IF Comp 2015: Scarlet Sails (Felicity Banks)

Scarlet Sails is a charming Choicescript game by Felicity Banks. I’ll say here that the oversaturation of the pirate tradition always wars with its enduring romance for me–agh, the endless merchandising! But the maps! But the colonialism! But the outfits! But the existence of the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels! But the outfits!!! Ahem. What I mean to say here is that had this game included some kind of elaborate textual pirate dress-up feature, I would have been unhelpfully biased. As it is, Scarlet Sails was a good deal of fun. Continue reading

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IF Comp 2015: Untold Riches (Jason Ermer)

General: Untold Riches is a straightforward, by-the-numbers treasure hunt that knows what it is and knows what it isn’t.  You turn up stranded on a deserted island, missing the adventuring professor whose sidekick you are and whose hijinks have gotten you into this pickle in the first place, with nothing but your wits and a few glaringly placed crucial items that point towards hidden treasure on your new island abode.  Puzzle-solving awaits.  I’m definitely not the target audience for it–I didn’t know it was written for middle-schoolers when I started playing, but I’m certainly not surprised–but I enjoyed it well enough all the same. Continue reading

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IF Comp 2015: Midnight. Swordfight. (Chandler Groover)

Hello!  Dusting this thing off for some IF Comp 2015 reviews, starting with–

Midnight. Swordfight. is a parser-based story and puzzle game.  I should say right away that this is a game designed to cater to about 70% of my IF-playing whims–vaguely half-Renaissance half-Georgian setting, gender ambiguity, multiple endings meant for replay, surrealism, time–in a way that most games are not.  I love masques.  I love duels.  I love messing with reality.  Midnight. Swordfight. is necessarily my cup of tea.  The question is more whether the execution lives up to all the elements of the premise.

General: Midnight. Swordfight. is a short, light puzzle game from the perspective of a professional fool who is plunged into a duel to the death with a beautiful, dangerous countess with whom, they find, they are in love.  The duel, initially, is doomed.  Actions are limited by a short “playscript” that updates with every room and enumerates what verbs the player can use.  None of these things can avert the inevitable end of the midnight duel.  But the player quickly discovers that they can “wake up” into an entirely different world–the world before midnight.  By navigating both time and space in an absurdist series of Restoration-esque rooms populated by people (and un-people) both frozen and unfrozen in time, the player can choose to change their fate as well as the countess’s.  A mouthful!  Basically what this comes down to is: you rearrange things in the world outside the duel so that when you come back to it, things can go differently as you wish.
Continue reading

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Recent stories and reviews + BioShock Infinite

Dusting off this poor neglected thing: I’ve had book reviews out recently of Emma Newman’s Between Two Thorns and Joyce Carol Oates’ The Accursed, both located over at Strange Horizons for your perusal.  SH is currently up for a Best Semiprozine Hugo Award, as I’m sure you all know, so if you don’t already read it be sure to check out the magazine regardless–it’s lovely, all the departments are lovely, and I’m not at all biased, of course!

I also have two stories out or soon to be out on the web: “Swan-Brother,” in the March issue of Ideomancer, and “Legerdemain,” the April 16, 2013 story in Daily Science Fiction.  I’ll link to that too once it’s online.

I’m in the middle of Irrational Games’ most recent arresting and ambitious experiment, BioShock Infinite; I’ll post my mid-game thoughts on that soon and perhaps a review as well.  If nothing else, it’s a very striking achievement in visual design and worldbuilding, and a horror game carried off largely in full color–not a common sight in a world of greyish, gritty Silent Hill palettes.

Other forthcoming reviews should include Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling’s Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells: An Anthology of Gaslamp Fantasy and Zachary Jernigan’s No Return.  Tune in or stay tuned!

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Holy shit, BBC One’s doing Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Via Den of Geek, I may sincerely expire of wild hopes and tremendous anxieties.


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The Mystery of Edwin Drood (Roundabout Theater Company)


The Mystery of Edwin Drood is that charming beast, a Broadway musical destined only for the stage.  With so many blockbuster shows designed nearly more around the concept album, the chart-topping OLC/OBC, the inevitable movie musical, the touring production, and the high school reproduction than the actual West End or Broadway run, it’s always refreshing to see a production that’s at its apex as theater.  Which Drood is.  Actually, it’s fairly rubbish as anything else.  Part of why it’s a little hard to get people into it is that in this day and age of trading Wicked mp3s and such, people are drawn to shows they can “experience” beforehand by listening to the original soundtrack, musicals with big aria-style showstoppers that don’t need a lot of context and can be butchered on Glee with little adjustment, ahem.  This is bad enough for Sondheim numbers which can’t be elegantly ripped out of the context into which they were elegantly woven in the first place; it’s even worse for Drood, which, as a metafictional performance about bad theater, out of context just seems like bad theater.  It’s not!  It’s massively entertaining theater.  And I hope this revival does well, because we could always use more like it.

It’s also interactive, an attribute that’s hard to foster in a movie or an OBC recording.  Watching the Roundabout Theater Company’s revival of The Mystery of Edwin Drood reminded me why little media and art forms like the audience-participation show and the IF game still deserve their ongoing preservation, even if they can’t be mass-produced and mass-marketed as easily as many others; Drood was fun, impossible not to get caught up in and have a rollicking good time in a way that’s hard to achieve in a bombastic Cameron Mackintosh megaproduction without an utterly stellar cast.

For those not familiar with the musical’s premise, Charles Dickens was halfway through his last, peculiar novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, before he went and carked it, leaving the solution and much of the plot of the book as a favorite mystery for Victorianist scholars for time to come.  Rupert Holmes’ musical takes this unfinished work and adapts it to a musical — or rather, to a musical displaying a group of loud, hammy music-hall performers putting on a musical version of the unfinished Dickens, down to calling for an audience vote for the ending and putting it on once it’s counted.  It’s all very Tristram Shandy.  It’s pretty delightful.

The book is ridiculous.  The musical book, that is, not Dickens’ (which was probably going to be ridiculous too, but we expect that from Victorians).  With the exception of “Moonfall” and maybe “A Man Could Go Quite Mad” and their ending reprises, virtually none of the songs are standalone-listenable, and that’s quite all right because Drood is not a show where the performers stand around like befuddled opera stars and belt — they dance, they narrate, they’re constantly throwing in sight and verbal gags on the show, the invented music hall, and the audience.  It takes a lot of talent — onstage and backstage — to pull that off, not just singing chops, but thankfully the Roundabout Theater Company brings that quite handily to the table.  The staging is clever and dynamic and never lets you get bored. The show reminded me of what can be done with a stage show that can’t be done with a movie or soundtrack, and what a shame it is therefore that so many shows simply don’t make use of the medium.  It’s incredibly competent for something with such incredibly bad rhymes.  A Paul Gemignani score (and conducting!) helps matters.

Scott Ellis’s direction is lively and handles the actors well; of the stars Chita Rivera is the biggest name on the cast, playing a secondary (but evidently audience-popular!) role as jaded madame and drug-pusher Princess Puffer, whose existence in the Dickens text remained unexplained at the time of the author’s death.  The strongest singers were well-placed as leads John Jasper, Edwin Drood, and Rosa Bud; the standout of the three was a charming and bizarrely adorable Will Chase as insane, drug-addicted, lecherous music-master John Jasper, with Betsy Wolfe’s sarcastic and somewhat unhinged “ingenue” Rosa Bud (and the shamelessly flirtatious music hall actress playing her) as a close second, and Stephanie J. Block entertaining with her gender-bending performance as cocky young heir Edwin Drood and the primadonna male impersonator playing him.

Roundabout’s staging is full of queer flirtation and nods and winks to the members of the audience who aren’t white-haired tourists, which is enjoyable and difficult to miss.  The most questionable choice on Roundabout’s part (and on Drood‘s part in general) is the usage of yellowface to lampoon both Dickens’ treatment of Ceylonese characters Neville and Helena Landless and Victorian music hall’s laughably bad portrayal of “half-caste” Asian characters; while Andy Karl and Jessie Mueller are hilarious in their roles, one can’t help but wonder if the irony might be lost on a lot of theater audiences just snickering at the perceived ridiculousness of over-the-top stereotyped Asian dress and behavior, and a much better subversion might have been accomplished by casting Asian actors in both roles, Broadway being notoriously unfriendly to the ambitions of non-white-and-Western actors.  The real highlight of the cast, however, is Jim Norton, who plays master of ceremonies and a reluctant, sardonic version of the town’s mayor when an alcoholic Music Hall Royale actor is indisposed: wheels within wheels!  His comic timing is fantastic and it’s impossible not to laugh at his jokes, even the weaker ones.

Listening to Drood out of context, you can’t appreciate the meaning of numbers like “No Good Can Come From Bad” — which features lines like “Something in this speech seems ominous to me!” and “Night must follow day!” — without seeing the actors pantomime out spoof Victorian actors putting on a spoof Victorian play, complete with dramatic spotlights; the show’s put on with a constant wink and elbow in the ribs, and it has to be.  It works.  It’s a great deal of fun and more productions should take lessons from Roundabout about the lively potential of audience-interactive theater.

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Monday Links – Kate Elliott on women’s work, Angry Asian Man, and others

Happy Cyber Monday!  I missed Dylan Meconis‘s slightly pre-Cyber Monday twelve-hour sale on the event of Baruch Spinoza’s 280th birthday because I can’t count, apparently, but that is not going to stop me from getting that Revolutionary Hotties print.  I tend to think complaints about commercialism on Black Friday and Cyber Monday often have more to do with people thinking it’s gauche to shop on the same day as everyone else than people thinking it’s gauche to shop, anyway; hyper-conspicuous consumption is so nouveau riche!  Quick, go loot Goodwill for things you could afford new before people who truly don’t have money can get them!

Speaking of Cyber Monday, I came by Caroline Stevermer and Patricia C. Wrede’s The Grand Tour or The Purloined Coronation Regalia and The Mislaid Magician or Ten Years After today in the Kindle store along with Ellen Datlow’s Sirens and Other Daemon Lovers: Magical Tales of Love and Seduction anthology, so I have even more books to try to read all at once.

Kate Elliott, of the Spiritwalker Trilogy among other things, did a post over at her blog on the subject of why she’s chosen to highlight the sewing skills of her character Catherine Hassi Barahal, and in general on women’s work in speculative fiction and the general undervaluation and invisibility thereof.

Angry Asian Man rounded up some links on the matter of Red Dawn, the Jeremy Lin furor, some bullshit having to do with the Royal Shakespeare Company putting on an all-white Orphan of Zhao, and racism in Cloud Atlas, among other things.  I’ve already said my piece on Cloud Atlas; I don’t even know what to say about Red Dawn.  I feel like anything I could possibly say about the Red Dawn remake would be self-evident — but I know that can’t possibly be true, because if it were, like.  The Red Dawn remake wouldn’t actually exist.

Upon further reflection, Jaymee Goh already posted the screencap of a thousand words as pertains to Red Dawn.  Horrifyingly enough.

From Tumblr: Brigitte Weinsteiger on the Medieval Roots of Colonial Iron Manufacturing Technology, stuff I’m going to pretend everyone finds as interesting as I do.  wehunger agrees that snide yuppies should stfu about Black Friday already.  And Jonny Lee Miller sure makes some faces.

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