Niche Game: Body Harvest

Niche games: Âwe’ve all played them. ÂThey’re the games that you remember for a long time because they’re so unique. ÂSometimes they’re the only ones ever made like them. ÂOther times they were trailblazers for their kind of gameplay. ÂBut what they have in common is the bravery to try something new, allowing them to rise above the imitators. ÂEven though there might be newer games with shinier graphics, these games are still worth playing because they’re something different, something special.

Body Harvest was released in 1998 by DMA Design, the company that later became Rockstar North, the makers of Grand Theft Auto III. This isn’t at all surprising if you play the game as the style is very similar with a wide open world, open-ended game play, a large collection of weapons, and the ability to acquire any vehicle you see. The graphics weren’t terribly impressive, even for the time, which might explain why this awesome game has been overlooked by so many.

The story begins in 2016, and humanity is on the brink of extinction, at war with an insect-like alien race. Every 25 years for the last century aliens have returned to Earth for one day and sealed off an area of the Earth behind an impenetrable shield which prevented any outside help from entering the area. The poor humans outside watch helplessly as the humans within are slaughtered, every single one.

Now, in 2016, the aliens are back again, poised to wipe out the last remnants of the human race. The human race has finally perfected time travel technology, and they’re able to send one soldier back in time to single-handedly take on the alien threat.

First stop, Greece in 1916. Shortly after you arrive, you receive an alert of suspicious alien activity in the area. Hordes of helpless local civilians are being dragged kicking and screaming out of their houses by bloblike aliens which are carrying them towards a bug the size of a tank to have their bodies harvested for unknown reasons. Many other aliens are defending the big “harvester” bug. Your job is to destroy the big bug as soon as possible, the more humans it harvests, the closer the aliens are to reaching their agenda. There’s a meter on the screen that keeps track of casualties. If you let too many people die, game over.

In each time period the vehicles and weapons are at least a semblance of era-appropriate, which gives a nice excuse for increasing the firepower of weapons and quality of vehicles as time goes on. Besides stopping Harvester waves, you also must defeat a major boss at several stages in each year. This will drop a teleport beacon to make transport easier as well as opening a hole in the shield to progress to the next level.

When this game first came out the ability to switch between such a multitude of vehicles had never been seen before. From normal cars, to tanks, helicopters, various boats, airplanes. There’s even an alien UFO. Weapons all have a variety of different stats. Most of the weapons are pretty standard fare, machine guns, shotguns, rifles, all with their strengths and weaknesses. My favorite weapon by far is the sun shield, a mythological weapon stripped from a Greek statue. It reflects and focuses the light of the sun into a powerful weapon. It requires no ammo, can cause damage as far as the eye can see, and makes quick work of even boss characters.

Besides the action component, there is also some degree of puzzle element. From time to time obstacles will block your progress and you must find a way through or around them, such as finding dynamite to blast a path through a rockslide, or to find a rifle to blast an alien sitting on the distantly perched tram car to free it to move. You can move indoors in certain places, sometimes finding people to talk to, or having to find switches to secret passageways inside. These challenges aren’t terribly difficult but they lend some welcome variety to the gameplay.

Most of the game has a reasonable challenge level. The progression of difficulty of the enemies escalates well with the progression of weapons and vehicles. The boss battles are epic struggles, but not impossible. But, alas, I never finished the game. There was a challenge in the 4th world that proved too much for my then-teenage gaming skills. It involved hauling a heavy explosive on the back of slow and unmaneuverable vehicle. I was given ample time to clear the path before driving it, but somehow new aliens ‘ported in and detonated the explosive no matter what I did. I would like to retry it now to see if I can overcome it now.

Getting your hands on this game won’t take much effort. Unfortunately, it is not available for a Nintendo Wii’s Virtual Console download. At least not yet. Finding a copy used shouldn’t be difficult at all. A quick eBay search comes up with many results, some of them with “Buy it Now” prices of about $7, so if you have an N64 console, you’re set. If you don’t have the console, you might be able to find an N64 emulator and a ROM for the game.

Especially considering the low price tag buying this game used, if a lover of a good action shoot-’em-up with bug-eyed aliens, you can’t go wrong. Enjoy!

Niche Game: E.V.O. The Search For Eden

Niche games: Âwe’ve all played them. ÂThey’re the games that you remember for a long time because they’re so unique. ÂSometimes they’re the only ones ever made like them. ÂOther times they were trailblazers for their kind of gameplay. ÂBut what they have in common is the bravery to try something new, allowing them to rise above the imitators. ÂEven though there might be newer games with shinier graphics, these games are still worth playing because they’re something different, something special.


Summed up, E.V.O. Search for Eden is an experience-based action sidescroller based loosely on the process of evolution. It was released in North America in 1993 by Enix America Corp.

The intro of the game is a conversation with Gaia as she sends you on a mission to help evolution along. Strange crystals have suddenly appeared all over the world that, when eaten, cause creatures to suddenly evolve into extremely powerful creatures that no others can compete with. These unnatural animals are interfering with the natural course of evolution set forth by Gaia. She sends you to help her remove these obstacles to allow the natural course of life to continue.

The game begins with you controlling a minnow, small, toothless, with weak skin and not many health points. Nearby are the weakest creatures in the sea, jellyfish. At this point they’re a challenge, taking several bites to finish off, and you’re likely to be stung several times in the process. At this point you can only take a few tings before you die. When you defeat one it turns into a meat item. By eating it you replenish your health points and increase your evolution points. You can also eat plants to replenish your health points, but those don’t carry evolution points.
The real uniqueness of the game comes from the evolution system. At any time you can access the evolution menu and spend your evolution points. You can upgrade many parts of your body. Upgrade your jaws to increase the damage you inflict when you bite, your body size to gain more health points at the cost of maneuverability, your tail to gain speed. You can even add a horn to give you a weapon to ram enemies with, or a glowing lure that dangles from the front of your head and attracts weaker enemies into the reach of your jaws. There’s no set order that you have to upgrade these things. You can upgrade incrementally, stepping each component of your body step by step, or you can pick just one or two components and save up for the most expensive version, leaving you a tiny minnow body with needle-toothed “Fierce jaws”. This makes the game play very customizable, you can replay multiple times with different strategies for different gameplay experiences.

If you die in the game, you’ll never see a “Game Over”. Gaia resurrects you, taking away a portion of your evolution points as a penalty. This is good for those players who want to challenge themselves and take risks.

You travel the first world, a series of levels, as a fish. In every world there’s at least one mini-boss and then a final boss, and you must upgrade wisely to be able to defeat these powerful enemies. In the second world you start at the base amphibian body. In later worlds you become a reptile, and eventually a mammal.

Besides these major generic forms, you can take more specialized tracks of evolution. Mastering the game doesn’t require you to become a bird, but you can become one. In this way you can avoid many of the conflicts, though that may not be the best strategy, as you don’t get evolution points unless you kill, and it may leave you unprepared for the boss battles.

Yes, you can become a human, and I’ve done it. It requires an obscure and unlikely series of upgrades that I won’t spell out here. There are clues in the game how to do it, or you can always look it up yourself. Me, I didn’t care for the form. The four-legged mammals in the game have the ability to bite or to kick with their hind legs, which is a major advantage. The kick knocks enemies to a distance giving you time to maneuver. The human lacks this kicking ability, so even though its rock hammer is powerful, I don’t like it as much. Me, I prefer more outlandish forms, with big needle-like teeth, horse legs for strong kicks, and nice tough rhinoceros skin.

The game can be as challenging as you want it to be. If you want it to be more challenging, then you can try making it through the game with minimal upgrades. In the later levels you’ll be fighting creatures far superior to you. If you can defeat the final shark boss in the ocean stages with just the minnow form, that is impressive indeed. Or you can make sure you’re upgraded to the highest form of every body part. This will take extra time because of the experience building necessary, but for most players the boss characters should not be insurmountable if you take some time to experience build.

The final boss of the game is a long, long battle, and takes a great deal of time and learning of the boss’s fighting patterns, but it’s that much more satisfying because of it. Overall this game is so unique and fun that I would recommend it to anyone.

If you want to find a copy of E.V.O., it will take a little work. Unfortunately, this game has not been added to the list of games available on the Nintendo Wii’s Virtual Console. It is still possible to find a cartridge of the game, but it will cost you. I found my copy in a pawn shop for $30, and that was 10 years ago, so I guarantee it will be harder to find and more expensive than that now. A quick eBay search as I’m writing this article showed two entries: a “buy it now” price of $70 and an auction with the current price of $44. It’s listed as “rare”. The best way to play the game is to find an SNES emulator and a ROM for the game so you can play it on your PC. This is often a challenge in itself, as many of the sites that have ROMs available are no longer maintained and suffer from link rot. It may take multiple tries to find sites that can provide a useable ROM.

But however you find a copy, it’s well worth the effort to play this amazing game. Enjoy!

Review: Writers of the Future XXIV by Frank Dutkiewicz

–Written by Frank Dutkiewicz–

wotf24Yes, I know I am a year behind but I bought this book before 25 became available AND this edition can be found in the stores today. So for readers that like to browse and choose the reading material from books on a shelf, this review is for you.

ONE of the best pieces of advice that I read is if you are going to write short stories, you need to read short stories. What better way to follow that advice than by checking up on the competition. My first love is the anthology. I love reading a collection of short stories with a theme. The theme to WotF is very loose but the writers all have one thing in common, amateurs hoping to become pros. Here are the 13 writers that beat out Dave, Anthony, myself, and probably most of the people that take the time to read this blog for one the biggest prizes in amateur literature today.

A Man in the Moon by Dr Philip Edward Kaldon

This is the baker’s dozen of the anthology. It didn’t place in the competition but the judges liked it enough to fill out the book.

Gene Fisher-Hall is a terminally ill astronaut who wants to hold onto his job and wishes to spend the rest of days on the moon. He uses loopholes in the regulations, the press, and his folksy down-home charm to get his way.

I found this to be not much more than a story of a workaholic that doesn’t want to hang it up, set in space. I did enjoy a scene where Gene needs to overcome his arthritic-like disease to avoid a disaster. A Man in the Moon is easy to fall into but it went on way too long. Halfway through I started to wonder if it had an ending.

Grade:Â B minus

Bitter Dreams by Ian McHugh

First place third quarter

Constable Robert Bowley defends a town in the outback of an Australia where magic is real and evil is part of the land. A nightmare has been released in the mines and turns a family in the bush into zombies. With the aid of a mysterious magician, Bowley and the rest of the town braces for an expected assault.

It is easy to see why McHugh’s piece won first. He has a rare talent of writing intricate details that flow with the prose instead of dumping information as a lot of amateurs are prone to do. He does spend a lot of time describing minute specifics, and often that can get readers to tune out (I almost did at one point), but the story moved and the action was exciting enough to keep me anchored.

What I found particularly neat was our shadows are skittish things and will flee us when frightened. The magic man’s shadows were trained hunters, searching like scouts for evil. My only complaint is the assault on the town seemed too much like an old B western, Cowboys vs Indians, climax. Bitter Dreams is a wonderful story. Based on this lone piece, I believe Ian McHugh is likely to have a very bright future as a writer.

Grade:Â A minus

Taking a Mile by J Kathleen Cheney

Third place fourth quarter

Viviana Fuentes is dead, much to her facsimile copy’s dismay. Now the avatar awaits her demise, copies like her lasted ten days, twenty at most. Then another avatar shows up to offer her an alternative she never believed was possible.

Taking a Mile seized me right from the start. The first few pages are one of the strongest openings that I ever read. Then the story went in a direction that I wasn’t satisfied with. What began as a tale of a person with a short life living out her last hours became an Asimov-ish story of an artificial wanting to be human. One problem I had was I wasn’t sure what Ms Fuentes exactly was. Clone? Hologram? Computer generated humanoid?

Despite my disappointment, Taking a Mile is still a strong entry, worthy of its third place finish.

Grade:Â B

Crown of Thorns by Sonia Helbig

Second place fourth quarter

Marie is a kindergarten teacher living a devastated Perth in a future where a hot earth has flooded the coasts of the world and a planet wide drought leaves entire continents barren. To survive, the residents of Perth must subject their children to a test. A test to find the next Messiah. Only once in thirty years has a child passed this test. Then to Marie’s worst fear, another of her students scores high.

Sonia hit a triple on her first swing with me. Gripping characters, compelling premise, and a future I needed to know more about. A story with more than one perspective is rare in the WotF anthology, it pleases me to see when one gets in. This tale started strong and shifted into high gear half way in. The ending (I am surprised to admit) I didn’t see coming, extra points for that, and I found it touching.

I have read a lot of short stories (hundreds) in my lifetime. Some have had a plot that I still think of days, weeks, later. A very few (less than ten) I will never forget. Crown of Thorns is one that will stick with me for a very long time.

Grade: A plus

Hangar Queen by Patrick Lundrigan

First place first quarter and grand prize winner

GN 722 is the bomb, or rather the AI brain that serves as the guidance system for them onboard a starship. She is awakened from cold storage not knowing where her human friend, Marty, has gone. Sgt Joey Hart has taken his place and they start to form a relationship. GN 722, or Gina (what Marty used to call her) can’t help wondering what happened to her old friend and overcomes her programming to find out.

This was Pat Lundrigan’s 21st submission to WotF and like all the rest, involved robots and spaceships. The story is a heart-warming mystery. Gina is convincing as an evolved sentient computer. My only nit is the climactic scene comes off like a Star Trek solution.

It is not surprising that Hangar Queen won, it is worthy of the prize. It is comforting to know that despite 20 times of failing, it didn’t stop Mr Lundrigan from submitting number 21. Congratulations, you bring hope to us all.

Grade:Â A minus

Snakes and Ladders by Paula R Stiles

Third place second quarter

Owen Anderson is a medic and the only one to survive a bomb blast in his alien/human infiltration team. In order to stave off death, he injects nano-organisms into his bloodstream. They aren’t supposed to be more than a machine equivalence of a bacterium, but the micro bio-machines evolve in their micro lives and seek to find their god. If they get to Owens brain before they burn out, they just may get their wish.

The premise is great but the MC’s hallucinations were hard for me to grasp. A very good opening line but it took me until page three to find my bearings. The ending fell a bit flat for me.

In past issues of the WotF anthologies, it would take me this long to find a story I liked. It is a testament to this year’s issue that it took me this long to find one I wasn’t thrilled about. The writing is solid but the story didn’t grab me.

Grade:Â C

Epiphany by Laura Bradley Ride

Second place first quarter

Barker works in a traveling freak show. On Christmas Eve, the freaks rebel and kill their owner. Now a few want Barker’s help to find a magic knife, one that will free him from an ankle bracelet that keeps him from performing magic on his own.

The opening starts out great and is rich with intriguing characters. Then the tale grows, much like how a fisherman’s hands will drift further apart when recounting the one that got away. An awful lot happens in this story, and all in one night (it seemed like a months worth of adventure). Epiphany is one full adventure, too full for my tastes. The plot kept drifting which made the story something different by the end.

Grade:Â C plus

Cruciger by Erin Cashier

First place fourth quarter

Duxa is a planet maker, mankind’s creation to rebuild its species that has fallen to a religious zealots plague. When her final human companion falls to the disease, she has only the recorded pleas on a dying race to keep her company. Duxa is set to build a world by destroying another. Yet the one she has chosen has a budding race of its own.

Cruciger is a story of a machine that plays god. Yet a god that is prone to making mistakes. There is a very human quality to her. I could feel the loneliness she felt in this piece. However, the story had a very familiar quality to it. Cruciger is a story that was written right but never really endeared me to it. Still worthy of a first place finish.

Grade:Â B plus

Circuit by J D Everyhope

First place second quarter

Compendium of Literature with Critical Commentary and Analysis is a book. A speaking one made for teaching in a time before the Red Plague. Lela’s father believes such a book has no place in their world. Young Lela decides to take it for herself and leaves the book on to observe. The book lives through three lives and influences two great thinkers.

Circuit is the third story to be written from the perspective of a machine. I found it to be intelligent and deep in a deceptive way. In the opening, Lela’s father wants to put the book away because it is filled with opinions and opinions can have an adverse effect on society. The book ends up proving his point in the end.

Ms. Everyhope managed to insert a cleverly disguised moral in this short tale, one that felt reminisced of Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. Bravo.

Grade:Â A

A War Bird in the Belly of the Mouse by David Parish-Whitaker

Nigel is a World War One British flying ace that has been ‘time plucked’. He now leads tourists over the hills of California to fight Germans in a replica of France in 1917. The Sopwith Camels and German Flockers are perfect recreations, with the exception of the harnesses that protect the flyers from harm. Nigel must contend with his German plucked counterpart, a Japanese man searching for his definition of honor, and an American marine who believes that Nigel is an antiquated relic.

I did not believe that I would like War Bird through the first few pages but the story grew, then captured me. A nice tale about pride, honor and duty. The surprisingly rich characters in this short piece all had different agendas, based on different ideas of honor from cultures separated by time. I did not like the title until I realized what the mouse was (duh). I found the ending very fitting.

Mr. Whitaker did a splendid job, especially since he had to win me over.

Grade:Â A minus

Simulacrum’s Children by Sarah L. Edwards

Dr. Chanhausen is a 19th century inventor that makes others like himself, androids. He hires a street boy named Joseph to help him. He is working on his third creation, a female android, when he gets assaulted and his lab ransacked. The Doctor is at loss to know who is behind these attacks but fears it may be the one that created him.

Simulacrum’s Children is a Frankenstein styled tale, except the monster is the one making the monsters. The scene changes are separated by dates. I was never sure if I was reading log entries or not. The story hinged on an emotional element centered on the Doctor’s third creation, in my opinion, it failed. I never quite bought into her ascendancy. Although he was prominent in the piece, I don’t believe Joseph was needed to tell this story.

Grade:Â C

The Bird Reader’s Granddaughter by Kim A. Gillett

Third quarter third place

Catia is an orphan. Her father has died at sea and her mother has thrown herself into the ocean to be with him. She climbs the hill to join her grandmother where she learns the craft of fortune telling. Running through the birds does not always tell the whole story and telling ones future has its own ways of setting the course of events.

The Bird Reader’s Granddaughter is a story of prejudice and superstition. Catia’s grandmother is shunned by the town because of her gift yet blamed for all disasters. Visitors traveled for miles to learn their fortune but I never saw an instance in which they benefited from its knowledge. I did like the ending but the crux of the story, Catia’s future, could have been avoided by a simple and obvious solution. Her grandmother, in my opinion, did the equivalent of leaving a book of matches in easy reach of a child that has issues with fire.

Grade:Â B minus

The Girl Who Whispered by Al Bogdan

Third quarter second place

Etelka is a whisper-girl. She and fellow whisper-girl are property of their High-One mistress. Etelka waits eagerly to be free of servitude, hoping that her father repays his debt. Whisper-girls are without the bones that others have. They roll along the floor like blobs. Their breath has the gift to rejuvenate others and accelerate growth.

It took me awhile to completely comprehend Mr. Bogdan’s world. I still have a difficult time trying to visualize Etelka and Ibi and the manner in which they are able to move. The climatic scene worked well but the confusing politics and setting sapped to much of the energy from this story.

Grade:Â C

I have read about a dozen of the twenty-five additions of The Writer’s of the Future Contest. In past anthologies I would find about three stories outstanding (A quality) but an equal number difficult to finish (D quality), with the rest in that B, C range. This addition I found the most satisfying one of the bunch.

The artwork on the cover of the anthology is a magnet for any reader. Of the art accompanying the stories within, I liked William Ruhlig’s depiction of A Man In The Moon the best.

Writer’s of the Future volume XXIV is a solid read. Entertaining from start to finish. If you haven’t had a chance to pick up a copy yet, I recommend that you do.

Snapper2_Mugshot

Frank was shocked to learn there is such a thing as a word police. Convicted with Battery on the English Language and Assault on Good Taste he graciously plea bargained a deal. He occasionally does reviews for Anthony and Dave as part of his community service.

Frank has managed to get a flash fiction piece published in the latest addition of Space Squid (issue #8). The prosecution used it as evidence against him.

The Time Traveler’s Wife

s_Wife_film_posterMy wife and I took my mom to The Time Traveler’s Wife, a convoluted SF romance starring Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams. The movie is based on the book by the same name, written by Audrey Niffenegger. I haven’t read the book yet, but it’s on my must-read list. In the movie, Bana plays Henry, a man with an extremely rare genetic disorder which causes him to time travel both forward and backward. He has no control over when and where he goes. McAdams plays Clare, the title character who becomes his wife. Their relationship is… complicated. He meets her for the first time when he’s 20-something, and she’s in college. She meets him for the first time when he’s 40-something and she’s five years old. Like any relationship, they have good times and bad times, but unlike other relationships, the good times for one person often coincide with bad times for the other person.

When Henry travels, it just him, no clothing or anything. This makes for some amusing and awkward situations as he shows up in various places without clothes. In particular, he’s very lucky when he first meets Clare that she didn’t tell her parents about the naked man she met in the woods by their house, or Henry might have ended up in jail. Those scenes were rather creepy anyway, not because of anything Henry does or says, but because you know that he is married to her in the future, and it is just plain weird. The time traveling effect, the only special effect in the movie, is pretty neat, with his flesh evaporating like a mist, often starting from his hands and then leaving his clothes to fall limply to the floor. But I think it was overused in scenes where it made no real difference. For instance, in the wedding scene, a younger Henry has the pre-wedding jitters and disappears, only to be replaced by a Henry with gray in his hair. This provokes much murmuring during the ceremony but has no real effect on the plot. And then the younger Henry reappears during the reception. If there was any real point to the jumping in this scene, I really didn’t see it. Perhaps if we were more privy to Henry’s internal reactions this would have an interesting effect on his behavior after these jumps, but as the movie is it just seemed like a waste of a perfectly good plot element.

Of the three theories of time travel I’ve discussed before, this movie falls firmly under #3 “Time is written in stone”. Henry tells Clare that he has tried many times to prevent the death of his mother, but he never makes it to the right place by the right time and everything always happens like it happened before. As I’ve mentioned before, I believe this type of time travel could only exist in the presence of a higher power, because something all-powerful must be guiding actions to make sure that nothing could be affected by Henry’s foreknowledge. This is never more true than in this movie, with the supernatural hand manifesting itself most strongly in the timing of Henry’s seemingly random travels.

The movie was relatively good, but I don’t think it was as good as it could be, for two major reasons.

First, I have never been impressed by Eric Bana. He really needs to work on his facial expressions, he has the facial range of Joan Rivers. I just can’t bring myself to care about any character he plays because of it. At least his character is more sympathetic than his lead role in Lucky You, where he plays a compulsive gambler who steals money from his girlfriend and has no redeeming qualities whatsoever, although his acting range is much more suited for the role of a professional gambler since he has a permanent poker face. And the likeability of Henry is all in the writing, NOT in his acting.

Thank goodness Rachel McAdams can act, or this movie would’ve been completely unsalvageable. As it is she carried Bana’s incompetence throughout it and managed to make a movie that I could stand, and which I could actually react emotionally to. Through her reactions I could even feel sorry for Henry and his ailment, something which Henry himself did not manage to do.

Second, the chronology was needlessly confusing. When each scene started I had to take a step back and ask “When did this happen and what are the ages of Henry and Clare. This one could have easily been avoided simply with some planning of how the movie was laid out. The easiest way would have been to follow a chronology from just ONE of the two character’s lives, and let us figure out some of the strange reactions of the others as we went. And since Clare is the title character, and since her chronology is easier to follow anyway as it is easily cued by her hairstyle, and cues from the world around her. But instead, a scene jump would sometimes follow Clare, sometimes follow Henry, in haphazard arrangement, leaving me to guess at the beginning of each scene when this took place, and lifting me much too far out of my movie-watcher trance. As an alternative, instead of changing the scene ordering, they could simply have put a caption on the screen listing the year and the age of both of them.

But overall I thought it was decently good, and my mom even liked it. Finding a movie that we can both enjoy is a real challenge, so it’s a definite note of success whenever we can actually pull it off. I haven’t read the book that this movie is based on yet, but it is high on my “to read” list. I hope that the parts I didn’t like about the movie were the fualt of the movie-makers and not the writer of the book.

Now, for those of you who hate SPOILERS, like I do when I’m reading a review, stop now, because I’m going to tell what happens.

BEGIN SPOILERS!!

The complicated plotlines become even more complicated when Henry and Clare start trying to have children. Clare has miscarriage after miscarriage and they eventually drum up the unproven theory that each baby has inherited Henry’s time traveling gene and is time travelling right out of the womb. Although they never come across proof of this theory (which is probably a good thing, as that involve the moviemakers splattering a fetus across a stage), Henry becomes more and more apprehensive about having a baby at all. He doesn’t want the kid to have to suffer through the condition he’s had to suffer through. This opens the movie up for quite an emotional quagmire which I am not quite sure how sort the ethics of. Henry secretly gets a vasectomy, because Clare refuses to agree that not having kids is the right thing to do. He eventually confesses to her, and she is furious. The next time a younger Henry, one without a vasectomy, passes through her time, they have sex and voila she’s pregnant. Before she carries the baby to term Henry meets the girl, Alba, who has indeed inherited his time-traveling. She says she’s a “prodigy” because she’s able to control it. The plot now gets even more convoluted because there are Albas of two different ages all over the place. The older Alba knows what happens in the future and she tells the younger Alba and Henry, but Henry makes her promise not to tell her mother, driving another wedge between them.

Partway through the movie, Clare and Henry glimpse another Henry traveling momentarily through their time with a bleeding wound in his gut. He’s gone after a few seconds leaving them both with a feeling of dread. Clare has never seen him when he’s above forty or so. Alba confirms that Henry died when she was five. So the rest of the movie is mostly waiting to find out how Henry dies.

In the end, Henry’s death is just a freak accident. He travels into a forest where Clare’s father is hunting (his love for hunting was well established early on. At the time, Henry’s legs are unusable because he is still recovering from a bout of hypothermia. He pops into place sitting in the snow in the middle of the woods right by a buck. He looks around wildly, sees her father from quite a ways away. Her father shoots at the buck and hits Henry instead. By the time her father reaches the scene, Henry’s gone, leaving only a bloodstain on the snow. This only further reinforces my belief that a higher power wanted these events to play out this way, because the odds of him appearing in that exact place and exact time if the jumping is random is just far too low for me. And all he would’ve had to do is lie back and the bullet would’ve gone over him for sure.

Then, after his death, as Alba is growing up with Clare, Henry pops back in again, presumably from before he died. I get the impression this happens from time to time and it’s portrayed in the movie as if it was a good thing. But I can’t imagine what that would do to a person trying to grieve. These people need to move on with their lives, but how can they do that when Henry’s reapperances with many years in between keeps the wound raw instead of allowing it to heal? This left me with a sense of unease much different than the heartwarming reaction I got the impression I was supposed to feel.

Niche Games: Katamari Damacy

KatamariBox
<Coming up soon in Fantasy Magazine is a series of articles written by me, about something I call “niche games”. None of them have been posted there yet, but here’s a sneak peek. This article will only appear here on Diabolical Plots, and will perhaps whet your appetite for more over at Fantasy.>

Niche games: Âwe’ve all played them. ÂThey’re the games that you remember for a long time because they’re so unique. ÂSometimes they’re the only ones ever made like them. ÂOther times they were trailblazers for their kind of gameplay. ÂBut what they have in common is the bravery to try something new, allowing them to rise above the imitators. ÂEven though there might be newer games with shinier graphics, these games are still worth playing because they’re something different, something special.

Katamari Damacy, released in 2004 by Namco, is easily one of the strangest games I’ve ever played. The title translates to something like “clump spirit”, which is as accurate as anything, I suppose. The game begins when the King of All Cosmos (a strange deity with a gigantic codpiece and a carpet-roll for a head) goes on a bit of a binge and eats all of the stars, constellations, and the moon. Now it is your responsibility, as his son, to correct his mistake. How you ask? By the use of magical objects called katamari.

KingCows
If you don’t ever pick up the game, at least check out the theme song. It is so weird, but I find it hilarious, and it never ever gets old.

Katamari are balls of various sizes which are supernaturally sticky. They can pick up anything that is realatively small compared to them, and I do mean anything. When the game begins, the first katamari is very tiny, only about an inch across. Right away you can pick up tiny objects like push pins and buttons simply by running into them. They stick to the ball and increase the diameter by a little bit. But if you try to pick up slightly larger items, like mice or tape dispensers, then the katamari will just bounce harmlessly off of them.

littlekatamari
As your diameter increases, so does your ability to pick up larger and larger items. From buttons to staplers to bananas to pumpkins to people to cars and so on. I must admit, I giggled like a schoolgirl when I picked up my first human. The poor child was stuck to the side of the Katamari, legs wiggling until he was buried in other stuff (mostly also wiggling people). When each level begins, you are given a time limit and an objective size. You must reach that minimum size. If you do reach that size in time, then another level is unlocked, and so on. As the levels go on, both the starting size and goal size of the katamari increase, as does the scope of the level.

The controls in the game are quite simple, all based on the use of the two joysticks on the PS2 controller. If you push both sticks up, then you push the Katamari forward. If you pull them both back, you pull the Katamari backward. If you pull one forward and one back, your little guy rotates around the ball, swiveling the perspective. The only difficult control is the speed boost. If you tap both joysticks from up to down repeatedly and simultaneously, you’ll get a sudden boost of speed that launches you forward. You will need this from time to time. The Katamari has mass and must obey the laws of gravity, so a steep slope may be impossible to conquer without the speed boost.

You can’t die in the game. If you do take a big knock from something larger than you, then chunks fly off your katamari, shrinking its size and flinging it far, far away. Most of the time you’re more or less spherical, but if you pick up an oblong object it will affect your ability to roll, making you lopsided and ungainly until you pick up some more swag to even yourself out.

The time limit on each level keeps things interesting and exciting. Even when I replay levels I’ve played it’s not a foregone conclusion that I will pass it again. It all depends on what area of the level you take, so you learn as you play to remember where the most pick-up items are. As the timer gets close to the bottom I’m always rushing from place to place trying to find a last few items. By that time I’ve cleared out all the obvious ones and it’s a matter of picking up the items on the periphery.

buildings
The last levels are especially cool just because of the sheer size. In those levels you START at a size of a couple meters, and become a monster of epic proportions, getting so large that you not only are picking up buildings, but freighters, islands, eventually even clouds from the sky once you’re big enough to touch them while touching the ground. The greatest strength of the game is it’s ability to scale the world smoothly so that in such a level you never notice the growth, it happens so gradually it just seems natural.

There are some features which enhance replayability. If you reach your size goal in a level before the time limit you can choose to keep going, growing larger and larger, and can try to get a record for the largest size in each level. Also, outside of the levels, there is a collectibles screen which has a short description of everything you’ve absorbed into a Katamari. This is actually fun sometimes, because many of the items are Japanese food items that I’d never heard of, so this lets you learn tidbits of Japanese culture. Also, in many or all of the levels, you have cousins hiding out, litting guys with funny shaped heads. If you collect them then you can use them as playable characters in multiplayer modes. Also, there are presents left for you by the King of the Cosmos that you can try to find. The presents are things the prince can wear, such as a guitar strapped over his back or a hat. They don’t affect gameplay, but they’re a cut little customizable thing. And all of these things still have time limits, so you’ve got to manage it in the time allotted.

Finding a copy of Katamari Damacy shouldn’t be hard. A quick eBay search finds a brand new sealed copy for a Buy It Now price of $10. That is well worth this weird gem of a game.

Inferno by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

InfernoWritten by Frank Dutkiewicz.

Inferno is the modern day telling of Dantes 14th century epic poem. Even for those who have never read The Divine Comedy (such as myself), this tale of a trip to hell is familiar to many. The 1976 Hugo and Nebula nominated novel by Niven and Pournelle has had over twenty reprints over the years. The latest reprint is available on the shelves of bookstores in time for its long awaited sequel Escape from Hell.

The novel opens with Science Fiction writer Allen Carpentier dying in a stunt to impress fans. The agnostic Carpentier finds himself in an astral equivalent of solitary confinement. His world is a bronze haze. He can think, speak and move but cannot feel or see a thing. His very existence challenges Descartes statement I think therefore I am. In a fit of madness, he says the magic words that frees him from his prison (a djinn bottle), only to find himself in the Vestibule of Hell where he meets guide, Benito (a real person in history). Benito informs him where he is and claims to know the way out, through the nine circles of hell to its very center.

The ever-skeptical Carpentier chooses to believe he is elsewhere and theorizes he is in a futuristic amusement park he terms ‘Infernoland’. Allen and his guide travel through all the horrors of hell all while he meets people that he knew during his life and famous people throughout history.

Inferno is a visual masterpiece. Each layer of hell is laid out as maze of terror. The souls of the damned suffer as cruelly as the fire and brimstone preachers have claimed, and some, in this book. Carpentier and his companions suffer many of the punishments of the damned as they cross each circle. They endure such cruelty as a boiling lake of blood, a desert of burning sand with snowflakes of fire, and an industrial wasteland patrolled by driverless Corvettes that run down the wasters in life. However, Carpentier’s real struggle is with his own agnostic beliefs.

One of the foundations for an agnostic is why would an all powerful being create a supernatural torture chamber like hell? Allen, the Science fiction master prefers to believe he is another prop in a futuristic society than contemplate a possibility that Dante’s vision was real. He is constantly reevaluating his theories while witnessing many of the miracles and horrors of hell, such as; never being able to reach the short wall the circles hell, the judge of Hell, Minos, and his impossibly long tail, and the ability to heal despite suffering the worst of injuries.

Carpentier cannot understand the unending punishment souls are forced to face for eternity. The suffering that many endure seem out of balance for the sins they had committed in life. His conscience argues this point throughout the book while he tries to piece together the where and why he and others are there. The ability to make a universe does not presuppose moral superiority, he concludes at one point. By the end of the novel, Allen finds a reason on why god would have a place like hell, one that I found fitting.

As an amateur that writes as hobby, I recommend Inferno as a great template on how to build on a familiar theme (hell) and insert characters that are larger than a wonderful plot. One of the recommendations that many ‘How to’ books stress is to make your character change from the experience in your story. Allen Carpentier changes like few others that I have read before. Niven and Pournelle create a man who faces down demons and wades through boiling blood very believable to me.

There are very few writers in the industry that are able to work together and produce a publishable story, Niven and Pournelle make it look easy. The two accomplished authors have published several together, The Mote in God’s Eye, Lucifer’s Hammer, Footfall, are just a few. Inferno was their third collaborative novel together, and in my opinion, their best. I was hooked on the first page, followed their journey eagerly as they passed through each circle of hell, and found the ending moving.

Some may find Inferno theologically challenging. I believe it was written to be that way. As reader who loves Science Fiction and Fantasy, Inferno has remained in my top ten favorite stories of all time. I can’t recommend highly enough.

Snapper1_dog

Frank Dutkiewicz is every bit as cute and cuddly as his picture suggests. He has nine storiesÂthat have been published.ÂHis first eightÂwere all flash fiction then he got wise and rode Dave’s coattailsÂand sold one to the upcoming Shadows of the Emerald City anthology. The chicks digÂFrank andÂcan’t keep their hands off him but hate his cold nose.
Frank‘s owner is a truck driver for a car hauling company. He travels all across the country and may have ran you off the road at one point. He has a lovely wife and two equally as lovely teenage daughters.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

wolverineX-Men Origins: Wolverine was an okay movie. It had its moments, in particular I liked some of the casting choices, but overall it left enough continuity questions and major plot holes that it really just bothered me.

One of my favorite scenes in the whole movie happened in just the first few minutes, where it shows Wolverine and Sabretooth fighting in every American war since the mid-19th century, each of them of course in period uniforms and with grainy photography of each era.

Overall it was okay, but some of the character motivations were thin at best, there were several characters that were clearly only included so they could be part of merchandising later on. That aspect wasn’t as bad as X-Men 3 (thank God) which included dozens of characters that were only on camera for seconds, just long enough to say their name and show their powers.

The movie follows James ( who we know in later movies as Wolverine or Logan) played by Hugh Jackman and his brother Viktor (who later becomes Sabretooth) played by Liev Schreiber. Never mind that Liev Schreiber looks nothing like the Sabretooth of the first X-Men movie. You would think that they could have at least died Liev’s hair the sandy brown color, but apparently that was too much to ask. On the other hand, Liev did make a good Sabretooth, albeit one who didn’t look right. And apparently mutton chops are a genetic trait–their dad had them in the opening scene, and both of them have them as adults also.

Anyway, it follows their lives as brothers, and how Wolverine became Weapon X with the adamantium laced skeleton that makes him nearly indestructible. Together they join a strike force led by William Stryker, who you might remember from X-2. You might also remember Stryker having a southern accent which is oddly absent from this movie. Despite that, I did like the casting choice for Stryker. He had a very smooth convincing voice which is perfect for the character.

The action was good, but there was just too much of it sometimes. A movie about Wolverine has to have lots of action, but he pretty much ended up fighting every character he meets, even if they are on the same side. Granted, this is a tried-and-true comic book tradition, throwing two “good” characters together and making them think they’re enemies for an episode, and then they’re shown to be friends at the end at which point they apologize and unite against the enemy they both came to fight. But just because comic books use that device doesn’t mean that movies should.

I really liked Ryan Reynolds character, but he wasn’t in enough of the movie to make it worthwhile. He had some good wisecracks while he was on screen though. And it was good to see Dominic Monaghan, though his role wasn’t a huge one.

Keep reading if you’ve already seen it or you don’t mind some spoilers

SPOILER ALERT
SPOILER ALERT

But there were some MAJOR problems. First and foremost–the final scenes take place on Three Mile Island, and the action actually ends up causing the meltdown. That’s a bit contrived but not the worst plot device I’ve ever seen. But the thing that bothers me is that NONE of the characters suffer from radiation poisoning whatsoever. Wolverine has some excuse for this, because of his healing factor, perhaps he’s immune to radiation sickness. Stryker, however, is entirely human, he was on the site, and not only does he survive the movie, he’s alive for X-2 that happens maybe twenty years later with no apparent ill side effects. Explain that to me! Did the makers of the movie really not realize that a nuclear meltdown is not a healthy thing to be around.

Another MAJOR problem–they didn’t do their chemical research. At one point in the movie, someone uses a drug to fake a death, to supposedly slow their heartbeat down so it’s unnoticeable. That’s fine, but the drug they used was hydrochlorothiazide, which is not a heart medication, it’s a diuretic. That’s right, all it does is make you pee. (Thanks to my wife the pharmacist for pointing this out). The only way it could affect your heart, and even this is a stretch, is if you peed so much that you lost too many electrolytes and your heart went into arrhythmia, which is not what happened here. Two minutes with Google could have given them a medicine that at least slowed down heart rate–that’s just lazy!

Another big one–the use of adamantium is inconsistent. In X-2 I believe it was an alloy, not a pure metal, and once it hardened it was impossible to melt again. But in this movie Stryker finds it in it’s hardened form and yet is somehow able to use it as if it wasn’t–continuity error! Then Stryker creates a gun that shoots adamantium bullets, and assumes they will be able to puncture Wolverine’s skull–but you need something harder than adamantium if you want to puncture it!!

Another big continuity error–in this movie Stryker has the ability to steal powers from one mutant and give them to another mutant. If he knows how to do this now, he should know how to do it later in his life, but somehow he doesn’t in X-2. He’s the sort of man that would use any weapon in his arsenal whenever he can–I doubt he would have held back in X-2 if he knew how to do it.

“Snatch Me Another” by Mercurio D. Rivera

http://www.abyssandapex.com/200801-snatch.html

I highly recommend this story from Abyss & Apex: “Snatch Me Another” by Mercurio D. Rivera. It’s a well-told highly emotional tale exploring what the world could be like where we could have pretty much everything we wanted for free, by a new black market invention called The Snatcher.

This is a case where I didn’t particularly like the protagonist, which is usually something I insist on for a story I like, but the premise was interesting enough to carry me through.

The Runelords by David Farland

runelordsI’m currently reading The Runelords, novel 1 of the fantasy series of the same name written by David Farland (aka David Wolverton).

Some of you may know the author from his “Kick in the Pants!” email-blog. He periodically sends out emails that give tips on writing, getting published, and dealing with the industry. They’re very informative and well worth the time. If you are interested, just email dwolvert xmission.com (with the replaced with an @ sign, and say “Kick me!”

Anyway, since I started writing 2 years ago, I haven’t come across a single novel I enjoyed. I’d been starting to think that by learning to pick apart my own stories critically that I’d rendered myself unable to enjoy other people’s novels.

So I was very glad to realize that I was thoroughly enjoying this one. I’m about halfway through–I’ll try to write up a full review when I’ve finished the book–and it’s been great every step of the way. Some of the early chapters have some passages approaching info-dumps that may be a little bit out of character POV, but the information they provide is interesting and pertinent enough that it didn’t really bother me. There’s also occasional head-hopping, but again, it was done in such a way that it didn’t bother me.

The most interesting thing for me in those early pages was to hear about the magical endowment system–this isn’t a spoiler, you learn of this very early on. Through this, any person can endow another with their own attributes, such as wit, brawn, grace, sight, etc… The giver of the attribute finds themselves completely without that quality, while the receiver finds their attributes increased by that much. So a wise man can give his wits to another, the giver becomes a drooling husk, unable to even control his own bowel movements, while the receiver becomes that much smarter, able to remember more things and puzzle out difficult problems. The link lasts only as long as the two people live–if the giver dies, the receiver loses that endowment. If the receiver dies, the giver returns to normal. In this way, the people who have received many endowments must protect their Dedicates (the ones who gave them endowments) in order to protect their own abilities.

The implications of the Endowment system are major plot points that help keep every twist and turn interesting. At times, the story seems like it follows a common fantasy style, but just as I settle in to get comfortable, Farland takes a common idea and twists it to make it his own. The writing and plot are excellent and I would recommend this book to anyone.

“Deep Moves” by William Highsmith

Abyss and Apex has a story I particularly liked this month by William Highsmith. I tried to give this one a critique before it was published, but I enjoyed it so much that I really just enjoyed it the way it is. It’s a quick read, chock full of emotion and story, and it’s also free! I hope you enjoy and let me know what you think. 🙂
,Dave

http://www.abyssandapex.com/200904-deep.html