Review of Nick Suttner’s SHADOW OF THE COLOSSUS

Shadow of the Colossus
Nick Suttner. Boss Fight Books, $14.95 paperback (194p) ISBN: 978-1-940535-10-4 

Boss Fight Books is killing it. Since its launch (and incredibly successful Kickstarter campaign) in 2013, Gabe Durham and his team have released an impressive slate of titles, all critical and personal explorations of video games. Their tenth title, Shadow of the Colossus by Nick Suttner, is a deft balance of the game’s creation story, gameplay description, context within the gaming industry, and Suttner’s personal relationship with the game. Suttner is working with prime source material, an acclaimed, beloved, and emotionally resonant game that, as he makes clear, remains singular among its peers even in the decade since its release. Suttner’s nearly reverent attention to detail, combined with the game’s inherent fascination, makes for a compelling read.

Shadow of the Colossus is a game that relies heavily on its visuals; in a game with little dialogue and relatively few gameplay elements and characters, it is the vistas of the Forbidden Lands and the varied, towering Colossi that give it much of its power. This could be a handicap for Suttner, but his obvious devotion and attention to the game through multiple playthroughs makes him a more than able guide, painting pictures for the reader of the many natural spaces the game’s playable character, Wander, travels, as well as the Colossi themselves. His descriptions will have anyone not familiar with the game’s design rushing to Google. Suttner also takes great care with the emotional journey of Wander’s story, illustrating well the conflicted nature of the game—Wander’s quest to save Mono versus the increasingly bitter task of taking down the Colossi. His walkthrough of the game’s story should appeal both to those already familiar with the game and those who haven’t played it. (Though if you are unaware of the story’s conclusion, be warned. He takes the reader all the way through the game’s finale.)

Interview with the author: Nick Suttner

Taylor Breslin interviews author Nick Suttner about his book Shadow of the Colossus, available now from Boss Fight Books.

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Taylor Breslin: You describe the experience of playing Shadow of the Colossus with such care and feeling. What aspects of the game do you think make it such an effective emotional experience for the player? Are there any other games that have produced a similar reaction/attachment for you?

Nick Suttner: Thanks very much for saying so! I think Team Ico’s games are so emotionally affecting in large part due to the subtlety with which they approach their narratives. The overt story elements are minimal (even lonely at times), and instead of asking the player to care about the tale that they’re weaving, they simply ask the player to be curious to fill in the gaps with an imagined history or wonder themselves what the relationships between their characters are. I feel that the best videogames are about mystery and discovery, and Team Ico’s games have that in mind constantly and holistically. The only other games that have produced a similar reaction at times would be Journey and Flower from thatgamecompany, experiences also focused on mystery and wonderment, with a similar naturalist beauty at their core.

TB: How did the experience of doing such in-depth research and critical evaluation of the game impact your impression of it, if at all? Was it strange to come at a game you love from the angle of a book-length study?

NS: Surprisingly it was never really strange for me. I’ve always felt like I had so much to say about SotC since it informs my relationship to videogames so much, so writing the book was as much a matter of extracting it from my brain and organizing it, as anything. Replaying it with a critical eye made me appreciate it more than ever though, it’s just so different from any other game or entertainment experience. I’m really glad that taking a somewhat academic approach towards the experience didn’t taint my love for it, or I might have had to stop in the middle!

Review of (AFTER) Life: Poems and Stories of the Dead

(AFTER) Life: Poems and Stories of the Dead
Anthology. Edited by Renee M. Schell, Barbara Froman, Marta Svea Wallien. Purple Passion Press, $15.95 paperback (106p) ISBN:
978-1-61170-212-5

(AFTER) Life: Poems and Stories of the Dead, Purple Passion Press' first anthology, is an exploration of the unknown. Far from being morbid, this collaborative work is a tribute to the departed, an acceptance of human fragility and ultimately a declaration of our ability to live in spite of death.
     In the editor's note, Renee M. Schell relates the profound sense of shared loss she experienced in the aftermath of a dear friend's baby boy being stillborn. Schell goes on to say, "A year after the death of her son - almost to the day - she gave birth to a second son, who lived. The decision she and her husband made to have a second child testifies to human resilience. And this resilience, I believe, reflects our need to believe in life over death."
     The varying styles of prose and poetry in this anthology serve as a reminder that we are united in the human experience. That is to say, whatever our individual backgrounds, we will all - in one way or another - come face to face with mortality and loss.
     Each of the fifty-one succinct poems and concise stories range in approach and perspective. From Bri Bruce's strong poetic imagery which captures the sense of loss so poignantly, to Shaun Avery's tragic, yet amusing story ‘Grave Diggers’ to Vuong Quoc Vu's elegantly written poems, this accumulative work reminds us that we are alive and ought to live accordingly.

Review of Ben Tanzer’s Sex and Death

Sex and Death
Ben Tanzer. Sunnyoutside Press, $13 paperback (72p) ISBN: 9781934513507


            I’ve been a fan of Ben Tanzer’s short fiction ever since I read his pop-culture guide to parenting and fatherhood, Lost in Space, released in 2014. With his latest collection, Sex and Death, a pocket-sized collection of flash and short fiction ruminations on, you guessed it, sex and death, among other modern problems, I was expecting more of the same sharp witticism and deadpan delivery that posited why having Darth Vader for a dad could create father-son issues. The comic element is certainly present in Sex and Death, but there is a ringing poignancy in this nine-story collection that allows Tanzer’s breadth and depth as a cultural commentator to shine in ways that I hadn’t seen before. Without sacrificing any of the up-to-the-moment references and raw humor, Sex and Death offers uncensored blips of human consciousness that speak more deeply to the human condition. It’s a tightrope act that Ben Tanzer pulls off effortlessly.
            The stories are linked most obviously by their commentaries and reflections on sex. From awkward first times, to awkward first talks, from affairs to fantasies to Facebook, each story centers on some aspect of our usually earnest, but often fumbling, attempts to navigate the sexual landscape. More than the obvious themes, however, the stories fall seamlessly upon one another by Tanzer’s ever-present second person narration, bringing the reader right into the story. In the opening of “He’s Gone,” Tanzer demands that we are the woman of the story about to confront her dead husband’s mistress:

“It starts off as a fantasy. You are drinking your coffee. And you think you will confront her… You will be civil, classy, you will be an adult.”

Review of Jessica Goodfellow’s Mendeleev’s Mandala

Mendeleev’s Mandala
Jessica Goodfellow. Mayapple Press, $15.95 paperback (100p) ISBN: 978-1-936419-49-4

Jessica Goodfellow’s second book, Mendeleev’s Mandala, is an impressively full collection of work, connected in theme and tone but widely ranging in form. The book is well-paced and well-divided, and the poems stand strong as individual works while functioning as a cohesive and complete journey. “Journeyis an appropriate term because Mendeleev’s Mandala begins and ends in transit, and the pieces in between are of people lacking homes, physical or emotional. From the opening poem, “The Problem with Pilgrims”:

The problem with pilgrims is they can go home, but you already are.

And, later:

The problem with pilgrims is now you are one.


Review of Selah Saterstrom’s SLAB

Slab
Selah Saterstrom. Coffee House Press, $16.95 paperback (186p) ISBN: 978-1-56689-395-4

There are only so many instances in the world where people like Barbara Walters and a stripper who dresses up like Helen Keller will ever exist simultaneously. Not only do these two disparate entities coexist in Slab, Selah Saterstrom’s latest from Coffee House Press, but they do so in amazing, entertaining ways.
     One of the first things you notice about Slab is that it isn’t a typical novel. Readers are given what amounts to stage directions and some “previous scenes” before learning that Tiger, the protagonist, is standing on a slab—all that’s left of a house in Mississippi. This is her stage and from here, Tiger is going to tell her story. We learn about some of the other “players” (such as Champ and Preacher, who both play a role later on in the novel), but the majority of the book is Tiger telling her story.

Review of Robert James Russell's MESILLA

Mesilla
Robert James Russell. Dock Street Press, $18 paperback (116p) ISBN: 9780991065745

There are no heroes in Mesilla—a quick and punchy western in which men make choices, some good, most bad—nor is there a shortage of bullets whizzing past. The story follows Everett who has been shot in the leg and is being hunted by a former pal and partner named George. After stumbling upon a dead miner and a hefty lump of silver, he sets out toward Mesilla, New Mexico intent on getting fixed up and starting anew. Along the way he wrestles with bad memories and real-life Apaches. He bleeds and sweats and shoots. He rescues a young woman named Erin and together they press onward. Author Russell keeps a perfect balance of grand imagery and hangman’s tension, and things culminate in a gritty and satisfying way. A simple story of pursued and pursuer wrapped in lush and stirring detail, Mesilla offers a great way to gallop through an easy afternoon with some cowboy coffee or a slug of whiskey. (September 2015)

Purchase Mesilla HERE.

Reviewer bio: Mel Bosworth is the author of the novel Freight and co-author with Ryan Ridge of the short story collection Camouflage Country. Visit him at melbosworth.com