A book, a movie, an album and a game

By Jim May

I’m endlessly captivated, moved and entertained by our capacity for creativity. Whenever I have the spare time to curl up with a book or movie, listen to an album or play through a video game, I’m a happy camper. In today’s world, I think we can all benefit from taking the occasional reprieve to sit back and appreciate the fruits of creative minds. To that end, here are a handful of items that have recently cheered or moved me. I stop short of calling them recommendations, as individual tastes vary so tremendously, but to me each of the following are wonderful.

John Dies at the End by David Wong
The internet’s democratization of writing as a profession has been great for writers of Twilight fanfic, poorly plotted wish fulfillment fantasies and romance novellas starring Bigfoot. Every once in a while, though, it also gives us something truly special that might not have existed in a previous era. John Dies at the End is one such gift. David Wong sporadically wrote and published the book online, one chapter at a time, developing a loyal group of followers who would print out the entire work in progress and pass it around to their friends and family. Eventually it gained enough traction to get officially published upon its completion. It’s essentially Douglas Adams interpreted by a Gex X’er brought up on horror flicks. In it, a pair of slackers receive a drug that opens their perceptions to untold horrors that remain unseen to the rest of the world. It’s clever with its plot, witty with its dialog and one of the few books I’ve read that made me continuously snicker out load while reading it. It’s certainly not for everyone, but I enjoy it immensely.

Arrival
Easily my favorite movie from the past year, Arrival is a welcome addition to the catalog of sci-fi movies that use a fantastical premise to keenly observe and comment on some aspect of the human condition. On its surface, it follows a linguist employed by the government to learn how to communicate with an alien race that’s arrived on earth. Beneath that, it’s a powerful commentary on love in general and the love a parent feels for their child in particular.

Painting of a Panic Attack by Frightened Rabbit
I’ve been a big fan of Frightened Rabbit for about a decade now and their latest is my favorite from them yet, as well as my favorite overall album from 2016. For those unfamiliar, they’re a Scottish band that’s probably safe to generally describe as specializing in upbeat songs offset by fairly depressing lyrics. They make it fairly easy to find yourself tapping your foot with a smile on your face while listening to tales of heartache, disappointment and disillusionment.

The Talos Principle
Probably the best puzzle-based game I’ve played, The Talos Principle positions you as an artificial intelligence that’s awakened in a digital ark built to contain the sum of human knowledge in case our race ever goes extinct. You navigate this environment by solving increasingly complex puzzles that unlock access to writings of philosophers and historical figures, works of art, records of the scientists who created the ark and contact with other a.i.’s in the system. The puzzles strike the perfect balance of being challenging but not overly opaque, and the story is consistently engaging as it unfolds.

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