The ugly, The bad, The good, The list™
Last month, I made my debut in Unwinnable Weekly magazine with a piece on the preludes to Kentucky Route Zero. If, like me, your anxiously awaiting the fourth act of that game, it can’t hurt to take a look at the (free) games that came before. You can download A House in California, Ruins, and Balloon Diaspora from the Cardboard Computer website. I also briefly wrote about Ruins here before, back when I was a wee lad. Or actually, a couple of years ago.
If you’re interested, you can read an excerpt from my article for free on the Unwinnable site, or better yet, subscribe or purchase the whole issue.
I wrote the introductory post for a new history blog founded by four colleagues/friends and myself. It’s about the Ribe cranium, an 8th century skull fragment with a runic inscription. The inscripion is (most likely) a healing spell to defeat a dwarven spirit causing illness, possibly a headache.
The article is part of an ongoing series “Runic Escapades”, in which I will present runic inscriptions in their cultural and historical context.
While reading Annalee Newitz’ intriguing blog post on io9 about the history of the word cyber, I came across the name Norbert Wiener (not Weiner — get it straight, you Englishers) who had introduced the term Cybernetics as “the study of control and communication in machines and living beings”. His other works include the book God and Golem, Inc.: A Comment on Certain Points Where Cybernetics Impinges on Religion, and that title immediately caught my eye. Studies of the interaction between science, technology, and religion always interest me a lot, as do Golems and Jewish folklore, so Wiener had sold it to me easily.
Few novels compelled me as much to immediately write my thoughts down as The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks. Usually I enjoy novels a lot while reading them (or not), but quickly dive into a new one afterwards. In this case, I felt the need to spend some words on it before moving on. I’m pretty sure this means that the book has some sort of clarity and compactness of style that brings across its messages very directly.
I sure wasn’t the only one reading The Wasp Factory this month. Banks passed away after a battle with cancer on June 9th, and a number of my online friends and acquaintances made a grab towards his debut novel, like I did.
This April was a religion-themed month over at videogame blog The Ontological Geek. I wrote the final article in the series, and mused a little on how concepts of religion, God, and particularly The Holy, can be incorporated into videogames. For perhaps obvious reasons, it’s easy for games to tackle and represent the more mundane sides of religion and faith, but they seem to struggle somewhat when it comes to matters more transcendent. In “Sanctifying Games”, I try to explore why that might be.
There’s something to be said for the idea that art can find expression in any medium. For Jake Elliott and Tamas Kemenczy of Cardboard Computer, their medium is the strange blend of audio, video, text, and interaction of digital games. As their earlier game Ruins showed, the studio has a penchant for the poetic and the dreamlike, and you’ll find those elements in spades in their latest (and currently ongoing) work Kentucky Route Zero. It’s an adventure game in five parts — the first released in December 2012, with later instalments to follow this year.
What did I read in 2012? I’ve found looking back at my last year in books helps me chart some themes and developments in my (mental life), so I’ve decided to do it again this year. I read 92 books in 2012, a little fewer than in 2011, but they were bigger books, and my page total ended up higher. This doesn’t count all the articles I’ve read, but we’ve got to draw the reading nerdage line somewhere. It’s all slightly arbitrary anyway.
A statement often repeated in discussions of technology, whether within the realm of science fiction (and literary criticism of the genre) or without, is Arthur C. Clarke’s so-called “Third Law”, which states that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. The reader may refer to Wikipedia for a bit of background surrounding Clarke’s three laws and possible precedents for the third one mentioned here. While the law obviously makes predictions about the perception of technology in real life, it is equally relevant to fiction, particularly science fiction and fantasy, where magic and/or technology occupy prominent places as plot devices, motifs, etc. […] What interests me in particular are the assumptions lying behind Clarke’s third law, and how the law and its assumptions can help (or hinder) us to understand the interplay between technology and magic as concepts of activity
Videogames by their very nature often make interesting arguments on the things they portray. This struck me quite powerfully while playing a recent digitally distributed title called From Dust. The game was designed by Éric Chahi and developed by Ubisoft Montpellier, and it essentially revolves around being a god and overseeing the fate of ‘your’ people.