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Black Books

Starting this week, it’s the Noiseless Chatter advent calendar: Choose Your Own Advent!

A new post every day(!) from December 1 – December 24. Each one is a writeup of a different novel, covering a grand total of 24, and spanning many different approaches to the material.

Specifically, I think back to a comment longtime reader RaikoLives left here, thanking me for speaking about the experience of reading each book, as opposed to just summarizing plots. I’m taking that approach for Choose Your Own Advent as well. There may be recaps, there may not be, but these pieces will all, in some way, reflect my experience as a reader, as a writer, as a human being whose life has been improved and enriched by an appreciation for literature.

I love books. You…probably know that already, but I always feel as though I don’t write about them enough. This is a chance for me to scratch that itch, and it may help you find something great to read in the new year.

I get asked for reading suggestions often, and I love to respond personally to those whenever I can. But…well…now I can do it on a wider scale, and I really do hope you enjoy it. It’s the biggest series this blog’s had in a while, and I’m excited to share it.

There aren’t many rules, but I did want to set a few so that the posts would be varied and, hopefully, interesting.

Novels only. So no non-fiction, no graphic novels, no short story collections. Sorry, but I had to narrow the criteria somehow, or I’d be here choosing books forever.

Only one title per author. Because otherwise I’d never shut up about Thomas Pynchon.

Approximately 1,000 words each. Those are pretty short posts by this site’s standards, but I think that still gives us a lot of space to find interesting inroads. It’ll add up to around 24,000 words for the feature when all is said and done anyway, so I hope it pleases those who enjoy both bite-sized and meatier reading material.

This is not a “top 24 greatest novels” list or anything; the books covered won’t even necessarily be ones that I like…they’re just ones that I had something to say about. And while you can probably guess a handful of titles that I’ll cover, I know there will be some big surprises as well, as I’m using this series to spotlight some books that I might not otherwise have any opportunity to write about.

Anyway, come back on Thursday, December 1 for the first entry. We’ll get to celebrate the end of one monumentally shitty year by immersing ourselves in my favorite medium.

I hope you enjoy. Thanks for reading.

The 2016 Xmas Bash Commemorative Art Print!That’s right…you can buy prints of the Fourth Annual Noiseless Chatter Xmas Bash!!!! official artwork right here, right now. And you should!

Anyway, the actual post:

There’s less than one month until the Fourth Annual Noiseless Chatter Xmas Bash!!!!

Are you excited? I am. Because I know what I’ll be making you sit through, and you don’t!

Every year we solicit donations for The Trevor Project. No money goes through me, everything is directly sent to them. There’s no charge to attend, and folks either choose to donate (and how much) or choose not to. It’s that simple.

However, we have a bit of an exception this year, as you can now donate and receive something in return.

Artist, writer, and Mypos historian Casey Roberson is offering prints of this year’s official Xmas Bash!!!! artwork for sale. All proceeds from all sales are donated to The Trevor Project. So you can give and have something pretty awesome hanging on your wall.

You can buy your gorgeous Xmas Bash!!!! print here. You have quite a few options in terms of size, decision to frame, and so on, so pick the one you like.

There’s still time to receive it before Christmas, which is good, because not only is it a great reminder of the awesome work you do just by tuning in and being part of the fun, it’s a great gift for nieces, nephews, and a boss you’d like to confuse.

So, yes, check it out!

Speaking of the Bash!!!!, remember to block off the following date and time, so that nobody tries to invite you to anything! (You can register on Facebook, if you like, which will handle time zone calculations and reminders for you.)

Saturday, December 17
7:00 p.m. Eastern

As always, you can expect…

  • Seven terrible Xmas specials
  • A mess of rightly forgotten Xmas songs
  • Vintage commercials
  • Magic by illusionist Wes Iseli
  • A brand new song by Adam Lore
  • Surprise guests
  • Live chat
  • …and lots more

It’s free to attend; all you have to do is come to noiselesschatter.com at 7 p.m. on December 17. The stream itself is family friendly, so you can view it in your living room without horrifying grandma. Don’t let her see the chat room, though. That’s where the horrifying is guaranteed.

So, yes, if you choose to donate on the night, do so! If you’d prefer to give a bit more up front and get a sweet art print as well…that could be even better.

I’m not handling the print sales; Casey is taking care of that himself. But he did say that the way they are priced means that $10 for each sale goes to The Trevor Project. The rest goes to Society6, which is the company handling production and fulfillment. I’ve bought things from them before and been very happy, so I can personally vouch for their quality and service.

Also, since Society6 is handling things I bet you can get the prints in other forms such as OH GOD WHY WHY DID I LOOK
The 2016 Xmas Bash Commerative Leggings

Moral Orel, "The Best Christmas Ever"

I’m mad. I’m frustrated. I’m frightened, I’m embarrassed, I’m appalled.

I’ve been waiting to speak. I’ve said almost nothing. I keep trying to get my thoughts together and, nope, I can’t process a fucking thing.

There’s no other way to say it. We made an awful choice, we’re fucking idiots, and we’re going to hurt a lot of people. We’ve given bigotry a platform, and we’ve emboldened it. Possibly we’ve cemented it. We’ve done everything we can to make this country extraordinarily dangerous to people who don’t look, act, or believe the way we’d like them to.

About a week ago my country voted. The popular vote may not have gone that way, but for all intents and purposes we came together to decide, as a nation, that we wanted to be ugly, hateful, discriminatory human beings.

Some people, I’m sure, voted for Trump because they trusted him on the economy, or something. That’s fine. I disagree with those people, and I think it says something that the three states with significant first-hand experience of his business practices (New York, New Jersey, and Nevada) all voted against him, but so be it. This is what the political process is for, after all. I believe one candidate will handle something better, and you believe the other candidate will. We put it to a vote. This is a good thing.

Others, though, voted with hate in their hearts. I’m not going to rattle off the sob stories I’ve seen on Facebook and elsewhere. Those are sad and unfortunate, but you’ve seen them. Maybe you doubt some of them. Maybe some of them are indeed worth doubting. I, frankly, don’t care, because my own friends are suffering from this.

A good friend of mine from New Jersey, who’s been openly gay as long as I’ve known him, was told “Gays gonna burn in Trump’s America” at the gas station. A bumper sticker probably gave him away. I guess he’d better start hiding who he is, then.

Another friend of mine was getting coffee with her young daughter, when a group of assholes kept saying in a singsong voice, “Filthy Muslims,” making her feel very uncomfortable. She’s not Muslim; she’s Indian. But, y’know, her skin is brown, so, who can blame them. She said that she was afraid at first that they’d do something to her, but then she realized the truth is worse: that this is just the world they live in now, and the one her daughter is going to grow up in. You know how I’d talk about social workers in the ALF reviews, and what they’re like in person? It’s largely because of her. She’s a social worker who makes next to no money and gives a lot of herself over to it. She one of the sweetest, most selfless human beings I’ve ever known. She works hard to make life easier for the less fortunate, and this is how she’ll be repaid by her country.

Somebody I know on Facebook posted on Election Day that he really hoped people would “respect the election process” by voting for the male candidate, even if they preferred Clinton. “It isn’t right to have a woman in that position. It was never intended for a woman to be given that much power.” I’m paraphrasing, necessarily. The specific words obviously don’t matter nearly as much as the sentiment, which I assure you is intact. He has a baby girl, by the way. She’ll be growing up in a house with at least one parent who will make it clear that she is only allowed to go so far in life.

I personally watched as an old woman and two jackoffs talked about a group of kids playing near where my girlfriend lives. Children. They may have been Indian, too, but they weren’t white, which I guess is the point now. The kids weren’t bothering anyone. One of the guys said, “Deport the little fuckers.” The old woman, with a venom I’m not sure I’ve ever heard before, said, “I can’t wait until they do.”

Children. Bothering nobody.

This their world, now.

A friend’s colleague was black and homosexual. I say was because he hung himself a couple of nights ago. I can only imagine what he’d been subjected to. What he’d been told. What people assured him his life was going to be like, and how awful it must have been that he decided he’d rather die.

These are only the things I know, and it’s only some of them. I don’t want this to become a list of atrocities. You’ve all seen them. You’ve scrolled past them. You’ll be scrolling for a good long time.

No.

What I want to say is that…

…I’m speechless. I have nothing to say. I’ve read some very intelligent, eloquent musings on this election from both sides. Intelligence and eloquence, though, don’t mean anything right now. Somebody is sharing some very well-written advice on Facebook, and somebody else is fearing for his life. Somebody is assuring us that things aren’t as bad as they seem, and somebody else is in a waking nightmare from which she cannot escape. This has been a divisive election. We’d be seeing a lot of the same issues right now had Hillary won. Trump is a problem, but he’s not the problem. The country is the problem. The seething nastiness that’s been bubbling beneath America’s surface is the problem. And that’s what I hate. I hate that America is as ugly and cruel as it is. All Trump really did is make us admit that we’re okay with being ugly and cruel.

And I hate that.

I don’t have words. I’m not happy. For a while I even considered cancelling the Xmas Bash. Not because I wanted to get out of any work. It’s almost completely edited and ready to go. I just…didn’t feel like being funny. I still don’t.

But…

I don’t know. I can’t change the world. I can’t even change one person’s mind. We are all where we are, and all we can do is try to bring some light to our own little corners of the darkness.

I’ll do what I can.

It might not be much. In fact, it won’t be. Period.

But it’s something. Especially now, with so much fear. Hosting a live comedy stream is one thing. Hosting one that benefits The Trevor Project is another. It’s a small gesture, but it’s one I’ve already been doing. Stopping it now, when a lot of LGBTQ+ youth may benefit from it the most, would be foolish.

So the show will go on.

Which brings us to…

Updates, for those who prefer to skip my political misery:

Come back here, to this very page, at 7:00 pm (Eastern) on December 17 to enjoy the livestream of the 4th Annual Noiseless Chatter Xmas Bash!!!! You can read the full announcement here. And while it’s by no means mandatory to do so, you can use this event page on Facebook to mark yourself as attending. That way the time zone calculation will happen automatically, and you’ll get reminded.

I have a goal this year. I want us to hit $1,000 in donations. One thousand dollars of mental healthcare and emotional support for those who need it, in these unexpectedly difficult times. I think we can hit it. I’m confident we can.

Whatever we do, we’ve done well.

But I want to hit $1,000. And I really hope you will find it in your heart to help. (If you can’t find it in your wallet to help, though, never fear. You’re just as welcome as anyone else.)

Further, I had some other fun ideas for December. I think I’m going to do them.

There will be a Fiction into Film, which is actually just as valid for New Year’s as it is for Christmas. (Any guesses at to what it is?) I’ll probably post it between those two holidays, with an aim of producing a new article in the series every two months. I think that’s more doable than my original monthly goal.

There will also be an advent calendar feature that will run from December 1 – December 25. Every day I will post a new article about a different novel of my choosing. They won’t be long articles, but it’ll be a daily update, and when all is said and done I think the wordcount will add up nicely anyway, so you’ll have a lot to enjoy in the runup to Christmas.

I’ll only allow one book per author, and I’ll only cover novels. That means no collections, no poetry, no non-fiction, and so on. I have some ideas of the ones I’ll cover. You can probably guess a handful of them, but I think there will be some surprises as well, and it’ll be a great chance to see if any of them appeal to you. It’s always good to keep reading.

And if you have some great idea for what to call this feature, tell me, because I sure don’t.

Finally, I want to do another reader’s survey. We’re coming into a new year, we have this site’s most ambitious project well behind us, and I want to see where you’d like me to go next.

So get your thoughts together. I’ll post a link to the survey as soon as I have it.

Again, though…for now…

I’m struggling. I’m unhappy. I’m not creative. I don’t feel like being funny. I don’t feel like much of anything.

But I can get through this. We can get through this. Let’s just believe in ourselves, and in each other.

We’ll do the best we can.

We kind of have to.

Bad things are happening. We can’t stop them all. But we can create some good.

That’s something we can always do.

Nobody can take that away from us, and we shouldn’t take it away from ourselves.

Resident Evil 4

THE TITLE IS THE WHOLE POST GOODBYE

…okay, of course it’s not. You know me. If I can say something in nine words, I might as well say it in nine thousand.

Anyway, there’s a big update post to come, giving you all an idea of what to expect in the coming months. In short, though, December is going to be awesome, with the Fourth Annual Xmas Bash!!!! live stream, a great Christmas-appropriate Fiction Into Film, and a major, huge surprise that’s going to make December the busiest month this blog has had in a while.

But…you’ll have to wait to find out about that.

Because I’m playing Resident Evil 4 again. Or, I’m trying to.

And I can’t. I mean, I can, of course. But I also…can’t. Because this game genuinely scares the daylights out of me.

I don’t know why. I can’t put my finger on anything in particular. In fact, I don’t think it is anything in particular. I think it’s a combination of things. I think it’s the fact that the hordes of enemies (largely) don’t look like monsters, making it more difficult to keep them at a fictional remove. I think it’s the visuals of sickly greys and browns. I think it’s the soundtrack, which keeps unnervingly quiet until it rises up and swells against you right along with the enemies.

I think it’s everything. I think Resident Evil 4 is so well built, so atmospheric, so masterfully constructed that I can’t feel safe.

Other Resident Evil games have scared me, sure. But they’ve mainly scared me through unexpectedly placing an enemy around a corner. One of my most formative scary moments in games is shared by anyone who’s ever played the original: the dogs crashing through the windows. It’s effective, it works, and it’s also kinda cheap. And that’s been Resident Evil in a nutshell for me.

Cheap makes you jump. Cheap makes you shout a bit. Cheap makes your heart race.

But it doesn’t terrify you, because cheap is over as quickly as it begins. And cheap gets old. The 50th time a zombie pops out of nowhere, it doesn’t register the same way. You no longer panic; you respond. Instinct kicks in. The dogs crashing through the window are so fucking scary because it happens so early in the game, when you don’t know what to expect, don’t know how to deal with them, and are likely still learning the controls.

The later scares in that first game aren’t as memorable, because by the time you get to them you have some idea of what you need to do. You ready your weapon. You deal with the problem. We can all agree that the dogs scared the crap out of us, but can we all agree that anything later in the game had the same effect? Probably not.

And so Resident Evil, as a series, faced diminishing returns on its horror. We got used to its tricks and its methods. We started to anticipate what should have felt unexpected. We may not have known the lyrics, but we sure as hell knew the melody.

None of which is to say that the series peaked with its first installment, or that the series shouldn’t have continued, or anything like that. It’s just that the first Resident Evil could have done anything, and we wouldn’t have known what to expect from it. In later games, we had a kind of understanding. We knew what we were getting into. We’d jump when something popped up. We’d run out of ammo. We’d cling desperately to our healing items, trying to gauge how likely it was that we’d run into a save point before keeling over. The tension was still there, and in large part so was the horror, but it was also something we understood before it kicked in. That’s what Resident Evil is: monsters and ammo issues and unknowable gaps between save points. The first time, it’s a surprise. Every other time, it’s a convention.

Which is part of what made Resident Evil 4 so great. Knowing that fans of the series already understood how it ticked, and were savvy to the series’ tricks, Capcom chose to make a fourth installment that was entirely different. If the horror didn’t work as well, that was fine; Resident Evil 4 would be an action game instead.

Shift the genre. Shake up expectations. It was a gamble, but a smart one. You might be able to find some people who don’t think Resident Evil 4 is the best game in the series, but you’d have to do some digging.

And so Resident Evil 4 succeeded. It kept the general themes of the series alive, checked in on a few of the recurring characters, and was still artfully stingy with the ammo. Players familiar with the previous games felt largely at home, while the game itself took the series in a very different direction.

All of which is to say this: Resident Evil 4 shouldn’t scare me.

I’ve even seen people say that it’s not a horror game. They’re wrong, quite clearly, but the fact that anyone could even entertain that opinion says something.

There’s more of a focus on combat, for one. If you’ve played the previous games you probably have a lot of memories of dodging enemies in a panic, but in Resident Evil 4 your memories are more likely to be of taking on throngs of enemies with little Leon, hoping to cluster them together in a way that won’t overwhelm you, yet will allow you to send many of them toppling over with a kick.

Resident Evil 4 doesn’t want you dodging…at least, not for long. It wants you running, climbing, crashing through windows, knocking ladders down behind you when you finally find the right vantage point. Soon enough you meet your companion character, and it’s her job to stay out of trouble. She plays the role of a protagonist in the previous games, in that sense; she avoids danger whenever possible. It’s your job, by contrast, to clear the trouble away.

And yet, the game scares me. It scares me more than any of the other games do, and I think I’ve played them all (outside of Resident Evil 5, Resident Evil 6, and Revelations 2*).

It’s the best of the games I’ve played. It’s the most exciting. It’s probably also the most fun.

…but I’ve never gotten far in it.

I’ve played the Game Cube version. I’ve played the Wii version. Now, thanks to a Halloween sale, I’m playing the PS4 version.

I’m going to finish it. I’m going to force myself to finish it. I feel as though I need to. But every time I’ve picked up that controller to play it — any of three controllers to play it — my heart sinks. My blood grows colder. There’s something about the game that scares me more than the others do, scares me in a way that the others do not, and I don’t know why.

Partially, I think the shift to action-oriented gameplay is responsible.

Strictly speaking, Resident Evil 4 isn’t scarier. It’s not. Like, it really is not. It’s rarely claustrophobic, ammo and healing items are not as rare as they were in previous games, save points are indicated on the map to let you know exactly how far you have left to go, a merchant pops up regularly to serve as an armory, a medic, and comic relief all at once…

But I can’t play it. I keep having to stop. I pick it up. I make some progress. I get overwhelmed with feelings of terror, and I have to stop.

Nothing’s happening, and I have to stop.

I try five times to get through a wave of attackers. I succeed, and I have to stop.

I see nothing around me. Maybe a merchant. It’s quiet. I’m in no danger, and I have to stop.

It’s confused me for years. Why can I play the other games in the series? It’s not that they don’t scare me — they often do — but I can keep going. I can push on. The scary moments are thrilling, and then I move along.

In Resident Evil 4, the scary moments are oppressive. And they’re all scary moments.

Years ago I had a friend who couldn’t sleep in the same room as the box for the first Resident Evil game. He’d have to move it out of the room before he’d be able to rest at all. That always fascinated me, but I felt something like it when, very early in Resident Evil 4, I came across a man’s body hanging over a fire pit, while deranged villagers circled around it. The game just started, and I was already chilled.

Why didn’t I have his reaction back then? Why would I have it now?

Again, I think it’s the fact that the game is an action game. For some reason, that’s scarier to me.

See, I’m not good at those. Give my character a gun, and he’s probably not going to use it very well.

I’m clumsy. I don’t think well when I have to think quickly. I end up wasting ammo and spraying the air around the enemy. If I hit my target, it’s luck, and luck runs out. My favorite example of this has to be the first time I played Half-Life 2, where my chronic ineptitude rendered the conceit of the entire game incompatible with my reality. Characters would materialize and sigh with relief that I was finally there to save them…that I was their hero…that I was the only one who could help. Which is an odd conclusion to reach about the guy covered in bullet wounds who keeps blowing himself up with grenades.

But earlier Resident Evil games were puzzle-heavy. This may have been the design result of the fact that the controls and camera angles were, to be diplomatic, fuckawful.

Players couldn’t be expected to gun down hordes of baddies because players couldn’t be expected to even move their characters around reliably. And so the experience was something more like an adventure game. You’d find a puzzle, scour the area for clues, and have to figure out the solution for yourself. Resident Evil is a game about zombies, yes, but it’s also a game about consulting journals, analyzing paintings, shoving bookcases around, and searching for keys. That’s because without those things, you’d just have the combat. And the combat was terrible.

Resident Evil 4 makes the combat better. Much better. The camera isn’t fixed, you can aim precisely rather than simply point a gun in some general direction, and Leon is more nimble than the protagonists of previous games. As such — and I doubt this is coincidental — the puzzles take a back seat. You still have to find some kind of key or other, but they’re not especially well hidden, and there’s nothing you won’t find if you simply comb the area around you. Compared to the original Resident Evil, which required a good deal of oblique thinking and pixel hunting, this is a massive difference.

Now that you can be expected to kick zombie ass, in other words, the game might as well let that become the focus.

Here’s the thing, though: I’m good at puzzles. And I’m bad at combat.

And I think the lesson here is that horror, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

My friend who couldn’t sleep in the same room as Resident Evil was probably better at combat than he was at puzzles, so the game frightened him in a way that it didn’t frighten me. Resident Evil 4 scares the pants off of me, but not off of so many others…at least most of whom, I’m sure, are better at video game combat than I am.

See, fear only sets in when you believe you’re in danger. Puzzles — lateral thought, process of elimination, research — are my element. Yes, it would be scary to be locked in a mansion with zombies, or to have to find some way out of a city infested with them, but if the main thing standing between me and salvation was a complex puzzle with some esoteric solution…well, I’d stand a chance. Because that’s how I work. I can do that.

I’m in a relative minority, and I think that’s what made Resident Evil so scary for so many people; they knew they were in danger, but escape required a level of knowledge — or at least an ability to find knowledge — that they didn’t have.

Resident Evil 4 switches the focus to combat. I’m out of my element there. Suddenly, I am in danger.

Others see this as less scary. They’ve been shooting moving targets in the head since at least Goldeneye. They’re ready for this. The big door with the puzzle embedded in it is replaced with some guns and ammunition. Now they stand a chance. That’s how they work. They can do that.

For me, the change to a better control scheme actually made things harder, because the game now expected me to use it. My capacity for abstract thought no longer serves me well. I need fast reflexes. I need precision married to speed. I need to actually fight.

And so the action game is actually scarier to me than the horror games ever were. Because fear is being forced into a situation that you don’t feel you can escape.

Puzzles were challenges. Not always fair challenges, as anyone who played those games can attest to, but they were able to be solved. Resident Evil 4, though, is war. If anything, a capacity for abstract thought is a detriment. If you’re taking time to think, you’re already dead.

I find this interesting. We all have different fears, of course. I don’t mind spiders, or heights, or most of the things that traditionally scare people. But put a gun in my hand and tell me I need to fight my way out, and I’ll be terrified. That isn’t me.

Fear really is in the eye of the beholder. Because we’re all comfortable with different things, we’re all afraid of different things. That’s why, for example, I can fight my way through Bioshock and trudge my way through Fallout with no problem, but I’ll never as long as I live touch Silent Hill, because as a man who struggles with mental health issues every day, I already know that’s a series — however good — that I can’t handle.

So I’m a few games behind. I love the Resident Evil series, as cheap and cheesy and unfair as it is. But the game that so many believe isn’t scary at all is the one that scares me so much I can barely even play it.

I’ll get through it. That’s a goal of mine. I’ll push through, because the game is good enough that it deserves that I push aside my fear.

But for now, I find it interesting that as the team was developing a game that they knew would shift away from horror, they were crafting, expertly, my worst nightmare…one in which my survival hinged on something other than my brain.

—–
* Are any of these worth playing? I heard 5 is awful, but beyond that…I really don’t know much. I adored the first Revelations, which I think is what’s keeping me from bothering with the sequel. It was so good that I’m really not sure what another game could bring to the experience.

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