Tuesday, 30 April 2013
They just don't seem to end.
The Word of the Day is: 'FINALE'.
Finale /fə'nahlee/ n. 1. The last piece, division, or movement of a concert, opera, or musical composition. 2. The last part of any performance.
I am really fond of Murder Mysteries. I haven't read that many, since people don't write that many these days, (which I find really frustrating, but that's a discussion for a later date). The reason I bring up the point is because Murder Mysteries have a very simple template. No matter how complicated everything gets, every murder mystery has the same premise:
"Someone has been murdered. Who done it?"
These stories will often have twists and turns; red herrings and false promises. But the thing is, no matter how much happens in the interim, we know when the story is over. It's over when we answer that question. Now other genres, despite their less specific nature, also have these questions even if you never noticed it, but they're obvious when you think about it.
Romance: "How will they get together in the end?"
Action: "Can one man defeat the bad guy?"
Horror: "How many people have to die before you're entertained?"
Comedy: "How much comedy can we squeeze out of this premise?"
Fantasy: "What the fuck is going on?!"
For individual stories, the questions get more specific. But my point stands, most stories have a hook, which you can phrase as a question. I like to call this The Promise. When you write a story, you entice the reader with a question, a query or a dilemma, and promise the reader that you will answer this question by the time the final page rolls around.
That is why it's really starting to annoy me how often television shows just keep on keeping on, without much conclusion to look forward to. Even crime shows, drama shows or soap operas, which seem to have a premise that can go on forever, in reality have an even simpler question to answer:
"Who are these people?"
No matter how much air time is dedicated to solving the crime at hand, sorting out the issues, curing the disease or whatever; the heart and soul of these shows are the characters and their character development. That's the reason why, when a show starts to stagnate, one of the characters is killed off or gets stabbed or does something dramatic. It changes their character, and gives the writers more to say about them. Hell, some shows actually introduce a new character, just so they can divulge them, and have the other people react to them in new ways.
I am getting really sick of it.
I believe that the most poignant and important part of any story is its finale. Not only does it mean that The Promise will be fulfilled, but it also solidifies the story, completes it and allows for the writer's message to come across entirely.
In the words of Benjamin 'Yahtzee' Croshaw:
" . . . To my mind a good story is like a good bowel movement: it's only really satisfying once it's ended. Because if you just keep going, then eventually your body runs out of shit and moves on to pushing all your internal organs out your sphincter until only a foul-smelling shell remains."
I tend to agree. The thing is . . . with any question, we want an answer. You can imagine that a Murder Mystery would get pretty frustrating if people keep on ignoring the question, or wasting time or going off in a different direction. In fact, this has even coined the term 'Jumping the Shark', from the old television show Happy Days. In essence, it means that you can tell when a show has gone on too long when it has run out of good ideas and has settled for the ridiculous.
It's why so many people think that The Simpsons isn't funny anymore; the reason I no longer watch Family Guy & the reason why I am worried about these endless Crime Dramas.
Don't get me wrong, I mean, I understand why people do it. If you're making up an entire fictional world, then you can get quite attached to the characters in it. With so many details in the background, the history and the narrative mechanics of a fictional world, some writers start writing tangential stories about this background stuff, just to keep the story going.
One needs only look at NCIS: LA; CSI: Miami, Law & Order: SVU & Torchwood to see this happening in the realm of television. Spin-offs are a reprehensible invention of writers. Despite some of the good ones, like NCIS, or (arguably) Torchwood, I find that spin-offs too often allow authors an excuse to not end their stories that they love (that is, if it's not just a money grab).
Lately, I've even seen this happening with the amazing medium of books. I have been reading Skulduggery Pleasant on and off for a while now, ever since I found the first book in the bookstore, and enjoyed it. But after nearly half a dozen sequels, the author has now written two little spin-off books, just to postpone the inevitable conclusion. Then there's the Wardstone Chronicles series, another set of books that I absolutely love, despite cover changes, two spin-offs and a finale that looks further away than the horizon.
Why are people so averse to ending their stories?
Television shows, and long series, have something that other mediums can't compete with: Time. No matter how low the budget, with time we come to understand and empathize with characters. This also, often, results in the audience becoming attached to these characters, so it gives writers and readers an incentive to avoid an ending. But a story without an end has no meaning, and continuing a story just for the sake of it is nothing more than wasting the audience's time. I mean, think about it, if you don't have the whole story, then you can't really call it a 'story' at all. It's still just a 'work in progress'.
Thus far, my favourite show on television is House, M.D. and that is due, in no small part, to the fact that it actually isn't a show on television anymore. I like the characters, the intrigue, the drama and the tragedy; but even after four seasons, I knew that it was too much. I haven't seen the finale, since I buy it on DVD and watch it in my own time, but just the simple fact that it does end means that I have more respect for the series.
Not only does an ending make a story complete, but the longer a story goes on, the more likely it is to stagnate, lose focus or jump the shark. For example, this very post has been meandering on for so long, that I think I've lost the plot. I'm not sure if I've made all my points, and I could keep on writing about this for another twelve pages.
But, as we all know, all good things must come to an end. I'm sure you've got Youtube videos to watch, games to play, people to see, things to do & most importantly, other things to read. No matter how good your story is, you have to give people a chance to branch out and read other stories, otherwise you're just being a selfish arsehole.
I'm the Absurd Word Nerd, and this is the end of this post.
Saturday, 27 April 2013
I had a dream last night. Now, I'm not the sort to try to understand dreams, or interpret dreams. I don't know if they're visions, mental static or fate; but I didn't need a Dream Dictionary for this one, because there were no symbols or dancing clowns to be interpreted. It was just her. I'm not the sort to reveal names, usually, but then I realized that her name is pretty popular, and you'll never find her if you tried, so I can tell you her name is Nisha.
I had a dream where I packed up my bags, gathered my gear, and went to find her. I finally realized what a fool I had been, waiting this long, and I decided to finally tell her that I was still crazy about her. But before I could, before I left the house on this grand romantic quest . . . I woke up.
The Word of the Day is: 'GIRL'.
Girl /gerl/ n. 1. A female child or young woman. 2. A female servant. 3. Colloquial A sweetheart; girlfriend. 4. Colloquial woman.
I fall in love like you fall in a grave; deep, and with no way out. It's one of the reason's I'm so goddamn insane. The first few times that I fell, it was so intense, I either scared them away, or I scared myself. I don't know how much history I want to share between our little tryst, her and me, but there are the important details and that's one of them. See, she was one of the girls where I scared me, not her, and I never had the guts to ask her out the first time.
Then the next time she was a part of my life, I finally did, but it turned out, she had a boyfriend.
Now please, don't judge me yet. You don't have all the facts. No, I didn't do anything untoward or 'out of bounds'. I'm a gentleman, my dad raised me that way. I pretty much walked away from that one.
Then later, almost two years ago now, she became a part of my life again. I was stoked, and she told me that her original relationship had ended. It had, apparently, not been the best coupling. So we started to kinda 'go out' again, until, about half-way through, she again told me that she had a boyfriend.
But the weird thing is, this time, I didn't walk away . . .
You see, I'd really gotten to know her, and I started to learn about this guy. I never met him, but he sounded like such a dweeb. Now I know, the other man, of course I was bound to hate him. But that's not all. For me, the entire thing was so transparent.
The poor girl had loved that guy, the first boyfriend, only to realize that he was using her for money, and not much else. She'd been a party girl, and still had that streak in her, so obviously this guy was one of those 'party by night, sleep on the couch while you pretend to look for a job by day' lazy arseholes. Then he'd left her, and she had to pick herself back onto her feet, and so she'd fallen for this new dweeb, because she knew he was too desperate to treat her wrong. He was a safe choice. You might now ask:
"If you never met him, how come you know he was a dweeb?"
Well, it's obvious. Two reasons: Number one, she always spoke about him the same way you talk about a brother. I would describe him most generously, as 'harmless'. Number two, she was going out with me, what more do you need?
Like before, I was a gentleman, I never did anything untoward . . . for the most part. Except once. That's what split us up the second time. I told her that she could do better, and with no mixed words, I told her that I was the better man.
I don't know if she was conflicted, scared, confused, or perhaps insulted that I had the audacity to want to break up someone's relationship for my own . . . somewhat selfish ends. I mean, I don't really think it was selfish. There have been other girls that I have crushed on that have fallen for other men before I spoke up, and I leave them alone if I can see the guy will treat them right.
It hurts . . . a lot . . . but I told you, I was raised a gentleman. I backed away. But I could see a future with Nisha and me, when we went out, there was chemistry, there was more than friendship between us.
At least, I think there was . . .
That's the thing, it was a while ago now. I tried to move on, and after a month or so, I managed to stop thinking about her all the time. It was driving me crazy. Surely there are others out there, who have had failed relationships, and when you look back you start to wonder if it was all true, or if some of it was in your head. I mean, something as wonderful as that. Someone as beautiful as her, dating someone like me? It couldn't be real, right?
So yeah, I managed to stop thinking about her, and driving myself mad with these questions; but every now and then, I have these dreams. Every two months or so, I'll dream about her. They're not all the same, sometimes I'm with her, sometimes I'm saving her, sometimes I'm chasing her. The only true consistency is that it's never a nightmare. There's always hope.
Until I wake up.
Sort of makes it seem like this is the nightmare. The one where she left me, and I was powerless to stop her. But, dear (and probably now a little confronted) reader, why am I writing about all this now? Why now? Was there some point to all of this?
Well, I was trying to figure it out, and the answer is so simple. Last night, I saw this strange girl. No! Don't judge me, you don't have all the facts. No, she wasn't a girlfriend, she wasn't a lover, I didn't even know her.
No, actually, she was very drunk.
She was on the train, in the 'Quiet Carriage', where you're supposed to be quiet so people can read. I was reading an Agatha Christie anthology novella ["Mr. Parker Pine, Detective" if you must know] when she dropped into the seat opposite me. She picked up a newspaper, and asked for a pen. I always carry about three pens on me (One to Lose, One to Lend & One just in case), but she was very drunk. I figured she needed a distraction. So I gave her a pen to amuse herself. She attempted, sadly, for about 15 seconds to do the crossword. Then gave up and asked for a phone, to call her friends and find out where they are, so she could meet them.
I told her my phone didn't have any credit. It was a lie, but I told it for a few reasons. Firstly, I knew that she was too drunk for any phone conversation to be meaningful. Second, she didn't need to call her friends because in her drunken ramblings she mentioned that she left her friends back in the city; whether she left them, or they left her, I knew that the best place for her was to go home. Thirdly, I was about 15 stops away from my station. I figured if I could talk to her, not only would I get some entertainment, (drunks are really funny if you know how to wrangle them, and I've had some experience) but I also thought I might give the other 'Quiet Carriage' passengers a little peace.
But then some other guy, poor fool, tried to be nice and offered her his phone.
Then I got to sit there chuckling as they tried and failed to dial the phone, and she ended up dialling the same guy three times, and screaming into the phone. He'd sit there, dial the number, then watch helplessly as she took it from his hand and slurred at her friend. It was as funny as it was tragic.
Then, after dialling a few other numbers, and failing to make any progress, he was asking her if she had somewhere to go. And while she was going on about going to her sister's place, she started asking him:
"Should I leave my boyfriend?"
I watched the poor guy stammer and go "I dunno, it's not my place to say." and I guess that's what started this whole mess. That's what got my mind racing, and what got me dreaming about Nisha again.
Because when he said that, in my mind I said "No. Wrong answer."
This girl was drunk, and was obviously one to keep in the company of drunks. But even more than that, she asked the question. Girls in good relationships don't ask people if they should leave their boyfriends. The correct answer wasn't I dunno. The correct answer was:
"If you're asking that question, it's because you already know the answer. You just want to me say it for you. Yes, leave him."
But of course, I didn't say that. She was drunk, and probably wouldn't remember, but also, she wasn't asking the question at me. In this instance, answering someone else's question would not be appropriate. Also, I was arriving at my stop, and I had to leave. I didn't have time for whatever fallout that kind of statement would create. So I left.
Yet, ever since that brief encounter, I've been thinking about what that means. Girls in good relationships don't ask that kind of thing. I guess, also, girls in good relationships don't go out with other guys. Not like we did . . .
Maybe I'm just grasping at smoke, chasing my tail and hunting snipe for a chance at understanding the chaos that is my heart. This broken mess wrapped in electrical tape and jerry-rigged to keep on ticking, until the next heartbreak. Hell, maybe I'm writing this in the hopes that she'll read it, and realize that I'm still crazy about her, and always have been ever since I saw her. Maybe it means something, but I doubt it.
I guess, when all's said and done, all I'm really saying is that even an Absurd Word Nerd doesn't understand girls . . .
Wednesday, 24 April 2013
I watch a lot of news. It's a symptom of getting older, I reckon. It's because the happenings of the world at large become more relevant as you age. Timmy who just drew a finger-painting doesn't care what's happening with the economy, but when you're about to dive into the world at large, you need to know the temperature of the water. News programs give us that information.
But that's not all that news programs give us. They also tell us about current events which include public gatherings, politics & the latest issues.
Then, of course, there are reports on Crime, War & Injustice; Death, Pain, Injury; Blood, Corpses & Horror - and it's never just one story. The same day you hear about a car crash killing two people and hospitalizing four more, you'll also hear about teenagers kicking a defenseless animal to death, attempted robberies at small businesses and protesters turning violent for no real reason.
Then, the next night, they'll give you a follow-up story on the events, all the while giving you another dose of the misery of the world . . . and you know what? I don't really care anymore.
The Word of the Day is: 'TRAGEDY'.
Tragedy /'trajədee/ n. 1. A sad or serious play with an unhappy ending.: Shakespeare's tragedy of 'Hamlet'. 2. That branch of drama concerned with this kind of play. 3. Any literary work such as a novel, dealing with a sad and serious theme. 4. The tragic element of drama, of literature generally, or of life. 5. Any very sad, dreadful, or fatal event or affair; disaster or calamity.
A lot of people died in the Fertilizer plant explosion in Waco, Texas - but I don't care; a lot of people were horrified, injured, killed or traumatized by the Boston Bombings (as they have been dubbed) - but I don't care & just recently, a girl was murdered and her boyfriend fell from a hotel window as the police moved in to arrest him, it's believed he committed suicide
But I Don't Care!
Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not a heartless man. I get it, it's sad. I am not attempting to demean or diminish the truth of these people's pain, or the suffering of their loved ones. I'm not a very empathetic man, clearly, but I do care about certain stories. Everyone has their hot buttons, mine being rape and animals. The dried up currant that is my heart swells for a single heartbeat when I hear about people hurting animals or women. But I don't weep, I don't grimace or frown, I don't even blink.
I just think To hell with that guy and I get on with my life.
The thing is, I can't do it. I can't really feel for these people, or accept their pain for myself. I can't even do it a little bit. Because it's such a constant barrage these days, an endless stream of tragedy, that it's ridiculous. There's just so much of this crap that, from my perspective, it's actually kinda funny.
Okay . . . you're not laughing, but hear me out. My thing is, there is actually more tragedy in the world than the news covers. Yeah, sure, they cover a lot of the big stuff, usually. But the truth is, they are less likely to cover a story if they have no footage of it. So there's a lot of stuff that doesn't get onto the news, despite being just as tragic, if not more so. So for one thing, I can't justify caring about something, just because I've heard about it.
But that also gives us this situation where I get a mental image of two news program executives picking and choosing through the tragic news stories of the day:
"Hey Barry, deaths and war in Uganda?"
"Nah . . . no footage."
"Well, we've got some footage of a building exploding in Afghanistan."
"It's too foreign, Joe. What else we got?"
"There was a woman raped on Brunswick street."
"Was she hot?"
"Uh . . . yeah, kinda."
"Great. Get a photo of her, and get some footage of her mum crying."
"Right, okay. Oh Barry! There was an explosion downtown!"
"Was it terrorists?"
"No, but we have footage."
"Hmm . . . you know what, let's just say that people "suspect" it might be terrorists, and we've got ourselves a headliner."
You know what I mean? I find that kind of thing funny. But it's not just in my head, you can see it happening too! Watch the news, and you'll start to see what tragic news stories they chose to air some stories over others, and why. You'll even see them trying to promote tragedies, so that they can guarantee an audience. Just recently, they've been calling the Boston Bombings an attack with a "weapon of mass destruction" used by "terrorists".
As a Word Nerd, I laughed at that. Terrorists? Okay, maybe, but that's a technicality.If I run up to you and scream "GIVE ME YOUR MONEY OR I'LL PUNCH YOU IN THE FACE!" I am terrorizing you, and I am being a terrorist. But a Weapon of Mass Destruction?
Was the bombing pleasant? No. Did it kill a lot of people? Well, it killed a few, but That's not what Weapon of MASS Destruction means. There is only one weapon of mass destruction really, and that's a nuclear bomb. That pithy squib in Boston barely even dented the sidewalk, But you can see the news program executives at work. They just want people to feel more frightened, so they'll keep watching the news to make sure the 'terrifying problem' is being resolved, or perhaps to reinforce their distrust of foreigners.
Then there's the incident at Waco, Texas. A Fertilizer explosion, where not only innocent people, but also firemen and -women died in the blaze . . .
You want to know what was the first thing I was thinking when I heard about the Waco, Texas explosion?
Burn, baby, burn; Waco Inferno!
Burn, baby, burn; Set my Kids on Fire!
I do enjoy the Doug Anthony All Stars. And to think, two horrible, fire-related tragedies in one place? Don't ever light a cigarette in Texas . . .
I mean sure, it's horrible, but from the news, I have come to learn that America is, all over, a pretty horrible place. Never mind the homophobia, racism & religious zealotry. Instead, I'm more worried that half the country's population owns a gun, and that is barely even an exaggeration. Then you start getting into the rates of violence, drug use, unemployment, hate crime, gang crime, gun crime, terrorist attacks, murder, suicide - and the buses probably don't arrive on time either!
But, is that all true? Maybe, probably not. I know that it's exaggerated, but that is the America I see when I turn on the News, because that's all I ever hear about America, unless a celebrity sneezed or did something else that doesn't matter. It's come to the point when, if I hear about someone who died because of a gun-toting spree-killer in America, I think:
"Well, what did you expect? You live in America."
Then, when people try to enact tougher gun laws, which more than half the population agree with - including the freakin' President! - still America clings to its guns. It's like watching a baby, suckling on the end of a shotgun, and when the mother tries to take it away, it cries, so she gives it back.
It's Black Comedy. It's Gallows Humour. I mean . . . the world is fucked, man. Get used to it. Tragedy is a part of this world. That's the thing, all of this News, it is a small part of a much larger picture, and that's why it's funny. Like a horrific caricature, the tragedy, terror and violence is exaggerated, while the 'normal' bits are ignored. We only ever see the extreme parts of the world, and they look absolutely ridiculous. They do to me, at least.
In the end it all boils down to two very simple things. For one, it's on the television. I watch the television to be either informed or entertained. For the most part, telling me about a terrible crime isn't going to teach me anything useful, so I choose to be entertained by it, and laugh as the world somehow continues to spin, despite being run by animals in business suits.
The second simple thing? Contrary to popular belief, personal history and photographic evidence - I am just a human being. I can't grieve for everyone, I am not equipped for that, and neither are you. Because if you tried, you would go insane. You can't feel the world's pain. The world is a big place, and there is so much pain in it, you would die from that kind of trauma. Even taking a single moment out of your life to grieve someone you don't even know, doesn't do any good for anyone.
I said before I'm not a very empathetic man. I don't really believe that anyone is (although, that's a point for a later discussion), but either way I don't watch the news to be traumatized. I was the first time. I watched the late night news and heard about a story of two kids stomping a cat to death.
What the hell, world?!
I was horrified, and scared that these kinds of sociopaths existed in the world. But then I watched it the next night, and heard about more people doing more bad things. Then worse things! And that's when I realized. This wasn't some lone maniac. This wasn't some strange occurrence.
This is just The News. This is normal. The fact that I can turn on the news, and hear about a woman being raped and killed by a stranger in an alleyway and honestly say, "Must be a slow news day . . ."
That's the real tragedy. But that's the world we live in.
It's all a Joke.
Sunday, 21 April 2013
I took last week off because I was completely burned out. I couldn't write anymore, even when I wanted to, because my brain needed to replenish it's stores. But the weird thing is, during my time off (and even during Parody Week), a lot happened in the world. Even more than a usual week. New Zealand legalized Gay Marriage; some maniacs blew up a street in Boston; America failed miserably to enact gun control; a horse quit it's job & a fertilizer plant in Waco Texas exploded.
I have things to say about all of this stuff, and I wondered what I should talk about first. Yet, thinking about how much stuff had built up and trying to decide what to talk about actually made me think of something else to say. See, while all this stuff was going on, I had opinions that I wanted to express, but at the same time, I was glad that I didn't have to write in my blog about it. It's like I had put my life on hold for a while, and I was relishing the inactivity. Then when I looked up today's word, I learnt something. See, that's why I am a word nerd. Sometimes, even the simple words mean much more when you would have originally thought.
The Word of the Day is: 'PAUSE'.
Pause /pawz/ n. 1. A stop or rest for a short time, especially in speech or action; delay; hesitation. 2. A break or rest in speaking or reading, depending on sense, grammatical relations, punctuation, etc. 3. Poetry → caesura. 4. give pause to cause to hesitate. ♦v.i. 6. To make a pause; stop; wait; hesitate. 7. To dwell or linger (followed by upon).
We tend to water down meaning to the basics, and for me pause was just a delay. For me, pause was only used for watching shows at home. I only press the 'pause' button on the remote when I want to go to the bathroom or get a drink of water or something. I pause one thing to do another thing. Because, what good is there in doing nothing?
I'm also quite fond of procrastination. So for something like cleaning, I like to delay (or pause) having to clean for as long as possible, so I do other things. Last week, however, I stopped writing. Yeah, I didn't just take a break from this blog, I stopped writing stories for a week. I love writing! I wasn't procrastinating, but I wasn't really doing anything either so it wasn't just a delay to do something else. It was more like a holiday.
'A Holiday', that's what started this whole mess, and why I'm thinking about 'pause'. See, you take holidays to relax and to recharge your batteries so you can get back to work, but writing isn't really 'work'. Sure, research isn't always easy, and sitting down to write can take some time, but I'm still sitting down. So I was confused:
I had to stop writing, because I was 'burned out' and needed to slow down and relax; yet it also makes perfect sense that writing is fun and relaxing for me.
These two points are mutually exclusive. Either one is false or my understanding is fundamentally flawed.
For a while, I thought I was just lazy. I assumed that the first premise was false, and I was making up excuses to slack off. It was around last wednesday that I was sitting on the couch, and watching a movie, when I thought:
"You know what? I've relaxed for four days now, I feel great, let's get back to writing!"
So I got out a pen and paper and tried to write something . . . nope. I thought I was lacking inspiration, so I poured through my writing folders, checked my notes, read a little & even watched another movie.
But I found that I couldn't write. It was weird. It was like the part of my brain that I used for writing and working on stories had transformed into a slab of mincemeat while I wasn't looking. Even after four days, I was still burned out.
Then, it was so obvious. I'd been working for two weeks on my blog. I worked for two weeks, and wrote for seven days straight. Sure, it was fun, but it was work. Then the flaw in my logic was so obvious to me.
The thing is, relaxing isn't fun. I don't like to relax. Sleep is boring, sitting around is just stupid and not thinking is a slow torture. I don't like holidays and I don't like to relax. The downside, then, was that I had no idea what to do last week, because I had to rest my poor head and I couldn't write. So, no, I wasn't really holidaying last week. I wasn't relaxing. Instead I was very busy doing other things. Going for walks, catching up with friends, drinking heavily, dancing & having fun. I wasn't relaxing.
The way I think of it, I put my writing on 'pause', and used a different part of my brain while it recovered. I like to think of it as the poetic pause, the caesura. That's a pause used in poetry to accentuate words because of the moment between them, and I like to think that's what I was doing. Leaving some breathing room between one moment and the next, to give each better distinction, as well as better quality.
If you enjoy 'relaxing', and just lying around, I'm not going to say you're wrong. I don't understand you, but you're not wrong. For me, relaxing is a chore. Like cleaning, I try to avoid relaxing, since it's so boring. I like to be under pressure, and I like to keep moving. I like to be awake. Even in those moments between moments . . .
Anyway, that's what I've been thinking about. It's great to be back, and I look forward to doing another big blogging project. But until then, let me pause for a moment to catch my breath and take a look at what's been happening in the blogosphere during my absence . . .
Saturday, 13 April 2013
|SATURDAY, APRIL 13, 2013
#42 Egg Monsters From Mars
#42 Egg Monsters From Mars
Front Tagline: They’re no yolk!
Back Tagline: Which came first, the Monster or the Egg?
Official Book Description:
An egg hunt. That’s what Dana Johnson’s bratty little sister, Brandy, wants to have at her birthday party. And whatever Brandy wants, Brandy gets.
Dana’s not big on egg hunts. But that was before he found The Egg. It’s not like a normal egg. It’s about the size of a softball. It’s covered with ugly blue and purple veins.
And it’s starting to hatch….
Dana Johnson is a bespectacled, slightly chubby, science nerd with an unfortunate name and a little sister named Brandy that he hates because she ‘always gets what she wants’. And for her birthday, Brandy wants an egg hunt. This seemed like a normal request, until I realized that this wasn't the kind of ‘egg hunt’ where you find chocolate eggs, but rather was a hunt for chicken eggs. Maybe it's an American thing . . .
Dana’s best friend, Anne Gravel, is invited to the egg hunt as well because her parents have allowed the egg hunt to extend into their backyard in an effort to Keep up with the Johnsons.
Anne & Dana, realizing that this game is incredibly lame, decide to make things a little interesting, with a wager of five dollars to up the stakes. In a universe where five dollars is barely enough for a car wash, I would call this a lame bet. But on the upside, at least they didn't try to play egg toss.
They start searching for eggs, when a young girl accidentally breaks her egg and gets yolk all over herself. I already thought a non-chocolate egg hunt was strange, but now we learn that Mrs Johnson was too lazy to hardboil or even paint the eggs?
How is this game fun?
Pretty soon all of the other kids realize how stupid this game is as well, and instead of hunting for eggs, they start hunting with eggs as they run around pelting the house, yard and other partygoers with eggs.
The game quickly becomes a full on food-fight, but when Dana joins the fray, he discovers that the egg he picked it up less than 2 pages ago isn't small, egg-coloured and not covered in veins. But rather it's pale green, the size of a softball and is covered in blue-and-purple veins that suggest this may not be an egg, but rather a giant, alien gonad. Dana wants to examine it on his workbench, presumably to perform some kind of invasive surgery, when Anne's dog runs in front of Dana, tripping him and he falls on top of the egg with a sickening crunch.
When he stands up, however, the egg is fine. So, ignoring his broken ribs, Dana tries to show the egg to Anne, but she's so busy throwing eggs at people, she just pegs it at some small children.
As his parents try to break up the fight and clean up the mess, Dana sneaks inside with the egg, which is now hot to the touch, and wonders if perhaps the egg is a turtle egg, because although turtle eggs aren't commonly green, it's a little known fact that Dana is a moron. He hides the egg in his sock drawer and heads back downstairs to watch his dad scream at his little sister:
"Why did you let this happen?" which, considering this is entirely her mother's fault, just feels like child abuse. When Brandy points this out, she manages to con her parents into agreeing to a "Make Your Own Ice-Cream Sundae party" for her next birthday. Man, I am not looking forward to reading Ice-Cream Monsters from Mars.
Dana & Brandy then visit their grandparents, in a blatant effort by Stine to pad out the book, and when he gets home to sleep he hears the egg thumping around in his drawer, so he checks it out to see if a turtle has hatched. At one point Dana mentions that he owns a 'book about turtles', but it's clear to me that he never read the damn thing.
Anyway, when he grabs the egg it burns his hands. Then, despite having burned his hands on it just six sentences ago, he picks up the egg and takes it to his parents to show it to them. At mention of eggs, Dana's dad tells him to "sit on it and hatch it." Wow, Mr Johnson is a jerk.
Desperate to show off his alien egg-sac, Dana tries to show his egg to Brandy, But she too has Post Traumatic Egg Disorder, and refuses to listen to him, so he goes to bed.
He wakes up the next day, to the sound of the egg hatching, which at first Dana confuses for his sister cracking her knuckles because that's something ten-year-old girls are known for. He sees the egg cracking and quickly decides that this is not a turtle egg, but more likely a flamingo egg. Clearly this book is R.L. Stine's jarring commentary on the downfall of the American education system. The egg hatches, making a mess everywhere and Dana struggles to think of more animals that this couldn't possibly be.
The creature looks like scrambled eggs, criss-crossed with green veins, with round, black eyes on top of it, so Dana's first reaction is to say:
"You're not a chicken."
I really hate this stupid kid.
He tries to find his parents, but they've both taken Brandy to her piano lesson, so Dana decides to show the thing to Anne because she owns a dog, so must therefore know how to take care of a yellow, alien cowpat. The only problem is, it's basically scrambled eggs so he has to find something to carry it. After six pages of faffing about, he picks up the egg monster with his hand and puts it in a shoebox.
Stine then starts channelling Wordsworth for a paragraph as he describes a Spring morning while Dana heads over to Anne's house, where she's eating a breakfast of, you guessed it: pancakes.
Mrs Gravel keeps offering Dana different kinds of eggs to eat while Dana manages to, again, trip over Anne's dog, named Stubby. I guess he stubbed his toe.
[If you don't like that pun, just think about how many times I could have made an egg pun so far, and be thankful for my restraint.]
The egg monster falls on Anne's plate, and her mother tries to wash it down the garbage disposal. Dana saves it just in time, but Mrs Gravel shoos him outside, because the egg monster is dripping goo everywhere. I like to believe it's crapping itself in fear, but it's never really established.
Anne follows Dana outside where he brings her up to speed on what happened in the first ten chapters, and Anne makes fun of Dana for having thought it was a chicken. It was then that I decided this book would be much better if Anne was the main character. Sadly. she isn't, but I just enjoyed reading as Dana tries to figure out what it is, while Anne continues to make fun of him.
The book then takes a turn for the stupid when Dana decides to take the creature to "that little science lab" that's apparently just three blocks away.
Anne, who is the audience surrogate at this point, expresses disbelief at this eventuality, so Dana tells her she's not invited to the rest of the book and pedals off to the science lab on his own.
Just before he leaves, however, Stubby runs in front of him for a third time, and nearly trips up Dana again. The best part is, this isn't even significant to the plot. Clearly this book is R.L. Stine's jarring commentary on the hidden underbelly of suicidal housepets.
Dana gets to the lab, and dropping his bike on the grass, he races up to the lab and rings the doorbell, but sees there is a sign saying the lab is closed on weekends. Wait . . . do science labs have doorbells? Before we can find out, a wrinkly old scientist answers the door anyway, which defeats the purpose of putting up the sign, but whatever.
This mustachioed scientist asks how he can help, and as soon as he hears about the egg, the scientist ushers Dana inside. He introduces himself as Dr Gray, and if this book turns out to be a Gray's Anatomy crossover I'm going to punch someone.
Dr Gray leads Dana deeper into the lab, where Dana shows him the egg monster. Dr Gray rattles off some exposition about a storm on Mars that supposedly blasted the eggs into space in a sad attempt to make the title of the story relevant in some way.
Dr Gray leads Dana to a viewing room, where he shows off a room filled with dozens of egg monsters. Leading Dana inside the freezing room, he explains that they have to keep it cold because too much heat will make the egg monsters melt. When you think about it, that is really disgusting.
Dr Gray picks up Dana's egg monster, and adds it to his collection, so he can study it along with the others. Feeling sentimental, Dana asks if he can visit the creature from time to time, but the doctor explains that he won't have to worry about that, since he's going to lock Dana in with the creatures.
Dana doth protest very much, but Dr Gray says that he's "just doing his job" because he doesn't want people to panic about the ongoing Martian invasion. This wouldn't have been a problem if he hadn't told Dana about it in the first place.
When Dana points out how ridiculous this is, Dr Gray explains that he has to keep Dana under quarantine as well, because he touched the creature and might be infected with Martian germs.
Now hang on a minute. Just six pages ago, the doctor himself picked up the egg to put it on the floor, and he wasn't wearing gloves. I understand that when people ghost-wrote the Goosebumps sequels, they didn't bother to read the original. But is R.L. Stine forgetting to read the last chapter before he writes the next?
After testing the door and realizing that his kidnapper wasn't stupid enough to leave it unlocked, Dana tells the doctor: "I'm a boy. Not a specimen." in an emotional scene, reminiscent of The Elephant Man. After whinging a bit more, Dana turns back to see the egg monsters are chatting amongst themselves. The creatures start forming different shapes together, and Dana guesses they are trying to communicate. He makes a circle shape with his fingers, and the eggs copy it. He then makes a triangle, and they make that shape as well. Considering this parlour trick like some kind of new discovery, Dana feels a bond with the creatures, but before he can keep playing this game, Dr Gray slides him a tray of macaroni and cheese to eat. Then, in a complete disregard for logical priority, Dana starts complaining that he hates macaroni and cheese.
Did I mention that I hate this stupid kid?
Before he can complain about the lab's colour scheme, or anything else that doesn't matter, Dana falls asleep. Only to wakes up at the sound of his father's voice.
Thinking he's about to be rescued Dana starts screaming at the top of his lungs and banging on the glass to get his father's attention, but Mr Johnson doesn't see or hear him, because, as it turns out, Dana was a ghost this whole time.
Not really. The truth is actually much stupider. Dr Gray explains to Dana that the glass is one-way glass; the room is soundproof; the glass is shatter-proof and that he accidentally left the sound system on, which explains why Dana could hear him. Even if that kind of glass does exist, how could a lab this small afford it?
Dr Gray then gets as tired of Dana's whining as I am, switches off the light and tells him to go to sleep. But before he can get some shut-eye, the egg creatures all bunch together in another egg-wave and accost him. They roll up over him, and form a kind of throbbing, sticky, eggy blanket.
Dana believes the creatures have banded together to stop him from freezing to death. It's a sweet, if somewhat disturbing and sticky gesture.
The next morning, Dr Gray, seeing the egg blanket, shakes Dana awake screaming: "What have you done?!" just like Dana's father did with Brandy earlier in the book.
Why do all the adults in this book blame kids for stuff they couldn't possibly control? Then, because Dr Gray is a sixteen year old girl, he tells Dana that he 'ruined everything' by turning the egg monsters into a blanket.
He throws the egg blanket against the wall, and Dana tells him that he's hurting the egg monsters, but Dr Gray ignores him, apparently horrified that Dana would touch the egg monsters, despite the fact that he locked them in the same room together.
Behind his back the egg blanket starts to get mad. [Only R.L. Stine could allow me to honestly write a sentence that stupid.]
Dr Gray then decides that the only logical course of action is to kill Dana. He wants to lock him in the room, turn up the temperature and let him freeze to death. Of course, this idea is fundamenally flawed, because Dana could just wrap himself up in the egg blanket again. but before Dr Gray gets the chance to fail at his plan to kill a twelve-year-old, he is attacked by the egg monsters.
Dana then runs outside, conveniently finds his bike behind a dumpster and rides home as fast as he can. He gets home, finds his parents, and title-drops several times to tell them that the evil Dr Gray is being attacked by the Egg Monsters From Mars.
But despite being parents in a Goosebumps book, his parents actually believe his crazy story and they drive up to the lab. But when they get to the freezer room, both the egg creatures, and Dr Gray, are gone.
They head home, and since Dana isn't feeling well they call the doctor and he suggests bedrest.
The next day, Anne comes to his house, and asks him if he wants to come to her house to play a videogame.
Dana, feeling better, says he'll be right over.
But the Twist is:
Dana gets dressed and heads outside, admiring the beauty of the world. Then, halfway across Annie's lawn he stops, crouches down, and lays an egg. What.
the Platonic Boy/Girl Relationship:
Dana Johnson and his best friend Anne Gravel who disappears about a third of the way through the book.
Mr Johnson yells at his daughter for no reason, makes fun of his son when he's asking for help and when his son is missing, does a half-assed job. Also, Mrs Johnson let her children play with raw eggs. They were Cage Eggs too, I'd bet.
Dr Gray locks Dana away is so that he won't tell anyone about the aliens. It's bad enough that he's resorted to kidnapping, but what kind of scientist keeps his discoveries a secret?
Early 90s Cultural References:
Battle Chess on CD-ROM, The Ninja Turtles, Ninja Turtle Pizza Pie-throwing game (this actually existed), books about turtles, turtle eggs.
R.L. Stine Shows He is Down With the Kids:
Turtles. Egg Hunts.
Memorable Cliffhanger Chapter Ending:
The egg starts making a thumping noise from within Dana's sock drawer. Should he open the drawer and check it out, or ran as far away as he can?
. . .
What kind of wuss would run away from a noise?
Great Prose Alert:
I ducked as an egg went sailing over my head. It landed with a craaack on the driveway.
This book is bad. It's not Chicken Chicken bad, but what's really weird is that there are so many sexual undertones in this book. That's not a trait exclusive to this book, a lot of the lines in Goosebumps can sound sexual when taken out of context. But seriously, the egg is covered in pulsing, blue-and-purple veins & is warm to the touch; the communicates by thumping and grunting; it 'cracks' in his sock drawer, spilling thick goo everywhere & the egg monsters sleep with him and, evidently, impregnate him during the night, without his consent.
You know, the Alien film was made with symbolism and overtones all about rape because the filmmaker wanted to freak out the male audience. Well, I'm starting to think that's where Stine got the idea for this book, since there are an awful lot of similarities. Which just gets disturbing when you realize that this is a book for children.
But even if none of that other stuff existed, the story doesn't really have a point; many of the characters don't act like normal people and most importantly eggs aren't scary. Yeah, they're gross and slimy, but the book doesn't really play that angle as much as it should except when characters are looking at the egg monsters. Maybe if it had, I wouldn't have read a kid's book wherein a twelve year old boy is locked in a freezer and gang-raped by scrambled eggs.
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Friday, 12 April 2013
The GraveyardNote: While somewhat embellished through my imperfect memory and dramatic tension, the following story is entirely true. Except that I may not have owned a mobile phone at that point, but that’s not important, and the rest is true.
I've got this awesome friend. His name is Sean.
We’re good friends, and when I was younger we would hang out all the time, but we wouldn’t really do anything. I had friends I would get drunk with, friends I write stories with, and friends I would laugh at, but Sean was just . . . Sean. I always figured when we got together, Sean and I would do great things. Solve world hunger, cure cancer or start up a team of superheroes. We would get together, raring with energy, ready to conquer the world. But then we’d just sit around and wait for something interesting to happen. Which never happened.
We could never find anything to do, since we sucked at both the forward thinking to plan something, and the spontaneity to come up with a plan. But one time, when Sean came around, I decided we should do something fun. Go out, and do things, because that's what normal people do, right?
So I came up with an awesome plan: I would use the internet to find us something to do! A web-surfing trailblazer, I decided to check out MyBrisbane.com (now defunct), our local tourism website, to see what we could do. But after some clicking around, I discovered something quite unexpected.
Brisbane is the 2nd Most Haunted City in the World. I was shocked. I didn’t realize that I had been living in a the middle of a haunted, urban death-maze for the better part of my life. This was perfect! And exactly the kind of adventure that I was looking for. I told Sean that we should check out one of those haunted locations.
He wasn’t too excited at first. But when I told him our options were to do this, or lie around being bored, he quickly changed his tune. So we set off on our grand adventure, and after a long walk, we arrived at the 'South Brisbane Cemetery'.
The website had said it was ripe with ghost sightings, and we were keen to check it out. Of course, both Sean and I are quite sceptical of the paranormal, so we were pretty much just goofing around. Going "OooOOoo", and making up Latin incantations to raise the dead, which were probably quite disrespectful now that I think about it.
But then we saw something . . .
Small, glowing orbs seemed to dance, off in the distant trees. I had heard about this phenomenon before. It was a 'ghost light'. Both Sean and I were reasonably concerned. I mean, there's no such thing as ghosts, right? We approached the flickering lights tentatively.
We came to a particular gravesite. I can't remember the name, but we knew the source of light was coming from there. We took a close look and we soon discovered the source of the lights . . .
It was the stone. That particular grave marker was a highly polished marble of some description. Since the graveyard was close to a main road, every time a car drove past, the headlights would reflect off the stone. I was disappointed. There were a lot of those polished stone markers all over the place, and it was pretty obvious why people kept seeing 'ghosts' in this cemetery. It wasn't haunted, it was just shiny.
So, disappointed, Sean and I wandered around the graveyard a bit more, hoping that our night wouldn't be a total waste. We decided to walk around the whole graveyard, and as dark and creepy it looked, it was most definitely not haunted.
But then we heard the sound.
Coming from just a few metres up ahead of us, It was a rattling, guttural growl, or a clicking purr. It's hard to describe, but it was some kind of animal sound, though I have no idea what kind of animal sounds like that. It sounded like a mix between a dog and a bird. Some kind of unnatural monster.
I turned to Sean to make sure I wasn't going crazy, but we both heard the sound again. And we soon realized Not only was this some kind of hellish beast death-rattle, but it was making the noise at us. The noise was loud, but we hadn't heard it before. It wasn't until we came here that the creature started crying into the night, with a clicking call like someone trying to start up an alien chainsaw.
We were both scared. The creature was blocking our path, if we wanted to go ahead, we'd have to face it.
It would have been easier to go around, and not risking facing that thing. I suggested we turn back, but Sean said No. After all, what kind of wimps would turn around because of a noise?
I mean, Were we not Men?
Sure, we didn't know what it was, and it could be some kind of rabid possum or a cat with emphysema or even a demon bird-dog, but either way, there was one of it and two of us! We decided to go forward, but first we catalogued our inventory, to see what weapons we had, in case we had to fight the beast.
A notepad & pencil; a pair of gloves; a lighter; a pocketknife; two wallets & two mobile phones. Sean took the knife, and the lighter. I wore the gloves, so I could strangle or punch the thing (and not have to touch it, if it had rabies) and a sharpened pencil.
Oh yeah. We were Sean & Matt, Arse-Kickers.
We slowly wandered down the path, on the alert and ready to face whatever stood in our way. We glanced all around, checking for whatever ungodly monsters were hiding in the shadows. We walked, kept walking & walked some more. Eventually, we started to relax.
The sound was loud, but the creature certainly wasn't this far away. We were past it! Either that, or it had run away. Sean and I congratulated ourselves, and we headed for the front entrance of the cemetery. We left the cemetery, laughing and joking about how we'd beaten the thing.
It's later on that we wondered what that thing was. I still don't know. Maybe it was nothing at all. But either way, just as I'd predicted, when Sean and I were together, nothing stands in our way. We're unstoppable.
And that's the story of how Sean and I visited a haunted cemetery and escaped a demon.
Thursday, 11 April 2013
Having Fun in the Rain
MATTHEW A.J. ANDERSON | 11 APRIL 2013 00:00 AM
Despite the fact that I do not own a PlayStation Move peripheral, one of the few games I have to play on the PS3 at my house is Heavy Rain: Move Edition. I played through this game a while ago, and I can tell you that the game stirred up in me a lot of feelings, the most prevalent being Frustration, Boredom & Disbelief.
Not only are the controls as unintuitive as a shrapnel sandwich, but the near constant quick time events, as well as the unfocussed story make for a very convoluted experience overall. Sure, the graphics are nice, and some of the scenes truly are engaging and cinematic, but even the best parts of the game are let down by the number of times that the controls get in the way, or the characters get side-tracked for no reason other than button-pressing exercises.
Also, I found that the attempt at realistic graphics only makes it more jarring how little freedom you actually have. This was evidenced early in the game when I could make my character go to the bathroom, but afterwards I couldn’t wash my hands. Not only did that taint my view of that particular character, but it’s something which wouldn’t have even occurred to me had my character been an Italian plumber with cartoon anatomy. So by the end of the game, all the ‘realistic graphics’ did for me was give me a clearer picture of which characters pissed me off more every time they refused to interact with background objects or stumbled into an invisible wall.
It was at this point that I decided David Cage was a moron, whose obsession with quick time events instead of gameplay was just as perplexing and unwelcome as when the mailman punches you in the stomach. But since Move Edition cost more than I would usually pay for a game, I decided to check out the bonus features, for nothing more than getting my money’s worth, but wouldn't you know, I very well might have. In the bonus content of the Move Edition I came across a delectable and entertaining little morsel in the form of an extra mission . . .
In the bonus sub-folder from the game menu, there’s a menu item simply called The Taxidermist. This is the first iteration of a proposed episodic game series called Heavy Rain Chronicles, which are meant to serve as prequels to Heavy Rain. Out of curiosity, I played through this little game, and I was blown away by how much it didn’t suck.
You play as Madison Paige, and the chapter begins with a cut scene as she drives down the rain-drenched highway on a motorcycle, whilst a researcher colleague speaks to her over the phone, explaining the point of the mission. You’re heading to the residence of one ‘Leland White’, a suspect in the Origami Killer case, and you’re hunting down a story for your next newspaper article. As you pull up at the suspect’s house, all you know is that he’s 40 years old, single and a retired taxidermist.
I knew that this wasn’t the Origami Killer, since I’d already played Heavy Rain and already knew “who’d done it”, but there’s more than one homicidal maniac in the world, so I was on the alert as I began snooping around the place.
There are women’s clothing catalogues in the mailbox and a dirty, high heeled shoe in the garbage, but as strange as an animal-skinning cross-dresser would be, that story would never make the front page, you have to investigate further. Ringing the doorbell elicits no response, neither does peeking through the window and calling out the guy’s name. This was disheartening, but I wasn’t leaving without a story. I continued sleuthing around the side of the house.
As Madison walks around through the rain, she automatically crosses her arms across herself. The ambiguity of this gesture could suggest either that she’s feeling cold, or insecure. And as I was about to break and enter into a suspected murderer’s house, I opted for the latter.
When you enter the house, and get out of the rain, at first there’s a feeling of relief that you’re safe and inside. But as I searched the house, and found that it was a dirty hovel filled with stuffed animals and the occasional item of women’s clothing and jewellery, unease built up in my stomach in a visceral crescendo. Heading deeper into the house, there’s more and more damning evidence, and just as you come across the horrible truth of this house (which I won’t reveal in this article), you hear the suspect’s car pull into the driveway. From that point you can try to sneak out, call the police or face the man yourself, the entire time trying not to die in the process.
This entire scenario, from the slow build up and investigation to the thrilling third act is incredibly engaging. When I first played and was sleuthing around looking for clues, I felt like Nancy Drew after stumbling onto the set of CSI. Then as the tone shifts from mystery to thriller to horror, I found it was all of the little details that made the moment golden for me. The dirt and darkness of the house; the sound of rain outside and grim, foreboding music; along with the slow-panning camera and the Dutch angles as you climb the stairs, it all pieces together an atmosphere so chilling, you could store your TV dinners in it.
But the strangest thing is, even the stuff that I hate about Heavy Rain, I actually find tolerable in this incarnation. The novelty of the quick time events wears off quickly, but this game’s short enough that it doesn’t overstay its welcome. In the original game the developers touted that ‘every action has consequences’, but I never really felt that until this episode, where anything you left out of place while you searched the house will alert Mr White to your presence when he comes home. Even the crappy movement controls, which are hard to point in the right direction at the best of times, just seemed to add to the suspense as I tried to swiftly sneak around unnoticed, because it made Madison seem flustered and panicky.
When I played through this the first time, I managed to escape from the house unseen, and I found the moment both tensely thrilling and ultimately fulfilling since I managed to survive unscathed. Then it occurred to me that - had this been a film - this would have been a very unsatisfying ending, since there wasn’t really a climax. A lot of people relate Heavy Rain to a film, what with its director, script, actors, themes, musical score and camera angles all chosen to accentuate the cinematic feel, but I’m starting to suspect that with every step towards being ‘cinematic’ that a game takes, it takes another step away from having immersive, engaging gameplay.
Gaming, as an art, is a much more intellectually primeval medium, and to reach a broader audience ideas should be more primitive or instinctive. The main theme of Heavy Rain’s story is based around the question ‘How far would you go for the ones you love?’ a fair theme, let down in execution for the fact that I hated every character in the game, and I was acting according to the whims of the level designer. The Taxidermist on the other hand, is based around the question ‘Are you scared yet?’. It was built entirely with that goal in mind and was much more satisfying in the long run.
So at the end of the day, I found that this style of para-realistic, interactive storytelling experience isn’t a total wash. Sadly, the series ends with the first chapter, as the project was abandoned. But from what I saw in this little chestnut, this kind of heavily railroaded story-centric game with quick time events up the arse can work in an episodic format. In fact, the popularity of games like Walking Dead seem to support my position.
Yes, perhaps I was too quick to judge, like a magistrate on methamphetamines, and David Cage isn’t necessarily the moron that I thought he was. There must be some semblance of intelligence in there if he had the presence of mind to write . . .
What’s that? David Cage postponed, and eventually abandoned, the Heavy Rain Chronicles project so they could have more development time on Heavy Rain: Move Edition?
Sorry, I take it back, David Cage is a fucking moron.