Saturday, August 30, 2014

Crown of the Old Iron King: A brief reflection on the Dark Souls II DLC





WARNING: SEMI-SPOILERS INCLUDED! 

It’s no secret that I’m obsessed with Dark Souls. If there were awesome action figures, I would buy them. Comic book? I would be interested. I am kicking around the idea of writing a book that takes place in the universe, but I would rather do it as official canon, supported by From Software. We essentially have a gothic, post-apocalyptic fantasy world with a ruined kingdom and the dreams of its departed king. 

The new DLC, Crown of the Old Iron King, seems like it’s stirring up a bit of controversy because a boss that was reused. I love the idea that Dark Souls is truly a community game; forums and blogs dedicated to the game have a huge influence on how people play it, and perceive it. I’ve read that some people are disenchanted with the DLC, and that’s okay. It’s their opinion. 

Comparing Demons Souls and Dark Souls I and II seems like a ridiculous idea to me; it feels like comparing the first three Super Mario games for Nintendo. The new DLC is comparable to the first Dark Souls game; part of the challenge in Dark Souls was surviving the trip to a boss room over and over again. Sometimes, I would get impatient, try to rush through, and die an embarrassing death. 

I can’t tell you how long I spent trying to kill the new Smelter Demon.

I also can’t tell you how many video games require you to kill on older boss near the end of the game. A lot of platform-action games give you a second chance to fight a boss you hated the first time; sometimes, the boss is more powerful, maybe even accompanied by other tough enemies. 

You have to have a whole new level of patience while playing Crown of the Old Iron King. The best strategy I could devise while fighting all three of the new bosses was simply to survive the fight as long as I could. Instead of trying to get in several whacks at a time, I relied on speed and my allies. We used a “taking turns” approach, where we would each go in for a few strikes, and then stand in front of it while one of my slammed an Estus Flask. 

So yeah, all three bosses of the new bosses were melee-style fighters. The game already features several corrupt spell-casters. I’ll never forget fighting one of the red phantoms at the bottom of a ladder; my fire-infused sword lit up large torches, which set the mood for the fight nicely. 

 I spent several hours playing the DLC. I had to wait forever for a human player to show up when I fought the boss. During my struggles, I met a very cool ally. My ally reached out to me after our first defeat against Sir Alonne, and we managed to hook up again. It was pretty awesome. There’s just something awesome about fighting these bosses with a partner and adhering to a sort of pattern without even communicating what that pattern is. I truly feel as if my character is nothing more than a phantom trapped in a hopeless multiverse that is fated to slide into the Abyss.  

I love it. The DLC is awesome. Playing it on NG+, and I keep remembering that this is EXTRA stuff. The game was already huge to begin with. For the most part, I think DLC is silly, an obvious cash-grab. But From Software has delivered an amazing experience. I wish that a new NPC might hang out like the Cresftallen Knight and have some cryptic and haunting lore to share, but I guess we have the former king of Drangleic for that.

Wouldn’t it be excellent for the next DLC to include more lore based on the Melfian Academy? I can’t recall if there’s a specific location in the game that used to be the academy; one of the classic tropes of swords and sorcery fiction is a sorcery school, or a vast, arcane fortress that protects the kingdom’s sorcerous secrets. 
One last, small observation.

I’m a huge Roberto Bolano fan. He is my literary hero, and he often made mention of something called THE ABYSS. Thomas Ligotti, who has been in the news lately because of the True Detective controversy, could have easily written King Vendrick’s poetic dialogue regarding THE DARK. Very interesting. 
Dark Souls II is a huge game. While some folks are breezing through the DLC in a couple hours, I am soaking it in. Loving every minute of it. The fight against Sir Alonne was very fun, and the sense of accomplishment I felt when I beat all three bosses was similar to the gratification I experienced after beating the bosses in Crown of the Sunken King. 

After I beat Sir Alonne, I felt like I could run the obstacle course on American Ninja Warrior. Because I’m awesome. Yeah. I just killed a video game monster. 

I could write at length about the philosophy of dread-fear that permeates these games. They are designed masterfully, in my opinion. Dark Souls II has been controversial simply because it’s NOT EXACTLY like the first game. For that, I am glad. If I wanted to play Dark Souls, I would play it. I own the game. People are buying the same recycled Call of Duty games over and over again, and people will always buy the sports games no matter how many minor adjustments might detract from the experience or enhance it. At the end of the day, a video game that entertains is successful. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A BOOK ABOUT A BIG OCTOPUS (KAIJU BOOK COVER REVEAL)


Coming Soon from Severed Press in September, 2014


An ancient creature sleeps in the Pacific Ocean, awakened only by the music of sorcery.

Anna Vivaldi has never forgotten the disappearance of her mother, but at least she has the money and courage to find closure. But she’ll need the only survivors from her mother’s expedition: Whitmore, the drunken captain who lost something precious on the first voyage, and Nightingale, the man who had whisked Anna’s mother away on a search for something ancient and terrible. 

On the vast ocean. In the haunted past. Wanted by millionaire treasure hunters and scientists. A thing that should not be real. An island of mysteries. An abyss of death. PREPARE FOR A DARK RISING


Thursday, August 7, 2014

THE INFLUENCE OF ANIME ON ART

Anime is a beautiful artistic representation of unique ideas and amazing storytelling; it’s an entertainment medium that continues to grow, especially as Netflix begins to pick up exclusive shows, exposing the genre to a new audience. Popular bizarro writer and poet S. T. Cartledge, author of House Hunter and Day of the Milkman, incorporates vivid storytelling that is heavily influenced by Anime and Manga. S. T. stopped by the blog to talk about some of his favorite shows, including some recent hits. 



So a couple of years ago I got into watching anime and reading manga. I love it. It's so vibrant and imaginative and wild. In the same way that anything is possible in bizarro, anything is possible in anime and manga. And the volume of content is just incredible. Here are a few of my favourite anime series:

Cowboy Bebop

It's a classic. Bounty hunters in space set to a wild jazz soundtrack. It came out in 1999 and it's still the benchmark for cool. There's plenty of action, gunfights, fistfights, wild spaceship flights and big explosions. And the characters have enough mystery to them that the backstory teased out over the 26 episodes and one movie keeps you emotionally invested. And Radical Edward. Yeah, at times she's annoying as fuck, but she's also one of my favourite characters around. You should also take note of the director, Shinichiro Watanabe, and the composer, Yoko Kanno. Their work together really sets this series apart from other sci-fi anime. I'd recommend Watanabe's other series, Samurai Champloo, Kids on the Slope, and Terror in Resonance. The latter two also feature fantastic soundtracks by Kanno, and Terror in Resonance is currently only a few episodes in, but it already seems to be something special.


Neon Genesis Evangelion

Some fan favourites are fan favourites for a reason. This series is unforgettable. I watched the last 6 episodes of Evangelion right before I went to work and I spent my shift in a shellshocked daze. Evangelion is about a post-apocalyptic world where earth comes under attack by outer space monsters called 'angels'. They fight back using children piloting mechas called 'Evas'. The main character, Shinji, struggles with the responsibility that the entire human race is counting on him to not be a fuck up. Combine that with the fact that he's working for his estranged father and has never known love and acceptance in his life, the poor child has no idea how to process his emotions. Evangelion is a manic spiral into the darkest spaces of the human psyche. And the thing I love about it, is that it teases at resolution. It teases you into thinking maybe things will turn out okay. Maybe Shinji will learn how to be a normal child saving the world time and time again. Be prepared to face a world without closure or resolution. The rebuild of Evangelion as a film series was meant to make the whole thing more accessible. Three of the four films are out now, and all I can say is that Evangelion is hellbent on tormenting you. The films definitely aren't more forgiving than the series. Evangelion plays with your emotions in ways you could not imagine. It is truly unforgettable.


Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

Brotherhood is a remake of a series simply called Fullmetal Alchemist, which in turn was based on a manga series. At the time the original series came out, the manga was still being written. By the time Brotherhood came along, it was complete. The original anime was brilliant in its own right, but Brotherhood is a more faithful adaptation, and as such, it captures that artistic vision just that much clearer. The scope is much bigger. And it is pulled off expertly. The basic concept is this: When their mother dies, Ed and Al try to bring her back to life using alchemy. They fail. Ed loses his leg and Al loses his body. Ed sacrifices his arm in order to bind his brother's soul to a suit of armour. As a result of playing with death, they find that the world is populated with homunculi, powerful creatures embodying the spirit of the seven deadly sins. The story itself has a lot of complex ins and outs, a brief summary just can't do it justice. But at the core there is the existential struggle between life and death, the ethics of trying to bring people back from the dead, and facing the monsters which plague such decisions.

Kaiba

This anime is a strange one. It's a colourful sci-fi story where people have memory chips stored in their heads. They can buy good memories and delete bad ones. They can remove their memories from one body and put them in another. The story revolves around a mysterious character who doesn't quite know who he is. The world is corrupt, and people are hunting him down, thinking he's some sort of mastermind behind a planned rebellion. This series is surreal, it's abstract. It's sad and beautiful and overwhelming. Storytelling is minimal and the animation style is strange. It's a visionary masterpiece.




Knights of Sidonia

I have been waiting for something like this for a long time. Tsutomu Nihei is one of my favourite manga artists. Knights of Sidonia is his latest manga, yet it's the first one to be picked up as a proper anime series. I haven't finished season one yet, but the adaptation is brilliant. His style of storytelling is fairly minimal, and the action and sprawling landscapes are things you need to pay close attention to in order to fully appreciate and understand the story. The anime does a great job adapting it, making it easy enough to follow, while also doing justice to the elaborate architecture of his worlds and detail of his monsters. The things which make his stories stand out. Knights of Sidonia is about a space ship carrying what might be the last of human civilisation through space infested with shape-shifting monsters known as 'gauna'. The humans pilot mechas to fight off the gauna. Plenty of action. It's hardcore sci-fi mechas vs kaiju in space, with the characters inside the space ship Sidonia driving the story along.

Attack on Titan

This is the big one people are all over right now. For a while, it slipped through my radar, but while I'm still only about 11 episodes into the anime, I'm much further along into the manga. The story follows a human settlement living within a series of walls built in concentric circles, keeping out giant naked human-eating humanoid creatures called titans. They're pretty much giant, brutal zombies. There is an elite military network trained to fend off the titans, killing them by propelling themselves into the air using some form of grappling hook system, and slicing the back of the titans' necks. I don't want to give away plot details, but what the humans know about the titans is kind of hazy, and what they find out throughout the series turns those assumptions on their head and really ratchets up the action. It's intense. The anime is directed by the same guy who did Death Note and Highschool of the Dead. The action is awesome. The animation is slick and visceral. From what I've seen of the anime and what I've read in the manga, I think it looks better on the screen than it does on the page, which is saying a lot. You want to check this series out. It's ridiculously entertaining.

Eden of the East

This series is probably the least insane one on this list. A lot of series I like tend to pump up the action or drama so much it ends up blowing apart and going into unreal proportions (Dragonball Z, anyone?). Eden of the East is an incredible anime because it doesn't have to resort to that. After Japan comes under missile attack for unknown reasons, a select few citizens are chosen to participate in a game where they are given an incredible amount of money and resources and are given the job of fixing Japan by any means necessary so that it doesn't find itself carelessly under attack like this again. The series is a bit of a mystery/thriller/drama. An innocent bystander gets caught up with one of the participants of the game, and with each participant trying to achieve the goal their own way (or not) and trying to keep tabs on each other (should they fail or run out of funds they will be hunted down and killed by one of the participants), Eden of the East is as much about survival as it is about understanding the game, and understanding how things have changed so much in such a short amount of time. The animation is crisp and clean, the story is brilliant. You think of what anime typically is, and this series undercuts it and produces its own captivating vision.



S.T. Cartledge is an Australian writer of action/adventure Bizarro fiction, often bordering on the fantastical, with rich world-building and fast-paced action sequences inspired by anime, manga, and the works of D. Harlan Wilson, Carlton Mellick III, and Cameron Pierce. He lives in Perth, Western Australia, where he studied creative writing at Curtin University. In 2013 he graduated with first class honours. Visit his blog at: 
http://themanifold.wordpress.com/


Check out S. T. Cartledge's books: 

In a world dominated by the milk industry, only one milkman remains after a terrible storm sinks all the ships and throws the Great White Sea out of balance. The storm has left HiLo, the last milkman, to endure the memories of a world that left him behind. Adrift upon a lonely sea in a lonely world, his search for food, drinkable milk, and survivors is soured by the ghosts of those he lost.

But World Milk, HiLo’s former employer, left many secrets in its wake; with the company of a ghostly hologram woman, HiLo’s quest for answers might resurrect the once-glorious milk industry and return the world to creamy freshness. 

The day of the milkman is upon us. 




Finding a good house is a house hunter's job. If you want a great house, you need Imogen. She's the best at capturing young houses and training them to be homes. But all of her skills will be tested when the Association goes after the mythical Jabberhouse in order to breed houses in captivity. With a mysterious helper, Imogen and her house fight to stay alive and keep houses free.

A bizarro adventure, with cockroach people, spider-cars, assassins, house-fights, and a big-ass castle stomping into battle against an ancient temple. House hunting has never been so weird.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

THE CHORUS OF THIEVES

Our submission to years trembles the fitful breeze
Bloodprints of the tremulous headlines
Torpid peace collapses the chorus of thieves

The lords of the innocent surrender to withered knees
Look yonder for the pale twilight of forgotten graves
Our submission to years trembles the fitful breeze

The labrythine crimes absolve fragments, disease
March the anarchists through purgatorial mountainslides
Torpid peace collapses the chorus of thieves

Those lamentations, those sailors, those erasured degrees
One million gold doubloons for the triumphal arch of Babylon
Our submission to years trembles the fitful breeze

Gods and damn the youths of wasted streets and needs
Electronic templar knights vote to lick the pregnant tombs
Torpid peace collapses the chorus of thieves

Laugh at the truth of sorrowful men in Christ’s shattered bazaar
Populations have plugged the lines of nations
Our submission to years trembles the fitful breeze
Torpid peace collapses the chorus of thieves


(from VISIONS OF A TREMULOUS MAN, forthcoming)
Vincenzo Bilof-2014

Monday, July 14, 2014

MEET THE CAST OF TOXICITY: COMING TO THEATERS SOON!


On the edge of hilarity and terror, Toxicity challenged how I should approach a novel. Quentin Tarrantino is the master of mundane dialogue while presenting despicable characters who remain interesting, with an infusion of dark humor that is borderline silly in a different context. While reading Max Booth III’s first novel, I struggled to understand why I didn’t like it, and why I continued to read it. Halfway through the narrative, I suddenly realized that I loved it, and finished the rest of it in one sitting. 

The first time I had watched Pulp Fiction, I was apprehensive and curious until the infamous “Bonnie Situation.” I felt the same way about Toxicity, and all the humor and dialogue began to make sense within the framework of the novel. None of it seemed out-of-place or inconsistent. This is an accurate depiction of a book that would be a Cohen Brothers-directed movie with Tarantino penning the screenplay. Instead of providing a convoluted review, I decided to track down the author and ask him about the film version of his book, which should be coming to theaters sometime in 2019. Max Booth III is the rare author who has been afforded the luxury of choosing the cast himself before he sells his stake in his intellectual property. Booth promised we wouldn’t be forced to watch an Anne Rice-style bastardization. 

SOMETIMES, THE BOOKS IS BETTER THAN THE MOVIE. CLICK HERE TO READ IT, FIRST!


What is the title of your latest book? 

Toxicity.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I was a 12 year-old kid bored out of my mind. I wanted to write. I'd written before, but never anything I felt (at the time) was worth a damn. I wanted to write something I truly understood. So, I picked up a notebook and pen and began writing about a dysfunctional family. The family was basically my own family. Each character was a doppelganger of someone I already knew. I made them win the lottery, because at the time, I would daydream about winning the lottery and escaping the suburban ghetto. So, the initial idea came from my own attempt to predetermine a ridiculous yet fantastic future for myself and my family. I realized not too long into the story that my family would never spend their lottery winnings wisely, so that is where much of the humor and absurdity originally sprung from. 

After so long, I also realized I had no idea where to go with the story, so I brought in gangsters with guns. They came into the family's house mean and blood-hungry. These gangster characters were largely underdeveloped and stereotypical, so I went back to the beginning of the story, and told it through the gangsters' POV, what they had been up to while the family won the lotto and destroyed their newfound fortune. Just by exploring these other characters I was able to discover a whole new plot to intertwine with the existing lotto story. I made these characters breathe and, as one crazy thing after another occurred, the overall plot showed itself to me. 

I rewrote the book many, many times throughout my teenage years. I’m 21 now, and the book was published this April. It's been a long road, and the book is nowhere like what it once was back when I first started writing it. I know each character inside and out. I am proud of them. None of them are flawless, and that is what makes them beautiful. 

What genre does your book fall under?

I’ve been marketing it as a dark comedy crime novel. It’s much more than that, I think. “Insanity” is not a genre, though, but it totally should be. A lot of reviewers like to compare it to Quentin Tarantino and the Coen Brothers, so I guess Toxicity has the same sort of ultra violence/absurdity/humorous style.  

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?   

Maddox Kane – Timothy Olyphant 

Maddox is one of the three main characters of Toxicity. He’s an ex-con trying to reconnect with his daughter, Addison, while dealing with his massively idiotic and annoying brother, Benny. Things quickly go bad for Maddox in the novel, and only get worse as the story progresses. Timothy Olyphant would be the perfect actor for this role. I’ve been a big fan of his for a while now, but his strength in Justified fully…uh, justifies his ability to play the badass tough protagonist that is Maddox Kane.






Addison Kane – Tatiana Maslany
 
Addison is the 17 year-old daughter of Maddox. Early on in the novel, her and her boyfriend, Connor, find themselves into some deep shit involving a corpse decomposing in the woods behind a local drugstore. They do whatever they can to scavenge up enough cash to skip town, even if that includes taking advantage of her father, who until recently she thought was dead. Tatiana Maslany would be a good fit, I think. She’s in her late ‘20s now, but she still could pass for an older teenager. I recently started watching Orphan Black, and she is goddamn amazing in it. 


Johnny Desperation – Evan Peters

Johnny is the third main character of the novel. He’s a teenager stranded in the ghetto with his trailer trash family until, one day, his mother wins the lottery and they become millionaires overnight. Johnny quickly progresses from “punk rocker” to “snob” as his new surroundings corrupt him. He also becomes addicted to a new drug called “Purple”, which allows him to see the Fly, who is quite possibly the second coming of Jesus Christ. I am a huge fan of American Horror Story and I’ve always thought Evan Peters kills each role he’s given. He plays the disturbed teenager well. Plus he looks exactly how I pictured Johnny when writing him. 


Benny Kane – Steve Buscemi

Benny is Maddox’s younger, stupider brother. He’s pretty much Steve Buscemi. I don’t think I need to explain much more than that. 







Connor Murphy – Robert Sheehan

Connor is Addison’s boyfriend. Typically immature, his heart is in the right place. He would defeat the universe if it meant saving Addison’s life. But he would be cracking dick jokes pretty much through the whole battle. I used to love the show, Misfits, and Robert Sheehan’s character on it is a strong comparison to Connor. He’d do this role justice. 






The Fly

The Fly may or may not be an omniscient being who has arrived on earth to convince Johnny to jumpstart the Apocalypse. The Fly knows all. The Fly is you and the Fly is me. Do not fuck with the Fly. Obey the Fly or all will die. Obey the Fly or all will die. Obey the Fly or all will—oh, wait, anyway. Yeah. Jeff Goldblum. 





What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

The world is shit but sometimes it is not. 

Is your book self-published or represented by an agency?

Toxicity was released by a small press called Post Mortem Press. 

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

 I’d say anything by Carl Hiaasen and Elmore Leonard. 

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

The flies, baby. The flies inspired me. 

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

I don’t know. The pages give you a decent paper cut if you hold them a certain way, if you’re into that sort of thing, I guess. 



Bio

Max Booth III is the author of two novels, TOXICITY and THE MIND IS A RAZORBLADE, along with a collection of flash fiction called THEY MIGHT BE DEMONS. He is the co-founder of Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing and the assistant editor of Dark Moon Digest. The editor of numerous anthologies, he has studied under Craig Clevenger and award winning editor, Jennifer Brozek. He writes columns for Litreactor. Raised in Northern Indiana, Max currently works as a hotel night auditor somewhere in San Antonio with his dachshund and life partner.