Snacking on classic literature

Here’s a cool app for iOS devices – Serial Reader, which has a large library of classic literature you can configure it to send you in small segments, once per day at a time of your choosing. It will remind you and keep track of your progress. It’s simple and pretty great – I’m a quarter of the way through Moby Dick and about 1/10th of the way through Middlemarch thanks to this app, both of which have long been on my too read list, This isn’t something you couldn’t discipline yourself to do on your own, but the app makes it convenient. The fact that it’s free makes it super easy to try as well. Two thumbs up from me.

Great William Gibson interview

Portrait of author William Gibson taken on his...

Portrait of author William Gibson taken on his 60th birthday; March 17, 2008. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s available here, via the Paris Review. If you’re unfamiliar with his work, he’s one of the most influential science fiction authors of his era. He coined the word ‘Cyberspace,’ helped popularize steampunk, and had a hand in bringing a particular vision of our near-ish future probably best exemplified in the film Blade Runner (which, he reveals in the interview, emerged independently, in parallel, and with an amazing level of similarity, from his imagination and Ridley Scott‘s –  a fact they discovered years later). He’s also broken into the mainstream with his more recent novels.

I discovered a great parallel in our lives in this interview as well – like me, Gibson abandoned science fiction in his later teens, only to rediscover it some years later. Our reasons were very different. In my case, I began to conceive of myself as a ‘serious thinker,’ and spent a decade or so focused on history and the classics, despite the fact that I often struggled to take much pleasure from reading the classics. The beauty is that it was Gibson who brought me back to sci fi in the mid 90’s, when I somehow stumbled across Neuromancer, (via Wired magazine, at a guess), which blew my mind and sent me off on a multi-year scifi reading binge that included all his published works to that time. I’m still very fond of them, and have reread Neuromancer and the Sprawl trilogy it began multiple times since then.

Anyway, go read the interview, it’s fantastic. Then consider reading some Gibson – he’s everything he reveals in the interview and more. Or, if like me you’ve already read him, you might consider a re-read – I’m headed off to Lake George for vacation this week and tucked Neuromancer into my bag 😉

Game finished: The Darkness II

Summary: The Darkness II is a 1st person shooter with light rpg elements set in a modern day metropolis. I played through it on the PC and did not try the multiplayer.

The good: Solid gameplay mechanics. Cheesy but well written and fun ‘mafia crimelord with demonic powers’ storyline. Doesn’t overstay its welcome. Decent variety of powers you can acquire via a skill tree.

The bad: linear ‘combat encounter box connected by corridor, repeat’ level design. Over the top gore. Normal difficulty level too easy, particularly by the end when you’ve added a bunch of powers from the skill tree.

Graphics and sound: The Darkness II is a decent looking and sounding game that features above average voice acting. The overall visual appeal is let down a bit by it’s obvious console-first focus, with small, short, linear levels, invisible walls, mediocre textures, and occasional low poly/poorly lit skyboxes, but that makes it sound worse than it is – overall it’s a decent if unexceptional looking game.

Everything else:

I had good fun with The Darkness II. It was easy for me to forgive its sins (very short, repetitive, average looks) because they were outweighed by its virtues and because I only paid $7.50 for it. The game tells the story of Jackie, a mafia crimelord who’s inherited demonic powers, and follows him through a series of adventures that mostly involve him killing a bajillion rival mafia hoods. Somewhat unusually, the game also features periodic interactive cutscenes used to convey major sections of the story. I usually hate this sort of thing, but I ended up liking them more than I would have expected. That’s because they feature decent voice acting, they generally weren’t very long, and the game has an unusual story to tell. The core gameplay mechanics are the game’s greatest strength, combining well implemented but pedestrian run and gun gameplay with demonic powers Jackie can acquire over the course of his adventure. This begins with Jackie being able to sprout powerful demonic arms from his back whenever he’s in the dark. One arm can grab things and one can smash things, and the two can be combined for all kinds of violent mayhem and puzzle solving. The mayhem can get pretty gross (did…did I just grab a dude by his ankle and pull his innards out through his butt? Oh yes I did…), but if you turn your brain off and go with the combat flow, running into a room and going batshit on the collection of mafia hoods collected there trying to kill you is a blast. It gets more fun as the game progresses and you add powers – additional killing techniques for your two arms, enhancements to the ways you can use objects you pick up, the ability to disorient or damage foes from a distance (hey, I just vomited poisonous stinging gnats onto those dudes, lookit em wiggle!), enhanced power, ammo and so on for your firearms, and more.

It’s good that the mechanics are solid fun, because the game is super repetitive. New enemies are introduced as the game progresses (look out, these dudes have flashlights! That one’s got a shield you have to bash apart before you can hurt him, and so on), and the additional powers you acquire help mix things up a bit, but it’s pretty repetitive stuff – walk down corridor, maybe taking a short side jaunt to find a hidden object or two, solve some usually trivial puzzle (I can’t approach the door to the next area until I get the lights off – hrm….I know, I’ll hulk smash that nearby generator with my demon arm!) then enter a combat arena (a room – an intersection in NYC, a warehouse, the lobby of a condo, etc), figure out how to take out the opposition, then head off down a corridor to the next similarly designed encounter. It’s also good that the game is as short as it is (I completed it in under 7 hours), because by the end it was starting to wear out its welcome, and I had become so powerful that I was tearing through everything without any trouble, ultimately including the final boss.


I had enough fun with The Darkness II to recommend it to anyone who enjoys a violent, well crafted first person shooter, so long as they can get it for $10 or less.