Fallout 76 and Appalachia

Reclamation Day has finally arrived! October 23 has come and gone, and Vault 76 officially opened to show us dwellers just what post-apocalyptic West Virginia looks like. In case you haven’t followed the series, the latest Fallout game, which puts players in various parts of the U.S. (and occasionally an alien vessel) years after nuclear bombs have laid waste to the world as we know it, began B.E.T.A. testing last night.

In addition to being set far in a 1950’s-esque future, with strangely advanced machinery, and a renewed hatred of Communism, the Fallout series presents players with a myriad of radiation-altered enemies; humanoid, robot, and animalistic in nature.

The latest game, Fallout 76, allows players to leave their respective nuclear fallout shelter, or vault, about 25 years after the bombs fell. That’s about 200 years earlier than any other Fallout game so far. That’s one of the most exciting things about this game, for me. With such a short time frame after the war, we’re not only going to see things that haven’t had as much time to readjust, but we’re going to be in an area that hasn’t yet been explored by the games. This game is also completely different, in that it’s an entirely online platform. You’re playing on a server with a limited number of other people, but all other human interaction is actually via other players in real time. Of course, you can go off on your own and explore, but you’re encouraged to build teams and play as a unit.

After playing the four hour B.E.T.A. (Standing for Break it Early Test Application), I’m pretty impressed by the game so far. When it comes to game play and the general feel of the game, this one compares to part 4 for me. I feel the graphic engine upgrade has done a lot for exemplifying the beauty of West Virginia, an area I’m very familiar with, having grown up half an hour from the border. Movement in the game was pretty similar to previous ones, as is the “junk” you pick up through the world that assists you through the rest of the game. One new and interesting thing is the Pip Boy graphic, which can now be transferred from your arm module to lay over the screen in a hologram-style opaque screen. This makes the real-time gameplay a bit easier, since you can see the enemies around you.

Another factor that helps with the real time gameplay is that you have to eat and drink regularly or you’ll get dehydrated and starve. There are countless opportunities to pick up food through the world, including stripping meat from the animals you kill, but the new thing here is- it all spoils. If you get some meat from the doe you killed and don’t eat it for a certain period of time, it rots. At that point it can still be eaten, but it has a significantly increased chance to give you diseases and radiation damage.

Speaking of radiation damage, that’s another difference. Before if your radiation level got too high, you’d have some slight side effects, but usually nothing too noticeable during gameplay. In this game there are increased chances for radiation-influenced disease. One example I saw last night was during a fight with some feral ghouls. During the fight I saw the notice that I’d taken increased rad damage, and then every few seconds during the fight myself and the area around me would burst into flames. After taking some meds to lower the radiation levels I got the notice that I had recovered from an “unstable isotope” illness. This makes me very excited for what other possibilities await in that area.

As far as creatures to battle, I ran into a lot of ghouls, of course, a group of supermutants, some protectrons and other robots, but in this game there are some new and interesting creatures. I ran across a few supersized ticks, a couple of three headed opossums, and a new robot. But the most interesting thing I encountered was the Scorched. I just played in a few areas of the map, and for a limited time, but what I saw was; Scorched are everywhere.

Looking like a case of sunburn gone bad, the burnt-skinned creatures appear to be covered in glowing embers and growing green lesions all over their bodies. There are research areas dedicated to the creatures that give you some more details, but I can say they can be brutal if they gang up on you. Violent, vicious, and hard to see in the dark, they use weapons and can have a pretty decent health. They also move quickly and can sneak up on you if you aren’t careful.

One thing that has returned, but altered, is weapon and armor degradation. In previous games (except 4) your equipment would break down and eventually become unusable, but you could grab another of the same item and combine them to fix it. With this game, if something breaks, you have to have junk and go to an armor or weapon bench to repair it. That adds a new and interesting element to the gameplay and gives you an increased need for a good melee weapon as well. Leveling up is also a bit different, this game offering you perk cards rather than a perk map. You can only have certain cards active at a time, which allows you to build and change your character’s effectiveness in different areas for different things, and depending on whether you’re on your own or part of a team.

Overall, my first experience with Bethesda’s version of West Virginia has been a positive one. It was very interesting for me to explore the digital version of areas I’ve frequented in my life. I was able to cross the damaged New River Gorge bridge, see areas I’ve driven through countless times, and search Point Pleasant for the mysterious Mothman. Although I didn’t find him, I did harvest some of his eggs, so I have hope for his presence in the game. I also find myself wondering if the presence of what appeared to be drones in the sky just outside of Point Pleasant has anything to do with him. Point Pleasant lies on the edge of the map and I witnessed what appeared to be two drones flying over an area just beyond the edge of the map. Maybe that’s an area we’ll see opened in the future?

I’m very excited for the next B.E.T.A. session to open, and I very much hope I can join it. In the meantime, I hope you’ll all purchase the game if you haven’t already. I would love to build a team with you guys to explore the wild and wonderful West Virginia wilderness! I’m putting one of my gameplay photos as the cover photo here, and I may share a couple others on social media if you want to check them out. I may make some other posts as the official full game release approaches, so keep your eyes open for that. And if you do have access to the B.E.T.A., keep your weapons ready and share your experiences with me!!

Sleeping Beauties 

Another King great tackled! In case you need another reminder, Stephen King is obviously my favorite author and, as I said with my review of “Horns,” he obviously passed his talent on to his children. That remains true in regards to this novel as well, in my opinion. “Sleeping Beauties” jumps right in to Dooling County, West Virginia to present us with a quite fantastical tale of a world where females who fall asleep develop strange cocoons and find their collective consciousnesses transported to an alternate reality, dimension or mental locale that is free of men. Meant to give the women a fresh start, the worlds are very much strained by this occurrence and the decisions made by both sexes regarding their futures and the present.

First off, I did enjoy this novel. I would not place it as high on my favorites list as things like “Dreamcatcher” or “IT,” but it was good. One of the appeals for me, naturally, was the fact that it takes place in fictional Dooling County, West Virginia. The hefty little bit of fiction is located around an hour from where I grew up in Virginia, so the descriptions of the mountainous regions of my youth were interesting to say the least.

I really enjoyed the story itself. Putting women in this alternate reality and placing men in the position of figuring out what to do next was very interesting to me. I liked the way the Kings pushed the sleep element, having some of their characters stay awake for days and use all sort of methods to do so. The fact that sleep was the gateway to this new reality poses an interesting situation in itself, for me, as it hints at the age-old possibility that our dreams are literal gateways to alternate universes and all sorts of incredible places. 

The character of Eve Black was a mystery that I feel really added a lot to the story in the form of King’s classic supernatural element. Not that women developing their own personal weirdo cocoons wasn’t supernatural enough, of course. I really enjoyed the dynamic Eve presented with her mysterious past, strange powers and obvious knowledge of what was happening and why. The fact that she played the devil’s advocate between Frank and Clint (the opposite ends of the male reaction spectrum in this situation) definitely adds to her mysterious role in the overall event. Her behavior and attitude did make her a character that I couldn’t get a feel for. I’m still not sure if I like her or not. 

The Kings presented us with a view of mankind that, as sad as it is to admit, is scarily accurate. Men are often the more gung ho, shoot-first-ask-questions-later, self preserving type, while women tend to consider consequences more often. Granted that is very much a generalization, it is the large basis of the book. Some men decide the only way to fix the issues at hand here is to burn the sleeping women in their cocoons and hope for the best. Why these men didn’t realize this would make reproduction, and thus further life in this reality,  virtually impossible, I really don’t know, but that’s a different issue altogether.

I enjoyed the way the Kings worked in morals on both sides of the large tree that represents the gateway between the two worlds represented in the novel. Seeing how the men, both logical and illogical, choose to handle the situation helps us to get a handle on the representation of mysoginisitic versus logical ways of thinking presented in the book. Seeing the characters that would rather burn the women in their cocoons than find a cure, I think, represents the people in this world who choose the “attack first” method of solving problems. Those who are more careful, who want to figure out what is going on and why, represent the elements of mankind that, more or less, are more apt to allow us to have a real future.

To me that is really the core of the book itself. Eve’s purpose, and the reason the women are in the cocoons in the first place, is to emphasize the flawed nature many men exist under (i.e. men have ruined the world with violence) and to give women the option to “start over” without that tainted method of influence. 

Overall, the Kings present a very interesting book with a strong “1984-esque” message warning us as a species to stop resorting to violence and start understanding we need to work together to survive. At least that’s what I took from it. The book itself was very enjoyable, if a bit of an odd take on things, but it definitely was not without its faults. 

I had a bit of an issue with the overall representation of life in the Appalachian Mountains, being a native and resident of the mountains myself. The Kings repeatedly insinuated, if not outright said, that the area is nothing more than a hole filled with drug addicts, uneducated people, abusive men and adulterers. Which is very much an exaggeration of Bromdingnagian proportions. While these things do exist in the mountains, they do everywhere else as well, and it is a very unfortunate representation of an area that is already often considered to be deplorable and sordid in nature by mainstream media.

Furthermore,  I feel there was a lot of things left to be desired in the Eve storyline. Like who was she and where did she come from in the first place. Obviously the name Eve calls us to biblical origins with a possible holy connotation, but that was never confirmed for me. I also got a similar vibe from this book that I received from Under the Dome, where (spoiler alert) we realize aliens are actually in control of the Dome. This wasn’t mentioned, but Eve’s talk of herself and her mission led me to consider it. I also would have liked more of an explanation as to why Clint was the man she chose to save her, or for that matter why Dooling, West Virginia and it’s residents, which, based on King’s own description aren’t worth the trouble, were the basis for the rest of the planet. The women of Dooling got to decide the fate of every other woman in the planet when they chose to leave “their place.” Not to mention Frank and Clint and the other men of the town were the ones who decided the world’s fate in this reality. Why? Was it random? Was it thought out? What was so special about this town and its people? Furthermore, has Eve done this before? Will she do it again? And in general, what was up with the moths? And just what in the world was Eve in the first place?? And will the men and women of earth understand what happened well enough to make real changes to their lifestyles to keep it from happening again?

As you can see, there are plenty of questions I feel could have been answered by the text or offered through consideration. Granted there are likely questions and answers that I missed, I think you all get the point. One thing I didn’t delve too much into was the obvious misogyny offered in various ways, either through women who were described more by their appearance than anything else, or by those who were overly reliant on others or something else of the sort. Just know that I did notice, and I don’t agree with it, but delving too much into it in this review would bring this to a whole new level. If you’d like to discuss it in the comments, I’m more than willing! 

I hope you all enjoyed this nice fantastical read for the month of November. It certainly was interesting and I look very forward to discussing it!! I’ll be making another post in the next few days regarding our December read, and a very special announcement of my own. In the meantime, I would love to get everyone’s opinion on a possibility I’ve considered recently. I’ve noticed that podcasts are coming back as a popular way for people to reach out to each other with news and ideas and I’m considering giving it a whirl. I’ve thought about posting a podcast to help me delve further into discussions of my book club reads, or maybe discussing my work or answering questions about writing, or maybe just as a discussion piece for us all to come into contact – the possibilities are endless, but I wanted to get your opinions. Would you guys like to check out a podcast on my site every now and then? Would you like to join in discussions in that way, or maybe even see some guests authors come in and record one here and there? Let me know what you all think! Leave me comments or shoot me a message! 

November Announcement

Happy November, everyone!! I apologize for this post being a bit later than normal, but such is the strife associated with NaNoWriMo! I hope you all enjoyed last month’s read, as well as the short break you’ve gotten here. 

This month, I’m going to return to one of my tried and true authors, with a twist! I will be reviewing Stephen King’s newest work, “Sleeping Beauties.” This book is a collaboration King wrote with his son, Owen,  which makes it even better. The novel explores what happens in a small West Virginia town when women all over the world fall into a strange sleep that sees them wrapped in a strange cocoon. When waking the women proves deadly, men are given few options, while the women who have not yet fallen asleep will try nearly anything to stay awake and keep from knitting cocoons of their own. Can men find a way to come together and put an end to the Aurora sickness before it’s too late?

Admittedly I’ve already started the novel and I have to say I’m hooked. The book is set in the Appalachian Mountains, in a fictional county that would be around an hour from where I grew up. The idea of that setting had me quite excited when I realized exactly where fictional Dooling County was positioned on the map. 

I won’t say much more, because thisnisnt the review yet! Since it is so late in the month I think I will plan to post my reveal on December 4th, to give everyone a few extra days. This book falls in at 700 pages, so it’s not a rapid read, but it’s not grueling either.  I look very forward to discussing it with you all! 

For a quick update on my NaNoWriMo progress; my plans were changed a bit. I had hoped to finally bring Maverip to a close in October, but unforseen circumstances put a damper on that. Some of you may have noticed my originally planned work entitled “Last Christmas was replaced on my NaNo profiled by Maverip. I have decided that the time has come to really place the challenge on myself wholeheartedly. Part of me is terrified to finish this novel, as it is one book on my queue right now that I feel most compelled to push forward, and it is one that I have put a lot of pressure on. But this month will see it completed. I won’t let myself or you guys down any more! I look forward to sharing the completed work with you all ASAP, and as always, if anyone is interested in being a beta reader, just let me know! 

We’ll talk all things “Sleeping Beauties” in a few weeks, and from there we’ll examine a Christmas-themed work, so get some suggestions ready!!! 

Stand, Sit, Whine

Anyone who sees any kind of mass media news, be it via TV, newspaper or even just Facebook, has seen the latest (although not really new) scandal rocking our nation’s collective conscience. Some athletes have chosen to sit, kneel, or stand and not participate during the National Anthem. How terrible! How can we ever overcome this latest threat to our once-great unified country? Surely this will bring the end of all happiness as we know it. Funny thing the sun’s still shining and we’re still free (for now), though, ain’t it? Since Kaepernick decided he was going to take a knee last year during the National Anthem in support of his desire for equality and unity, the whole country has more or less gone batshit crazy over it. Now, a number of others have chosen to take up this mantle and do the same, with entire professional teams making the choice to stand out of the public eye or drop a knee during the song that we have adopted to show our strength as a nation. Their reasons are similar, for the most part. This country is becoming more divided each day, with massive amounts of people waging active assaults against those they see as ‘different,’ ‘less equal,’ or ‘dangerous’ (read; bullshit excuse for racism). Sensible people want to see that behavior come to an end, and this is how some have chosen to make a difference.

Before I continue here, let me say that I don’t have a dog in this fight. I can stand, I can sit or I can play hopscotch – because I know it is my right. I’m not calling out the sitters or the kneelers any more than I am calling out the people who stand and shed tears every time they hear the words we all know by heart before first grade. What I am calling out is the ridiculous fight about the whole thing. I understand that many people feel it is their (our?) duty to stand and sing along with the National Anthem, perhaps while they imagine fighter jets circling overhead, fireworks exploding in the background and bald eagles laying eggs filled with freedom all around them. But then again maybe that’s a bit much. Regardless, a lot of people find it a point of pride that they are free enough to stand and belt out the tune that has stood the test of time in honoring our country and what it stands for. I get that and I fully respect it. As someone with family who has served in the armed forces and in-laws who both have and continue to serve, I feel that pride and honor as well. I’m insanely happy and grateful to live in this country and I can be the most patriotic individual you’ve ever seen in the most clichéd sense of the term – but along with that comes the knowledge that if I choose not to stand there is not a single thing that can make me.

My great-uncle, my friends, my in-laws have all served this country, fought for this county, had their lives inexplicably changed in service for this country, so that I can have the right and freedom to make the choices I want to make. While seeing the stories about this ridiculous controversy (why does everything have to be a controversy??), one of the things we see quite often is a large amount of people screaming about how generations of soldiers have died in battle so that people could stand while the National Anthem plays. This is often accompanied by the political cartoon that depicts soldiers in fatigues correctly stating they are actually fighting for our right to sit OR stand during the song. But you know, that must be an exaggeration, right? Soldiers who fought for our freedom can’t have been fighting for total freedom, right? They were fighting only for the freedom for us to live and work and worship freely, but there must be a clause in there somewhere saying we have to stand during the anthem. Wrong again.

One of the greatest things about this nation is the freedom we have to live and worship and serve as we please – as long as it is not damaging another’s right to do the same. So explain to me again how someone kneeling during the National Anthem hinders your right to stand and sing and hoop, holler and cry. That’s right. It doesn’t.

What hinders someone’s right to be free is thousands of people shouting about how someone kneeling is wrong. It is free citizens calling for the punishment and even imprisonment of people exercising their rights. It is the president calling those kneelers “sons of bitches” in front of the whole world and calling for their dismissal from their jobs. The only thing hindering anyone’s right here is the injustice being done to the people who are making a stand for unity. The National Anthem is a song of pride and strength, meant to symbolize the power and unity displayed by this country, even in its darkest hours. It is a song that is intended to fuel the strength and honor we as citizens of the United States are able to feel knowing that we live in a free country. There’s that word again. Free. A free country. That’s what we are. That’s one of the things that sets the United States apart from other countries. We are free. I am absolutely free to get up tomorrow morning and put on a T-shirt celebrating my favorite band or author or tourist destination and go to work listening to rock & roll music and, if I feel like it, I can choose to sit and observe while others sing the National Anthem. And, ideally, that would be perfectly acceptable. It hinders no one’s freedom and it harms no one’s right to stand and sing.

The problem comes when we try to force people to do what we want them to do. The more dangerous situation comes in when the government tries to step in and force people to stand, act or react a certain way to the anthem. Freedom means we’re free. If our government is allowed the power to tell us we have to stand and react a certain way to a song being played before a sporting event (or anywhere for that matter), that government is no longer supporting the rights of a free country. It is a totalitarian system that is infringing on the rights of everyone. In a perfect world everyone would be truly equal, would be treated as such, and there wouldn’t be a large faction of people being discriminated against. There wouldn’t be murder and racism dividing our country hundreds of years after we fought a war to help end it. And there wouldn’t HAVE to be people who feel the need to take a knee during our nation’s song in order to fight the injustice running rampant in its borders. But that is not the world we live in, is it?

Innocent people are ridiculed, judged, even murdered for the color of their skin or their place of birth EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. We are in the 21st century, people. We are all people, we all bleed red, we all deserve freedom and life and rights. Maybe instead of focusing so damn hard on what people are doing when a song plays over a loudspeaker, we should focus more on why they choose to do it. If we want to truly unify and be a country, we have to learn to stop trash-talking people who live, act or believe differently than we do. Then, and only then, will the National Anthem be able to stand for what it was truly intended to stand for. So next someone takes a knee during the song, how about you ask them why they made that choice instead of feeling offended. As much as it pains me to say it this way; snowflakes do melt. The cold weight of injustice doesn’t.

A Nation Torn (Again)

I’ve kept my mouth shut about this – largely because no one has any reason to care what I think, but the rioting in the states is getting stupider by the day. Since Saturday there have been daily riots and destruction, leading to at least one death when a self-proclaimed White Supremacist ran his car through a group of protestors who were marching against racism. Racism. In the 21st Century. Have we not lived long enough on this rock to get how absolutely freaking idiotic that is?

Since Saturday there have been riots of multiple people who are disagreeing about what to do with Confederate era statues. The removal of a couple of these is what sparked the two-sided protestors on Saturday, if you aren’t aware. Supremacists  (read “Nazis) were against the removal of these statues, and protested in very violent fashion, while the counter-protestors gathered in a somewhat less violent manner, only to be ran over by a car. Those vying for the removal of the statues are convinced they are a symbol of racism and discrimination that is somehow damaging their way of life, while those who wish to see them remain where they are are split between Nazis (which I DO NOT agree with) who believe the statues represent racism and that it is deserved, and the sane people who recognize that these statues are a piece of our history that should be preserved at any cost.

As a well-educated 26 year-old with Native American ancestry living near my ancestral land and the start of the Trail of Tears, I definitely get racism. I do. But do you see Native Americans up in arms about things that celebrate the racism against them – which, might I add, is pretty much everything that celebrates the arrival of the white man on this continent? No. Because we have better sense. We understand that if we revolt against the past, it changes nothing. It doesn’t bring back any of the millions of people who were killed in the largest genocide to ever disgrace the face of this planet. It doesn’t mean that the murders and mistreatment and centuries of harmful stereotypes are suddenly gone or repaired. It doesn’t magically make anything better.

What it does do is cause further discord between peoples who have been living together in the world long enough to understand that we are all the same. It doesn’t matter if you’re white, black, red, yellow, purple or orange as a pumpkin – the same blood runs through all our veins. The same creator made us all – no matter what you believe, we literally all come from the same place, whether you believe that it’s dirt shaped by God or space dust from the celestial fart scientists call the Big Bang. So what gives anyone of any color, creed or race the right to think they are superior because of the amount of melanin in their skin or their country of origin? Nothing more than pathetic, pointless ego. It’s nonsense.

This is 2017, not year 17. We know better than this. When science and religion and common sense and every single other sensible and factual thing on the planet can show you that the only differences from you and your black neighbor and her Asian neighbor and his Russian neighbor is the language your ancestors spoke and the food you grew up with (aside from predispositions to certain illnesses, of course – God knows if I don’t get completely medical and scientific here someone will call it out), why do you insist on acting like skin color and nationality matters?

In addition to this consistently pathetic ideology, how can this ridiculous and pointless violent behavior be the answer? It isn’t. Not in any possible sense of the idea. In no way is acting like a primitive moron the answer. It isn’t going to change the past and it sure isn’t going to change the future.

Perhaps the most frustrating part of this whole issue to me right now is the fact that those people who are out there protesting these Confederate statues – which in their minds celebrate racism, violence and discrimination – are now doing so with with violence and discrimination. What? Seriously? Seeing people get run down by a car wasn’t enough to make you realize that a violent reaction – from anyone involved – is the exact opposite of what we should be doing? Apparently not, because protestors in North Carolina were filmed tearing down a Confederate statue and then taking turns kicking, punching, spitting on and otherwise desecrating it.

Why? What good does this do? These statues, which in the minds of the protestors represent the bigotry and racism that pulled this country apart for centuries, are actually there to remind us of the time that racial and political strife almost caused us to destroy ourselves completely. They stand there to represent the type of brother-hating behavior that should be avoided for the rest of time. But these neo-Nazis and misinformed spoiled brats are literally using them to do the exact opposite. Rather than looking at them as reminders not to be complete assholes to our fellow man, they are using pieces of stone and metal as an excuse to lash out at those they feel aren’t as good as them.

How will tearing these statues down change the past? It won’t. It is nothing more than an attempt to hide and erase the history that built this country. Again, it’s a terrible history. That’s obvious. But by denying that we as a nation have overcome such harmful ideas, we open ourselves up to falling in the same hole again. By allowing ourselves to become divided because of a bunch of statues, we are weakening the bonds of civility that have kept us together since these statues were erected. If we literally find ourselves killing each other in the streets because we can’t just leave a statue alone, how can we possibly pretend that we are a civilized country the rest of the world should model itself after? How can we possibly pretend that we are worthy of being called a superpower – which, by definition, is a country with dominating power and influence in multiple regions of the world at one time? And if we are still considered a superpower, how can we possibly sleep at night knowing the influence we are spreading is full of hate and ignorance and pointless violence?

I don’t know that my words matter to anyone other than myself, but this has to stop. Leave the statues alone, pick up the pieces, and move on. Open a bible or even a science book. There is ample evidence all around you that we are all the same. We all need food, water, oxygen, human interaction. We all function thanks to our nervous and digestive systems and we must take care of both to make either remain functional. We can reproduce with anyone of any race or nationality. We can interact with most anyone through the most basic of universal symbols – even if it just comes down to pointing at our stomachs to symbolize hunger or thirst. We get it. We. Are. All. The. Same. Frankly, if none of these examples convince you, just look at the blood that has been shed. Streets run red with blood that leaks out of bodies with every color skin imaginable. The bodies lie broken in the gutters, all made of the same things, all torn to shreds because of hatred that means nothing. Just look at the blood and try to understand. Because, if you don’t, blood may soon be all that is left.

Gwendy’s Button Box

This story is a perfect example of the amazing nature of King. He and Chizmar created a tale that is just phenomenal. The possibilities are endless with the concept they presented here, and I would LOVE to see it come back in a more lengthy work from either or both of them. I was excited to pick the novella up and I tore through it in a matter of hours. It was a very smooth and lively read that kept me guessing and kept me captivated.

Gwendy Peterson recieves this strange box from a strange man who seems to be something a little more than human – classic King characterization. I love that she just followed through with the situation, even though she questioned everything that was happening, she literally did the exact opposite of what she should have done when approached by a strange man who says he’s had his eye on her – right down to literally taking chocolate from a stranger. I loved seeing her questioning her actions and what is going on around her, but, like Pandora’s own secret-filled box, she can’t resist.

I liked the idea that this box, like many inanimate objects in King’s works, has a greater power over her life and over reality itself. Gwendy’s whole life is changed one small bit at a time. She starts to lose weight, she grows up to be a knockout, her parents stop drinking and those people who disrespect her seem to quickly get theirs. She pulls her levers and gets her silver dollars and her candy, and she avoids the buttons at all costs – until she doesn’t. The concept of a random strange box out there that contains the power to cause some sort of devastating natural disaster to any part of the world – or the whole thing – with just the push of a button is mesmerizing and terrifying. Gwendy handles that with a similar grain of disbelief, which leads to her pushing the red button for the first time.

I really loved the way the authors made the Jim Jones massacre a direct result of this curiosity. King is great at including actual historical events in his works, especially in the last ten years or so. She pushes the button after careful consideration, choosing a part of the world that was very sparsely populated just to see if it really did blow everything up. The next day she sees the story of Jones’ cult and its mass murder/suicide. The fact that King and Chizmar used this tragedy as a way to explain the power of the box was awesome to me, suggesting almost that the box itself had the power to make people go completely insane and do the most asinine things imaginable (an idea later supported by green teeth killing her boyfriend). I was interested in reading of Gwendy’s life after she accepted the true nature of the box. She continued to be affected by whatever power the box had, and she respected and feared it more than ever, not pushing the buttons again until she had to and even weaning herself off of the candy and trying to let the box be just a thing she rarely thought about.

I was a bit surprised at the way the book wrapped up after the box got its way, by causing the murder of the boy Gwendy loved. In regards to that event; I felt almost like it was like the box was telling her that she belonged to it as much as it to her, and it would not tolerate her indifference anymore. The boy who  had started making fun of her – whom the box sent on a terrible course in life – broke into her home and waited on her to come back. When she did Gwendy’s boyfriend fought to keep her safe until the box presented itself to the attacker. Gwendy gets to see the box that has sent her on this course be the very tool that takes her happiness from her. It definitely breaks something inside of her. I loved the fact that she used the red button to both kill the boy and make his body disappear. It was an insanely creative way to bring home the literal “this button will get you whatever you want” element. From this point on, though, I felt like the end was a bit rushed. We got some vague descriptions of Gwendy’s life and pursuits after those events, and then the man in black was there to take the box and be on his way.

I really enjoyed the story. I felt a lot of familiar vibes, with the nature of it reminding me a lot of King works like “From a Buick 8,” “11/22/63″and things in that vein. I love the idea that there are beings out there, sometimes with devices, sometimes without, who are charged with watching over the world and being the door between dimensions or timelines. That element has always fascinated me, so this story is definitely one of my new favorites.

That being said, the only real complaint I had was, as I mentioned, it was a bit short and the end came a bit quickly. I think it could have been fleshed out and become more novel-length, but at the same time it would really be a lot of the same thing if that were the case. Gwendy loves the box, it loves her, she forgets the box, it tortures her, etc… I would have liked to se what would have happened if she actually tried to get rid of it or destroy it. Would it have retaliated against her personally, killing or hurting her, or would it have gone after someone she loved because she was its designated protector? So many questions… I do think I would have gone a little more in depth in her life post box-murder, but that’s just me. I would like a few more words about what happened to her after, too. And, for that matter, how was she chosen? Who is the man who gave and took the box? Did he make the box or is he likewise charged with its protection? If it’s the latter, why does he give it to others to protect? I can ask questions all day, but the bottom line is this; the book was great, and I will remain somewhat hopeful for a related tale.

What did you guys think? Did you, like me, find yourself enthralled with the mysteries of the box and what it can do? What do you think of stories like this in general? If you have any suggestions of works in a similar vein, please share them. It’s right up my alley.

As always, make your comments on what you’d like to see and discuss next. I look forward to hearing what everyone likes to read, so it’s always fun for me! Also, in case you  haven’t been keeping up or need a reminder; I’ve returned to Wattpad! I’ve been using the free service to present a horror story that I’ve wanted to write for a while and to experiment with a noir detective fiction tale that I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback from. I’d love it if you guys would check any of my Wattpad works out. Don’t forget to comment and vote on the stories so they can be exposed to more readers. Check it all out here (https://www.wattpad.com/user/DameanMathews)

I hope you enjoyed the book, and I hope you’re enjoying the book club. If you have any other ideas for what sort of content you’d like to see on the blog, let me know about that, too! I’m here for you guys and I want to make sure you get what you need and want! have a great rest of July and look for my August announcement in the general vicinity of the 2nd or 3rd!

The Circle

This book was incredible. The parallels between this and other dystopian thrillers are immensely weighty. At times it was like I was literally reading a prequel to 1984. I was very eager to dive into this book after seeing a trailer for the movie in theaters a few months or so ago (I know, I know, sue me), and I knew I couldn’t see the movie without first reading the book! I finished the novel well before the release of the movie, which comes out today, so there are no worries there. Enough small talk, though; let’s jump right in.

First and foremost, as I said before, this book almost read like it could be a prequel to 1984. The ideas of the Circlers and their almost incessant need to make everything known was incredibly ominous. I can’t count the times that I thought it was almost like watching the development of Big Brother. The cameras, the mandatory participation, all the way to the ending. That ending! Man!

We enter the story with Mae, who seems just as innocent as one would imagine; a small-town girl moving to this huge opportunity. We see that she (and some around her) understands just how much bigger than her The Circle really is. As Mae immerses herself in the work she is given, we see her start to open up a little, but she has many questions. There are many instances where people like Eamon Bailey and others make comments about knowledge and the fact that they feel everything should be known. Mae is very taken aback by this idea at first. It seems like she understands the importance The Circle has in the future of the world, but she also sees the importance of privacy and separation. This quickly seems to die out.

Mae keeps herself slightly distant from The Circle at first, not attending many parties, leaving campus a lot and generally letting herself live as if she was working a standard 9-5 job. She left The Circle behind when she left The Circle. This didn’t work for the company. They addressed this a few times before Mae was faced with a situation that really threw her out of herself. In the middle of trying to fit in and find herself in The Circle family, Mae has some sexual encounters with a young, shy man named Francis and a slightly older, mysterious and impossible to find man who only tells her his name is Kalden. These encounters do a little bit of work towards making Mae a closer part of The Circle and helping her focus on the job itself. But this work is nothing compared to what happens as her parents continue to deal with her father’s MS and associate with her ex-boyfriend, Mercer. She had slowly grown more accustomed to being more open and public with her life, but it was Mercer’s first big resistant moment that made it sink in for her. He more or less told her that she was a part of what was wrong with the world, saying The Circle was crossing too many lines and she needed to grow up and see the truth. She left her parents house that night and had the experience that lead to her becoming the poster-child for citizen transparency.

Mae getting arrested really broke something in her, I think. The fear she felt at knowing she could lose her position changed how she looked at everything, and Eamon Bailey helped push that through her head. He encouraged her to feel that showing everyone everything at all times was the best way to live her life. This way of thinking, needless to say, was a game changer.

Mae started wearing her camera and documenting everything, helping The Circle with its attempt at closing in on the world and consuming everything to be consumed. The story really gains so much weight at this point. Mae slowly becomes a different person. She goes from a girl who is mortified at the thought of one person seeing her perform a moderate sexual act to being perfectly fine with taking millions of followers into the bathroom with her. The Circle’s (for lack of a better term; or is this the best term?) brainwashing of Mae really culminates and reaches its most dangerous level when she speaks up and suggests developing the mandatory voting technology that is Demoxie. The very name of this program, to me, sounds like poison. Demoxie influences everyone around the world to make their voice heard, which, although a great idea, has consequences. In addition to recording the answers, The Circle has the power to record who answers, and how. Much like Mae was able to look and see who voted her as not being awesome in a demonstration of the technology (that in itself is an experience that really allowed us to see into the damaged psyche Mae has developed, or maybe just revealed, through the text), any government organization may have been able to convince The Circle to allow them to see how its citizens voted. For that matter, Circlers themselves have access to the information. Anyone who may have voted against a popular idea could thus be singled out for their voices.

The real life-changer for this comes when Mae is given control over the technology to look for people – any person – all over the world. The first instance is likely helpful. Circlers and audience members are able to help find a fugitive and bring her to justice. But then Mae decides to take the situation further. She decides she wants to look for Mercer, who had AWOL after deciding to go “off the grid” in an attempt to hide from Mae and The Circle.

This search would have been all fine and dandy, had she known when to call off the dogs. I literally cringed as I read how intense the unnecessary chase scene became after Circle followers tracked Mercer to a house in the woods. He fled in fear and anger as Circlers and Mae followed him with no explanation as to why. Mae used The Circle’s technology to literally chase Mercer to his death. He drove off a bridge because he became so desperate to find a way to get away from the power of The Circle. That moment was very powerful to me.  I feel like it represented everyone who has ever stood up to a government or an organization that has too much power. There is so much that can be said about that scene, that idea.

But Mae couldn’t see it. She was wounded by his death, but not enough. Kalden (who turned out to be Ty, the FOUNDER of The Circle) tried to get her to  help him shut the whole thing down before it became too powerful. But she wouldn’t have it. She couldn’t. She talked so many times of feeling the black tear in her mind, her soul, and by the end of the book she was convinced the tear, rather than representing the innocence and humanity that was being walled off, represented “not knowing”, which is something The Circle was strongly against, of course.

The final insight we really get into Mae’s mind is all it took for me to both lose the last of my respect for her character and make me want ten more books. Mae’s friend Annie has literally become comatose due to the stresses of The Circle (can we be sure it isn’t something Bailey or Stenton did on purpose?) and all Mae can think about is how she finds it an unbelievable injustice that she can’t see into her friend’s mind. She can’t read the thoughts of the woman who is lying on the bed in front of her. Obviously, my first thought here was the budding idea for the Thought Police, but I digress.

Overall, I thought this book was absolute genius. David Eggers did an amazing job, and I look forward to checking out other works from him. From the time I started reading until the last word, I was enthralled. That being said, this book isn’t exactly the type of thing I typically choose to read for pleasure. But it’s easily in my list of top books. Whether that’s top 50, top 25, or even top 100, I couldn’t begin to tell you. I’ve read so much that the list does change fairly often. But this one is there. The style Eggers wrote this book in is very conversational and matter-of-fact. I didn’t get hung up on any dialogue issues and I don’t recall anything that was over-exaggerated or unclear.

My biggest compliment and biggest complaint for the book would likely be the same. It was very open-ended. From the point we leave Mae, as she considers talking to the founders about finding a way to expose thoughts to the same transparency as everything else, I feel like anything could happen. We know that Kalden (Ty) is still a part of The Circle, but we don’t know where, in what capacity, or what punishment may have been applied to his position. In other words; we have no idea of his motives, or if the mention of his position is even correct. They may well have just told Mae that as a cover. If it is true, what’s to stop him from either continuing to attempt to coerce Mae, or find someone else to help him overthrow the totalitarian organization that grew from his brainchild? Even more, I still feel like there is some way Mercer could be alive. Maybe he jumped from the truck and clung to the bottom of that bridge until it was safe to walk away. Maybe Ty knows this and he’s going to work with Mercer to overthrow The Circle. One way or another, I do think there’s enough possibility to bring this idea back for another round. Come on Eggers, what do you think?

Regardless, this was a great book and it really makes you think about the dangers of continuing down the path of total technological control that we are going on. What did you think of it? Do you agree with Mae that knowledge should supersede privacy? Or should we cherish the privacy of the independent human? There are so many questions! And for that matter, there are so many things that I didn’t really have the space to address here (the terrible things this expansion of knowledge uncovered about Annie’s family, for one) that I would love to hear your thoughts on. Leave me comments or send me messages and let’s have some great discussion on this book! As always, share your ideas for future books at any time and let’s spread the club far and wide.

Spring is here

The seasons have changed again, and it is a great feeling! The days are longer, the air is fresher, the morning birds are singing again and – most importantly – motivation is coming back! I’ve been hit with a few new ideas in the last week, and have found myself writing some new material again in what little bit of free time I have.

So far I have worked on starting two new pieces that I feel pretty positive about. For the most part these works just came to me out of the blue (one even as an interesting, albeit slightly disturbing, half-dream while I was dozing off one day) and they’re pretty interesting. I know I tend to make a similar post every spring and summer, if not every season, but to me the changing of seasons really is a magical thing. I really love to see the sunshine come back and the days start to stretch. There’s nothing like enjoying a late evening on a warm Spring or Summer night. Granted, I no longer have my private balcony to write on, but that’s a different story!

The change of seasons can work inexplicable magic in the lives of artists. Just as I’ve written before, muses and inspiration can take infinite forms, but one that works for many of us is the feeling of peace at the end of a long Summer night. Seeing the light fade as the lightning bugs start to flash through the air, and hearing the night come alive around you. There’s not much better, especially when you’re in the mountains. Of course, I don’t have much city-living to compare that to, I’ll take it at face value. Regardless, we are coming on that time again, and I’m excited for what it might bring my way. I would love to get a few more great works out and get some print material circulating.

Speaking of that, I’m still well underway on getting my Amazon collection revamped so I can get it in print. I actually have an opening to try and sell the print copies at this year’s Appalachian Heritage Writers Symposium ( June 10, 11, link here; https://appheritagewritersym.wordpress.com/ ) and I’m hoping for some great feedback.

In other great and awesome news, I wanted you guys to be the first to know that I have been accepted as a contributing author to this year’s Spring edition of Jimson Weed. Many of you may remember that this is the journal that I was Managing Editor of for about two and half years, so it’s a great honor to be back in the running as a contributor. I can’t wait to see my name in the journal again! My story “Lefty Smith and the Right-Handed Corn” was the work selected for this issue, and I’m excited for the chance to read it in front of people. It’s a story I came up with while teaching at the aforementioned writers symposium in 2015, and I’m excited to see it get some attention. It’s a very folk-tale type of work and it’s not really like anything I’ve done before. Hopefully it will be a hit!

What sort of news is happening in all of your lives? What changes are you seeing come with the new season’s appearance? What are you looking most forward to in the Spring and Summer? Do you even like these seasons? The questions are endless.

Just a reminder, my review on “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” will go up Thursday, March 30, since this month ends on a Friday. I’m going to go ahead and start soliciting everyone for book choices for April’s review as well. I really want to reading frightening sort of dystopian-type novel this time, so wow me with suggestions! That choice will be announced on Tuesday, April 4.

Anyway, I hope you’re all well, and I look forward to seeing your suggestions and your comments on the seasons!

“Logan” movie review

I don’t think I’ve ever actually reviewed a movie on this site before, but if there is a movie that deserves it, it is definitely “Logan.” I’m going to warn you all now; if you haven’t seen this movie, you may want to hold off on reading, because there will definitely be spoilers ahead.

For those of you that may not know it, Wolverine is my absolute favorite comic book character of all time. There are so many awesome things about this animalistic little brute that blow my mind. With that in mind, there are almost as many representations of the character as there are comic strains with him in it. Of course, the various representations within those strains adds an infinite amount as well, but that would almost definitely send us down a rabbit hole, and who knows where we’d land. My favorite  of the many representations of Wolverine is definitely Hugh Jackman, followed at a close second by the cartoon version voiced by Cathal J. Dodd in the 1990’s hit X-Men: The Animated Series. This was the absolute best Saturday morning cartoon by far (of course, it was followed closely by Spiderman, but again, rabbit hole).

I’ve followed Jackman’s take on the character since he first donned the spiked hair and adamantium claws in 2000 and I’ve loved the way he does it. The pain and absolute rage he can portray capture Wolverine like I don’t think anyone else could. “Logan” brought both of those things to a whole new level. In this movie we find James Howlett making money driving the rich and privileged around in a limo in Las Vegas. He’s a little older, a lot grizzlier, and a whole lot worse for the wear. The man who once popped his claws with barely a second’s thought  now limps around, his grey hair blowing in the wind.

When we first encounter him he’s forced to “come out of retirement” to save what’s his as some punks try to strip his car. With a shotgun blast to the chest that doesn’t want to heal and claws that will no longer fully extend, the old man struggles for a good few minutes to take out the threat. He eventually gets pissed off enough to get the job done, taking arms and legs off of the thieves as they pump him full of bullets. We see him full of wounds, covered in scars, and having to force the bullets out, where they once would have just pushed their way out a matter of seconds. And we have no idea what’s going on.

The story continues as Logan goes to Mexico and we get little bits and pieces of the story along the way, from the rogue Caliban who is helping Wolverine care for an ailing Xavier, to the Reavers who are hot on the trail of some secret experiment, Logan is thrown back into the fight that he has tried so hard to escape. This movie gives real insight into the pain and torture Logan and Xavier feel. The world they live in – in 2029 – I might add, is now devoid of mutants. No new mutants are being born, and the old ones have disappeared or been killed. We are given to understand that the three mutants we encounter are all that remains, but there isn’t much of an explanation for why that is until much later in the film.

The story of the most brutal mutant anti-hero’s final hour is also the darkest and most brutal story in the franchise to date. The raw emotion and turmoil Mangold hands us here is just phenomenal. Wolverine is now nearly defunct, literally having to pull his claws out by hand at one point, his body not healing itself much at all. This isn’t explicitly said to be fact, but at one point Logan suggests that it is the adamantium – the very thing that makes him unbreakable – that is breaking him down. That alone gives you a huge insight into the mood of this movie.

As the strange little girl who we soon realize is X-23 comes into  the mix, the story grows more and more intense, with Wolverine having to uproot his plans to sail to the middle of the ocean with Xavier in order to take the little girl to what she is sure is a haven. Of course, the bad guys don’t want that. Trouble follows the trio (Wolverine, Xavier, and Laura) through half the country as they attempt to flee to safety. More is slowly revealed about the state of the world, even giving a mention of the possibility that Xavier’s fits of psychic attack due to his degenerating brain may be why the X-Men are no longer there to save the day.

For me, despite the fact that this is the last of Jackman’s Wolverine films, it is absolutely his best. He is such a dynamic actor that he can go from playing a savage, angry brute one second, to a pained and dying mutant the next in the blink of an eye. The biggest surprise for me in this movie was that, after all of the battles Wolverine has been through, he is finally pitted against a more brutal and angry version of himself in two scenes. X24 (something largely made up for the movie, but loosely based on some androids and genetic experiments from the comics) is a clone of Wolverine that exhibits all of the rage and none of the conscience of the weapon-turned-savior. I loved seeing Jackman’s older, more fragile Wolverine duke it out with what may be the best enemy possible – the beast that he used to be.

With a strong Western theme, a lot of cursing, (almost) enough violence, and a story that seriously broke my heart, I give Logan five and a half out of six claws way up in the air. For me, the only thing that could have made this movie better would have been the reveal that Jackman would remain in the roll and the character would live on. Of course, another couple of hours would have made saying goodbye a little easier as well.

I really didn’t have any problems with the flow of this movie, or its execution, other than to say that I would have welcomed even more violence as our anti-hero was getting his last hoorah. Although I won’t spoil how it happens, I will admit that I do find the death of Wolverine to be a bit flat in a way. To be taken out the way he is after surviving blades, bullets and even nuclear bombs, is a little sad – yet fitting. It’s the one thing that hadn’t really been tried yet, honestly. And, in my opinion, it does beat the way he died in the comic strain from 2014. Being covered in molten adamantium was a terrible way to go.

After  seeing the way the movie was brought about, and seeing the way it was done, it is no surprise whatsoever that it dominated the box office to become the #1 movie in the world. The biggest question I really find myself having to ask at this point is; where do we go from here? If you’re a comic fan, you know that these characters die almost as much as they breathe and they (almost) always come back. From the multiverse, to clones, to time travel, somebody somewhere finds a way to bring back our favorites. But will it happen with Wolverine? Jackman has already mentioned a couple of people he thinks could rock the claws in a successful way, including Tom Hardy and Shah Rukh Kahn. But how could it happen? Is some fluke going to bring him back from the dead as is, or is someone going to pull an alternate version out another universe (more importantly, can the Marvel Cinematic Universe handle that kind of mind-screw)? The latter could explain why he looks different, of course. I don’t know. All I know is that this piece of the puzzle fit incredibly well and definitely didn’t see us deal with chromed claws or a weird, mute Deadpool.

If I don’t stop myself here, I’ll talk about the movie for days – believe me. So what did you think of “Logan?” Are you a fan of the way Mangold wrapped up the solo story of the larger-than-life Wolverine? How about that amazing, heart-wrenching performance from Dafne Keen as Laura/X-23? Or the emotionally destroyed Xavier who barely registers as the man from previous films? Leave your comments below or send me a message let me know what you thought! And keep this review going for those who may be interested!

Preparing for dystopia

The world has certainly kept turning since January 20. But that’s really the only way we can say it. Global citizens have watched, many in unabashed horror, as the new leader of the free world has stomped on countless toes and attempted to create little more than an industrial, alienating wasteland of our once-great country. Don’t get me wrong, I still love the U.S.. I still see that, as a citizen of the United States I have countless opportunities to see and explore the world in ways others may not, and I fully respect the great country I live in. But the danger is here nonetheless.

Just in the last month we have heard about how certain people should be banned (but not banned) from the country, we’ve heard that actually counting the heads of those present to get a number is clearly a dated practice that doesn’t mean anything, we’ve heard how large a threat grizzly bears pose to the public school system, and we’ve realized that some people think an industrial pipeline is more important than preserving the resting place of the dead. And that’s just the drop of the hat.

I have kept my over-sized nose out of the discussions of politics that are rampant on every form of news and social media available, but I do want to share my very real concern for how much worse things may realistically end up getting before they get better.

Just today I’ve been seeing the news of an overturned regulation that now allows coal mines in my region to once more dump their waste into streams. This particular practice has led to filthy, sulfurous, uninhabitable water for a good portion of my area. The repercussions of this practice have only recently started to see a reversal. I honestly fear what problems may start to arise from these things alone. I look to the future and, sometimes, I find myself unable to see little more than a ruined, smoking hole in the ground that is not unlike the disaster showed us at the climax of countless apocalyptic movies. But, (and on a much less serious note)it would appear Mother Nature has also picked up on the problem and is working to rectify the situation.

Thousands of people in my region have been hit by a severe strain of the flu this week, leading to around a dozen counties in my neck of the woods going so far as to cancel school for multiple days in an attempt to slow the spread of the illness. I hope I’m not the only one who sees the truth here. We are now entering the real-life culmination of the events in Stephen King’s “The Stand” – and our new president is Randall Flagg.

What other explanation is there? He walks out, looking somehow less than human, feeding off of human suffering and strife, turning as many people as possible against one another, while the rest of the people around him are fighting a severe version of the flu that medicine doesn’t seem to be able to help. Schools are closing, streets are filling with people shouting for change and help, hospitals are being overrun …. My only question now is; where is Mother Abigail when we need her? Who else is going to throw down the Walkin’ Dude and bring us back to a moderate form of social peace? Or, if that can’t happen, where is Roland, who will stop the fall of the tower and bring order back to the realms. Shout out to those of you get the interconnected references of a King fiend here.

In all seriousness, though. There are some administrative decisions being made by “those in charge” that are going to continue to cause problems for those of us who, like Atlas, are left holding up the rest of the world. Wow, that was pathetically conceited and hopelessly deep. I’m in a league of my own today, huh? Basically I just wanted to share that the world is slipping into rough shape, but that we can still survive and use humor to get through life. Most importantly, we can compare the real-life horror story that surrounds us to literature and find true peace to comfort us as the world burns!

I’ve shared my own ideas of the lack of existence of true democracy many times, so none of you really need to hear that again, I’m sure. So the question of the day must be; what book are you reading now? What fictional world are you pushing your consciousness into in order to escape the harsh mundane reality of everyday life? And, more importantly, what’s next?! I hope all is well for everyone here, and I hope I’ve at least brought a smile to a few faces. Keep reading, writing, watching movies and enjoying the world while we have the chance. My review of Thirteen Reasons Why will go up next week and then I’ll be ton the lookout for the next big review, so send me your ideas and let me know what we should read. Have a good February, a good weekend, and make sure to take advantage of any half-priced candy you see!

 

*Image rights remain with the creator.