[Every so often on on our Twitter feed we'll point to something other than books that caught our attention. In this occasional series, we highlight a few of those things, and a few others. Follow it here. The recommenders (Aaron, Sean, Nico, and Marc) are denoted by initials.]
Saga - Aaron’s mentioned this comic a lot on the podcast and in his column. I’m not a big comic reader, but Saga is one I’ve stuck with. [NV]
Pedagogy of the Oppressed – Halfway though teacher school and finding things becoming a bit stale, I’ve started to branch out from my practical classwork and explore more pedagogical primary texts. Paulo Freire’s masterwork, written as a response to thinkers like Marx and Hegel, is not an easy read. But it’s got a lot to say, and sheds light on why, despite our best efforts, America’s schools are failing. If only the policymakers would read this sort of stuff. [SC]
Room 237 – Anyone who’s ever really loved a movie, even if it wasn’t The Shining, will get a kick out of this documentary. Director Rodney Ascher gives his subjects, all Shining obsessives, room to explain their often bizarre theories about the film’s hidden messages without judgment, and only slight traces of irony. The plausibility of the interpretations isn’t the point; Ascher is more interested in the dedication to lateral thinking, and the unique relationship between reader and text. [AB]
The Glades - Unassuming, surprisingly good cop show on USA. The first two seasons are out on Netflix. The new season arrives this May. Also try Life starring that dude from Homeland. [NV]
All the Cartoon Network programming recently added to Netflix – I spent a lot of time watching Dexter’s Laboratory in college, but never while high. And I’m not high while watching it now on Instant View. I don’t know what that means, except that I am obviously an adult. You can be, too, if you watch a bunch of cartoons all the time. Transformers, G.I. Joe, Jem, Voltron, He-Man, and other 80s action cartoons, also on Netflix – the thing I said above about being cool, but times ten. [AB]
Adventure Time – For some reason Aaron left this off the list of great CN shows that just came to Netflix. Adventure Time is one of my favorite shows, maybe ever–especially as you get to the later seasons–some of the references are so subtle and esoteric that even the most diehard Zelda-fan stoner would probably miss them. But, like Dexter’s Laboratory, drugs aren’t compulsory. [SC]
You Need a Budget - I got this on Steam for $20 and it’s already been worth the price. It’s a simple budget program, but the accompanying iPhone app makes it easy to keep track of your expenditures, without giving it your bank info, like Mint asks for. [NV]
Professor Blastoff- Comedians Tig Notaro, David Huntsberger, and Kyle Dunnigan share a hobbyist’s interest in and enthusiasm for science, philosophy, and unexplained phenomena, and their podcast is ostensibly an occasion to explore such topics with guests, including fellow comics, scholars, and the occasional fan. Every episode reliably descends into silliness, and recent highlights include the game “Name That Punky”, which is based on Dunnigan’s uncanny impression of “Punky Brewster” actor George Gaynes. [AB]
The Terror – The Flaming Lips’ latest album is pretty ballsy in how out there it is. Gone are the catchy, happy tunes ripe for advertisement-background exploitation of the last 10-15 years. This album is full of complex, psychedelic sound layers that harkens back to the days of Zaireeka. (I linked to the video–NSFW–for one of the songs.) [SC]
Waiting For Something to Happen – The critical consensus seems to be that “Waiting For Something to Happen” is a lesser effort than Veronica Falls’ debut album, but I’m enjoying it just as much as the eponymous record. And I can’t stop listening to “Buried Alive”, so that’s a solid recommendation even if you don’t think the rest of the album holds up. [AB]
Planet Money - For years I avoided the Planet Money podcast because high finance sounds so damn boring. As it turns out, this podcast is closer to Radiolab than CNBC. Recent episodes touched on the economic weirdness of North Korea (e.g., they can’t get gas, so their trucks run on wood), the way the Amish do business, and the insane history of the American federal income tax. [NV]
Sklarbro Country – Randy and Jason Sklar file reports from the more absurd shadowlands for the sports world with their twice weekly podcast (“Sklarbro County”, the sister show, takes a more general “weird news” approach.) While many comedy podcasts are, for better or worse, heavily improvised and ramshackle, “Sklarbro Country” is carefully crafted, while still allowing the Sklars to riff on stories and banter with their guests. If you have no interest in sports, or aren’t already a fan of the Sklar Brothers, you will be after listening. [AB]
Zombies, Run – As much an audiobook as a game, this iPhone/Android app makes going out for a jog into an interactive game. Run to complete missions, and the more you run the more supplies you get to build your township HQ. There’s not much too it, and the story is pretty cheesy, but it’s a nice alternative to music and podcasts when out for a run. [SC]
Game of Thrones (the Xbox game) - I picked this up for $20 on Amazon, expecting nothing, and it knocked my socks off. It’s like watching a long season of the HBO show, with a pretty unique RPG game in the breaks between cutscenes. One of the best videogame stories I’ve ever seen. [NV]
Papers, Please – Indie game where you act as a border checkpoint agent for a fictional country in the Soviet bloc. Poses some pretty interesting ethical and moral dilemmas. You can play it free in your browser. [SC]
[This marks my third year of doing one of these end of the year roundups for story-centric video games. I guess it's a thing now. You can check out previous entries here, and look for my new bi-monthly column on wordy vidyagames coming debuting sometime in January.]
As I mentioned in my Best of 2012 post, this has been a pretty hectic year for me. Right along with not being able to read as many books as I’d have liked, I didn’t have much time to play games either. When I did, it was mostly on a Sunday morning when I should have been studying or on the train when I could sneak in a half hour with my 3DS. So while my pool to draw from is a little shallower this year, it forced me to choose only the games I really wanted to play, making my choices much easier. Here are the 10 games I played this year that scratched my inner book geek game itch.
Before even getting into the story stuff, this game looks and sounds beautiful. It’s got one of the better soundtracks for a game this year (this is my favorite–seriously check it out.) The game is fun too, a mix of 2D and 3D spatial platforming where pretty much the whole point of the game is to explore. Where this game will really tickle your inner nerd though, is when [bit of a spoiler] you realize the game has its own written language and philology that you can investigate and use to your advantage. It’s really hard to explain without giving too much away. If you’ve got an XBox you should download Fez.
999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors (DS)
A lot of my train ride game playing was spent with games like 999: “visual novels” that are more akin to a choose your own adventure book or 90′s computer adventure games than your typical modern fare. The plot is pretty captivating. You wake up in a strange room and quickly learn it is a death trap that you will only survive if you can solve a puzzle. Soon you meet other characters, each with a particular back story and idiosyncrasies and you must find a way to work together to escape (it’s a lot like the movies Saw or Cube, but with a glossy, Japanese sheen). There is no way you can actually beat the game on the first try, you will die, and have to start all over. At first this infuriated me. But since you are able to take your experiences (and knowledge of the other characters) into account the next time around, you can make different decisions. When eventually you reach the “true” end, it’s a bit of a mindfuck that makes it all worth it–one of the better bits of plot writing (in any medium) I’ve encountered in a while.
Dust: An Elysian Tale (XBox)
What starts as a pretty looking button-masher that feels a bit like the Secret of Nihm cross-bred with Sanjuro, turns into a deep and pretty damn dark story that is about as affecting as a game about a bunny rabbit rönin can possibly be. While the setting and gameplay differ greatly, the basic layout has a distinct Metroid feel to it, which I always appreciate.
Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain Slick Precipice of Darkness, Episode 3 (XBox, iOS, Steam)
The first two games in this series, based on the popular web comic, were good but not great. When the series was cancelled, Zeboyd Games, the two-man outfit who made the excellent Cthulhu Saves the World was tasked with bringing their own style in to revive the series. It worked out great. The game’s look and feel will feel right at home to any fan of 16-bit RPGs and the writing is sharp and funny. You can get this for a song on a number of platforms.
Pheonix Wright: Ace Attorney (DS, iOS)
This was the first of the “visual novels” I got into this year. There’s not much game here, but the story is fun and engaging. You are a defense attorney, and you must interview witness to learn information, then make objections and present evidence at the right times to clear your clients’ names. It’s not grounded in reality at all, so the plots are crazy and the characters varied and quirky. It might be a little too Japanese-zany for some tastes, but if this sort of game is up your alley, the $5 asking price for the up-rezed iOS version is a steal.
Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Wii)
I’m a huge Zelda fan, and to be honest this game left me a little disappointed. My expectations of Zelda are a bit unreasonable though, and it’s by most all accounts a very good game–one of the best pieces of software for the Wii–it just focused a bit less on exploring than I would prefer a Zelda game did. The trade off for that, however, is the increased focus on storytelling. For a series of games that are largely similar in plot, it’s interesting to see Nintendo finally focus on characterization and actual dramatic themes. It sets out to be an origin story that coheres a lot of otherwise hard to sync plots from previous games and does an admirable job of pulling it off.
Little Inferno (WiiU, Steam)
This isn’t so much a game as a toy. Basically it’s a fireplace simulator. I know, doesn’t that sound enthralling? It’s actually pretty engrossing. The game situates your television or monitor (or the WiiU gamepad, but it looks really nice on the TV) as your new fireplace, and you have mail-order catalogues from which you can pick out things to light on fire. The combustible stuff is weird, from spider eggs to toy cats stuffed with fake poop, and you progress by burning “combos” based on wordplay or themed clues: for instance for the clue “Cold War” you must burn “Uncle Sam’s Blam Blams” and “Russian Nesting Dolls” at the same time. Occasionally you’ll get letters from a neighbor, and weather updates from some crazy guy in a balloon, and from these a dark, Tim Burton-esque story of the apocalypse begins to form. It’s a great little diversion, and it comes from good pedigree, as this company’s last game, World of Goo, was solid fun.
Xenoblade Chronicles (Wii)
This is probably the best looking game on the aged Wii. It’s a sprawling, lengthy game, and a ton of fun. It’s fairly difficult to explain the plot, but basically it’s a fun cross of sci-fi and fantasy; the world is a real pleasure to explore. The characters are all interesting, if a bit boilerplate, and though the combat systems take a little getting used to, once you get the hang of things it’s easy to appreciate the innovation. Definitely worth the time for RPG fans, just make sure you’ve got a lot because the average length for this beast is 65-100 hours.
The Last Story (Wii)
From the creator of the original Final Fantasy comes one of the better RPGs of the last few years. It’s fairly short, but that works to its benefit. Most of the systems are streamlined and uncomplicated, so you get to focus on the story. The story doesn’t do anything too original, but it does tell itself quite well. The real strength here is the cast of characters. It’s not often enough a game actually devotes time to nuanced characterization (FFVI and Mass Effect are on a short list of examples I can think of), so the payoff here is excellent. If you have a way of playing Wii games, this one is a must. (And if you don’t, go here and now you do.) As a bonus for us book nerds, the game is packaged to look like a book.
The Walking Dead (XBox, PS3, PC, iOS)
I love the Walking Dead comics, and have a love/hate relationship with the TV show (I currently am leaning back toward loving it). This game is without a doubt better at storytelling than either (and for the most part uses unique characters). It’s set up as episodes, with 5 currently available as the first season and (hopefully) more coming soon. There’s very little playing; it’s more or less an animated choose your own adventure story. But the choices you have to make range from uncomfortably dark to down right grisly. Will you let a woman in distress continue to agonize loudly as human bait being eaten alive in order to grant your group more time to escape, or will you put her out of her misery with a bullet to the head? Choose fast, if you hesitate she suffers and you won’t benefit… I played this on the XBox, but if you have an iOS device its touch interface is probably the best way to take in the experience.
Honorable Mention: Paper Mario Sticker Star
A charm-soaked offshoot from regular Mario fare, the Paper Mario games are much more story-focused semi-RPGs. This one goes the extra mile in the visuals department, using the 3DS’s capabilities to render the whole game to look like cardboard shoe box dioramas. The story here isn’t very meaty, but the writing is pleasantly witty and self-referential.
[Every so often on on our Twitter feed we'll point to something other than books that caught our attention. In this occasional series, we highlight a few of those things, and a few others. Follow it here. The recommenders (Aaron, Sean, Eric, Marc, and Mike) are denoted by initials.]
Mike And Tom Eat Snacks - Ed co-stars (remember that show?) Tom Cavanaugh and Michael Ian Black employ the PER system (pick a snack, eat a snack, rate a snack) to evaluate various snacks. Listening will make you want to eat snacks, too, and possibly start your own podcast.
David Aja’s Hawkeye playlists on Spotify - Hawkeye artist David Aja has assembled soundtracks for each issue of the series so far and posted them to Spotify. They’re thematic – issue one’s 70s fusion collection is the clear standout – and half of the fun is re-reading the issue and trying to fit moments of the score to particular scenes. But even if you aren’t reading Hawkeye (which you should be) it’s fun, curated listening.
Celebration Rock – Album by The Japandroids. Because if rock-and-roll is still alive, it sound like this. [MV]
Decompressed - Kieron Gillen is both a talented writer and a witty conversationalist, which makes his comics craft podcast doubly compelling. Each podcast episode features a guest writer (and occasionally a writer/artist team) to break down a single issue of a recent comic they’ve written. Check out David Hine and Shaky Kane discussing issue for of The Bulletproof Coffin: Disinterred #4 for insight into the cut-up issue we discussed on the Page Count podcast.
Meet Baxter – Video of a robot developed by Rodney Brooks, subject of the Errol Morris documentary Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control, which I’d also recommend. [EM]
Short of the Week – Everyone should put this in their RSS feed. every once in a while, they’ll give you a post modern lemon, but most of the time you get great, short films, like “Little Quentin“ or “The Maker“. [MV]
Infinite Atlas - A crowd sourced project attempting to map all the locations from DFW’s Infinite Jest. [MB]
Plague, Inc. – iOS strategy game where your goal is to create a disease that wipes out humanity. Fairly dark concept, but also satisfyingly complex. If you take too long, scientists will find a cure, but evolve too quickly and your hosts will die faster than they can spread the infection. [SC]
It’s the Friday before a 3-day weekend for most of us, so there’s a good chance you’re waiting out the clock today, ready for that HR email letting you free early. You certainly don’t feel like working, so here’s some recommendations our guys put together to keep you distracted.
Aw Yeah Podcast – An off-shoot of Word Balloon, the long-running comic book podcast hosted by John Siuntres, Aw Yeah is a window into the lives of cartoonists Art Baltazar and Franco, the creators behind Patrick the Wolf Boy and Tiny Titans. It’s ostensibly about comics, but the pair, along with co-host Siuntres, are just as likely to end up talking about Art’s love for day-time talk show host Wendy Williams, Planet of the Apes, and the lives of celebrities from the 70s. It’s worth subscribing for the oddball comedy alone, but the inside knowledge on the making and business of comics makes it invaluable listening for anyone interested in the medium. [AB]
Europe by ‘Allo Darlin – ‘Allo Darlin’s self-titled first album was full of great singles, but suffered when it leaned too much on frontwoman Elizabeth Morris’s ukelele. Their follow-up, Europe, is a lot broader but with the same C86 throw-back pop sensibility. The songs bounce and shuffle along, but the highlight is always Morris, who incidentally played in twee-pop icon Amelia Fletcher’s newest band Tender Trap for a while, and her sweet, melancholy vocals. “Capricornia” and “Some People Say” are standouts, but the whole album is great. It’s only available digitally for now, but a physical relase is upcoming. [AB]
KCRW Online – Great radio station out of California. They also have a dynamite iPad app. [NV]
One Fish, New Fish – Great New Yorker article following Ozzie Guillen around the new Marlins Park. It’s a hilarious look at MLB’s tackiest team—hilarious, that is, unless you’re a Marlins fan. [NV]
Newbury & Hobbes Stories – George Mann writes a series of books that are steampunk meets Sherlock Holmes. These are a few free short stories set in that world. [SC]
It’s everyone’s favorite Hallmark-and-FTD-invented holiday. So grab your honey or your favorite anime lady body pillow, light some scented candles, unwrap some chocolates, and cozy up with a book tonight. If you want some snarky* suggestions of what to read, here are some of our favorite books about pedophiles.
The End of Alice, by A.M. Homes
This book contains one of the most graphic, stomach-churning scenes I’ve ever read (second only to one Charlotte Roche writes in Wetlands). If that’s not enough to entice you to read it, Homes’ track record of quality writing should.
The End of Everything, by Megan Abbot
This book caught me by surprise. It manages to be both unnerving and touching (pardon the pun), and Abbott is no slouch of a writer. At times this book flirts with being over-written, but on the whole it is very good and pretty moving. Worth a look. (Read our review.)
Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it a thousand times, Lolita is one of the best books ever written. If you haven’t read it before, you should drop whatever your reading and pick this up. At the very least, it’s definitely the best book every written with a child predator for a narrator. (Read our review.)
Touched, by Jerry Sandusky
I’m not sure if the existence of this book (pre boy-rape allegations) and the irony of its title are more funny or sad, but I’m leaning towards sad. Even the picture is unnerving. (Note: I haven’t actually read this book, and don’t plan to. You shouldn’t either.)
Twilight, by Stephanie Meyer
The Twilight books are not good books by any definition we care to acknowledge, but they do do a good job of doing what they set out to do–one of those things, of course, is to tell a “love” saga about an underage girl and an older, predatory monster asserting power over her through sexual manipulation. (Note: I actually have read this book and its sequels. You shouldn’t bother.)
*We in no way support the idea of actual pedophilia, please choose a valentine appropriate for your age, and keep in mind that if you actually spend tonight reading any of these books alone it’s a little creepy.
This little indie darling came out of nowhere. You can get it for around one dollar, and that’s a steal. A send-up to 16-bit era JRPGs, this has the Lovecraftian “hero” break all convention and go on a quest to enslave the world’s minds. The writing is full of self-referential wry wit that really makes this worth your time. … Continue reading »
It’s been a while since I did one of these holiday recommendation posts. Back in 2009 I shared the likes of Poe, Lovecraft, Shelley, Stoker, and King, as well as the classic Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Here’s some more spooky reading to keep you busy over the weekend.
(Where possible I’ve linked to free ebook downloads.)
My favorite Gothic novel. It’s perhaps the most atmospheric book I’ve ever read. Udolpho reads a bit like a Jane Austen novel, but with tons of eeriness. And it’s a good story to boot. Gloomy castles, dark forests, mysterious strangers, it’s all here.
Speaking of Jane Austen and eeriness, this book inserts a whole bunch of zombies into Austen’s classic novel. I really enjoyed this book, and it saw a lot of ssuccess and praise. Unfortunately, due to this things got a little out of hand at Quirk.
James’s writing takes a little warming up to, so if you haven’t read any classic literature in a while, be prepared for a pretty slow burn. But this book is well worth your patience. It’s a subtle and creepy Gothic ghost story.
House of Leaves, by Mark Z. Danielewsky
This one tends to fly under the radar, in part because it’s just so weird. It’s about a family that moves into a house and discovers a seemingly endless closet. Danielewsky does a bunch of experimental stuff with the print setting (font flipped around and all shapes and sizes, lots of marginalia), so this would never work as an ebook. But if you can find a copy, get it; it’s one of the best haunted house (I use that pretty loosely) stories I’ve ever read.
Probably the best mad scientists book there is (Frankensteindoesn’t count). A man shipwrecked on an island becomes the guest of a madman whose experiments on humans and animals result in freakish creatures. It is grotesque and horrifying.
[Every so often on on our Twitter feed we'll point to something other than books that caught our attention. In this occasional series, we highlight a few of those things, and a few others. Follow it here. The recommenders (Aaron, Sean, Eric, and Nico) are denoted by first initial.]
Kim Jong Il Looking at a Cucumber
Billy’s Balloon – From the twisted mind of Don Hertzfeldt who brought you Rejected, the heartwarming story of a boy and his balloon. [E]
The Guard – Surprisingly hilarious movie about an Irish Cop working with (sort of) the FBI. [E]
Homeland – The new Showtime series puts a new spin on the Manchurian Candidate story of an American soldier turned sleeper agent by questioning the sanity of not just the soldier, but the CIA analyst, played by Claire Danes, who insists he’s a walking time bomb. It’s not fun by any means, but it’s compulsive viewing nonetheless. [A]
The Pod F. Tompkast – Every episode of comedian Paul F. Tompkins’s podcast features the host’s improvised, meandering (in a good way) monologues, a skit from Tompkins’s live variety show at Largo in Los Angeles, a chat with fellow-comedian Jen Kirkman, and a new installment of the long-running, impression-fueled radio drama, “The Great Undiscovered Project”, all of it hilarious. Season two just started this month, but new listeners will want to stream all of season to fill the excruciating month-long gap between new episodes. [A]
Games- Most recent Radiolab about games of all kinds, inventing the rules and breaking them. [E]
The NPR Music iPhone app – Most everything NPR does about music, in one handy place. The killer feature is the ability to stream full albums of new, unreleased music, from a great selection curated by NPR. You can also find most of this content at their website. [N]
Yuck: Deluxe Edition, by Yuck – I missed this album when it was first released in February, but after seeing the band live I’m an ardent fan. Skipping the awful synth-splashed 80s revival that’s infected much contemporary music, the lads and lass of Yuck instead take 90s indie rock stalwarts like Yo La Tengo, Teenage Fanclub, and Dinosaur Jr. as inspiration. The songs on Yuck are too catchy to be melancholy, but too dark to be happy, which makes it exactly my kind of record. [A]
Partners – New Yorker profile from a couple of months back about Clarence Thomas, who holds the record for consecutive cases without asking a single question in argument. [E]
Flip Flop Fly Ball, by Craig Robinson – Awesome book full of infographics on all kinds of obscure and quirky baseball stats, most nontraditional. Check out the accompanying blog here. [S]
[Every so often on on our Twitter feed we'll point to something other than books that caught our attention. In this occasional series, we highlight a few of those things, and a few others. Follow it here. The recommenders (Sean, Eric, Marc, and Nico) are denoted by first initial.]
Don Hertzfeldt’s films — Hertzfeldt is a cartoonist famous mostly for his short piece The Rejected, but his real masterpiece is the Bill series. You can watch part one of the Bill trilogy (Everything Will Be OK) on Hertzfeldt’s website. [N]
Waltz with Bashir — I’m not usually a documentary guy, but this animated doc about the Israeli invasion of Lebanon is quite simply a masterpiece. Not instant streaming, but worth it. [N]
[Every so often on on our Twitter feed we'll point to something other than books that caught our attention. In this occasional series, we highlight a few of those things (and a few others). Follow it here.]
Invariable Heartache, by KORT (album—Cortney Tidwell and Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner covering obscure country tracks from the Chart Records catalog—here’s a bit of a preview), recommended by Aaron
Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will, by Mogwai (album—the Scottish post rockers latest varies the formula a bit, even verging on danceable, but retains the band’s trademark stormy mood—listen here), recommended by Aaron
Goldeneye 007 (Wii game—updates the classic game with a contemporary first person shooter feel, but doesn’t lose any of the goofy charm (and difficulty) of the original), recommended by Aaron
Bioshock, Mass Effect, Braid, Mother 3, and others (video games—for more info, read Sean’s post here), recommended by Sean
Spirit Kid (band—rocked the C4 mag launch party—tour dates and album info available on their site), recommended by Sean
The Go! Team (their new album, Rolling Blackouts, just came out and is as playful as its predecessors–listen here), recommended by Sean
Hamilton Carver, Zombie P.I. (excellent indie video series created by some friends of C4—watch online for free), recommended by Sean