Thursday Recommendation: Asimov’s Science Fiction, September/October Issue (Part 1 of 2)

Ah, Asimov’s. Doubtless, one of the best known science fiction magazines in America, perhaps the world. I’ve been subscribed to the e-mag for exactly one year now, and it’s been nothing short of a delight every issue I’ve read. I rarely read all of the magazine before the next one comes out, but I make the effort — hopefully, I’ll get a couple of weeks sometime, enough to read every single issue of the last year of Asimov’s, uninterrupted. That’s pretty close to happiness right there, folks.

At any rate, in this post, I am going to take a few minutes to give you a short synopsis of the four novelettes in the September/October 2017 issue of Asimov’s. They’re really good, and worth your time. Worth mine, as well–or I wouldn’t be going the extra mile to recommend them to y’all!

Wind Will Rove by Sarah Pinsker, is a story about a generation seedship; if you’re unfamiliar with the concept, the generation ship is a hypothetical type of arc ship that takes hundreds or even thousands of years to reach its target; its original passengers and crew pass down the knowledge to their children and so on and so forth, until some far-removed descendants reach their ancestors’ dreamlands.

In Wind Will Rove, collective memory and knowledge are put under question after a tragedy led to the ship’s loss of all of Earth’s media databases — books, movies, video games, plays, everything you could imagine. What this led to was a recreation of many great works of art by the generations on the ship — most of the original scientists and artists and engineers from Earth were alive and well, and to lose everything that reminded them of home must’ve been horrifying.

What follows is, then, a recreation from memory. Movies reshot with the usage of the ship’s holo-tech, books written a new from memory, and so on. It’s this recreation that Wind Will Rove digs into in a clever, charming way, while using an old folk song by the same name. It’s about more than collective memory; it’s about humanity’s ability to bounce back up, no matter how lethal the wound on its collective behind!

 

I don’t think I’ve ever read a work of science fiction as vibrant as Universe Box by Michael Swanwick is.

Nightmares beyond human imaginng howled and ravaged at his heels. Nihilism and despair sleeted down on his upturned face. But the thief culdn’t have been happier. His grin was so mad and bright that it would melt granite.

His erection was shocking.

That’s an excerpt of the very beginning of Universe Box; it gets a lot crazier from that point onward. The story is filled with literally allusions; one character, for example, originates from Gilgamesh! It’s as far from hard sci-fi as you can imagine, but the humor Swanwick has infused this with makes this a memorable story that you’ll laugh through.

It reads like fantasy, in truth. Fantasy with sci-fi elements is how I would label it, in fact. The devil may or may not appear as well, in the form of an “attorney at lawlessness.” You know. Normal sci-fi stuff.

It’s a strange story, but funny throughout.

 

Grand Theft Spacecraft was a difficult one to get into, but once you did…R. Garcia y Robertson, author of this novelette, does not easily let go. It’s the closest to the space opera genre of the four, with Space Vikings, a Christian Deacon protagonist, a nine year old genius who’s got an AI by the throat, and a princess that may or may not be in need of saving. I’ll let you figure that one for yourselves; but underneath the swashbuckling, grand theft spacecrafting is a story about love, family and…well, blowing space ships.

“Faint hearts never fucked a flag captain.”

Indeed. Oh, there are also space Mongols, very much into Genghis Khan’s ideological beliefs. This novelette is also filled with historical allusions, which are entertaining in their own right.

 

Books of the Risen Sea is a post-apocalyptic story of a small American coastal town (if I got that correctly) by Suzanne Palmer, who’s been doing quite well for herself. It’s about a man’s attempts to preserve books in the library from the slow but certain spread of mold, toxic rain and just about anything else that Nature can throw at him, while dealing with being a parriah in his city for who he is, and his choices.

It’s another very powerful story that starts off slow, and goes onto unexpected places. Caer–that’s our main character’s name–is content in his loneliness, and hungry for story after story. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t see myself in that hunger.

There’s also a robot with a sawhand. That’s right, you read that correctly. Pretty good reason to check this one out, right?

 

Thank you for reading! If you find this little run-down interesting, let me know and I’ll do more. Would you like spoiler-y discussions, as well? Or would you prefer I be even more vague and non-commital? Say it and I’ll make it so! 

Unintentionally Helpful Villain #14: Karogar, Cursed Be Its Name

Read the previous entry here. Read the first entry in the series here.

Diary Entry #200

Ah, Karogar. The birthplace of mine own greatest failure.

It’s a filthy place, filled with pampered humans, haughty elves and bored, rich dwarves. Artists! Each one will tell you that’s what they are, and they’ll smile and look at you with thinly veiled arrogance, all the while explaining how your art has no merit!

Pish posh. What could possibly have ‘artistic merit’ if not the myriad shades of blood?!

If mine memory serves me right and proper, ’twas five days that  I spent within this accursed city. Here it was that I first lay within a great wide bark — and dreamed the dark dreams that led me to mine great empire. The empire mine wife even now plots to destroy with mine old body, mine own arcane strength!

Bah, I am salivating profusely once again. Mine magical quill begins scribbling away whenever I allow this wrath take over mine better self.

Diary Entry #201

Mine search for the ex-wife hath proven fruitless. What I did find was a small army of Inquisitors, all too ready for mine appearance in the Art Halls of Karogar.

Aye, they hath caught me, and bound mine skin with rope. They remain obsessed with my witch’s magicks, no matter what I offer them. I cannot change in form, for they have enchantments keeping me locked unto this ridiculous body.

And yes, I am dictating unto mine magical quill through magical means. Do not question it.

Diary Entry #202

I have now offered mine captors a number of treasured items and experiences: several painful and gruesome ways to die; crossbow bolts to their knee caps; precious last words with their significant others, children and elder relatives; a mountain of goblin shite.

I hear that goblin shite is much appreciated by humans for the variety of medicinal values that can be found within it.

The Inquisitorial Order still refuses to release me from mine bindings.

Diary Entry #205

The Church of the Holy Blame hath pronounced that there is much to blame about mine feminine wiles. A crier has been crying out crimes, real and imagined, for the past three days now.

I have been tied to a balefire for some time, waiting for the Inquisitor-boy to finish mine list of grievances. Or mine wife’s. There is a surprising amount of overlap.

It is mildly uncomfortable.

Diary Entry #210 

The young man that hath read mine great list of crimes, real or imagined, hath perished due to lack of breath. Another took his place. Might some fiend light the stake already?

Diary Entry #211 

This is torture! Such monotonous voice, such inept usage of words, one coming after the other. I cannot stand it anymore!

Diary Entry #212 

I hath attempted to break my bonds. While not fully successful, I hath managed to grab a torch and set the stake afire. It has burned now for one whole day. I feel the most terrible itch on my calf from the fire.

The monotonous boy-creature will not shut up. Where do they find these fanatics?!

Diary Entry #213

‘Tis enchanted wood. It simply won’t stop burning. The young Inquisitor will not shut up.

I will not die. I will instead laugh at them all! At the fire, at the lad, at their ineptitude in killing witches! What fools, what blithering, magnificent idiots!

But who might that be, in the distance? Doth mine feline eyes deceive me?!

Thank you for reading the latest Unintentional Villain adventure! I needed to take a few weeks easy, to rediscover my awful inner comedian, but now I’m back, and my vision for the series and the blog — restored and stronger than ever! I’m pretty much like Palpatine in that one Revenge of the Sith scene. In order to ensure the security and continuing stability of this blog, Magnus Writes will be reorganized into the *BLANK* to ensure progress and awesome fantastical shenanigans! 

 

 

 

Writing Advice: The Seven Key Steps of Story Structure (Chapter 3 of The Anatomy of Story)

Welcome back to my summary of ‘The Anatomy of Story’ by John Truby. Today we’ll take a look at Chapter 3, which deals with the steps of story structure. Let’s get to it! 

When we talk about the  structure of a story, we talk about how a story develops over time.

A story has a minimum of seven steps in its growth from beginning to end:

  1. Weakness and need.
  2. Desire.
  3. Opponent.
  4. Plan.
  5. Battle.Thgfgfgga
  6. Self-revelation.
  7. New equilibrium.

(Magnus Commentary: Sound bit unclear? Don’t worry, we’re gonna breeze through these!)

These seven steps aren’t arbitrarily imposed from without, the way a mechanical story structure such as the three-act structure is. These seven stop are based on human action, and are organic.

1.Weakness and need.

From the very beginning of the story, your hero has one or more great weaknesses that are holding him back. The need is what the hero must fulfill within himself in order to have a better life. It takes change and growth to overcome weaknesses.

Need is a wellspring of the story, and sets up every other step. Keep two important points in mind:

Your hero shouldn’t be aware of his need at the beginning of the story. 

If he’s already cognizant of what he needs, the story is over. The knowledge comes at the end, after the hero’s gone through a great deal of pain or struggle.

Give your hero a moral need as well as a psychological need.

Psychological needs involve overcoming a serious flaw that is hurting nobody but the hero. In better stories, the hero has a moral flaw in need of overcoming; a character with a moral need is always hurting others in some way at the story’s beginning.

(Magnus Commentary: I’m interested to see a character begin without a moral flaw but develop it as the story progresses.)

Giving your hero a moral need also prevents him from being perfect or a victim. Both are the kiss of death, storytelling-wise.

Keep the problem simple and specific.

The problem is also present from page one, but it isn’t as important as the weakness and need. Crisis defines a character very quickly.

Technique: Creating the moral need

Remember the rule of thumb: To have a moral need, the character must be hurting at least one other person. The moral need usually comes out of the psychological need. The character must be hurting at least one other person. The moral need usually comes out of the psychological weakness that leads him to take it out on others.

  1. Begin with the psychological weakness.
  2. Figure out what kind of immoral action might natural come out of that.

A second technique for creating a moral need is to push a strength so far that it becomes a weakness. It goes like this:

  1. Identify a virtue in your character; then make him so passionate about it that it becomes oppressive.
  2. Come up with a value the character believes in. Then find the negative version of this value.

2. Desire

Desire is what your hero wants in the story, his particular goal. A story doesn’t become interesting to the audience until the desire comes into play. It’s the driving force in the story, the line from which everything else hands. It’s intimately connected to need.

One of the biggest mistakes a writer can make is to confuse need and desire or them as a single step.

Need has to do with overcoming a weakness within the character. A hero with a need is paralyzed in some way by his weakness. Desire is a goal outside the character.

Need and desire also have different function in relation to the audience. Need lets the audience see how the hero must change to have a better life. It’s the key to the whole story, but it remains under the surface, whereas desire is on the surface, a thing that the audience wants along with the hero.

Your hero’s true desire is what he wants in this story, not what he wants in life.

Technique: Starting with desire

Careful — you might think to jump past the need and weakness and straight to desire. It’ll start the story off quickly, but it might very well kill the payoff, the ending of the story. Step 1 makes it possible for your hero to change at the end. They’re what makes the story personal and meaningful. And they’ll make the audience care. Don’t start with desire, not ever.

3. Opponent.

See the opponent not as an evil cliché, but structurally, in terms of his function in the story. A true opponent not only wants to prevent the hero from achieving his desire, but is competing with the hero for the same goal. The opponent thus links with Step Two: Desire.

It’s this link that forces hero and opponent to come into direct conflict. Two separate goals mean…the two characters can each get what they want without coming directly into conflict.

To find the right opponent, start with your hero’s specific goal — whoever wants to keep him from getting it is an (or The) opponent.

4. Plan.

Action isn’t possible without some plan. The plan is the set of guidelines or strategies, that the hero will use to overcome the opponent and reach the goal. Linked to both the opponent and the desire. The plan should always be specifically focused towards reaching the goal and defeating the opponent.

5. Battle.

The final conflict between hero and opponent; determines which of the two characters wins the goal. The final battle may be a conflict of violence or of words.

6. Self-Revelation.

The battle is an intense, painful experience for the hero. The crucible for battle causes the hero to have a major revelation about who he really is.

Much of the quality of your story is based on the quality of your story. Good self-revelation, like need, comes in two forms — psychological and moral.

In psychological, the hero strips away the façade and sees himself honestly for the first time. The stripping away of the façade isn’t passive or easy. It’s the most active, difficult and courageous act the hero performs in the entire story. As need is the beginning of the hero’s character change, so is self-revelation the end-point.

7. New Equilibrium.

Everything returns to normal, and all desire is gone, except for one difference. The hero has moved to a higher or lower level as a result of going through his crucible. A fundamental and permanent change will have taken place, either positive or negative.

The hero will therefore either move to a higher level, or — if he’s committed a terrible crime that exposes a corrupt personal flaw — will fall and be destroyed.

That’s it for this week! Hope you find my summary of Chapter 3 an interesting one: here’s to next week, which’ll be centered on Chapter 4: Characters! 

There are plenty of interesting examples and exercises in the book, which are also worth a look. As always, I don’t fully agree with the premise of the novel — that this is the best way to write; but it’s an interesting and educational experience, reading this!

Adventurer’s Mishaps: Assassin’s Blade

Welcome to Adventurer’s Mishaps, a new short fiction series on this blog, inspired by my love for role-playing games akin to Dungeons and Dragons (D&D).  Today’s entry follows the story of Liadrin, whom we shortly met last week. If you haven’t read last week’s ‘Mishaps,’ click here to take a look.

Liadrin drew the dagger out of the guard’s neck, holding his body as it fell to the ground without a sound. Capable guards were impossible to find, nowadays. Countess Morrgiana’s were a new breed of rabble altogether — messy, inattentive pigs. This one had crumbs and jam all over his collar. Like children with sticks, these — and only marginally less likely to hurt themselves if they tried.

The body would be found, she had no doubt; it was meant to. If no messenger was to be had, you drafted the message on a warm body; that way, no one could ignore it. Not for long.

She was worried, however. With mercenaries this ill-suited for guard duty, the Gods only knew how long it would take them to find a corpse, even one in such an evident place. She looked over the balcony’s edge, scanning the ground below. No one in sight. The assassin sighed.

If you can’t bring attention to the corpse, bring the corpse to attention, Liadrin thought, as she dragged the body over the marble railing. The fall would attract attention, no doubt. Attention was good.

She moved upwards with the alacrity of a shadow, and just as silent as one. Torches flickered and died out as soon as Liadrin neared, providing her with an even deeper cloak of darkness. She didn’t use magic, but she might as well have, such was the nature of her skill.

Yells sounded from below, muffled by distance but clear enough to convey undiluted fear and surprise. Liadrin’s smile widened, a couple of daggers flashing by in the dark.

Two guards stood on the sides of  her supposed target’s living quarters. One of the men held a heavy crossbow, just as the assassin’s information had pointed out. He had the time to give out a surprised yelp, not even loud enough to awaken his colleague before one cold blade sucked the life out of him. The man on Liadrin’s left groaned in his sleep. He would never awaken.

Footsteps sounded on marble steps, somewhere far behind; good, they were coming. Perhaps there was hope for these men yet.

Liadrin hardly appreciated making a showpiece of the craft but her master’s needs demanded that she stand on the spotlight. The assassin relit the torch on one side of the doors to the Countess’ private rooms. She positioned the heavy crossbow in as evident a way as she could, before opening and passing through the door.

Morrgiana slept in her bed, undisturbed by all the commotion. Without so much as a flinch, Liadrin dragged her awake by the hair, forcing the young woman to her crumbling feet despite the Countess’ horrified screams. Even hauled off her bed in the middle of the night, she was in beauty, Liadrin couldn’t deny. Obvious, then, why King Lekaved had taken her as his lover…the assassin couldn’t fault his taste.

“Please, please, please let me go. I-I promise I’ll be good, I’ll do whatever you want, I-I have jewels and gold, and trinkets with little magicks in them and you can have–”

Liadrin pulled on the girl’s dark hair even harder. “Shut up, you little fool,” she said, her voice as cold as the north seas. “You and I will share in the romantic  view of Kiern at night. The gem of the East, in all its glory is worth appreciation. Move!”

The last word Liadrin underlined by shoving Morrgiana through the glass archway, onto the ground

“Why-Why–?”

Liadrin forced the woman–little more than girl, really–to her feet, ignoring the cries of pain and the tiny pieces of glass that embedded themselves within the Countess’ skin. “With bedfellows such as yours, must you ask?”

Blows fell against the wooden doors to the bedchamber. They wouldn’t last long, but Liadrin had ample time. She forced Morrgiana to turn around with one hand, taking a bone blade out of its sheath with the other, and held it to the younger woman’s pretty face.

Morrgiana’s sobs rocked the woman’s petite body. “Please don’t. If you know about–about Lekaved, you know I could make him do anything.” Her voice grew desperate, histeric. “The King’s ear, I could have it listen to whatever you want. Anything you want, please!”

“I want you,” Liadrin whispered, “to look at the city. Take it in, all of it. Do you see the lights, over there? Have you wondered what it’s like, being one of these lights? Have you ever imagined life out there? Not this pretty little thing you have here, this mimicry, built on marble and the bones of your King’s starved subjects?” Her voice fell to a whisper. “You would think my touch a kind one, and so soft, compared with some of what is there.

But it is beautiful, isn’t it?”

Wood shattered into splinters somewhere behind them. With a well-practiced flick of the hand, Liadrin’s blade left a mark down the side of Morrgiana’s face, from her temple all the way down to the edge of the jaw; far from a deadly wound, it would leave a deep mark on the Countess’ beautiful face. Liadrin removed her grip from the woman, leaving Morgianna to her wailing, and moved next to her, between the arched doorway and the balcony railing.

She glimpsed backwards, to see several guards, one of which pointing the crossbow at her back. Yells mixed into one, calling for her to put the dagger down. Liadrin lifted the blade higher, as if to throw it at one of the guards, her lips curling in a blood-curdling smile.

The guard holding the heavy crossbow squeezed the weapon’s trigger, releasing its loaded metal bolt. Time came to a standstill. Liadrin repositioned her body in that single moment, with preternatural speed that would’ve allowed her to avoid it entirely, if she wished.

That wasn’t part of the job.

Time resumed, and the bolt pierced Liadrin’s body, puncturing muscle, shattering bone, tearing organs to pieces. The force propelled her over the edge. As she fell towards the lake below, Liadrin smiled, despite the burning pain. As blackness overwhelmed her, one thought alone swam above it.

Her task was complete.

**********

Liadrin awoke to the warmth of a fire and one of the worst itches she’d ever felt; a sure-fire way to know that you were alive, and recently gone through serious healing. Without opening her eyes, she said, “Klaus. Your divinations proved as helpful as ever.” Her voice was husky with strain, her mind clouded with exhaustion. “I see your healing arts are as formidable as I’ve heard. You will forgive me if I don’t look forward to the next time I need one of those.”

“I’m sure I’ll find some amount of forgiveness within me,” he humored her. There was strain in his behind the chuckle. “You pulled it pretty close, Lia. A few millimeters higher, and not even the energy within that trinket you gave me would’ve been able to save you.”

Her smile widened. “I know.”

She heard the priest grumble an indecent comment under his nose, then say more loudly, “You should rest now. It’ll take you more than a short nap to recover from this.”

Liadrin nodded, then opened her eyes. The human flinched at her iris-less gaze before getting a hold of himself. “You are ready for your part?” she asked, her fine eyebrow lifting up in what bordered mockery.

Klaus nodded gravely. “You know as well as I do, there really is no other choice.”

 

This is where we’ll leave the tale of Liadrin (for now, anyway). Something tells me that we’ll see her again, at one point or another. Things are heating up, in Adventurer’s Mishaps, and I have so many ideas, and we’re going ever-deeper in the rabbit’s hole! 

Hope to see you again next time! 

 

 

 

Book Recommendation: The Man in The High Castle

man-in-the-high-castle

It’s been a long time coming, this. Philip K. Dick’s look at an alternate version of the world where the Germans and the Japanese won World War 2 is nothing short of a spectacular example of speculative fiction.

How does he do it? How does Dick create such a mortifying vision of the world such as it never was, but could’ve been? How does he weave the essence of three differing cultures, so at war with each other; how does he navigate with such ease between philosophy and action, art and suspense; how does he spin it all into such captivating narrative?

Such skill as to leave you breathless. I’m not quite certain how to even begin to approach it, but I shall persevere, none the less!

After the war ended and the Axis won, the Japanese and the Nazis divided the USA amongst themselves, with New York acting as de facto headquarters to the Nazis, and San Francisco — of the Japanese.

The Man in The High Castle follows the lives of several very different individuals, often connected by the barest threads. They come from all sides of life — a Jew; a neutral Swede businessman who is more than he appears; a high-ranking Japanese Trade officer in the Pacific States of America, a puppet state of the Japanese Empire; a waitress, and an antiquary shop owner, amongst others.

To say what these characters go through would be to spoil an interesting read, and so I won’t. I will, however, tell you that a great deal of them read a book inside the novel; it’s a little piece of popular fiction called The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, whose author writes about an alternate reality where the Axis Powers lost World War 2 in a manner that at first seems similar, yet is wildly different to the way in which our own history unraveled.

Is your head spinning from all the alternate realities yet?

Regardless of the answer, Dick’s depiction of a world thoroughly transformed by the Nazis’ victory is worth your time. Paragraphs like these will chill you to the bones; they will force you to ask yourself questions, to face uncomfortable truths and to dig deeper. Into history, into the present, even into the future.

P.S. Fascinating is Philip K. Dick’s use of the I Ching, the ancient “Book of Changes,” originally Chinese, adopted by the Japanese later down the line, is a book of oracles, used for divination by numerous characters across the book, in order to make decisions. I had never heard about it before–shame on me; nevertheless, it pops up time and time again, oftentimes affecting the choices of important characters.

Even more curious is the fact that Dick actually used the I Ching to aid him in writing the book and its outcome.

 

 

 

Sci-Fi Quote of the Day: 08/09/2017

I’ve been reading The Man in The High Castle, by Philip K. Dick. It…does not disappoint. Far from it. I’m only at the fourth chapter, but this alternate world in which the Nazis and their Japanese allies won the war has fired my imagination up.

A few paragraphs in particular got to me, and here they are:

““Am I racially kin to this man? Baynes wondered. So closely so that for all intents and purposes it is the same? Then it is in me, too, the psychotic streak. A psychotic world we live in. The madmen are in power. How long have we known this? Faced this?-And-how many of us do know it? Not Lotze. Perhaps if you know you are insane then you are not insane. Or you are becoming sane, finally. Waking up. I suppose only a few are aware of all this. Isolated persons here and there. But the broad masses…what do they think? All these hundreds of thousands in this city, here. Do they imagine that they live in a sane world? Or do they guess, glimpse the truth…?

But, he thought, what does it mean, insane? A legal definition. What do I mean? I feel it, see it, but what is it?

He thought, it is something they do, something they are. It is their unconsciousness. Their lack of knowledge about others. Their not being aware of what they do to others, the destruction they have caused and are causing. No, he thought. That isn’t it. I don’t know; I sense it, inuit it. But-they are purposely cruel…is that it? No. God, he thought, I can’t find it, make it clear. Do they ignore parts of reality? Yes. But it is more. It is their plans. Yes, their plans. The conquering of the planets. Something frenzied and demented, as was their conquering of Africa, and before that, Europe and Asia.

Their view; it is cosmic. Not of man here, a child there, but an abstraction: race, land. Volk. Land. Blut. Ehre. Not of honorable men but of Ehre itself, honor; the abstract is real, the actual is invisible to them. Die Gute, but not good men, this good man. It is their sense of space and time. They see through the here, the now, into the vast black deep beyond, the unchanging. And that is fatal to life. Because eventually there will be no life; there was once only the dust particles in space, the hot hydrogen gases, nothing more, and it will come again. This is an interval, ein Augenblick. The cosmic process is hurrying on, crushing life back into the granite and methane; the wheel turns for all life. It is all temporary. And they-these madmen-respond to the granite, the dust, the longing of the inanimate; they want to aid Natur.

And, he thought, I know why. They want to be the agents, not the victims, of history. They identify with God’s power and believe they are godlike. That is their basic madness. They are overcome by some archetype; their egos have expanded psychotically so that they cannot tell where they begin and the godhead leaves off. it is not hubris, not pride; it is inflation of the ego to its ultimate-confusion between him who worships and that which is worshiped. Man has not eaten God; God has eaten man.

What they do not comprehend is man’s helplessness. I am weak, small, of no consequence to the universe. It does not notice me; I live on unseen. But why is that bad? Isn’t it better that way? Whom the gods notice they destroy. Be small…and you will escape the jealousy of the great.” 

Brrr. Sure got a bit chillier, all of a sudden.

It’s good though, isn’t it, that chilling of the blood? Something tells me, this isn’t the last time I’ll be bringing this classic up on the blog.

Saturday Night Gaming: Life is Strange Before the Storm – Episode 01: Anger, Pain and

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Minor Spoilers ahead!

The original Life is Strange was my favorite game for 2015, a year that was decisively NOT lacking in strong titles. Novice time-traveler Max and her best friend  Chloe’s story touched me in a way few games had before and few games have since. It was a narrative rich with humor, feelings, personal tragedy and a friendship that was very well worth the ultimate sacrifice. If you haven’t played it, I won’t spoil said sacrifice but, needless to say, you really should.

Before the Storm is not a sequel of Max’s story. It’s a prequel, centered on the (arguable) protagonist of Life is Strange, Chloe Price; the game takes place three years before Dontnod Entertainment’s narrative masterpiece, during one of Chloe’s lowest points. Alone, friendless, unable to move past her father’s death, Chloe gets into some pretty serious trouble for, of all things, spilling a beer.

Who’s to help her out but Rachel Amber, major character/mystery in the original Life is Strange, and Chloe’s best friend, after Max moved to Seattle. In the simplest terms, Before the Storm is about how these two characters meet, and the relationship between them.

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This new entry into the franchise is not developed by Dontnod Entertainment, but by Deck Nine, the former ‘Idol Minds,’ a studio best known for the Ratchet&Clank PlayStation 3 collection, which–let’s face it–isn’t a lot to go by on. They recently announced that they’re switching gears towards creating narrative-led projects and, if Beyond the Storm is anything to go by, Deck Nine might just be a studio to watch out for.

The more I think about it, the more I find myself drawing parallels between Life is Strange and Before the Storm. Both games begin with someone whose destiny is intertwined with Chloe’s, getting her out of major trouble; and while this time, time-travel is out of the question, Beyond the Storm is never the less steeped in the supernatural. These elements have, by now, become such a fundamental part of Arcadia Bay’s DNA that to have a game set in this setting but lacking in them would be tantamount to a crime.

Many of the characters Max met in Life is Strange are here; only, instead of seniors, they’re all freshmen and so are younger, less skilled in the art of being bitchy; but not for lack of trying. I’m speaking of course, of Victoria Chase, with whom you can chose to interact at one particular moment in Episode 1; she’ll call you Kari Price, even though she’s well aware of your real name. Although, I should say without spoiling the fun…screwing with someone in high school is never a one-way street. Take from that what you will.

Two original characters that never crossed Max’s path in LiS are worth mentioning: Steph and Mikey, a geeky duo of friends who play D&D and are absolute, adorable geeks. There’s an optional 20-minute scene between these two and Chloe which might very well be my favourite light scene in the entire episode.

Speaking of Chloe, three years before the events of Life is Strange is an interesting time to pick control over her; as I said earlier, it’s a very low point for our heroine, and being able to see, hear and even decide what goes on in her head once again reinforces that while she’s got a ton of baggage (and rightfully so), Chloe is also a very cerebral character. It’s the fact that this is hidden behind her tough-nut shell that makes her all the more compelling.

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Beyond the Storm is a little over three hours long, if you do every single conversation and look for all of the optional graffiti you can draw on walls, trains, cars, toolboxes, and whatever the hell else there is to draw on.

I’ll write a lot more about Before the Storm, and I’ll revisit Life is Strange by making a long video essay at some point in the future–probably when Before the Storm is out in full, so as to be able to create a thoughtful comparison between the two.

What I can say, based on this first Episode is this — Beyond the Storm is faithful to its predecessor in the best ways. Deck Nine has succeeded in recreating the touching narrative that made Life is Strange a hit, proving that lightning does indeed hit twice.

It’ll set you back 17 euro or $20; two more episodes are coming, with a bonus Mini-Max story for those that have pre-ordered the game, like yours truly. I know, I’m a sucker… But it’s worth it.