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

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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: 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

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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

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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

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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

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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.