Entries by Kenneth

All Quiet

Paste Magazine | Two Views of All Quiet on the Western Front

My latest from Paste Magazine is a look at the two major adaptations of All Quiet on the Western Front, in honor of the century that now separates us from World War I.

The Great War is a kind of subject of fascination for me, because it really is the height of folly. It’s everything we all hate about humanity, and the terrible people who we agree to allow to lead us. It was so bad that we don’t tolerate any kind of true monarchy anymore. It made the heads of state realize that if we didn’t agree to specifically pull our punches, we could end humanity. I think those of us who ponder these things really look back at it and feel afraid that we didn’t truly learn anything from it. This was a difficult viewing for me, especially the 1930 version I detail in the article, blissfully ignorant as it is of just how terrifying the scenes of dumb, eager white boys gleefully signing up to wear fancy uniforms for no real reason would look a scant six or seven years later.

A really great video series on the debacle that led up to the war comes to us courtesy of Extra Credits, and you should totally watch the whole four-part series.

Death Bed is a thing

Paste Magazine: Bad Movie Diaries, by Jim Vorel and Kenneth Lowe | Death Bed: The Bed That Eats

Jim Vorel is a good friend and now a year-long collaborator with me at Paste Magazine, where he was kind enough to help me get a foot in the door way back in 2015. Since last year, we’ve been working together on “Bad Movie Diaries,” in which we chat back and forth about truly terrible films.

Jim is a true connoisseur of bad movies, with an encyclopedic knowledge of them I’ll never be able to match. Our combined film knowledge is hopefully edifying and entertaining to folks. I’ll start posting more of these here. This one is a particular doozy: Strange Gothic trappings, ridiculous scenarios, incompetent camera work, and an utter failure even to capitalize on the exploitation they were clearly going for, maybe. Also the bed gets indigestion and drinks Pepto Bismol at one point. I’m not even making that up.

We are the dead

Soldats Inconnus. | Promotional image courtesy of Ubisoft.

“In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae at poetryfoundation.org

I don’t cry very often. This isn’t a brag or anything, I just don’t. But, as I prepare an article on All Quiet on the Western Front‘s cinematic adaptations, I think about the century that has passed since the Great War ended November 11, 1918, and I made the mistake of remembering and seeking out “In Flanders Fields,” the poem by John McCrae that has been set to music.

It gets me every time.

You should be reading Pete Nickeas

The Foundation: 006 | Blessed Are The Peacemakers

My friend Peter Nickeas, a stalwart reporter at the Chicago Tribune, has been covering crime and violence in the city for years. I won’t say he’s tireless because I think he’d dispute that he is. Among one of the many reasons he inspires the admiration of most people he meets is that he’s candid about the toll his work takes on him. Besides admiring his work, I attest to him being an all-around good guy. You should check out his writing.

Gato negro

If I’m not on Facebook anymore, I want to take time to celebrate the things in life that I otherwise would post there, but in a way that is better suited to this blog of mine. I went through my pics and remembered this fluffy moment. This handsome gato is Napoleon. He is the sleekest and blackest of cats. He looks like he wandered out of the Wakandan ancestral plane. He is, without any doubt, my girlfriend Katharine’s actual god damn witch’s familiar.

Napoleon possesses a grace and dignity (and indignant reaction to being manhandled) that really read as being human. He wandered out of the wilderness into Katharine’s life when she was leaving in the mysterious East, and he made the journey with her to Illinois. He is an outdoor cat and will be no other thing as long as he lives. He does not strictly belong to her, as I say to the children – he really just comes and goes as he pleases, occasionally deigning to privilege us with his presence. The kids are deeply bemused that I insist on maintaining that he is, in fact, a wizard who has chosen the form of a cat.

(“Do wizards drink out of the toilet?” asked Katharine’s youngest, without skipping a beat.)

I will relate one story which I think sums him up perfectly, besides the picture, in which he is simply sitting on my notebook in protest, demanding affection. I was approaching Katharine’s house in the dark on foot not long ago. It was temperate outdoors and quiet, and a good night for the short walk over there. The neighbors have a porch light which clicks on when the motion sensor detects somebody moving along the driveway. It was pitch black out, and as I walked up the driveway, that light came on and, boom, there was Napoleon at my heel, as if he’d just appeared there by magic. He’ll often slink out of the bushes two or three houses down the block and trot along to accompany me to the house, or the girls home from the school that is literally right around the corner.

Katharine says that if ever there was a cat who looked like more than a cat – a powerful mage in disguise, or a trickster god – that cat would look like Napoleon. He really has made me see why the oldest stories shroud cats in mystery.

Yup, I quit Facebook

See you around, kid. | Photo illustration by Sean Kelly.

If you’re just joining me here on my blog, it might be because I spoke about it in my very last post on Facebook.

I made the decision to leave after some long deliberation and some consideration of how it would seem to people. In Red Planet, Heinlein introduces us to the martian species, and one thing about their culture is that withdrawing from everybody is cause for concern. They can roll themselves up into balls, basically shun the entire world. It’s a statement that says they don’t even want to acknowledge you’re there. It’s the ultimate rudeness. It’s a warning sign, like finding out somebody listens to Alex Jones.

So, that’s not how I want to look. But also, like, I’m sick of Facebook. It actively harms discourse and democracy, it has annihilated the news business, and it won’t implement a night mode for fuck’s sake.

At the same time, now I’ve quit it, I realize how integral it’s become to my life. I am going to need to reach out to all the people on it that I otherwise would not have kept up with. Some people I will lose touch with entirely because, if I’m honest, I didn’t care enough to keep up with them apart from through Facebook, which trades on its ability to make those little moments easy to trumpet to everybody you’ve ever tangentially known. I realize I will miss other people’s moments, too.

People got by without that in the past though, didn’t they? They went to high school reunions, they picked up a phone, they sent a letter and hoped the address hadn’t changed. I’ve resolved to try to do more of that. I used to send people a sort of email newsletter, back before Facebook.

This will mean that I get less validation from people when I have one of the little successes in life. When my father died last year, lots of people knew about it because of Facebook, and sent me condolences. When I get a new job or publish another article, a few likes come in.

And then, of course, there was my magnum opus: The two-year-long campaign I mounted to basically post about nothing but why people should vote out Bruce Rauner, the now governor-un-elect of Illinois. I’m really not going to be sorry to see that guy leave office. This was a joke I hammered so far into the ground that I surfaced at the point between Perth and Madagascar that is Springfield, Illinois’s antipode. Some people loved it. Some (Republican) people on my friends list probably hated it. I will publish it here whenever Facebook bothers to give me my god-shitting data – asked for it days ago.

I am “on” Twitter, but there’s no good reason to keep up the same stuff there, really. My messages are all public (they are here, too), and I could say something that gets me fired from writing a comic book, I guess.

Faced with a lack of that kind of easy conduit to just blabber bullshit, I have to reach out to people individually. And that is my goal in doing this, beyond being a nasty old crank who just can’t stand heaving a sigh and staying addicted to the scroll. I’ll need to write a letter, make a phone call, send a text, compose an email.

I will also write here more often (I promise). People compliment me on my writing and tell me it is witty, or funny, or the kind of angry they need to hear. That’s nice of them. But it’s also a performance where I can’t be entirely genuine for fear of offending this person or that institution. I’m old now, and don’t care to be anything but candid when I actually bother to sit down and write stuff.

Asking everybody to come here when they already have a place to go is being difficult. I’m sorry about that. But you know, I didn’t ask for Facebook, and over the years have tried to leave it before, and every time I’m dragged back. Perhaps I will be again, but I don’t want to be.

Anyway. See you around.

Presenting: Half Life 3!

So here I am, a whole year later. My father died Oct. 24, 2017, just as I was in the midst of the itch.io “Epistle 3” game jam. It was running until Halloween 2017, inviting anybody with any gaming know-how whatsoever to do a fan game based on Marc Laidlaw’s cheeky blog post entitled “Epistle 3.” Laidlaw was one of the lead writers on the Half Life game series, which, it has largely been speculated in light of more than a decade without a sequel and the departure of the people most interested in making it, is pretty much dead. Laidlaw’s blog post essentially spells out, with gender-swapped characters and knockoff concepts, the next chapter in the series as he would have liked to have made it.

Even with his disclosure, it remains basically incomplete, ending on another cliffhanger. I incorporated the main story beats and decided to make a text adventure game, since that’s all I’m capable of making, really. I have a terrible habit of not following through on projects that I start, and there’s also a very real part of me that’s bitter about my father’s death throwing yet one more thing into chaos. So I buckled down this weekend and I just plowed through it, figuring out what the old, frayed ends of code meant that I’d left dormant for a year, finding them and repairing them, making them work. Read more…

How a tabletop gaming framework can (and cannot) help you write a character

By Ramdlon: https://pixabay.com/en/users/Ramdlon-710044/

I’ve managed to get back into actual gaming again, as in tabletop roleplaying, where I am not the DM. It’s a pastime which I’ve missed. I’m enjoying the campaigns I’m in fairly well, but mostly I’m glad to have gotten back to thinking up and inhabiting a character again. What I’m reminded of is how the process of making an RPG character both can and cannot help you as you consider how to create a character for a fictional work.

Players in campaigns I run tell me they like my characters and stories and scenarios. I know that creating a character for a new game can seem daunting when you’ve got the books in front of you, so here’s some of my wisdom on how to go about it. Read more…

A running transcript of the story of King Arthur, as told by me to a sick 7-year-old (with her questions paraphrased)

King Arthur by Charles Ernest Butler. Public domain.

“It was a very long time ago in a faraway kingdom called… England.”

I know about England!

“Well, it was different back then than it is now. It was a thousand years ago. There was no electricity or airplanes or car insurance. There weren’t even any laws.”

She’s very surprised by this.

No laws?

“No. The only law was what the warlords said was the law. There wasn’t even really a king, because if somebody said he was king, every other warlord would argue with him and fight him with their big armies. The warlords could do and say whatever they wanted and nobody could stop them.”

There were no police?
“There were no police at all. The warlords were the ones who enforced whatever they said the law was in their little corner of the country, and if they were jerks about it, nobody could say anything. If they decided they didn’t like somebody, they could kill him for no reason. If they decided they wanted something somebody had, they could just steal it. And there were no courts to punish them.”

She’s really surprised by no courts or judges. Read more…

Getting over despair the Dark way

Good lord, the news is depressing. Crushing. Utterly infuriating. It’s exhausting even to peruse headlines these days.

It’s odd that, in the midst of such persistent gloom, I’ve retreated to playing some of the absolute most crushingly depressing games. Dark Souls 3 and Darkest Dungeon are games that openly antagonize you – games that layer mechanic atop mechanic and, once you’ve learned those mechanics, they throw you a curve ball. I am, in the middle of the above video, outraged to find that an update has apparently added a “stealth” mechanic to certain enemies in Darkest Dungeon.

But, as you’ll see above, just as they introduced it, I quickly discovered the ways to circumvent it and destroy such enemies inside of a few turns. There’s always hope.

I also, stupidly, watched Devilman Crybaby on Netflix, which is just not advisable if you don’t want to become a crybaby yourself. It is simultaneously so-dumb-it’s-brilliant anime and a sobering reflection on the dark tendencies of humanity. As in, what you don’t need right now.

It’s why I’ve retreated to so much myth lately, I think, as I did in my latest for Paste magazine, which I’m proud of.

I’m going to defeat Darkest Dungeon, guys. It mocks me. It digs its claws into me. But I beat TWO bosses just sitting down last night, after months of throwing the game aside. You’ve just got to work through the fear, trust that you know what you’re doing, stay frosty, and don’t give up hope.