I’ve long been of the opinion that the small studio Supergiant is one of the few game studios that don’t give me ludo-narrative dissonance. Bioware, only recently knocked off its perch of being the story game paragaon, had a long habit of forcing you to kick puppies and then lecturing you about your puppy-kicking. Part of that is due to the fact that Supergiant’s aesthetics are exquisite. Visual design, game mechanics, music, and story are all built to complement each other. Combine that with an emotional maturity well beyond the typical game narrative, and Transistor for example is one of the few media experiences that can consistently get a hard cry out of me.
Pyre is Supergiant’s 2017 release. In my first run, I bounced off a difficulty jump in the midgame. After completing Transistor again, I decided to take some advice and buy a controller to play the Pyre, which got me over the hump. And then, I ended up spending a compulsive week because the midgame is where some of the best story elements come out.
Die Volume 2: Split the Party was released on trade paperback earlier this month. I have a review of the first story arc. So to catch you up, in the 1990s, six children are sucked into RPG. Five of them return, traumatized and unable to speak directly about their experiences. As adults, they are sucked back in again, where they have to confront their former friend and dungeon master. The first story arc ends with everyone truly stuck in fantasy-RPG hell. They can only return if all of the survivors want to return, and for various reasons Chuck and Izzy are reluctant to come back to their lives on Earth.
Spoilers under the cut.
Car songs in rock have typically been a vehicle for performative masculinity: muscle cars, wanderlust, crash songs, and driving as a metaphor for sex. So, here are women in rock doing car songs.
Melissa Etheridge, “You Can Sleep While I Drive”
One of the things that Melissa Etheridge was great at was taking the working-class Americana that Mellencamp, Springsteen, and Bon Jovi rode to the top of the charts in the 80s, and infusing it with a queer sensibility with plausible ambiguity. “You Can Sleep While I Drive” is about the road trip, but it’s also about escape. And as with a lot of Etheridge songs, there’s an undertone of frustration that the partner is not quite ready to make that jump.
Come Tumbling Down is the latest in Seannan McGuire’s Wayward Children series of novellas. Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children serves as a haven for children who fell into wonderland and then fell back into our own world, the Dorothy Gales, Peter Pans, and Thomas Rhymers of the 21st century. Most of the children want desperately to go back to a world where they were princesses and dragon-slayers. Come Tumbling Down follows from the earlier novels. Jack and Jill went to a world of gothic horror. Jack became the scientists apprentice; Jill became the vampire’s daughter. We last saw Jack killing her sister and carrying her through a doorway to the Moors to be resurrected. Come Tumbling Down starts with Jack’s betrothed, Alexis, bringing Jack back to the school through a doorway everyone thought was closed.
(Significant spoilers and discussion.)
Train songs occupy an interesting place in pop music. They offer escape, but usually of a different flavor than the car or motorcycle song where the drive is in control of one’s destiny. Traveling on a train involves yielding up control to someone else, while traveling past or through the country as an observer.
Melissa Etheridge, “Royal Station 4 / 16”
While Melissa Etheridge didn’t invent the lesbian thirst song, she was one of its break-through artists with entire albums of “the pronoun game” and juicy subtext about lovers who are less than honest about what they really want:
It sounds like crying
It sounds like letting go
Breathing and lying
Sinking and dying slow
“Royal Station” is one long slow build, opening with a vocal cadence that mimics long-short train whistles and start-stop guitar rhythms of starting engines. The momentum builds over 7 long minutes climaxing in an instrumental jam featuring Bono (yes that Bono) on harmonica.
Be patient. Your future will soon come to you and lie down at your feet like a dog who knows and loves you no matter what you are. – Kurt Vonnegut
Warning: Big spoilers for “The Shape of My Name”, Ted Chiang’s “The Story of Your Life,” and “Arrival.”
I’ve been working my way through the Transcendent, The Year’s Best Transgender Speculative Fiction catalog, which brought me around again to Nino Cipri’s “The Shape of My Name” which I originally read in a Tor.com collection. It’s one of those stories that I can’t quite get out of my head, and was worth a re-read. It reminds me a lot of Ted Chiang’s “The Story of Your Life.”
Major spoilers in discussion.
So, my opinion is that Cats is not that bad.
It’s also not that good either.
I’m a bit biased in that I had the privilege of growing up with Peter Pan and The Nutcracker. So the costuming effects didn’t bother me as much as most people (exceptions noted below). If you give me a dancer in an oversized mask and say “that’s a nutcracker,” well, he’s a nutcracker. If you give me an adult woman on a wire rig and say, “that’s Peter Pan,” well he’s Peter Pan for the next two hours. But I think movie Cats itself falls into the an uncanny valley. It doesn’t have the structure to be a good movie, and unfortunately it lacks the performance quality to be a good musical. Instead, it just sort of falls in the middle.
No. 5: Lacuna Coil, “Naughty Christmas”
Lacuna Coil + Krampus. Probably the only listenable song on this list. You have been warned.
No. 4: DJ Bad Janet, “Grandma Hates Me”
Of course someone on youtube had to take a one-line joke from The Good Place and make it a reality. “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” and “She Hates Me” played at the same time. The most popular party song in The Bad Place.
Hordak Gets “They”
“The thing that was really gratifying in a very surprising way for me is a scene where Hordak talks about Double Trouble and just says ‘they’ effortlessly, with no thought, and just uses gender-neutral pronouns,” said Tobia. “Even the most evil person on the planet doesn’t misgender people, because that would be rude. There’s something really cool about that.
“Also, if Hordak can use they/them pronouns appropriately, I think anyone can. Do you really want to be worse than Hordak by misgendering nonbinary people? No, you don’t.”
One nice thing about reading primarily LGBTQ SFF are the settings where partners and pronouns are not a source of conflict.
Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.
– G. K. Chesterton
I’m playing Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice on X Box. As I navigate the space, eyes pop out from the scenery. Shadows darken, shift, and crawl across surfaces. Sources of light flicker, pop out of location, and multiply across my peripheral vision. “For me, this is a very, very bad day,” I say.
It’s not a big surprise to say that gaming media that attempts to wrestle with mental illness have been disappointing. Mentally ill people have been presented as over-the-top villains or comic broken victims. In games where the protagonist is “cursed” with a mental illness, we’re given a number of quests to cure it before the protagonist is destroyed. Some games even treat “sanity” as a resource to be maintained alongside hit points. (Sunless Sea and Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer come to mind.)
For Senua, the game developers took the time to talk to both mental health professionals and people with psychosis to guide their work. And they ended up taking what, for gaming, is a pretty radical position. Senua’s way of looking at the world isn’t the central problem, but the abuse she experiences as a result is.
Deeper discussion of mental health and major spoilers follow under the cut.