April Staff Picks: Video Games, Spec-Fic, AeroGardens, and Terry Gilliam!
Words By F(r)iction Staff
I have recently taken to playing copious amounts of hours of Red Dead Redemption 2. A game that I believe captivates the hearts of many whilst taking you through a passage of history from the suffragette movement, invention of the electric chair, and serial killers of the 19th Century. There are so many wonderful and albeit wacky characters you meet on your journeys who even though some are completely fictional will leave you wanting more or devastated by their unforeseen demise. The music, the colors, and the conversations are incredibly beautiful—making it a journey worth taking all the way. I started playing this through “meeting” my current love interest, playing online and riding off into the sunset like the outlaws it seems we were born to be, (I am much more of a liability as he calls it) we are sparking a modern-day 2021 lockdown romance.
I can’t think of a single other book I’ve read in the last few years that I’ve enjoyed as much as Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth. I finished the novel and its sequel, Harrow the Ninth, in a matter of days—and then reread them immediately, this time taking notes. The blurb on the cover promises “Lesbian necromancers explore a haunted gothic palace in space!” and the first two books of the trilogy (the third is due to be released in 2022) immediately deliver, blending to marvelous effect a variety of genres. It’s mystery, it’s horror, it’s post-apocalyptic sci-fi, it’s swords-and-necromancy fantasy. The primary plot whips along at speed, propelled by a cast of complex and fascinating characters and narrated by the titular Gideon, a swordswoman whose blunt and humorous voice is an absolute joy to read. It’s grim, gay, heartbreaking, a study of how we struggle to live with loss . . . and often screamingly funny. And it’s full of lore breadcrumbs hinting at an ancient, tragic mystery underpinning the whole of the trilogy, which is what makes a reread so rewarding: with the knowledge gained on the first read-through, Muir’s conversational asides, off-hand details, and subtle literary references make for an entirely new experience the second time around. I haven’t stopped thinking about the series since I first finished it, and I can’t wait for the third book!
This month, I’ve been throwing an hour a night at the re-release of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game – Complete Edition. Originally from 2010, this tenth-anniversary reissue returns players to fighting their way through The League of Ramona’s Evil Exes in colorful, pixel-art majesty. It’s a charming, leveling-based beat-‘em-up that hearkens back to mid-’90s arcade experiences, and you can play it with friends on the couch. Add in the game’s loving, easter-egg loaded telling of the classic graphic novel series and this is an ideal escapism experience for the gamers out there.
If you like movies, check out My Octopus Teacher on Netflix for a stunning, beautiful, and genuinely heartwarming documentary about a man’s journey to escape his stress and the octopus he befriended along the way.
Get a countertop hydroponic garden system! I use AeroGarden, but there are tons of similar brands. Cost-wise, they’re slightly more than you may spend getting soil, pots, and grow lights, but you don’t generally have to deal with any of the bugs or other issues that soil brings. If you prefer soil, you can use the system to start seedlings to transfer to soil later, which reduces the pests you’d potentially bring in from garden stores. But if you leave the plants in the system, they’re practically guaranteed to grow. I say this as a person that is truly terrible with plants—wrote a story about it even.
Speaking of that story, if you have a cat that’s particularly murderous towards green things, use clear tape to make a sticky cage for the plants. Your cat will (hopefully) hate the sticky feeling on its whiskers and eventually ignore the garden. Most countertop hydroponic gardens are designed in a way that it’s easy to run the tape from a platform above the lights down to the base. Just make sure to keep the sticky part on the outside!
I entered Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi without much context––I was simply enticed by its beautiful cover and my friends’ vague reactions: strange, ambiguous, fantastical. I knew nothing of the characters, setting, or plot, and I think that was the perfect way to enter Piranesi’s unnerving architecture. The main character in all of his isolation is lovable and kind. The setting is alive––a benevolent deity in its own right. This book is a fascinating experiment in de-familiarization and rediscovery and is best read by jumping into its freezing waters without a second thought.
I just watched Terry Gilliam’s 1985 film Brazil for the first time. It’s a cult classic and in my opinion Gilliam’s magnum opus. Oddly, the movie doesn’t actually have anything to do with the nation of Brazil. It is named after the song and central theme of the film, “Aquarela do Brasil” by Ary Barroso. The movie conveys a particularly bleak dystopia that marries the bureaucracy and surveillance of the Soviet Union against the consumerism and empty decadence of American capitalism. Like any Gilliam movie, it has moments of comedy and surrealism. Even with the world of Brazil’s weird magnified computers, tiny automobiles, and working-class superheroes—Robert De Niro plays a rouge plumber/electrician who repairs peoples’ homes free of charge because he’s faster and more reliable than the government technicians—the film somehow feels closer to our present day than any other sci-fi movie I’ve seen. That’s what’s truly scary about Brazil. It feels so much like the dystopia we already live in, only exaggerated. I watched the director’s cut of the film, which I recommend. Gilliam had a long fight with the studio over the final cut of the film, and the director’s cut is his vision fully realized. The ending of the film was the source of conflict, and Gilliam’s ending is truly unforgettable. After just one viewing, Brazil has climbed to the top of the list of my favorite movies.