“When I Was a Child” – I Wandered and Listened – by Melinda Giordano

When I was a child
I had fallen arches
My insteps weakened by lazy ligaments
But it was a long time ago
Now all that remains of a youthful embarrassment
Is a habit of staring at the ground
Watching with interest
The eccentric placement
Of my splayed strides

But it has also shown me the ignored trails
The strange wanderings of tiny populations

Red cockroaches as ripe as the sun
Antennae quivering like whiskers
The paths of snails
Glistening like twisted galaxies
Beetles whose iridescent ancestors were skinned
To mold a singular dress
That clicked against Ellen Terry’s body
And swarmed at her feet
As she strode across the Victorian stage

I saw them all as they stuttered past my imperfect feet
Past the collapsed monuments

Horror/Fantasy – “Voice of the Witness: 27″ – by David Stegora

Blooming 27, Year 17 of the 7th Age

Samuel let out a heavy sigh. A cold and unpleasant feeling gripped his chest, like icy claws digging for his heart.

The three companions made their way down the hill and gave the area a quick visual survey. Where once, according to Samuel, there had been a sprawling field of the blue flowers, there was now mostly open grass. Upon closer inspection, small patches of upturned dirt could be seen. These diminutive craters were beginning to become overgrown with grass, themselves.

“Harvested,” Samuel said, his voice little more than a whisper. A mild gust of wind could have drowned it out, though none came. There air was dead around them, enhancing by clarity the disbelief the man felt. “And some time ago. But why?”

“Maybe the same reason we came for them.” Bartholomew offered. The tone of the Guardian’s voice was as optimistic as ever. In that moment, it was annoying. “You don’t suppose it was someone from Jeth, just got here before us, do you?”

Samuel shook his head. “Before us, no one would have had reason. Someone else did this.”

“Any idea who?” Ragan asked, annoyed.

Samuel hesitated a moment, then shook his head again, without a word.

“Well, we may as well get what we can while we’re here,” Bart said, uprooting one of the flowers, shaking dirt from the roots, and tossing it into his sack. Both Samuel and Ragan agreed, then began doing the same.

After he pulled up his third bunch of blue flowers, Bart paused and examined the plant in his hand. “These things sure have long roots,” he observed. “It makes it kind of hard to pull them out.”

“Yes, that is something they are known for.” Samuel said. “And the ends of the roots are always broken and frayed, when you do. No one knows for certain how deep they naturally grow. There’s a legend saying their roots reach all the way to the core of the world.”

Ragan grunted as he pulled a flower from the ground. “That’s superstitious nonsense,” he said.

“The Greenland Diaries: Backyard 02″ – by Patrick W. Marsh

On a sunny afternoon, exactly three children walked down 29th Ave in New Brighton Minnesota. It was their school bus routine. All three kids lived close by, played together, and went to school together. The tallest boy, Ron, had a hard time walking home from the bus stop without stepping into any woods for a quick tromp. Melissa, who had a slight and sharp crush on Ron, would follow into the woods with reluctant words, but non-reluctant actions. She had a round face with blond hair, and she was growing into a woman too soon. Milo noticed, but not Ron. Milo, their third member, a pale child who had a slight limp would always be chased by Ron wanting to sword fight with sticks they’d find sitting around. Ron would always win, and he loved winning. Milo still loved the woods though, despite this swordplay sadism. He loved the woods for the sole reason that he knew no one could see past the trees when he walked. There was nobody to laugh or jeer, the trees hid his foot’s stutter.

“We don’t need to get into Snake Tooth Pass today. There isn’t any time anyways. I don’t want my parents finding out I’m playing games when they’re not around,” Milo said walking zigzag down the black pavement. It was the middle of May, and the world was in a state of late bloom, with flowers and leaves still curling out in dramatically slow peels. It almost looked like the half made world around the three children was ready to burst open, only completely stalled by its own accord. They were halfway down the block when they stopped and stared at the small bubble of forest known as Snake Tooth Pass. The lines of trees were thin, with spotted chunks missing between their disheveled limbs. Past these empty spaces  was a single island of stocky cat tails and twisted swamp weeds. A ring of dark bog water surrounded it with little foamy sprinkles of algae playing everywhere in scribbled lines.

Nothing was ever inside Snake Tooth Pass.

Ron crossed the street opposite of Hidden Oaks Park, which was a one hill and one playground blip in the neighborhood. Ron covered the ground pretty quick. Ron was tall for his age. He was almost six feet, and had long-dragging limbs. His face was permanently befuddled, like he was constantly confused by the very nature of existence. His duck-feather blond hair atop his head didn’t help with this disposition. Despite these ignoramus symptoms, Ron was the undisputed leader of their little pack. Outside of Snake Tooth Pass was a lonely pen of tennis courts, a single tall hill with a few crab apple trees, which looked lost and empty without their pink petaled fury. At the base of the hill was a small parking lot for people to station their cars in case of an event at Hidden Oaks. The entrance to Snake Tooth sat at the base of this seldom used lot. The three of them charged down to its entrance, which yawned wide and wild onto a leafy path with teeth of struggling trees sprouting up. The little pond with the never conquered island hovered as they entered the woods. A broken tree was cracked open like a crumbled statue. This  marked the paths beginning.

The three of them stopped as they crossed the leafy border and towering beams of jade-flickered canopies.

“Why are there toys floating inside the water?” Milo said with a shaking hand.

White Collar vs Leverage – Versus Round 26 – by Nick Housewright

In Versus I compare the merits of two shows to try to decide which is superior. I briefly look at the writing, acting, and overall production of the shows before reaching some kind of conclusion of which is better. Though this format is subject to change based on my whims.

We’ll take a brief break from the movies to look at a few crime and espionage shows. First up: White Collar and Leverage. Both shows nominally follow criminals helping innocents out against more powerful enemies. Aside from this similar premise (though admittedly NBC’s The Black List is closer to White Collar in premise if not tone) both shows are similarly light in tone, with minimal serialized stories given over to an episodic villain/case of the week style format. The biggest difference is that while White Collar does have a supporting cast, it is more of a buddy-cop style show, whereas Leverage is an ensemble piece.

Leverage

From Roland Emmerich’s (he of the disaster blockbusters like Independence Day and the Day After Tomorrow) writing partner Dean Devlin, comes a show about a group of con artists and thieves who team up with a former insurance investigator (the mastermind) to provide “leverage” to innocent people that have been wronged (or are being wronged) by criminals, millionaires, evil corporations, etc.

Writing

The show aired on TNT for five seasons between December 2008 and December 2012, despite this fact, the show has more in common with much of USA network’s more light-hearted quirky crime-solving shows than the more dour procedurals that TNT has built its brand on. It certainly follows USA’s television format to a T: a villain of the week for the crew to take down a peg, with a slow burn serialized story dealt with at the beginning and end of each episode before being resolved at the end of the season (though admittedly Leverage often forgets the serialized story entirely until it’s time for a big finale). Leverage actually becomes an interesting show because it is so formulaic and episodic. Devlin and writers Chris Downey and John Rogers actually break the formula down into such a defined pattern that no matter the stakes (getting rid of a single Walmart store, stopping a viral apocalypse), or setting (Mount Everest, an island mansion) it all comes down to the reveal at the end that shows how they were able to pull off their scam despite some last-minute hurdles. It’s tough to come up with clever cons week after week and make it believable. The truth is that the show usually comes off as quite silly with people being utterly oblivious in the name of wrapping up the story in 45 minutes. However sometimes the twists produced are truly magical –a season three ender about a foreign presidential election is particularly great in its obvious simplicity- which means that the show’s hits are dramatically more satisfying than its lows are contrived and boring.

Acting

A show like this is as reliant on its characters as it is on clever plotting, and I can say that all five leads turn in fairly satisfying performances as the writers are able to subtly fill in their backstories (but not too much, these are thieves and con artists after all). Timothy Hutton stars as Nate Ford, a former insurance investigator who becomes the team leader after they are initially brought together by an evil air-line executive for a scam. Hutton is generally good as the easygoing somewhat eccentric boss, though the times he is asked to play grimly alcoholic and depressed are less effective –though this is also the fault of the writing which has trouble making the shift from light-hearted playfulness to more serious storylines. Gina Bellman plays the team’s main con-artist, Sophie Devereaux (though her real name may never actually be revealed) and is called upon to play different characters. Bellman is unfortunately not really great at portraying a huge variety of people, but this is actually lessoned by the show’s tone, which means her ridiculous affectations are usually played more for laughs than anything else. Christian Kane is also fairly likeable as Eliot Spencer, one of the world’s greatest fighters –though the show’s family-friendly style means that he rarely ever actually kills someone. The reality is that he is saddled with being the straight man who reacts to the other’s more melodramatic natures’, which is good for the ensemble, but not as dramatically interesting as an individual character. Aldis Hodges provides much of the comic relief as the team’s Hacker Hardison, and both he and Beth Riesgraf’s Parker (the team’s thief and cat-burglar) end up being the show’s real standouts. Inevitably his more bombastic comedic nature coupled with Riesgraf’s deadpan (Parker is shown to be a deeply disturbed individual –but again, the show’s tone allows this to play as humorous rather that wallowing in sorrow) allows their relationship to largely steal the show from the burgeoning romance between Nathan and Sophie (nominally the show’s central storyline) –which I suppose is appropriate for a show about thieves.

Production

One area where TNT has an interesting edge over USA is the style of its television production. TNT uses generally darker colors and lighting, which gives their shows a more melodramatic and cinematic look. What I’m saying is that their shows end up looking more expensive whether they are or not. That being said, while the show is able to easily convey corporate boardrooms, parties, and the like, more outlandish sets –such as the inside of a mine- are rarely that convincing. Still, the show makes good use of its darker pallet, allowing brighter colors (such as explosions) to really pop. The show is also fond of both Michael Bay’s spinning dialogue trick (where the camera rotates around a group of people standing around talking to make the scene appear more exciting), and a corny visual trick where the scene freezes and the camera zooms across the room to pick up another group of characters.

White Collar

Created by Jeff Eastin, White Collar follows master Thief Neal Caffrey, who is allowed to slowly commute his sentence by helping the FBI agent who caught him solve various White Collar crimes. The main interplay is between the two leads and whether they can trust each other, and whether Caffrey can ever truly give up a life of crime.

Writing

The show, which aired between October 2009 and December 2014, is pretty much the ultimate example of the USA format, where there is a season-long storyline (Nazi Gold, a corrupt senator, whatever) that is dealt with in just the opening and closing moments of each episode, while the meat of each episode is devoted to the case of the week. In contrast to Leverage though, Caffrey typically relies on the same group of tricks: sleight-of-hand, art forgery, and fake identities to expose the criminal of the week. This is to say that the show is much more malleable with its storytelling, and while almost all storylines wrap up in one episode, the show is based more on classical suspense than twist endings (as Caffrey attempts to recover some vital evidence before being caught). The show’s narrative reach is about as broad as Leverage, despite being confined to New York, with everything from valuable Baseball cards to a Da Vinci Code style treasure hunt, secret societies, and everything in-between. The real dynamics of the show come from the intentions of the FBI (to solve the case) versus the intentions of Caffrey, which is often to steal something from the criminals without the FBI knowing. The more straightforward nature of the show allows the story to retain at least some sense of reality while dealing with more fanciful crimes and villains. So for White Collar everything rests on whether the show is able to keep the on-going storyline moving forward at a satisfying rate, and whether the case of the week also remains interesting and entertaining. This is a balance that its writers are not always able to get right. At its height, particularly the second season, everything is great. However, when the show goes out of whack (particularly in the first half of season five, and the early goings) the on-going storyline becomes as tedious as the cases of the week.

Acting

Though the on-going plotting is scattershot, the two leads are both quite good. Matt Bomer is fantastic as Neal Caffrey; the best compliment I can give is that he is completely believable as a suave thief who can get anyone to trust him, and anyone to instantly fall in love with him. Tim Dekay is also solid as his handler Peter Burke, who is fortunately written (and played) as being equal to Caffrey in competence, which helps give the show more of a buddy-cop feel then having Neal be the sole protagonist. The show’s biggest strength is both the relationship between Caffrey and Burke, and their relationships with fellow con-artist Mozzie in Neal’s case, and wife Elizabeth in Burke’s case. Willie Garson is a hoot as Mozzie, who is the show’s most comedic character, a jack-of-all-trades with an endless layer-cake of identities, safe-houses, and black-market connections. Tiffani Thiessen is fine as Elizabeth, but the reality is that over the entire show she is never really given that much to do (though she does get to be kidnapped at one point). This is really typical of the show, some actors and characters are great, others not as much. Unfortunately, with its increasingly convoluted storylines the show has many more reoccurring characters than Leverage, and so many more chances for misses. The biggest let down is probably Alexandra Daddario as Neal’s long-lost love interest Kate, who is beautiful yes, but not particularly compelling or interesting. In fact, the show has an unfortunate trend of getting decent character actors (James Rebhorn, Noah Emmerich, Beau Bridges) and not really giving them a lot to do. While the supporting cast is generally under-written, the main dynamic between Neal and Peter is almost over-written by the end, as the show is never quite willing to let them come to a moment of pure trust, without immediately pulling the rug out again. In this case, the will-they or won’t-they of a romantic comedy is replaced by the trust or mistrust of Neal and Peter’s relationship, and I’d be lying if I said that the show’s plotting wasn’t starting to become overly repetitive by the end.

Production

Though the brighter less cinematic style of USA does look inherently cheaper and more “TV” than TNT’s production style, White Collar is helped immensely by its location shooting in New York City. Filtered through the lens of USA’s house production style of bright colors and contrasts New York has never looked more warm or inviting. If the set design of the many art galleries and corporate high rises the show frequents end up looking very similar, than the impressive skyline viewed through the windows, and the many opportunities the show takes to explore famous NYC landmarks go a long way towards giving the show a sense of place that many more expensive shows aren’t able to achieve (even if the transition shots of random skyscrapers is ridiculously over-used).

Overall

Leverage is a cheesy show, its characters are more cartoonish, it’s directing and writing more zany and ridiculous. Still, the show is overall very entertaining, and it’s has moments of real brilliance. White Collar on the other hand is overall more serious in production if not tone; as a total product it is better able to keep consistency as either a well-made entertaining show, or a well-made tedious show. What it comes down to is the fact that both shows are hit and miss, but Leverage is hit and miss on an episode by episode basis, and White Collar is hit and miss on a season by season basis. When I started writing this column I planned to give it to White Collar, but the reality is that the show suffers a plot decay that Leverage really didn’t. I may have to write about this in depth at a later date, but USA’s crippling weakness is that it won’t allow its shows to move past their initial premise. White Collar was never able to move the relationship between Peter and Neal past the phase of mistrust, and was never able to move past Neal being forced to help the FBI – the fact that the show lasted so long that his sentence should have been fully served didn’t help the feeling that the show was just spinning in place. So, in the end, I have to go with Leverage. The reality is that the best episodes produced by Leverage are better than the best episodes produced by White Collar. While White Collar had better runs of consistent quality than Leverage, by the end the entire show was just mediocre at best. Even at its worst Leverage was able to keep a type of zany charm, whereas White Collar just become dull –and if there’s one thing I loathe above all else it’s when a show is boring.

Next: We’ll take a look at clashing cultures with the sprawling crime story of The Bridge, and the political intrigue and espionage of The Honorable Woman.

“Plum Blossom” – Family Haunts – by PMF Johnson

As the stem rises to a billowing flower
blushing in the sun
may I support you, my love.

In the cool shade of morning
or the glare of afternoon
I seek to slake your thirst.

My purpose is your vascular pleasure,
a pure cascade of joy, and submission
to the delights of the infinite,

evenings in the canopy —
green, the gentle hue of healing —
swaying in thought-free luxury

until the advent of the last adventurer,
some buzzing, bumbling one
who hopes to plumb you once again.

“Democrazy” – Elitism For All – by Ozgur K. Sahin

A few weeks ago, I mentioned to a few fellow convention-goers that I intend to put out a call to action soon and get people to mail me with words, phrases, or even whole sentences that they have heard narcissists say. This is part of building support for my Narcissist to English Dictionary. One phrase that came back immediately was, “Prove it.”

I told this to someone else, and she said, “Oh, my kids like to say stuff like that a lot, and I don’t know how to respond.”

I said, “What I would say is, ‘Thankfully, this isn’t a court of law.'” She liked that, mainly because it reminded her that she doesn’t have to prove things to her kids all the time—she gets to employ her own judgment. However, the phrase “prove it” is used as much in science as it is in law. That is, in fact, the basis for modern law, and concepts like “beyond a reasonable doubt” and “jury of your peers” are meant to be analogous to scientific doubts and scientific peers within a scientific inquiry. Few of us live in labs or courtrooms, even if we work there, but we still get sucked into this kind of rhetoric every day in our personal lives. How do we get sucked into it from our own kids? Because we taught it to them.

In the last few decades, there has been an explosion of the collective desire to make everything scientific and to make everything political (and ironically there is scientific evidence supporting the conclusion that we are politicizing more and more—see “Gamergate and the Politicization of Absolutely Everything,” by Ezra Klein in Vox Magazine online). Inevitably, the two came to overlap, and they might both sound like noble goals that enable us to discover truths and effect change. However, if we look more closely, we start to notice that this desire has tended to be less than noble, and usually has more to do with insulating ourselves and persuading people than about seeking truth and betterment. It is, in short, about marketing and popularizing.

Now I’m largely a proponent of exploring the furthest reaches of science to discover new truths, but that is different from scientizing everything. With the latter, we usually decide what it is we believe, and then pick and choose what purportedly scientific data supports our views (while conveniently ignoring the rest). But scientific data cannot be equated with scientific conclusions—which is why we collect data prior to forming conclusions. This form of “science” becomes the tough guy at our backs with whom no one can argue, not because he’s meticulous and objective, but because he’s too massive for others to be passionate about fighting him. How does this relate to politicization? As I said, we often decide what we believe too early, and it’s not even always based on facts of any kind. Often it’s based purely on non-factual factors—like political views. And in a society where science and politics are both hijacked by self-interest and image-identity in a subtle display of narcissism, we discover obvious problems with getting at anything resembling truth or balance.

If your child misbehaves out of your sight and says, “Prove it,” he doesn’t want you to. He wants you to realize that you can’t, but more importantly, he wants you to feel like you have to. By demanding proof of his own actions, he is trying to dictate the terms, the rules, the boundaries that determine your reaction. Instead of submitting to your autocratic rule, he appeals to democracy, where he gets an equal vote, where he is innocent until proven guilty, where someone—anyone—else gets to second-guess you. And he does this, more often than not, because you taught him that democracy, proofs, laws and equality belong absolutely everywhere. In his court, circumstantial evidence is not enough to convict, motives remain inscrutable without confessions, and persuasion only has to create doubt rather than convince. But he didn’t manufacture that court. You did. He only invokes it and watches as you stand there impotently wondering how you can possibly teach your child integrity without the portable courtroom and science lab, and without risking “damaging” him for the next 20 to 30 years through a false conviction.

Unless, of course, you can prove he misbehaved—in which case you will discover that he was actually more concerned with not getting caught than with “being caught fairly.” Then you will still encounter selfish resistance (or at least selfish coping defenses) and, to your surprise, you will find you haven’t gotten any closer to instilling integrity in him.

Children usually grow out of this when parented correctly, because that entails instilling in them the concept of integrity as an inner value with genuine benefits for everyone rather than an external bureaucratic process of persuasion that they can hide behind to gain transitory gratification. Narcissism is normal in little kids, and we train them to become adults rather than to remain children. And this is exactly why when you balked at my indication a moment ago that equality is one of the things that does not belong absolutely everywhere, you were listening with your sense of democracy rather than good judgment. We can value children equally all we like, but while they can be equal in human life and in potential, they are not equal in ability, capacity, conscience, responsibility, freedom, or faculty. Children are not the peers of adults.

I use the word “peers” because this phenomenon does not only occur between adults and children. Perhaps we understand that children need a firmer hand, but still believe that once someone is an adult, equality should in fact be absolutely everywhere. Then we can get into our favorite scientized, politicized debates, giving everyone an equal vote and making it a big persuasion game. We even try to scientize religion to convince people how to believe, even though science isn’t about belief at all. Note: that is not to say there is no science available to spiritual phenomenon, but again, that is different from what I call “scientizing.” My favorite thing to show people who like to either scientize OR spiritualize to defeat the other views shows a way to attempt to harmonize them responsibly: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9wX_W1BB_0M. And as you find here, Ken Wilber mentions how scientific discovery is not open to democracy. You don’t get to vote on what facts are true, what math works, what processes work, unless you are a peer, meaning unless you personally engage in the scientific training and steps to determine those things.

But we like having a vote. We like to think that our beliefs matter in all domains, and that is exactly the reason to politicize everything. Like an errant child, we demand that the world prove reality to us against our wills. We won’t get off our behinds to prove anything because that’s not really what we are after, so we demand that proof come to us if it’s going to show up at all. Mostly we want to convince people that they can’t possibly prove us wrong, just like we wanted when we were kids being questioned about wrongdoing, except now we have an equal vote and an equal voice, so now we can refuse to accept proofs as proofs, and continue doing whatever we want. For the narcissist, that is the whole point of growing up. You simply take the child in the previous example—the being unequal to an adult in ability, capacity, conscience, responsibility, freedom or faculty—and give him freedom and a little bit more faculty while the rest remains stunted, and suddenly he has an equal vote in everything because he is a certain height or age. He gets a vote on religion, politics, science, nature, foreign cultures, discrimination, political correctness, morals, and relationships. Sometimes facts are involved, other times they aren’t, but narcissists aren’t good at determining what a fact is, because whatever they want is what they will push for, and they will present any fact as fiction or any fiction as fact to get what they want. Why do we all engage them on their own level? Just because they’re adults now?

Climate change is always a big issue these days. People on both sides talk about facts, and strangely there is no agreement—because neither side of the debate is as interested in facts as they pretend to be. And what is the real issue? Does either side believe that if they persuade the other that this will encourage some kind of integrity? Or do they just want to be right? Can we prove that the climate is changing? Sure. Can we prove that it’s not natural? Possibly not. Can we prove that humanity is causing it? That might be the theory (remember those?), but what if it’s too big of a question for current science to answer? What if it’s just a giant pile of circumstantial evidence? Does that mean we are powerless to start making decisions to stop dumping crud into the environment? Do we really need to prove beyond any doubt what the effects of pollution are before we scale it back? Do we really have to answer to that pouty child as though our hands are tied? And do all of us who aren’t scientists really think that voting one way or the other—politically or by just never shutting up—changes what the facts are?

The secret to the child’s “prove it” defense is that as soon as you validate the terms of his challenge by engaging them, you’ve lost the whole battle. Because the battle was never to “prove it,” or to “catch him,” or even to “be right.” The battle was to spread integrity by finding a skillful way to transmit the understanding of its value to others. “Proving it” to the child, or to the congressional subcommittee, or scouring the world for the facts and shouting them through a megaphone in everyone else’s ears is only something a narcissist does, OR something one does for a narcissist, because everyone else is less likely to listen to that. No matter how big we make the cigarette warning label, we’re not addressing the problem smokers have. If we spent half as much time discussing how to approach all these issues with integrity and trying to instill that in people (especially as parents) as we do just trying to persuade people at any expense (including the expense of facts), maybe people would start coming together to solve problems instead of sniping and one-upping each other all the time. Are we really so much more interested in pursuing the unicorn of flawless, bulletproof statements of absolute truth so no one has a corner to hide in than we are in getting everyone willing on board to work together and ostracizing the unhelpful narcissistic nonsense? Do we really have to wait for narcissism to consent before we act? Are we so much more interested in votes than we are in integrity? Is that why people who use the term “political science” feel no irony when they point and laugh at those who use the term “creation science?”

“Evolve” – Nostalgic Gamer – by Nick Vukelich

evolve-box-arts

My thoughts on the time I spent with the big alpha were definitely not positive, in fact, I didn’t even want to purchase the game after spending time in the alpha. When the game finally released there was so much hype, and talk about it, that I just couldn’t stay away. A great deal of improvements have been made to reverse my opinion but not all is perfect. Turtle Rock knows how to do multiplayer, Left 4 Dead is a pillar of most modern gaming collections, and Evolve is another in a line of fun multiplayer experiences. Based off of a 4 hunters v 1 monster core gameplay loop this is equal parts madness and teamwork.

CryEngine is the engine behind the impressive graphical display here. CryEngine was developed and used by Crytek for use in their Crysis games, and those games look incredibly good. Crysis 2 is probably the most visually impressive of the last generation, and Evolve looks ridiculously good. Each character, hunters and monsters alike, has its own unique skin and each level design is very distinct. The monsters look grotesque and terrifying, the evolve animation is really quite cool, and the attacks are all uniquely animated and impressive looking. The only problem is that when the action is at its heaviest a lot of the impressive qualities are lost in the shuffle. The movement speed is a bit faster than the usual shooter so sometimes frantic is the only real accurate descriptor I can think of. Every detail has been designed with rather meticulous detail, from the extra creatures that inhabit the planet down to the foliage. Last night I had a real fun moment when I gave the hunters the slip and hid near the end of this river behind some large plant life, I used the scent mechanic to watch the hunters stumble blindly into a Tyrant, perhaps the most fearsome of non-player controlled creatures, battle it and take off. I then snuck off in the opposite direction and continued on my quest to evolve and grow more powerful to try and smite them. Ultimately I failed, but just barely, right as I killed the last hunter the dropship had respawned the other 3. It was equal parts epic and upsetting.

The sound design is equally excellent, each weapon has unique sounds, creatures have distinctive “voices,” and the monsters have very specific sounds. The banter between the hunters adds another fun layer, callouts when the monster is seen or when certain abilities are used really add to the immersion factor. The immersion is most potent when you are in one of the hunter roles, since those roles are all played in the first person. When the monster is spotted by a teammate, and you don’t know where it is, you almost always end up looking frantically to see where it is. If the team is locked in battle with the creature and you don’t know where it is then chances are good you will get smoked almost immediately. When playing as the monster you get to operate in a third-person perspective, the scent mechanic is very helpful and getting the jump on an unsuspecting group is really fun.

As far as I can tell the story is relatively thin. You are trying to evacuate a planet filled with horrible monsters, the hunters seem to be a last line of defense against the monsters, and if you play the evacuation mode there is a bit more of a narrative. The story aspects here are about as prevalent as they were in Left 4 Dead. The main premise is just the loop of match after match, mainly hunting and defending from a giant horrifying monster, progressing the world state. It doesn’t really matter though there is a lot of fun to be had.

The evacuation mode, which is my personal favorite, tasks you with completing a 5 round set where the world changes after each round depending on who wins. If the monster wins the next match will have something that helps the monster and hinders the hunters, and if the hunters win they will receive the benefit. The benefits aren’t game breaking, but they sure can make things much more difficult. The last match I played as the monster I had lost and the debuff I got stuck with was that my scent range was decreased significantly. That was a huge bummer but it was something that had to be dealt with. I am terrible as the monster though so any debuffs like that really screw me over. There is a solo mode that I haven’t tried out yet and evacuation has a co-op mode where the monster is AI controlled, but I haven’t tried that either. I enjoy the push and pull between everyone being payer controlled.

The load times are improved slightly, it no longer takes up to 10 minutes to go from match to match, thankfully, but sometimes getting into a match takes some sort of voodoo ritual. I’ve had to dashboard and quit the app or just plain restart my Xbox just to get the matchmaking to work properly. That’s the problem with a game that is so focused on multiplayer action.

In the end I really do enjoy my time with this game, it can be stressful, but it is also really fun. Once you figure out how to effectively play your class the game takes itself to a whole new level. I haven’t had the opportunity to play with a group of friends yet, but I would assume that team chat with a group of people you are friends with would make this game insanely fun. If you want to play this but don’t care for multiplayer then there is still plenty of content for you, and it is well worth your time. Will Evolve have the same sort of fervor that surrounds Left 4 Dead? Only time will tell, but chances are good it will if support and player base continue over time and I truly hope they do.

Developer: Turtle Rock

Graphics: 5/5

Sound: 5/5

Story: 3/5

Replay Factor: 5/5

“Stony Point Station” – Part Nine – by Joseph Crowe

Previously: On Stony Point Station, the crew responds to a frightening crisis, but things turn out alright. Meanwhile, Captain Cosgrove on Wisconsin learns a little too much about engineering.
Cosgrove made it Lieutenant Commander Sandeen’s job to run the daily walking inspection of the ship, but occasionally, and at random, the Captain joined his executive officer for the tour. Each time he did the crew would be that much more attentive, that much more keen-eyed, that much more nervous during the inspection visits. On this day the two of them had visited sections in the bowels of the ship that included ship’s stores, crew services, sanitation services and other less-than-glamorous but vital operations. They did arrange to wrap up their journey in engineering, however, and that was a sight to see.
Captain Cosgrove had not come up through the engineering corps, but Sandeen had. The lieutenant commander relished the chance to show that he could hold his own as Chief Engineer Zhou described the latest goings-ons of the engineering department. And Wisconsin’s engineering section was full of the latest and greatest. At this particular moment, Zhou was sharing in great detail with his patient and nodding captain the efficiency of the power reclamation system and how it used energy bleed-off from the jump drive to power the sublight impulse propulsion system.
Once Cosgrove had extricated himself from the tutorial and the engineering crew returned to some semblance of their normal duties, he found Sandeen sitting at a communications station in the engineering control station. Just as the Combat Information Center could serve as a redundant backup command and control station for the ship’s bridge, so could the engineering control station. By the time the ship needed to be run from here, however, things were probably in pretty bad shape up top.
“Commander, you are welcome to any future explanations of the PRS, thank you very much.”
Sandeen smiled and chuckled. “Lieutenant Zhou does a fine job sir.”
“Oh, I have no doubt about that! Please tell him I appreciated all the things he talked to me about. All. The. Things. Between you and me, though, as long this ship and its crew works the way it should, I can be mostly content.” He noticed that Sandeen had two messages waiting on the display in front of him. “What have you got?” he asked, leaning over to peer at the monitor.
“Well, two things, sir,” Sandeen said, gesturing at the monitor. “We’re still tracking those unknown contacts, you know the ones we first picked up yesterday? They haven’t gotten any closer, but they also haven’t gotten any further away.”
“So you’re saying they’re pacing us?” Cosgrove asked.
“It would seem that way. But for them to be pacing us they’d have to be tracking us, or at least sensing us, which seems highly unlikely, especially here in the Pyramid. These contacts are almost at the end of our range, and Wisconsin has the longest range sensors in the fleet.”
Cosgrove was studying the data readout that Sandeen had in front of him. Cosgrove had come up through astrometrics, so this stuff was his bailiwick.
“Longest range sensors in our fleet, you mean?” the captain suggested mildly.
Sandeen raised an eyebrow. “So you’re thinking they could be somebody else, sir?”
“I’ve entertained the thought. And what you’ve told me just now adds a new twist to things.” Cosgrove paused, contemplating something, then swiped at the display in front of him. “Where are we…? Yeah, that should work.”
“Sir?” Sandeen asked.
Cosgrove pointed at the chart he had called up on the display. “Here. Eagle Harbor is closer. Let’s call this in to them, and see what they can find out for us. We’ll probably find out it’s some training or maneuver exercise, and we’re the unwitting “target” for some sensor practice mission or something.
“Aye, sir. I’ll contact Eagle Harbor right away. Good idea.”
Cosgrove winked at him. “Of course it’s a good idea, Commander.” He tapped at the captain’s insignia on his collar. “That’s why they gave me this. You said you had two things?”
“Yes sir. This is interesting. Well, maybe it is.” He swiped at his display to send the message to the monitor the captain was sitting at. “It’s a code green personal message for you, but it came in on the Fleet command channel. All that the header says is that it’s from ‘Marco and the Stowe-aways on Stony Point’ and the rest is private for you.”
Cosgrove looked puzzled for a moment, but only for a moment for as he opened and started reading the message. He laughed out loud.
“Well I’ll be dammed. Marco Stowe is on Stony Point with the kids. And we’re going right by there. Commander, I might just be ordering an unscheduled supply stop at Stony Point.”
Sandeen smiled. “Aye, Cap’n.”
Next: Things are heating up in Corundum’s engine room, and that’s just for starters.

“Garbage Day” – Faceplant: 50 – by Jacob Steinbauer

For the big 5-0, I will tell a story that goes against the (terrible Jacob) grain. Like Darth Vader, even I had some good in me.

Seventh grade?

My buddy, Brian, and I spent a Saturday morning in upper North Mankato with Matt, whose house had become my favorite hang. Snacks. Food. Rides home. Grunge music both on the stereo and the guitars Matt’s dad let us play (or that we may have doodled on without permission), and more importantly: video games. All the sleepless nights with Wolfenstein and Doom would not sate my digital hunger. But these were single-person games (that bored Brian), so we had to figure out another way to spend the time.

Matt talked his folks out of some money and we walked over to Ed Suprette’s, which I remember as having a heavy fog of smell like wood shavings mashed into goat manure covered in cigarette smoke. . . . They also had a video selection with questionable adult movies (is there any other kind?) with titles that made us crack up, things like Edward Penis Fingers and The Fresh Tits of Bel Air. But there were no new laughs that day, so we left and were back to having nothing to do.

As we walked home, we found a shopping cart abandoned in a parking lot. We took turns riding in it, but the metal grid dug into our butts, so that didn’t last long.

My first instinct was to fill the cart with stolen goods. Naturally. Too many witnesses—weekend morning, remember? So, I tossed a ripped up shoe into it instead. Then a mitten that looked to have been run over a dozen times. Then a crushed beer can and empty bottle. Old cardboard, candy wrappers. Pop bottles, cigarette boxes. Pretty soon the cart had been transformed into a litter depository with three kids running back and forth like ants to the hive.

As the junk piled higher, cars started to honk at us. I thought the first one wanted us out of the way and was ready to flip the bird and run. When I looked up, an old woman smiled at us, giving the thumbs up. Why? Then it occurred to me that she thought we were actually trying to be helpful, to pick up litter. You see, a fair amount of our garbaged fell out of the cart, too, but that hardly concerned us. Then I thought, maybe it should?

I did feel good. Was this because I sensed the gratitude of my community? Was it because I had tricked my community into thinking I cared when I didn’t give a crap? Most likely the feeling was rooted in screwing around with my friends, the positive impact being a side effect, but I have  since learned to take positivity however it comes.

We spent another hour or two at it, had garbage packed in tight and piled like a pyramid. Everything else began to fall off. So now what? We had all this garbage, what to do?

We had no shotgun or explosive device to do with it what Hollywood (anyone remember the movie Cobra?) had trained us to do.

—Just leave it, someone said. And we did. On the sidewalk. I don’t remember if this was commercial or residential. . . Back to Matt’s for lunch.

Horror/Fantasy – “Voice of the Witness: 26″ – by David Stegora

I’d like to apologize to readers for how long it has been since the previous episode of Voice of the Witness. It has been a busy year thus far but things seem to be getting in order again now. You can look forward to the continuation of the story on a much more regular basis now. In the not too distant future, I should also have some news regarding a Voice of the Witness logo, Facebook page, and more.

Blooming 27, Year 17 of the 7th Age

Samuel was silent. Neither of his companions said a word in response to his revelation. Samuel was glad for the peace. He knew Bartholomew meant well but the young Guardian was more talkative than he was used to.

The three of them continued on like that for some short but uncounted time. Samuel was filled with a formless guilt he knew he had no reason to feel while the others were too shocked or afraid to speak.

“The field we seek should be just ahead, over this hill.” Samuel interrupted with the intentionally-timed statement, just as Bart was about to say something. A sharp look from Ragan ensured Bart didn’t attempt to continue. Samuel appreciated that. It seemed Ragan understood, at least in part, how he felt. Samuel never would have guessed the older mercenary to be the more empathetic of the pair.

Samuel’s heart sank when they reached the top of the hill. Where once there had been a vast field of vibrant, blue flowers, now there was little more than a grassy plain, sparsely spotted with blue.

“Are you sure it’s not the next hill?” Ragan asked.

“I Was Good Enough” – I Wandered and Listened – by Melinda Giordano

The beach was that hot
The sand caramelized like sugar
And the ocean boiled
Billowing with dying fish
I sat on the anchored rocks
Tethered ravines
And watched the carpet of flies
Progress like a turgid frieze
Stupefied by the rancid air
Some stuck to me
Some did not
But one stayed
On the lattice brim of my hat
A tiny black planet
Deserting its satellite ways to rest
Above the corner of my eye
I lifted a dangerous hand
But then felt the forgiving petite trajectory
Of a ladybug
I still shook it off
But was good enough to feel briefly sad
When I heard its torso
Click and crush
Against the canyons below my feet

Along the Winter Rails: 32 – “Silence and Revolutions” – by Fanni Sütő

winter rails_1 Copy

Days went by and we didn’t saw a soul. Nobody ever came to check on us and what first seemed to be a welcome silence turned into an anxious waiting. I thought after all the attention they gave me in the beginning, they would be more interested in my well-being and they would want to put me to work as soon as they could. I should have been grateful for the tranquility and the fresh food Ginger gave me every day but after a while I longed for something to happen.

But there was nothing but silence and empty white walls. Ginger was the only person I had seen for days and when she told me I had been in the hospital ward for two weeks I couldn’t believe such a long had time passed us by. Sometimes days just went down your throat in big gulps like a glass of water after a long walk. You didn’t even notice their passing. That was how it felt like. The strangest thing was the endless silence; I got used to the echoes of footsteps, the humming of machines or the whispers of the invisible inhabitants of other rooms. The air around us felt uneasy and heavy with unpronounced things. My instinct told me that something was not alright; this was the peace before the storm.

I had grown stronger and I spent my days walking up and down between the endless rows of impeccably clean beds. I wandered off from the ward, went along corridors of grey steel and glass. I never met anybody but the pale winter sunshine. There were no sounds and no smells. The loud and exotic rooms I passed on my journey to the hospital had disappeared into a deep ocean of noiselessness. One afternoon when I was staring out of the window, I saw smoke curling up towards the sky. I heard a faint shouting from a far away wing, but it all seemed distant like a dream. Nobody came for us.

I started to understand why Ginger had felt abandoned before I arrived. Don’t misunderstand me, I didn’t miss the Masters, their unflattering attention or their crazy ideas. But I missed being surrounded by people, I started to yearn for things happening, secrets unraveling, something. I was afraid that if I was left alone for too long I would turn into myself again and fall into the abyss of my mind like I did when I was walking the rails alone. I shouldn’t be ungrateful, I chided myself. I didn’t have to be out in the cold struggling for survival, I ate regularly and I felt my strength returning bit by bit. They left me alone and nobody demanded anything from me. Still, I wasn’t content and I could see that Ginger also was becoming tenser and tenser.

“Something is wrong, I can feel it in the air.” she said. “They ignored me most of the time but somebody still came to check on me to make sure that I am here, haven’t run away or whatever they had in their ugly, paranoid heads. ”

“Don’t you meet people when you get the food?” I asked, helping her straighten the bed linen on the unused beds.

“No, I get it from a winter garden quite close to here, we have everything there, they built the hospital wing to be self-sufficient. They also wanted it to be far away from the other parts of the compound so that it could still function if there was an epidemic and they needed to shut the patients into quarantine.”

“That is quite clever.” I had to admit. “Do you think something happened out there?”

“Maybe. I tried to find out what was going on but there are only closed doors everywhere. They never give us any keys; they keep it for themselves and their Hunters. The Rail Brides are not to walk freely. Our freedom would be dangerous. I am waiting a few days till you are at the height of your health again. Then we will go exploring and I am sure that together we would be able to find a way out.”

She stood up to dust the top of the bedside tables for the third time that day, when we heard a noise from the corridor.

Ginger ran to open the door and to my great surprise, a familiar figure staggered in. It was my Hunter friend who always tried to help me when he could. Now he was ragged and covered with bruises.

“There has been a revolution,” he whispered and collapsed onto one of the beds.