Sunday, June 16, 2013

#52Books - May

Time for some more booky-wooky stuff (Just in case the midweek rant explosion hasn't already drove everyone away - I'll try and make it up by getting back to some good ole-fashioned succubus smut next weekend).  This is my #52Books (let's be realistic - #30Books) project caught up to May.

#9: Brian Keene - Earthworm Gods

My favourite book of the year so far.  Then I am a sucker for old-fashioned monster stories and Earthworm Gods is a big brash monster story with the possible end of the world (Again, Mr Keene?  How many Earths is that now?) as a backdrop.  It’s been raining constantly for the past forty days, the world is flooding and monstrous worms are coming to the surface to pick off survivors.  What’s not to love?

The book is broken into three sections.  The first concerns Teddy, an old man living up in the mountains, and sets the scene with first the unnatural rain and then racks up the tension as the predatory worms appear.  Teddy is joined by some survivors and the second part is their account of escaping a drowned city haunted by other monstrous threats.  The third part returns to Teddy’s house and an epic stand against a threat even worse than the eponymous killers worms.

I really enjoyed this.  Teddy is based on Keene’s grandfather and is an interesting and well-drawn protagonist.  With some of Keene’s other books I felt the focus drifted near the end, but here he’s on brilliant form, with some superbly executed set pieces.


Stuff ‘realistic’ horror with serial killers and other dullness.  Nothing beats some good old-fashioned monster scares.

#10: Brian Keene – Earthworm Gods: Selected Scenes from the End of the World

This is a collection of short stories set in the same universe as Earthworm Gods.  The characters are all real people who paid for the privilege of Keene writing them into a story and killing them off in imaginative ways (an interesting concept—anyone fancy being made into succubus fodder?)

It does impose some restrictions on the stories—Keene shows no qualms in sending his sponsors down the maws of various hungry worms, but is obviously not going to depict any of the characters in too bad of a light.  After reading the first few stories I had some doubts.  They’re a little too short and follow a similar pattern of potted character history, setup, and then the fade out as the character meets an untimely end.  However, the collection does settle into a kind of rhythm and while the stories are short, in accumulation they do a good job of describing the doomed, drowning world.  Overall I enjoyed the collection, but wished the stories weren’t quite as short as they were.

#11: Ben ‘Yahtzee’ Croshaw – Jam

Yahtzee Croshaw is probably more familiar as that dude who speaks really fast on the Zero Punctuation videos.  Aside from reviewing games and creating point-and-click adventure games he also writes books.  Jam is his second.

This is the point where I could rant about useless legacy publishing is and how the only way someone born after the mid-seventies can get a horror book out is through spending a decade becoming famous at something else first, but that would feel like leaping onto a mammoth to attack it with a chainsaw when the mammoth is already sinking beneath the surface of a tar pit.

I picked this up because of the interesting premise—An apocalypse (or jampocalypse) where Brisbane gets buried beneath three feet of carnivorous jam.  The ‘jam’ is a voracious blob-like monster that absorbs all organic matter on contact.  The narrator sees his flatmate get slurped up on page two and the book maintains the same pace throughout.

The book is a parody and leans more towards Bizarro than outright horror (You might have already guessed this from the whole ‘carnivorous jam’ thing).  It follows the British comic tradition of characters trying their best, but getting distracted by trifling concerns (such as the narrator’s insistence in carrying around a Goliath birdeater spider) and continually undermining their efforts with sheer incompetence.  Think Shaun of the Dead or Red Dwarf.  Croshaw’s Jam isn’t quite as sharp as those, but it’s a fun read that might make a decent TV mini-serial (6 episodes, obviously).

#12: Dante Aligheiri – Divine Comedy I: Inferno

It’s time to get all classical with one of the most famous depictions of hell—Dante’s Inferno.  I picked this one up from the Gutenberg project, although I thought it contained all three parts of the Divine Comedy (Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso) rather than just Inferno.  It did, however, contain copious notes for which I’m grateful as following classics without the historical context is really hard.

I knew about the structure of hell as Dante created it—the nine circles each punishing different sins—but this is the first time I’d read the source (okay translation of the source).  It’s pretty much Dante dissing everyone he’d ever disliked and imagining various scabrous torments to be inflicted on them in hell.  Drown in rivers of boiling blood!  Be submerged in pitch while demons stick forks in you!  Great fun.

“...and he had made a trumpet of his ass.”

Lovely stuff.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Now Exiting the Holier-Than-Thou Wars...

Anyone following my twitter feed might have noticed an increase in the rant-quotient of late.  Yeah, getting involved with the latest SFWA kerfuffle over sexism in their Bulletin magazine...probably not the wisest of moves.

The teeth-grindingly annoying part is I'd like to think I'm on the side of 'good'.  Greater diversity of voices and perspectives leads to a greater number of interesting and imaginative stories, which can only be a good thing.  And frankly, some of the shit women writers had to put up with in the past was abominable.

But I also subscribe fully to freedom of expression, and the chilling effect of censorship, whether it be the dictionary definition of the word or the quasi-censorship by mob that essentially results in the same outcome, scares me greatly.  My publisher, eXcessica, was nearly shut down when our payment processor, an organisation with an effective monopoly, had a sudden attack of morality.  So yep, censorship, or rather the not-quite-censorship we don't have a proper word for, concerns me a lot.

The problem is whenever someone tries to voice these concerns they usually get a battering.  Some of the people reading this (who am I kidding, I'm a grotty horror/porn writer, no one is reading this) are probably already rolling their eyes and thinking:

"Here we go again, another stupid SWM that completely doesn't get it.  All 'Blah blah Art! blah blah Fantasy! blah blah Censorship!'  Thinking it's all about him, him, him.  People are offended!  Our souls are hurting!"

I'm just a little concerned about the whole burning of stuff.  Can we not just create more cool, imaginative stuff to please a bigger, more diverse audience?  That seems better to me than taking stuff away from the audience that's already there.  Is a picture of a warrior woman in a bikini really that--

"Sexist!  Disrespectful to woman!  And totally unrealistic.  She's a fighter, not a glamour-puss sex symbol."

Um, isn't unreality sort of the whole point of fantasy, a precious little glimmer of escapism from humdrum lives.  It might not be your fantasy, but the imagination is a really big thing.  When you can create anything, it seems a bit mean to stomp all over someone else's fant--

"It's wank fodder for sad inadequates who don't know how to deal with a real woman!"

That's a little harsh, but so what if it is.  It's their fantasy, their little glimmer of escapism. Can they not--

"Oh shut up!  You're just another spoilt geek.  Go back down to your basement and take your neckbeard and bad hygiene with you!"

Ironically, despite my earlier posts expressing 'silly' concerns about censorship, I was Jim Hines'ing one of many comments like the one above to show how offensive it would look if you gender-flipped the terms, when The Guardian censored me.

Yep, that fluffy bastion of liberalism, The Guardian.  Achievement unlocked: Censored by The Guardian.

They didn't need to shout "Shut up!" at me.  You don't need to tell people to "Shut up!" when you can press a button and, poof, they are shut up.  Funnily enough the original comment is still there.  Yep, a quote of it with "men" switched to "women" was deemed to offensive to exist, but the original is fine.  I guess it's perfectly okay to describe the gaming/sci-fi/fantasy community as having a high number of "unattractive, unhygenic, neckbeard types", with a "complete lack of ability in finding a partner".

Gee whiz, why is there this backlash from the gaming community, I wonder?

I did point out the double standards.  That comment did well.  It nearly lasted a full half hour.

shut up

They don't need to froth and rave, "Shut up!"  They press a button and you are

shut up

But it's not censorship.  It's their paper.  It's their choice over what comments appear in the discussion.  They have that right.  It's fine.  I won't be reading it in future.

This was not a debate or discussion.  It's diktat.  "You will think and say what we think you should think and say, otherwise you can go and stand in the shit with the other bigots and misogynists."

No.  I'll take a third option.  I'm out.  I'm exiting the Holier-Than-Thou wars.  I'm disengaging.  It's that or let the radioactivity build up until one morning I wake up and find I'm standing in the shit with all the other frothing loonies.

Tell the truth, I'm a little concerned I might be standing in it already.

I hope not.  I quite like that whole diversity thing of people of all stripes letting their imaginations spill out without some mean fucker standing in the way and telling them they can't.

Not that what I think matters a damn jot.  After all, I'm

shut up

Well not entirely.  I'm not truly censored.  I can write this and post it to the great dark outerness of the internet.  It might not be lost forever.  It might even bubble up to the heady circles of the twitterati, where the fully evolved elite can point and laugh at another frothing neckbeard ape.  Ooo, if I'm really lucky I might even get to be described as very special.

Then again, it might be best to not hit that post button.  Not good to speak out of line.  Might jeopardize the...actually it's really more of hobby than a career.  Still, there's always the worry of my writing being

shut up

Urp.  Sorry about that.  You know how it is, sometimes you have something you really need to cough up off your chest.  In this case it's black, sludgy and I think those are eyes.  I'll kill it with fire later just to make sure.

Don't worry, I'm not going to make a habit of this.  I'm out.  Weight lifted.  Shits no longer to be given.

Time to get my head down and back to the stories.  That's what it's all about.  Create fantasies...provide escapism...entertain...delight.  Fuck the other shit.

Monday, June 10, 2013

#52Books - March (sort of...)

Yeah, that #52Books thing of reading 52 books in a year.  I posted about it in January and then approached it with my usual chaos.  I'm currently on #13 (and also #14, #15, #16 and maybe a #17, because...chaos), but for some reason got tangled up in putting reviews together.  The book reviews get the lowest hits here of everything, but I feel obligated to review them because I write 'em myself.  Here's what was on my Kindle around Feb/Mar.

#5. F. Paul Wilson – The Keep

So that’s what the film’s about.

I remembered seeing the film of this back in the late eighties/early nineties as part of Alex Cox’s late night Moviedrome series.  The film is a bit of a cult classic, but largely incomprehensible after executive meddling hacked it down to a far-too-slim ninety minutes.

German soldiers are stationed at a creepy Romanian keep in WWII and are picked off one by one by a malign presence.  A Jewish professor and his daughter are brought in to try and explain the mystery, which deepens as a powerful stranger arrives to resume an aeons-old conflict.

The book is a clever mix of influences, including an extremely unexpected one that lies at the heart of the whole story.  It’s a little baggy in the middle while it develops a romance between the leads and layers on the misdirection as to the true nature of the evil entity, Molasar, but not enough to sink a thrilling tale.  It’s a shame loopy epics like this have given way to endless serial killer/police procedurals on the horror shelves.

After reading the book it’s fairly obvious film never had a prayer of doing the book justice.

#6: Brian Keene – Jack’s Magic Beans

Not a novel but a novella with some extra short stories added to bulk it out to an appropriate length.  If I wanted to be especially harsh I’d describe it as the leavings off Brian Keene’s writing desk packaged together.

The novella details a typical day at a shopping mall gone horribly wrong as everyone suddenly goes homicidally insane.  The title comes from the reason why the few survivors are immune, but then that immunity starts to wear off...

Gory fun, but it reads like the opening chapters of a book Keene never got around to finishing.  The short stories are fairly solid with “’The King’, In: YELLOW”, Keene’s gory riff on Robert W Chamber’s The King in Yellow being the highlight.

It might be scraps and leavings, but they’re fairly tasty scraps and leavings.

#7: David Wong – John Dies at the End

David Wong is the pseudonym of editor Jason Pargin.  It is also the name of the narrator of John Dies at the End, used as a device to play it up as a faux ‘true story’.  John Dies at the End recounts David and John’s fictitious adventures in the town of Undisclosed, where after being injected with a strange drug, Soy Sauce, they gain the ability to see the things humans shouldn’t see and become embroiled in a sinister plot involving alternate dimensions, weird artificially-engineered life forms and a whole heap of craziness.

The book is broken up into three vaguely linked adventures and veers wildly between crazy gross-out humour (such as trying to get a dog to shit out some plastic explosives it had swallowed) and darker moments designed to make the reader pause and think, including a deftly understated moment from Wong’s past that involves no extra-dimensional weirdness at all, which makes it all the more horrifying.  There are plenty of twists, including an absolute gut-puncher in the middle that reveals why that innocuous little philosophical question about an axe with a replaced blade and handle was asked at the beginning of the book.

Overall the book is probably a little too madcap zany for its own good, but is packed full of imagination and never dull.

#8: David Wong – This Book is Full of Spiders

The follow-up to John Dies At The End, this continues the adventures of John and David in Undisclosed.  At the start Wong is attacked by a extra-dimensional arachnid parasite only he and John can see (because of the Soy Sauce from the previous book).  Other parasites escape Wong’s house until a full-fledged outbreak threatens Undisclosed and maybe the whole country.

The sequel has tighter focus than John Dies At The End and is better for it.  Wong (Pargin-Wong, not Wong the character) takes some well-aimed swipes at cozy zombie apocalypses and the exploitation of fear by authority.  It’s only near the end, with the introduction of a reality-warping fur gun, where things start to get a little too silly and some inconsistencies creep into the story.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Hentai Game Review: Monster Girl Quest 3

It’s been a year and a half, but now the final chapter of Monster Girl Quest (Monmusu Quest) is out.  Was it worth the wait?

tl;dr: Yes.  Buy it now.

Here are my previous reviews of chapters one and two.  That should give newcomers an idea of what the game series is about.  The third chapter is a continuation of the same: a visual novel interspersed with RPG-style turn-based battles.  This is a hentai game, so the enemies are all female, use sex attacks and losing results in the main character, a hero named Luka, being subjected to various imaginative sex acts. (and then enslaved, eaten, dried up like salted fish...)

At the end of chapter two Luka had found the four elemental spirits and proved himself to his demon lord companion, Alice, by defeating the four heavenly kings and then Alice herself.  Unfortunately for them, the happy ending was interrupted by the previously benevolent deity, Ilias, going batshit insane and invading the world with an army of Angels and hideous artificial Chimera with the intent of wiping out all ‘unclean’ life and beginning anew.

Chapter three kicks off with a short intro showing the cities and towns Luka passed through under siege and then immediately pitches Luka into battles with angels (yeah, they’re just as sex-crazed and perverted as the other monster girls).  Then unfolds a truly epic story.

You know how people say “It’s not just porn, it has a great story,” and you think, yeah right, pervert.  Well...

It has a really great story.

Mermaid lovers, Torotoro Resistance has not forgotten about you

My first attempt at writing this had to be scrapped as it was too gushy.  I really enjoyed the plot, despite only being able to follow it through the vagaries of machine translation (AGTH + TranslationAggregator) as I can’t read Japanese.  Early on the game goes into a chunk of back story that explains who Luka really is and how the world ended up the way it is.  A mad god tricked and imprisoned all its rivals and then lied to the whole of humanity.  It’s weightier fare than normally would be expected for a porn game and the game is all the better for it.

Take Promenstein.   The name is clearly a portmanteau of Prometheus and Frankenstein.  Normally that would be that, a clever name for an evil scientist.  RPGs have been borrowing from classical mythology to populate their bestiaries right from the beginning.  Then Promenstein’s background is revealed and the name takes on much greater significance...

Porn is usually derided because most creators don’t give a shit about anything other than the fucking.  The creators of Monster Girl Quest clearly do give a shit about story and characterisation and it shows.  The game is packed full of strongly drawn characters, brilliant moments and clever little touches.  I think fantasy and manga lovers will enjoy this game just as much for the story as the sex.  Avoid the spoilers if you can.  The game has to be played through to be fully appreciated.

Okay, so it’s not going to win any literary awards, but plot-wise it matches up favourably with other mainstream RPGs and you could probably take all the sex out and still be left with a decent game and story.  If Torotoro Resistance’s aim was to create a hentai version of something like Berserk or Claymore, they succeeded admirably.

It’s not all perfect.  The end is maybe a gambit twist too far and some of the plot points are clearly there to add something cool to the game play.  Which is fine.  When making a game, what’s good for the game should always take precedence over the story behind the game.

Luka: From buttmonkey to badass

I was interested to see where they’d take the combat.  By the end of chapter two Luka has all the four elemental spirits under his control and is extremely powerful.  The story provides a solution to this and the game keeps combat from going stale by tweaking and changing the abilities available to Luka.  The main shift from the first two chapters is a greater prominence to the attacking skills.  In the previous chapters they weren’t really needed—Meditate to regain health and whichever spirit stopped the enemies one-hit-KO was usually all you needed to defeat most enemies.  That won’t work this time.  Luka’s basic attack doesn’t really do enough damage and most enemies hit so hard the long game plan will usually end up with Luka running out of SP and losing.  Some monsters can also use elemental spirits as well, which adds an extra dimension to the RPGesque battles.

Okay, Hydra, this is all well and good, but what about the sex?  You know, the whole purpose of a sex game.

To be honest I was a little less enthusiastic for this instalment.  From the spoilers on Torotoro’s website I knew angels were going to feature prominently and angels are kind of dull.  I like my girls sexy bad and angels are a little bland compared to some of the other creatures that have graced the monsterpedia.

Yeah, needn’t have worried about that.

Halo, check.  Fluffy white wings, check.  Definitely an angel.

The artists appear to have been in a competition to outdo each other in terms of weirdness and the end result is a monsterpedia that makes one of Chaosium’s monster manuals look like a petting zoo.  At one point I was fighting a zombie dragon with a sexy girl for a tongue.  Midway through the battle she vomited out a pair of stomachs shaped like naked girls and told me these were designed to digest a man while fucking him senseless.  Seriously, where else are you going to get this level of weirdness!

(and yeah, I think I will be ‘borrowing’ that concept for a future story ;) )

". . . . ."

As with the previous chapters, they’re trying to hit a wide variety of fetishes.  Some are going to hit the spot and others are going to call for a sick bag, but with around 90 separate encounters most monster girl enthusiasts should find something that nestles right in the sweet spot.

The art is again variable in quality, but mostly fine.  This time the work appears to be divided so that each artist is responsible for an area or a creature type, which overall makes for some good consistency.  New arrival Xelvy in particular appears to have been very productive.  While their various cyber/droid monster girls aren’t really my thing, the sheer number of CGIs they’ve provided is above and beyond expectations.

There are many many variations on this scene.  So many...

The game gets most things right, but there are a couple of disappointments.  One is the addition of scenes in each location where a chimera girl gets to do the naughty with some of the local civilians.  Just when you’re wondering what sexy moves the girl has in store for you, Luka shows up and one-hit-kills her and a potentially interesting fight doesn’t happen.  Given that these are some of the ickiest monsters, some might argue this is a good thing!  And these scenes are some of the voriest.  In one scene a chimera-succubus sucks dry three men and they’re graphically drawn as shrivelling up into grey husks.  While this is frequently described as happening to Luka in some of the Bad Ends, the artwork at least largely leaves him intact before the fade out to black.

The XX-7, for all your male milking needs. Comes with a 3 month warranty.

The other disappointment is the heavenly knights play a much reduced role.  Granberia and Alma Elma don’t even make an appearance until the final quarter of the game and you don’t get a sex scene with any of the four until right near the end.  It does make sense in the context of the plot but I suspect it might leave their respective fans disappointed there wasn’t more.

Overall, this is a very well put together hentai game.  Violated Hero 2 might just shade it on the quality of artwork, but other than that Monster Girl Quest is simply better at everything than all of its rivals.  Torotoro Resistance delivered and brought their epic to a satisfying close.

If fiddling around with text hookers and garbled machine translation doesn’t appeal, never fear, RogueTranslator is working on an English translation.  You can check their site for regular updates.

And, if you’ll excuse the sneaky plug, if you’ve finished the game and fancy some... ahem... further reading, please allow me to make a suggestion or five...