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Little Alchemy is a little bit of a problem…

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Little Alchemy on mobile, night mode. You start with four basic elements.

It feels odd to get started on a game, at least two years after it was first published. Still, it’s not as though Little Alchemy is ancient enough to feel outdated or irrelevant, and I can gladly report that it’s every bit as enjoyable and engaging in 2017 as it probably was when it was first released. The only downside is knowing that it’s unlikely to receive any more updates. Once you’ve exhausted the 500+ existing alchemical elements and their combinations, that’s it. And given the habitual nature of the game, you might find yourself marathon playing it for hours at a time, and end up running out of game within a day or two.

Little Alchemy is a lightweight and fun alchemy simulator. Beginning with the four classical elements, it allows you to combine two elements to create a third, sometimes with additional byproducts. Simple as that. To my great delight, it can be played out of any browser through either the official site or indie game outfit itch.io, and also has a mobile version. After messing around with the browser game for entirely too long, I downloaded the Android app and lost several hours of potential sleep to it.

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Concerning the Mystic Marriage of the Earth and Sun

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“Concerning the Mystic Marriage of the Earth and Sun to Beget Works of Great Virtue and Power…

The title went on for another half page.”

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Cover of The Mystic Marriage, by Heather Rose Jones.

The Mystic Marriage is a historical fantasy taking place in the fictional European principality of Alpennia, beginning in the year 1821. Both a romance and an adventure, its primary plot revolves around Antuniet Chazillen, last daughter of an Alpennian noble family that has been disgraced and all but destroyed. Antuniet’s life is bleak and devoid of most comforts and securities she’d been raised to. She’d been a scholar and her access to continuing her studies is severely restricted so, like many young women in her position, she makes a strained living by tutoring more wealthy students. The only bright spot in her life, if it could be termed such, is her single-minded quest to redeem her family’s reputation through the art of alchemy and her discovery, mostly by chance, of a singular alchemical text.

 

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Revisiting the Dark Parables Series

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Promotional image for The Swan Princess and the Dire Tree.

I’ve written before about the Dark Parables series of hidden object games. They’re great games and I revisit them pretty regularly, especially since I started them out by buying the standard editions and was quickly converted to the more expensive collector’s editions, which contain an impressive amount of additional content. I still haven’t completed my collection, which means I haven’t played all of the bonus games. Since my PC crashed and burned in March and I’m operating on a new laptop, I decided it was time to get back to the games again. New installments of Dark Parables come out reliably once or twice a year, and there had been two new games released since I’d last checked.

 

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There Are So Many Things to Say About Wonder Woman, I Don’t Know Where to Start

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Wonder Woman got a series of fantastic promotional posters.

On Saturday night, I finally watched the Wonder Woman movie. It’s been highly anticipated in general, both because of Gal Gadot’s short but redeeming performance in last year’s appalling Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but also because of the revolving-door rumors about a WW movie, and its many years in so-called development hell. It took me a long time to become a fan of the character myself, given the nature of creative work on a shared universe like DC Comics’ universe. Writers and artists come and go, each one wanting to leave their mark on the character. With each change in creative teams, you never know what version of your favorite character you’re going to get next. At the end of the day, every fan has their own idea of what Wonder Woman is, or should be.

Fortunately, this is an idea that the movie takes a strong stance on. Wonder Woman is a character full of contradictions. She’s a superhero, a princess, a warrior, a mythological figure and an ambassador for peace, and none of these roles, no matter how conflicting they might seem, can be elided and still remain true to form. An explicitly feminist character from her inception, Wonder Woman was initially conceived as a superheroine who fights evil, “not with fists but with love”. There’s a great deal that might be said about William Moulton Marston and his ideas of gender, and how they gave rise to the Diana we know. Whatever else might be said, though, what persisted is a profile of a heroine combining strengths stereotypically both masculine and feminine.

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Escape to Princess Now on Itch

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Banner for Escape to Princess, an interactive fantasy fiction. 

I love portal fantasies. It’s a wonderfully flexible subgenre that seems to be experiencing a well-deserved revival of interest lately. Some of the best classic children’s books are portal tales, pure escapism at its finest. Rereading them as an adult will have an added subtext, intended or otherwise. The Alice books are particularly noteworthy in this respect.

Portal stories written directly with an adult readership in mind are usually more cynical, or at least, they aim to be more cynical. Whether they succeed is a matter of opinion.

Escape to Princess is a portal fantasy. It’s my story of an adult fantasy, not adult as in “having sex in it” but as in “written to appeal to grown-ups”, and also in the sense of “contains many swear words”. Modern life is full of strains and hardships, and E2P is my small escape, as the title plainly says. It represents a promise that magic and mystery can be a part of your grown-up life if you choose them. While it pokes fun at a few common genre conventions, it’s done affectionately, born of the idea that fantasy can be a necessary component of adulthood.

At the bottom line, E2P is a very simple light-hearted tale. You can play it through in just a few minutes and discover one of four possible endings, all base on your escapist fantasy of choice. Find the edited and updated version of this game on Philome.la where it previously appeared, and on Itch.io.

Nonbinary Representations in Fiction

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Nonbinary gendered characters are almost not common enough to have tropes associated with them. Almost, but not quite. The idea of a third gender, bigender, or agender is not actually that recent, after all. It seems to emerge independently, time after time. In modern media, these representations arise just often enough to have a handful of common tropes associated with them. Most of these are tied closely to speculative fiction, where one has the great privilege of learning that one’s gender identity is inherently science fictional, alien, unrealistic. Some of them also appear in contemporary setting fictions, although those are less common and even more tied than usual to moral ambiguity.

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On Writing and Politics

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Lately a lot of writers whose blogs or social media I follow have gotten messages from readers saying that they should “stay out of politics” and stick to writing. Every time  see a message like that I think back to all the reviews I’ve read that have described a book as political or politically-themed. I wonder where all these authors are whose work isn’t political. How do you write without writing about politics? It is the thing that structures the very reality around us. Perhaps this seems obvious to me because opting out of political thought hasn’t ever been an option for me.

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