So, for my Dad’s birthday, i wanted to give him something truly special. Something that he could remember and cherish for years to come. So, of course, I decided to do an orchestral-backed rendition of a funny song we came up with together a few years back about a poor Russian widow (I don’t know why she’s Russian, don’t ask) who only wants a little, tiny piece of bread. Enjoy, and happy birthday, Dad.
I played some awesome role-playing games last year.
2018 RPG LISTING
Terra Nullius (Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition): I started GMing another show besides our Friday night game! It has been an absolute blessing to me, as I've become fast friends with the people I'm GMing for (members of the Blimey Cow community that happened to want to join my campaign), let alone how amazing the story we've been building together is. Set in an alternate Earth populated with fantasy elements, our heroes set off from Spain to explore the new world! It's been a blast.
The Proanadi: Crow Inquisitors (The Burning Wheel): We wrapped up the third season of our long-running Burning Wheel show on Twitch, and man, was it a thrilling ending. There's still so much to explore with these characters and the setting, and while it's nice to take a break from it, I already miss the system and the story we were creating together.
Elysian Road (Stars Without Number): We finally got around to playing a dedicated sci-fi campaign this year, and it has fast become my favorite science fiction setting. We had so much fun with our first season of the show, messing around with sci-fi tropes and making a great story together with wonderful characters. The characters are former pro-gamers turned space adventurers in a distant future, and the themes we played with were some of my favorite. We’ve taken a break from it now, but I’m already itching to get back to it.
Humanity’s Garden (Legacy: Life Among The Ruins): The newest role-playing game I’m obsessing with, Legacy is a fascinating look at the hopeful side of a post-apocalyptic narrative, and it’s one I’m intensely interested in. We’ve started a twice-a-month in-person game of this with some of my favorite people, and the world we’ve brainstormed within the rules is such a fascinating look at a secondary world post-apocalypse. I’m really pumped to play.
Show Tunes: I finally managed a workable playtest of my musical RPG, and got to play two games of it over the spring semester and one in the fall semester. They’ve gone really well, and while I'm definitely seeing a few things that might end up being problems later on, I think, for the most part, I have a pretty solid first draft of a game. I can't wait to playtest more and see where it goes!
Masks: A New Generation: A great role-playing game about teenage superheroes and their emotional problems. We’ve done two one-shots with it and they’ve been great fun.
Dungeon World: It's been great to be able to play Dungeon World on and off this year. It's one of the easiest games I have to set up quickly, so I've ended up bringing it along to youth events and wrangling some of the more creatively-inclined teens in our church group to let me be there guide through Dungeon World. It's been an absolute blast.
Untitled Worldbuilding Game: My friend David and I have been hard at work this year playtesting our as of yet unnamed worldbuilding game, and it's been coming together quite well so far. Elysian Road sort of took us all by storm, so we haven't been able to playtest it in earnest quite yet, but I'm excited to see what the future brings with this game. I think it has some amazing potential.
Apocalypse World: We did our first streamed one-shot of this game, and ended up coming up with one of the most fascinating little stories I’ve ever had the pleasure of collaboratively making. A great game with lots of escalation and high stakes.
Fate Accelerated: Fate Accelerated is another go-to for quickly setting up a game, and we've used it a lot to do various one-shots on my channel when a player has been gone.
Fiasco: Another one-shot game we've been using on stream this year so far, Fiasco is so easy to set up and make fun stories with, and I appreciate its existence.
Maid RPG: This. This is a weird RPG. But we had a blast playing it, and it doesn't have to be suuuper weird, as long as you're playing with the right people.
I’m back with another list from 2018! Gotta finish these up so I can actually start my 2019 listings and get this blog back up and running :) Today, we’re looking at the various movies and TV shows I watched in 2018. Lots of cool stuff that I highly recommend: Check it out!
2018 TV/Film Listing
My Hero Academia (TV): The singular best superhero show, anime or otherwise, I've ever seen. Such earnest storytelling, wonderfully complex characters, and an amazing score that ties it all together.
RWBY (TV): This show is just so good. Solid storytelling, interesting and lovable characters, a gorgeous score with amazing lyrical songs that fit perfectly into the ongoing narrative, and a world that interests me more and more the further gets revealed about it. I watched the entire current run of the show in a week's time, and I don't regret a minute.
Attack on Titan (TV): A fascinating and gruesome anime that not only has incredible worldbuilding, a fantastic score, and a riveting storyline, but it has so many stand up and cheer moments despite its dark nature. I am enjoying every minute in this world, horrible a world as it is.
Calvinist (Movie): This documentary presents Calvinism in one of the most intelligent yet accessible ways I’ve seen. Calvinist is the Christian rallying call back to sound doctrine that is sorely needed in our current culture.
Clannad (TV): It took me a while to finish this anime, but it was so worth it. Wonderfully sweet and cute, filled with great ideas and beautiful characterization. It made me cry a lot.
A Quiet Place (Movie): A+ all around. Beautiful storytelling and aesthetics and a master class on subtlety and minimalism in film.
Kanon (TV): Another beautiful anime filled with wonderful characters and bittersweet feelings. I love sad romance animes, and so this hit my heartstrings in a wonderful way.
Parasyte (TV): This anime is incredibly deep, dark, and complex in so many ways. It delves into themes that are so important, in such a beautiful, haunting, and biting way. The characters are great, the music is gorgeous, and the story is thrilling and wonderfully paced.
Kokoro Connect (TV): Another sad romance anime... I like these a lot. Lots of fun worldbuilding here, with interesting supernatural elements that create incredibly weird and thought-provoking situations that help us delve into human nature and morality. Bittersweet in all the right ways, and with a gorgeous score to boot, this anime tore at my heart in a beautiful way.
Avengers: Infinity War (Movie): Great movie with great payoffs for the franchise as a whole. Character arcs were solid, action was so much fun, and the plotting was well-paced. Remember, when you watch this movie, however, that it's part one of two. I forgot that.
Trigun (TV): A wonderfully deep, philosophical, and complex sci-fi anime. Seemingly silly at first, but in reality unbelievably thought-provoking in both worldbuilding and its philosophical delvings. A morality of nonviolence is on trial here, and its incredibly interesting.
The Incredibles 2 (Movie): I really enjoyed this movie. In a world of lackluster sequels, it stood out as one that was intriguing, did justice to the original characters, and added something great and new to the franchise. Not only do I adore the aesthetic of this film and its predecessor, but I also love the characters and getting to spend more time with them. The themes were subtle when they could have been very heavy-handed, and the plot was surprising yet inevitable in so many ways. The action scenes left me breathless and while there were spare few moments that seemed just a tad bit off in pacing, the majority of the movie was both nostalgically familiar and refreshingly new in the best way possible.
Flavors of Youth (Movie): A beautiful and poignant film on youth, growing up, and the simple things that bring people together.
Solo (Movie): That was surprisingly good.
RWBY Chibi (TV): I loved getting to come back to these characters again in a funny and interesting way. I also love how this show got to explore situations and relationships that we were unable to see fleshed out in the regular show.
Sherlock (TV): I finally got around to doing a complete rewatch of this show and then finishing up Series 4. I'm so, so glad I did. This show is so incredible, in all of its pieces. The characters are deep and complex, the plotting is thrilling, and the cinematography and special effects are extravagant and minimalist at the same time, which is amazing. I loved the way the show ended, and I so very much adored spending time with these characters again.
Violet Evergarden (TV): This was my brother Connor's favorite anime of the year, for sure, and I really enjoyed it as well. There was gorgeous music, heart-touching character moments, and an arc that was beautiful to see in action. The animation is also gorgeous.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (Movie): This movie was far better than it had any right to be.
Ant Man and the Wasp (Movie): A fun romp in the Marvel universe with some fun characters.
Crazy Rich Asians (Movie): Super fun rom-com.
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (Movie): A wonderful anime movie with great characters and plot. I loved the simplicity of this film and the emotions it made me feel.
Classroom of the Elite (TV): Another good anime that I enjoyed this year, Classroom of the Elite is an intelligent, complex show with interesting characters and a deep and compelling plot. I really enjoyed getting to know the characters and watching them try and fail to get what they wanted.
Bao (Short Film): This was a lovely short film that used a wonderful analogy for raising a child and touched my heart with the feels.
47 Meters Down (Movie): One of the best shark movies I've ever seen, second only to The Shallows, this movie had a fantastic relationship plot focusing on two sisters, and was compelling in so many ways, from the plotting, to the mystery, and just the experience as a whole.
Conspiracy Theory (Movie): A fascinating film about conspiracy theories, government agents, and high-tension thriller plotlines that keep you on the edge of your seat.
Black Panther (Movie): I enjoyed this movie more than I thought I would. Despite its obvious pandering to cultural ideologies that have suffocated our current social climate, it managed to pull off a great story with interesting characters and compelling worldbuilding, while still giving us a good message that didn't completely compromise its integrity as a film. Good on you, Black Panther.
Life of Pi (Movie): An incredibly interesting, though strange film filled with fascinating pseudo-religious concepts that I very much enjoy delving into. I loved the twist at the end, and the cinematography and the tension this movie presented were gorgeous.
5 Centimeters Per Second (Movie): This anime movie was wonderfully depressing and minimalist. It told a remarkably complex story in a relatively little time. I think I still wish there was more to it, but I understand that it had to be the length it was for the story they wanted to tell to work.
Gandhi (Movie): I thoroughly enjoyed this film. It displayed human depravity in an incredibly poignant way, and it made me really, really sad. It made me think a lot about unreached people groups, and the lies that people of man-made religions can find comfort in while still being lost without Christ. And that made me even more sad. It's also a long movie. But it's good. It skipped around quite a bit throughout Gandhi's life, which I was a little confused by at first (it didn't seem like we got enough emotional weight with the things that were happening), but by the end I think it ended up being a very complete story. But, man, gosh, this movie. It's heart-wrenching. Not only because of all the human depravity on display, but also because it attempts to impart a message of peace and non-violence without a Christian worldview, which is an exercise in sad, sad futility. I was about to cry when Gandhi's ashes are thrown into the water at the end of the movie, because, unless Gandhi was reached by the Holy Spirit right before his death, his unbelief in Jesus as the only way of salvation means that he is not with God now. And that really saddens me. I think about what a great legacy he could have left if he had centered his life on Jesus and exemplified Him with his life. Sigh.
Convenience Store Boyfriends (TV): I really liked this anime. While it's not high on my list because it definitely did drag at some points and it took me a while to get through, I still highly recommend it. It has wonderful characters with great, heart-touching moments between them, and the music is to die for. I just wish the main plot had been stronger; I was largely disinterested by the time the B Plot had finished up halfway through the show.
I listened to a lot of great music in 2018. Here’s my listing and reviews.
2018 Music Listing
Romans (Psallos): I love this album. Psallos is the band I never knew I needed in my life. Romans is a verse-by-verse, passage-by-passage, chapter-by-chapter exposition of Romans set to music. Not only are the lyrics (most of which are just slightly changed verses straight from the epistle) Biblically sound, but the music is gorgeous to listen to and very catchy (which is really helpful to get the ideas the book presents stuck in your head).
Hebrews (Psallos): Another great album from Psallos. Hebrews takes the expert lyricism and music of Romans and cranks it to 11—I just adore it, beginning to end. You can tell just how much time and energy went into making this album as excellent as possible.
RWBY (Jeff Williams): The soundtrack to the web series RWBY is one of the best I've heard in a long, long time. I'm so glad that I've gotten to enjoy this show and it's music. Please do yourself a favor and watch the show, and then bask in the glory that is its soundtrack.
My Hero Academia (Hayashi Yuuki): The soundtrack to this anime is simply top-notch, and might be one of the best scores to anything in a long, long time.
Attack on Titan and Attack on Titan II (Hiroyuki Sawano): A fantastic anime with a fantastic soundtrack, both in lyrical songs and its score. Great, evocative music that has inspired me a lot in thinking of my own stories.
A Quiet Divide (Rhian Sheehan): My favorite New Zealand composer came out with a new album of beautiful orchestral music, and it’s amazing. It also once again proves to me that he has written the soundtrack to To Look Skyward, my novel-in-progress. It fits so well.
Atlas: Enneagram (Sleeping At Last): As Ryan O’Neal finishes up Atlas: Year Two, I think he gets better and better at making music. Such cool and evocative stuff on this album.
Kokoro Connect (Misawa Yasuhiro): Another wonderful anime that has an even more wonderful soundtrack. The score for this show is just gorgeous, and has some of the best string and piano music I've ever heard. Great and memorable themes that are all tied together in a complex weave of good music.
Trigun (Tsuneo Imahori): I finally finished watching this anime after about a year, and it was worth the journey. The music is one of my favorite parts of the show, since it perfectly captures the mood and tone of the show. Lots of western-style guitars and some great soundscapes.
This War of Mine (Piotr Musial): This game has captured my imagination once more with its aesthetic and its themes. And also with its beautiful, beautiful music.
Loving Vincent (Clint Mansell): One of my favorite Clint Mansell works after The Fountain, this album is gorgeous and haunting.
4 (Red Jumpsuit Apparatus): I started listening to this band this year, and I gotta tell you, it’s phenomenal. Great music, great themes, and a rocking beat.
Am I The Enemy? (Red Jumpsuit Apparatus): I started listening to this band this year, and I gotta tell you, it’s phenomenal. Great music, great themes, and a rocking beat.
O Come, O Come Emmanuel (Cody Mendenhall): Every year I listen to a playlist made up exclusively of different versions of this beautiful Christmas hymn. This year I added a new one to the playlist—this gorgeous orchestral/choir rendition that is right up my alley in terms of style and genre. Highly recommended.
The Ghost Note Symphonies, Vol. 1 (Rise Against): A great collection of acoustic and down-scaled versions of classic Rise Against songs. Loved it.
Grace Has Come (Sovereign Grace Music): I adore this album and the heartfelt worship of our Lord and Savior it presents to our current generation. No shallowness here. No poor theology to pander to the lost. No. Deep, meaningful, corporate worship.
Convenience Store Boyfriends (Omama Subaru): Though the anime isn't the best I've encountered, it had its evocative moments, and part of that was the phenomenal music that was composed for the show. Solid all the way through, with haunting strings, emotional piano, and happy guitars.
Parasyte (Ken Arai): Parasyte is a wonderful, deep, hauntingly beautiful anime that has an equally haunting soundtrack. It has a strange but fantastic mix of dubstep, orchestral, and rock music that fits the show so well that it somehow all makes sense.
Noragami (Taku Iwasaki): Noragami is another great anime that I enjoyed last year, but just now got around to getting the soundtrack to. This one has some weird music along the lines of the Parasyte soundtrack, but it is also phenomenal and perfectly fits the themes of the show.
Return to Middle Earth (Johan de Meij): This past fall I went to visit a friend who was playing this symphony, conducted by the composer himself, at her college. A symphony written off of the extraneous works of Tolkien, such as The Silmarillion, it is haunting and beautiful and intense.
Englaborn & Variations (Johann Johannsson): The last album that Johann Johannsson was working on before he passed. It's a remastering of Englaborn and an addition of remixes of each of the songs by Johannsson and others who are honoring his memory. I really needed something to help me to say goodbye to Johann Johannsson, and this album was wonderful for that.
Happy New Year, Colin Burstead (Clint Mansell): Always highly enjoy one of my favorite composers’ work, and this is no exception. Folky all the way through, this album encapsulates family, the new year, and the country perfectly, and is a joy to listen to.
Mandy (Johann Johannsson): A haunting apocalyptic soundtrack by my favorite posthumous composer.
Symphony No. 1 The Lord of the Rings (Johan de Meij): This past fall I went to visit a friend who was playing this symphony, conducted by the composer himself, at her college. A symphony written off of the book trilogy The Lord of the Rings, it is a gorgeous and beautiful rendition of an amazing fantasy world.
Kanon (Hiroyuki Kouzo): This cute little anime had a simple but evocative soundtrack, with themes that still make me cry. The instrumentation isn't the most complex and often is just piano and synth, but the notes themselves scream out a story that still resonates in my bones.
Clannad (Magome Togoshi): Another cute anime that has wonderful music, similar to Kanon. Fantastic music on its own, but when tied together with the characters and stories, the music makes me want to cry.
25 Years of Miyazaki Animation (Joe Hisaishi): An awesome live concert album celebrating twenty-five years of Ghibli films and its music.
A Quiet Place (Marco Beltrami): I adored this movie, and the minimalist score is a major part of why it was so good.
F#a#infinity (Godspeed You! Black Emperor): I like weird music. And this is one of the weirder ones. A three-song, hour-long album that starts with beautiful poetry and then evolves into a wonderful ambient soundscape. I've been listening to it and thinking about stories set after the apocalypse.
Come Alive (Rachel Taylor): This album is a great pop album. I usually don't say that, but it's true. It has a lot of cinematic qualities about it, and I truly enjoyed listening to it; it provoked images in my head and emotions in my heart. Rachel Taylor (lead singer of He Is We, a band I've always enjoyed) continues to make good music.
Luther: The Life and Legacy of the German Reformer (Erik Lutz and Jared Kraft): A perfect soundtrack for this documentary on Luther, the music perfectly sets the tone for the Reformer’s life.
This year I read a lot of books, some really great ones…and some not so great ones. Here’s my list and the reviews I gave them. Enjoy!
2018 Book Listing
He Shall Have Dominion (Kenneth Gentry): One of the best books I've ever read. Every Christian needs to read this book and come face to face with these ideas. Not only is the book well-written, thorough, and rhetorically persuasive, but it's also very scripturally sound, exegetically secure, and theologically profound. Eschatology matters, and this eschatology speaks to the truth of God's mission on Earth.
Tongues-Speaking (Kenneth Gentry): This book is an incredibly solid overview of the Biblical view of the spiritual gift of tongues, and I highly recommend it to every Christian who may be confused as to the modern day relevance of the gift.
The Alcatraz Series (Brandon Sanderson): Given that Brandon’s middle grade fantasy series is made up of five rather short novels that make up a larger story and that I read them all back to back, I thought it might make sense to review them as a whole rather than separately. They are also pretty par for me in terms of how much I liked them. Let me just say: Brandon Sanderson is a genius. He gave me such an evocative world in such a short amount of time, and made me fall in love with every character, every story, and every random piece of magic and technology that he threw at me. Highly recommended and incredibly thrilling series.
Legion (Brandon Sanderson): The Legion series is wonderful, and one of Brandon's best non-Cosmere works. An interesting magic system that's never really fully explained but it still delved into in interesting ways, characters that both hurt you and make you want to cheer in the best ways, and a thriller plotline that makes you never want to put the series down. There's also so many interesting little sci-fi elements that make it just a joy to read.
Snapshot (Brandon Sanderson): An incredibly creative and interesting story with a mind-blowing sci-fi concept that was taken in so many cool directions. Great ending.
Legacy: Life Among The Ruins (James Iles): One of the best role-playing games I've read in a while, and the first one since Burning Wheel that has gotten me so excited to tell stories in the setting. Such interesting mechanics that seem to push story along in so many evocative directions.
Generation Ship (Aaron Griffin): An incredibly interesting setting using the Legacy mechanics, and one that makes me really excited to explore.
His Majesty's Dragon (Naomi Novik): Naomi Novik’s His Majesty’s Dragon is an engaging, intelligent novel, and well-suited for the higher age-ranges of the “young adult” market. Though some of its language and themes make it less desirable for readers more towards middle-grade than young adult, it is nevertheless a valuable book for a young adult in several ways: Its intelligence and creativity, its easy and natural discussion of difficult subjects, and its eye towards strong character development throughout the book.
Speak (Laurie Halse Anderson): This book was phenomenal. So focused and hauntingly beautiful. Succinct yet poetic in every sentence, saying so many things with such little word count. I was blown away by the story of Melinda, and her journey in learning to speak again. It was heart-wrenching and hopeful, and made we want to be stronger.
That You May Prosper (Ray Sutton): A fantastic book on the covenant from a consistent eschatological perspective, That You May Prosper really blew my mind with its clarity, Biblical faithfulness, and intelligence in the way it dug deep to find the patterns that shape the way the Bible was written.
Paradise Restored (David Chilton): I adored this book. So much fun to read. So filled with Biblical hope. So consistent in its argumentation and its exegesis. Highly recommended to both current postmillenials and those who are skeptical about the eschatological system.
The Beast of Revelation (Kenneth Gentry): I just love the way Kenneth Gentry writes. So thorough, so succinct, and so Biblically faithful. If you want to know who the Beast of Revelation is--read this book.
Dominion and Common Grace (Gary North): A really good overview of the doctrine of common grace from the perspective of theonomic postmillenialism. It was insightful, detailed, and well-written, and gave me loads to think about.
The Attributes of God (A.W. Pink): I greatly enjoyed this book. Given that it was the book that starting me on my journey towards the Doctrines of Grace, I owe it so very much, and it was great to return to it to finally finish it. The book systematically and thoroughly exegetes scripture to present to us a picture of the attributes of God.
The 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith in Modern English (Stan Reeves): A lovely summary of a Biblical faith consistent with scripture, all-presented in modern English in a way that is both faithful to the original writing while making it much more comprehensible and clear for a modern audience.
Misreading Scripture Through Western Eyes (E. Randolph Richards & Brandon J. O’Brien): Good look at Western cultural perceptions that might hinder our interpretation of the Bible. Don't agree with all of the conclusions the authors make about interpretation, but they do an admirable job of helping the reader understand the importance of proper historical and linguistic context and providing helpful advice in reading scripture with awareness of our own cultural biases.
Mockingjay (Suzanne Collins): A wonderful book and a good ending to a wonderful series. Though not perfect, and I think lacking in the completion of some of its most important themes, the book is a fantastically written journey into the depravity of humanity, the hopelessness of politics in fixing human nature, and the struggle to choose between fighting fire with fire or being burned.
Everything I Never Told You (Celeste Ng): A beautiful and haunting depiction of family disfunction and the tragedy that sometimes has to happen for people to come to redemption.
The Only Harmless Great Thing (Brooke Bolander): Hauntingly beautiful, poetic, and sad in all the right ways. Fantastic characters and storytelling? Awesome. Poetic beauty that seems to somehow transcend language at times? Even better. Uplifted elephants? Sign me up.
Eleanor & Park (Rainbow Rowell): This book had such a wonderful, sweet, and oddball romance. Eleanor & Park 4 Life.
Who Is The Holy Spirit? (R.C. Sproul): A fantastic overview of the third person of the Godhead, and incredibly Biblical in its presentation of His role in our lives as Christians.
A Little Book on the Christian Life (John Calvin): I love the way Calvin writes. Not only is it engaging and thoughtful, but it's so passionate and sincere in both its desire to be faithful to God in everything, and its patient care and gentleness. You can definitely tell John Calvin was a pastor, and a good one. The reason I give this book only four stars is the last two chapters. Though the first three were phenomenal in every way, the last two suffered from poor exegesis and a lack of a Biblically consistent eschatology. Calvin was influenced by a pseudo-Gnostic idea of our being "pilgrims on Earth" and desiring to escape the confines of the curse and go to live in heaven. The reason he falls into this error is because he takes verses out of their first century context and tries to apply them to all of human history, in particular, in the way we should treat our lives as Christians here on Earth. Despite this, however, I very much enjoyed the things Calvin had to say.
Can I Lose My Salvation? (R.C. Sproul): Lovely little book on the perseverance of the saints. Overviews a few of the objections but ultimately just gives solid evidence for the Biblical truth of God's faithfulness to us in salvation.
RWBY (Shirow Miwa): This manga was the first volume of a future manga adaptation of the RWBY series. It was a fun romp with the characters from RWBY, going back to the good old days of Season 1. I needed just a little bit more time with these characters, and this manga provided it for me. Thanks Shirow Miwa.
Art for God's Sake (Philip Graham Ryken): A fantastic, short read on a theology of art. There are a few things that I feel like are oversimplifications in the text, but the meat of the book is solid.
Marcelo in the Real World (Francisco X. Stork): I really enjoyed this book--getting to know Marcelo's character and see the world through his eyes, seeing his relationship with Jasmine evolve throughout the story, and watching Marcelo evolve himself into someone who could handle the "real world." Also, I've adopted Marcelo. He's my child now. That is all.
A Tale For The Time Being (Ruth Ozeki): One of the few hopeful depictions of depression in a literary culture filled with glorifications, A Tale For The Time Being is a story of very human people trying their best to keep going on when they feel like there's nothing to live for.
The Golden Compass (Philip Pullman): There were definitely a lot of interesting worldbuilding bits in here, and the plot was solid, even if the atheistic agenda of the author was rather unsubtle.
Looking for Alaska (John Green): This book. I liked this book. I felt emotions at this book. Unfortunately, there were a lot of unnecessary gross things in this book that made it hard to get through. Though it's thoughts on death and the loss of friends are poignant and admirable, it's not a book I would ever recommend to its target audience. Also, the ending left just a bit to be desired. Maybe I just saw it coming too soon, but it fell a little flat for me.
Universal Harvester (John Darnielle): I really enjoyed Universal Harvester. It didn’t take me too long to get into the story, and the initial descriptions of the tapes were haunting and disturbing in all the right ways. I loved the slow build in tension and horror throughout the first half of the novel, and the subtle teasing the narrative does in hinting at the horrible things to come. My favorite moments include when the narrator talks about that “in some versions of this story…” and then has alternate ideas or conjectures about the lives of the people they are writing about. The weird semi-omniscient unreliable narrator is one of my favorite things about this book. I was very interested in finding out the answer to the question of who were the people one the tapes, and who recorded them, as the tension kept building. This book ended up being something very different from what I expected it to be. And where some people would be disappointed by that, I think I really enjoyed it because of that. Instead of degenerating into some cheap horror slasher, we went deeper into the concepts of loss, grief, and purpose and experienced more of the existential horror surrounding those abstracts. I really, really enjoyed that about the book. It began as a story about a small Midwestern American town, and it ended that way as well. It was about the people in the town, the dread of finding a meaning in life, the abject loneliness of loss and grieving a loved one. And I really liked it. One of my favorite parts was the section on the parents of Lisa Sample. The simple beauty and the slow descent into inevitable madness in that section was hauntingly beautiful to read. I loved the reveal at the end, and found myself restructuring everything that had happened previously to fit the new narrative I had discovered. Universal Harvester was a delightful, spooky, and existential read, and I recommend it highly. Darnielle is a beautiful writer, and there are moments of such poetic prose in the book that it makes you just sit back and think about the same phrase over and over again.
The Book Thief (Markus Zusak): I really liked a lot of the things this book did. Its focus on the power of language and books is powerful, and its horrific depictions of life in Nazi Germany are equally so. I loved that Death was the narrator, and though I did have some problems with the novel dragging a bit and some of the content, I do recommend it.
Are These The Last Days? (R.C. Sproul): Baby's first preterism :) A good look at the issues surrounding the Olivet Discourse, and though I wish R.C. Sproul would have followed the line of exegetical evidence further into a more rounded eschatological position, it's still a solid read.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Stephen Chbosky): I want to love this book. I really do. It has great characters, plot, and themes. Unfortunately, it's also trash. There is just so much juuuunnkk in this book and I couldn't stand reading it sometimes, but this being a book I read for school, I plunged onward. I feel like YA authors put crap like this into books just so they can feel edgy and self-righteous when their book is banned from school libraries.
Ready Player One (Ernest Cline): I could write a whole dissertation on why this isn't a very good book. Not only is the plot almost completely devoid of any try-fail cycles or any sense of tension, the main character is the ultimate exemplification of a wish-fulfillment character. The setting was also much to be desired. While I enjoyed some of the worldbuilding surrounding the video gaming culture itself, the whole thing just really falls flat. Unless you have as an intensely specific knowledge of 80's pop culture as the main character (and the author), pass on this book.
The Aztecs (Roger Smalley): A fun little kid's book about the Aztecs :)
Stone Animals (Kelly Link): So, I wasn’t entirely into the ending of this piece, but the rest of it I adored in a sickly fascinated way. It’s just so wonderfully weird. Full of strangeness and descending into madness. I enjoyed the story much more than I expected to, given the slow beginning. My favorite moments of the story was the continued descent into madness that happened every time a new thing became haunted. Especially when their son became haunted later in the story, it was just so creepily satisfying, narratively. My question is “what happens next???” I really want to know more about the weird surrealistic magic of the setting and what the meaning of it all was, but I feel like I understand why the author ended it the way they did. It was wonderfully surreal, if a little sad to me, to see it ending there.
Lying (Lauren Slater): This was definitely an interesting read. There is a lot of metaphor to follow, but I got a general sense of the ideas the author was trying to convey, so I think I followed it pretty well. I really enjoyed the sad and haunting relationship that the author and her mother work through in the first half of the memoir. The mother is very well-characterized—Slater’s descriptions give us a very good idea of who her mother was like, despite whether or not metaphor is being used to exaggerate even her persona. In the end, I didn’t like this book quite as much as I thought I would originally. The metaphor bobbed and weaved in some unsatisfying directions, and the answers we got towards the end of the novel only served to further confuse me and bewilder any sense of narrative cohesion the memoir had in my mind. The postmodernism at play in this book reminds me far too much of Marcus for me to say I “liked it” at the end of the day. One arc of the memoir that gave me an incredible sadness was the author’s love affair with the writer “Christopher.” It made me really depressed and anxious to see a young woman so blatantly be used sexually by an older man. It was obvious that the woman in that situation was desperately seeking human contact, but in all the wrong ways, and it saddened me to see the mental trauma from that and many of the other directions the memoir took her story. A question I have getting to the end of the memoir is the obvious one: “What is the truth here?” It seems to me like Lauren Slater still probably needs some serious mental support, and I hope that she’s gotten it, and that Lying hasn’t been her only way to reach out for help for the obvious trauma she must have gone through as a young person.
Feed (M.T. Anderson): I would have given this book two stars, I disliked it that much, until I saw the plot twist. The plotting was just good enough to bump it up by one star. Problem is, this book is just propaganda.
The Age of Wire and String (Ben Marcus): This book confused me. So, so very much. And that's just about all I have to say about it.
I finally finished a recording I've been working on for a while. I wrote this song back in the fall of 2016, while I was at Phantom Ranch on a trip that the youth group takes at that time. I was definitely feeling rather unqualified to be there as a youth leader, guiding and teaching the teens, and so that's part of why this song was written. But in general, this song is about sanctification, and how I don't deserve Jesus' guiding hand in my life through that process, but He gives it anyway. This song is about sin, and how we all continually fail our God by being unfaithful to Him. It is also about how our God is utterly faithful, and when we cannot obey in our own power, He gives us the power to obey. I hope you enjoy it.
Why do I keep writing songs (that highlight the dark in me)?
Was I like this all along (or does the music set it free)?
Will I ever go back to the way it was before? Back when I had my innocence, back before I closed that door.
Another place that reminds me that I am not the person I was
Another chance for me to see that I still have some time to run.
Pry another finger away from the darkness I hold so tightly
Set my feet, grit my teeth, but honestly, this is the hardest thing I've ever done.
The walls close in tightly, dear
Barriers I should rightly fear
But I thought I could make it
Through tunnels of black
I thought that the darkness
Was all at my back
But it was everywhere
No light at the end of this
Tell me now, if I had enough faith would it all go away? (Would it all go away?)
I've come so close, but it never feels like I have the right words to say
I'm running and I'm screaming and I'm crying but there's no sign of change
What will it take? I'm gonna break, again, again, again
And why do I keep writing songs if nothing's ever different
Everyone's playing along with my concealed indifference
If I was God, I would have given up on me a long time ago
Is the fire burning brightly, dear?
Is it the dark of night we fear?
I've twisted my insides until I was right
I've turned off the lantern that once gave me sight
The dark is everywhere
What? Are you expecting a happy ending?
Well, I once expected that too
I guess there's nothing for me here
But to accept what is my due
Romans says that God chooses us
Ephesians says we are His work
John shows us that the Truth is Jesus Christ
In Hebrews that same Truth is leading us every step of the way
This is how it always happens, I fall and I fall and I fall
But this is where it always ends up, with God making me feel small
I have to believe that God has made me his own
I have to believe that Jesus won't let me go
If I don't, If I don't, then what am I living for?
If I speak, may I choke, on my words, if they are not yours
Guide my thoughts, guide my actions, again as I get to my feet
Make each step in time with yours, every day until your face I see
May each song, that I write, beat in time with your heart
And when I fall, please, Lord, catch me, don't let me fall apart
Today is Father's Day, and I'm missing my dad. He's approximately 8,500 miles away in another country, serving the Lord and preaching the Gospel. I am so, so thankful for the way my father continually lives his life for God, serving, loving, and teaching with everything that he has. For his integrity, his boldness, his kindness, and the way that he has instilled those virtues into my very essence. While I wasn't able to spend today with him, I was reminded in a thousand different ways today just how much he has given me.
My father has given me a love for God's Word that is so precious to me. And so, I will read the Bible today.
My father has given me a love for other people, honoring them as image-bearers of God, and so I loved on some people today.
My father has given me an example of a work ethic that strives with everything it has to accomplish a task with excellence. And so, I will work today with joy in my heart.
My father has given me a love of conversation and spending time with those that matter most, and so I spent time with some of those people today.
My father...has given me so much more than these. And I will try as hard as I can to give back by trying to continue to uphold the legacy he has passed on to me. That is one of integrity, love, hope, boldness, and diligence.
Happy Father's Day, Dad, and thanks for everything you've given me and continue to give to so many other people.
I love you.
Connor and I decided to do a cover on one of our favorite songs. Here it is.
I wrote a song a while ago. It's a song that's very important to me, and to my personal convictions. It's a song that, until recently, I haven't shared publicly. Part of the reason for that is because I was planning on debuting it on my podcast, The Christian Artist, and it took us a while to get around to the topic. The other reason is that the song is a challenge to me as much as it is to anyone else, and I have been struggling with being in a good place; feeling like I was "worthy" of this song, in a sense. It's a heavy song that deals with a heavy topic: The murder of unborn children in the womb. But it's also about me and my own desire to change the world for Christ, despite my lack of ability or personal worthiness to do so.
Luckily, God is bigger than me, and so he doesn't need me to change the world. He can do it through the rest of His faithful Bride. But also luckily, God deigns to use crooked sticks like me. And more than that, He straightens crooked sticks. He makes them new when they were dead. He grafts them onto a Tree of Life.
That's what this song is about. My own inability and God's ability to change the world. To lead those stumbling towards slaughter away from harm. To raise up a generation of godly people who will proclaim the Kingdom of God. And to save His people.
I was challenged to write this song because of Apologia Studios and their influence on my life. Their movement #EndAbortionNow is the most bold, God-honoring, and amazing movements I've seen in my lifetime, and it inspired me so much that I had to put my feelings down to music. Human abortion is wicked and needs to be stopped, and we have the only Gospel that can change human hearts.
Without further ado, here is my song, and my battle cry: End It Now.
I might post a further article delving into the lyrics of the song itself and explaining them further, as well as just talking about my general creative process. Let me know if that's something you would be interested in in the comments below!
Oh, hi there. Long time, no see. As you may have noticed, I sort of abandoned this website for a while. I was busy (and lazy) and also forgot about the fact that I pay actual money to keep this going, and so I let it sit for a while. But the payment for the next year of keeping the website up just went through, and that sort of woke me up a little bit to the fact that if I'm going to keep spending money on this, I should darn well use it.
And so this is the proverbial ressurection of the website! Welcome, nice to meet you. I'm Caleb Powers, and I'll be your guide on this strange journey into my brain.
As of right now, I'm not entirely sure what the schedule for this website would be, though I'd like to figure one out. While I don't expect to post every day here like I tried to back in the summer I started this thing, I would like to post more regularly; something like two or three posts a week. With that being said, come back tomorrow for some brand new content! I'll be releasing a song I haven't shown publicly yet, and I hope you'll like it.
All that being said, welcome back, and thanks for being interested in the things I do. One of the main reasons I do any of this is because people seem to like the things I create, and that makes me really excited. So, stick around, and we'll see if we can make something of this website once more!
LONG LIVE THE WEBSITE.
2017 Video Game Listing
- Crusader Kings II: I am having a blast with the Paradox Interactive grand strategy games, and I think this one might end up being my favorite. It's so intricate and complex, and sucks you in for hours. The intricacies of the politicking and lineage management are just wonderful, and I'm completely obsessed with this game.
- Doki Doki Literature Club: I gathered with four of my friends in my room and played this game in one seven-hour chunk. We all did the voices of different characters, reading the text out loud as we went. I don't think I've ever had a more wonderful gaming experience. The game is simply astounding. I was gripped and rattled and disturbed in all the right ways, and by the end I was begging for more. This game is not for the faint of heart, but it is well worth your time.
- Stellaris: This game is wonderful. I've put many hours into Paradox Interactive games by now, and each time I'm amazed by how much attention to detail goes into each and every one of their games. This game is a wonderful science fiction grand strategy game, and I highly recommend it to anyone for whom that is a good hook.
- Tin Star: An incredibly complex, rich, and interesting interactive "choose your own adventure" novel, set in the Old West. Loved every minute, and can't wait to try another play through to see what happens if I make different choices. There's a lot of variability in this one.
- Choice of Robots: As a piece of philosophical thought and as a thought-provoking story, this interactive "choose your own adventure" novel was fantastic. Loved the choices I got to make and the heart-wrenching ending.
- Ultimate Chicken Horse: A fun game that I was introduced to by a good friend, then bought myself, and subsequently spent far too much time playing, Ultimate Chicken Horse is, in my opinion, the ultimate party platformer. It's so minimalist, yet amazingly complex and worth hundreds of hours of gameplay.
- The Final Station: I really enjoyed the small portion of The Final Station I played last year. Though I ended up setting it aside because of computer issues that took away from streaming, I still plan to come back to it eventually and find out just what sort of weird mysterious things were happening in this game.
- Injustice: Gods Among Us: Though a rather simplistic fighting game at first look, Injustice is a very fun game, not only in the fighting portion, but the story around the game is immensely interesting and makes use of the fights as storytelling beats quite well.
- A Wise Use of Time: This interactive "choose your own adventure" novel took the concept of "you wake up one day with the power to stop time" and RAN with it. An incredibly fun, interesting story with characters I loved and a great ending.
- The Eagle's Heir: This interactive "choose your own adventure" novel was set in an alternate 1800's, where Napoleon won the Battle of Waterloo and there are steampunk airships. So that was fun. Good characters, fun breakneck pacing, and lots of options for diversity in the way the story ends.
- Psy High: An incredibly interesting concept, Psy High takes lots of fun, memorable characters and gives them all psychic abilities, suddenly manifested as teenagers. It's a lovely school story set on the East Coast, and though it in no way lives up to my favorite interactive "choose your own adventure" novel, Community College Hero, which has a similar style, it was still fun to play.
- Lords of Magic: I had a blast streaming a playthrough of this old childhood favorite, and I actually won! So that was fantastic.
- Paradigm City: Another "choose your own adventure" novel, and another superhero story. Not my favorite of the superhero Choice of Games I've played, but still fun.
Today I have a small story to share with you, written because I'm really excited about science fiction right now, and I'm in the planning stages for a new role-playing game campaign with my good friends using the Stars Without Number ruleset. Below is a small piece of the story of the parents of one of the characters of this yet-to-come campaign, and I hope you enjoy reading.
Robin Enger dumped a pile of outdated Skandstin tech into a metal chest, eyes on the door. For the people of this world, or even Kaka, it was a collection of garbage—last decade’s models, thrown into the waste bin without a second glance. But to Enger and his wife, these devices were their lifeline. He closed the chest with a snap and went over to his desk in the corner of the room, hastily pulling out cords from the wall and stuffing them in a second chest. The last of the computer—the collapsible monitors and storage tower, went in more delicately, but Enger winced anyway as the hard drive clattered against the metal walls of the container. His life’s work was on that hard drive. Or, at least, the parts of it he could fit on a pedabyte of space. He had destroyed the rest, the part that had been stored on the mainframe of the building, but he wasn’t sure he had done a good enough job in the short time he had to do a thorough wipe. They’d probably still find pieces. And that meant they might guess where he was going.
He closed the second chest and looked around the room. It was empty, now, of anything important besides a single energy pistol gracing the desk with the existential heaviness of its potential destruction. Glancing about at the office where he had done most of his work on Skandstin, he realized now just how bare it looked. Like a man without a soul behind his retinas.
Enger almost jumped out of his skin at the sound of a woman’s voice at the door. He jerked his gaze up towards the door and was relieved to find that it was his wife. Laila’s face was hard, her expression unwavering. Enger calmed himself with a shuddering breath and met her eyes. He nodded, and the sturdy confidence behind his wife’s face made him involuntarily straighten his back.
I don’t think I could have lasted this long without her by my side, he thought, smiling slightly. Laila smiled back, and for a singular moment, everything was right with the world. Then a resounding bang, bang, bang came from the front door of the apartment, and husband and wife both glanced back towards the sound.
Enger took another deep breath and scooped the energy pistol off the desk with the minute scrape of metal on wood. He held it close to his side, finger next to the trigger, pointed down at the metallic floor of the office.
“Take the boxes down to the garage if you can, Laila,” Enger said, surprised for a moment by the evenness of his own voice. He thought he would be terrified when this day finally came. Instead there was a wave of relief. Finally, no more hiding in the shadows, no more faking niceties with tyrants, no more compromise. He would look evil men in the face and pull the trigger, if he had to. For Laila. For himself. For their son.
Now, of all the times to have a child, he thought as Laila lifted the smaller chest with the old gear and made her way towards the back stairs. She wasn’t far enough long yet for it to show, but Enger could tell that she had been feeling dreadfully sick lately. She hadn’t mentioned it, of course, had even tried to hide it, but you didn’t last ten years of marriage without picking up a few tricks on reading people. He still had doubts about the wisdom of their decision—they would be on the run for months yet, if everything went according to plan. But he had still agreed, and even now the thought of their unborn son gave him determination to fight at all costs to leave Skandstin.
Enger made his way to the door. Another bang, bang, bang, this time more urgent, came before he reached it. He gave a half-hearted, “I’m coming,” as he reached the kitchen and stepped past a small cleaning robot that was busy scrubbing the floor. Finally, he stood in front of the door, and took one last deep breath.
He heard an electronic crackle. “Vanguard Security,” a muffled voice came from the other side. “Open the door, please.”
Enger held his pistol behind his back and pushed down on the button that made the door slide open. He let it stop halfway, which let him see the helmeted and armored visages of two security officers.
“Can I help you, friends?” Enger asked, trying to keep his voice neutral and nonthreatening. Through the crack he had allowed in the door, he heard the hiss of a helmet’s voice modulator.
“Mr. Enger, we request that you open the door,” a harsh male voice came from the foremost helmet.
Enger swallowed, his tongue feeling like a lump of lead in his mouth. “What is the purpose of your visit?”
“I can give you a warrant, Mr. Enger. Do you need proof that the Vanguard requests submission?”
Enger hesitated. A traitorous bead of sweat dripped down his forehead, despite his earlier confidence. He heard a noise behind him and glanced back just briefly to see his wife peering over from the kitchen. She mouthed the words “what should we do?”
Enger didn’t know. He was positive that if he opened the door now, the soldiers outside would discover everything, if they didn’t know already. And he would have nothing more between him and his family and the high-velocity pretech weaponry at the Vanguard’s disposal. The drop of salty perspiration flowed down the tip of his nose and fell to the floor. He made his decision.
Before he could second-guess himself, Enger took his energy pistol from behind his back, flipped the power setting the highest it would go, and aimed the barrel through the crack in the door. The soulless visors of the Vanguard soldiers showed him nothing of the expression on his enemies’ face as he pulled the trigger and an incredible blast of heat, light, and sound exploded from the pistol. Enger closed his eyes against the blinding fire and gritted his teeth at the ringing in his ears, but somehow managed to keep hold on the pistol even as he was thrown backward into the wall of the entrance room.
Enger opened his eyes and let out a shuddering breath. There was a singular moment of deafening silence before he heard a hiss, a crackle, and an electronic groan from outside the apartment door. Enger almost jumped to his feet and started stumbling into the kitchen. He didn’t where his wife was—she wasn’t in sight anymore.
“Here,” the response came from towards the back stairs. “Let’s go.”
Enger was sprinting past the kitchen and towards the back of the apartment.
“Drop your weapon and stand down, Mr. Enger,” a Vanguard soldier said from somewhere near the front door. He heard the door splinter and an energy weapon begin to power up. “Do not run, Mr. Enger. Think of your family.”
Enger was thinking of his family. And so he ran.
Hey there! Caleb here. I know it's been a while since I've posted anything regularly on the website, but I'm really hoping to get back into it. And so here we are, I'm posting a thing! I thought we'd start it slow, and start with a short snippet I wrote from a writing prompt back in January. A friend of mine said the phrase "Wake up, it's time to save the world." I took that and ran with it, since I thought it was a really evocative phrase. The piece isn't very long, but I really enjoyed putting it together, and there are glimmers of a deeper story that I'd love to come back to at some point.
One more thing before we get to the piece: I am writing To Look Skyward again, albeit very slowly. I'm doing some major revisions on the first half of the draft right now to fix some major plotting blockages I encountered at the back end. Hopefully I'll have chapters to share with you all very soon. I also have some other plans for cool stuff to share on the website in the coming weeks. Stay tuned!
Without further ado, here's my little piece:
“Wake up, it’s time to save the world.”
That’s what my master told me every morning after he grabbed me roughly by the shoulder and shook me until I fell out of bed. He would look down at me from where I lay on the rough wooden floor, surrounded by a haphazard rumple of blankets, and say those words, a stern expression on his face. I would roll my eyes and start getting dressed. He would turn around and pull a book off one of the shelves next to his own bed. And then we would begin.
Those words are burned into my memory. The rest of it is fuzzy, like a fading dream—even my master’s scarred and wrinkled face seems in my mind to be hazy and indistinct—but those words will never leave me. I can still remember their cadence, the lilt of tone and emphasis on every sound. He said it the same way every morning, and the constant repetition must have seared the sentence into my consciousness like a cattle brand being redone and redone on the same leg.
I wish I had understood the weight of those words. They had seemed like some sort of joke at the time. Just another one of my master’s many eccentricities. I didn’t know then just how important those words were.
I do now.
2017 RPG LISTING
- The Proanadi: Crow Inquisitors (The Burning Wheel): We're on the third season of this show, and it's get darker and more interesting with every session. The show airs every Friday at 7 PM CST, and using the Burning Wheel rules, we have a blast. Right now the story has detoured to the desert of Nasrin to the north of Ceran, where our characters are involved in religio-political drama involving the burgeoning town of Whitesea.
- Savage Tide (Dungeons and Dragons 3.5): We finally finished our seven and a half year-long running D&D campaign. It's been an incredible journey with some of my absolute favorite people, and it was so bittersweet having to finally wrap it up. But we made the collective decision to do so, given that it was getting harder and harder to schedule. I feel like we got to have a great send-off for the game, however, and maybe one of these days I'll finish writing up the complete log of the campaign that I've been working on since 2011.
- The Road Goes Ever On (The Burning Wheel): We've done two more sessions of our in-person The Lord of the Rings game, and it's been going very well so far. I love hanging out with those people (and it's not very often that I get to hang with them all at the same time) and this is always a great excuse to do so. Also, I love subverting Tolkien and going in weird directions with this campaign.
- Dungeon World: I've played several sessions of Dungeon World this past year, and they were all such a blast. First, I've been playing and ongoing game with some kids from our church's youth group, and I've managed to corrupt them all wonderfully. We've all had a blast telling stories in a weird fantasy world of our own creation and I've had a blast teaching some intelligent and creative kids how to play a role-playing games. We also did a one-shot of the game one night that we didn't end up doing a normal session of another campaign, and it went extraordinarily well. Dungeon World is a fantastic game for one-shots and just coming up with a fun story off the cuff.
- Ping Pong High School (Fate Accelerated): What happens when you have a slot in your gaming schedule when most of your normal players can't join? Well, you invite some of your other friends who usually don't play role-playing games with you and you do a one shot, of course. This was one of my favorite sessions I did last year, involving a parody Japanese anime high school where the most important thing is ping pong and winning the next tournament. The characters were the members of this prestigious ping-pong team, and they had to do whatever it took to win the upcoming tournament. We had so much fun playing into silly anime tropes and Fate Accelerated was the perfect system to use for this sort of weird anime game.
- Gamebound (Uncharted Worlds): Though the initial idea of Gamebound (doing mini-campaigns and jumping from game to game) is going pretty slowly from inception to execution, we've been having fun so far trying out the game Uncharted Worlds (as space opera Apocalypse World hack) and playing as the crew of a cargo freighter. Lots of Firefly/Cowboy Bebop vibes, which means good times all around.
- The Four Horsemen (Fate Accelerated): I always love coming up with strange new campaigns because of a one-shot, and this was one of those. An alternate universe in which we live in a fantasy world modeled after a pseudo-medieval America that never was, this game, though we've only done a few sessions in it, has been so much fun. Fate Accelerated is a great system, and the amount of playing around we've gotten to do with weird mythic archetypes like the four horsemen of the apocalypse and the seven deadly sins has been a great time.
- The Shadows of the Lost (Apocalypse World): We finally played Apocalypse World! I've been meaning to play this game for a while now, since I've fallen in love with it and its hacks, but we finally got around to it this past year. We've done two sessions so far, and I've fallen in love with the characters and the setting we've concocted--full of mystery and darkness in the best possible way.
- The Proanadi: Angels of Seven (The Burning Wheel): This campaign has been an interesting experiment. Not only does it just consist of two players, but we've elected to go into the distant past of the world of Serragon to explore the ancient Garic empire, a place that I have as yet not explored very deeply. It's been an interesting ride so far, full of intrigue, magic, and skullduggery, but it looks like it might be on hiatus for a while, so we'll see where it goes next.
- Shipwreckers: I had a fantastic opportunity to play with a few fun people who frequent the world of RPGs on Twitch, through Eric Vulgaris' Twitch channel. We played a wonderful game called Shipwreckers, which involves one night in the life of shipwreckers in Cornwall in the 1700's.
- PATH (Fate Accelerated): A periodic game we played a bit of last year but hopefully will continue in 2018, PATH (or the Patriotic Academy for Talented Heroes) is a superhero game that I set up with my younger brother Chase and some of his friends from our church. It's been a good time so far, and I look forward to more superhero hijinks to ensue.
- Mistborn: Monsters (Mistborn Adventure Game): This game was a mixed bag. On one hand it was incredibly fun, as playing around in the Mistborn world always is, and the story was spooky, dangerous, and great (as it always is when Connor is GMing), but we also realized something. The Mistborn Adventure Game is very broken. And though we tried multiple fixes, it's probably just not going to work for us anymore. So we're thinking of doing the next arc of this in Fate. But yeah, the story itself was fun and involved the Western-style Mistborn era and lots of politicking, secret societies, and gunfights.
I watched some interesting movies and TV shows this past year. Here's my list:
2017 TV/Film Listing
- Your Lie in April (TV): I'm not sure how to talk about this anime coherently. It might be my favorite show of all time. It might be one of the most profound pieces of art that I have ever had the pleasure of enjoying. And it just might have changed my life forever. For good. Seize the day, my friends. Live every moment as if it were your last, and learn to love the beauty of this small span of years we have on this Earth, and how it points to the beauty of the One who defines the concept of beauty in the first place.
- La La Land (Movie): This was the best film of 2016, hands down. It is arguably a perfect movie, with the plotting and execution of that plot so masterfully crafted that each moment is a masterpiece of cinema. I could go on for hours about this film, but suffice it to say that you are missing out on virtual perfection if you don't give it a chance.
- The Man in the High Castle (TV): This show is utterly fascinating. An alternate history set in 1960's America if the Axis Powers had won World War II, The Man in the High Castle gives us a dark and enrapturing look at a past that never was.
- Orange (TV): This show is what Thirteen Reasons Why should have been. It is so good, so poignant, and speaks to depression and suicide in such powerful, truthful ways. Watch this anime.
- Your Name (Movie): This movie was absolutely gorgeous, in every way. The animation, the music, and every little attention to detail made this movie such eyecandy. But that's not even the best part of this movie; not only are the characters endearing and relatable, but the plot is SO solid and filled with great twists and turns that had me guessing right until the very end. GO SEE THIS MOVIE.
- Spider-Man: Homecoming (Movie): Watched the new Spider-Man for my birthday. Came out with renewed vigor for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There is life here, everyone. This movie proves it. It was possibly Marvel's best solo hero film to date (possibly excluding the first Iron Man), and comes very close to parring with the ensemble films. This is an example of what a superhero movie can be--fun and silly without undermining itself with cliche villains or forced humor. GO SEE THIS MOVIE.
- War for the Planet of the Apes (Movie): This movie was not what I thought it would be. It was so much more. This was not a movie that was just a war between apocalypse-torn humans and advanced sentient apes. It was a story about revenge, loss, friendship, and sacrifices that brought together a wonderful trilogy in such a powerful way. Fantastic characters, wonderful humor, and heart-wrenching storytelling.
- Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (Movie): This was an absolutely excellent film. The characters were fun and well-developed, and it was great to be able to hang out with these characters again. The plot was fast-paced, well-foreshadowed, and just plain fun. The music was really well done and added to the movie well, and the special effects were gorgeous. More than all of that, the humor was simply "laugh-so-hard-you-cry" all the way through, and that was what I came for. Super recommended.
- Arrival (Movie): This movie was a little mind-blowing. It was such solid science fiction, with crazy twists and turns and a great mystery thread all the way through the story. And better yet, it was first contact science fiction without the cliche "Independence Day the aliens are going to kill us immediately" plot hook. The film was about humanity, time, language, and communication in a strong, poignant emotional story that took my breath away with its simplicity and complexity. Highly recommended.
- The Expanse (TV): One of the coolest sci-fi shows I've ever had the pleasure of watching, The Expanse is hard science-fiction at its best, portraying a fascinating future where Earth and the human colony of Mars are on the brink of war, with the Belters (the mining colonies in the Asteroid Belt) caught in the middle. The cultural differences and the political machinations of this show are wonderful to watch and enjoy.
- The Theory of Everything (Movie): I finally got around to watching this wonderful film, and it was beautiful, depressing, and moving in all the right ways. Atheistic optimism tends to be depressing for me, and this movie played it up so well, as well as the heart-wrenching love story between the two main characters (Stephen and Jane Hawking). The acting was phenomenal on every level, from every minor character to the two leads, whose dedication and enthusiasm for their parts was astounding and moving. Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones were a wonder to behold.
- Fuuka (TV): One of the many anime I've enjoyed this year, Fuuka is a cute, deep, and fun story about a group of high schoolers who start a band. There's romance, drama, comedy, and plenty of awesome music, which I'm still listening to even now. There's a little bit of inappropriate content, as anime tends to have, but it's still a great show that I enjoyed immensely.
- ReLIFE (TV): A fun, quirky, and intensely enjoyable anime with interesting characters and cute yet deep relationship drama.
- Noragami (TV): This anime is a bit different than the others I've been watching, in that it's not a high school romance story (haha I'm a sucker for those), but instead a dark, deep story about a minor god in the Japanese pantheon who goes around Japan righting wrongs in classic Percy Jackson-esque style. It's a great show with a good mix of humor and drama, and I've really enjoyed it so far. The worldbuilding is interesting, and the music is epic.
- Serenity (Movie): It has been a long time in coming to finally sit down and watch this movie. And it was worth the wait. A fantastic film with all the right stuff--great worldbuilding, great characters, great plot, great humor, and a great ending for the world of Firefly and the characters we've come to know and love. Thank you, Joss Whedon, for the 'verse, and goodbye, Serenity.
- Thor: Ragnarok (Movie): This was a good movie. I like.
- The Greatest Showman (Movie): I really, really liked this movie. It was a fantastic musical, and it resonated deeply with me, as a creative person who dreams big dreams. Watch this movie.
- Baby Driver (Movie): This movie was a blast. Every moment was dynamic and interesting, and the characters were iconic, well-fleshed out, but had easy-to-follow motivations. The soundtrack was masterfully done, and the driving stunts were phenomenal. Though not my favorite film of the year, it was still a fantastic movie. Content Warning: Lots of swearing.
- Mad Max: Fury Road (Movie): This film blew me away in its intensity and utter chaotic glory. It's been a while since I've been on the edge of my seat, desperately clinging to the hope that any of the people in the movie would make it through alive. The action was phenomenal, and the lack of reliance on CGI really shines through, making this movie the glorious homage to good ol' classic real-life stunts and explosions that it is. Also, there's a guy with a freaking flaming guitar. What more could you want?
- Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Movie): I really did enjoy this film. It had its problems, but it was much better than Force Awakens, and it subverted my "Empire Strikes Back"-shaped expectations wonderfully. Oh, and I really like Poe.
- Edge of Tomorrow (Movie): I was entranced by this film and its mastery of foreshadowing, technique, concepts, and dedication to making a darn good story. Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt at their finest, with great characterization, breakneck pacing, and a fascinating setting.
- Wonder Woman (Movie): The film was phenomenal. Great acting, writing, music, and cinematography. The middle was literally perfect, and though the beginning was a little clumsy, and the ending had a few thematic issues, it was a great, great movie.
- Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (Movie): This film is fantastic. Interesting moral questions, great action, deep characters (ones we know and love and ones we grow to), and epic plotting.
- Tsukigakirei (TV): Here's another one I forgot to add. This anime is so gorgeous, even while it's one of most awkward anime I've ever seen. But that's part of its charm; you see, it's about middle school, and that's just about the most awkward time there is. Every moment of tense silence is a masterpiece. Every blush or awkward smile is a Picasso. Tsukigakirei knows what it wants to be: a coming of age story that shows the awkwardness of middle school romance for what it is. And it succeeds so very mightily in that endeavor. Also, the music is pheonomenal.
- Me Before You (Movie): This movie gave me anger. That does not in any way make this movie a bad movie. But I doubt it was the emotion that the creators of the movie wanted me to feel at the end, and that is a bit of a failure on their part. This movie is adorable, and touching, and wonderfully plotted. Its characters are fantastic, and the love story blossoming between our two leads was heartwarming. But this movie is about assisted suicide, and it paints it in a good light, and I cannot forgive it for that. It had me screaming at the television, hoping that someone would actually GET how horrible the situation happening before their eyes was. Someone was taking their own life, and that can never be allowed to happen. And so this movie made me angry. But it was a good movie that gave me deep thoughts about a troubling topic. And at the end of the day, what more can you ask for?
- X-Men: Apocalypse (Movie): This movie was wonderful. I've heard mixed reviews of the movie, but I was blown away by how intense and willing to raise stakes this movie was. The themes were all great, and tied it back very nicely to what makes X-Men X-Men. Definitely recommended, and heartbreaking and hopeful in all the right ways.
- Beauty and the Beast (Movie): This was a gorgeous movie, inside and out. The music, the visuals, the characters, and the setting were a wonder to behold. My main problems with the movie was the pacing, which was a little off--too fast in some parts, and too awkward in others. There were a few sub-plot sorts of things that were largely irrelevant and added nothing to the story. Overall, though, I enjoyed the film tremendously and the acting was phenomenal.
- Teen Titans (TV): Started rewatching the series with my brother Chase and though the show starts rough, it quickly became endearing and heartwrenching as the show progressed. It's a great, fun show with interesting characters and great, if simple, storytelling.
- Moon (Movie): This movie was definitely a mind-trip. I originally watched it because one of my favorite composers, Clint Mansell, did the score, and I fell in love with it, this movie was definitely worth watching on its own account. The movie is about a man on a station on the moon, whose own companion is himself and an AI named GERTY. It's trippy, intense, heartbreaking, and great. Though, there is definitely a content warning on this: lots of language. There is virtually nothing else wrong with the movie except for some strong language, and it's a shame they had to throw that in, it probably cut off general access to a fantastic movie from a lot of people.
- The Grey (Movie): I enjoyed this film immensely. It's a simple, beautiful film with a simple, beautiful ending. And that's all it ever needed to be. But also...there's an incredible amount of language in it. Not recommended if you don't have a tolerance for that sort of thing.
- Fruits Basket (TV): This was such an adorable little anime series. The story of a young girl and her constant optimism slowly healing the hearts of some troubled people, Fruits Basket has a special place in my heart, and though the show is undoubtedly very strange and not for everyone, I'll always remember the boundless love and hope of Tohru Honda and her quest to learn more about the Sohma family.
- Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (Movie): I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. I laughed a lot, I liked the characters, the plot was fun, and the action scenes were clever. The first "beginning" of the movie could have been completely ripped out, since it was just bad exposition, but the ending was solid. There were a few thematic problems throughout the movie, but all in all it was a fun romp. Basically what you'd expect from a Pirates movie, and infinitely better than whatever Pirates 4 was. That being said, the excellence of the first three Pirates movies was unfortunately just not there. It was good...but not great. Still worth watching, though.
- Tsuredure Children (TV): Oh, I almost forgot this anime. Added it in after the fact. But yeah, this cute little anime is a series of interconnected short stories, basically, in brief twelve minute episodes that feature a huge cast of characters in all sorts of funny, cute, and romantic goofs. There's just a bit of a content warning on this for some inappopriate humor, but otherwise it's a fun, cute little show.
- Masamune-kun's Revenge (TV): A fun, quirky show with a really interesting premise. A young boy who had been scorned as a child by a beautiful girl, dedicating his life to getting revenge by making her fall in love with him and then dumping her in the most brutal way possible. Despite the sort of depressing premise, it's definitely a comedy in execution, and though there is a little bit of weird inappropriateness here and there (as anime tends to have), it is a fun, cute, and interesting show that I can't wait for the continuation of.
- X-Men: Days of Future Past (Movie): I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this movie. Interesting themes all around, and a very fun take on time travel (which I tend to have a big problem with in most fiction) that had me thinking all the way through the film. The characters were good, despite a rather large cast, all things considered, and were all well-acted. I really loved the build-up and the plotting of the movie, as well, and it was definitely one of those "surprising and inevitable" situations that are so satisfying in fiction.
- The LEGO Batman Movie (Movie): I was pleasantly and wonderfully surprised by how solid of a movie this was. A great beginning, middle, and end, and though there were a few parts that were a little weird and probably could have been executed better, the film as a whole was very well done, and cinematically gorgeous, which is real fun considering that it's a LEGO movie.
- The Truman Show (Movie): This was a fantastic movie. The premise was phenomenal, and the execution of those concepts was both deeply disturbing and incredibly poignant. I've wanted to see the movie for a while now, once I realized that it was a popular movie that apparently everyone besides me has seen, but now I know why it was so well received.
- Oblivion (Movie): This was an intensely interesting film. I loved the way that the mystery of the movie was so layered, and when I was immediately disappointed early on in the movie when I thought the entire mystery had been revealed, it turned out there was sooo much more to discover. The philosophical questions that are asked are interesting, the characters are fun and interesting, especially our leads, and the plot is fast-paced and suspenseful. The setting is sleek and gorgeous, and I loved being in this world. Great movie.
- Ant-Man (Movie): Ant-Man was a fun, quirky movie that had me caring about the characters and interested in the plot. Not the best movie in the world, by a long-shot, but definitely worth seeing and enjoying.
- The Martian (Movie): I very much enjoyed this movie. Matt Damon is a great actor, as usual, and I loved his character in this movie. The visuals were stunning, the plot was intense, and the dialogue was smart. I was just a tad disappointed in the ending (it didn't feel like there was really much tension right at the end of the film, and there wasn't any sort of twist), but I enjoyed the experience overall for sure.
- Dunkirk (Movie): The main problem with this movie is that it wasn't about Dunkirk. Nolan sacrificed his story by forcing the beautiful narrative that exists somewhere within the confusion of the film into the events surrounding the evacuation of Dunkirk, and leaves us wondering why the movie was framed as a historical piece when it ultimately had nothing to do with history. It also sacrificed true character development and instead tried to make the film ride on the war movie cliches of being loud, confusing, and "look, soldiers are scared" in order to distract us from the fact that these characters had no actual depth to them. They were simply sacks of narrative that existed primarily to give us some sort of thematic plot point about the heroism of people in war and the courage we need to have to fight those wars. Dunkirk could have been a fantastic movie, and that was what I expected from it. I may have to watch it again to truly pick it apart, and when I do, I might do another review, but as it stands, I was very disappointed with it and with Nolan, of whom I've come to expect nothing but excellence. In the end, historical inaccuracy and weird attempts to stretch the story out to include the events on the beach of Dunkirk when in reality the film has nothing to do with that beach, ruined the film for me and made me feel little to nothing at any point during my viewing experience. Where I would have expected to be sobbing, I felt nothing but boredom. I give the movie three stars because there were great moments, and because I can see what this movie could have been, but ultimately, Dunkirk is a movie I will quickly forget about.
- Sons of Winter (TV): A show I recently started watching with my dad portraying the life of a family of hunters/trappers in the Canadian wilderness. More specifically, it details the exodus and isolation of two brothers of the family, in an attempt to live out on their own in the wilderness. It's a fun show with lots of interesting wilderness survival tips and tricks, and it doesn't suffer from the seeming falseness of many reality shows of its type.
- The Notebook (Movie): Contrary to what I expected, this wasn't a bad film. It had a solid plot, interesting and relatable characters, and well-rounded themes. Though I didn't agree with many of the choices our protagonists made, the frame story that we get to see throughout the movie made it all work. A romantic drama using every tool at its disposal to make you care about flawed people, and mostly succeeding. That being said, it does suffer from classic romance movie cheesiness and cliches, and that didn't quite get it off the ground into a better rating for me, personally. Also, I just hope that somewhere out there, a poor war widow named Martha finds love. That is all I want.
- Passengers (Movie): Passengers is a movie that I will have to think on for a while. I'm not entirely sure if I really liked it or not. It was a well-crafted movie, I think, with good characters, good humor, and a super interesting setting, but I still have questions on if the plot was any good. Problem is, I'm not entirely sure of the theme of the movie and whether or not the climactic moment of the movie really WORKED or not. It was a blast to watch, and I really did enjoy it, but not as much as I hoped to. Definitely worth a watch, though, lots of emotion, action, mystery, and suspense.
- Foul Play (Movie): The seventies. Such a strange, interesting time filled with odd cultural norms and even odder rating systems. This movie was a product of that time, and it shows. Not only in its incredible strangeness, but in its parodied reversal of the strange tropes that films like Alfred Hitchcock's held dear in the era of early film. This was a comedy movie with just a twinge of horror, and a classic farce through and through. There are definitely some moments that were a bit inappropriate, but it was the seventies, and the seventies were a strange time. If you are strange, you'll probably like this film.
- Logan (Movie): I was extremely disappointed by this movie. My quick review would be this: the people at Marvel Studios played The Last of Us and decided that they should make a movie that is that except with Wolverine--in the process forgetting everything about what makes a superhero movie good. It was so brutal, so vulgar, that it was incredibly difficult to sit through. I would not recommend it to anyone in good conscience.
- Transformers (TV): I started rewatching the original Generation 1 Transformers cartoon, made in 1984. It's cheesy and silly in every way, but also very endearing and a good return to my childhood.
- The Secret Life of Pets (Movie): This movie had its funny moments, but it had no real plot. Things happening is not plot. I did not enjoy this movie. And it is not recommended for children. Seriously, who marketed this as a kid's movie? Just watch Zootopia instead.
- 400 Days (Movie): This was a really bad movie. There was ultimately no point to anything that happened, and we were given no satisfactory answer to the mystery. All around utterly disappointing.
- Transformers: The Last Knight (Movie): I thought my expectations were low enough...they were not. I felt no emotions from this movie. Just exhaustion. When I watch a Transformers movie, I expect there to be no plot, no character development, but at least to have cool robot fight scenes. Transformers 5 took that to such a far degree that it was laughable. The entire movie was one giant action scene, and not even a very clever one. The writers not only mistake humor for character development, but they mistake vulgarity for humor. I think there was one moment in the movie that reminded me of actual storytelling *sigh* Please, Michael Bay, just stop.
I listened to some great music this past year. Here's a sampling:
2017 Music Listing
- South America (The Anatomy of Frank): I finally got to listen to another wonderful album by The Anatomy of Frank. It was so worth the wait. The album is gorgeous and heartbreaking and wonderful. It has such a distinct feel to it, beginning to end, and feels different enough from their other work without straying too far from what makes Anatomy of Frank so amazing; Deep, intense lyrics with a unique musical slant.
- Kaladin (The Black Piper): Just in time for Christmas, the Kaladin album was released, and I fell in love. This album is a soundtrack to the book The Way of Kings, which happens to be my favorite book of all time, and it is literally amazing. It has captured my heart and my mind, and I'm not sure I'll be able to view the Stormlight Archive the same way again after hearing it.
- Your Lie in April (Masaru Yokoyama): One of the most intensely emotional and beautiful scores for an anime I have ever heard (and that's saying something), the score to Your Lie in April is just a masterpiece in every way. I will always carry this music with me in my heart, and it will still make my heart ache every time I hear it aloud.
- Your Name (Radwimps): This score to the Japanese anime film Your Name is just a phenomenal piece of music. Emotion in every note, and a story that plays out in your head even as it pulls the strings of your heart.
- Fuuka Sound Collection (Lynn/Saori Hayami): The score for this anime is gorgeous, like most anime, but what really makes me love this album is the Japanese lyrical songs that were written and performed for the show. It's just simply phenomenal music, and I listened to it over and over again, reveling in the sound of it. It's beautiful stuff.
- Orange (Hiroaki Tsutsumi): An absolutely gorgeous score for a gorgeous anime. Love listening to this. The acoustic guitar is rich and deep and the music fills your soul with both the happiness of summer and the dead of winter, depending on the piece.
- La La Land (Justin Hurwitz): The soundtrack/score of this film is every bit as wonderful as the other pieces of the movie. Love listening to this. Will probably listen to it for the rest of my life.
- Wolves (Rise Against): Wolves is a great new addition to the Rise Against line up, and while I still don't agree with Rise Against's political stances, I can see beauty in the things they talk about, and have an understanding of the passion they feel.
- Atlas: Intelligence (Sleeping At Last): The wonderful Ryan O'Neal does it again. These songs are not only new songs in the soundtrack of my life, but they are beautiful additions to Atlas: Year Two and its ongoing saga. I love these songs and I can't wait to hear where Ryan goes next with his music.
- Madness (Ruelle): I was so excited to learn that there was a new Ruelle EP out. Connor and I listened to it all the way through as soon as we heard and reveled in the cinematic glory that is Ruelle and artists like her. Great stuff.
- Wonder Woman (Rupert Gregson-Williams): It's always refreshing when a superhero movie does music right. That's one thing that DC has leaps and bounds above Marvel...really good music. Marvel has such generic music most of the time that it's virtually forgotten amongst the rest of the film. Wonder Woman makes the soundtrack another tool to create a phenomenal film, and it uses that tool very well.
- Where Is My Mind? (The Pixies/Various): I may be obssessed with this song, since I've listened to it on repeat at least like fifty times now, not only the original, which is great and quirky all on its own, but also almost every cover of the song that's ever been made. I made a playlist and everything. This song is just the sort of weirdly sad and quirky music that I love to enjoy.
- American Prodigal (David Crowder): Or I guess, just Crowder now, but whatever. Loved this album, and though stylistically, much of it is not of a genre that I usually listen to, I adored it still, because David Crowder is so biblically sound and such a musical and lyrical genius.
- Victoria (Martin Phipps & Ruth Barrett): Watched this wonderful BBC British period drama over Christmas break and I fell in love with the music as well as the characters. Like, seriously, this music is haunting, gorgeous, and everything I expect in a BBC drama.
- Stellaris (Andreas Waldetoft): Just starting to get into this game and it is a wonder to behold. The music is no less as wondrous, and has kept me enraptured since the moment I started listening.
- Elevation (Really Slow Motion): I don't know how I haven't heard of this artist before now, but this band so far is the perfect mixture of Two Steps From Hell and Audiomachine, and I am so enjoying listening to their gorgeous music. This album in particular is a feast for your ears, to be sure.
- The Greatest Showman (Benj Pasek & Justin Paul): I loved this movie. And the music is what made the movie, so I guess I love the music too. It's great, so that makes sense.
- Undaunted (Really Slow Motion): Where Elevation does gorgeous and uplifting, Undaunted does gorgeous and determined. With a lyrical song thrown in there to center the entire album, Undaunted makes you want to run and solve all the worlds problems and fix every broken heart.
- Binary (Mark Petrie): An awesome cinematic orchestral, trailer-music style album that immediately brings to mind good science fiction stories. A joy to listen to.
- Hourglass (AmaLee): This artist primarily does English versions of Anime songs, which is where I first heard her, but she recently came out with this original EP, which is just sooo good. It's haunting and beautiful and sweet and lovely. Check it out.
- Beauty and the Beast (Alan Menken): A beautiful recreation of the original soundtrack of the animated film, with added songs that I may have loved even more than the original songs. A beautiful piece of artistry.
- ReLIFE (Masami Tsubokuchi/Various): A quirky, fun, but also beautiful anime score, featuring fun jazz piano that fits the mood of the anime perfectly. Also, the lyrical songs in the anime are lovely as well, and really round out the sound of the show.
- Earth Day (Relient K): This fun little song is just the kind of goofy yet beautiful-sounding songs that you'd expect Relient K nowadays to make, and though it's literally basically them singing "Happy Birthday" to our planet, it makes me smile just thinking about it.
I, unfortunately, didn't do as much reading as I would have liked to in 2017. And much of my reading was actually rereads (I went back through most of Brandon Sanderson's Cosmere cycle up to this point). But, I still did enjoy a few good books (some of them being comics and graphic novels; not my usual fare), and I like sharing with you all what I've been enjoying entertainment-wise. So here's my list, in order of enjoyment:
2017 Book Listing
- Oathbringer (Brandon Sanderson): It came. I read. I loved it. Dalinar's story finally revealed in full was a wonder to behold. I love this series and everything it is. Thank you, Brandon, for another great novel.
- Nothing Left To Lose (Dan Wells): Thank you, John Cleaver, for putting up with all this crap. You did great. Thank you for teaching me lessons about morality, truth, hard decisions, the value of life and the worth of people, and the fact that there are monsters inside of all of us. And thank you, Dan Wells, for showing me these things through John Cleaver's eyes. For making me cry and laugh and feel. And most importantly, for telling me a story.
- Edgedancer (Brandon Sanderson): I finally got around to finishing the Stormlight novella just in time for Oathbringer, and it was such a good time. Lift is a fantastic character, and the way that she views the world is wonderful and sweet. And SHARDFORK.
- Atomic Robo and the Deadly Art of Science (Brian Clevinger, Scott Wegener): The first volume of Atomic Robo that has a linear, completely cohesive chronological storyline, and though it may have been the non-linear storytelling that caught my interest at first, it was the character of Atomic Robo that made me stay, and that means getting an amazing origin story for our hero was soooo satisfying. Loved every minute of this.
- Atomic Robo and Other Strangeness (Brian Clevinger, Scott Wegener): I just keep devouring this series and loving every minute of it. There are so many weird and wonderful things that happen in these volumes, and I just want to stay in this world forever.
- Atomic Robo and the Shadow from Beyond Time (Brian Clevinger, Scott Wegener): THEY FIGHT CTHULHU WITH SCIENCE. What else do you want in a story?
- Atomic Robo and the Dogs of War (Brian Clevinger, Scott Wegener): I've quickly fallen in love with this comic. Quirky science fiction that is intelligent and fun, with great characters and non-linear storytelling and seemingly unconnected vignettes that all come together at the end. Also, as I'm sure the authors intended, each volume gives you just enough of a solution to be satisfied with an arc, but never enough to make you want to put down the series. I've ripped through these at a lightning fast pace.
- Atomic Robo and the Fightin' Scientists of Tesladyne (Brian Clevinger, Scott Wegener): I randomly picked up Atomic Robo, primarily because of its existence as a Fate Core setting, where I was first introduced to it. I fell in love in book one. The non-linear storytelling is just so refreshing, and the characters are fun and the long period over which we get to learn about them just makes our love of them all the more great. This first volume was everything a first volume should be. Fun. Interesting. Leaving you with questions. And not pulling any punches on what is obviously the writers' vision for what they want their story to be.
- White Sand, Vol. 1 (Brandon Sanderson): This was a fun graphic novel, and I'm so glad that I finally got around to reading it. Loved it and getting to explore another Sanderson Cosmere world.
- Million Dollar Productivity (Kevin J. Anderson): This was a great book, and a great reminder that I should really be writing. Well, guess I should get on that.
- Injustice: Gods Among Us: Year One, Vol. 1 (Tom Taylor): Greatly enjoyed the game, but I think I may have enjoyed this comic even more. Excellently written, and a perfect set-up for the game. Also, it makes me want to care about DC...so that's cool.
- Injustice: Ground Zero #1 (Brian Buccellato): A fun, deep, and interesting look at Harley Quinn's perspective in the world of Injustice. Good stuff.
- The Eleventh Metal (Brandon Sanderson): Finally got around to reading this short story at the beginning of the Mistborn Adventure Game Rulebook. Fun little story that got me back in the mood for Mistborn and made me remember how much I like Kelsier as a character.
- Dreamer (Brandon Sanderson): This was a fun little short story about games gone wrong.
- The Jungle (Upton Sinclair): I personally was incredibly moved and fascinated by the book, and it gave me many a thing to ponder deeply upon, even not living in the age for which it was meant. Unfortunately, the book lost its staying power when it transitioned towards the end into a socialist propaganda piece.
I did another writing prompt, and wrote a lot more this time. I'm actually very interested in the world that was created during the little writing session I had on Tuesday night, and I'm curious as to what y'all think as well :) Let me know in the comments!
Prompt #2: “Smoke hung so thick in the library’s rafters that she could read words in it.”
Smoke hung so thick in the library’s rafters that she could read words in it. She thought it might be Twain or Dickens, but one could never be sure without close inspection. I guess I should inspect it, then, she thought, pushing her glasses back on the bridge of her nose. It is my job. She glanced from side to side, taking in the empty aisles and the bookshelves lined row upon row in every direction out from where she stood. The place was closed, of course, but she checked anyway.
She seemed to remember a time when she had enjoyed libraries.
The smoke continued to curl and stretch as if reaching for something. Probably the nearest romance novel. She absolutely hated when it got a hold of one of those. She stepped across the empty space that separated two blocks of bookshelves and into the aisle below the smoke. A quick glance confirmed her fears—the sign at the start of the section read in bold letters: ROMANCE. She sighed and squinted up at the swath of black cloud above her little blonde head, wondering how she had ever gotten into this mess.
The naked eye could only reveal so much about the content of a particular cloud, though you could usually draw generalities by the shape and thickness of each mass. She made a few notes on the legal pad she always carried with her—even though she had a Deconstructor, she always tried to make a few general notes by hand first. More than once she had been interrupted while trying to Deconstruct a cloud, so she didn’t want to take the chance that she would get zero information out of this visit. She had wasted too many resources attempting to get access to the place to have to hightail it out with nothing to show for it.
Definitely Twain, she wrote, eyeing the opaque mass with a critical eye. She felt a little zing of pride in herself at having being able to recognize that fact from such a distance. Being the youngest Partner in the entire firm was definitely hard sometimes. That was one of the reasons she hadn’t gotten a new mentor when Sally had died. She didn’t have to worry about anyone looking over her shoulder anymore.
Sorry, Sally, she prayed to the silence of the night. Sorry that I don’t miss you.
She continued to make notes. Twain, for sure. The patterns give it away. She adjusted her glasses and then frowned. But no Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn, she added. Twain’s early travel literature. She had never seen a cloud grab that before. Usually they went after the pulpy stuff. She scanned along the length of the cloud, taking it in again. No, this one wasn’t trying to grab the romance novels around it. It was actually...moving away from them?
She made a face and then another note.
She watched the cloud's movement for a minute, noting that the seemingly random twisting and curling she had seen earlier was actually a very slow, careful movement down the rows of bookshelves. “Hmm,” she mumbled, making a note about the rate of movement, and then turned and hustled in the direction the cloud had apparently come from. She moved up the rows and saw the different section titles, noting each one as she passed it. ROMANCE, WESTERN, SCIENCE FICTION, FANTASY, HISTORY.
TRAVEL. She stopped there, fingering the spines of the books as she passed, looking for any title that caught her attention. It was modern stuff, for the most part. Travelogues, obviously, guides for sight-seeing at various locations. She saw Peter Stark’s Astoria, a historical travelogue of a trip across the continent to the pacific ocean retold from old letters. She had read that once, a long time ago, but it only jumped out to her because she had enjoyed it. She didn’t think it had anything to do with the cloud.
She looked for a few more moments before huffing and coming to a stop at the end of a shelf containing several books on the Hawaiian Islands. It wasn’t here. Where was it, then? She sighed and continued up the line, looking at the various sections. She was beginning to grow worried. She had never found a cloud quite like this before, and she wanted to make sure she had the right book before she tried to Deconstruct it. She was about to give up when she found it.
Perfect. That made sense. Using all the skills she had gained from her four years as a junior librarian, she quickly scanned through the books and found the one she wanted. She didn’t know it before this moment, but she was sure now that this was the book the cloud had manifested from. The Innocents Abroad. She silently cursed the library worker who had thought to put the book here—it very obviously belonged in the travel section. Small town libraries are the worst. She thumbed through the book as fast as she could and slipped it into her satchel. When she brought her hand back out, she had the Deconstructor. Time to finish this. She stepped out into the main aisle and looked down the length of the library.
It was gone.
The smoke had disappeared. She froze for a moment, flabbergasted. Where had it gone? The rafters were clear, the ambient buzz of Twain’s words were gone from her head. She hadn’t even realized they had been there until now. Did the cloud deconstruct on its own? That had never happened before. She cursed aloud, and cringed a little at the volume of the profanity echoing through the empty library.
And then she ran.
The Deconstructor hummed to life in her hand, and she was comforted by the warmth of it, despite the cold spike of fear that had lodged itself in her heart. The reverse side of the signs bombarded her vision in rapid succession. TRAVEL, HISTORY, FANTASY, SCIENCE FICTION, WESTERN, ROMANCE.
And then she was at the front of the library, and the cloud was nowhere in sight. The lobby was empty, not only of people, but of any trace of the cloud. This doesn’t happen. This can’t be happening to me. And then, before she could stop herself, she thought, I wish Sally were here.
Her knuckles went white as she gripped the Deconstructor. The only other thing she could guess was that it had exited the building somehow. But that didn’t usually happen either. None of this should be happening right now. She had been a Partner for six months, and she’d seen plenty of clouds. This one wasn’t acting like any of them. She stepped to the window and looked out at the amber-lit main street of the small town, and what she saw made her freeze again.
She had found the cloud. It was twice as big as she remembered it being. And there was what looked like a person in it. That had never... She stopped herself from thinking it.
What was the cloud doing? Why was it acting like this? She stood there for a moment, frozen with indecision as much as with fear. What am I doing? she berated herself. This is literally my job. I have to go out there and figure this out. She walked over to the front door of the library and pushed her way out into the night. The person in the cloud turned towards her.
And then she looked into the face of Mark Twain.
So, I haven't been writing much lately, and that's sad. Especially when it's kinda what I want to do with the rest of my life, it's probably important for me to be writing. And so, today, I finally just sat down in my chair and started typing. Only about 300 words actually written today, and it was a flash fiction writing prompt, not anything special, but I started. And I'm going to keep at it, because I love doing it. I also took a long walk, listened to epic music, and started brainstorming what I had to do to fix the novel I'm working on.
It's become pretty clear to me at this point that there are major problems with the book I'm writing, and that's why I've gotten so far into a rut. But I came home from my walk today with really clear, discernible, and realistic goals for the novel, and I think it'll make the story not only much better, but much easier to finish. So, to kick all that off, I popped on what has become a website I frequent now, Twitch.tv, and streamed myself doing that writing prompt I talked about and doing some preliminary outlining/planning work on fixing my novel, To Look Skyward.
You can see that video here.
If you just want to read the flash fiction that came from the writing prompt, it'll be at the bottom of this post. All that being said, I'm really pumped to be writing again, and I have lots of ideas. So many ideas. Time to go get them out of my head and on to paper. Er, virtual paper, anyway.
Prompt #1: An impulse buy leading to intergalactic warfare.
Normally, when you go to the grocery store, you don’t expect to start a war. I didn’t have any expectations in that direction, anyway, when I headed to Wal-Mart early Wednesday morning to grab some toilet paper. It’s only a few blocks from my house, so most of the time I walk. Looking back on that day, I would rather have wiped with a dish rag than have to deal with the fallout of my visit to the superstore.
You see, twenty years ago, the aliens invaded. But it wasn’t your typical alien invasion, mind you, like they used to portray in those corny movies. When the extraterrestrials came, they came with consumer products and capital investments, not with laser guns and dreadnoughts. They had those too, of course, but what’s the profit in blowing up potential customers? And public relations would’ve really tanked if they had enslaved us all. No, it was much safer to just offer us shiny new technology and watch our society do backflips for a decade trying to cope with the influx of new innovation. There was massive job turnover, completely new industries developing overnight, and a whole lot of insanity as everyone tried to cope with the new world we lived in. Things have more or less shaken out now, but, of course, Wal-Mart is still around. They did rather well in the transition.
Wow, talking about all of this makes my trip to go buy toilet paper seem rather mundane. Trust me, it wasn’t.
The following is a short story I wrote a bit more than a year ago, based on a writing prompt from my creative writing class and using the rough setting of the world of my epic fantasy, To Look Skyward. It explores a place and time of that world that is a bit different than what one reading my novel-in-progress might recognize. It's one of the short stories I'm most proud of, and I'm excited to finally share it on here. 'Bout time I posted a blog, right?
A pouch of seeds fell through the sky, hitting the black dirt of the Below with the tiniest of sounds, akin to a single drop of rain or the hesitant intake of breath before one speaks. No one took notice of the pouch at first, and it lay forgotten on the ground, a treasure hidden by a simple ebony bag that seemed to meld with the dirt itself. Two farm workers walked by it on their way to their labor and did not see it. A hunting party jogged next to it, tracking a young Great Lion that had fled northward, wounded. The sharp eyes of one of the men noted it, but he dismissed it as of little importance. The Listener herself left footprints in the dirt near the pouch of seeds, but the voices she listened to did not inform her of the treasure that she passed by. In truth, those voices did not know of the pouch's reckless abandonment.
Three days passed, and a barefoot old man strode by on his way to deliver news of a young boy's death to his parents. He too would have passed the pouch without noting its significance if, by pure chance, he had not stepped directly on it. The sudden change of the feeling on his feet surprised him and he came to a stop, glancing down with curiosity. He moved his calloused foot and knelt down to pick up the pouch, quickly untying the drawstring that held it shut and pouring out the contents into his cupped hand. He stared at the seeds for a long time without comprehension, wondering where they had come from. He had lived a long time and had never seen anything quite like them before. They were small and fragile-looking, as if one gust of wind would take them away forever. He put them back into the pouch and drew the drawstring shut, determined to keep the things safe. He did not know why he had such an affection for them, but he felt they were important. He tied the pouch to his belt of frayed rope and continued on, jogging across the dirt and through the fog. His name was Messenger.
The next day he passed by the same spot, but whether by habit or through subconscious curiosity, he could not tell. To his amazement and surprise, his foot once again hit something soft, and another pouch lay beneath him. More seeds. The cracked rock of the western wall separating the Above and the Below reached up behind the spot where the pouch had lain, as if it was the scarred skin of some horrible, angry giant. He glanced up the cliff and his eyes hardened. He decided to stay put on this spot and see what would happen. He made a fire with what sparse vegetation could be found and slept out in the cold. It was at the height of the warmer months, and so the night was cold, but bearable. The feeling of the seeds strapped to his belt made him feel warmer inside, somehow. The fog of the Below swirled about, but Messenger felt at home in its curling and twisting current, and he soon fell asleep to the sounds of insects chirping about him.
He awoke the next day to a fogless morning, rare in the Below, and searched around the area, but found no pouch. He stoked his campfire and sat before it, warming himself while he waited for what he knew would come. At around mid-morning, Messenger glanced up and saw a tiny black speck falling down towards the ground. It fell in the same spot he had found the previous two pouches, and he snatched it up to find that it too held seeds. His eyes wandered to the wall of the cliff again, and this day, with the absence of fog, he could almost see to the very top of the Above. He took all three pouches and poured the contents into his hands. He knew what they were now.
These were the seeds of the gods.
Messenger planted the seeds in a small alcove made by a curl of the cliff wall, digging dozens of small holes in the dark earth and covering them over with a careful hand. He did not know what would become of them, but the importance he felt they had had not faltered. These were the seeds of the gods; the power of the Above in the hands of lowborn. This could change everything. For years, Messenger had been trying to change the minds and hearts of his people by showing them the evil of the "gods" they worshiped. Listener and her followers poisoned their minds with the lies of the almighty power of the gods and the obedience they demanded of their followers. It was all deception, created to give Listener power and status and to appease the voices in her head. Messenger knew it. He did not dispute the existence of the Above or its residents, for it merely required a fogless day or a demonstration of the Transformation to remind him of those things. He did not believe, however, in the omnipotence or the perfection of the gods that demanded so much of their servants, or even the inequality of gods and men. He knew in his heart of hearts that the gods were people just like the rest of them.
For they had made a mistake, whether the falling of the seeds had been accidental or purposeful. They had given him a precious treasure, for one reason or another, and he would not stop until he had figured out a way to use it to destroy every last one of them.
The people did not listen. They scraped and bowed to the gods in everything, positive that they were the lowest of the low and did not deserve to rise above their place. It was sickening. Messenger defied Listener as much as he dared, careful to be subtle and indirect as to not give the gods a reason to cause in him the Transformation. He had seen the horrible enslavement it caused and he had no desire to become a mindless servant of gods he would not recognize as holy.
After the collapse of Eastmine, which trapped dozens of husbands and fathers within the belly of the earth, Messenger rallied the people to himself to clear away the rubble and rescue their fallen brethren. At first, it worked. The people forgot their fear and their reservations and worked together for the good of their own kind. Until Listener came and demanded that they stop. The gods had willed it, she said. It was hopeless to try to save the miners, for the gods had decreed it be so, and who were they to question the gods? The rescue effort ended as quickly as it had begun and the men and women gathered at the entrance to Eastmine groveled in the dirt and rocks in supplication to the deities that had killed their families.
Messenger had been driven off with stones. He fled to the alcove in the cliff wall that had become his refuge and nursed his bruises and scrapes. The seeds he had planted had grown into saplings--long, slender things with minute dark brown bark and the beginnings of small branches poking out from the side of the stem. He had been inspecting them as they grew, and was utterly confused by the fact that they seemed to have no roots. They were constantly falling over as the stem grew high above the dirt, disturbing the proportions of the amount of plant inside and outside the soil. Messenger had no idea how they were even growing, but with each passing day, he grew more and more eager to discover just what the amazing plants were and how he could use them.
As the Below entered the last few weeks of summer, Messenger found his answer. The saplings suddenly began to float.
Messenger had to tie them up and stake them to the ground to keep them from flying off in the wind. It was the most incredible thing he had ever seen. Flying trees. That was what they were becoming. He watched day after day as they grew longer and thicker, blossoming into massive plants that made Messenger feel small and inconsequential. He was beginning to understand how he could use the trees to show his people how they could fight back. And if they wouldn't, he could use them himself and fight alone.
That day, he went into town and preached with abandon on the evils of the gods, too caught up in the passion of his words to realize the anger on the faces of those to whom he spoke. Listener arrived just in time to hear his last request: Join him in rebelling against the gods and freeing themselves. He was driven out of the village with stones once more and told by Listener that he was forever banished from the Center. He would live with the animals now, she sneered. Messenger ignored her and went back to his cultivation. This time, he not only nurtured plants, but also his growing hatred and resentment towards Listener and the gods. The next day, he tied several of his flying trees together and got atop the makeshift raft, riding it. He made his way to The Lake, with its rising steam and boiling surface. He rode the heat and headed to the Above.
There he saw the gods for the first time. He had been right. They were people, just like him. They looked weak and sickly, bundled in furs and rarely straying out of their homes. Listener and her lackeys sent up food and goods with men riding on ships made from the flying trees. He saw all of this as he scrambled about like a sneak thief among the rocks and buildings of the Above. It was icily cold, even though it was still summer, and snow littered the ground in a powdery mess. When Messenger returned to his makeshift raft of flying trees, he wanted to take a million rocks and break apart the raft until it was nothing more than splinters. It all made him so angry. They did nothing but sit up here in their shelters while controlling the lives of everyone below them. Who were they? Nothing. He was determined to kill them all. To make them pay for the life they had forced upon him. Outcast for trying to show his people the truth. Banished for trying to save their lives. Exiled for revealing to them the error of their ways.
He went back into the city of the Above, seething with the desire for revenge. He found a young man taking a walk out in the snow, his rosy cheeks chubby with pampering and his smile sickening to behold. Messenger followed as the young man went out onto a path that led away from the city. Messenger sneaked ahead and hid behind a large tree at the edge of the path. As the young man went by, Messenger stepped out, holding a large rock with both hands, hatred in his eyes. The young man cried out in fright and stepped back, his eyes widening. And then he seemed to get some ounce of backbone and stood his ground. Messenger smiled and advanced on him. This would be satisfying.
Messenger suddenly felt an invasion on his mind. The Transformation. How could he be so stupid? Of course, this would happen. These were the gods! He was going to die. This god was going to kill him. But no, he would not go this easily. With a great mental shove, he tried to push aside the Transformation as it occurred, and he was surprised when it succeeded. The invasion of his mind died in an instant and they were just two men on a snowy road.
The young god--no, the young man--took another step back, terror returning to his face once again. Messenger wanted to bash his head in with the rock, but in a moment of insight, he hesitated. Instead, he reached out with his own mind, trying to recreate the sensation he had just felt at repelling the Transformation. A world opened before him, and he could sense the young man with more than just his eyes and his ears.
And that was when Messenger realized that he was a god. He pushed into the young man's mind and Transformed him. It was easier than he had ever thought possible. Suddenly he was sensing the world not through his own body, but through the young man's. He felt the cold more keenly, his heart racing in his chest as he knew he was going to die. Those were the young man's thoughts. And Messenger knew that he could make the god do whatever he liked. Messenger sent the young man back towards the city of the Above. And then all the way to the cliff that separated gods from men.
Messenger threw the boy off.
Messenger returned and told his people what he had accomplished. He showed them the mangled body of the god he had recovered from the bottom of the Below. He showed them the boat of flying trees he had grown from the seeds the gods had so carelessly dropped. He told them of the power of Transformation and how they could resist it.
Listener came as he was telling the people to fight back, to give up their superstitions and come with him to the sky. She gave one look to Messenger and then glanced at the crowd. She spoke one word and the crowd descended on Messenger and killed him with a hundred stones. They tore up the raft of flying trees until it was nothing but splinters. Listener took the body of the god and brought it back to her home, showing it the uttermost reverence. The crowd was told to return to their own homes and forget the heresy of the evil man they had once known as Messenger. They did so.
But the seeds had been planted.