service to him. For a correct usage of this myth, please refer to The Girl with all the Gifts.
  • Reading Pet Peeve Alert Part II: Throwing in pedophilia to grant a character automatic “evil” status. The character was nasty enough; I don’t get why we need to read about that. It’s repellent.
  • Lady cop alert! How quaint that the blurb on the back of the book has to point out that the novel contains a “female cop packing a .38″ Emphasis mine. I know that may cause some readers to quake in their trousers, but don’t worry, she has a dickish, misogynist partner to balance out her offensive possession of ovaries. Who of course she’s in love with. It’s like The Wolfen on a boat!

 

The Future Will Be…WET: New York 2140 and American War

Two new releases came out this month along a similar motif: Climate Change!

That’s right! The liberal bogeyman in the closet! The biggest lie since Al Gore said he invented the internet!

I’m just kidding. Anyone who thinks climate change is a hoax, I have a Hummer I’d like to sell you.

NEW YORK 2140 By Kim Stanley Robinson

There’s a capital “M” Message in Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140 that is worthy and frightening. If we continue to abuse our planet, we will pay the consequences. Those consequences are wide-ranging, from the destruction of habitats and species, shrinking coastlines, an ever widening gap between the classes, housing crises, to devastating ecological events that turn the streets of New York City into canals.

Robinson creates an astonishing vision of the future, excessively detailed, smart, complicated and imaginative. Though the POV doesn’t veer often from NYC, the glimpses outside of the city provide tantalizing possibilities of the way the world has changed just one disastrous century hence.

But all too often, the action is focused on NYC, and the canals and stranded skyscrapers and sky bridges grow a little stale after the hundredth visitation. The “Plot” (and I use that term loosely) focuses on a cast of characters living in the former MetLife building. Characters that are by-the-book carbon copy archetypes: the ambitious woman, the douchey finance bro, the impish street kids, the wise yet doddering old man, the grouchy Slavic building super…et al.

The very real possibility of Robinson’s ecological future is undermined by goofy, pie-in-the-sky plot machinations like a people’s revolution that brings down the existing financial system, a treasure hunt, a polar bear transport gone awry, a hurricane, a mysterious kidnapping, and nefarious private security firms. It’s a veritable kitchen sink of plot ideas with no editor in sight. Further bloating the text are an endless stream of quotations and list that, in the audiobook, has its own narrator!

The book reads almost like a pitch for a TV series, and would probably make a good own, as TV creators are often adept at enlargin a novel’s given universe and elaborating on character development (though not always *cough* Walking Dead.)

AMERICAN WAR by Omar El Akkad

In a slightly less distant future, author Omar El Akkad imagines one that is equally devastated by climate change, such that the southeast borders of the U.S. have moved drastically inland, while the shrinking East and West coastlines have sent scores of displaced citizens fleeing towards the Midwest. This leads the government to ban fossil fuels, resulting in a rift that starts the second American Civil War.

In contrast to New York 2140, the novel charts the life of one little girl living far south in the Louisiana swamp and her genesis towards adulthood and the fate of a nation. The narrative is occasionally interrupted by context-setting excerpts from memoirs, reports, and history books. This provides a nice balance that heightens the plot tension as it barrels towards its tragic, inevitable conclusion.

There is a fascinating parallel between this “American War” and the wars America has fought overseas. The North is the dominating status quo, viewing the dissident Southerners as backwards hicks. The Southerners wage their war with guerilla tactics, strapping on “farmer’s suits,” fertilizer-fueled bombs and martyring themselves for the Southern cause. They set mines and ambush transports.

But they are no more unequivocal enemies than the North is righteous. The North engages in brutal interrogation techniques, suspending human rights as a wartime necessity. The detainees suffer cruelties that include sensory assault and waterboarding.

American War doesn’t waste subtleties on drawing these distinctions. Taking the war to our own backyard is a sobering shift in perspective.

***

Both books are set against the backdrop of climate change and the way it will drastically change how humans live. It will drown cities, start wars, spread disease, widen the economic divide, and extinguish species.

It’s hard to believe that in 2017 we’re still equivocating over whether or not climate change even exists, all the while ensuring a shittier future for every living thing on this planet.