Brief Reviews from December

I didn’t post many reviews in December, partly because I was a bit burned out (thanks, IF Comp), partly because of paid workload, and partly because I was playing so many things, between IGF judging and working on the Kitschies list, that there wasn’t time to review all of it. But here are quick thoughts on a few December releases.

Screen Shot 2016-01-01 at 11.54.09 AMLyreless, a Bruno Dias retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice story for Sub-Q magazine. This version tells of a journey to the underworld in which we must shed one aspect of ourselves after another in order to pass through the gates of Hell and find our beloved again.

It is not a love story. Eurydice is essentially uncharacterized: who she is, or was, doesn’t matter as much as the quest, and specifically the question of how a quest changes us and our motivation for starting out on that quest in the first place. What happens when you are motivated by strong passions – pity, anger, a sense of justice – but those passions get in the way of what you are trying to accomplish? What if you have to give up some of your identity in order to become the sort of person who can do what a person-like-you would want to achieve?

While Lyreless is less engaged with class struggle per se than a lot of Dias’ other stuff, it reads (at least to me) as part of the same conversation as Cape and Mere Anarchy. At the same time, it’s dealing with a lot of these ideas abstractly: this is the kind of story in which your feelings will be harvested from your belly as pearls, not one in which you will have a realist conversation that reveals those feelings.

It is possible to lose Lyreless, too, if you make the wrong choices. It’s not really puzzly in the deep, head-scratching sense – it’s more a small, relatively easy labyrinth in which you’re likely to screw up one or two times before you get through to the end. But those errors are of course part of the point: there are things you can relinquish on the way to your goal the loss of which will destroy your self and all of your progress.

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A Man in His Life is a Sub-Q reprint of a poem by the Hebrew poet Yehuda Amichai. It is an excellent poem (here it is in non-interactive form, if you’re curious), and I’m glad to have had it brought to my attention. The Sub-Q version interleaves Amichai’s text with lines from the Ecclesiastes text to which the poet was responding. It is essentially a gloss on the original, its aims verging on scholarship.

As a first way to read the poem I found this perhaps a little distracting, and I think I’d recommend reading the text first and only then beginning to explore the hover links: the poem is not written with the cadence of this interaction in mind, and it would be a shame to spoil that experience. But as a way to expand its meaning after one reading, it’s an intriguing one.

 

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Flint is a two-part Exceptional Friends Fallen London story by Alexis Kennedy. As you know if you follow this blog, I do a fair amount of work for Failbetter, including writing other stories for Fallen London myself, so I am pretty deeply into Conflict of Interest territory here. Disclaimer disclaimer!

However, I still wanted to point this piece out, because it’s extraordinary: a long, detailed, sometimes grueling and always stunning journey away from London into the heart of the Elder Continent. It gives us glimpses of things that Fallen London previously only hinted at; it explores, again largely through symbolic vocabulary, the problems of redemption and really deep, serious character change.

It’s not where I would start if I were a new FL player; on the other hand, if you’re someone who played and enjoyed it for a while a few years ago but felt that it was getting too grindy and inconsequential, this is the kind of experience that might make you change your mind. EF stories in general are pretty light on grind, and Flint especially delivers – and delivers, and delivers – on the lore and exploration you might be looking for.

Though these stories are designed to be offered for a limited time only to subscribers, at some point Flint will become available to buy for Fate.

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This one may not be a December release, but that was the first point at which I heard of it:

doesnotcommute.jpg

Does Not Commute is a lovely little iOS game that’s been making the rounds. In it, you lay down the commute paths of various drivers on their way to work; as you get to, say, the tenth driver of the morning, you have to avoid all the other drivers whose paths you established earlier. That much is not really narrative at all, and I wouldn’t call Does Not Commute a story game, exactly.

But you do get a one-sentence snippet about each of the characters setting off to work and where they’re going and why. This world gradually reveals itself to be a little askew from ours: the drivers’ spirituality appears to revolve around their cars, and some of the drivers are going on errands to, e.g., get a vehicular curse removed.

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