Culture Consumption: February 2024

My month in books, movies, television, and games.


In T. Kingfisher’s What Feasts at Night, Alex Easton is still recovering from the terrifying events that occurred at the Usher manor (in the first book, What Moves the Dead). All they want is to rest and idle away their days in the routine of noise and delights of Paris, but “instead, as a favor to Angus and Miss Potter, they find themself heading to their family hunting lodge, deep in the cold, damp forests of their home country, Gallacia. In theory, one can find relaxation in even the coldest and dampest of Gallacian autumns, but when Easton arrives, they find the caretaker dead, the lodge in disarray, and the grounds troubled by a strange, uncanny silence. The villagers whisper that a breath-stealing monster from folklore has taken up residence in Easton’s home. Easton knows better than to put too much stock in local superstitions, but they can tell that something is not quite right in their home. . . or in their dreams.”

This is an excellent sequel, and I think I enjoyed it even more than the first book — in part, because of the way the book further expands the characters, explores how Alex is haunted by their experiences in war, and the infusion of folklore, which is a particular love of mine.

Adapted from the urban legends collected and published by Hirokatsu Kihara and Ichiro Nakayama, Mimi’s Tales of Terror is another excellent horror manga from a master of the form, Junji Ito. In this collection, Ito ties together each of the legends by presenting them through the eyes of a single character, a college student named Mimi, who stumbles across and survives strange encounters over and over again. Some of these tales are bite-sized frights of only a few pages long (such as witnessing a haunting figure on top of a lamp post), while others tell slightly longer tales (such as living an apartment across from a cemetery from which strange sounds emanate at night). There’s definitely some beautifully haunting tales in this collection, and Ito’s art continues to be fantastic.

Professional Techniques in Video Game Writing, edited by Wendy Despain, brings together advice from a number of games industry professionals into a collection of essays that provide practical, actionable advice on a wide range of topics. The various subjects discussed include day-to-day aspects of game writing, such as creating documentation, writing tutorials, productivity advice, collaboration with other departments, and keeping localization in mind. The advice also covers different styles of work, from AAA companies to indies, and addresses the differences between writing for existing licenses or developing new IP. It’s a really great read for those looking to enter into or explore different aspects of games writing, with some solid exercises at the end of each chapter.

Books Finished This Month:

  1. Beirut Blues by Hanan al-Shaykh (translated by Catherine Cobham)

  2. What Feasts at Night by T. Kingfisher

  3. Professional Techniques in Video Game Writing, Second Edition, edited by Wendy Despain

  4. Mimi’s Tales of Terror, adapted by Junji Ito, based on the urban legends by Hirokatsu Kihara and Ichiro Nakayama

Total Books for the Year: 11

Still in Progress at the End of the Month:

The Haunting of Velkwood by Gwendolyn Kiste, Blood, Sweat and Pixels by Jason Schreier, An Apparently Impossible Adventure by Laura Madeline Wiseman, Even Greater Mistakes: Stories by Charlie Jane Anders, and Wandering Games by Melissa Kagen Fullerton

Short Stories & Poetry I Loved This Month

(Click through to read the full piece.)

Poetry: “Convergent Evolution” by Kenzie Allen (The Rumpus):

In a city of seven hills,
you told me once, there is no fate

kismet: a coincidence
we mistake for grand design.

Could they be one and the same,
I asked, knowing I was reaching

for something
I didn’t understand.

Poem: “What Kind of Times Are These” by Adrienne Rich (Poetry Foundation):

There's a place between two stands of trees where the grass grows uphill
and the old revolutionary road breaks off into shadows
near a meeting-house abandoned by the persecuted
who disappeared into those shadows.

I've walked there picking mushrooms at the edge of dread, but don't be fooled
this isn't a Russian poem, this is not somewhere else but here,

Dark Academic Fantasy: “Further Examination and Capture of Candle Skulls Associated with the Baba Yaga” by Wendy Wagner (Lightspeed Magazine):

Recent scholarship has shed considerable light on many previously puzzling or mysterious aspects of the life of the Baba Yaga—or, as some would still have it, the Baba Yagas. But one element has remained largely unstudied, and indeed, almost completely ignored: the remarkable candle skulls that typically illuminated her houses and the pathways to them. This oversight is almost inexplicable, given not just the natural scholarly interest in the macabre, but by the inherent magical and economic potential suggested by these skulls—more so than the chicken legs that have proven so fatally attractive to so many researchers.

Poem: “The God of Loss” by Lachlan Chu (Nightjar Magazine):

i wanted to know

what the gods were made of.

i placed my fist next to wide open eye,

skin bending to bones

(Note: line spacing does not reflect the actual spacing in the poem)

Poem: “for a home to wilt” by Tajudeen Muadh (Broken Antler):

for a home to wilt, it means the walls of it are burrowed by bullets. that is to say where this home bleeds is where our body is painted and it is where our bones are creasing into a pulp where everything peaceful is dying. that is to say the fireflies in Gaza are a strip of my body. fireflies are beautiful things turning to things morphing into the parallel universe.

Poem: “Furry Raspberries” by Louise Worthington (Coffin Bell):

My friend blushed when she said she’s treading on eggshells. Family tries to touch with words of compassion. It feels like they’re petting their dog.

No sermon brings comfort or understanding. These four bruised walls are the closest thing obediently watching the dormant volcano in my womb,

Poem: “Specimens of Those Who Wanted to Leave” by Elisha Oluyemi (Broken Antler):

on the day i should be made lonely, i thought of specimens—
of a house full of tokens, of minatures, of visceral
reminders of those who would leave me.

tongues in boxes, heads on platters:
it’s not grotesque if you did it with tears


Recent, I spend a week and a half visiting my brothers — both of whom are fond of rock climbing. As a result, they have shown me some of their favorite rock climbing documentaries, each of which is thrilling and interesting in its own way. Both documentaries were filmed during the same time frame, because the climbers at the center of each — Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell — are friends and were making their own unique ascents up El Cap (a well known rock face in Yosemite National Park, California).

Alex Honnold climbing El Cap without ropes in Free Solo (2018).

Free Solo tracks Alex Honnold’s attempt to free solo (which is to climb a rock face without the assistance of ropes) El Capitan, a nearly 3,000 ft (914 m) granite monolith in Yosemite. Honnold has a long history with free soloing, having climbed a number of other walls in this way — but making the attempt on El Cap was another level of difficulty and danger.

Honnold spends years preparing for the ascent, selecting the most optimal route and making the climb with ropes over and over and over again in order to memorize the challenges and holds required to succeed. It’s a fascinating journey and Honnold himself is an interesting character, living out of a van and fully dedicated to climbing. Despite his gentle and friendly demeanor, Honnold seems to be disconnected and unable to empathize with other people. At one point, he explains that he’s not worried about his own death and that he’s confident the people around him will move on with their lives should he die in the attempt of his free solo challenge. In general, he doesn’t seem to fear much when it comes to rock climbing and this lack of fear is confirmed with an MRI scan, which shows that it take more than normal stimuli for him to experience fear.

As a result, the heart of this movie comes not so much from Honnold himself, but from his girlfriend, family, and friends — all of the people who will (no matter what Honnold believes) mourn his loss if something goes wrong. Their emotion and concern for Honnold is clear, and it brings a sense of gravity to the documentary.

Tommy Caldwell making his ascent up sheer rock in The Dawn Wall (2017).

Meanwhile, in The Dawn Wall, Tommy Caldwell is attempting to make a first ascent (as in the first person to ever climb that route) up an unclimbed section of El Capitan, where the sunlight first hits in the morning. The dawn wall, as it’s called, is a sheer cliff face with some of the most difficult climbing in the world and, from the perspective of many, represents an impossible climb.

The story is much wider in scope, however, as it relates Caldwell’s experiences beyond just the wall. The doc shares how he became passionate about climbing and stayed with it through the tribulations of his life — most notably, being part of a team (including his girlfriend) who were rock climbing in Kyrgyzstan, where they were kidnapped and held hostage by militants. Surviving the experience was traumatic and something that he and his girlfriend carried long after. For a long time, this shared trauma helped to hold them together, but ultimately they divorced — and seeking a way to deal with the loss led him to his focus on the dawn wall.

In order to do that, he needed a new climbing partner and began working with Kevin Jorgeson. After spending several years preparing, Caldwell and Jorgeson made their ascent — taking turns climbing and belaying thier partner. Ultimately, the pair spent 19 days on the wall, sleeping in tents pinned to the side of the cliff face, and facing a number of seemingly impossible challenges. The Dawn Wall is an incredibly moving film, and if I had to only recommend one of the two, this would be it.

Kevin Jorgeson camping on the side of the cliff in The Dawn Wall (2017)

New-to-Me Movies Watched Last Month:

  1. Our Father (2022)

  2. Free Solo (2018)

  3. The Dawn Wall (2017)


Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Martin Hart (Woody Harrelson) in season one of True Detective

It took me way, way too long to finally get around to watching True Detective. As I have heard many times over the years, the first season is phenomenal, focusing on two detectives — Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Martin Hart (Woody Harrelson) — who are faced with a horrifying and bizarre murder, in which a woman is tied to a tree and adorned with antlers in a seemingly ritualistic way. The story plays out across time, with the detectives describing the events of the original case in an interview, while flashing back to the events as they happened. The show flawlessly jumps between these timelines, with it being perfectly clear what’s happening and when — and the story of murder and other deeper mysteries unfolds beautifully, with all the pieces fitting neatly together.

Both cops are flawed characters. Rusty is awkward, blunt, and a cynic, but neverthelss focused and passionate about finding the truth. Meanwhile, Marty is a bit more charming (in a gruff cop way) and has respect for Rusty (even if he finds his ideas distrubing), but is having an affair, tends to cover up with lies, and doesn’t like to rock the boat.

The truths that unfold feel both grounded and cosmic, with references to The King in Yellow (a series of stories by Robert W. Chambers) and a conspiracy to keep the murders covered up. I loved seeing the way these characters evolved and grew as time passed by and the layers of depth that were uncovered as the case was slowly solved.

After this, I’m looking forward to delving into more of the series, perhaps skipping season two due to mixed reviews, but definitely checking out seasons three and four.

Clockwise, starting top left: “Fish Night,” “Helping Hand,” “Three Robots,” “Good Hunting,” and “Ice Age.”

I’ve been fascinated by the Love, Death and Robots since it came out, due to my love of both short films and animation. But I never got around to actually delving into all of the episodes — until now. So far I have watched most of the first season, and I’m enjoying exploring these beautifully animated shorts. For the most part, my tastes tend to veer away from straightforward, realistic style animation, with my favorites often utilizing hand drawn or similar style of animation to provide unique explorations of the medium. While there are a few misses, most of the episodes are great. Here are a few of my favorites, thus far.

  • “Fish Night,” directed by Damian Nenow (based on the short story by Joe R. Lansdale)  — Two salesmen break down in the desert and become witness to

  • “Helping Hand,” directed by Jon Yeo (based on the short story by Claudine Griggs) 

  • “Good Hunting,” directed by Oliver Thomas (based on the short story by Ken Liu) 

  • “Ice Age,” directed by Tim Miller (based on the short story by Michael Swanwick) 

  • “Three Robots,” directed by Víctor Maldonado and Alfredo Torres (based on the short story by John Scalzi)

(As a side note, I need to track down each of the short stories that appears in this series.)

Alex Honnold and Hazel Findlay on the summit of Ingmikortilaq. (Photo: Matt Pycroft, National Geographic.)

Keeping with the rock climbing theme, I also watched Arctic Ascent with Alex Honnold, in which Honnold joins of a team of fellow climbers, a climate change researchers, and a local guide on an adventure in Greenland. The journey involves dropping down into a moulin (vertical shaft) in a glacier to gather data, a 1,500-foot ascent up the Pool Wall (with two non-climbers in tow), a first-ever trek across the Renland Ice Cap, and culminating in a 3,750-foot first ascent up the Ingmikortilaq cliff face. All of these challenges are located in one of the most remote regions in the world.

The show is excellent, blending the adventure and danger of rock climbing and traveling in remote areas with commentary on climate change. The show discusses the importance of measuring the rate at which glaciers are melting, which provides valuable data for researchers attempting to understand see-level rise. It’s a great show with plenty of info and thrills.

Other docuseries I watched included American Nightmare (about a strange kidnapping that was assumed to have been faked, at first, only to get even stranger as the truth is revealed) and Pepsi, Where’s My Jet? (about a Pepsi ad that promised the reward of a jet for 7,000,000 Pepsi points, a teenager with a plan to win it, and the lawsuit that resulted). Though very different in tone, both series are interesting watches.


Cover image for Silent Hill: The Short Message

Horror stories have a long history of paralleling raw, painful human experiences, and Silent Hill: The Short Message, the latest release in a franchise known for exploring the dark depths of the human soul, leans heavily into such subject matter. Co-developed by Konami Digital Entertainment and HexaDrive and released for free on PS5 at the end of January, The Short Message explores potentially triggering subjects, such as suicide, depression, bullying, and child abuse and neglect.

Upon the starting the game, Anita wakes up in an abandoned building in Kettenstadt, Germany. She immediately receives a text from her friend Maya, an internet-famous graffiti artist, who asks Anita to come and find her somewhere in the building. Much of the gameplay is akin to a walking simulator, in that it involves exploration through the grimy, trash strewn hallways with their graffitied walls, chained up doorways, and abandoned rooms — along with some maze-chase sequences that I found more frustrating than frightening.

Good Bones. (screenshot by me)

Good Bones (RETCON Games) is a charming visual novel/point-and-click game with cozy horror themes. Avi brings her daughter Bianca to a new home in the hopes of leaving the grief of loosing her wife behind — but the house holds more than just the belongings of the previous owners.

The point and click element of the game allows for various puzzles, with the player having to return to rooms several times in order find and collect the items needed to progress through the game. In addition, dialog choices allow Avi to either connect with her daughter or remain sheltered in her own grief, which has an impact on how the game ultimately pans out. Good Bones a short and fun experience.

If you’d like to learn a bit about the development process for Good Bones, check out my interview with Jes Negrón, founder of RETCON Games, on SUPERJUMP.

Oxenfree II: Lost Signals. (screenshot by me)

I dipped briefly into Oxenfree II: Lost Signals (Night School Studio) while I was on my flight to Denver. When the game opens, Riley is caught in a storm and radio voice cut through the noise, as if reminding her she can’t escape. Suddenly, she finds a light that connects her briefly to the past, before waking up on a dock on the Camena Coast. She has come home to help study radio anomalies by erecting transmitters a specific points on the coast. I’ve made it far enough to connect with another intern — and then the combination of sleepiness and noise on the flight made it hard for me to focus. So, I’ll have to finish the game up later.

While hanging out with my youngest brother, he brought out a number board games — with my favorite being Carcassonne (Frima Studio). The game involves putting tiles of a map down and claiming farmland, monasteries, cities, or roads in order to gather points. It’s pretty easy to pick up (with the most complicated bit being totally points at the end) and has fairly quick gameplay. It was possible to play a couple of times in a night, if we wanted to, while still having time to jump into other games.

Another lovely game is Wingspan (Stonemaier Games), which features gorgeous art and interesting, complex gameplay. However, it takes a bit longer to set up and understand the gameplay and also takes longer to play. Loosely speaking, the game involves building a population of birds on the board, which can be placed on water, forrest, or grasslands. Basic actions involve placing a bird, drawing a card, laying eggs, or collecting food. Many other aspects of the game come into play, as the game has a layered economy and system. Once you understand the various elements, though, it’s easy to pick up the flow of play and have a great time.

We also played two fast-paced, funny themed card games — Bears vs. Babies (created by Elan Lee and Matthew Inman), which involves building bizarre monsters to defeat the baby hordes, and Taco vs. Burrito (created by 7-year-old Alex Butler), which involves building the ultimate lunch. Quick to learn, fun to play.

That's it for me! What are you reading? Watching? Loving right now?


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