TV REVIEW: Pushing Daisies Season 2

written by David Steffen

Pushing Daisies was a fantastical and whimsical murder mystery romance show that aired for 2 (both very short, the first one cut short by the writer’s strike) seasons between 2007 and 2009.

Ned (Lee Pace) is a piemaker, who lives a mostly quiet life, but who has a secret ability to reanimate the dead with a touch. If he touches any dead thing (plants, animals, humans, included), then it will come alive again no matter what condition it’s in. If he touches them again, they will be dead forever with no way to raise them again. If he leaves something alive for more than one minute, then some other alive thing in the near vicinity will die, something of a similar level of order of complexity (i.e. a small animal for a small animal, or a human for a human).

Ned didn’t know about this ability until his mother suddenly died when he was a child and he brought her back with a touch, and dead again when she touched him again. And he learned the other part of the rule that same day because his mother stayed alive again long enough to pay the consequence and the father of his best friend and neighbor Charlotte Charles (aka Chuck) (Anna Friel) died as a result, and she moved away to love with her aunts.

Ned has been working on the side to help private detective Emerson Cod (Chi McBride) solve murder cases. Ned’s abilities are very convenient for such a venture, because he can raise the murder victim and ask them some very quick questions before making them dead again, before there are consequences. But one such case (at the beginning of the series) is murdered tourist Charlotte Charles, and Ned doesn’t have the heart to lose her again, so he keeps her alive. They develop a romance, albeit an untraditional one since they can’t touch again on penalty of her death. She feels that she can’t tell her aunts Vivian and Lily (Ellen Greene and Swoosie Kurtz) that she’s alive. Ned feels he must keep his own secret from everyone except Emerson and Chuck, including his only employee, Olive (Kristin Chenoweth).

Despite the extremely dark premise, the show as a whole is relatively lighthearted in tone with odd and whimsical set and costume designs and clever dialog, and much of the show being centered around the awkward romance, and around the banter between Cod and the others. The premise is contrived, but if you overlook that and just look at how it’s used to structure the show, it’s a fun mystery to watch.

The second season, you could tell that the writers were working under threat of cancellation because the arcs are kindof muddied, longer arcs building and then suddenly resolving without much fanfare, and then shorter arcs without much sign of new larger arcs until the end when there’s a hasty wrapup. All in all, I think they did a pretty good job wrapping everything up with how this sort of thing all goes. The whole two seasons is only about the length of a normal season of a show, so it’s not a huge time commitment, but it is a lot of fun to watch.

BOOK REVIEW: Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty

written by David Steffen

Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty is a science fiction mystery, one of the finalists for the Hugo Award for the Best Novel category of 2017.

In the future, cloning is commonplace, but its use is strictly limited by law to ensure that it’s only used for longevity of a person rather than multiplication.  Every clone makes regular mindmaps of their memories and after they die, a new youthful body is cloned from their DNA and the mindmap copied into it.  Many clones have hundreds of years worth of memories they carry with them as though they have lived a single long life.  The practice of cloning is not accepted by everyone, especially religious groups, many of which consider clones to be soulless abominations, and there have been violent conflicts about cloning practices.

And what better use for clones than to crew a starship?  Equip the ship with a cloning bay and mindmapper, and a crew of six can staff a starship that would require a generation ship with much heavier infrastructure with an uncloned human crew.  Not many clones would be interested in such a long dull trip, but criminal clones granted a pardon for their crimes as payment can be convinced, watched over by an AI to make sure things don’t get out of control, and a cargo of humans and clone mindmaps to colonize the planet at the end of the trip.

But, something has gone terribly wrong.  Maria Arena and the other six crew members wake up simultaneously in newly cloned bodies, to their own murder scene.  They have been in transit for twenty-five years but have lost all of the memories of their journey, the gravity is off, the food replicator is only manufacturing poison, the AI is offline, the cloning bay has been sabotaged, and presumably one or more of them was the murderer but even they don’t remember that they did it.  Their previous crimes are strictly off the record as part of the pardon deal, so no one knows if any of the others had a history of murder.

This was an enjoyable SF mystery, an amped-up locked room type of mystery, where this crew of six is set to investigate their own murders, and it could’ve been any of them since they lost the memories of the journey.  As they go they have numerous other obstacles they have to deal with just to keep going, as well as searching for clues to who committed the murders.  Scenes from the present are interspersed with scenes from each person’s pasts so the interplay between the characters makes more and more sense as we understand their histories.  I don’t read a lot in the mystery genre, but I liked how this novel took familiar tropes like the locked room mystery and by changing the setting and technology level gave them interesting new angles to explore.  The book flowed easily from beginning to end and I was satisfied with the resolution.  I don’t know how well it will stand up to avid mystery readers, but I enjoyed it and would recommend it.

Book Review: Joyland by Stephen King

written by David Steffen

Joyland is a mystery novel written by Stephen King and published in 2013 by Hard Case Crime.

Devin Jones is a college student living in New Hampshire who takes a summer job in 1973 at Joyland, a local amusement park as a jack of all trades, but especially for “wearing the fur” which is the expression for wearing the park’s dog mascot costume.  Besides the usual things one would expect from a college summer job–getting job experience, making friends, making money, Devin hears about an unsolved murder that happened inside the haunted house ride where a young girl’s throat was cut.  Tales of the murder catch the attention of Devin and his friends and they speculate about who did it and how they got away from the scant evidence available.  Devin also meets a wheelchair-bound young boy who is not long for this world and who might know more than he should.

I’m not a big reader of mystery books, so I’m probably not the best judge of whether any specific mystery book is a good one or not, but I enjoyed this reasonably well.  The patchy details of the murder are mentioned early on and were enough to catch my interest.  The carnie lingo and customs were interesting and were at least partially based on actual carnie lingo and customs (though not entirely, he freely admits in the author’s notes)).  It caught my interest earlier than many Stephen King books have of late so that was a plus.

When I think back about the whole book I feel like quite a bit of it was kind of meandering and longer than it needed to be, but I only really picked that apart in retrospect so it must’ve kept my attention well enough while I was reading it.

There is… probably… a supernatural element but it’s very slight if so, which does make it unusual on my reading list.

All in all, I enjoyed the read well enough.  I wouldn’t say there’s anything epic or groundbreaking here, but it succeeded at what it was doing.

Niche Game: Laura Bow 2: The Dagger of Amon-Ra

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.

The era of text-based adventures ended and was replaced by graphical adventures, and of those games, Sierra is king. They are the ones who created the King’s Quest series, the Space Quest series, Leisure Suit Larry, and the topic of today’s article: Laura Bow 2.

The first Laura Bow game was titled The Colonel’s Bequest(1989), which is set in the 1920s and revolves around college student Laura Bow, who wants to be a journalist. She accompanies a friend to attend the reading of the will of her friend’s reclusive relative Colonel Dijon. A murder occurs, and Laura is left to figure who did it.

Laura Bow II(1992) takes place several years later after Laura has graduated from college. She moves to New York City where she lands a job at a major newspaper. This being the male-dominated 1920s era, no one takes her very seriously, and there’s not even a ladies restroom in the office. She’s given a fluff assignment to cover the opening of a new Egyptian exhibit at a local museum. The assignment turns serious when a murder occurs, and everyone is locked inside pending investigation. Other guests begin dying one after another, and it’s up to Laura to once again figure out who did it.

There are plenty of other point and click adventures from this era that are truly excellent. Again, most of them are created by Sierra, so if you ever get the chance to check them out it’s well worth the time. The major feature that sets this one apart is Laura’s notebook. Each time she hears about a new person, place, thing, or idea, she automatically writes it in her notebook. From that point on, you can ask anyone you talk to about that entry. Of course, many people don’t have anything interesting to say. If you ask the drycleaner about the museum curator, he’s probably not going to be able to enlighten you. I thought this was a great way to add a little more variety to game conversations. In most of this sort of game, at every point in a conversation you only have 2 or 3 things you can say. But the addition of the notebook lets you bring up a much wider range of topics that made the conversations feel more varied.

The interface of this game is simple enough, all point and click. Each time you right-click, the cursor changes to a different kind of action, from an eyeball for “look”, a pedestrian for “walk”, a hand for “take/manipulate”, etc… Each time you left-click on an area, that action takes effect at that location (or tries to).

Besides the cool notebook idea, I really loved the sense of humor instilled in the game from the very beginning, in particular the manner of obtaining a press pass near the beginning is very funny (I won’t tell you the details to spoil the fun of figuring it out yourself). Also, the murders in a museum setting are always fun. Lots of cool artifacts from various eras surround and can be murder weapons, and I had fun just wandering from room to room and examining all the different items.

Unfortunately, I never completed this game. At the museum party, you must eavesdrop on other people in the crowd, but I just never managed to do that. I looked up hints online and did my best to do exactly what they said, to no avail, so I’m left standing around a dull party without much happening. I tried long and hard to defeat that and never succeeded. I would say it’s a glitch in the game but I never found anything online to suggest that other people had trouble, so it must just have been me.

You can die in the game, but it can’t happy in many places. As with many mystery games, most of the risk is late in the game when you’re on the verge of uncovering the killer’s identity. It never hurts to “save early save often” here but it’s probably not strictly necessary in most cases either.

I originally played this game as part of another collection of games released by Sierra. I don’t remember if it was the Space Quest collection or the King’s Quest collection. Either way, my frustration with the party scene was partially offset by the fact that in this particular edition you could skip ahead to the next act. This was good for me, so I could really explore the museum’s interior and get to the good stuff. Alas, since my game experience was disjointed already, I never really had the motivation to figure out the rest, but I did poke around and have some fun with it. Also, when skipping ahead, those saved games never had as complete a notebook as I did, so I missed the ability to ask about some of the things I had learned that game assumed I wouldn’t have.Getting your hands on this game isn’t too difficult. It’s old enough to be available on Abandonware sites, such as Abandonia. You should be able to run the game from there. Otherwise a quick eBay search brings up a copy of the game for a Buy It Now price of about $22, not bad. Otherwise, I think I originally played this game as part of a King’s Quest game collection (or was it Space Quest game collection), so if you can track that down it will be modified for modern operating systems already. I hope you have a chance to try this out, and maybe you’ll have better luck with eavesdropping than I did. Enjoy!