Originally posted on my Instagram.
Originally posted on my Instagram.
Note: I received an advanced review copy in exchange for an honest review.
There’s an elegance and, more importantly, a punch to short fiction that often goes overlooked. Publication of an impactful novel, oft-toted as one of literature’s highest accomplishments, not to mention most prose writers’ major goal, drastically overshadows those who prefer their tales to be neatly surmised in just a few thousand words or less. Significantly less, in the case of drabbles, which can only be 100 words.
Jo-Anne Russell’s latest collection, Little Dead Things, is a 41-story collection of flash fiction, stories ranging from 100 word drabbles to just a couple pages. Illustrated by Jeffrey Kosh with a forward by Franklin E. Wales, this book is perfect for those who want a break from the long-haul of the fifty-thousand-plus-word stories others frequently celebrate. Whether this is because you’re short on time or you just prefer sprints to marathons, it’s sure to have a story that suits your speed.
Some stories stand out as being particularly well-written, combining the weird with the mundane in very unsettling ways. “The Apricot Poodle,” a drabble that I won’t describe, since describing something so short would necessitate spoilers, is one such story. “The Fun House” and “Loose Change” are great little jamais vu pieces, where reality shifts sideways and puts some truly odd events at the center of everyday life. Others, like “Mama,” are more psychological in nature, eschewing the weird for tales about ordinary people doing the sorts of things you’d see them getting arrests for on the 5 O’clock news. A few, like “Snake Eyes,” fall smack in the middle, serving as warnings about how regular human darkness might unleash a very different monster. “The Promised Land,” I’d argue, has great potential for another story, short or otherwise.
A few of these carry influence from other notable pop culture figures, such as “A Murder of Crows,” which channels some clear Hitchcock vibes. “Jabberwock Tea” is another one, and those thinking it’s an Alice and Wonderland piece won’t be disappointed (those who’ve wanted to read about zombies in A+W will be thoroughly delighted).
With a collection such as this, not all tales are going to stand out as winners. The presence of some of these far more engaging stories creates a wider, more obvious rift with those that fall short. I won’t specify the ones that didn’t quite measure up, as it’s entirely possible other readers will enjoy them, and I don’t want to discolor that perception ahead of time. While just as well-written, they aren’t quite as original or engaging as the others, and some of the truly unique and bizarre plotlines make these fall flat.
Overall, Little Dead Things lives up to its name, and horror fans are absolutely going to find stories they enjoy. It doesn’t matter if the readers want realistic horror or weird/supernatural showdowns, because these little bites make an overall great meal. As the name suggests, the stories are little and chock full of strange, mysterious, terrible deaths, so this collection is well worth the time. Whether you read it start to finish, or grab an afternoon coffee and knock a few out over your break at work, it’ll be worth the time and money.
Hey everyone! New video up: “Within the Walls,” originally published in Tales from the Blue Gonk Cafe III, with Thirteen o’Clock Press. Hope you enjoy it! Be sure to like and subscribe if you do, then head over to my Patreon page for more horror content.
New video up! Check it below, and if you like it, be sure to like and subscribe, and maybe even hit up my Patreon for more exclusive, patrons-only content!
Let’s get it out on the table: Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is the type of game I would’ve wanted Silent Hills to be. Not the exact game, mind you–I’d expect an SH installment to have more endings–but the degree to which Ninja Theory lovingly, carefully dropkicks the player into Senua’s broken mind is nothing short of majestic.
A significant degree of Hellblade’s marketing focused on capturing psychosis correctly (and, of course, the beautiful graphics). It’s great to see a game developer put so much care into the construction of a game’s plot, setting, and characterization that they consulted with psychologists and the mentally ill alike.
This care pays off quite well. Hellblade is full of both subtle moments of psychological tension, and direct freight-train-to-the-face moments of genuine horror, where the player doubts not only reality, but Senua herself.
Most are already aware of this, so I’ll address the most obvious element: the warning in the beginning of the game that repeated failure will result in permadeath, erasing the save file. Some were angered by this announcement, while others were angered by the fact that, apparently, no such system exists. You can die many times, but as far as anyone’s been able to figure out, nothing will permakill you.
That’s actually one of the most genius parts of this game. By terrorizing the player with such a deception, Ninja Theory instills the same existential dread Senua herself feels at all waking moments: that her failure will result in the destruction of Dillion’s soul, and her own being dragged down to Hel, her existence erased by the fact that there’s no one left to mourn or miss her.
Granted the savvy player might realize this very early on, because the warning says ‘failure,’ not death, will result in her destruction, and the black rot that symbolizes this failure grows during plot events, not so much after deaths. It took me roughly four deaths–all at the hands of the God of Illusion–to deconstruct this otherwise brilliant device and remove a significant amount of my own tension from the experience.
Hellblade, as a game, is broken into two parts: combat and puzzle solving. Ninja Theory is known for precise combat, but those who were a fan of their take on the Devil May Cry series will be a little disappointed. While the combat here is rendered well and feels very realistic to Senua’s characterization, those who fell in love with the fluidity of DMC’s action-packed, bass-thumping, mayhem-driven combat system will find Hellblade a bit formulaic and repetitive.
The puzzles are very interesting perspective-based events that fit well into the story, but unfortunately, the long puzzle-solving stretches, limited combat variance, and intensely narrative nature of this game limit the replay value. That first run through, though, is god damn amazing.
Ultimately, how much value you get out of subsequent playthroughs will depend on whether you want to turn the ‘auto’ combat difficulty to hard, if you have any collectibles to round up, and if you played with headphones on the first time (In the words of Shia LaBeouf: DO IT!).
However, this game’s first run through alone is worth the thirty dollars it currently costs. Between the graphics so beautiful you’ll literally stop playing just to look around, and the heart-stopping moments of Senua’s descent into madness, Hellblade is easily one of the most ambitious and well-executed games I’ve played in my entire life. While I’ll be waiting for a DMC 2 (unpopular opinion, I know), I sincerely hope they get license to make the next Silent Hill. They’d nail it. No doubt at all.
Here’s my latest YouTube short: Symbiosis.
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Massive monsters have always commanded our attention. Godzilla wasn’t the first beast to stomp its way into mainstream media, but since its arrival, the kaiju genre has flourished. While Hollywood has attempted to take on such stories through Pacific Rim and similar films, indie authors have brought the intensity of such huge creatures into very small perspectives.
In this case, Christofer Nigro explores the arrival of Dargolla, the kaiju for which the book is named, through the eyes of Colin Wilson, a young boy who’s grown up in the post-kaiju-arrival world. He lives in Metroville, a fictional city, with his family. Having grown up in a world where any given moment might be interrupted by a hundred-foot-tall monstrosity crushing the life out of everything that moves, he’s a little bit paranoid that one will show up and destroy his town.
That’s exactly what happens, but this is the basis for all good kaiju stories. From the ashes of society, a hero rises. More or less. Colin’s story is more about survival than heroism, a welcome change from the apparent mandate that the main character of such stories must become a super slayer of some kind. Dargolla, a burrowing, bellowing beast, makes short work of the many humans, buildings, military vehicles, and other signs of life that stand even remotely near its path of destruction.
Dargolla is a novella, meaning two things: it’s a quick, high-action read full of epic pulp violence, and each scene counts double. This makes the fact that the prologue is somewhat long stand out. While great for world building, the opening is packed full of details about the various types of kaiju that have torn up earth, where they’re believed to have come from, and what their arrival has done to the other earth species. In some respects, this is great foreshadowing, such as the mention of psionic/mutated humans, which sets up for two characters later on; in others, this feels unnecessary, such as the mention of “false kaiju” or mutated megafauna, neither of which show up. However, the ending does foreshadow a sequel, so it’s possible this was laying the groundwork for a larger story later on.
Perhaps one of the most effective elements of this story is how quickly destruction or death occurs. I don’t mean this as in, “Wow, it’s been an hour and the whole city is gone,” so much as that even major characters are wiped off the page in just a few sentences. In doing this, the writer uses form, rather than detail, to capture the shock and visceral gut-punch of sudden death. There’s no melodramatic lingering on someone’s final cry of pain, which happens in movies but not real life. The reader only fully registers the character’s death several sentences after the fact, perhaps even stopping to reread the passage just to be sure it actually happened.
This is balanced by a mechanical slowness in other areas. In some instances, the writing becomes clunky or even clinical in ways that don’t quite fit the scene. One instance refers to a woman’s eye as her “ocular organ,” which isn’t technically wrong, but provides an odd emotional distance consider the scene was told from the close third-person of a suburban housewife. Such technical details work really well in some areas, as it gives the story the feeling of a PTSD-ridden survivor’s account, where emotional distance is necessary to the teller’s ability to continue, but takes away from the action in other instances when it gets too detail oriented.
Along the path of destruction, this story provides a bevy of fun side characters, including several soldiers who call out to Odin and Thor rather than God, and a group of higher-ranked military men desperately attempting to play cards despite the constant kaiju-based interruptions. President Trump even makes an appearance, but as a reference—the fictitious version of #46 gets no actual dialogue, and the narration neither supports nor opposes his presidency, allowing the writer to lock the story in time while wisely staying away from political endorsement.
Overall, Dargolla: A Kaiju Nightmare is exactly what the title suggests. It’s a story of mayhem and carnage, where a young boy fights overwhelming odds to survive a kaiju attack and the generally fruitless military attempts to kill said kaiju. Plus, without spoiling it, I’ll say that there’s a twist in the ending that sets up for a very interesting new direction, should the writer continue the story.
Due to its length, Dargolla may feel like the introduction to a larger work, rather than a stand-alone piece, but fans of the kaiju genre—and anyone looking for a hundred and change stories of things exploding—is sure to enjoy this book.
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