New Books! New Games!

It’s been a good week for books and games in the Vermiller household. A number of new goodies have arrived.

A display of Vaesen, a Nordic horror role playing game.

The big excitement is a game I kickstarted arrived. Vaesen is an RPG based on Nordic horror myths and legends. In the game, you and your party are a group of individuals in the 1800s. You each have the Sight, and have come together in Uppsala Sweden to re-establish The Society, a conclave of people researching the supernatural world.

The authors have done a masterful job of making a system that is familiar (there are similarities Fate, Call of Cthulhu, and World of Darkness), but it’s decidedly not about combat and conquering. Adventures are called Mysteries, and … you go solve them. The world of the Society intersects with the world of the Vaesen, creatures of story who are going about their own lives – not good, not evil…just doing whatever it is they do. But the two worlds are not always compatible, and things can get out of hand when humans interfere with the Vaesen, or vice-versa.

A stack of five books

I’ve been a bit fan of Belt Publishing since they spun off of Belt Magazine a few years ago. My latest haul from them contains four titles from their Belt Revivals series: books that have fallen out of print but which shine a light on midwestern life or showcase forgotten midwestern talent. The fifth is one of their contemporary titles, Midwest Futures.

  • Midwest Futures by Paul Christianson – “A tour de force of high-flying writing and fiercely independent thought, PhilChristman’s Midwest Futures grapples with grace and dark humor with the past, present, and future of the country’s most misunderstood region.”
  • Stories of Ohio by William Dean Howells – “Nicknamed the “Dean of American Letters,” William Dean Howells was a remarkable literary figure. A novelist, critic, and playwright, he forged friendships with luminaries such as Mark Twain, Henry James, and Oliver Wendell Holmes. Though Howells is best known for his East Coast novels The Rise of Silas Lampham and A Hazard of New Fortunes, he never forgot his Ohio roots. In Stories of Ohio, Howells recounts the history of the state through short vignettes — from the Native burial grounds of the Serpent Mound, to the first European settlers on the frontier, to the Civil War generals and presidents the state birthed in the late nineteenth century.”
  • The Artificial Man and Other Stories by Clare Winger Harris – “Clare Winger Harris (1891–1968) was an early science fiction writer whose short stories were published during the 1920s. She is credited as the first woman to publish stories under her own name in science fiction magazines. Her stories often dealt with characters on the “borders of humanity” such as cyborgs. A native of Illinois, she died in Pasadena, California at age seventy-seven.”
  • One of Ours by Willis Cather – “One of Ours was considered a failure by some male critics of the day: H. L. Mencken said it “drops to the level of a serial in The Lady’s Home Journal, fought out not in France, but on a Hollywood movie-lot,” and Ernest Hemingway panned Cather for not having experienced the front-line herself. However, the Pulitzer committee considered it the greatest novel of the year, and this accessible, dramatic novel sold many more copies than Cather’s more famous ones, O, Pioneers! and My Antonia. “
  • The Marrow of Tradition by Charles W. Chestnut – “On November 10, 1898, a mob of 400 rampages through the streets of Wilmington, North Carolina, killing as many as 60 citizens, burning down the newspaper office, overthrowing the newly elected leaders, and installing a new white supremacist government. The Wilmington Race Riots—also known as the Wilmington Insurrection and the Wilmington Massacre, is the only coup d’etat on American soil. The violence was prompted by the increasing political powers African Americans in the town were gaining during Reconstruction. The Marrow of Tradition is a fictionalized account of this important, under-studied event. “

No Man’s Sky vs COVID-19

During this whole COVID-19-stay-at-home thing, one of the ways I’ve been keeping sane is going to for long drives and seeing areas around me that I haven’t seen before.

After nearly two months, I’m running out of places within an hour of me. Which is weird. I never thought I would literally run out of land to see while driving. As the weather warms up, I plan to get out hiking, but for the last couple of weeks I’ve been quenching compusion for exploration with No Man’s Sky.

“No Man’s Sky is an exploration survival game developed and published by the indie studio Hello Games. It was released worldwide for the PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Windows in August 2016, and for Xbox One in July 2018. The game is built around four pillars: exploration, survival, combat, and trading. Players are free to perform within the entirety of a procedurally generated deterministic open world universe, which includes over 18 quintillion planets.”


Yeah. So I doubt I’m going to run out of planets until at least August (joke).

Snapshot of my home based on Hades, a planet in the Euclid Galaxy which boasts a daytime temperature of 145 degrees F during the day.

I’ve owned the game since it came out in 2016, but a few things kept me from getting enjoyment from it. The first thing is that when they released it, there was almost nothing you could do in it. You could pilot a ship between space stations and planets, but that was about it. It was a big sandbox with lots of neat visuals but not much else.

It also lacked any motivation. Erik Kain captured the feeling well in his 2016 column for Forbes:

There’s a story here, sort of, and lots of lore. But it’s a nihilistic experience; I don’t know why I’m doing what I’m doing, other than to get more Units. A bigger ship. Better stuff. I’m a space consumer, entrepreneur. I’m a capitalist crafter with a capital C.

I’m just not sure why. And pretty soon, it all starts to feel dreary with sameness.

All the planets are different, but for all their differences, they blur together. I can’t anchor any of them with any meaning. My discoveries are like little boxes I tick off, little notches in my belt. Why?

Why am I doing this?

Erik Kain, The Good, The Bad And The Ugly Of ‘No Man’s Sky’

Over the last four years, the Hello Games team has done a great job of recovering from the inital negative reaction and the updated in the intervening years have made for a much improved experience. The story (thus far) is not as compelling as say Skyrim or Half-Life, but it’s presented in a way that allows you to pursue it if you want, or go explore and ignore it. They also added a creative mode where you can just build stuff and fly around, if that’s your thing.

My trusty ship, the Murphy’s Unfortunate Timing, named in the vein of Iain Banks.

Because it’s pretty light-touch on the story, I don’t feel rushed to complete it, but I do keep it in mind when heading out into the universe. You wind up starting small and with little context (they use the amnesia-of-the-main-character plot device made so popular by Roger Zelazny and Robert Ludlum) and as you explore and build, you uncover more about not only yourself but the universe you inhabit. There are missions to accumulate riches, caches of technology to be recovered, ship salvage, pirates to be fought, and the mystery of who you are and why you cannot remember anything.

The real clincher for me in these days of COVID-19 is the VR experience. When all of this started, I bought an Oculus Quest for the family. My son and I have been having a blast (Minecraft in VR is pretty wild, guys) and because of the way VR tricks your brain, you can begin to feel as if you are outside, or at least, not stuck at home. No Man’s Sky is a game of stunning vistas and exploration that keeps me from going completely stir crazy.

In the game, you can name anything you discover, which is how little plants on my home planet of Hades got this name.

The naming of planets, minerals, systems, flora, and fauna add to the thrill of discovery. Amazingly, you get paid to go out and explore, which is probably the only thing that make it worthwhile in the terms of game mechanics, but I’m not it in for the coin, I love seeing new vistas. Especially now.

And if you get bored, well, there are people on the various space stations willing to give you credits for doing various missions in one of the four pillars of the game. You also build reputation with the various factions and races, which changes the interactions you have.

Finally, if you are truly desperate there is a multiplayer mode so you can go on missions with strangers or friends. I’m…not that desperate. Yet. We’ll see if that day ever comes.

Miller’s Valley, my base on Hades, by night.