On Firewatch

Despite the best efforts of my video card and Windows 10 to stop me, I recently completed Campo Santo’s Firewatch, an adventure game. It’s become the favourite thing I’ve played in the past year, I think, partially for its design, but also for the way it’s unafraid to put story first, mechanics second.

The game takes place in Wyoming’s Shoshone National Forest, a wilderness of almost 10,000 square kilometres. It’s 1989, the year after the calamitous Yellowstone fires, and you play the part of Henry, a bearded, chubby dude (voiced by Rich Sommer, Mad Men‘s Harry Crane) who takes a summer job as a fire watcher to place some distance between himself and his life’s problems.

(I don’t want to explain the problems too much – there’s a surprising amount of determining your own variant of the story in its opening minutes, and they’re certainly emotional.) (more…)

Goodreads review: Dogs and Demons: The Fall of Modern Japan

Dogs and Demons: The Fall of Modern JapanDogs and Demons: The Fall of Modern Japan by Alex Kerr
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the second of Alex Kerr’s books on Japan that I’ve read, and it certainly doesn’t hold back. It’s critical – rightly so, in many cases – of the ornate, backhander-rich culture that permeates government and industry, of the blinkered educational aims of the country, of the done-with-mirrors, waiting-for-collapse economic system, the addiction to government works and needless halls that bankrupt cities and swell construction coffers, the lack of regulation and the wholesale disregard for culture, simplicity and the landscape which outsiders associate with Japan.

The man’s distaste and fear couldn’t be better conveyed if each chapter were entitled SHIT’S FUCKED in 72-point type, followed by pages of onomatopoeic screams.

And yet part of me – as a big ole gaijin myself – wonders how much of the writing is the result of the foreign lens being brought to bear, with the baggage that brings. (more…)

The Priest of the Invisible

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As part of an attempt to become more organised (and to eke more out of my hours) I’ve recently begun scheduling things I’d like to do. It’s not quite as cold as it sounds, and it affords me the ability to ensure I do things I like, but which often suffer in the throes of a Wikipedia hole or a TV Tropes vortex.

One of the things on my list is to read a poem a day. Every day. One poem. This is to counter the fact that though I like poetry, and though I spent four years at university reading books – some of which were made up of poems! – I still feel myself to be a low-watt bulb when it comes to poetry. It’s something I like, and have liked for a long time, but something I feel kind of stupid around, like I’ve turned up to a fancy restaurant in tracksuit pants. (more…)

The Brian Jonestown Massacre: … And This Is Our Music (2003)

The Brian Jonestown Massacre: ...And This Is Our Music (2003)

This is an older review of mine, presented here for archival purposes. The writing is undoubtedly different to the present, and the review style may differ between publications. Enjoy, if that’s the right word.

First things first. …And This Is Our Music is an album created by people who’ll probably want to kick in the heads of reviewers everywhere. Scope out the liner-notes and you’ll see that self-serving critics make a list of people officially put on notice that they’re “Officially uninvited to our party!!!” – replete with three exclamation marks.

That’s not very hippie, is it? In fact, it probably qualifies as a freak-out, baby. But that’s fine, because the music recorded here overtakes any attitude-based party exclusions that The Brian Jonestown Massacre (Anton Newcombe, boss man and chief sonic wrangler) could hurl. (Of course, the fact that elsewhere in the same notes – couched in a track-by-track commentary, revealing musical inspirations, drug information and touching rave-ups of guest vocalists – lies a thoroughly shameless attempt to pick up BJM-fancying ladies weighs a little in their favour, too.) (more…)

Goodreads review: Vernon God Little

Vernon God LittleVernon God Little by D.B.C. Pierre
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So hey, here’s a novel that’s about school shootings, the presumption of innocence, the weird pull of adulthood and sex, the prison system, Mexico, reality TV, hucksters and the corrosive effect of media-driven groupthink on the execution of justice and, well, executions, and whether God really exists. Sounds pretty weighty, right?

Well, if you’re talking about D.B.C. Pierre’s debut (and award winning) novel Vernon God Little, then the answer is sorta. It is indeed about all those things, all Big Topics and worthy of some navel-gazing time. But it’s more importantly a portrait of what it is to be a teenager that knows he’s living in the arsehole of the world, and is wise enough to have a fairly accurate sense of just how dumb he is. (more…)

Goodreads review: Bad City Blues

Bad City BluesBad City Blues by Tim Willocks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another out-the-door read, I began this in order to get it off my shelves. I’m trying to downsize books, and I felt that this would be a good read-and-donate, so away I went.

I may have to reconsider this plan of action.

While this is the second Willocks book I’ve read, it’s the first of his to be published. Green River Rising was my first, and it’s undeniable that while that book is more polished, Bad City Blues is more viscerally interesting. There’s certainly a sense that Willocks is working out ideas here, and the writing sometimes veers close to formula, but in genre fiction, that’s hardly a cardinal sin.

Willocks’ writing here is resolutely Southern-fried gothic violence. There’s touches of Chandler and Cain, with sweaty balls; religion, robbery and the fuckery love leads you to are foremost. (more…)

Running out of Forgotten Sands

So I finally reached the end of my Prince of Persia saga, and have found it’s concluded not with a bang, but a whimper. A pretty whimper but a whimper nonetheless.

Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands is not, as you’d expect from the cover, a tie-in with 2010’s moustache-twirling film. (more…)

Goodreads Review: Burial Rites

Burial RitesBurial Rites by Hannah Kent
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Time to enthuse: this is one of the most striking first novels I’ve read in a long time. It’d sat on my shelf for a while, and I grabbed it as I hustled for a bus, so I approached it with no real expectations. So to end up reading something that came across as a more astringent cross between Atwood’s Alias Grace and the austere bones of Miller’s The Crucible was a surprise, to say the least.

Kent’s book is rooted in history and tells of the final weeks of Agnes Magnusdottir’s life. It’s the story of the last woman executed in Iceland, (more…)