The internet has midwived a style of short horror story called the “creepypasta”. Where horror novels are MOABs and fusion bombs, creepypasta are IEDs, designed to be efficient, minimal, and easy to transport (ie, memetic). And if they fail to blow up, no matter. This was a surprise attack from the shadows. There will be another one tomorrow.
Creepypastas are bound by two rules: they must be posted anonymously, and everyone who reads them must play along with the idea that they are real. One of the more famous ones I’ve seen is called Killswitch, about a creepy videogame (a popular topic.) The author is Catherynne M Valente. Either that or she’s stealing someone’s story, because it’s found in her 2013 collection, The Melancholy of Mechagirl.
It’s not very good. But it’s the greatest kind of not very good story…the sort that’s interesting to talk and think about. Most copypastas are vapid and hollow, Ikea-assembled by teenagers using dull ideas from horror movies. Try to analyse them and your hand closes on empty air.
But Killswitch is interesting, at least. It’s kneecapped by the fact that so many of her descriptions of videogame playing seem “off” or wrong. I doubt she plays games much. Maybe she was motivated to write it by the relative mysteriousness or exoticism of gaming (the same way white kids in Cleveland are attracted to Japanese culture, I suppose, because it’s unlike what they’re used to), but what seems mysterious to an ingénue will not seem mysterious to someone “in the know”. It will seem dead, and artificial.
Old-school videogames are popular topics for creepypasta partly because they invoke nostalgia, and also because there’s much more room for “creepyness” in a 8-bit 460×360 game where everything is displayed in blocky pixels and your imagination has to do the rest. The “cow level” in Diablo is a good example. For years it was rumoured that the player could access a secret part of the game by clicking a cow or some such, and gamers used large amounts of electricity trying to do this.
But the details have to be right, or the artifice is exposed and the creepyness is gone. The trouble with Killswitch is that we get things like this:
On the surface it was a variant on the mystery or horror survival game, a precursor to the Myst and Silent Hill franchises. The narrative showed the complexity for which Karvina was known, though the graphics were monochrome, vague grey and white shapes against a black background.
The game described sounds totally different to Myst or Silent Hill, and if it’s a survival horror game, comparisons to Infogrames’ Alone in the Dark would seem more appropriate than a 1999 Playstation game.
Porto awakens in the dark with wounds in her elbows, confused.
How does the player know that Porto is confused? How can we see the wounds in her elbows when the game is black and white? Valente’s describing a movie here, not a game.
Killswitch, by design, deletes itself upon player completion of the game. It is not recoverable by any means, all trace of it is removed from the user’s computer. The game cannot be copied.
That’s HUGE. If a real game was discovered that could not be copied, nobody would give a shit about the story or the characters. It would be one of the biggest tech stories ever. The software industry would spend millions or billions trying to understand or decipher the copy protection – if would be their chance to stomp the windpipe of piracy forever. Karvina Corporation would be the industry’s fair-haired child. But Valente just throws that out there as a plot point. The game cannot be copied, here is a full and here is a stop.
At least tell us what happens when we try to copy or reverse engineer the game. Is there an error message? We want to be in the midst of this story but Valente’s inexperience is holding us away at arm’s length.
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This nasty story from future could only have been written by a nasty man from the past, 1980s Stephen King. This was back in the day when he didn’t care, when he broke rules, when he threw “faggot” and “nigger” around liberally, and when he wasn’t pants-wettingly anxious about being a remembered as a Great American Author. He was already something far better than that: a good writer.
He was considered trash at the time. But even if he was, he was a unique kind of trash that defies obvious and easy comparison. Ray Bradbury wishes he was this pissed off. Harlan Ellison wishes he was this coherent. Dean Koontz wishes he was this misanthropic. Apparently the entire book was written over the course of a week, which works just fine – he doesn’t have the chance to get snarky and arch and clever-clever.
The plot is familiar to all, and honestly, not all that sensible. At one point, he moves the story to its next junction by giving the main character a supernatural vision. Then at the end, King can’t figure out what to do, so he blows everyone up. But the story always seemed secondary to The Running Man. The real star is King’s gritty, quasi-cyberpunk world, which he shows off through flashbacks, monologues, and those unexpected shots across the bow King is so good at. A good example of the latter is when the main character meets a woman with full breasts, and concludes she must be corrupt or criminal (because she’s eating well.)
The pace is breakneck. You’re afraid to stop reading because you might get whiplash. The book simply doesn’t have a dull or boring moment, from the man’s run-in with gangsters with hearts full of gold (and lungs full of cancer), to the incredible high-stakes bluffing game at the airport, to the final catastrophic flight to the FreeVee offices. It’s impossible that an out of work every-man could be this good at outshooting and outwitting trained killers, but the relentless pace of the book quashes these objections in your mind. You can’t smell a fart when they’re travelling at Mach 3.
This is one of those “look at me” books that does anything for your attention, and tries to be bigger and louder than a movie. A comparison to Ellison seems appropriate here, because he’s also known for doing anything in his stories for the sake of holding a punter’s attention. But unlike Ellison, King doesn’t seem to have Narcissistic personality disorder, so I don’t know what his excuse is.
This is the best Bachman book (although Misery would have edged it out, had it been released under that name), and probably the darkest and grittiest of King’s novels. 1984 pastiches are dull and overfamiliar these days, and so are cautionary tales about couch potatoes and reality TV, but The Running Man still scorches and sizzles on the page. This isn’t a maudlin, sentimental old man who writes with his literary reputation first and foremost in mind. This is 1980s Stephen King. Don’t walk, run.
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Hailing from that legendary hotbed of heavy metal Ulaan Baataar, Mongolia, Ornaments of Agony is a funeral doom band (meaning that if you enjoy listening to it, they have failed and you are entitled to your money back).
Funeral doom is not a genre that lends itself to mutation and experiment. There is only one way to do this sound, and Ornaments of Agony sound much like Wormphlegm and Ahab and all the rest. A distant, reverb-saturated guitar assault rips at your ears, like buzzsaws from a kilometer away. A vocalist croaks and groans miserably, his voice distorted and Daleked beyond recognition. Pianos play ugly, chromatic melodies. Pianos seem a fixture in funeral doom, I suppose because an ear bored of guitar dissonance can be shocked anew by awful noises made on a piano. In D&D terms, the guitars are chaotic evil, while the pianos are lawful evil.
“Heregsuur” emerges from a null hypothesis of fuzzy industrial noise. The song initially sounds like a relaxing Pelican song before becoming nasty and brutal. “Huiten amisgal” is really too fast for funeral doom, and is more vocally-driven than the others, but the general template of dissonance remains.
The performance is (deliberately?) sloppy, with different tones and timbres just coming and going, none of them really in time or having much to do with each other. The old joke goes: three men in the third world are in prison, and they ask each other why. The first says ‘I was always 5 minutes late for work, so I was accused of sabotage’ The second says ‘I was always 5 minutes early for work, so I was accused of espionage’ But the third says ‘I was always on time for work, so I was accused of having a Western watch’. That could also describe the tracking and recording of this album.
“Tumen jargal, arvin zovlon” finishes the album much as it starts – that’s my one complaint, it’s that the album is too unvarying in its approach. Maybe the band members thought that the album should be constructed like a battleship – solid gray steel from top to bottom, with no point of weakness. But Sun O)))’s “Alice” shows that slow metal songs don’t have to be like that. You can finish different to how you started, without compromising a track or album’s intensity and bleakness.
Like all extreme metal, Ornaments of Agony abandons songwriting and merely tries to be an unforgettable experience. One band of this style sounds the same as the next, and I have no idea if this band’s one member is intentionally sloppy or just sucks at playing. But the goal is achieved, nevertheless. Genghis Khan would execute enemies by pouring liquid metal down their throats, and Ornaments of Agony continues his tradition in sonic form.
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