Game Review: NIGHT IN THE WOODS

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website | steam

Playthrough threads:

I covered this game in my #BPlaysGames threads on Twitter. It’s got tons of pics and videos and live reactions. You can find the threads here:

Notes on Diversity/Inclusion (spoilers here):

  • Gregg and Angus are gay and in a healthy and mutually fulfilling relationship. THEY ARE REAL SWEET. IT IS A JOY TO SEE.
  • Mae is bi. Apparently her only criteria for a partner is someone she can wrestle with; someone with the GRRR in them.
  • The whole damn town is poor/working poor.
  • This game is Mental Health Issues City. Mae has depression. Angus is still coping with some nasty childhood trauma. Gregg is heavily coded as having bipolar.

Content Warnings (spoilers here):

  • In terms of plot, there is some definite creepiness, like finding a severed arm on the sidewalk, and seeing a robed and hooded figure run off with a kid at dusk.
  • There is discussion of murder, though you don’t see it happen.
  • Depending on your game choices, you may hear about some really gnarly trauma Angus went through as a kid.*
  • Depending on your game choices, you may get into a consensual knife fight with Gregg.
  • Mae discusses a violent episode from her past related to her mental health where she beat up a kid. This is part of the critical path, so I don’t think you can avoid it.
  • I only did one playthough, so there may be more potentially triggering content that I didn’t see.

Review:

I didn’t know what to expect when I picked up Night in the Woods. All I knew was that there was some hype around it, and that it was supposed to be good, and that it featured a cat. From the title, I figured it was creepy.

Well, it is creepy, but it also smashed my heart into a thousand pieces and glued it back together about thirty times.

The game starts with Mae Borowski, a black cat person, waiting at the bus stop for her parents to pick her up. But her parents never do. So she has to run through the woods at night to make her way home. Thus starts the journey of Mae the fall she drops out of college and shit starts to slide sideways in the small podunk town of Possum Springs.

As someone with continually unreliable parents, and as someone who grew up in a dying town, I connected with this game on so many levels. I still have friends who work back home in convenience stores, who are scrimping and saving to live somewhere marginally better. The writing in this game is sharp and darkly funny. Mae wants to fail, but she wants to do it somewhere familiar, and somewhere where at least everyone is failing a little. And my generation knows that feeling hard.

I was expecting this to be a short game, but it isn’t. The game is technically a sidescroller, but it’s interrupted by a multitude of minigames that pop up. You can steal pretzels to feed to rats living in an abandoned parade float. You can play your bass–rock band style–at band practice. Depending on who you decide to spend the day with, you can shoot crossbows. Or you can tinker with the fountain at the mostly abandoned mall. Or you can play a videogame called Demontower on your laptop in your room. But you’re never bored.

The rhythm of the game is marked by the passage of days. Mae gets up, wanders around town, and goes to sleep. You get to choose who she hangs out with, whether she talks to or ignores her parents, whether she spends time with her old friends or makes new ones. There are a few major events along the game’s critical path–the Harfest Pageant is pretty great–but otherwise you’re filling in the backstory, and the backstory is delightful. At night, Mae has to tackle her strange dreamscape.

The last third of the game involves ghosts and a cult. I won’t say anymore than that, but the things the game is tackling here are timely and political. The writing remains good. Mae has her friends with her to the end. There is horror, and there is hope.

Takeaway & Rating:

I loved this game. Unabashedly and wholeheartedly. The art is adorable and stunning. The music is great. The writing is some of the funniest and most heart-wrenching I’ve read in a long time. Do yourself a favor and check it out.

5stars

*As someone with a not terribly dissimilar background to Angus, this was somewhat triggering to me. The game does foreshadow that He’s Seen Some Shit and that His Family Sucks, but there’s no foreshadowing when the convo happens. It just happens, and then my Feelings Gates opened real wide and I was just outright weeping on my keyboard.

Short Story Rec: “Firstborn” by Maria Haskins

“Firstborn” by Maria Haskins appeared in Capricious, issue 7. You can read it for free here.


I’m so tired: tired of crying, tired of screaming and begging. The night is cold and silent. It holds no answers, no prayers, no lullabies, no dreams. I am empty, hollowed out, scraped clean. I am nothing: not Em, not mother, not woman, not even human, anymore. I am a smudge of cold and shadow beneath a tree in a forgotten place in an abandoned world.

The best short stories are the ones that take some long-buried part of you, some feeling you forgot you ever felt, and then bring it right to the surface of your heart so sharp and crystallized that it sends you spinning right back in time. “Firstborn” by Maria Haskins did that for me.

Like Em in the story, my kid was born six weeks early. Like Em, the creeping anxieties of new parenthood swallowed me whole. Having a newborn is absolutely terrifying and incredibly isolating, and no one tells you that until it’s too late. For me, I ended up an insomniac who tracked everything in spreadsheets–how much the baby was eating, how often he was peeing, when he was sleeping. All of it. And then my partners intervened and sent me to therapy. And I got slowly better.

This story, about the eerie loneliness and terror of having a new life that only you are caring for, is strange and bizarre and filled me full of old familiar fears.

Book Review: THE GEEK FEMINIST REVOLUTION by Kameron Hurley

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Amazon | Goodreads

Notes on Diversity/Inclusion

Hurley writes from her own experience throughout, and while this is a book of feminist essays, it is as least as much a memoir. Hurley is a white woman, but she is also queer, fat, and chronically ill. Hurley is well-versed in intersectionality theory, and she brings this lens to her essays throughout.

There are places in the book where Hurley discusses and dissects her whiteness, such as in essays like “What Living in South Africa Taught Me About Being White in America” and “What We Didn’t See: Power, Protest, Story.” I don’t think these were the strongest pieces in the book. As with most of us, I think Hurley is better at seeing and deconstructing lines of power and oppression when she is marginalized than when she is on the receiving end of those benefits.

Review

Hurley is a powerful, fiery writer. This is true of both her fiction and her non-fiction. The Geek Feminist Revolution is a collection of passionate and vicious essays about intersectional feminism as it relates to geek culture and the Science Fiction and Fantasy literature community.

For the most part, the individual essays in the collection are solid. A good handful even sing with truth. The iconic “We Have Always Fought,” a Hugo Award winner in its own right about the presence of women in the military that history has insisted on forgetting, remains a worthwhile read. “Finding Hope in Tragedy: Why I Read Dark Fiction,” while only tangentially related to the book’s theme, was thoughtful and enlightening. It resonated with me as someone who deals with chronic pain issues. “Public Speaking While Fat” is necessary reading for anyone who hasn’t done any real thought about fatphobia and what it’s like to be dehumanized along that particular axis. And of course, there are moments and lines of brilliance scattered throughout the other essays, too.

But there is very little in the way of a unifying philosophy or momentum towards social change through the course of the book. The book is structured like there is–the essays are divided into sections titled Part I: Level Up, Part II: Geek, Part III: Let’s Get Personal, and finally, Part IV: Revolution. There is an Epilogue, but the epilogue is meditative rather than inspiring. There are no clear calls to action. There are no paths forward. There is no revolution in the making here, despite the title.

As a memoir of one woman’s complicated relationship to and convoluted journey through the world of science fiction and fantasy publishing, this is fascinating and instructive stuff. Truly, it is, though it’s reach is somewhat limited to this small and insular community.* Hurley’s understanding of her breaks and her pitfalls is incisive and unflinching. She recognizes when privilege has worked in her favor (not luck) and when oppression has and will always work against her. The essays in which she talks about her evolution from outsider (fan) to insider (award-winning writer) and how that has forced her to change how and what she writes, how and when she engages with the SFF community are enlightening. But again, there is a relatively small number of people to whom that is of interest. And again, she is making observations, not calls to action.

Takeaway and Rating:

As a memoir of Hurley’s experience and journey through SFF writing and publishing, seen through her cutting lens of intersectional feminism and hindsight, this book works. As a book about geek feminism, it is too narrowly focused and does not leave the reader with any clear next steps to implement.

 

3 stars

*Sometimes, we in the writer/reviewer/publisher SFF community, I think, forget how totally insular this community is. There is an essay in the collection, “Becoming What You Hate,” that would be completely and utterly incomprehensible if the reader is someone who simply reads books and doesn’t, say, follow the comment threads on File 770 and isn’t mutuals with People on twitter. So who is the audience for this book? According to the title, it’s feminist geeks of any description. But the inclusion of the “Becoming What You Hate” essay, along with the heavy focus on writing and publishing SFF, really suggests this is a kind of in-group essay collection that got a wider-than-that release.

2018: Writing and Reading Goals

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Reading Goals

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  • I am striving for a book a week this year. Or maybe 50 books total, because sometimes you read a really long book and it takes a little bit to chomp through. 50 books a year! For reference, that is twice as many books as I read last year.
    • Gonna start DNF’ing books that just don’t grab me for whatever reason within the first 20% of the book.
    • Gonna start reading books instead of defaulting to twitter on the bus.
  • Also striving to read 1 piece of short fiction per day. I just plain want to read more short fiction! There’s so much out there, and so much of it is excellent! The time is now.

Reviewing Goals

  • I’m shooting for 35 book reviews in 2017. Look, sometimes I read books with no intention of reviewing them. Sometimes I read books and I don’t even know where to begin reviewing them. 35 is a good, solid number to shoot for. Enough to keep me busy for sure.
  • Gonna try to also review/rec 35 pieces of short fiction this year.
  • And maybe branch out a little? Review some movies and games, too? Other types of narrative fiction, as the mood strikes?

Writing/Publishing Goals

I was really productive last year. Maybe too productive? It got in the way of reading. It also got in the way of taking any time off to like…relax. So this year, when I sat down to make a master schedule of All The Things for my subscribers, I was like……maybe publishing a short story a month and a novel is too much?

I think it might be.

So here are my goals for 2018:

  • Publish A Tale of Rebellion book 2, The Incoming Tide.
  • Put the finishing touches on A Tale of Rebellion book 3, The King and his Makers
  • Return to one of the (several) drawer novels I’ve got and start tinkering with it again.
    • I’ve got a very promising novella I think I’m a good enough writer to finally rework now. Maybe that one.
  • Write 4-6 new short stories. I’m trying to get better at short fiction, and the only way to do that is to A) read a lot of short fiction and B) write a lot of short fiction.
    • I want some of this to be queer fluff. Maybe Ariah-centered queer fluff. That will definitely be a stretch for me, but hey, I’m all about growth.
  • Keep subbing the short fiction that hasn’t found a home yet. One day they will find their homes!
  • Release the first 3 issues of Vulture Bones – I am honestly so incredibly psyched about this project my friends.

Become a Subscriber

A lot of this work will be exclusive to or initially available through the Digital Goodies subscriber package I’m running. You can sign up for this through any of the following platforms and receive (usually) weekly content:

Patreon | Paypal | Gumroad

Subscribers will get the following:

  • Early access to book reviews
  • Early access to short fiction reccommendations
  • Exclusive teaser chapters and excerpts from works in progress (like upcoming novels!)
  • Exclusive short and interactive fiction
  • Videos about the writing and publishing process
  • Quarterly book rec surveys where you can rec things for me to read/review
  • other stuff I haven’t even thought of yet

Here’s to 2018!

 

2017 Year in Review

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WE DID IT, Y’ALL!  WE MADE IT THROUGH 2017!

This year fucking sucked, huh? It was a gross year. Just surviving this year means everyone gets a gold medal. Here you go:

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This here is my 2017 retrospective post. I like doing this to remember all the things I managed to do, even when it feels like I didn’t actually do much at all.

Writing

I was way more productive this year than I expected to be. I didn’t feel very productive at any given moment.

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Published

Novels

  • Resistance – re-released with The Kraken Collective, July 2017
  • Extraction, book 1 in A Tale of Rebellion – released with The Kraken Collective, November 2017

Novellas/Novelettes

Short Fiction

Interactive Fiction

Other Writerly Stuff

  • Did some heavy duty editing on the third book in the Tale of Rebellion series, The King and His Makers
  • Started poking around in a ~brand new universe~ I’m tentatively calling the Soulbroker universe. We’ll see where that goes.
  • Attended Sirens 2017 this year! It was great, and I loved it!!

Reading

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  • Read 27 books this year (fewer than last year)
  • Reviewed 5 books this year (waaaaayyyy fewer than last year)

Overall, my writing productivity went up, but it took a toll on my reading/reviewing. I’d like to find a balance between the two next year, because I like reading and reviewing, and because I feel like I am a better writer when I’m reading more regularly. Reviewing also makes me a sharper, better reader–and a better, sharper editor of my own work.

Recs

Ok, but from what I did manage to read, these were my favorites!!

Personal Life

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  • I bought a house this year!!
  • I started a new job with a much better work/life balance, which is probably why I was able to get so much more writing done.
  • So far this year, I haven’t had a major depressive episode. Anxiety is still a damn mess, but my coping strategies are working, so that’s good. Migraines are still chronic. Seasonal Affective Disorder this year is of a grumbly and restless variety instead of last year’s hibernatory type.
  • I somehow managed to pay down the balance of one of my credit cards. The extra monthly income from writing really helped with that, so thank you, friends!!

In Conclusion

I’m still not great at balance, but you know, that’s what life’s about, right? Learning and growing? So maybe next year I’ll stop pushing myself to produce so much and read more. I’ll reinvest in reviewing, because it’s something I genuinely like doing, and it’s a way to give back to the book community. I like analytically engaging with art, figuring out just why I respond to things and why I don’t.

I was super-productive this year! I want to find a way to keep the momentum going without working myself to the bone. I have definite workaholic tendencies that need to be kept in check. There’s time enough to work.

Stay tuned tomorrow: I’ll post some writing and reading goals for 2018.

 

Book Review: WHEN THE MOON WAS OURS by Anna-Marie McLemore

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Amazon | Goodreads

Notes on Diversity/Inclusion:

Something I dearly, dearly love about this book is that it’s a depiction of small town America, but that small town is diverse. There are people of color in that small town. There are people with disabilities in that small town. There are queer people in that small town. And there are transgender people in that small town.

Just like in the small town where I grew up, where, yes, people were queer even though it was in Texas. My town was a mix of brown and black and white and Asian. It was poor, and with that came a bevy of people living with disabilities. McLemore created a story about growing up and surviving and eventually thriving in a small town that felt real and true and representative.

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Content Warnings for Book:

  • Transphobia (addressed and subverted throughout, but it is there)
  • Self harm/suicidal ideation (Sam throws himself in a river and is rescued by Miel. Miel has her own particular brand of self-harm in there, too.)
  • Physical assault (Miel gets crammed into small spaces by the Bonner sisters and gets parts of her body removed by said Bonner sisters, which causes her literal physical pain)
  • Child abuse (like all of Miel’s pre-water tower memories are horrible)

Review:

When Miel was five, she poured out of the water of the felled water tower. Sam was the first person to talk to her, and the two of them have been inseparable ever since. Miel, her hem perpetually damp with water from nowhere, grows inexplicable roses from her wrist and lives with Aracely, who cures the town’s citizens of lovesickness. And Sam works the Bonner’s pumpkin patch and wrestles with his gender day and and day out. When the Bonner’s pumpkins start turning into glass, and the Bonner sisters turn their sights on Miel’s roses, Miel and Sam are faced with hard choices and harder truths.

I loved this book. I have been foisting When the Moon was Ours on anyone who will have it since I read it. It has not one but two of the most sensitive and nuanced portrayals of trans people that I’ve read in a long, long time. It is a rich, living book, and you can feel in every page McLemore’s identity as a Latina writer. The way Aracely’s house is depicted, the language, there is a depth here that truly reflects the need for #ownvoices literature. I took this book slow, and luxuriated in it like you do a hot bath. I didn’t want it to end. As an AFAB* non-binary person, the depiction of Sam, especially, read so true that sometimes it made me tender and raw.

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me reading literally every scene with Sam in it

But there was, perhaps, too many things in the book. Too much texture. Honestly, we could have had one book of just Sam, Miel, and Aracely coming to grips with each other, and entirely separate (and incredibly creepy) book of the Bonner sisters and their weird coffin and glass pumpkins. There are so many good ideas and flourishes here that some get crowded out. Some are not given the space to breathe and develop. It is a book that either needed to be bigger and longer and even more intricate, or sharper and smaller and more precise.

McLemore is a gifted writer. Virtually every character is full of life. The town itself is a character, something living and breathing, a place at once constraining and comforting. This is an essentially character driven book, one about Miel’s uncovering of her past and how it informs her future, and Sam’s solidification of his gender identity. It does both things beautifully. But the meandering plot driving those realizations is an odd vehicle for it. At times, the plot feels absolutely crucial to Miel and Sam’s self-discoveries, but at other times, the plot feels divorced and separate from them.

Takeaway & Rating:

Read it! Read this rambling witchy story of two teenagers shambling towards themselves and love and happiness! Also, maybe brush up on La Llorona first if you’re not super familiar, but then read it, and roll with the book as it throws a million things at you because this is a sweet and tender book I wish I’d had to help guide me to myself as a sixteen year old.

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*Assigned female at birth

Short Story Rec: “Three Points Masculine” by An Owomoyela

“Three Points Masculine” by An Owomoyela was published in issue 72 of Lightspeed. It is free to read here.


The damn rev had a point: I got to be a guy because I took a test and it said I got into enough fights, played enough sports, had enough right interests and few enough wrong ones. I got to be a guy because some white-collar jackhole stamped and signed a form. I never would’ve got to be a guy just because I was a guy.

This story hit me hard.

This is some of the realest shit I’ve ever read about what it feels like to be transgender in a ciscentric world. In the context of the story, there are Gender Assignment Tests, and you are rated based on points as feminine and masculine. Certain thresholds of one or the other get you into certain positions and can get you access to certain jobs.

The thing is, this is not that different than the world we live in now. The thrust of the story, the interactions between the trans narrator and John, the trans colleague he works with and ends up depending on, are the kinds of conversations I’ve had with my trans friends. And they boil down to the idea that when cis people are running the show, you’re never going to get those last three points you need. Somehow, that brass ring is always out of reach.

Your identity is never really yours, because it’s always qualified. You have to keep proving it over and over again, justifying it to people who don’t experience gender and life the way you do but serve as gatekeepers anyway.

The story is beautifully written–hard, and sharp, and vicious. The world Owomoyela creates drips with bitter realism just cranked up to eleven. This story gave me all the trans feels and then some.

Short Story Rec: “First National Forum on the Position of Minorities in Malaysia” by Zen Cho

“First National Forum on the Position of Minorities in Malaysia” by Zen Cho was first published in Fantastique Unfettered, September 2011, and is included in her collection of short fiction, Spirits Abroad.


Tell him I always save one piece of the cake for him. Just for him.

Zen Cho’s “First National Forum on the Position of Minorities in Malaysia” is a remarkable work of short fiction. It’s a story of great depth about how constraint creates choice, and how choice forces lives into a set trajectory. The thing about this story is that it’s not long, but it is a slow build.

The characters we’re first introduced to, who are effectively the point of view characters, are not the characters the story is about. The setting in which the action takes place is not really where the story is–it’s a framing device where the real story is told. So, yes, essentially the whole story takes place in one small, stuffy room where a disembodied voice tells a story to an old woman that she already knows. But the trick is that in the telling it is revealed that mountains of story, lifetimes of story, have happened off screen. And I, as the reader, felt all of it. That’s incredibly hard to pull off, but Cho manages it, and she manages it without the seams ever showing.