You are now entering Land of Spoilers and Criticism

Stuff on this blog:

  • Personal and professional biases, without full disclosure
  • Spoilers, with and without warnings
  • Unpleasantness, with and without warnings

Short story: “The Testimonie of Alyss Teeg”

“The Testimonie of Alyss Teeg,” by Carys Davies

Appeared in Ploughshares Summer 2016; the opening can be read on Project MUSE

Pages 25–37 in the magazine, maybe 3000 words?

A fine, cruel story.

The eccentric spelling and capitalization seem to insist on the authenticity of the narrative voice. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing; it made me pay closer attention to the narrator’s diction and syntax, asking myself whether someone could have written this without being what I think of as fully literate, questioning, doubting.

The word “testimony” suggests that Alyss is presenting for our judgment the real truth of what happened. But of course she can’t give us the real truth, any more than she could give it in court; the real truth is hidden in the heart of her sibling, the one she never stops calling “James Elward.”

Narrative hypertext game: “The Uncle Who Works for Nintendo”

“The Uncle Who Works for Nintendo,” written by Michael Lutz with art by Kimberly Parker

Used to be playable here, but it’s down right now; looks like it came out in October 2014; guide at Overmental

Twenty minutes to play through once; six endings

“The Uncle” has also been described as a visual novel. I guess the distinction rests on the number and prominence of the images, which are used effectively.

The way the game code appears to glitch and break down as the uncle approaches is pretty cool. This effect depends, of course, on the reader/player placing “The Uncle” in the same general mental category as a console game—presumably the uncle has his hands claws tentacles whatever in every type of electronic game. The same goes for the effect where the game controls turn into what I assume are standard Pokémon controls.

The first few times I played, I missed some feminist commentary because I automatically felt that a Nintendo-playing kid should be named either Dave or Kevin (even though, growing up, I knew plenty of girls who played video games).

On first drafts

“Writers always say that the first draft is just raw material. You put it down on paper, and then you change it. But I’ve never believed it. I think if you don’t have a certain energy in your first draft: the voice, at the very least, then it’s hard to revise that energy into existence.”

—Rahul Kanakia (x)

On who gets called narcissistic

“‘[N]arcissism’ is a word that’s sometimes used to assert a diagnostic power over someone, or a group of people, who are perceived as having too much, or asking for too much. When I started reading, I noticed that Freud’s narcissists were women and gay men. As I was writing, others published deeper research about this. The historian Elizabeth Lunbeck’s The Americanization of Narcissism tracks how, in psychoanalysis, ‘narcissism’ was a construct that helped to pathologize homosexuality and femininity. In her review of that book, Vivian Gornick wrote about marching for equal rights, in the 70s, and then having Christopher Lasch condemn feminism as narcissistic. You say ‘we’re here, too,’ and someone whose power is threatened is going to say ‘you’re too self-absorbed.’ The book launch for The Selfishness of Others was in a historically African-American neighborhood, Ft. Greene, from which so many have been displaced, and the majority of people at the launch looked to be what we call ‘white.’ During the Q & A, a person of color in the audience pointed this out, and afterwards about twenty white people came up to tell me they thought that person was a narcissist, for ‘interrupting’ the event to talk about this. So in that way a valid intervention, an important one, is dismissed by claiming the person who makes it is vain, and self-absorbed, or worse, has a mental illness.”

—Kristin Dombek (x)

Essay: “Instructions for When It’s Too Late”

“Instructions for When It’s Too Late,” by Kari Campeau

Appeared in Identity Theory, September 20th, 2016

4604 words

I don’t usually post about nonfiction, but this essay uses fiction-like techniques very effectively. Interesting piece.

Short story: “A Fairly Decent Man”

“A Fairly Decent Man,” by Charles Turner

Appeared in Image, issue 74

2992 words

The narrator fails and keeps failing to respond to the stranger’s criticism and, I think, also fails to give or receive the blessing he wants. I like to think this is a story about guilt and the defensiveness that arises from guilt. I’m not sure if that’s right though.

On electronic games as art

Reading a book is not just a one-way experience. It feels a lot like a conversation—not necessarily a conversation between the reader and the author, though that can happen too, but a conversation between the reader and the book itself. What a pleasure it is, when reading, to have one’s expectations met—met in a strikingly unexpected way—overturned in favor of something better—overturned and then met after all.

It seems obvious that an interactive book—or rather, a game—could offer the same experience, only richer, because the reader/player can talk back. But here things become difficult. Whereas a book can easily present a continuous illusion, the illusion a game creates is more fragile. To the extent that a game welcomes the player’s unpredictable input, it has to be able to keep up. It’s easy to break the illusion by trying to explore past the edge of the map or by typing the wrong word in a text parser (“You can’t do that,” “I didn’t understand that command”). It’s easy to keep talking to non-player characters until they start to repeat themselves like the robots they are.

On memory

“After Sara Meyer’s husband died of an aneurism during the preparations for their son’s tenth birthday party, Sara memorised Hamlet, a list of the hundred most endangered animal species worldwide, and a substantial portion of the Quran. Anna, on the other hand, recently had trouble distinguishing the number six from the number nine, and it seemed like only a matter of time before the letters of the alphabet lost their distinctiveness, and p, b and d were used interchangeably. The phrase ‘Happy Birthday’ would be unwritable. Sometimes in the mornings, in the minute after she first woke, she thought that she had lost a son, and suffered deep spasms of grief before she remembered that she had never had a son and had never wanted one.”

—“The Good Citizens,” by Christy Edwall (x)

Narrative hypertext game: “Queers in Love at the End of the World”

“Queers in Love at the End of the World,” by anna anthropy

Play here or here

10 seconds long

A cool piece of flash fiction, compressed in time as well as in word count. Within that constraint, it manages to be romantic, erotic, and/or philosophical.

I suppose short story writers want to do both

“Novelists want to flood, poets want to distill.”

—J. D. McClatchy (x)