A Review of You Glow In The Dark

*SPOILER ALERT *This review contains plot details of You Glow in the Dark.

Published on February 06, 2024 by New Directions Publishing.

You Glow in the Dark is Liliana Colanzi’s breathtaking and haunting English debut. This collection of speculative short stories contemplates radioactive violence, environmental resiliency, and the ghostly inheritance of colonialism through the lenses of horror and cyberpunk fiction. With its heart situated in the Bolivian altiplano, Colanzi’s stories expand our political imagination through an interrogation of a history fraught with survival and revolution.

Although my knowledge of Bolivian history only extends to the research I did in relation to this collection, as a third-generation Latina, I’m aware of the specific and chilling ways the history of colonization lingers in Latin American communities. Stories like “The Greenest Eyes,” which explores a mestiza girl’s willingness to make a Faustian deal for eyes as green of those of her Italian father’s, felt all-too familiar, but may be read by other audiences as purely fantastical.

Similarly, when the narrator of “Chaco” is possessed by the ghost of a Mataco man he killed, I’m inclined to think of it less as a “ghost” story and more as historical fiction with paranormal elements. The region of Gran Chaco in Bolivia is marred with the forced expulsion of multiple indigenous groups, wars, and conservation issues because the land is rich in oil. The Mataco man’s words echoing in the narrator’s head reveal the truth that emerges when history is not told by the victors: “The river turned to poison, the fish turned belly up and died. Hunger was great, hunger was long, and food in short supply.” This incantation also serves as a warning for what could happen if a society continues to prioritize profit and resources over the land and the environment.

One possible future is imagined in one of my favorite stories in the collection, “Atomito.” This story follows numerous characters in an Andean cyberpunk society that revolves around a nuclear power plant ironically named after Túpac Katari, a revolutionary leader in colonial-era Bolivia. Looming in the background of the narrative is an impending radioactive disaster intertwined with a mysterious and fictional Andean deity, Atomito, who is linked to an actual Andean deity, Pachamama. The prose is flavored with Snow Crash-eque irreverancy, vocabulary from the Andes and Japanese diaspora in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, and the unique ways five young adults survive in this bizarre ecosystem. I was immediately hypnotized by Colanzi’s transcendent worldbuilding and felt connected to each character’s drive, desires, and fate. My only critique of this story is that I wish it was longer—I would be thrilled to read a novel as long as Snow Crash about this world and these characters.

Speaking of radioactive disasters, I can’t discuss You Glow in the Dark in good faith without discussing the final story in the collection, also titled “You Glow in the Dark.” This story is inspired by the unspeakably tragic 1987 Goiânia accident, wherein hundreds of individuals were exposed to highly radioactive caesium chloride. In such tragedies, it is easy to see statistics and forget the humanity of the individual lives lost. Colanzi rectifies this by creating compelling and unique stories for the otherwise voiceless: from the imagined perspectives of the families directly impacted to fictional accounts of the hundreds of thousands rushed to local hospitals to check exposure levels.

The story that haunts me the most is that of Devair Alves Ferreira, who, in both real life and the story, comes across the container of caesium chloride in his scrapyard after it was sold to him. In the narrative, he discovers it glowing blue in the night, and although the eerie luminescence reminds him “of the dead, of the devil, of aliens,” he is fascinated and brings it home to show his family. As an unfortunate result, Devair is left the sole survivor of his family, and his survival is turned into spectacle: “Open your eyes, ladies and gentlemen, what you are about to see is not for the fainthearted: the glow of death, the phosphorence of sin, the man who shines in the darkness.” If this glowing substance contains the allure of Pandora’s Box, perhaps the sole hope that remains is that some of us will survive these environmental disasters—and, if nothing else, Earth will survive, as it has for centuries, as Colanzi vividly displays in “The Cave,” a condensed epic of the history of our planet.

As the back cover blurb of You Glow in the Dark asserts, despite the diverse nature of each of these stories, “all are superbly executed and yet hard to pin down; they often leave the reader wondering: Was that realistic or fantastic?” This was one factor that drew me to read You Glow in the Dark, and Colanzi deftly delivers. I’ve been longing to read more works that eschew a traditional Western narrative arc for appealing to dream logic. However, there were some moments in this collection where I found myself longing for a little more grounding to understand what was happening in a narrative. At times, I oscillated between a lingering sense of wonder at Colanzi’s boundlessly imaginative narratives or worrying that my confusion had led me to misinterpret a story.

Nevertheless, despite occasional moments of narrative ambiguity, the overall enchanting experience offered by You Glow in the Dark is undeniable. This is easily one of my favorite reads of late, as it is one of those rare short story collections that transports me beyond the ordinary yet leaves me with a better understanding of it. Colanzi’s talent to pull from the traditions of horror and speculative fiction and transform them into something uniquely her own showcases the important role genre literature can play in highlighting stories previously relegated to the shadows.

An Interview with Shashi Bhat

Spoiler Alert—The following review contains plot details about The Most Precious Substance on Earth.

What made you want to start writing?

I was always a reader when I was a kid, and the books that impacted me the most were short story collections or anthologies: Budge Wilson’s The Leaving and 21 Great Stories are ones that still stand out in my mind. I read those books over and over. There’s always been something about short stories that grabs me—their compression; how what’s off the page matters as much as what’s on it; how they can end with a kind of suspension or irresolution.

I wrote what I consider my first short story in Grade 8, when we had a unit in English class on “surprise ending stories.” Those surprise endings seemed like such a cool trick to pull off, and so impressive in how they earned it with foreshadowing. My own story was very bizarre and murderous, involving a unreliable narrator who may or not have stabbed his jerk brother with part of his Halloween costume.

The Most Precious Substance on Earth is such an empowering and moving coming-of-age story. I was intrigued by the title, which is also the third chapter title, in which the school band Nina is a part of argues whether platinum, the band’s namesake, is indeed the most precious substance on earth. As the narrative continues, it becomes clear that the most precious substance is something far less tangible. When writing this book, did you immediately know The Most Precious Substance on Earth would be its title?

Thank you! I had written that third chapter as a stand-alone short story before I realized it was going to be part of a novel. Originally, I plucked the phrase from that scene and made it the short story title, because I liked its enigmatic quality. I had the sense that it represented what the narrator loses at the end of that story, where there’s a fairly tragic coming-of-age moment. Once I had the full novel written, out of all the chapter titles, that one struck me the most as applying to the whole book. The “most precious substance” is this nebulous mix of all the things a girl loses when she comes of age—innocence, confidence, faith, a feeling of safety and certainty.

The first chapter ends with Nina experiencing something unspeakably traumatic at the hands of her favorite teacher, Mr. Mackenzie. Compared to books like My Dark Vanessa, The Most Precious Substance on Earth doesn’t focus on the continued predation of a teacher upon their student. How important was it for you to portray Nina’s trauma and struggle to come of age through the physical absence yet otherwise looming presence of Mr. Mackenzie?

I don’t think I would have felt comfortable writing a book that was, from start to finish, about a predatory teacher. It was less the abuse itself that interested me than its aftermath. It was important to me that the actual event remain offscreen and not be depicted graphically, but that readers still feel the weight of its impact. I’m a little obsessed with how a single incident or action or moment can cause a permanent shift and lasting trauma. I wanted to explore the subtle but still devastating effects of such an experience and how they follow Nina even when the event is over, the teacher has left, and her life has moved on.

Some readers were confused or disappointed that there wasn’t a big confrontation scene later in the book, or that the abuse didn’t get reported or go to trial and so on. I wanted to write something that felt true to real-life experiences of sexual abuse and assault—a kind of ongoing silencing. But I can certainly also understand the desire for justice and catharsis!

Despite the dark subject matters this book handles, Nina has a memorably humorous voice; there were moments that had me laughing out loud, and then feeling immediately empathetic for her. Was it difficult to strike the right balance between serious and humorous?

I’m so glad this made you laugh! Initially I wrote the first chapter of this book for a reading I gave at a bar in 2007, and I was trying to write something that was accessible, easy to follow while listening, would get an audience reaction, and had tonal range. I wanted to write something that had a breathlessness to it, in the sudden emotional turn of the ending—an ending that aimed to pull the rug out from under the reader. Because the subject matter and emotions of this story are so dark, it needed some lightness to balance it out. A big part of revision was considering and calibrating the tonal balance; I didn’t want people to think I was ever joking about what happens to Nina, but I also didn’t want the book to be joyless.

The bits of pop culture weaved throughout the narrative flavored the text and made Nina’s adolescence feel so relatable and grounded. How did you go about researching or recalling these pop culture factoids?

I was a teenager in the suburbs of Toronto in the ‘90s, so even though the book is set in Halifax, a lot of the pop culture references were just the TV and music I listened to back then. While writing, I listened to music by Our Lady Peace, The Smashing Pumpkins, and Radiohead (my favorite bands in high school), and the soundtracks to The Craft and Romeo + Juliet, both of which came out around that time.

I also had to do a lot of googling to avoid anachronisms. I kept a spreadsheet of the chapters and what years they occurred in, then looked up each reference and tracked it on the spreadsheet. While revising I had to change some of them, like if I had a reference to a TV show that was released in 2006 but the chapter was set in 2002. And it was not for only pop culture, but also things like whether there was a dollar store in a certain mall in Halifax in 1998, what thrift stores were most popular in the city then, or whether my characters would have needed to take a bus to get to Tim Hortons. It was painstaking but also very fun. I enjoyed all the nostalgia.

I appreciated how Nina’s growth continued well into her adulthood. It makes sense that going through something so traumatic would take years to heal from. Part of this is explored through Nina’s decision to become a teacher and the struggles she faced in this line of work. As a professor yourself, did you experience any struggles when you first started teaching that influenced Nina’s story? Can you tell us a little more about the role of a teacher to not only educate students but to protect and inspire them?

I did take inspiration from my teaching experiences, though I imagine teaching high school students requires a more intense level of personal responsibility. A teaching workload can be very high in terms of grading, class prep, and admin work, and there are the many hours of public speaking every week. My first few years teaching full-time were overwhelming, particularly because I was a young female minority teaching mostly white students. My teaching evaluations were full of microaggressions. I felt a lot of pressure to prove myself. I had Nina share those pressures.

Now I teach in a much more diverse environment, but any teaching comes with frequent and unexpected ethical and emotional dilemmas that we’re not always prepared for. I teach creative writing, and it’s not uncommon for students to write about very personal things, like eating disorders, gender identity, relationships, assaults, and abuse. Many students are also dealing with physical and mental health issues and have pressures outside of the classroom. Most instructors I know have had students cry in class or in office hours or have had students become very angry or send cruel or inappropriate emails. That being said, my students are engaged and brilliant and funny; they’re good writers and hard workers and sharp critics; they encourage each other. My creative writing workshops are often really fun, but I’m always aware that I’m only responsible for a small part of that—that I’m a facilitator, that the dynamic is very fragile, and that how a class goes depends so much on the mix of personalities in the room.

Before going into teaching, Nina attends an MFA program for Creative Writing in the U.S. and immediately feels alienated as the only person of color in the program. At the beginning of the narrative, when Nina imagines reading Beowulf by the fireplace with her teacher, she imagines herself with blonde hair, even though she’s Indian. This alienation is, unfortunately, a common experience for so many women of color. Did you set out to portray this heavily when you started writing this novel, or did it organically come up as you continued writing? 

It did come up organically, based on my own experiences. I didn’t put a South Asian character in any of my stories until I was 23 or so, probably because I didn’t encounter any South Asian American characters until I read Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies. Even now, in my students’ writing, it’s rare to see someone put their cultural identity in their work, or to identify a character’s race (white still seeming to be the default, even when the writer isn’t white). On the other hand, it’s very common to see them set their stories in a kind of vague American setting (though we’re in Canada). They also love setting stories in New York, which most of them have never been to! I find this last bit very charming and interesting, but I have introduced a “write what you know” assignment, partly to suggest that their own experiences—including the places they live in and the people they know—are valid to explore in fiction.

I loved how central Nina’s cultural identity was to her growing up and her relationship with her family. One example that comes to mind is how normally it’s presented that Nina lives with her parents as an adult. While this is normal in many cultures, it’s still seen as unusual in Western society. During the publishing process, did you ever face resistance or confusion toward your portrayal of Nina’s heritage?

I was very lucky to work with agents and editors who didn’t question the way I depicted Nina’s cultural background. When McClelland & Stewart made an offer, they sent a letter with kind quotes from their editors and staff responding to the manuscript. I remember one editor who referred to a moment when Nina describes having dinner at the house of a white friend as having a hidden choreography she couldn’t follow, and the editor said that, as a Korean-Canadian, that was something he had felt, too. That comment meant a lot to me. I appreciated hearing from people who could understand what those small moments are like.

Silence and power play such important roles in The Most Precious Substance on Earth. We see this clearly when Nina joins a local Toastmasters group to improve her public speaking skills. The intersection of race and gender, and the way silence is imposed on marginalized individuals, is especially present in these sections. How do you think the solidarity between Nina and the women of color in Toastmasters played a role in her growth?

I wanted Nina to find some like-minded people, and her friendship with Jules makes the story a more hopeful ending than it would be otherwise. I wrote Jules as basically Nina’s ideal friend. Like Nina, she struggles with speaking up, but she’s also sharp and funny, and Nina witnesses her stand up for the other woman of color in the Toastmaster’s group. Jules is someone who has goals and works toward achieving them. She’s a good influence on Nina, and there’s no toxicity between them; it’s a much more calm, mature friendship than what Nina has with Amy in high school.

The publishing industry can be difficult for emerging authors to navigate. If you could give your past self one piece of advice about the publishing industry or process, what would it be? 

I would tell myself to write what I wanted to, and not what I was expected to.

Part of our mission here at Brink Literacy Project is to bring the revolutionary magic of storytelling to underserved communities. Do you have any advice for aspiring authors from marginalized communities? 

My advice is the same as it is for my past self, and perhaps for all aspiring writers: write what you can’t stop thinking about.

A Review of Santa Tarantula by Jordan Pérez

Published on February 1, 2024 by University of Notre Dame Press.

Upon discovering Jordan Pérez’s award-winning poem “Santa Tarantula,” my immediate instinct was to share it with every poetry-enthusiast I know. Pérez’s command of hypnotic alliteration and masterful weaving of technical language from the fields of arachnology, religion, and capital punishment create a haunting statement on womanhood. Her debut collection, Santa Tarantula, mirrors the themes encapsulated in its eponymous poem: the connection between women and the natural world; the oppression that occurs in Biblical narratives, patriarchal governments, and intimate relationships; and the urgent need to dismantle the legacy of silence.

Divided into three sections—”Smallmouth,” “Dissent,” and “Gospel”—Santa Tarantula guides readers on a journey of healing alongside the speaker’s search for autonomy and self-love. In the collection’s opening poem, “Smallmouth,” Pérez asserts that what is left unsaid “demands to be / known.” This becomes the central motif of Santa Tarantula, urging readers to confront uncomfortable realities. Pérez’s award-winning poem “Deadgirl” does this brilliantly through the speaker’s observation of how a brown mushroom sprouting from the soil looks like the knee of a dead girl. The rain comes and mushrooms sprout everywhere, impossible to ignore, but eventually, the mushrooms disintegrate back into the earth. Indeed, the dark underbelly haunting this collection is the way violence committed against girls is suppressed. The speaker is left with lingering silence and feels dangerously unsafe in her own girlhood, “the [same] way [she] couldn’t be sure / which house in the neighborhood held the man // who touched little girls, and so in every house / is the man who touches little girls.” The omnipresence of femicide and sexual abuse is spine-chilling and heartbreaking, yet real—this tangled web of suppressed cultural and generational trauma is the reality Pérez “demands to be / known.”

With these wounds left unhealed, the collection moves into Part II: Dissent. Women align themselves with hissing tarantulas as they warp an ode to a Cuban government that sends dissidents and marginalized citizens to work camps. Biblical women start finding ways to escape their objectified existence as fruit, “swell[ed] with sugar, / [resting] heavy in [the] unloved palms” of their God. Women starve, left empty not only due to lack of food, but by the lack of justice. However, a woman’s desire to quell her hunger does not come without consequence; in “Santa Tarantula,” women ally themselves with the tarantula once again, and both are exalted to sainthood: “Praise / the tarantula woman still alive at forty.” But sainthood rarely comes with respect during one’s lifetime: the speaker swiftly shifts from praising tarantulas to a bone-chilling directive for men who long to domesticate them: “This is how you kill a tarantula. / Cover her, and hope to God she suffocates.” Reading this line for the first time felt like a punch to the gut, and a painful reminder that women are always in danger. However, Pérez leaves a glimmer of hope in the final line: if the tarantula survives, its assailant will face consequences. Still, the speaker persists, and the final poems in this section consider different ways women successfully voice their dissent, like taking communion with open eyes.

This hope bleed into the collection’s final section, Gospel. In addition to extending the Biblical allusions, the word “gospel” urges us to think about what truths need to be shared, or even worshipped. Though an undercurrent of danger remains bubbling beneath the surface of this section, the poems overall are lighter in tone, carrying the radical power of healing, love, and freedom. In “Asymptote,” the speaker’s mother reminds her that the body is a temple, but all the speaker can think of is when “a man / is burning [a temple] in the news.” Despite this, when a man asks the speaker how she can be touched after everything she’s been through, she poignantly asserts, “I refuse / to die having not been pressed to someone / else’s heart, having not come into the fullness of myself, / having not said this is my blood. This, my body. Saying no / or yes, and liking it.” Pérez’s masterful use of enjambment in this section amplifies the speaker’s longing for autonomy: whether she refuses or accepts to be touched, the choice is hers, and hers alone.

The speaker also finds power in herself in the ghazal “I Was Named for the River of Blessings.” The ghazal, a musical form that often contemplates love, spirituality, and loss, is one of my favorite forms of poetry. Pérez chooses the words “halleluiah” and variations of the word “name” as refrains to contemplate the speaker’s origin, struggles with gendered violence, and desire to sing hymns of her female loved ones. The last couplet of a ghazal typically includes a name, usually that of the poet. Instead of explicitly providing a name, Pérez links the speaker’s growth to the Jordan River—a symbol of freedom to the Israelites escaping slavery in Egypt, and the site of many Biblical miracles and baptisms: “Bigger than I am, he touches each growing blackberry, naming / even the greenest ones. Oh, river of blessings. Oh, halleluiah, halleluiah.” These lines gorgeously portray the pure joy of healing, as the speaker experiences a symbolic baptism and flourishing rebirth.

There is much more to write about Pérez’s incredible debut, like her precise execution of form, including a subversive mixed-up sestina, a haunting reverse diminishing verse, poignant prose poems; her feminist reinterpretation of Biblical stories; and her recurring references to insect and reptilian eggs to represent the simultaneous fragility and regenerative power of womanhood. My only wish is that there were more poems in this collection exploring how the legacy of Cuban labor camps lives on in survivors, or that the poems already exploring this were more seamlessly woven into the collection. As with any themed collection, many poems explored the same motif using different forms and language, so it’s natural for the lasting impression to feel like a blended collage. Because Pérez compellingly links predominant narratives (such as those from the Bible) to the intimate struggles of women, I found myself longing for the specter of cultural trauma to linger more in my final impression of Santa Tarantula. Poems like “Mixed-Up Sestina,” “O God of Cuba,” and “Dissent,” which explore the haunting impact of an unjust government on its subjects, were some of Perez’s strongest, adding more nuance to Santa Tarantula’s project to weave a web between historical and personal traumas.

Overall, what most impressed me about Santa Tarantula is its unflinching honesty and urgency to shake its readers out of complacency. It’s a collection that not only conveys the importance of looking at the dark history humanity pushes into the shadows, but also compels us to imagine possibilities for rebirth that are grounded in radical compassion. I am surprised that Santa Tarantula is Pérez’s debut; her poetic finesse, unique use of language, and thought-provoking metaphors make this debut a poignant and unforgettable exploration of societal injustices and the resilience required to overcome them. I will never forget these poems, and I am so excited to follow Pérez’s career as a poet.

An Interview with Jade Song

In an interview with Write or Die, you mentioned that you consider yourself an artist over a writer. How do you think the role of an artist differs from the role of a writer?

To me, there’s really no difference between being an artist and being a writer. My writing is part of my art. Writing is just one part of the art I make and love, so therefore I think of myself as an artist. My favorite art of any kind understands and celebrates the lineage and inspirations it comes from, so whatever I craft, whether it be writing or not, I always seek this approach.

Ren’s coming of age in your debut novel Chlorine is so heartbreaking and raw, yet oddly comforting. There aren’t many stories that describe the violence of coming of age as a queer girl of color in the US this honestly. How important was it for you to center Ren’s identity as a cultural “other” in your exploration of the pain of girlhood?

I don’t view Ren, or queer girls of color in general, as a cultural “other”—if anything, I view her, and me, and us, as the center, which includes all the complexities of who she is and who we are. If anyone wants to view her as an “other,” that’s their own conundrum to work through. I wrote this exploration centering her and her experience.

You’ve mentioned that you’re fascinated with imagery of “weird, queer transcendence,” and that this played a role in writing Chlorine. How would you compare Ren’s transcendence to Cathy’s lingering longing for Ren evident in her letters? Do you think Cathy is unable to transcend, either similarly or unlike Ren?

To me, Cathy transcends in her own way: she’s in love with someone else. To be in love is to be terrified; to be in love is to choose the terror despite; to be in love is therefore to transcend. Yet being in love with another is a common form of transcendence in the way Ren’s viscerally weird and strange transcendence is not. So, comparatively, Cathy’s arc pales.

There are at least two distinct forms of cell death: pain-free programmed cell death (apoptosis) and inflammatory unplanned cell death (necrosis). Menstruation is necrosis meaning anyone who has a uterus literally goes through a process of death and rebirth every month. Unfortunately, Ren still struggles with painful periods, even at her most dedicated to competitive swimming. Can you tell us a little more about how you sought to link the violence of menstruation with Ren’s bloody transformation?

Thank you for that interesting fact. Cell Death would be a great band name! I think there was no way for me to write a coming-of-age girlhood-driven story involving body horror without including menstruation. To me, it’s biologically violent, gushing out blood and stomach pain like it’s no big deal, and, as you said, it’s a monthly bloody transformation, so when writing fictional bloody transformations, I just can’t leave it out.

You’re also a fantastic short story author. In Bloody Angle,” the narrator explains their vengeful cannibalism by citing Newton’s third law: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Racism plays a crucial role in “Bloody Angle” and Chlorine. When expressing your characters’ anger towards prejudice, did you ever feel pressured to justify their actions to people who wouldn’t understand?

Thank you! I never really feel pressured to justify characters’ actions to people who wouldn’t understand because I’m never really thinking about people who refuse to understand. When I write, I’m thinking about me and my friends and my community and my family and everyone/everything else I care about.

Yes, there was some need to justify the reactive acts of violence—the murders in “Bloody Angle” and the body horror in Chlorine—but the justification is more so to explain the character motivations and plot. After all, the narrator in Bloody Angle says, “If you are struggling to understand… my story is not for you.”

Image credit: Jade Song

You’ve expressed how Chlorine came from a place of cathartic anger, while your short story collection and novel in-progress come from a place of love and understanding. How did you allow yourself space to safely express your anger without letting it consume you?

Art has always been the safest channel for my emotions. The making, the gazing, the understanding—it’s incredibly life-affirming and lifesaving. It’s because of art that my meanest inclinations and worst rages do not consume me, so just by allowing myself to listen to the art I then become free.

You have a beautifully curated Instagram account, @chlorinenovel, to share updates and related artistic influences you enjoy. What forthcoming books, movies, music, or other forms of media you are looking forward to consuming?

I can’t wait for the new Jackie Wang book, Alien Daughters Walk Into the Sun, to arrive in the mail. In 2024, I’m excited to read the new Akwaeke Emezi novel, Little Rot, and the new Hanif Abdurraqib book. I’ll be seated at every new Hansol Jung play in theatres, and I’ll be the first in line at the cinema when Julia Ducournau’s next film with A24 is out.

If you could give your past self one piece of advice about the publishing industry or process, what would it be?

You can say no.

Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Writing and being a writer are two different things. One is to focus on the work, and one is to focus on the community, the success, the end product. Neither are wrong, and both feed into each other, but I do think deciding which path is more important to you will make everything else come easier.

January Staff Picks

Inanna Carter

My Time at Sandrock

Farming sims and RPGs have been around for quite some time. The classics of Harvest Moon and Story of Seasons, the iconic Stardew Valley, the upcoming Fields of Mistria—they’re not going away for a long time. Now, take that and add…building?

My Time at Sandrock is an RPG where rather than moving to a new town to take over your deceased grandfather’s farm, you move to a new town to take over a builder’s workshop. The full release recently came out, and though I only just got around to starting it, I’ve been having a blast. This game is heaps better than its predecessor, My Time at Portia (though Portia has a special place in my heart).

Aside from building for the community, you can mine, fight, farm, and form relationships with the other townsfolk. It’s something you can easily sink your time into, and overall, it’s a great game. The writing is witty and the plot keeps you on your toes. Games like Sandrock and Portia, ones with complete storylines, remind me so much of books. They don’t have to be perfect or extraordinary, but if the story is engaging and the characters evoke emotion, then I’d say they end up being something pretty special.

Dominic Loise

Wesley Dodds: The Sandman

When I talk about the Sandman, I am not like most comic book fans. The character I am talking about isn’t Spider-Man’s granulated, morphing foe or Neil Gaiman’s groundbreaking goth-classic character. My Sandman is the Golden Age character, Wesley Dodds. Dodds, in his WWI gas mask, stood out to me against his WWII counterparts by wearing a three-piece suit, trench coat, and fedora while the rest of the Justice Society of America were flexing their muscles in tights and domino masks.

The new DC Comics miniseries by writer Robert Venditti and artist Riley Rossmo delves into Dodds as a man-of-mystery hero rather than a two-fisted, vigilante crime fighter. Venditti writes to the core of the character by looking at the nonviolent nature of the Sandman’s sleeping gas and PTSD from Dodds’ father in WWI, which led to his path as a hero and experiments with nonlethal weapons.

Rossmo’s art style is perfect for a series that needs to be grounded in the urban alleyways of gangster pulp and other times drift away in the dreams of a tormented hero trying to make the world safer. Besides hired thugs and gang bosses, the main villain is a darker version of Dodds, using toxic gases and tapping into the hero’s horrors and his work against chemical weapons in warfare.

Wesley Dodds: The Sandman shows a character a step between comic book and pulp novel heroes. It also shows the mindset of someone trying to make the world better between two world wars all while dealing with local violence and injustice in his city.

Sara Santistevan

Marry My Husband

*SPOILER ALERT* The following contains plot details about Marry My Husband.

If Marry My Husband is just your run-of-the-mill K-Drama, then I sincerely regret sleeping on K-Dramas until now! Based on a Webtoon by Sung So-jakMarry My Husband follows the story of Kang Ji-won, a woman who gets a second chance at life after she is murdered by her husband and best friend, who were having an affair.

I’ve often wondered what life decisions I would make differently if I got the chance to go back in time with the knowledge I have now. I also love a good revenge story! What makes Marry My Husband special is the plot’s seamless acknowledgement of some of the technical complications of time travel. In early episodes, we learn that in her previous life, Ji-won was diagnosed with stomach cancer, which was implied to result from gastritis due to the stress of her marriage. When Ji-won is thrust back into her life prior to her illness, she learns, through a series of experiments, that although future events can’t completely be avoided, they can be delayed or passed on to someone else. With this knowledge in mind, Ji-won makes it her mission to set up her best friend and future husband to avoid her fate.

Along the way, Ji-won forms genuine friendships, learns to stand up for herself, and grows more confident in her appearance and personality. Oh, and don’t worry—there’s plenty of romance, too, courtesy of the mysterious Yoo Ji-hyuk, Ji-won’s manager who seems to know more than he should about Ji-won.

Five Emotional and Existential Narratives About Cats

What is it about cats that make people fall so obsessively in love with them? They’re cute, unpredictable enough to make for perfect meme fodder, and sensitive to human emotions, but I have another theory. A study conducted by Samuel Gosling with the University of Austin, Texas found that, compared to dog owners, cat owners are generally more artistic, intellectually curious, and emotional. So, perhaps cat owners are more easily able to see themselves in their furry companions and learn what it means to be human through the eyes of a cat.

All that said, is it really a surprise that cat lovers also make fantastic storytellers? If you’re still not convinced that cats can help us cope with our existential crises, indulge in these heartwarming and sometimes bittersweet stories that delve into the intricate lives of cats:

1. The Cat Who Saved Books

Here at Brink, we’re all about promoting literacy and the importance of storytelling as a force that can change the world. So, this quirky yet emotional novel, The Cat Who Saved Books, was practically a mandatory pick for this list.

The Cat Who Saved Books, by cat-fanatic author Sosuke Natsukawa, is a touching story that begins with the death of Rintaro’s grandfather. One day, while Rintaro is looking after the bookstore his grandfather left behind, a cantankerous cat named Tiger the Tabby enlists him on a mystical adventure to save abused and neglected books from their owners. Along the way, Rintaro learns how to process his grief and rely on his friends for support.

If you love Studio Ghibli films as much as I do, you’ll also be enchanted with the inspiring whimsy of The Cat Who Saved Books. True cat lovers will find the Tiger the Tabby’s grumpiness charming and familiar, and true bibliophiles will feel inspired to dust off all the books from their endless “to be read” shelf and start reading!

2. “My Cat is Sad”

“My Cat is Sad” is a tear-jerking poem featuring a glimpse inside the mind of a loving cat. This poem had a bit of a viral moment, which caught poet Spencer Madsen by complete surprise. 

Written in free verse in a style similar to prose, the true heart in this poem is in Madsen’s ability to imagine your average household cat as an alienated yet child-like being who longs to be with and like their human family members. I’d be lying if I said this poem didn’t convince me to give the cats I know little bits of human food every now and then to make them feel loved (as a consequence, my mom’s cat now occupies an empty chair at the table whenever anyone sits down to eat a meal). 

So, if I’ve convinced you to read this poem, make sure to read it when you have enough time to give your cat plenty of pets and treats after.

3. A Man and His Cat

We love comics here at F(r)iction, so it should come as no surprise that A Man and His Cat comes highly recommended! Originally published as a webcomic, this story is now available in physical form, and has since inspired a children’s picture book, a live action TV Drama, and a mobile puzzle game. 

A Man and His Cat is a heartwarming Japanese manga series following a widower who adopts the oldest cat at a pet store—an important reminder to us all that senior and disabled cats deserve love, too. 

Future volumes of this comic feature charming vignettes of the daily life of Kanda Fuyuki (the man) and Fukumaru (his cat). One of the cutest moments features Kanda thinking of a suitable name for his new cat. He eventually settles on “Fukumaru,” which roughly translates to “joy” or “blessing,” showing just how much happiness Fukumaru the cat has brought to the elderly man’s lonely life.

In other words, if this heartwarming story doesn’t make you want to run to your nearest shelter to adopt the most overlooked cat, then what will?

4. Puss in Boots: The Last Wish

Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is the most recent installment in Dreamworks’s Puss in Boots series. To be completely honest, I was somewhat hesitant to watch a “children’s movie,” but after hearing the stellar reviews, I caved. Plus, who doesn’t like indulging in a little nostalgia once in a while?

Puss in Boots: The Last Wish follows the titular swordscat on an adventure to restore his eight lost lives by finding the legendary Wishing Star. Viewers are treated to a humorous montage of how Puss in Boots lost each of his previous lives in a fashion true to both the character and cats in general. Plus, in his search for the Wishing Star, Puss in Boots must confront what has to be the most compelling villain in a contemporary children’s movie: Death. As the unsettling big bad wolf emphatically says: “And I don’t mean it metaphorically or rhetorically or poetically or theoretically or any other fancy way. I’M DEATH. STRAIGHT UP!”

4. Stray

Who says video games can’t be a powerful vehicle for storytelling? Stray is an adventure video game about a cat who must find his way back home to his feline family after falling into a dystopian cyber-city with robot inhabitants. In this world, humans have long gone extinct due to an unnamed plague (something we surely don’t need to take as a warning…right?).

What I found most exciting in the days leading up to Stray’s release is that you play as one of the most adorable and intelligent cats ever! If that selling point alone isn’t enough to make you purchase this game immediately, you can also make him meow, take a nap, scratch furniture, and rub against the legs of humanoid robots! Also, I cried at least five times. 

With all that said, it shouldn’t be too surprising that Stray has a 10/10 rating on Steam. My only critique is that this game is far too short; I could play as a heroic cat exploring a cyberpunk city every day for the rest of my life!

If you’re looking to add more cat-themed works to your “to be read/watched” list, some honorable mentions for this list include Cat Poems, A Whisker Away, and I Am a Cat. Exploring these diverse narratives reveals not only what it might feel like to live as a cat, but also shines a light on the very human struggle to find meaning and companionship.