Weekly Recap: Indie Video Games & Erik Larson

Weekly Recap: Indie Video Games & Erik Larson


Video Games: Unfinished Swan

Indie game Unfinished Swan is available free this month if you have a PS+ subscription. This is a wonderful, short, artistic game. There was far more detail, originality, and difficulty than I had expected. The story itself is linear but doesn’t make a ton of sense. It is set in the first person; you are a little boy following a random swan around this drawing world.

The game play changes each level and all of it is fun. I thought the entire game would be about paint splatters but they did a good job at really making each level different. Some don’t involve paint at all. But all involve light and contrast. It really is beautiful.

You can’t really die in the game. If you go where you’re not supposed to, you just come back to a near-by checkpoint. Also, saving only happens when you actually reach the end of a level. The first time I played it, I quit after reaching the first Storybook, and was disappointed to find I had to start over because it didn’t save.

This is more of an exploratory game than a puzzle, platformer, or shooter. Definitely unique style and wonderful artwork. I really recommend this one.

Books: Dead Wake by Erik Larson

Erik Larson is most known for Devil in the White City. His narrative non-fiction take on the serial killer H.H. Holmes at the Chicago World’s Fair. That book is fantastic. Larson did his research and it shows. He includes mundane yet interesting facts about the fair, Chicago, and the world at this time. At the same time, he builds tension surrounding Holmes’s behavior. It never felt dull.

Since I love history, I really was looking forward to reading his latest Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania. I have read many World War II books but not as many books on the first war. I do know all about the context of the sinking of the Lusitania and what it meant for the US’s involvement. Typically I find these types of stories interesting.

At 100-pages in, I’m considering bailing on this one. Larson goes way off the scope here with extraneous mundane details. Some of it is interesting. Like, that President Wilson was extremely depressed after his wife died. So much that he walked around Manhattan hoping to be assassinated. But… that has nothing to do with the Lusitania.

Larson gives us the life stories of several passengers. None of them are interesting. There isn’t a main character so we never develop emotions for anyone. And for some it just goes on for pages. At least this is slightly more related to the Lusitania.

The weaving of random facts that have a very tiny thread linking them reminds me a lot of a Bill Bryson book. Specifically, One Summer: America, 1927. Bryson took a specific year and wrote about a whole lot of various things that happened in that time period. It is all over the place. It seems that is what Larson was trying to do here. Unfortunately, ships are pretty well-contained. Unlike a huge event like the World’s Fair, a ship is pretty routine. There is a small crew. There weren’t that many passengers. Because of this, Larson has to write a lot of filler to make this full book length. He includes lots of information about events happening around the same time as the Lusitania sinking. But those have nothing to do with the actual event. This isn’t the type of book I want to read.

Without a main character, it is really difficult to care about the fate of the ship. Especially since we all know what happens. There is zero tension. And zero emotional connection. It’s more like Larson is practicing the “spray and pray” mentality of writing a hundred thousand random facts and hoping we find at least one of them interesting.


2 Replies to “Weekly Recap: Indie Video Games & Erik Larson”

  1. Yeah I felt like the Woodrow Wilson stuff was so far away from the actual story, and it took away from the other story threads. It isn’t like the sinking of the Lusitania made America even enter the war, it was almost two years later in April 1917 before that happened.

    I also think even though it is on a boat, there is a cast of thousands – there were nearly 2,000 people on board the boat, and as a writer how do you pick which people to follow?

    But with all that said, I did feel like this was an important book and it was very timely with just this past weekend being 100 years since it happened. I did think it was good overall but not having read any of his books before I did not come into it with any expectations. I do intend to read The Devil in the White City, too.

    Having just read Trapped Under The Sea the week before, which was like a deeply thrilling story as told to you by the most fascinating person you know sitting next to you and telling you the story in a very strong and clear voice, even though there were many people involved and at one point – one chapter was called memo wars and Neil Swidey made even that part of the story plus contract disputes incredibly compelling. I would not have believed it possible. ;)

    1. I think Erik Larson was trying to sound casual but his voice is fairly formal. Based on your comment, I read the opening pages of Trapped Under the Sea and Swidey is very casual. A bit too much for me, actually. But that story does sound very interesting. I’m glad I’m not the only one who thought Larson was a bit off base with Dead Wake. You will love Devil in the White City though – his style of writing works much better in a narrative format.

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