Monday Blues: SOMA

(“Monday” Blues: On every first Monday(ish) of the month, I’ll recommend a new world – a book, a game, a podcast, etc – to escape into. Or at least to look forward to after a hard day’s work.)

SOMA

PreviewScreen_01

A Game by FrictionalGames

What It Is: A sci-fi horror game where the player scours a mysterious underground laboratory, searching for answers and escape while hiding from monsters.

Why You Should Play It: On its surface, SOMA is somewhat familiar, utilizing the same formula partially pioneered by developer FrictionalGames’ own previous work (including Amnesia: The Dark Descent): explore a strange environment while staying hidden from the invincible threats roaming with you. While the gameplay certainly has moments of raw intensity, it’s perhaps slightly less frightening than its spiritual predecessors in terms of its mechanics. In SOMA, however, the real horror comes from challenging themes,  moral choices without easy answers, and the claustrophobia of dark corridor after dark corridor.

While it’s a polished game, it’s a fantastic story. SOMA represents exactly the sort of character-and-theme-driven speculative fiction I savor and strive to create. I finished the game over a week ago and it’s still lingering in my head. In fact, I dreamed about it last night. If that’s not a sign of a worthwhile experience, I’m not sure what is.

I highly recommend SOMA to fans of sci-fi horror, man vs machine narratives, story-driven games in general, or anyone with a taste for a little existential angst.

Set at the bottom of the sea, SOMA goes deeper than most stories dare to in more ways than one.

Monday Blues: Inspiring Music

(“Monday” Blues: On every first Monday of the month, I’ll recommend a new world – a book, a game, a podcast, etc – to escape into. Or at least to look forward to after a hard day’s work.)

I’m going to do something a bit different for today’s Monday Blues. Instead of focusing on storytelling media, how about music that offers the perfect backdrop when working on your own stories and creative projects?


Wherepostrockdwells

Post-rock is such a beautiful genre. It’s atmospheric and ambient, yet evocative. It’s subtle but intense. It’s sometimes sad, but in that warm, melancholy way that highlights  wonder in the world. When I feel drained, simply listening to the right post-rock song often brings me back to a content, inspired place. It’s amazing what a difference music can make.

If you’re new the genre, check out Hammock (especially the Everything and Nothing album), God is an Astronaut, Distant Dream, and If These Trees Could Talk (if you like your rock heavy). With streams dedicated to different albums, the Wherepostrockdwells channel mimics the experience of walking into a music store to sample and select the perfect CD. Unlike the other channels in this list, Wherepostrockdwells usually uses album covers instead of aesthetic images for its videos, but post-rock album covers often make for interesting, surrealistic works of art in their own right.

An odd observation: While YouTube comments are normally dreck, the comments left on post-rock videos are often wonderfully creative and emotional, and can provide inspiration in their own right. Post-rock music is indeed a haven.

ChilloutDeer

In terms of less heavy ambient music, Chillout Deer is my go-to channel. It provides wonderfully designed mixes featuring a variety of relaxing, atmospheric songs in various genres collected around themes. Unlike those from similar channels, I find that Chillout Deer’s mixes actually evoke their themes with an eerie efficiency: listening to “Journey” feels like departing on a long adventure, listening to “Daydream” stirs the sensation of “sehnsucht,” and “Utopia” brings wonder and contentment. Because these mixes are so tightly themed, it’s easy to find the perfect creative soundtrack for any project. The channel also uses lovely visuals in its videos to further tempt the muse.

Odysseus

If electronic genres like synthwave and trance are more your style, Odysseus also offers a variety of themed mixes. The collections are atmospheric without being distracting, and paint both futuristic and retro soundscapes. It’s perfect for anyone delving into a sci-fi project, or for some aural escapism while working on less exciting tasks like updating your website or writing marketing copy. As a writer who tends toward the post-apocalyptic, “Dystopia” is one of my favorite mixes. The visual aesthetic used by the channel is also immersive and inspiring in its own right.


I hope you enjoy these channels like I do; outside of stories, music is one of my passions. Do you have any favorite You-Tube go-tos for evoking a creative mood?

Monday Blues: Sunless Skies

(“Monday” Blues: On every first Monday of the month, I’ll recommend a new world – a book, a game, a podcast, etc – to escape into. Or at least to look forward to after a hard day’s work.)

Sunless Skies

810abe64dff4af0583ee22fcd0500087415eb74d489fb91b3d3ce71befd2b0e4.jpg

A Game by Failbetter Games

What It Is: A gothic fantasy RPG that mixes rogue-like exploration with interactive fiction.

Why You Should Play It: Sunless Skies combines two seemingly disparate genres – survival-focused exploration and prose-based interactive fiction – into a cohesive whole. Much of the game is spent piloting a flying train through the stars, making careful use of resources to avoid starving to death or running out of fuel. There are locations to find with only vague directions, hostile rivals to shoot down, and crew members to manage. The rest of the game is spent navigating branching stories through a slick menu interface. In doing so, you make choices about how to make money, where your allegiances lie, and what just what sort of captain – and person – you are. The way these two separate modes affect each other ties them together.

The atmosphere accomplishes a similar aim, communicated equally well through the different elements: the narrative with its sparkling prose and strenuous choices; the aesthetics through the stars shining below and the lonely, #wonderdark soundtrack; the mechanics through the struggle to stay alive among the solitude and silence of space.

As someone who loves both story-driven games and those with complex, challenging mechanics, I’ve enjoyed sinking my teeth into this deep virtual world. I’d recommend it highly to others who love gothic, immerse games, or who love stories combined with strategy.

Monday Blues: Creepy Little Bedtime Stories

(“Monday” Blues: On the first Monday of the month, I’ll recommend a new world – a book, a game, a podcast, etc – to escape into. Or at least to look forward to after a hard day’s work.)

Creepy Little Bedtime Stories

Capture.PNG

A Series of Short Stories by William F. Aicher

What It Is: A series of stand-alone short horror stories, each taking on a unique horror sub-genre and voice.

Why You Should Read It: As part of my recent horror binge, I came across this series of shorts and greatly enjoyed each of them. Each entry in the Creepy Little Bedtime Stories series offers an injection of fast-paced, bite-sized fear. What also makes them fun is that reading through the series will essentially take you on a tour through horror sub-genres, ranging from dark fairy tales to crime horror to body horror. Each entry also has a distinct voice and style – from the tight, clean suspense of Pretty When You Sleep to the abstract, lyrical eeriness of Roommates – showing an impressive range from one author. Like the best horror stories do, each entry explores deeper thematic material under their spooky surfaces. Plus, they’re short enough to read in one sitting, right before your own bedtime.


Night_Plague_Cover_for_Kindle

If you’re looking for even more books to read during the long, gray winter, you can download my apocalyptic vampire novel, Night Plague, for free from my email list.

There’s also free short fiction, including some spooky stories,  available from my website.

Monday Blues: The House of Long Shadows

(“Monday” Blues: At the start of every other week, I’ll recommend a new world – a book, a game, a podcast, etc – to escape into. Or at least to look forward to after a hard day’s work.)

The House of Long Shadows

51pBzaXSH9L

A Novel by Ambrose Ibsen

What It Is: A horror novel in which a “Videotube” star challenges himself to renovate an abandoned old house in a bad part of town within a month. A contract for a television show on the Home Improvement Network is on the line – and therefore his dreams of success and stardom – but the house itself has other plans.

Why You Should Read It: There are two elements that make this novel special: the imagery is incredibly vivid and it’s genuinely scary.

I read a lot of horror and ghost stories, but this is one of the few that actually got my heart beating faster not only while I was reading it, but also for a while after setting it down each night. It left behind plenty of goosebumps, too. There were several times when I intended to sit down and read just one chapter and ended up rushing through page and page during the dark hours of the night, while everyone else slept and my own house seemed far too still – definitely chilling in a fun way.

It was actually after I finished the novel when I appreciated just how good the imagery within it is. Normally, the scenes I imagine while reading a book fade shortly after finishing it, but days after reaching the end of this one, I can still see the house, its surroundings, and its ghastly inhabitants as clearly as if I’d watched a film.

The character development is also quite well done. The protagonist, Kevin, is a little plain but relatable. His simple, earnest desperation to achieve his dreams makes it almost too easy to root for him considering how poorly you know his plans are going to go just judging by the genre. It also made a lot of his risky behavior more believable, which is something the genre as a whole tends to struggle with. It was interesting how he was more or less the only major character in the book – it definitely made me as the reader feel closer to his struggles.

The only aspect I have mixed feelings about is the ending. It was poetic in a way, but also a bit predictable. I was admittedly hoping for it to end differently – but maybe that itself says something about how invested I was in the story.

Overall, The House of Long Shadows managed to pull me out of my analytical “writer brain” that I sometimes read with and coax me into genuine emotion. I’m not sure what else I can ask for from a good book.


Night_Plague_Cover_for_Kindle

If you’re looking for even more books to read over the summer, you can download my YA apocalyptic novel, Night Plague, for free from my email list or Instafreebie. Right now it’s also included in several multi-book giveaway packages with other free, fun reads:

Monday Blues: 14

(“Monday” Blues: At the start of every other week, I’ll recommend a new world – a book, a game, a podcast, etc – to escape into. Or at least to look forward to after a hard day’s work. The regular schedule is back for July.)

14

14-preview-2

A Novel by Peter Clines

What It Is: A genre-blending speculative fiction novel about a man named Nate who notices more than a few oddities about his new apartment building.

Why You Should Read It: With a twisting plot, fun characters, and atmospheric setting, 14 has it all. If you’re like me and enjoy books where genres blend and break, acting as tools rather than limitations, you’ll enjoy the way it mixes together styles ranging from crime to science fiction to supernatural horror. I also enjoyed how, even with all of that going on, it remains fairly character driven throughout. Reading it reminded me of walking down an unexplored mountain trail, always pushing ahead just a little farther to see what surprises are around the next bend due to the environment shifting with the elevation. Despite its hefty page count, I devoured this one quickly. There are some aspects that felt a bit rushed towards the end and a few questions that went unanswered, but on the whole, 14 was one of the most entertaining and memorable books I’ve read recently. Definitely go into this one spoiler free if you can.


Night_Plague_Cover_for_Kindle

 

If you’re looking for even more books to read over the summer, you can download my YA apocalyptic novel, Night Plague, for free from my email list.

Monday Blues: Seconds

(“Monday” Blues: At the start of every other week, I’ll recommend a new world – a book, a game, a podcast, etc – to escape into. Or at least to look forward to after a hard day’s work.)

Seconds

18630542

A Graphic Novel by Bryan Lee O’Malley

What It Is: A supernatural graphic novel about a troubled young chef who stumbles upon a way to edit her mistakes out of reality.

Why You Should Read It: Seconds is both relatable and fanciful, funny and poignant. Its art is atmospheric, and the way it brushes up against metafiction elements (such as the protagonist’s banter with the narrator, the way it uses certain terms, and its creative use of certain panels) is entertaining. The characters, while not especially deep, are lovable. I also enjoyed how it grappled with the concepts of selfishness, desperation, and choice in honest and fresh ways. The world building, however, felt a little underdeveloped and rushed towards the end, as did some of the late plot twists and the ending. Still, Seconds is one of the most unique and fun graphic novels I’ve read in a long time, and makes for a definite page turner.

Monday Blues: Peter Darling

(With the end of school for the summer, it’s time to get back to blogging.)

(Tuesday Monday Blues: At the start of every other week, I’ll recommend a new world – a book, a game, a podcast, etc – to escape into. Or at least to look forward to after a hard day’s work.)

Peter Darling

51cnpBpTM0L._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_

A Novel by Austin Chant

What It Is: A queer, imaginative take on what might’ve come after the classic Peter Pan story.

Why You Should Read It: I picked this up as a light read while traveling, but it ended up becoming my favorite fairy tale retelling. The author has turned the Peter Pan who finally grew up into a fascinating character in his own right, exploring what sometimes seems to be a lack of empathy, and why he might not have wanted to grow up in the first place. This melancholy but whimsical version of Hook is fun, too. I don’t read a lot of romance because I’m personally not huge on either sappiness or sex scenes, but neither of those aspects overpower the romance subplot in this book, and the connection between the characters felt genuine. I enjoyed the queer representation, and those elements are well handled. I also especially enjoyed the themes around escapism and storytelling – it felt like a celebration of storytelling itself.

Monday Blues: The Magnus Archives

(Monday Blues: At the start of every other week, I’ll recommend a new world – a book, a game, a podcast, etc – to escape into. Or at least to look forward to after a hard day’s work.)

The Magnus Archives

The Magnus Archives Logo
A Podcast by Rusty Quill

What It Is: A fictional horror podcast, created by Rusty Quill productions, which centers on the Magnus Institute, a paranormal research company that collects statements from anyone who claims to have encountered the explainable. The Institute’s new Archivist delves into one of these statements in each episode, recording them onto tapes. What starts as a simple task, however, becomes sinister as the lines between statements – and reality – starts to blur.

Why You Should Listen: The Magnus Archives is the total package – great writing with interesting stories and characters (and some beautiful wordcraft at times), quality production and performances, and an eerie atmosphere that inspires its own sort of wonder.

It also takes advantage of its medium with its conceit of recordings – made particularly effective by small details such as static and interference – and is genuinely creepy fiction. The stories themselves run the gamete of horror tropes, so whether you’re most afraid of spiders, ancient entities, or the inevitable approach of death, you’ll likely find something to keep you awake at night. Still, I’ve also found it to be less uncomfortable than some of the other horror podcasts I’ve tried out – thus far, there hasn’t been any sexual violence or…well, there is plenty of gore, but it’s used purposefully. Instead, it focuses more on atmosphere, psychological horror, and the supernatural. My only complaint is that some stories end anticlimactically after all the tension they build, but this varies depending on the episode.

Perhaps what makes this podcast stand out the most from others like it, however, is that it offers the best of both anthologies and serials – while each episode focuses on one self-contained statement from the archive, there is an overarching plot and lore that fosters a level of emotional investment and suspense not present in pure anthology structures. I’ve found myself replaying certain episodes, looking for connections between them and forming theories. It all adds up to a highly addictive show that I’ve binged late into the night…against my better judgement.