Being an occasional series in which I go through my IFDB reading-list and cross off a few entries.
Benthic Love (Mike Joffe; illustrations by Sonya Hallett). A short, illustrated CYOA made in Ren’Py, with the distinction of being:
The ONLY LGBT-friendly anglerfish dating sim!
This is a game about sexual dimorphism and its implications for relationships. Humans exhibit a visible degree of sexual dimorphism, albeit somewhat less than the norm among our great-ape relatives; what exactly that means for us is a subject of some debate, but humans are experimental generalists. If you wanted to pick a species for which biology would appear to be sexual destiny, you couldn’t do much better than anglerfish: they occupy a very specific niche, and are notable for having really extreme sexual dimorphism by vertebrate standards. Males are much smaller than females, and have no digestive system. They mate by the male biting into the female and linking up to her circulatory system, after which the male’s body atrophies to the point where they’re not much more than a set of gonads. Thus this line:
The world was not made for a love like yours between anglerfish.
…is very true regardless of how you might personally experience love. Taken as an actual story about anglerfish, the story engages in a degree of anthropomorphisation that is pretty nonsensical; talking about things like love, trust, wistful longing, language just doesn’t make any sense when the principals have brains smaller than a particularly wet sneeze. But clearly this is not the point intended.
I’m reading Calvino’s Cosmicomics at the moment, and Benthic Love has a great deal of the same tone – of deep, familiar longing juxtaposed against the implacable, weird particulars of science. Again and again in Cosmicomics, the protagonist is placed in bizarre situations that thwart his modest hopes; Benthic Love does not have Calvino’s writing chops, but – aided by the atmospheric art – it conjures a little of the same star-crossed tragedy.
Corvidia (Alan DeNiro). A prose-poem, juxtaposing uncanny fantasy with mundane yard chores. It bottlenecks a lot, but branches enough that it takes a few play-throughs to get a firm sense of the thing. As story, deficient; as poem, I am slow at judging poems. Like, really slow. It often takes me a week or so to decide whether I like a song; for poems, it could be longer. But it evoked some things, which is grist to a poem.
Art is the bath-house where we fuck in the dark. When I was in secondary school, there was a lane that led from town, up the hill, through the fields, to my house. The foot of the lane, between fire station, pub and church, was overhung with tall pines, in which the local crows flocked, squabbled and shat. The first time I came home from overseas, they had cut down the pines; ostensibly to protect the ancient graveyard wall, possibly as an arborist’s boondoggle. The lane feels exposed now, too open to the sky. The crows are gone.
Art is the bath-house where we fuck in the dark. When I lived in Yakutat, a town of a few hundred people with no road to the outside, where the winters are long, dark, wet, grey, snowbound and miserable: in spring the sandhill cranes would fly north in vast flocks, very high up, overlapping V-formations hundreds strong, calling and calling to one another with soft distant churrs. In autumn, they’d return, southward, and I knew I was fucked for another five months.
You Were Here (Joshua Houk).
You Were Here is a minimally interactive retrospective, composed of all the first lines in games listed in the Interactive Fiction Database for 2014. The game comes in two versions: a Twine piece where the text is static and organised by week of release, and an Inform one where the sentences get shuffled about. There’s no Markov-chain shenanigans within the sentences themselves, but it still produces the pleasingly surreal, glimmers-of-coherence effect common to generated works. IF openings tend to be either setting-establishing descriptions or dramatic cold opens, with a minority of character-establishing sentences; so there is just enough inherent structure to the randomness for it to have a kind of staccato consistency.