Books and E-books

It’s that “ifcomp” time of year again! The Interactive Fiction Competition 2015 is open – 50 free interactive fictions are available to read/play. You can vote for your favourites until November 15th. Read More


I picked up a paperback from my library’s new books shelf. Turns out this is a teen/middle-grade adventure story compendium. 331 pages. Several science fiction stories. There is a promo for Guys Read, a library of books to help guys read at the end. Each story is about short novella length, with a drawn greyscale illustration at the start. Most feature boy protagonists (BtGG has a girl protagonist).

Percy Jackson and the Singer of Apollo by Rick Riordan – Percy Jackson is a demigod. His father is Poseidon, god of the sea. Having supernatural powers seems cool but Percy’s life is full of god-sized egos and recalcitrant monsters.

Bouncing the Grinning Goat by Shannon Hale – At home Spark spends all her time doing chores and looking after the younger children. But she longs to escape boring domestic work for adventure. One day she borrows her brother’s sword and armour and runs away from home.

The Scout by D.J. MacHale – A longer story (52 pages). Scouts wear uniform. Scouts follow the leader. Scouts get to travel in rocket ships to explore far away planets. It seems like Kit, a trainee scout, is on a wilderness survival course but there is a twist. In the ending there is a parallel between the protagonist’s world and tribal regions of Pakistan. For readers who draw the parallel, the Scout condones drone attacks and condones killing children (families are erased from the Scout).

Rise of the RoboShoesTM by Tom Angleberger – Short funny with comical illustrations about walking aids that get an idea for world domination! Unable to walk, the fall of humans is assured! But there could be another sartorial contender on the horizon.

The Dirt on Our Shoes by Neal Shusterman – Funny and gross story of colonising a new planet, by one means or another.

Plan B by Rebecca Stead – Amusing story from the perspective of an alien family masquerading as people to spy on Earth. The aliens aren’t perfect at pretending to be humans so they sometimes make mistakes and have to remind each other to breath.

A Day in the Life by Shaun Tan – a short graphic story, each page is a line-shaded fantastic life scene with a caption.

The Klack Bros. Museum by Kenneth Oppel – Ghost story. When young Luke is delayed between stops on a railway journey, his father suggests that they visit a creepy museum.

The Warlords of Recess by Eric Nylund – Charming children’s story about an alien invasion of an elementary school. A rule-bound Alien Empire set their sights on Earth. Conquest rule 39 requires that alien warriors win three battles against the Eathlings before the Aliens may conquer Earth. Mistaking 12-year-old pupils outside at recess in an Elementary School for trained combat warriors, the alien warriors land and begin gunking kids with sticky green slime. The fate of the Earth depends on Josh and Tony, two geeky kids watching from the sidelines – do the aliens have a weakness that they can exploit to save the Earth?

Frost and Fire by Rad Bradbury – The longest novella. A stunning imaginative portrayal of a quickened life on an alien planet. Some stretching vocabulary.

My top 10 Interactive Fiction Competition entries so far, in alphabetical order. There are a couple of weeks until the judging deadline so you still have time to try the games and vote if you haven’t done so already.

Autumn’s Daughter, by Devolution Games
Captain Verdeterre’s Plunder, by Ryan Veeder
Coloratura, by Lynnea Glasser
Dad vs. Unicorn, by PaperBlurt
Further, by Will Hines
Ollie Ollie Oxen Free, by Carolyn VanEseltine
The Paper Bag Princess, by Adri
Saving John, by Josephine Tsay
Vulse, by Rob Parker
The Wizard’s Apprentice, by Alex Freeman

I still have five works to try, so there could be changes.

Bell Park, Youth Detective, by Brendan Patrick Hennessy
Blood on the Heather, by T. Orisney
The Challenge, by ViRALiTY
Robin & Orchid, by Ryan Veeder & Emily Boegheim
Threediopolis, by Andrew Schultz

A male polar bear

A polar bear (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Wild beasts are the improbable instruments of Nature’s wrath in this sensational eco-horror graphic novel (written by Emilio Ruiz and illustrated by Ana Miralles) of polar bears driven to attack man by melting ice caps and loss of food resources. In one dramatic scene, Alaskans huddle in fear as an articulated restaurant car is overturned and looted by massed monsters. Some dialogue didn’t seem apt for an Arctic setting.

In the West, mature children are expected to leave the family home and make their own way in the world; without their mothers providing food for them like infants. Westerners don’t think of this as mothers abandoning children; westerners think of it has children becoming adults. In this story, the analogous (apparently) common practice of polar bear mothers leaving home so that polar bear children can grow into their own lives is portrayed as abandonment by the mother – a misogynistic slant. It’s understandable that a newly separated child can feel lonely or abandoned, but while many talking polar bears are depicted, the work never takes the opportunity to give the opinion of a polar bear mother.

I read a review copy from the publisher.

Autumn’s Daughter is a short hypertext story made in Undum/Vorple. Text can be enlarged nicely. Auto-scrolling (automatic focus on choices) can take text off the screen prematurely. A log of the story remains on the screen after each choice. No option to share the story. I couldn’t find a way to undo choices or to restart (but reloading the web page goes to the title screen).┬áIt was a little frustrating having to go back to the beginning to try different paths.

There is a sidebar with a “character” status.

You are young and beautiful.

I was under the impression that the position of a village girl in South Asia is much like Cinderellaput upon and abused might be more true to life.

It was difficult to place the genre at first, send a man to evaluate a girl’s game: fictionally raped in marriage, frequently raped, a murderer, a suicide – he unerringly picks out the most violent fates. Girl’s game?! It’s not a literary read. Bad outcomes for permitted marriage and a possible romantic ending for elopement read like a polemic. A sort of grim fairy tale or wake-up call for rural girls drifting into arranged marriage. Can many village girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan can read English? But it could be translated.

I played release “1.1”. Sometimes status didn’t update during the ending so that, in seeming bad taste, you could see “You are hopeful” for a violent ending. The risk associated with trusting a strange woman is explored (for a moment the player takes the role of fate in an uncanny choice) – but although the heterosexual romance can fail I would have liked a choice which showed that running away with a man isn’t a guarantee against an abusive marriage. In general, chance has a big role in life but not in the story.

The endings were unbalanced; one so abstract that it could have been a sweat shop or a brothel. I thought that a girl’s game would refrain from being explicit but other endings tell of recurring marital rape, show personally committing spouse murder, or show and esteem personal suicide.

Another interactive fiction competition entry, Impostor Syndrome is a static hypertext story in which you play the role of an IT worker presenting a talk who is subject to the titular condition.

Given the anxiety and self-doubt of impostor syndrome, the story is understandably earnest and humourless. It is written in the second person “You see… You feel…” like most interactive fiction, but I think I would have liked it better written in the first person. The pseudonymous author captures nerd culture well with comments on a fictional programming language and amusing thinly-veiled references to tech companies e.g. Goggle.

Make sure to try all the choices. I often find it difficult to detect implicit choice points in a mostly linear narrative. There may be many choices at a node; some are just cycles returning to the node; the expectation is that there is one choice that escapes to the rest of the narrative as is usual in a linear narrative; but, rarely, there is more than one exit when there is a branch in the narrative.

Narrative branches are more likely near the end (imagine how frustrating it would be if your first choice out of a hundred tacitly determined if you have a good or bad ending) but in the first play it can be hard to estimate progress – although where you are in the story offers a clue, atemporal choice cycles complicate the relation between playing time and narrative time.