I’ve talked about Barron’s work quite often on this blog, and have been Twitter friends with him for a number of years — he is a great person and an amazing writer. His story The Redfield Girls, set in the real-life creepy setting of Lake Crescent, inspired me to blog about that lake’s history some years ago.
As someone who supports himself entirely through his writing and living in the United States, he is without health insurance and will therefore have to cover his medical expenses out of pocket.
The horror community has already rallied and contributed an impressive amount to his medical expenses, but more is needed, so if you’re able, please consider supporting the fundraiser for him.
I’ve been rather quiet the past week as I’ve been enjoying — and enduring — the holidays with my family. But the end of the year is approaching, and I thought I should do some sort of year-end wrap up. Why not, I thought, talk about some of the fun and quirky videogames I’ve played over the past year? Lots of unusual games have been coming out with unconventional art, game mechanics, and themes, a nice complement to the impressive but familiar AAA games that we see every year. So here’s a rundown on some of the games that caught my attention in 2022. Images are taken from the Steam pages of the games.
Immortality. This has been one of the highest-rated games of the entire year, and with good reason. It was developed by Sam Barlow, building on the design concepts of his earlier interactive film video game, Her Story (2015).
The starting premise is simple enough. An actress, Marissa Marcel, starred in three movies, made in 1968, 1970, and 1999, none of which were ever released, and Marcel’s fate is also unknown. Your task is to figure out what happened to Marcel and why her movies were never released. You have what amounts to a film spooler, and starting with just one movie clip, which you can move through forward and backward at will, you click on interesting objects in a scene, which unlocks new scenes that have some sort of symbolic connection. In this way, you can slowly piece together the tangled story.
At some point very soon in beginning the game, however, something very unexpected happens, and I was totally blown away when it did. Suddenly you find that there is a lot more to the story than you could possibly imagine, and that you, the viewer, may also be becoming part of the story.
The film clips are incredibly well-acted and filmed, and include scenes from the 3 fictional movies themselves as well as behind the scenes shots, screen tests, and more. As the game unfolds, you find that you are unraveling multiple stories layered on top of each other: the plots of the 3 movies, the story of Marissa Marcel, and a deeper, more sinister story that underlies it all.
The two leads Manon Gage and Charlotta Mohlin give excellent performances. The different scenes discovered range from unsettling, or even frightening, to deeply and profoundly moving.
Immortality has an “end game,” but it is likely that you won’t have exposed the full story by the time you reach it. Fortunately, you can keep searching, looking for that hidden clip that will make everything come together. I played 11 hours total.
Let’s recap four more old school Dungeons & Dragons threads that I’ve been posting to Twitter and Mastodon! No time to waste:
Death’s Ride (1984), by Garry Spiegle. This is one of those books that I have owned since I was a teen but curiously never really read in detail before!
Death’s Ride is the second in the CM series of modules, designed for the Companion Rules for D&D. The original Basic Set covered levels 1-3, Expert Set levels 4-14; The Companion Set covered levels 15-25.
One of the fun things about being a physicist is that occasionally you end up pondering some sort of everyday phenomenon that you’ve never thought about before and realize that you can explain it with some elementary physics! Some time ago I had one of these little epiphanies and thought I would share it.
Have you ever been out driving at night after a rain storm and found yourself constantly checking to see if your headlights are on, because they don’t look like they’re on? We can explain this very simply with a basic discussion of optical reflection.
First, we can ask: how to you normally notice that your headlights are on at night? If you’re right behind another car, or passing by a nearby road sign or other roadside feature, you can probably see the light from your headlights reflected back at you. But you can also see the reflection of your headlights from the road ahead of you.
In fact, because the pavement is a rough surface, the light from the headlights scatter in all directions when they collide with the road. This is what we call diffuse reflection, and it is the most common type of reflection you see. Most surfaces are not terribly smooth, and so the light hitting it scatters every which way. In the case of the car, some of the light from the headlights bounces back towards you, so you can see, indirectly, that your headlights are on.
But what about when it has rained? If there is enough water on the pavement, it fills in all the little crevices in the pavement, making it effectively a smooth surface, like a mirror. Then you get the elementary case of what is referred to as specular reflection, where the angle of reflection is equal to the angle of incidence . This means that nearly all the light from the headlights ends up being directed forward, away from the car, and you don’t see any light on the pavement ahead of you.
Since we’re so used to being able to see some light reflected back on dry nights, we might doublecheck to see if our headlights are on!
Of course, if it is actively raining while you’re driving, you’ll often see light scattered off the raindrops themselves, which is why I have stressed that this is an effect that you see soon after it has rained.
Pretty sure this explanation makes sense, though I’ve never seen anyone talk about it before! It’s a nice little example of how a little bit of physics knowledge can often illuminate things you see in daily life (no pun intended).
Postscript: This also gives you an idea of why stealth aircraft are designed to have flat surfaces! Ordinary aircraft, with round bodies, tend to reflect radar waves in all directions, including back to radar defense systems, making them easy to track. Stealth aircraft, with their mostly flat surfaces, tend to reflect radar waves only in the specular direction, which is very unlikely to be in the location of a radar detector!
As readers of this blog know, I’ve been doing #OldSchoolDungeonsAndDragons Twitter threads for several years now, but every once in a while I talk about an old product that is too significant to cover in a short tweet thread! Back in 2019, I did an ode to the Tomb of Horrors; now, it’s time to do an ode to The Temple of Elemental Evil, since I just reread it!
Just look at that amazing cover art, which tells you you’re in for a wild ride:
That amazing cover art is by the late great Keith Parkinson, and I can’t think of any other module cover art that is simultaneously very sinister and nevertheless inviting!
Have you ever remembered a book that you read as a child that you were curious to read again but you can’t remember the name of the book or the author or even enough detail to track it down? That was my dilemma for a few years, as I remembered reading a series of fantasy novels in grade school, one of which featured an evil skeletal horse. Initial efforts to track it down were unsuccessful, as depending on the wording you use on an internet search you either find skeletal horses from Minecraft or the Mari Lwyd from South Wales:
About six months ago, however, by some dumb luck I finally found what I was looking for: The Dark Is Rising sequence, five novels written by British author Susan Cooper from 1965 to 1977. The first book, Over Sea, Under Stone, was written much earlier than the others, in 1965; I opted to begin my re-read with the second book, The Dark Is Rising, which was originally published in 1973:
This was the young adult fantasy series to read of my generation; everyone I knew in grade school got around to reading it at some point! But would it hold up for an adult reader?
As I’ve said a number of times, the pandemic really destroyed my ability to read, and now that I’ve achieved some sense of mental stability again I’m working to catch up on a bunch of the books that I just hadn’t had the energy to read.
This includes science books as well as fiction, and recently I decided to dive into Consider the Platypus (2019), a book by one of my Twitter friends Maggie Ryan Sandford!
This book is a fun exploration of evolution and all its modern developments, told through the descriptions of a variety of animals, from relatively mundane creatures such as cows, dogs and cats to truly unusual beasts such as axolotl, hoatzin and the titular platypus.
It’s been a while since I did some Old School Dungeons & Dragons on Twitter, but I’ve finally gotten myself back into the rhythm! (I am now also posting the threads on Mastodon, given the instability of Twitter.) Hopefully I’ll keep up the routine. So let’s get started…
X10: Red Arrow, Black Shield (1985), by Michael S. Dobson. This is one I wanted to get my hands on some time ago!
The author of Skulls in the Stars is a professor of physics, specializing in optical science, at UNC Charlotte. The blog covers topics in physics and optics, the history of science, classic pulp fantasy and horror fiction, and the surprising intersections between these areas.