Poem: ‘Inertia’

Raindrops on a window pane at night

Photo by Alex_L on DepositPhotos.

Flowers wilt and

bloom again,

a child gestates

inside my friend.

But this sickness is the furniture.

 

From cosmic rivers

sunlight pours,

a lost cause.

This grief is

big for her age.

 

Ponder footprints

through a periscope,

a misplaced hope;

numbed

in the amber of now.

 

Every eye contact

an alternate reality,

a terrifying fantasy.

I dither about on a

comet hurtling towards devastation.

 

An infinite labyrinth

choked

with one-way exits.

Every choice

murders another.

 

Malaise, white hot,

in sets the rot;

these apathetic canyons

buffeted

by a raging nothing.

 

She is an anchor,

a lighthouse,

a tether to this world.

Yet at every crossroad

I take defeat lying down.

 

An ageing wastrel,

grown misshapen,

wading in the quagmire.

Thirty years peering

into the great maw.

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Games I Finished in 2018

Gaming is one of my big passions, alongside writing, music and fitness. To reflect that, I thought I’d share my impressions of the games I completed in 2018.

 Gears of War 2

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Scratch one grub!

I’m a long-term Halo fanatic but have never made time for Xbox’s other flagship shooter series, Gears of War. In fact, my introduction to the series (which began in 2006) wasn’t until 2015 when I played the first game’s excellent remaster, Gears of War: Ultimate Edition. Gears: Ultimate had some cool ideas and memorable moments, but I wasn’t blown away. I thought the remastered graphics were incredible and that the cover-based shooting mechanics were solid (if a little stiff), but I really didn’t care about its generic action movie narrative. The saving grace, however, was the surprisingly nuanced relationships between the characters. These four neckless dudebros spent most of the game assaulting you with one-liners, but they also genuinely care for each other. Their brotherhood and affinity for shit-talking was endearing. I didn’t expect to warm to them the way I did.

In many ways Gears 2 is a typical action sequel. It iterates on everything that made the first entry enjoyable and generally offers more – more action, weapons, variety, and more bombastic set pieces. Surprisingly, the story was more affecting story this time around. There are a few surprise deaths and a real exploration of how these characters feel, and what they – and humanity at large – are fighting for. The set pieces are thrilling and varied, and the entire campaign is paced perfectly. You’re constantly thrown into new and exciting locations and combat scenarios. Something new lies around every corner and there’s no time for any of it to grow stale.

I thought the first Gears of War was just okay. But after blasting through its exhilarating sequel I’m can now see what all the fuss is about. A thoroughly enjoyable experience.

 

Oxenfree

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I really expected to like Oxenfree. It’s frequently compared to Dontnod’s 2015 title Life is Strange, a game that improved upon Telltale’s adventure game template by adding a memorable time travel mechanic. The similarities between Oxenfree and Life is Strange are obvious: they both star adolescent protagonists, feature time travel and offer branching dialogue options. But where Life is Strange felt sincere and intimate, Oxenfree feels strangely impersonal. Its dialogue was quippy and trite. Exploring was less enjoyable; I didn’t really care about the characters; and the mystery, which initially showed promise, devolved into an overwrought mess in the vein of Lost.

A bit of a disappointment. Maybe my preconceptions worked against me here.


Super Lucky’s Tale

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Want rad puns? This game’s got you, fam.

 

Super Lucky’s Tale is one of my personal gaming highlights of 2018. It’s a wholesome throwback to the colourful 3D platformers of the Nineties. It’s got it all: cute characters, fun dialogue and a banging OST. The controls are super responsive, the level design was solid and the DLC ramps up the difficulty to cap things off nicely.

This game exuded charm and was a much-needed palette cleanser after playing so many shooters. I even nabbed all the achievements for it, which took a bit of work.

 

Borderlands 2

borderlands2

Sigh.

Where to begin? I’m a huge fan of the original Borderlands (in my eyes it’s the definitive co-op experience, next to Left 4 Dead), so naturally expected a lot from its sequel. This game is regarded as one of the best games of last generation, but I found it a very mixed bag. Continue reading

Vignette: ‘Fist Bump for Germany’

A sentimental vignette that I wrote in 2014.


 

Fist Bump for Germany

 

‘I won’t tell you again,’ snaps Mr Kipfer. ‘Leave your dressing alone.

‘But girls like scars,’ says Wilhem, caressing his chin. ‘Hope I get some. Scars, I mean.’

They turn the corner in silence. The corridor outside the headmistress’s office is lined with plastic chairs. One of them is occupied.

The boys exchange a look. Max gapes at Wilhem’s butterfly-bandaged chin; Wilhem notes the nasty cut on Max’s lip.

‘Wait here,’ says Mr Kipfer. ‘Ms Nadia will call you in soon. Don’t kill each other.’ He raises a finger to punctuate his point then walks away.

When Kipfer is at a safe distance, Max finds his courage. ‘Don’t kill each other,’ he parrots.

A tiny laugh escapes Wilhem. He forces a frown.

Max grounds his chewing gum into a flat bar and tests its resistance against his tongue. ‘I told the nurse you started it.’

Wilhem turns his head. ‘What?’

‘She asked who started it. I think she just likes knowing everyone’s business.’

Wilhem smirks. ‘Probably they all say the other kid started it.’

Max laughs. ‘Yeah, probably.’

A comfortable silence follows. But Wilhem can’t enjoy it – it’s still bugging him.

‘Why’d you hit me?’

Max chews faster. His mouth makes wet, smacking sounds. ‘I don’t know. Cause you’re…’ He drops his gaze to the floor. ‘Cause you’re a Nazi, I guess.’

‘I’m not a Nazi,’ says Wilhem, his voice level.

‘Yeah, you are.’ Max’s words soar out with no regard for the reluctance of their speaker. ‘My pa says all Nazis are scum.’

Wilhem laughs. ‘Do you even know what a Nazi is?’

‘Yeah!’ Max declares. ‘Course I do!’ But his cheeks are hot and his voice has betrayed him. He mashes his wad of gum into the underside of the chair.

‘I’m from Germany,’ Wilhem explains, ‘but I’m not a Nazi. They’re different.’

Max shrugs, looks defiantly to the ceiling. After a moment of silence, he roots around in his pocket and pulls out a crushed carton of cigarettes. He presents it to Wilhem. ‘Want one? I swiped them from my mum.’

Wilhem looks at the door to Ms Nadia’s office. Then he looks down at Max’s hands, studying the distinct gold Benson & Hedges foil. He reaches for a cigarette.

They hear movement from behind the door.

Max thrusts the carton back into his pocket. The boys sit up straight and focus ahead.

Ms Nadia emerges from her office. She looks the two boys over. Her mouth sags with permanent disapproval.

‘Right,’ she says, gesturing to Max. ‘We’ll start with you.’

Max climbs to his feet and looks dejectedly ahead, as if bound for the gallows. On approach to the office, he discretely holds out a clenched fist and presents it to Wilhem.

Wilhem stares in confusion. Then the corners of his mouth curl into a smile. He raises his fist and returns the gesture.

Some Recent Impressions (or God, I Watch a Lot of Shit)

End of the Tour (2015)

endofthetour

“I’ll take the misanthrope salad with a side of psuedo-intellectual fries.”

I love movies about writers. I’ve read very little David Foster Wallace but still appreciated this movie as a character study. The film explores Wallace’s neuroses and growing disillusionment with fame and the literary world. Its highlights are the fantastic performances by Jesse Eisenberg (playing to type, as ever) and Jason Segel (who reveals some surprisingly solid dramatic chops).

 

Snowden (2016)

snowden

A solid primer on the most famous whistleblower in US history and a serviceable examination of Edward Snowden the man. Oliver Stone has constructed a tense, visually engaging techno-thriller that is held together by the always exemplary Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Levitt’s Snowden is wracked with turmoil as he struggles to reconcile his humanistic worldview with his increasing complicity in the US government’s infringement on civil rights.

I liked this a lot, but it also had issues. Nicholas Cage and Shailene ‘wooden’ Woodley give jarring performances as Snowden’s respective mentor and love interest, and the film was clearly hamstrung by Stone’s reverence for his subject. In this portrayal, Snowden is deified – a savant with few faults. Where’s a trace of ego? Why is Snowden so tiresomely secure in himself and his abilities? Why does he never waiver in his resolve to Do the Right Thing? Without adequately deconstructing this complex figure the movie devolves into politically self-serving wank.

Snowden is superficially entertaining, but I wish Stone had taken a more nuanced approach.

Continue reading

Review: ‘Just Another Week in Suburbia’

 

just-another-week-in-suburbia-187316436Just Another Week in Suburbia is the debut novel of Melbourne writer Les Zig. In it, Zig dares the reader to sit with one uncomfortable question: can you ever really know someone? The reader is encouraged to examine the enormous leap of faith it takes to be in a trusting relationship – a difficult but worthwhile venture.

Just Another Week in Suburbia spans seven days in the life of Casper Gray. Casper is a suburban everyman with a nice home, a secure job and a wife who challenges and complements him. Like many suburbanites he’s content (if uninspired) and comfortable (if a bit complacent).

One day a chance discovery upheaves Casper, leaving him questioning his marriage. At first, Casper struggles to find the courage to face this discovery, as doing so means dealing with the inevitable fallout. Instead he obsesses over it, and his preoccupations affect everything from his relationships to his professional judgement. Casper’s poor decision-making can be frustrating, but it’s what makes him such a complex and interesting character.

Just Another Week in Suburbia has some undoubtedly harrowing moments. It’s unflinchingly honest, particularly as Casper struggles to escape from his quagmire of insecurities. Throughout, Zig uses Casper’s ordeal to deconstruct the notion of traditional masculinity. He also explores the resentments that can form when two people with individual desires start a life together. But to label this a portrait of marital discord would be reductive; it’s a powerful cautionary tale about the importance of open communication. Zig’s writing demonstrates a great respect – even a reverence – for the union of marriage. Casper and Jane are well-written, believable characters with a flawed but complex relationship.

Outside of the relationship aspect, Zig authentically captures the malaise of suburban life. He also acknowledges the comedy of it: the way neighbours lose their minds scrutinizing property lines or how hauling garbage to the kerb at week’s end feels like a Herculean task.
Memorable side characters add further levity to the story, like Stuart, Casper’s pernickety vice principal; Luke, his affable womanising friend; and a slippery drug dealer nicknamed Jean Jacket. Then there’s Wallace, Casper’s scrappy fox terrier. Wallace’s every mannerism leaps off the page. He is a charming addition to this story.

Zig’s crisp prose and strong characterisation ensures the story breezes along at an enjoyable pace. The darker moments are perfectly balanced with wry humour and poignant observations about life. In one memorable moment, Casper posits that long-term relationships are like reading the same book over and over again. A dour assessment – until Casper’s co-worker points out that re-reading brings a new and deeper appreciation. “Some books you hold dear to you your whole life.

And so it is with Just Another Week in Suburbia, a relationship story with real heart and emotional depth. My appreciation for it grows the more I meditate on its themes. I look forward to revisiting it one day. I’ve no doubt I’ll discover even more things to appreciate about its narrative.

Short Story: ‘Bloodsport’

One of my older pieces, ‘Bloodsport’, has found a home in ReadFinReadFin is the final journal to come out of Melbourne Polytechnic’s Writing and Publishing degree, from which I graduated in 2014.

I wrote this piece a few years ago but still vividly remember agonising over the sword fighting choreography. I sought out feedback about it and even watched a few shogun samurai movies on YouTube for reference. It was a fun exercise.

ReadFin received a limited print run, but a digital copy can be found here. Note that the editor has incorrectly credited me as ‘Tim O’Connell’, which is pretty disappointing. I’d hoped they would bring more care and attention to their final issue, but what can you do?

Issuu doesn’t like web browsers very much, so I’m also reproducing the story in text here. I hope you enjoy it.


 

Bloodsport

 

I’m at the meeting point: a narrow cliff-edge. Waves crash onto rocks that jut from the ocean like jagged teeth. Countless samurais have died here coveting clan honour. A wrong step preludes a 300-foot drop. I hear a squawk that seems to echo my name. A lone opportunistic gull rides an updraft, a late-afternoon snack its only concern.

Sensing a presence, I turn. Miguel appears across the way, bathed in the light of the setting sun.

‘Fifteen minutes I’ve waited.’

‘Impatience,’ Miguel says, ‘is the folly of youth.’

I smirk. ‘Is that what this is? A lesson in patience?’

Miguel advances until we stand a sword-length apart at the cliff’s edge. Death, like the gull, is opportunistic, and could wing its way from any direction.

Miguel warns that my insolence will cost me. Unperturbed, I grin, disarming him with false confidence. I’m less experienced, but Miguel’s victory is anything but assured.

White-knuckled, we draw our swords. Our robes ripple in the wind. Miguel adopts our clan’s traditional stance; I fall into my variation of it.

Right legs leading, we lock eyes, each daring the other to strike first.

Miguel takes a quarter-step back. His weight shifts to his back foot. I follow his cue, my heel digging into the soft earth. My flesh is goose-pimpled, my muscles taut. Miguel, expressionless, wholly inhabits this moment.

The distant seabird screeches, her cry puncturing the silence.

I lunge forward.

Miguel guards high; I feint and strike low. We clash violently until my blade slips down the length of his. He shunts me off balance and leads me in a quarter-circle, his position a counterweight to my heavy blow. I hang on, enduring the hideous scraping of steel.

We separate explosively. My arm is nicked. I hiss and force it from my mind. Miguel lunges, hoping to capitalise on his modest blow. He is uncannily quick, but I deflect, taking his wrist and forcing him to relent. He leaps back.

‘Don’t worry,’ I say. ‘There’s still plenty of fight in me.’

Miguel mocks me with laughter.

The reprieve is short-lived. Our swords collide a dozen more times. We circle continuously. Alternately, we dominate, losing then wresting back control, overpowering and pushing back in increments. But our reserves are low. Miguel knows this. It’s in his eyes. For all our discipline, we are but flesh constructs.

We separate, pirouetting in sync. I toss my robe, my legs shifting free. Then I thrust forward in pre-emptive strike. Miguel is waiting. He always is. He parries then ripostes my blow. Sparks fly. Our clashing blades are deafening.

‘Gyaaaaah!’ My voice scrapes in my throat.

Our swords clash repeatedly. Dusk looms. I grit my teeth, my eyes fixed on my opponent. I lust for an opening. My strength is flagging, my mind clouding. Tiny mistakes accumulate. Miguel’s focus sharpens; his cuts come too close.

I take one last stand. With a two-handed grip, I draw back, enveloped by primal fury. I drive my blade with such ferocity. Miguel defends – barely. His face whitens. I strike again, thrashing and thrashing. He can’t match my intensity. This is the virtue of youth.

Miguel panics. He evades my blows, but the near misses spur me on. Relentless parrying exhausts him. Enraged, I draw back and swing again, but miscalculate and deal a heavy blow to nothing. Miguel creates distance and I feel, overwhelmingly, that a vital opportunity is wasted.

We recover our breath over two long seconds. Then, as if of one mind, we surge forward with declarative war cries. Miguel catches my blade in his. We lock in, our poised body language belying our struggle. We each hope to unnerve the other. Muscles quake. Our composure slips. Sheens of sweat form above our brows.

Miguel swiftly sidesteps and I stagger off-kilter. My balance is again misplaced; I strike a knee into my opponent, but the move is crude and proves my undoing. It happens so fast: I lurch sideways, my feet flirting with the cliff-edge, and—

I feel it before seeing it. It’s a clean hit. Miguel has saved me from a 300-foot drop, only to finish me himself. His blade protrudes from between my shoulders. We remain like this, outside time: Miguel savouring victory, perhaps contemplating the complexities of our relationship, while I am caught in the throes of death.

Miguel is static a long while, his form effortlessly arranged for the execution of his final blow. The light is changing. Dusk is becoming night and I am where I deserve to be: skewered on my brother’s blade.

I’m fading fast, my vision waning. But all’s right: this is the natural order of things. I focus, as if to immortalise the moment, find beauty in death. But the gull’s incessant screeches return and now the sound is frenzied. With the last of my strength, I look to the source, expecting the sky to be blotted with seagulls.

Instead, I see a barmaid from a neighbouring establishment. Her stride is long, her expression unamused. She proceeds to her announcement, a cross-armed harbinger.

‘Daniel! Cody! I’ve been calling for ten minutes! Dinner’s on the table!’

I stand tall, exhaling frustration. The illusion’s ruined: she’s no barmaid. My brother Cody releases his hair from its authentic samurai bun and steps down from the wooden stage-cum-cliff edge.

‘Sorry, Mum.’

His face broadcasts disappointment. I pat between his shoulder blades, in the spot where his character slew mine, and assure him that our rehearsals have not been in vain, that our depiction of cartoon samurais Jack and Miguel are eerie in their accuracy, and that our scheduled display will be the highlight of FantasyCon.

Cody, looking serious, Miguel-esque, casts me a sidelong glance.

Flawless.