Review: “Killing Time At Lightspeed” by Gritfish

killing-time-at-lightspeed-1

Developer: Gritfish | Buy: Original Game / Enhanced Edition | More: Steam

Facebook can be addictive. You log on to answer one message, and three hours later you’re several pages deep in a clickbait news site, or else have been lurking for updates on the timelines of your friends and family for an obscenely long period of time. Killing Time At Lightspeed takes this mundane activity and transforms it into a sharp, surprisingly-moving science-fiction story that spans three decades.

The premise is this: you are boarding a ship which will carry you at faster-than-light speeds to a new and distant habitable planet. For you the journey will take just under half an hour… but on the Earth that you leave behind thirty years are set to pass before you disembark and collect your luggage. Fear not, however, as you won’t be entirely cut off from the world – the ever-thoughtful SpaceY corporation has hooked you up with access to a limited number of websites to browse while you hurtle through the infinite void.

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Gameplay is simple, and should be intuitive for anyone who has ever survived a Facebook clicktrance. You can catch up with the news in brief by clicking through the headlines in “Skimmit”, or else take a gander at your “Friendpage” feed to see what your left-behind fellows are getting up to back on Earth. There is, of course, something of a time difference to take account of. As such, refreshing the page doesn’t just bring you the latest updates, but instead hops you one full year forward in time. While you while away your trip, human society changes shape, and your friends grow old, grow up, get married and drift apart.

It’s worth noting that Killing Time At Lightspeed deserves the label “interactive” more than it does “playable”. There’s plenty to click on, read and explore – and you can even select from a small number of canned replies to certain status updates – but overall there are no real choices to make, and you have no way to influence the narrative that you witness unfolding. And even that process of unfolding is somewhat understated. In the early stages of the trip I thought I detected a nascent technological disaster in the pipeline, but this never definitively comes to pass. Instead, the swirl of change and drama is more sedate. People grow. Interests shift. The news drones on and technology develops. There’s certainly nothing obviously cataclysmic, but things certainly do evolve.

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When you realise what Killing Time At Lightspeed is aiming for, this makes sense. It’s not about drama. It’s not about blistering sci-fi action, or an inevitable dystopian future. It’s not an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride. Instead, it’s a slow exploration of time and change, with some wry observations on current trends thrown into the mix. You might be hard pressed to describe any of the actual narrative threads, but nevertheless the slow transformation of your once-home planet has a startling emotional effect.

On top of all that, it’s pleasingly well-written too, with a good mix of voices. A dozen recognisable content outlets are skewered and satirised,  and many of the news stories function as neat allegories for events currently unfolding in the real world beyond the game.

If you’re in the mood for something playable, something challenging, something to sink your puzzle-solving or button-mashing teeth into… Killing Time At Lightspeed isn’t it. Think of it as more of a visual novel than a game, and one that’s designed to evoke tender sensations of loss and nostalgia rather than nail-biting excitement. That’s something it does particularly well – when I finally arrived at my destination and logged out of Friendpage, it was with more than a little sadness for what I might be leaving behind.

News: 2016 Best Small Fictions Nominations

The cover of the "Best Small Fictions 2016" anthology.

Flash fiction is one of our favourite forms, and so it’s always a pleasure to see it recognised by the annual Best Small Fictions anthology. The anthology has, this year, been adopted by Braddock Avenue Books, and will be guest-edited by none other than Amy Hempel.

Neon‘s nominations for this year are:

“The Keepers” by Luke Silver

“B-R-E-A-K” by Thea Hawlin

“The November We Are Fifteen” by Lydia Armstrong

Best of luck to all the nominees! In previous years we’ve had Neon alumni Daniel Uncapher and Claire Joanne Huxham place as finalists and be featured in the anthology itself. We hope that this year one of the excellent stories above can do the same.

Literary Lists: Five Excellent Graphic Short Stories To Read This Month

A panel from "Sixteen Miles To Merricks" by Barnaby Ward.

A graphic short story can be a hard thing to quantify – it lingers somewhere between a comic strip and a graphic novel. They’re usually short enough to read in a single sitting, but often longer than just a couple of pages. Many also deal with darker or more metaphysical subject matter than what the average reader might conceive of as a “comic”.

If you haven’t read any graphic novels before, graphic short stories can be an excellent starting point. Below are five of the best that I’ve been able to find –  a reading list that should get you easily into the form, and provide a solid few hours of visual and verbal entertainment.

“Love In A Very Cold Climate” by Isabel Greenberg

Our first comic is also the shortest – at just four pages this little gem should take no time at all to breeze through, but it’s well worth a lingering look. As well as gorgeous, warm, loose artwork by Greenberg, it also revolves around a touching and wonderful story.

“Sixteen Miles To Merricks” by Barnaby Ward

A slightly longer affair, this comic by Barnaby Ward holds its cards close to its chest, remaining mostly metaphorical and mysterious until close to the end. Rest assured that the denouement is worth the wait, though. Ward has crafted a brilliant and eerie story with much to recommend it.

“His Face All Red” by Emily Carroll

Emily Carroll’s brilliant horror comic is as unsettling as any big-budget movie, if not more so. It tells a story featuring a number of predators – one big and hairy, and the others rather more subtle in their hunting. Once you start reading, you won’t be able to stop until the breathtaking final panel.

“XKCD: Time” by Randall Munroe

And now for something a little more unusual: XKCD’s “Time” sequence. This three-thousand panel labour of love by Randall Munroe was originally published over the course of several days. It starts out whimsical and light, but slowly evolves into a soulful story set in an alternate universe. Thanks to Geek Wagon’s viewer – you don’t have to sit around for two solid days to read the whole thing!

“Doll And Maker” by Dan Kim

A silent comic, “Doll And Maker” nonetheless carries a lot of punch. It’s another horror offering, but edged with a fantasy fairytale feel that makes it all the more disturbing. The icy atmosphere of terror is aided by Kim’s beautiful, spare, black white and red artwork.

If these five offerings have whetted your appetite, then don’t forget that graphic short stories often crop up in the pages of Neon. Take a look at issue forty-three for Faye Moorhouse’s “The Cat Ladies Of Czechoslovakia”, and check back in a month or two for our next literary list.

Review: “Post High School Reality Quest” by Meg Eden

"Post High School Reality Quest" by Meg Eden

Publisher: California Coldblood Books | Author: Meg Eden | More: Goodreads

Meg Eden’s first novel, Post-High School Reality Quest, (due to be published next year by California Coldblood books) explores the engagement of science-fiction with technology, and blurs the lines of reality through the touching way in which it examines and amplifies the difficult situations of every day life.

The novel follows Buffy, a young student who begins to show signs of schizophrenia on her high school graduation day. Eden, however, doesn’t simply stick to first and second person narration. Instead, she uses Buffy’s disorder to narrate the story, just as it does Buffy’s life – the prose on the page has much the same appearance as a Twine game, or Choose-Your-Own-Adventure story, with a series of choices interspersing the brief snippets of second person narration.

This unique style of writing is gripping enough that it makes Eden’s novel stand out from others within this genre. It flows as easily as an actual game, and even uses appropriate jargon, such as the “Exit” and “Save” options when Buffy is faced with difficult situations, in a very similar way to that of a text parser game. The only times the novel deviates from this style are when Buffy is receiving treatment. Here, Eden shifts to the narrative “I” as the scenes transition through time.

Whilst Eden uses the game to draw out the unreal elements of Buffy’s life, it also directs her through the very real and very traumatic issues that both her and those around her experience. The story deals with mental disorders, suicide, and eating disorders, as well as the usual day-to-day worries that any average teenage girl has to deal with – including romance. In some ways, Eden’s novel could also be described as a coming of age story; in its pages Buffy takes on the frightening prospect of leaving high school and becoming an adult, all while her schizophrenia becomes steadily more evident.

One point of interest with Post High School Reality Quest is that it portrays video games as being very much like actual life. It’s not an unfair lens; in everyday situations we have to make decisions in order to continue, just as Buffy does within her “game”. But, unlike in a game, in real life you cannot save over some moments with others, or start a section again. This underlying element of the text questions the integrity of the thin veil of reality through the creative exploration of both mental disorders and modern day technology.

Eden’s novel is fascinating due to its themes and written style, but it also manages to be an enticing tale based on its plot alone. As Buffy’s story unfurls, so does that of her friends, revealing a series of dark and heartbreaking secrets that Buffy is intially too wrapped up in her own situation to notice. The plot deepens as it develops, with increased action and some genuinely shocking twists. Post High School Reality Quest will no doubt be one of the science fiction highlights of the year when it is published in June 2017 by California Coldblood Books, and is likely to be a huge hit with its readers too.

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Hannah Scorfield currently works and lives in Leeds, England, hoping to one day become a bestselling author of fantasy novels. Failing that, she’ll settle with working within the publishing industry as an editor or literary agent. Her hobbies include reading, writing and going to the pub, and she has a fascination with the woods and other natural spaces. You can watch videos of Hannah reviewing more books on her YouTube channel www.youtube.com/user/cuppabooks or email her at hannah_scorfield@hotmail.co.uk for more freelance writing.

News: A Few Small Changes…

An enjoyable chunk of last month was spent updating the websites for both Neon Books and Neon Literary Magazine to the shiny, clean new interface you’re looking at now. Playing with WordPress and picking out colour schemes is always fun, but I’m also planning on slightly overhauling the way the magazine operates in the coming weeks. Although the end result of these changes might be barely noticeable to most readers, I thought I’d take a moment to explain them fully just in case anyone was wondering.

The first change I’ll be making is to the schedule of the magazine. At the moment I aim to publish a new edition every four months. That’s a schedule that – for reasons outlined below – is sometimes very easy to keep to, and sometimes very hard; indeed, issues are almost always a little bit late. From this point on, that schedule will be essentially provisional. Issues will still appear roughly three times a year, but the gap between each one might be as short as three months or as long as six.

I’m making this change for a few different reasons. One is that the publishing process is often subject to delays (boxes go missing, printers run out of ink, subtle errors decide only to announce themselves at the final proof stage), and so a strict schedule can be pretty difficult to keep to. Another is that sales of the magazine fluctuate enormously throughout the year, for reasons that are as unknowable as the weather. One print run might take just two months to sell out, whereas another could take half a year. Rather than stockpiling or pulping back issues, I’d prefer to let each issue live its natural lifespan. Once one comes close to selling out, I’ll start work on publishing the next. This looser schedule will allow me to pour more time and energy into each issue, ensuring the best possible content and a successful launch. Rather than rushing things to get an issue out on time, I’ll be able to tie up loose ends, and produce a magazine that’s the best it possibly can be.

The second change is to the way I handle submissions. From the middle of October, submissions will only be accepted at certain times of year. These submission windows will be advertised on Neon‘s social media, and through the mailing list – I’ll aim to be open to submissions more often than I am not. Subscribers, donors and anyone who has purchased or supported the magazine will still be able to submit at any time, of course, and will still receive feedback on their work.

I receive a lot of submissions, and reading through them is one of the most labour-intensive (albeit enjoyable) parts of the publishing process. Giving each submission the attention it deserves is difficult when there are several hundred waiting to be read each month, and more pouring in each day. By implementing submission windows, I’ll be able to manage the submissions queue more effectively, and ensure that I can read and respond to everything that is sent in a timely fashion. With a little careful management I hope to be able to reduce the response time for submissions from “about six weeks” to a matter of days.

Neon Books is, in fact, just one person. Me. I organise everything: the magazine, the chapbooks, the blog, the resources and the submissions queues – and I do it in addition to the work that actually pays for me to eat and sleep inside a house. The magazine is something I love to do, and it’s not something I plan to stop anytime soon… however, managing the time I spend on the magazine is necessary to its long-term survival, and both of these changes will help me do this. As I said before, most readers probably won’t notice much of a difference, but I’ll leave this here in case anyone is wondering why exactly Neon‘s schedule is so vague, or why it’s not always open to submissions.

Review: “Houdini’s Wife And Other Poems” by Amy Schreibman Walter

"Houdini's Wife And Other Poems" by Amy Schreibman Walter

Author: Amy Schreibman Walter | Publisher: Dancing Girl Press | Buy: Publisher | More: Harry Houdini

Harry Houdini is, even now – ninety years after his death – something of a household name. The master escapologist became famous for, among other things, wriggling free from oversize milk cans, escaping after being suspended upside down in a tank full of water, and surviving being nailed inside a crate which was then lowered into New York’s East River. Since his passing many escapologists have eclipsed these feats, but few seem to have garnered the same universal recognition as Houdini. And yet even though many people could tell you at least something of Houdini’s biography (“Wasn’t he the guy who died from being punched in the stomach?”), few are aware that he was married, and fewer still know anything of his wife.

“Houdini’s Wife And Other Poems” – Amy Schreibman Walter’s new chapbook from Dancing Girl Press (published April 2016) – looks like it might begin to redress this. Two poems from the slim, thirteen-poem volume are dedicated to the women in Houdini’s life, and several more echo some of the same themes: loneliness, absence, love and dedication to a particular individual, compounded by an erasure of the self.

Harry Houdini“Houdini’s Wife”, for example, shows us both a surprisingly intimate image of Houdini “quieted” as he lies in a warm bath with “his toes curled around brass faucets” as well as a glimpse into the life of his wife of thirty-two years, Wilhelmina Beatrice Rahner, as she mourns his frequent departures and wonders about possible “others” emerging from wooden chests “like butterflies, but dusty”. In the very next poem, “Radio Girl, 1925”, we meet one of those “others”. Although there were never any rumours concerning Houdini and Young, she was nevertheless one of his final stage assistants. Appropriately enough, in a poem that follows one concerning his wife, we see Houdini shutting Young away in a box.

While the poems that directly concern important women in Houdini’s life (and the other poems that revolved around specific historical figures) were interesting (“Mamah Borthwick Cheney, 1909” particularly so), I felt as though they were perhaps less powerful and less human than those that covered more general territory. “After”, for example, is both simple and powerful – in it the narrator speaks about cooking in a kitchen both before and after a significant change in circumstances. The exact nature of the change is never covered, and yet nonetheless the sense of emptiness is palpable. Theis loss and longing is an integral park of a range of other poems in the chapbook.

Harry HoudiniI wonder if, perhaps, the need to maintain historical credibility, and a desire to respect the poetic subjects is what makes the historical poems that little bit more withdrawn? Either way the poems concerning Houdini are crucial to the overall movement of the collection, and the title is fitting; Houdini – a man famous for forever disappearing, forever slipping out of whatever bonds were put on him – is a fitting focus for a contemplation of loss and absence.

In the later poems, letter writing features as an often-used image. That is, perhaps, what this chapbook feels like: a letter written to someone a long way away… someone who it seems is gone by choice, but who is missed wholeheartedly. At times it tumbles over into more sensuous detail, exploring love, sex and adoration as well as the emptiness that comes in the absense of these. At just thirteen poems in length, there is little space to do more in this chapbook, but she makes use of it well. If you’ve ever missed someone, it’s a chapbook you’ll get something from.

On the other hand, if your interest is more directly in Houdini and the women in his life, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend “Houdini’s Wife And Other Poems”. Though the poems are well-researched, they are much more about the intangibles than the historical facts. Ultimately it is short, sweet read which covers a very niche bit of territory from a number of angles. Amy’s verse is assured and absorbing, while at the same time easy to follow. You can pick up the chapbook from Dancing Girl Press.

Feature: Below The Line Poetry

Today, Joe Shooman bring us “Below The Line Poetry” – verses constructed from the comments sections of various papers. In this particular suite, the focus is Jeremy Corbyn’s recent victory in the UK Labour Party leadership contest, and the papers consulted for material are The Guardian, The Sun, The Canary and The Daily Mail. Before the poems themselves, though, Joe explains in his own words the rationale behind this exercise in comment-based cut-up…

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“Below The Line Poetry” is a form of found poem which takes as its source material comments underneath newspaper articles. The writer / editor collects themed comments, either by sentiment / subject or by rhythm, and repurposes them into stanzas. Elements of modernist and postmodernist approaches are invoked in order to create a piece but there are no rules as to how a final piece should be. This also nods to the likes of Kenneth Goldsmith’s Uncreative Writing as well as seeking to hold up a mirror to social media, interactivity and the anonymity (or otherwise) of comments. Pieces may rhyme, have rhythm, conform to existing poetical metres and forms – or to none. Here the poetry is in the eye of the editor as much as it is in the reader: this is the internet echo chamber effect in full force.

In all cases (particularly in this “Corbyn Wins” set) the commenters come from self-selected groups; sign-up to the publication’s website is required in order to comment on the articles, implying either that the writer (of the comment) broadly agrees with the site / publication’s own political stance and bias, or indeed that the opposite is true – that they have signed up specifically in order to disagree with previous commenters / the article.

There is an additional layer at play: the editor / compiler / poet is complicit in the message that gets put across in the final piece because editorial decisions are made throughout. In their raw state, the comments are already poetry of a sort, but applying metrical / poetic frameworks to them is central to Below The Line Poetry. The unedited raw material is too dense and repetitive to stand up in this scenario so frameworking is required.

In line with the concept and the nature of our postmodern / digital world, once published the poems – the words – themselves are subject to quotation / reframing / remixing in any way the reader / editor sees fit for their own purposes.

The Guardian: “The Summer Of Alphabeti Spaghetti”

Drawn from comments on this article from The Guardian

Posted 11.54AM:
Corbyn wins with 61.8% of the vote
Paddy Lillis, the chair of the NEC, is announcing the results.
Corbyn – 313,209 (61.8%)
Smith – 193,229 (38.2%)
Updated at 12.01pm BS

The Summer Of Alphabetti Spaghetti

ATL, BTL, BBC,
MSM, PLP, NEC.
The summer of Alphabetti Spaghetti.
Comrade Corbyn will be Leader for Life.
This is the socialist way.

He will be 71 in 2020
Perhaps embalming?
Zombification?
Mean life expectancy is around 77.
Corbyn is a poor leader.

Jeremy is like those bands from the ‘70s
Who go around the holiday camps
Playing their old hits
In front of groups of their adoring fans.
Another crystal ball soothsayer.

I revolutionised my last car
To a bloke from Slough.
It’s like a DFS sale coming to an end.
This has been just a silly election.
Camelot? ‘Tis a silly place.
Let us not go there again.

There’s never going to be unity
In a party that’s unelectable.
Let’s just rename it the Jeremy Corbyn party
And be done with it.

It doesn’t matter who leads Labour.
While they refuse to cost the unicorns
That they promise the lefties
And refuse to discuss immigration,
They will never have the working class vote.
The idiocy of the far Left
Captured neatly
In one sentence.

OI CORBYN GO AND JOIN THE TORY PARTY
It’s down to you Jezza:
Personally I’d throw them in a Sarlacc pit.

Zzzzzzzzzz

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The Daily Mail: “The Destroyer And The Chomper”

Drawn from comments on this article from The Daily Mail

Jeremy Corbyn left Labour conference to make his own lunch this afternoon despite his landslide second leadership victory leaving his party in a stand off.

The re-elected Labour leader made a surprise appearance at a tiny community cafe alongside Frank Field – an MP who repeatedly clashed with Mr Corbyn since his first win last year.
Mr Corbyn donned blue plastic gloves and made his own mushroom and cheese pizza, watched on by community activists.

The relaxed scenes at the Beaconsfield Community House in Liverpool stood in stark contrast to the main party conference which was left reeling by Mr Corbyn extending his mandate among party activists.

The Destroyer And The Chomper

Corbyn the Destroyer:
Hero of the Left and Right.
Like a virus they have accidentally caught
He will destroy that nest of vipers from within.

Tories will be in office for at least another decade;
As a Marxist he wants total control of everything in the country.
I will never vote for Labour while this dictator is in the lead.
We now need Mr Farage to create a new party.

Welcome to the death of Labour.
He is now Labour leader for life.
It will all depend on how long Corbyn lives.
All socialism is is poverty, ruin and misery.

Diane Abbot should release those saucy photos
Jezzer was passing around his friends
And she might get more votes.
Diane Abott’s voice is so loud and irritating
And her brain is so small and confused.
Diane Abbott who despises wealth and private schools
But sent her children to a private school.
The KFC munching racist hypocrite?
Bwahahahahah!
The Abbottamus is a chomper.
We call her Dianne Mugabe Abbott.
You have to give Corbyn credit
He does have guts than any man I know!
After all he did climb Mount Abbot!

When you read Corbyn’s answer to “what is your favourite biscuit”
You realise just how incredibly unelectable he is.
Enjoy your frog supper Vivienne.
If you want a communist dictatorship to rule you
There’s always North Korea.

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The Sun: “Halfwit Throwback”

Drawn from comments on this article from The Sun

THE majority of votes won by Labour loser Owen Smith were from long-standing party members according to a new poll – while Jeremy Corbyn swept to victory supported by those who joined AFTER last year’s leadership election.

According to YouGov survey’s for Election Data the defeated challenger outstripped Jeremy Corbyn among younger members and was also popular in Scotland.

But Corbyn enjoyed an overwhelming lead among members who joined Labour during and after last year’s leadership election – showing that the old guard were more in favour of having Smith lead their ranks than him.

Halfwit Throwback

When is the funeral?
RIP The Labour Party.
The man is dotty.
A nut behind a wheel.
So funny.

He’s surrounds himself
With ethnic faiths
Believes in opening talks with Daesh
Child rapists.

With his godlike status
He is allowed to be furious
At any sign of not agreeing with him.
Those Tories are tinkers,
Voting for Corbyn

There goes another General Election.
Load of Champagne socialists.
Nigel Farage “fought” for 20 odd years
For our liberty.
You Brits vote for this halfwit throwback to the USSR.
Best piece of news UKIP have had in months.
A TOTAL CLOWN
END OF LABOUR.

It doesn’t say much for Owen Smith
Does it?

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The Canary: “Closing Time”

Drawn from comments on this article from The Canary

Jeremy Corbyn has held on to his Labour leadership position, despite a purge that may have prevented around a quarter of potential supporters from voting in the contest. Corbyn’s renewed mandate will bring the coup against him to a conclusion, for now.

Corbyn was re-elected with 313,209 party votes, amounting to 61.8% of the total vote.

Closing Time

It is now time for Owen Smith to finally go home,
Because he looks like a twat,
He talks like a twat,
And by God
He is a Twat.

Forgotten to take your medication again?
Your tears are delicious.
Jeremy is reaching out to you.
You need to reach out to him.

Biggest knob in politics ever.
Good triumphs over evil.
Evil??? So much for unity.
He is a waste of your energy.

Please go find a new rock far far away to crawl back under.
The people have spoken. Well done Labour.
20% of eligible voters did not actually bother.
What a fustercluck.

Resorting to personal snide comments
Simply means you’ve lost the argument.
Bit like the New Labour faction.
It’s time now for the real revolution
Where they overthrow themselves
And hand over power to their cats.

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Joe Shooman is interested in the contemporary world’s own definition of, and relationship with, postmodernism and the possibilities engendered by our connections with each other, the world and technology. He is writing a novel which explores the ideas of multiple online and offline identities, societal structures and isolation. He has written for publications in the UK and USA as an author and has a background in writing that includes the publication of six non-fiction books on music, musicians and social media as well as a career in journalism that has taken him halfway around the world.

Based in the UK, he is interested in appropriation and recontextualisation of media and the language that constantly surrounds us, from the supermarket to the internet, from code to codex. He is as happy listening to Alabama 3, Iron Maiden, Eels or Dead Kennedys as he is reading the work of Kurt Vonnegut, Kenneth Goldsmith, Will Self or Leonard Cohen. His blog is at josephshooman.blogspot.com where he plays with language, from kids’ verses and limericks to Below The Line Poetry. His email is joeshoomanfreelance@gmail.com.

Literary Lists: Four Glasgow-Based Artists To Discover This Month

A short list of art and poetry grouped by a common link: the city of Glasgow. The intention behind this list is simply to bring attention towards a few individuals who have given the largest city in Scotland another facet to its character. The entries are not ranked, the order is arbitrary and there is no explicit theme that connects these pieces other than an association with an industrial city in Scotland.

Calum Macgillivray

"Clutches" by Calum MacGillivray (www.calummacgillivray.com).

An artist and illustrator based in Glasgow, Macgillivray creates pagan totems and symbols you might find in the gut of some abandoned forest. Using ink blotching, watercolours, wood and paper, he toys with texture, negative space, silhouette and shadow play under themes such as waste, decay and death.

Clare Marcie

Marcie is a New Zealander, currently residing in Glasgow. She has been involved in the Refugee Festival Scotland, the Glasgow-based feminist collective TYCI and the Federation of Scottish Theatre. The subject of her writing appears to vary with the only immediately apparent rule being that it can’t be ineffectual. For one of her recent works, see the online magazine Hot Tub Astronaut, where you can read her poem “Lover///Hater (binary faker)”.

Jennifer Argo

"Chaos And Order" by Jennifer Argo (www.jenniferargo.com).

Currently based at Glasgow Sculpture Studios, Argo is a multi-skilled artist from the North-East of Scotland. Pointedly geometric illustrations and monochrome collages are her trademark. Simultaneously alien and recognizable, her intricate illustrations of patterns and sequences that can be found in geology and geography are aesthetically impressive.

Liam Dunn

"67" by Liam Dunn (liamdunn.wordpress.com).

Dunn frequents the Glasgow art circuit with abstract installations; tableaux of broken and redefined human figures that create a thicket of mercurial confusion.

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Finn G Cargill is a writer from Suffolk, currently based in London. He started writing poetry four years ago whilst living and studying at the University of Glasgow. He is currently gravitating toward art, photography and mixed media. His work has been published online and in print, and he is working towards his first full collection of poetry in the next few months called Black Dog Waltz. Find out more at www.gandapoetry.com.

Review: “Cradle” by Flying Cafe For Semianimals

Cradle7

Studio: Flying Cafe For Semianimals | Buy: Steam

I have an opinion about Cradle and here it is: Cradle is the most disappointing game I’ve ever played in my life.

It starts out well. Better than well: great! Better than great, in fact! Cradle‘s intro is borderline perfect. If someone were to make a game that was specifically tailored to me – me personally, the guy sitting in the chair typing this – then that game would start out with the intro to Cradle. This is, of course, the whole problem. If Cradle‘s intro was as good as the rest of the game, it would just be your run-of-the-mill crap game, and I wouldn’t be that fussed. But when you start out at the very tippy-top, you’ve got an awfully long way to fall. Onto my head.

Let’s back up a bit. Cradle is an atmospheric first-person adventure game thing from the preposterously wankishly-named Flying Cafe For Semianimals, which should probably be taken as a warning as to what you’re in for. You wake up in a yurt, in the middle of the Mongolian wilderness. Outside, all there is to greet you is grass and hills, some sort of futuristic tramline and what appears to be the remains of an abandoned amusement park. Inside, the yurt is absolutely stuffed with stuff to read and look at. Lots of personal effects to pick up and chuck about, with no in-game purpose except to add flavour and clog up your inventory if you mistakenly think that you might need to keep them with you. Magazines, post-its, photos, letters and books, providing fascinating hints at both your character’s personal history and whatever disastrous events befell the sci-fi semi-postapocalyptia you’ve been dumped in. On the table there’s a conspicuous note, left there by possibly-yourself, telling you how to prepare breakfast for something called “Ongots”, whatever the fuck that is. Oh, and over in the corner there’s an inactive robot woman whose lower half appears to have been repurposed as a flower vase.

"Cradle" Review Screenshot 2

So… lonely, melancholy natural beauty? Lovely graphics, mostly realistic but with hints of stylisation adding that extra little frisson you need? The ruins of industrial modernity to wander around in? An enigmatic science-fiction plot involving mysterious disasters creating danger zones filled with supernatural phenomena and horrible death? Piecing together events from scraps of documents left around the place rather than just having it ladled down your throat by an NPC? Working out your objectives from environmental cues and your own deductive abilities? Pottering about doing peaceful domestic tasks? Robotic crumpet? Yes, yes, and yes, thank you. This is my perfect game. I would’ve made it myself if I’d had a game studio but it turns out I don’t need to because you’ve beaten me to it.

I spend a happy hour nosing about, reading postcards, musing on the mysteries of the plot, playing with the taps and finding out how extraordinarily difficult it is to replace things once you’ve taken them out of their proper place to have a look at them. This is the best part of the game; it’s a breakneck ride downhill from this point on. Making Ongots’s breakfast, once I get around to it, turns out to consist mostly of object hunts, wandering vaguely around the lovely environments keeping an eye out for the small and inconspicuous items you need to complete your tasks. As the game progresses it will become increasingly apparent that all the puzzles are like this, and with one even more unpleasant exception, this is all Cradle has to offer.

In short order I give up on trying to work out what I’m supposed to do from environmental cues, and submit to using the in-game “hints” system. (In my mind using “hints” means that you’re at the end of your rope and the game has defeated you. I suspect, in actual fact, that what I’m looking at is just a standard-issue objective journal, named as such due to dodgy translation.) In slightly longer order I will throw aside my pride entirely and start using a guide I found on the internet, because while I know that I could beat the game by pissing about poking at red herrings for hours on end, I most emphatically don’t want to.

"Cradle" Review Screenshot 3

Anyway, having fed Ongots, which turns out to be a magic golden eagle with a hole in it, I get to reactivate my robot lady, and the storytelling slopes off to hang out with gameplay in the Pavilion Of Shitness. Both characters have amnesia, which provides an excellent excuse for them to explain things about the setting to each other with a level of emotion ranging between “disinterested” and “dead”. In lieu of natural organic storytelling, robowoman will spend the rest of the game remembering chunks of lore and calling you up to tell you about them at more-or-less arbitrary intervals. Usually after you’ve brought her another robot body part. Oh yeah, you have to go collect robot body parts because her chassis is evidently made by Toshiba and a random bit of her will go on the fritz every twenty minutes. Fortuitously enough, the local abandoned amusement park is still functioning and will reward you for completing the “rides” with… robot body parts. And you guessed it, by scarequotes-rides I mean out-of-place shit minigames in classic crap adventure game style.

Each of the rides is some kind of holodeck thing where you jump around on cubes collecting other cubes while occasionally evil cubes fly at you and either make more cubes or remove a bunch of cubes. In summary, cubes. These games would be pretty resolutely unentertaining even if it weren’t for the controls, which are barely adequate for their original task of adventure game pootling-and-inventory-management and are not improved by the sudden genre shift. Admittedly I might have had a worse time with them than most people, given that I’m left-handed and thus had to play the entire game with my hands the wrong way round because the game won’t let you reassign keys, but you know what, I don’t think that’s a very good defense. Also admittedly, the game will let you skip each game when you fail, but that still means playing through them each once, rather than the ideal number of zero. And there are four of these fucking things. And frankly who even gives a fuck if these minigames are good or not? I purchased this game on the understanding that it was a slightly-up-itself atmospheric narrative experience deal. If I’d wanted to play MineQ*bert, I would have bought that instead.

Of course, every game has to end sometime, and mercifully Cradle doesn’t take too long to release you from its grip. Unfortunately it can’t resist delivering one last kick to the nads in the form of an absolutely bewildering ending and subsequent realisation that the game’s plot might well be absolute nonsense. To demonstrate, I shall now attempt to summarise the story of Cradle, as I understand it. You are a copy of a clone of a guy who met your robogirlfriend back when she was a human, who was delivered to the yurt by the aforementioned magic eagle after the clone of the guy who was a kid and also a robot met the original guy and then exploded because that’s what happens when you meet yourself when you’re a robot apparently, and there’s a time portal in the amusement park that you use to save the world by getting your robot waifu struck by lightning so she can send a signal back to the past to the time when the guy you’re a copy of a clone of met her when she was a human and they got this weird feeling that might have been Twu Wuv or possibly just telepathy and so past-original-you sent a magic number to some scientist guy which in some way would avert the semiapocalypse and OH GOD DOES THIS SOUND LIKE COMPLETE BOLLOCKS TO YOU? YES? GOOD.

"Cradle" Review Sceenshot 4

Here’s the thing: I like a bit of mystery in my fiction. I actively seek out stories with enigmatic plots and inconclusive endings. I don’t have a problem with Cradle‘s ending not being entirely clear. What irks me is not that the plot isn’t clearly explained, but the nagging feel that there’s nothing there to explain. Cradle doesn’t feel like a story that someone really wanted to tell, but rather a weak excuse to string together a collection of unrelated tropes – creepy amusement parks, sexy robot women, yurts – that they thought were cool. Take the amusement park, which it turns out is not actually an amusement park but a sort of odd therapy centre for kids with a bizarre psychological condition that makes them unable to look at people without vomiting. All the “rides” are part of their therapy. Kind of an interesting idea? Sure, OK. But is it here because it served the story or because you needed an excuse to earn robot body parts by fucking with cubes? My money’s on the latter. Cradle‘s cardinal sin, if it has one, is that it’s completely hollow. There’s no point in attempting to dig into the mysteries of the plot, because under the desultory shell of worldbuilding there’s simply nothing there.

The weird thing is, even after all this, I can’t bring myself to hate Cradle. After all, it’s only so disappointing because it started out so well, and there’s still a lot of value hidden in amongst the cruft. I don’t regret buying it, and I might even go back to it once in a while, to experience that atmosphere and gently bumble about making bird-breakfast in the yurt. A tenner and a bit of disappointment seems like a decent price for an hour of the best game ever made.

*

Thomas Lindsay is a writer, artist and proofreader whose favourite subject is complaining ferociously about things. He is currently trapped in the mighty ocean fortress of Great Britain, but hopes to escape as soon as The Device is completed. In his spare time he enjoys not going outside. Read more of his work at lacrimonious.wordpress.com.

News: Issue Forty-Three Preview

A little preview of issue forty-three.

Issue forty-three is due back from the printer any day now, and I’ve set the release date for Thursday 4th August. That gives you just under a month to pre-order a copy or sign up for a subscription and receive Neon for an entire year.

This issue of Neon has everything, from a graphic short story about the Cat Ladies of Czechoslovakia to an investigation into the post-literary lives of various fictional characters. There’s also a story about a massacre on an asteroid, and some fantastic poetry and hybrid fiction from a selection of writers, poets and artists.

Our featured creators in this edition are Juliet Kinder, Lucas Shepherd, Thea Hawlin, Lynn Hoffman, Stephen Devereux, Karina Evans, Kelly Muskat, Lydia Armstrong, Faye Moorhouse, Robert N Lee, and Toby Penney. The cover image is by the award-winning young photographer Eleanor Leonne Bennett.

Head to the Purchase / Subscribe page to sign up or pre-order your copy of issue forty-three, or sign up to the mailing list below to be reminded on August 4th when it’s available to order.