Wednesday, 26 February 2020

Dark Book Review – Deranged

Dark Book Review – Deranged

Review by Casey Douglass


Deranged is a bizarro / horror anthology stuffed to the gills with ten explicit tales of sex. These aren’t your usual, run-of-the-mill sweaty encounters though; these particular ones feature a variety of subject matter, from supernatural copulation, to the taboo of finding corpses more than a little attractive. A common thread amongst many of the stories is the characters’ discovery that ‘vanilla’ just doesn’t cut it any more, and that their actions take them onwards, into the darker extremes of human sexuality.

One character embraces the culture of wax-play. Another enters a strange sex-club where more is at stake than meets the eye. A “Slasher Slut” revels in the lives of two serial-killers, conducting tours around their home by day and forcing her boyfriend to mistreat her at night. A dedicated worker engages in necrophilia. A poor soul ends up in a strange reality, one in which he is regularly raped by a strange furry female dog-person. These are just some of the storylines to be found in Deranged.

After reading the above, you’ll know if Deranged is likely to be a book that would interest you. It’s extreme, taboo and gross, yet contained in each tale are characters that are well-written and for the most part, “everyday people”. This is one of the book’s charms. A “normal” person accidentally finding their fetish, maybe by the accidental spill of candle wax on skin, or a chance encounter at a club. Or they might give into a gross or bizarre desire just once, and that is enough to send them down the rabbit hole. Disclaimer: There are no stories about characters fucking rabbits. Just FYI.

My favourite story is Drippings by Sarah Cannavo. This features Alison, someone who engages in the aforementioned wax-play activities. She finds a kindred spirit who also shares this kink, but their coupling creates something that ends up terrorizing their lives, and I don’t mean a baby! It wasn’t the most extreme story, and it actually ends quite happily, which is a rare thing for me to enjoy. I liked the tempo of the tale, the “thing” that pesters the two lovers, and the rich descriptions of what it does.

A close second favourite of mine is The House of Tears by John Paul Fitch. This story is that of a rich guy who is a regular at a sex club called The Sanctuary. As with many things in life, this can and does lead him to a more extreme version, a place where reality seems to bend and a hellish power holds sway. I enjoyed this story for the strange situations the main character witnesses, the way the horrific scenes unfolded and the inventiveness and otherworldly feeling to things. I got a bit of an Event Horizon vibe from it, although it isn’t a tale set in the darkness of space.

A special mention has to go to Filthy Secrets by Jonathan Butcher, for being the grossest tale amongst the stories in the book. Let me just say that he makes excellent use of so many bodily secretions and excretions, it left me feeling a bit queasy. That being said, the main thrust of the tale, the thrill of the main character knowing something that no-one else does, was very well conveyed, and I felt like I was along for every bump of the nauseous ride.

I was very impressed by the quality of the writing in Deranged. Crafting explicit sex or horror scenes takes skill, and having well-written characters that you can follow through the course of their personal discovery, in whichever way that manifests, is pretty much nailed by every tale in the collection. I finished reading it more than a week ago and I can still picture certain scenes so clearly, which is a testament to the authors’ talents. If you enjoy bizarro sexual horror, you'll enjoy Deranged.

I received a free copy of this book for review purposes.

Book Title: Deranged
Book Authors: Antonio Simon, JR, Sarah Cannavo, Jonathan Butcher, Colleen Anderson, Sidney Williams, John Paul Fitch, W. T. Patterson, Annie Knox, C L Raven, Suzanne Fox
Publisher: 6K Press
Released: 16 Dec 2019
RRP: $3.02 (Kindle), $9.99 (Paperback)

Monday, 10 February 2020

The Shrinkening – Weight-loss, Imposter Syndrome and Levitation

The Shrinkening – Weight-loss, Imposter Syndrome and Levitation

By Casey Douglass

Casey Douglass

I’ve lost a lot of weight recently, but I don’t really feel any sense of achievement or joy in this. A short while ago, I reviewed a book about Imposter Syndrome called The Imposter Cure. A key element highlighted by the book is that people who never “feel good enough” usually tend to struggle to internalize any successes that they might have. I think this is something that is tripping me up at the moment.

I’ve been dieting for the last six months and I’ve almost lost 40 lbs in that time, so why do I feel the urge to give it a mental shrug and a half-hearted “meh”? If it wasn’t for the weighing scale telling me I’d lost weight, I’d barely believe it. I’ve even wondered if the scales are going wrong in my darker moments. I feel sad that I can’t feel happier about what I’m doing. So, in the spirit of spending some quality time in showing my brain that I’ve had a success, this post is going to be my weight-loss tale.

Before The Shrinkening

I’ve suffered with health problems since I was 18. While I’ve never been a particularly slim person, I wasn’t massively overweight before falling ill. I enjoyed the gym, mountain biking and whatever else I fancied doing. Over the years of feeling so unwell and being more sedentary, I’ve steadily put on weight. There has also been a big emotional element to my eating, due to suffering with anxiety and depression. I seemed to find many reasons to eat. At my heaviest, I reached 19 stone (266 lbs).

I’ve dieted at various intervals during that time, and at best, I’ve managed to get my weight down to around 16 stone (224 lbs). It would then slowly creep up to the 17 stone region before I’d get my eating under control again. After just such a period, I found myself at 16 stone 10 lbs on the 13 July 2019. I decided to have another crack at losing some weight. At the time, I had no idea that this time would be different. Six months on, I’m currently 14 stone 0.5 lbs (196.5 lbs), and my weight is still falling. So what did I do differently this time around?

Taking Two Things To Heart

Browsing the internet around the time I made the decision to start this diet, I came across two pearls of wisdom that I managed to internalize. I don’t remember the websites I found them on, but I have a feeling that I may have heard these concepts before and simply forgotten them. The first wisdom was that hunger slowly builds in the body and is never dramatic. If it is dramatic, you’ve either been really unaware of how hungry you are, or it’s a craving.

This links to the second thing, which is that you can be sure that you are having a craving if you are reaching past healthier options to eat a particular thing, ignoring the apple for the chocolate bar, when both would actually be capable of reducing your hunger. Seemingly simple things to think about, but I thought about them often enough to take them to heart. I did this by spending time with my feelings of hunger and keeping this information in mind.

Spending Time With Hunger

Once I’d reflected on the nature of hunger and cravings, I decided to spend some time over the next few days, getting used to hunger and the sensations that came with it. I deliberately refrained from eating for certain periods of time during the day, and took a mindful approach to looking at what was going on in my body or mind, which thoughts or feelings might have kick-started a particular hunger pang or craving. It might sound like a real chore, but it didn't feel like one.

I also rediscovered something that I seem to know at times and then often forget: Eating when you are properly hungry is far more satisfying than when you have been overindulging. I also tried to be more mindful when I was eating, to be focussed on my food and to not rush. If I found that I wasn’t being mindful, for whatever reason, I gave myself a mental shrug and decided to try again next time.

Monthly Is Enough

The very next thing that I tackled was the issue of how often to weigh myself. During previous diets, I’d always done this once per week, but this seems to hold a problem for me. My losses fluctuated week to week, one week showing a decent loss, another not really losing anything. Even though I knew I was sticking to my diet, these weeks of low or zero loss were very demotivating. If a 0.5 lb loss occurred when I was really struggling, I would be far more likely to break my diet.

Awareness of this pattern didn’t seem to help, no matter how many times it played out before my eyes. This time, I opted to weigh myself once every four weeks, reasoning that if I was doing a decent job of sticking to my diet, I would still show a reasonable loss over a longer period of time and not run the risk of a demotivating, tiny loss scuppering things.

Goals and Milestones

Once I’d settled on monthly weigh-ins, the prospect of goals loomed. Previous diets have seen me set goals in weight, feeling or aspiration, such as being slimmer for the Summer or getting below a certain BMI value. This time I opted for the general intention to lose weight, and to decide on a goal or milestone to aim for fresh each month.

The only baseline goal that I really wanted to reach was that I hoped to lose 1 lb per week as a minimum. As long as I’d lost at least 4 lbs by the end of each month, I would deem it a decent month, no matter how I actually felt about it. I also looked at where I was in relation to possible milestones and picked those as I neared them.

For example, if I was only a few lbs away from dropping below X stones in weight, that month would have the extra milestone to aim for of achieving that. I also had some “round number" aims that accounted for the lbs I’d lost, so if I’d lost 18 lbs so far, being able to say I’d lost more than 20 lbs in a month’s time was added incentive to keep going.

Eating More at Breakfast

Mornings are the most anxious time of the day for me. If you suffer with anxiety you will likely know the same feeling. This is likely due to the stress hormone Cortisol, and how it is naturally highest in most people around the time that they wake up. One way that I cope with this is to get my breakfast, take it back to bed, eat it, and then to read a book for a little while. By the time my breakfast is digesting, I am more awake and less anxious.

Mid-mornings used to be a danger zone for snacking, so I decided to eat a little more for breakfast than I used to. What I eat varies but I do make sure that I don’t trim too many calories from whatever I have at breakfast time. Since doing this, I’ve not had a mid-morning snack craving once, that I can remember at least. This has proved to be a really effective change for me.

Taking Pleasure in Food Reduction

Once per fortnight I go to one of the Chopstix fast-food places in Norwich and partake in their vegetable noodle goodness. Before my diet, this would consist of a large meal, which featured a base of vegetable noodles, along with three toppings of my choice and a jumbo spring roll. Chopstix is my treat, and there was no way I was going to stop having it. But I could improve my diet by eating a little less.

Before heading into the city for the first Chopstix of my diet, I pondered how I could trim it down a little but still enjoy it, and also feel that I’d achieved something. I decided that opting for a medium meal was a good first step that I could cope with, and felt that having the two toppings instead of three wasn’t really the end of the world. As it turned out, while I was standing there waiting to order, I even opted for a healthier topping too. I’m a big fan of their caramel chicken, and I still am, but on that day I opted for broccoli and stir-fried beef instead. I don’t do this every time but on the day, I was able to enjoy my treat while also knowing that I’d shaved a fair number of calories off what I’d usually be eating. I still had my jumbo spring roll too... and I didn’t feel guilty about it at all!

I’ve approached many of my meals or treats with this frame of mind, looking for small ways that I feel I can trim them without triggering my “feeling hard done by” emotional reflex. This has seen me cutting chocolate bars in half, and sticking to pre-packed crisps instead of the large bags that you can grab heavy-handed servings from. I replaced these things with healthier options where I could but not permanently. I try to eat more fruit and veg and I often replace baked beans in a meal with salad. I look at everything that I eat and try to edge a little more towards less, a little more towards healthier. It seems to be doing the job.

Journaling and Emotions

Mentioning the “hard done by” reflex above neatly leads me on to emotions. I’m an emotional eater and have been for a long time. Food dampens down the feelings of anxiety, depression or “lack” I might be feeling. It also gives me energy, which is an addictive feeling for someone who is struggling with fatigue all day long.

A few weeks before I decided to start my diet, I was doing some journaling and expressive writing aimed at working through issues that were affecting my health. I’ve been favouring the journaling approach of Nicole Sachs, a life coach and expert in Dr Sarno’s mind body syndrome. Nicole entourages a practice called JournalSpeak, a process in which you write totally uncensored and unhindered, excavating how you might truly be feeling about something. You then destroy/delete the journal, as it is meant purely as a means of expression for yourself to get things off your chest and to find new insights into what might be happening with you. Her JournalSpeak is useful for all kinds of things, from chronic pain management to other illnesses and symptoms. I am only mentioning the help it has been for my dieting here, but if you’d like to learn more about JournalSpeak you can visit Nicole’s website here.

I can tell that this journaling has been helping me with my diet as I very rarely have the urge to overeat any more. I’ve never stuck to a diet this long in my life, six months so far, and I’ve also not found it as relatively simple as I have this time around. I think the key component that has made my diet a success has been the emotional journaling work that I’ve been doing, and I’m saying this as someone who has previously done a massive amount of emotional work in trying to overcome my OCD, anxiety and depression. JournalSpeak and TMS notions seems to reach deeper and do much more, and I’m showing it to myself in a variety of ways, but as I say, particularly with regards to this diet.

My 600 lb Life

Something else that I think has been helpful, is that maybe once per week, I watch an episode of My 600 lb Life on the Quest Red channel. The people on that show are literally eating themselves to death, their bodies breaking down as they take to their beds and slowly enter organ failure. Most of them manage to turn things around with some diet advice, some surgery, and often, some therapy to address their emotional eating issues.

I know that the people on My 600 lb Life are far bigger than I’ve ever been. I guess I watch it as a precautionary tale in some ways, showing myself what could happen if I stay on a certain path for too long. On the other hand, I think it has helped me to watch other people with a much more serious struggle with weight, turn things around and kick-start their life again.

Maybe I’m showing my brain that I am attaching more importance to losing weight, and seeing the more extreme version of this weight-loss on screen over and over, seeing people go from eating junk food to salad and leaner meat, is mobilising some aspect of my self-motivation. Who knows. It’s a good show though, and great to see people overcome their issues.

There's Still Work To Do

I still intend to keep losing until I’m around 13 stone in weight, and then I will take stock of where I am. The last few months I’ve only managed a 3 lb loss each time, but the numbers suggest that this is likely my weight-loss naturally tailing off as I near a healthier body weight.

I’m still a little concerned that I don’t really feel I can see the weight-loss. When I went from 19 stone to 17 stone, I was far happier and could “feel” it more. I’m now a weight I haven’t been since I was at college and I still feel how I felt when I was 16 stone. By “feel” I mean in a bodily sense, and also in a visual “I can see the pounds coming off” way. Back then I could see and feel my stomach shrinking. This time... not really.

I’m guessing this is a “problem lies between the ears” issue. Either that or I’m not losing weight and I’ve accidentally mastered levitation to such a subtle degree that it only happens when I'm on the scales. Nice to have something to fall back on if the latter is the case.

Did writing this post help me to take stock of my achievement? I’m going to go all out, be bold, and say “slightly”. Sitting here and writing this final paragraph, I feel quite numb towards the whole thing but that’s okay. I might be sad that I don’t feel happier, but I’m happy to feel what I feel and to be true to that. The rest might come later, and if it doesn’t, something else will.

Saturday, 25 January 2020

Dark Book Review: Alien: Prototype

Dark Book Review: Alien: Prototype

Review by Casey Douglass

Alien: Prototype

I seem to devour books set in the Alien universe faster than almost any other story. There’s just something about the bleak evil corporation mentality, the vast distances and the Xenomorph, a creature that still makes me shiver at how cool it damn well is. Titan Books has a whole host of novels that fill in gaps in the Alien chronology and they’re all well worth a read if you’re an Alien fan. Tim Waggoner’s Alien: Prototype is the latest release, and I recently treated myself to the Kindle edition with some left over Xmas money.

Alien: Prototype opens with some deep-space piracy. Tamar Prather is a spy who has been tasked with hanging around unsavoury types, the kind that attack and ransack other spacecraft. She is there because Venture, a Weyland-Yutani competitor, is always on the look out for valuable swag that can give it an edge against the other mega-corporations. And wouldn’t you know it, Tamar steals a very precious cargo. Ovoid. Glistening. You get the picture. This “prize” ends up at The Lodge, Venture’s facility on a planet called Jericho 3. The arrival of the egg precipitates events, much like one of those naughty chaos butterflies, but whipping up its own kind of dark hurricane.

The egg falls into the hands of Dr Gagnon, the stereotypical “mad scientist” type who becomes fascinated with the organism it contains. He also has no real morals holding him back from certain kinds of experiments, the kind that don’t often end well. He ends up with a Xenomorph, but there are complications. It’s not the same as the regular variety of Xeno, this one has picked up an extra ingredient in its mixture, one that makes it even deadlier than the normal kind. I know it’s a bit difficult to imagine how a creature like this could be any more dangerous. Maybe the mental image of a great white shark with a machine gun will serve here. Nope, this Xeno is far more dangerous than that!

As with any decent Alien tale, this Xeno is faced by people who are determined to stop it running amok. Zula Hendricks is an ex-Colonial Marine who has turned her hand to training a more civilian kind of security force, and it is her group of wet-behind-the-ears recruits that have to swallow their fear and face something truly dangerous, rather than the various neutered experiences they have received in their training to date. I won’t say much more as I really don’t want to spoil the sense of discovery you’ll get if you decide to read the book.

Alien: Prototype is a fun, relatively fast-paced book, with so many of the elements that I enjoy in an Alien novel. There is greed, some synthetic humans, and a bit of creature worship, along with a variety of encounters and combat situations that keep the interest. There are the typical scenes where the unaware get jumped by the Xeno, and there are scenes where the “very much aware” clash with it in desperate combat. There is some novel use of technology at times, and the “extra danger” this Xenomorph embodies is a really nice touch to add a splash of novelty to proceedings.

If you enjoyed any of the other Titan Books novels, such as Out of the Shadows or The Cold Forge, I think you’ll enjoy Alien: Prototype. If you’ve yet to dip into this series of novels, but love the Alien universe, I also think you’ll enjoy this book.

(Alien: Prototype takes place between the Alien: Isolation book and the Aliens: Resistance comic series.)

Book Title: Alien: Prototype
Book Author: Tim Waggoner
Publisher: Titan Books
Published: October 2019
ISBN: 9781789090918
RRP: $8.99 (paperback)

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Book Review: The Imposter Cure

Book Review: The Imposter Cure

Review by Casey Douglass

The Imposter Cure

I’m a sucker for the self-help genre. I sometimes fantasize that my tombstone could say “Self-help this!” in my darker moments. I think it comes from struggling with my mental and physical health, and always wanting to try to get some kind of fresh perspective on life that might help me feel better. Imposter Syndrome is a topic that has somehow passed me by. Until, that is, I flicked through Dr Jessamy Hibberd’s The Imposter Cure in Waterstones one day. I saw mention of the way that freelancers can be prone to it, because of the nature of how they have to “bid” or “win” jobs. With a rush of hope I thought it might help me to find out more, and a month later here I am, writing this review.

If you are anything like I was, you might know that imposter syndrome is a fear of being found out as not being as “good” or capable as others might think you to be. While that’s true, as with most things, there are far more layers to unpick than just this simple understanding. The Imposter Cure does this in a gentle, friendly way, the opening few sections paving the way for a self-compassionate look into something that our minds can still struggle to accept. We have all sorts of beliefs about how feeling like an imposter can keep us humble, safe or alert, and stay ignorant to the ways it’s actually harming our lives. Imposter syndrome is also more common than we might think, and a lot of people might be affected by it at different times in their lives.

The first section that clicked with me described the five competence types that someone might fall into. These are: the perfectionist, the natural genius, the soloist, the expert and the superwoman/man. Someone’s competence type dictates how they will experience failure-related shame and the mindset that they are likely to take into tackling tasks. This might be the Perfectionist’s approach of feeling strongly that there is the right or wrong way to do something, or the Expert’s desire to know everything about something before they start. I found it very helpful to see the categories I fell into, many of which I would have put down to a “simple” lack of self-confidence before reading this book.

I’m a fan of diagrams with labels showing how our thoughts, actions and emotions create spirals of mental health, whether it's feeling bad about something or feeling better. Maybe it’s from my days of having Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for my OCD, or maybe I just like things being defined and laid bare. Either way, The Imposter Cure features a number of these diagrams, showing the cycles that reinforce or undermine our feelings of competence. This got a thumbs up from me. The book also looks at why we might be prone to feeling those imposter feelings, looking at our personality traits and past experiences and how they might have laid the foundation for feeling so conflicted about success. One example is someone who might be very gifted at school, always performing well, but only being given praise when they perform “above and beyond” their usual highest standards. It doesn’t take much thought to see why this might set that person up for not really appreciating their successes going forward.

This is one of the most important messages that The Imposter Cure carries, that people who suffer from imposter syndrome don’t internalize their successes in the way a non-sufferer might, their beliefs and mind-set minimising what they’ve done and laying their success at the door of luck, good timing or just working hard, which “anyone” can do. The Imposter Cure challenges these beliefs and mental filtering, picking apart the Luck Myth and the way that the coping strategies we use harm us more than help us.

Dr Hibberd calls these coping strategies the Imposter Twins, and they are Overworking and Avoidance. They are two sides of the same imposter coin, a coin that shouldn’t really be legal tender if you ask me. Each coping strategy is broken down into how it might manifest, what drives it and why it’s actually harmful. Tidbits that I found useful in this area were the explanation of why having success doesn’t end the cycle of overworking, and why the fantasizing about doing less creative, more menial work, is just an avoidance strategy rather than a deep seated belief that I’m not cut out for what I want to do. I also took solace in the notion that sometimes life requires a certain level of “bluffing”, something that I feel really averse to doing most of the time, even in the most minor of ways.

The Imposter Cure also covers other areas that interplay with the core issue. Besides working through ways to address your beliefs about what success means to you and your view about yourself, it gives advice about how to handle social media, anxiety and low mood, as well as to address confidence issues. These sections are brief and useful, but if it’s the first time a reader encounters some of the concepts, I’d recommend buying a book about them in their own right. That’s not a criticism, just a thought that occurred to me as the topics arose. A good starting point though.

Did reading The Imposter Cure help me? Yes. It emphasizes that you need to put time and effort into the techniques and information it provides, and I did. Ironically, part of my mind is saying “Did you put enough in? Did you really?” and that just goes to show what a pest imposter syndrome can be. By reading the book, I gleaned some nice insights into something that previously, I had little awareness of. I think it will take time, thought and another reading to really dive into the stuff that is going on in my head. The book is certainly no magic cure and it doesn't claim to be one. It feels promising though, and sometimes a bit of hope is a rare thing to find.

Book Title: The Imposter Cure
Book Author: Dr Jessamy Hibberd
Publisher: Octopus
ISBN-13: 9781783253326
Published: 13th June 2019
RRP: Paperback £12.99

Sunday, 5 January 2020

Dark Ambient Review: Hastur

Dark Ambient Review: Hastur

Review by Casey Douglass


I still find Lovecraft-themed media, whether stories, games and music, a rich vein of eldritch fun. There is something so dark about his mythos and the way that it has built into something seemingly more than it is. One of the usual highlights of this media is when Cryo Chamber releases its regular mammoth Lovecraftian collaboration, giving the listener around two hours of murk, gloom and existential horror to feast on. This year’s is Hastur, and as usual, it’s very good.
"Some name him Hastur - others Assatur, Hali or Kaiwan. The last can, to the erudite mind, whisper something of where the supernal alliances may lie. The men of Leng are purported to know more, but that is no place for wholesome minds. Better then to seek out a Shantak. It will doubtless whisper of onyx and a frigid wind, urging you ever northward and upward. Were ye to follow, ye may glean the answers ye seek. But they would do you little good, once the unrelenting drums have hold on thee. It is better, sometimes, not to know whom ye serve." - Excerpt from Digibook

The drums mentioned above seem like a great place to start. These appear at various moments in the two, hour long tracks, and when they do, they often add a certain level of ‘evil blasphemy’ to things, to go a bit ‘H.P on yo' ass’. How can drums be blasphemous? Well, besides playing them during a Catholic Mass and annoying the priest, the ones on Hastur are the kind you might only hear at night, in the distance, when strange lights are in the sky and the shadows around you keep shifting. When you add in the other ritual-like sounds, from chanting and the rise and fall of a drone, you can almost feel one of the many tendrils of an Elder god tickling your coccyx.

Drums are just one part of Hastur however, the various soundscapes containing a variety of other textures and depths. I write quite extensive notes but find it hard to adequately describe a two hour album in the way that I might a 45 minute one. Here I will write down an assortment of the sounds I heard and the ways I described them on paper. It should give you a taste of what I mean at the least. I am also tempted to caption it “Lovecraftian Gratitude Journal Day 153” :

A teeth grating sound going side to side, tones filtered through murky water fizzling out before they reach the bottom, shrieking bat-noises in the belfry, guttural chuntering, witch-like ‘hag tones’, a pulsing swarm head-fuck, ‘floor sweep’ whispers, sliding granite blocks in distant temple, lonely piano notes, chimes, static and distant screams.

The soundscapes on Hastur are relatively smooth; they don’t jar and they are quite nice for relaxation. There is enough going on to keep the listener’s interest and to provide some fun, dark daydreams, from reconfiguring temples to the movements of strange creatures in the shadows. I also really liked the drums, it made me feel that unseen forces were seeping into the soundscape, ready to unstitch the reality of the denizens silly enough to invoke them. If you are a Lovecraft fan, and you also happen to enjoy dark ambient music, you’ll probably already own Hastur. If not, visit the Hastur page below and have a listen. I think you’ll be glad that you did.

Visit the Hastur page on Bandcamp, and check out the first track below. (Skip to around 29 minutes to enjoy some of those dark drumbeats I mention above).

I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Hastur
Album Artist: Cryo Chamber Collaboration
Label: Cryo Chamber
Released: December 17, 2019

Thursday, 2 January 2020

Dark Fiction: YEAR ONE Anthology

Back in June 2019, my dark drabble The Carrion Maven was posted by Black Hare Press on their website. A couple of days ago, they released the YEAR ONE anthology, a collection of all of the nano-tales published in the Dark Moments online archive during last year. The Carrion Maven is inside it. If you'd like to buy the anthology, you can find it on Amazon at this link.


Tuesday, 17 December 2019

PC Game Review: Kind Words (lo fi chill beats to write to)

PC Game Review: Kind Words (lo fi chill beats to write to)

Review by Casey Douglass

Kind Words (lo fi chill beats to write to)

Playing online games with strangers often seems to bring out the worst in people. No matter how much you try to keep things in perspective and tell yourself you are just a nickname to someone, being verbally abused or insulted can still hit home. Kind Words (lo fi chill beats to write to) is the polar opposite of this experience, as it’s a game in which you share what's troubling you, and in which you can send and receive kind words instead.

Kind Words (lo fi chill beats to write to)If that last sentence made your heart beat a little bit faster, don’t worry. It’s all done anonymously, with the letters you send simply being signed with the first letter of your chosen nickname. There are also safety warnings about not sharing contact information etc, which is very sensible. People can post “Requests” where they share what they want to share, and you can browse these and decide which ones you’d like to reply to. When you click Reply, you have a number of lines in which you can type your answer. You can even attach a sticker to brighten the recipient’s day, with the potential to unlock other stickers as you interact with people. The person receiving your letter can’t respond beyond sending you a sticker back as a thank you. That’s it, end of exchange. While on some levels, that might feel disappointing, I personally think that it adds to the charm of Kind Words. You don’t have to get into a prolonged exchange with someone to possibly help them have a brighter day. At times you’ll wish you could say more, but for the most part, I think it’s a good limitation to have in place.

Kind Words (lo fi chill beats to write to)A lot of research has gone into the power of writing and how it can help people who are struggling with something. Give James W. Pennebaker a Google to find all sorts about how disclosure can boost mood and function, as just one example. There is also a panoply of information about how feeling compassion towards others (and yourself) can bring health benefits, and it’s hard not to feel compassion for most of the people who write on Kind Words. In the days that I’ve been on there, I’ve seen people post about porn addiction, loss, loneliness and fears about the future. I’ve also seen people just wanting to share a funny experience or a pleasant dream, so it’s not all “heavy” by any means. Kind Words gives people an outlet who might feel invisible in their everyday life, or who don’t feel they can voice their troubles to the people around them. It also seems to give a far better feeling of connection than any social network seems to offer. There is less meaningless bullshit for a start.

As far as I can see from the developer's Twitter postings, the letters appear to be moderated by a mixture of auto-flagging word lists and manual moderation, so if someone is posting stuff that is really unacceptable or worrying, regular users are unlikely to even see it, and if they do, there is a Report button to flag up your concerns. I would imagine this extends to the paper airplanes that you can also send. They are a more instant way to send a very brief message floating through other players’ rooms. These are usually a quote in my experience, or a brief sentence saying “You rock!” etc. A nice little feature.

Kind Words (lo fi chill beats to write to)

The bedroom in which the game takes place is a cosy graphical space in which your in-game character sits at a desk, listening to those lo fi beats mentioned in the title. As you post, reply, and earn new stickers, these can be used to decorate your room with models of what the sticker represents. It’s another nice touch and a pleasing thing that gives the kind words you’ve received a visual representation in your environment.

Kind Words (lo fi chill beats to write to)

Popcannibal released Kind Words on 12 September 2019. By 30 September, over 250,000 letters had already been sent, far surpassing the developer’s hopes:
When we dreamed up this little trust experiment, we never imagined it would get this big. In fact, before launch I did a stress test on the server with 60,000 fake messages and laughed to myself "hah, we'll NEVER get close to that".

I find myself dipping into Kind Words a couple of times a day, whether I’m feeling troubled or not. It might be that I just want to see if there is anyone struggling with something I can offer words of encouragement about. Or it might be that I’ve been playing another game and want my last interactions with people online that day to be kind, rather than just the memory of being told to kill myself by a salty bad loser.

I bought Kind Words on Steam for just over £3 in a sale, but its RRP is only £3.99. For either price, I think I would have been happy with my purchase. You can find it on the Steam Store here.