Drowning in Problems: Notch's surprisingly moving text game


Notch, the celebrated creator of Minecraft, has a new, existential webgame: Drowning in Problems. It's a pretty damned great example of telling stories with interactivity, and how the medium can evoke emotion without resorting to the clumsy trickery of narrative. It takes about ten minutes to play through, and by the time I was done, I felt like I'd gone through a journey that made me thoughtful and reflective about the very meaning of life. (via Mefi)

One Soul: 18 interwoven lives in a graphic novel that pushes the boundaries

Ray Fawkes's One Soul is a moving, challenging and ambitious graphic novel that attempts -- with great success -- to do something genuinely new with the comics form, telling a story that literally could not be told in any other way. Each two-page spread in One Soul is split into 18 panels, and each of those panels tells the life story, from conception to death (and beyond) of a different person, in a different time and place.

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This is How You Die: the sequel to Machine of Death

David Malki ! writes, "After poring over 2,000 story submissions, commissioning dozens of illustrations, and waiting ever-so-eagerly, we're so pleased that the sequel to Machine of Death is out now! It's called THIS IS HOW YOU DIE and it's published by Grand Central. We've put a 90-page free PDF preview on our site, and we also made a really cool short film to introduce people to the MOD concept."

Machine of Death is part of the current Humble Ebook Bundle, which closes in about a day -- that is, you've got a day to name your price for Machine of Death, along with books like Peter Beagle's The Last Unicorn, Cherie Priest's Boneshaker, Wil Wheaton's Just a Geek, Louis McMaster Bujold's Shards of Honor, XKCD Vol 0, Robert Charles Wilson's Spin, my novel Little Brother, Holly Black's Poison Eaters, and Neil Gaiman's Signal to Noise -- a seriously kick-ass deal.

This Is How You Die

What is death?

What a treat! The BBC Radio 4 science show The Infinite Monkey Cage has started its new season, and the first episode is a corker, asking whether a strawberry is dead, and what is death, anyway? Podcast feed, MP3 Cory

Mouldering city built of bread is a metaphor for Earth without humans


Swedish artist Johanna Mårtensson created this installation depicting a cityscape made of bread in 2009, and photographed it as it decayed, creating a series of pictures representing the destiny of all human folly come the day that we make ourselves extinct and vanish from the face of the Earth:


I was inspired by an article about how well the earth would do without us. Within 500 years all buildings would be half fallen or fallen, perfect homes for animals and plants. The forrest would soon grow in cities. After hand buildings as well as pollutions would be taken care of by bacterias and micro-organisms. An ufo that came here in a couple of of hundred thousand years would not see many signs of that a gang of primates ones thought that they where the lords of the planet.

Decor Photoinstallation by Johanna Mårtensson (via Crazy Abalone)

Patrick "Electric Sheep" Farley returns with a new webcomic: Steve & Steve


Stefan Jones sez, "Web comic master Patrick "Electric Sheep" Farley switches styles with frightening ease. The First Word, an enigmatic story about australopithecine, was done in lovely photorealistic CGI. His new work, Steve and Steve, is sharp line art with sepia-tones. It's about . . . Steve and Steve. Jobs and Wozniak, BSing about evolution, witchcraft, and the cold war under the skeleton of a ruined geodesic dome. I hope he can keep this one going."

Steve & Steve | Prelude: Electric Funeral (Thanks, Stefan!)

Boyett's Mortality Bridge, now in paperback

Steven Boyett is one of my favorite authors (and has been for decades, since I was wowed by his debut novel Ariel). I reviewed his latest, Mortality Bridge , back in November, when it came out in a limited-edition hardcover. The book's out as an (admittedly pricey) print-on-demand paperback and ebook now. It is worth every penny.

Superficially, Mortality Bridge is a very different novel from Boyett's earlier work, an existential horror novel about a man who goes to hell to rescue his lover, but like Boyett's best work, Mortality Bridge is a gutwrenching novel about loss and redemption, deserved guilt and betrayal, with an antihero whose quest is at once the stuff of cracking adventure stories and a tragic tale of facing up to one's own cowardice and weakness.

Niko is the antihero in question. Once a junkie rock-star who'd hit bottom, Niko signed a deal with the devil that rocketed him back to stardom, got him clean of his addictions, and brought back Jemma, the love of his life, whom he'd chased away with his doping and mercurial temper. What Niko didn't spot in the fine print of his diabolical deal was that his "chattels" were also forfeit to Hell, and now that Jemma has given him her heart, it has become his chattel, and so when Jemma begins a slow, agonizing death from cancer, Niko realizes that he has damned her along with himself.

Niko -- who has already been lost and redeemed once -- can't bear to let this come to pass. And so he formulates a mad and cunning plan to follow Death as he ferries Jemma's soul to hell, and there, he will play his guitar for the devils and the damned, and win back his love.

Boyett's Hell is steeped in mysticism and antiquity, borrowing freely from the Greeks, and Dante, and Bosch. Each turn in the underworld gives Boyett a fresh excuse to unlimber new grotesque phrases, stomach-churning descriptions of tortures too horrific to contemplate (though Boyett forcefully insists upon it).

Meanwhile, Niko's race through Hell is one of the greatest supernatural adventure stories of recent memory, surpassing Niven and Pournelle's classic Inferno (itself a very good novel on a similar premise, even if it does turn on the power of Hell to redeem one of history's great monsters). It is not a mere allegory about sin and redeption, cowardice and nobility: it's also a damned good story, which sets it apart from almost all existential allegories.

Update: Great news: Steve and his agent have price-dropped the paperback to $19.95!

Mortality Bridge [Paperback]

DRM-free ebooks

Forming: dirty Gnostic creation-myth comic of high and lavish weirdness


Forming is Jesse Moynihan's ultra-weird graphic novel about the creation of the universe, filled with cursing, inexplicable violence, grotesque sexual acts, and primitive and strange illustrations. Set in the "Third Age of Total Bullshit," the story tells the tale of powerful aliens who visit Earth in the time of giants, set up camp in Atlantis, and enslave the indigenous giants to mine rare minerals for the galactic empire. These aliens are also involved with Noah, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Lucifer and the Archangel Michael, and a cast of personages more obscure and weird than any book of the apocrypha.

To understand Forming (assuming "understand" is the correct verb here), picture some lost Gnostic text translated by Jay (of Jay and Silent Bob) at his cussin-est, under commission by a delusional would-be cult-founder who cut his teeth on the work of Fletcher Hanks and who really liked drawings of weiners and boobies.

Moynihan walks a fine line between "weird" and "incomprehensible" and between "clever" and "dumb," and manages to stay on the right side of it through almost every one of these bizarre, demented panels. I can't say that I've ever read anything quite like this (though it did call to mind the weirder bits of The Incal). I'm glad I did.

Forming is published by London's NOBROW, whose books are fantastically well-made, beautifully cloth-bound and printed on high-quality, sustainably produced paper (they also publish the much-more-kid-friendly Hilda comics). It's a quality product.

Forming (Amazon)

Forming (Nobrow)

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Otzi the Iceman and life after death

In Science Ink, Carl Zimmer's new book collecting photos of cool science tattoos and the stories behind them, there's a photo of a guy who got tattoos to match those found on Otzi, aka The Iceman, who died more than 5,000 years ago in the Italian Alps.

Mike Goldstein, the guy who got the tattoo, said the series of 10 simple lines arranged in groups of four, three, and three served to remind him that you don't have to be incredibly important during your lifetime in order to be important. "It reminds me that I can live however I want," he says in the book. "I don't have to work in an office or wear a tie, as are the expectations of our culture. I can walk across the Alps and die in a swamp, and that's OK."

I was reminded of that quote today, while reading my news stream. There's no evidence that Otzi was a particularly important figure to his culture. But here we are, thousands of years later, still debating the minutia of how he died. Emily Sohn writes about new Otzi research for Discover News:

...new analyses have revealed that a deep cut likely led to heavy bleeding in the man's eye. In the cold, high-altitude conditions where he was found, that kind of injury would have been tough to recover from.

The official opinion remains that an arrow in his left shoulder was the cause of death for Ötzi. But the new study raises the possibility -- for some, at least -- that he fell over after being shot by an arrow. And, at higher than 10,000 feet in elevation, his alpine fall may have made the situation much worse.

"Maybe he fell down or maybe he had a fight up there, nobody knows," said Wolfgang Recheis, a physicist in the radiology department at the University of Innsbruck in Austria. "With this cut alone, at 3,250 meters, it would have been a deadly wound up there. Bleeding to death in the late afternoon when it was getting cold up there, this could be really dangerous."

Granted, most of us have a better chance of making an impact after our deaths by helping other people during our lives. Or by donating our bodies to science. But it's still interesting to think about all that could happen to you thousands of years after you're gone.

Great Moments in Pedantry: The odds of your existence

What are the odds that you, as an individual, exist? Pretty good, you'd guess, since you're sitting right here reading this. But, in an abstract sense, the chances that you exist are really rather slim. In fact, once you see the full infographic, put together by futurist and designer Sofya Yampolsky of Visual.ly, I'm sure you'll be much more skeptical of your existence.

The infographic is based on this post by Dr. Ali Binazir.

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Free public service games for young people about sweatshops and death

My wife Alice quit her day job (commissioning public service games for the UK's Channel 4) in January to do a start-up, but some of the games she got underway are still coming out. Two new ones that are of particular interest are Sweatshop, a tower defense game that "highlights the abject horror and terrible exploitation of sweatshop factories – and the most dangerous enemy in the game is your own impulse to succeed"; and The End, a game about death, existentialism, and the afterlife, released into the increasingly atheist population of young Britain. All free, of course!