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Book Review – Lovecraft Country

61gn-jq7-ql-_sx328_bo1204203200_Lovecraft Country, by Matt Ruff, is an interesting book, both in concept and execution. Taking place in America, 1954, we follow the Turner family as they deal with racism and the supernatural threats that plague them. Throughout the book, we start realizing that one of those is much easier to deal with than the other.

We start with Atticus Turner, a young, black man simply trying to drive up North. Along the way, he’s pulled over for driving while black and there’s always the looming sense of dread just from the embedded racism that he’s trying to avoid. Eventually, he heads to Massachusetts to find his missing father and things start getting more eerie.

Now, I thought about saying, “Things start getting more Lovecraftian” but that wouldn’t be acute. See, all the racism that Atticus deals with while driving is already Lovecraftian, as the influential author was quite a bigot. When a white police officer threatens to shoot a black man if he doesn’t get out of town by sundown, that’s Lovecraft, even if he never wrote such scenes. When monsters and ghosts start showing up, they seem rather mundane to all the racial tension and, sometimes, almost act as a relief.

It’s relieving to deal with the supernatural because it’s not real. I know, for the most part, that I don’t have to worry about ghosts and inter-dimensional beings. I know that. But, in the real world, racism and bigotry are very much alive. As a country, we used to worry about witches and now’s it’s part of our history, but the hate and ignorance that permeates Lovecraft Country is part of our present. Ruff uses the supernatural as a hook to get readers who might not want to confront these issues.

In the book, ghosts can be reasoned with, monsters are indifferent. These scary, immortal threats might not be rational, as Lovecraft often had characters go insane when confronted with them, but in way, they act rational. Some feed, some kill, some of them are just lonely. But, they’re beyond petty things like hatred for different races. Racism, when compared to the threats beyond our own world, becomes the irrational.

Now, I had trouble getting into this book for two reasons. First, the stress of reading about a black family in the 50s was enough to make for slow, uneasy reading. Second, the book is told in parts. I couldn’t find a pace while reading because the first chapter is actually the first short story. Eventually, when I started realizing how the book was laid out, I found my rhythm and was able to cruise through the novel. Considering that Lovecraft mostly wrote short stories himself, you’d think I would have figured that out sooner.

In the process, the book became less creepy and more of an interesting cross between Lovecraft and The Twilight Zone. I didn’t find the overarching plot that connected the chapters to be that compelling, though the resolution is fun and brings all the different elements together. The individual stories, however, are memorable. Each follows a different member of the Turner family and shows a different aspect of 50s America and the supernatural elements of Ruff’s world. There’s talk of Lovecraft Country becoming a movie, but it  could make for a great HBO or Netflix anthology series.

I had started this for Halloween and it wasn’t a bad choice for the holiday, but it might let some people down if they’re looking for straight horror. Really, it’s more acute to call it urban fantasy, as nothing in it is much scarier than what you would find in a Jim Butcher book.  But, for a great example of how fantasy and science fiction can be a mirror into our world, how it can be a commentary on prejudices and our own faults, Lovecraft Country is easily recommendable.

On Bookcases, Comics and Board Games

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Use the reference puppy to scale the room.

It’s amazing what twenty dollars will do.

A week or so ago, I was in a very productive mood. I had my wife’s car tuned up, got my haircut, when grocery shopping and had earned some points on Shopkick. I also stopped at Target and bought a bookcase for twenty dollars. But that changed everything!

See, I wanted to move my six long boxes of comic books out of our dinning area. They were just sitting there; old, white dirty boxes filled with comics that never get read. But to move them, I had to buy a bookcase because we were using the boxes as shelf space. But, in order to fit all the boxes in my bedroom, I had to shrink the number down.

Anyway, moving the boxes out and putting the new shelves in meant more room in the dinning area, so we moved to the guinea pigs to the corner of that area and moved a bookcase from there to that now free space, spun the table around… Look, how we did it doesn’t matter. The point is, both the living and dinning rooms feel like they have more space.

Shrinking the comic boxes was not easy. I have a lot of single issues in them and I’ve promised myself to never willingly get rid of any X-Men comics, which make up about half of them. I was able, however, to get rid of a box and half, which meant they fit along my side of the bedroom now. Not as many as I wanted to go, but I’ll take what I can get.

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Still in there, but not so much in the way.

Actually, what I can get is some pretty hefty store credit. I took the comics to the Friendly Local Gaming Store we have in town and because of certain series, I got more money back than I expected. And paying bills was the last thing I would want to do with the money I got from selling those single issue pieces of my soul. I get it, it wasn’t very responsible. I’ve moved on, so let us do so here.

Now we talk about board games.

So, the past year I’ve been reading/watching everything on Shut Up and Sit Down and they’ve really turned me on to the modern board game scene. I’m not sure how I missed the beginnings of this (it’s probably due to the fact that when it was starting, I was playing lots of video games and Dungeons and Dragons, and then starting college), but now that I know it’s a thing, I want in. I always thought that Risk was the pinnacle of board games and that Settlers of Catan was the last great new game.

Color me surprised (which I would think is a shade of red) when I find out there are great new games coming out every month. For me, it started when I was at Barnes and Noble, doing some holiday shopping and I wandered over to the board game section of the store. Normally, the prices and my lack of familiarity kept me from staying long, but something caught my eye. It was called Forbidden Island, it came in a tin and it had some gorgeous art of the cover. It was also only fifteen dollars. When I brought it home, Kendra and I had a really fun time playing, it being my first cooperative game as well.

Later, I grabbed the ten dollar game, Love Letter, which has been a hit with us as well. Now, I want them all (I can’t have them all). But I have begun my (our) collection. Kendra and I both agreed to buy the Firefly board game a while back and it was fun, if also long, but I think we’ll have a better time when we play again knowing the rules. After I finished writing my book, we celebrated by buy a new game, this time it was Castles of Burgundy. Two things about that game, besides it being fun. First, it was in Barnes and Noble’s discount section for eighteen dollars, which made it a steal. Second, neither Kendra or I can call it anything but Castles of Ron Burgundy. We just can’t.

I got some birthday money a few months ago, which I used to buy Zombies!!! and Dixit. We haven’t played Dixit yet, since it needs at least three people, but I can’t wait. Coming up with creative descriptions for weird art? Yes, please. Kendra doesn’t want to play Zombies with me, because she’s afraid of the undead. And losing! I also found Carcassonne on sale and that’s a lot of fun.

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Store credit!

Back to the store credit. So, I used my comic book earnings to get some of the higher end and pricey games I’ve been wanting for a while. I picked up Ticket to Ride, which I like and Kendra’s been wanting it for a while. It’s definitely a good introduction game for people who just want to stick with Monopoly or Sorry. I got 7 Wonders, which I can’t wait to try with a full seven people someday, but also because I love building civilization that come with beautiful artwork.

I also bought Letters from Whitechapel, which is a game where when player is Jack the Ripper and the rest of are inspectors trying to catch his secret movements. The other bigger game was Eldritch Horror and even though I don’t love Lovecraft, the game hits a mark for me. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s a cooperative game that you usually lose at, or the fact that you’re paranormal investigator’s traveling the world. Maybe it’s the fact that I want to like Lovecraft and this game does that without making me read dry stories that don’t always work. Maybe it’s because the components are so pretty. We may never know.

The last two game I want to mention are microgames. The first is One Night Ultimate Werewolf, which is a hidden roles game like Mafia, but smarter, quicker and with Werewolves. The second is The Resistance: Avalon, which is a Camalot-themed game of hidden roles and mission, where you’re trying to figure out who’s on which team, and who might be Merlin, and who might know who Merlin is but is a spy… it’s great. Both games are three to ten players, so you can guess what I’m bringing to holiday get-togethers now.

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Goodbye closet space!

I’m not buying anymore for a while, or at least until Christmas, but I will be slowing down with them anyway. For one thing, they take up a lot of closet space, which is why I had to rearrange the closet! Also, just because I have the game, that doesn’t mean I have the people to play them. I’ve been using Meetup to find gaming groups, and I’ve been to some and they are fun. Kendra’s going to actually come to one next week. It also showed me where there is swing dancing in Jacksonville, so that’s another thing we’ll be doing soon.

The thing I’m trying to do, by prayer and sheer force of will, is meet people with similar interest. It’s one thing to meet someone and make an acquaintance, it’s another to meet someone who wants to play a game like Eldritch Horror, or watch a Mystery Science Theater episode, or roleplay or anything like that. For a while, I thought it was selfish to want that, since I should be happy with being able to talk to anybody. But I need to game. It’s in my blood. I need to have fun in these specific ways or I start to get bored and depressed. I know life isn’t about fun and games all the time, but I need it regularly or I start to get like Jack Nicholson.

So, hopefully, I’ll know people by name at these game meetups soon. Hopefully, I’ll have people over for game and movie nights, that don’t involve Apples to Apples and Sandra Bullock.

Anyway, the point of the blog is that twenty dollars is a great price for a bookcase.