Sunday, April 22, 2018

Righting

I'm continuing to make my way through Roberto Bolaño's body of work. I'm starting to regret not plowing through all of them at once. Typically, I want to hold off and savor the authors who I enjoy most, but Bolaño's stories tend to have little linkages that bind them together. Not as directly as, say, David Mitchell's, but caesuras in one novel might be filled in another. As I was reading Nazi Literature in the Americas, I often had the feeling that I was reading a reference to a character who I had previously encountered, but had no idea whether it was from the vast cast of The Savage Detectives, the oppressed seekers in 2666, earlier in the same book, or if I was just imagining it. 


All of his books that I've read so far have a few things in common. They're partially or wholly set in a literary milieu, populated by poets and novelists and publishers and critics. They disdain traditional narratives, largely omitting dialogue and using different forms to present their story. Nazi Literature is sort of an extreme example of both of those elements. Per the title, the whole book is about (fictional) writers of far-right-wing literature. Structurally, it's organized as a sequence of capsule biographies. Each writer gets a birth and death date and city, then several pages summarizing their life's accomplishments: who they influenced or were influenced by, what works were rejected or published, critical consensus around their output. We never really see people interacting or get much of a sense of individual personalities. The end result feels much more like a mosaic, impressive but very static.

It's really well-written, though! While the subject matter can be horrifying, there's a strong sardonic streak running throughout. I particularly enjoyed a few segments that, while ostensibly describing a fictional piece of literature, seemed to be anticipating potential criticism of the book itself.

"It is full of appendices, maps, incomprehensible indices of proper names, and solicits an interaction in which no sensible reader would persist... There is no main character. The less chaotic stretches read like collections of stories haphazardly tacked together... The texts are not so much scrambled puzzles as fragments of scrambled puzzles. Although presented and sold as a novel, The Fourth Reich in Denver is in fact a reader's guide to the preceding titles."

Or, later:

"It is not unusual for Sibelius to spend twenty pages simply introducing a character, specifying his physical and moral traits, his tastes in food and sports, his ambitions and frustrations, after which the character vanishes, never to be mentioned again in the course of the novel; while others, who are barely given names, reappear over and over, in widely separated locations, engaged in dissimilar if not incompatible or mutually exclusive activities. The workings of the bureaucratic machinery are described implacably."
Stylistically, the novel reminded me of "The Part About the Crimes" from 2666. There's a sort of similar piling-on effect: each individual entry is dry and colorless, but they are relentless, stacking one on top of another into a more horrific edifice. It gets to be a little numbing, but the numbing is deliberate, drawing attention to how the terror is becoming the new normal.

Despite the title, only a few characters in this novel are technically Nazis, but pretty much everyone is somewhere on the far-right spectrum. Given the predominantly Latin-American setting, it's fitting that Falangism is particularly represented. Most of the writers are not affiliated with any particular movement, but hold antisemitic views, support authoritarianism, and/or hold other rightist views. In the whole book there are perhaps one or two very brief biographies that aren't obviously political. I'm curious if a deeper reading would reveal their connection, or if this is deliberate, depicting them as so minor that it isn't worth exploring their beliefs.

Most of the subjects are presented matter-of-factly, without any obvious editorializing. The characters themselves are... oddly ordinary, I guess. There are a few monsters, but the majority of them come across as vaguely pathetic, misguided, or confused. This is probably realistic, and also seems like it may be an effective way of handling them. It's a little satirical, denying them the glory and infamy they crave, instead showing their smallness and limited impact.

MEGA SPOILERS

The one major exception is the last full chapter, Ramírez Hoffman aka Emilio Stevens. This is one of the sections that felt like it may overlap with another Bolaño book; in particular, the characters of María and Magdalena Venegas seemed familiar. Anyways, this chapter is different from the rest: it's the most vivid, the most horrifying, and has an active, present first-person narrator (named Bolaño). This chapter finally starts to get at raising some crucial questions, although it doesn't begin to answer them: are violent people attracted to fascism, or does fascist ideology produce violence? Does art born out of wickedness have value?

Even though this section feels different from the preceding ones, I think it benefits from coming at the tail end. It's a bright, bold splash of color that brings home the real-world consequences of ideology. We've seen how widespread this umbrella of ideas is, and this final entry is kind of a case study of how deep it can go.

Speaking of the real world... as far as I can tell, the characters in this book are all fictional, or at the least fictionalized versions of real-world people. But it's also very grounded, with plentiful references to real-world political leaders and movements. One striking exception is Pinochet, who seems conspicuously absent from the entire book until making a very late appearance deep in an appendix. I'm a little curious why he doesn't have a larger presence, when people like Peron, Allende and Castro get name-checked more frequently. Bolaño was Chilean, so maybe it seemed too close to home. Maybe he wanted to keep the focus more on pan-American extremism instead of seeming like he was settling scores. Or maybe the absence is itself significant: one of Bolaño's skills is to build a kind of mounting dread by talking around and eliding a central subject, and perhaps Pinochet plays that role here.

I'm still unsure exactly what the book is supposed to be. Some sort of near-future reader's-guide to a completed movement in American history? The timelines in the novel go through at least 2027, and every character has a death date listed, so it's presumably written some time after that. That sort of chronological distance may help explain the chilly and dispassionate treatment of the subject, not unlike how we now write about, say, Galileo's trial. We recognize it as being outrageous and wrong, but it's also settled. We feel only scorn for the antagonists, not anger.

END SPOILERS

Obviously, a book with the title "Nazi Literature in the Americas" isn't going to be a cheerful book, but this ended up being a surprisingly good read. It's a very muted satire, dealing with bad ideas in a deliberate way, revealing them as mean and contemptible, while simultaneously poking fun at the literary system and the whole edifice that produces books such as this.

This is probably the most formally constrained book of Bolaño's that I've read yet. I was reminded often of Borges's work, especially Pierre Menard... Bolaño is definitely not a magical realist and his books have a very different feel to them than the surreal Borges, but I think both of them were great explorers of the untapped potential of non-narrative forms of writing. On a more prosaic level, this kind of reminded me of the short stories I used to write when I was a kid, which were just a sequence of "This person did that and then went there and met them." I was writing out of a paucity of ability and imagination, but Bolaño chooses this mode deliberately, claiming a distant point of perspective from which he can review and dismiss his subjects.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Rapids

I'm not sure exactly how I got into this habit, but for the last couple of years I've read a Nicola Griffith novel each time I fly to and from Chicago. Other than the Aud Torvingen series, I'm not reading them in any particular order, and so am finishing with her second published novel, Slow River. It's good!


I'm increasingly impressed at Nicola's versatility. She's adept at writing noir mysteries, imaginative science fiction, mystic historical fiction. Slow River is set in a near-future very-mildly-dystopic world; the setting seems almost cyberpunk, with subdermal identity chips and a few riveting hacking scenes, but the overall vibe feels quite distinct from most cyberpunk.

MINI SPOILERS

It's less obviously sci-fi than Ammonite, but there might be even more science in this book. Specifically, there's a really cool and deep look into environmental science, microorganisms, public works and infrastructure. I don't know enough about life sciences to know if all of this is established science or if some of it is speculative, but it all sounds plausible and intriguing.

I increasingly enjoy reading about people who are good at what they do and take pride in their work, and Lore is a great example. She knows a great deal about the underlying theory and the practical operations of the treatment plant she works at, and feels compelled to help it perform well. There are multiple tensions opposing this drive of hers. First, she's keenly aware of the source: her knowledge and her determination come from her family, from which she is estranged, and even when she benefits from that association she's simultaneously brought down by the reminder of her past. She's also constrained by her secret identity: she can't seem to be too good, or know too much, lest she ruin her disguise and expose herself to dire consequences.

But she overcomes these hesitations and does what needs to be done. I really liked how the public good and a general sense of responsibility are powerful incentives in this novel. Lore doesn't say "It's not my job" or "What's in it for me?" She knows the consequences of getting things wrong, the mild-to-major harm that will be visited upon untold numbers of people should these systems fail, and that drives her to sacrifice her self-interest and support the greater good.

MEGA SPOILERS

Of course, Lore hasn't always been so altruistic. She hasn't been exactly selfish, but she has been focused on herself. Among other ways, this is shown through her sex scenes: there are a surprising number of encounters she has throughout the novel, starting from a very young age and continuing through a series of disconcerting liaisons while working with Spanner. I thought it was interesting that, of all of Lore's short-term and long-term romantic partners, Magyar is the only one who doesn't get a sex scene. There is still a nice focus on physicality in their relationship: when they tap each other while wearing biohazard suits, it feels more erotic than the graphic parties that occurred a few pages before. The bond Lore forms with Magyar is powerful, built on respect and trust long before they thought of one another as partners, and it's kind of cool to see that Lore decides she will spend the rest of her life with Magyar before sleeping with her.

The Magyar relationship is kind of the opposite of the one Lore has with her mother, which began with love, then moved to trust, and devolved into suspicion and adversity. While Griffith's novels are all very different, I've noticed that the mother characters share a lot of similarities. They tend to be powerful, manipulative, emotionally distant, and clever. Their protagonist daughters inherit their wealth and education, and share some of the high-society connections while being estranged. I don't want to overstate this - Aud's mother is much more sympathetic than Lore's - it's just an interesting theme.

The revelation of Katerine and Oster was seeded very well and cleverly revealed, with all the important information present long before Lore receives the answer. I'd had a suspicion that something else was going on - Oster's behavior didn't really fit the scenario - but for some reason Katerine hadn't been on my radar for that incident, and I was impressed by the conclusion. The Greta revelation didn't make as much sense to me. All the pieces to that puzzle had also been set out in advance, but it wasn't and isn't obvious to me how they fit together, how Lore goes from the old black-ops team to Greta's role in it to blackmail to the kidnapping. It's possible I just missed something in the sequence, though... I was wrapping up the novel near the end of a very long delayed flight.

I'm still undecided on how I feel about the structure of the novel. Within each chapter, it shifts between present-tense and past-tense narration, and between first-person and third-person narrators. These are used to denote different time periods: one starting from Lore's childhood, one starting immediately after her escape from the kidnappers, and one when she starts her job at the plant. It always felt jarring to me, and I'm not convinced that the novel is much better from having the timelines overlap this way than it would be told chronologically. We already know the outcomes of the first two timelines, so it doesn't really build any suspense. It definitely isn't bad, it just seemed distracting to me.

END SPOILERS

All in all, Slow River was a great read. Lore is yet another terrific Griffith protagonist: resourceful, thoughtful, resolute, driven by a winning mix of compassion and self-determination.  While it's technically another science fiction novel, I think it stands on its own, with a very different setting and feel from Ammonite. In some ways it anticipated the crime noir of Aud Torvingen, but with a very different protagonist and a unique set of concerns.

Ordinarily, I would feel bummed to have exhausted the output of a newfound author, but! Fortunately, Nicola is just about to release So Lucky, which will be out in less than a month, yay! That should help tide me over until the sequel to Hild arrives.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Open and Shut

This probably isn't actually a thing, but I've started thinking of the subgenre of science fiction that I've been focusing on lately as "humanist sci-fi". These novels focus on creativity, collaboration, and problem-solving. They eschew violence, definitely as a solution and often even as a part of the setting. Like sci-fi as a whole the science can be hard or soft, the protagonists may be heroes or antiheroes, and and they may or may not include alien species, but they seem allied by a common thread of dignity and curiosity that I find increasingly appealing.


My latest author and book in this vein is A Door Into Ocean by Joan Slonczewski. The story started off a little slowly, but there's fantastic world-building and great exploration of really cool ideas. Once the main conflict kicks in, it becomes very engaging, and I tore through the back half of the book with a quickness.

MINI SPOILERS

There are a lot of neat things going on here. One of the most obvious is Sharer culture, which is built around reciprocity and cooperation. In an appealing variation on Orwell's language theory, Sharer society is fundamentally egalitarian, and their language makes it difficult for them to even understand concepts like domination or unilateral action. In the Sharer tongue, verbs bidirectionally link subjects with objects. If your hand strikes a wall, the wall strikes your hand. If you shun someone, then that person shuns you. If you teach someone, you learn from them.

This leads to a very appealing culture, based around sharing and mutual respect. It isn't a monolithic one: Sharers can and do disagree with one another, and they develop very different personalities, defined in part by the "selfnames" they claim: The Intemperate One, The Stubborn, The Traitor. They generally strive for consensus, but do not compel it. They place a high value on learning, seeking to correct misunderstandings and spread knowledge amongst one another.

The more immediately obvious defining feature of Sharers, though, might be that they're all women. I don't remember if the novel ever addresses whether they evolved this way or if the males died out, but they've developed the ability to reproduce by directly shaping embryos in the womb. (As a side note, they also have an interesting belief in reincarnation: the councils will decide when to create more children, and they believe that the souls of dead Sharers will inhabit those new bodies, thus keeping the overall Sharer population fairly consistent and maintaining a limited demand on Shora's resources.) Of course, this reminded me of Ammonite, although it's cool to see how differently those societies turn out. Jeep tended towards pacifism, while Shora is wholly pacifist; Jeep is mostly driven by a gift economy with limited bartering, while Shora doesn't really have an economy but has adopted barter for trade with other worlds; Jeep is a heterogeneus civilization with various competing tribes while Shora is more homogenous. And there are similarities: both planets, despite being considered "primitive", have highly advanced life science;  both are largely monogamous; both have some sort of meditative trance that can have a transformative effect on those who undergo it.

Some of this probably has to due with the authors' different interests. Joan is a professor of biology, and, while biology isn't the main point of this novel, it's a very cool and important element. Some of this drives the plot, as when Valedonians are baffled by Shora's flora and the Sharers' relation to it. There are occasional semi-deep-dives as well, when Sharers detail how a particular organism works, or the important role a seeming pest has to play in the larger ecosystem they rely upon. As with some of my favorite science fiction, A Door Into Ocean shows an alternate route to reach a familiar place: they have a planetary communication system, recorded knowledge of all their science and history, lifesaving treatments for seemingly fatal injuries. And yet, these are all developed from organic, living sources. Or... "developed" is probably not the right word. Sharers have integrated themselves into Shora, and learned how to thrive within it, rather than bending it to their will.

We learn a lot of the basics about Shora and Sharers through the eyes of Spinel, a young Valedonian male who is apprenticed on the planet. Honestly, I found Spinel a little hard to take, which may have been deliberate. It was difficult for me to place him: at first I imagined him being about eight to ten years old, as he's constantly throwing temper tantrums and storming off in a huff. But then there's the sex stuff later on, which made me think he was a particularly immature young adult. And then near the end Merwen reflects on how much taller he's grown, so I'm left kind of imagining him as an early-to-mid teen. Anyways. I never liked him all that much, but he becomes much more tolerable as the book continues, especially after he returns to Valedon and starts bearing witness.

The really cool thing about Spinel is his stone-knowledge. For most of the novel, it's been kind of inescapable that Sharers are "good" and Valedonians are "bad": that's an oversimplification, but the Sharer way of life seems far superior. But I really appreciated that Slonczewski doesn't make the Sharers perfect, and one of the great examples of this is their fearful, almost hateful relationship with stone. Very late in the novel, we start to see how this is based on ignorance, not entirely unlike the ignorance-based hatred that many outsiders bear towards Sharers. Once Spinel begins learn-sharing with them, they can begin to see that stone is nothing to fear: diamonds are carbon, and carbon is the basis of life. Stone can "grow", it's just done under different conditions, like high pressure and heat. As they begin to understand it, their fear starts to drop away, and you can imagine their stone-sickness dropping in potency.

MEGA SPOILERS

Besides Spinel, the other Valedonian we hear a lot from is Realgar, especially in the last third or so of the novel. He... seems a little like the husband in a Lifetime Movie Of The Week. He's very awful and easy to cheer against. While it was discomforting, I did kind of appreciate that we got to see his point of view, so we could see his rationalizations and motivations. Spinel's ignorance is a useful device to explain Sharers, but Realgar's hostility is arguably even more useful, as it provides a sharp contrast and draws out the way Sharers will behave even under distress.

Realgar's occupation and campaign of domination start exploring major themes of nonviolent resistance and anticolonialism. The asymmetry of the struggle is highlighted, not only in means (Sharers have no weapons) but also in aims (Valedon seeks to conquer and profit, Shora seeks to embrace and learn). The price Shora plays is real and huge, particularly near the end as waves upon waves of peaceful martyrs are brutally slaughtered. The Sharers' response seems to be successful, but not at all easy or simple, requiring a huge amount of dedication and sacrifice. It's fragile, too: a single act of violence immediately undoes all the good work done before and comes close to dooming their entire species.

Reading this book, I was curious how readers in the mid-80s would have read this scenario and applied it. My immediate thought was of colonialism, especially in Indochina: the asymmetry of goals and mutual incomprehension reminded me a lot of the Vietnam war. But it might be more accurate to think of the civil rights movement in the United States or Gandhi's movement for Indian independence, particularly in terms of the methods used for resistance and revolution.

Now, in the 2010s, I find myself thinking of global adventurism, capitalism, and terrorism. How should wealthy and powerful nations behave in their relations with poorer and weaker ones? How will those other nations respond? Asymmetry is inevitable, and while I passionately wish that all parties would follow principles of peace and understanding, it isn't at all surprising that many will choose to follow the example of Nisi rather than Usha.

I suspect that some readers were annoyed by the ending, but I loved it: the last-minute conversations, reversal of plans, and open-ended personal relation between Spinel and Lystra. That felt very real to me, and also like an echo of the culture we've spent a novel exploring. Sharers aren't defined by their dogma: they're curious, taking in new information, adapting, finding the best decisions based on their values and present circumstances. They tend to operate by consensus but, well, Lystra has always been headstrong and independent, and it's very much in keeping with her to act. At a macro level I'm left with the feeling that things will be okay, and I like the bit of messiness that's left for the individuals we've grown attached to.

END SPOILERS

It looks like this is the first book in a series, and I imagine I'll pick up the remainder at some point. This novel covers some really cool, fertile ground, and scratches the itch I'm increasingly feeling for warm, thoughtful, progressive science fiction.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Scarred for Life

I know that China Miéville has been around for a while, but he feels like a new author to me since I've only recently started reading him and he has such a unique vision. He's very much in the camp of people who I need to pace. Not so much because I enjoy his stuff and want to make it last (although that is true), but because it can be extremely dark and disorienting, and I'm reluctant to let it affect my mood too much.


The Scar is less extreme in this regard than Perdido Street Station. It's still a dangerous world with bizarre creatures, but it doesn't have the same omnipresent sense of decay that the prior book did. It's at least ostensibly more upbeat, with a twisted kind of adventure driving the action and regular changes of scenery. Over time, some scenes of macabre horror creep in, but here they feel more like visitors to the story, rather than a revelation of the truth underlying existence.

MINI SPOILERS

Reading this book, I did start to feel like Failbetter Games maybe should owe some sort of royalties to Mr. Miéville. Not that they're ripping him off, but there are a lot of parallels. I'd earlier noted the connections between Fallen London and Perdido Street Station, and their respective sequels seem to share a similar amount. The description of Armada was awe-inspiring, and also very reminiscent of the Khan's Shadow port. The Sorghum and the other rigs reminded me of Station III, the Iron & Misery Funging Station, and similar industrial ventures. The trip to Salkikraltor involves procedures like those I undertook when visiting the Fathomking's Hold, and so on. And this is all on top of the similar sense of constantly suppressed dread, that some sinister creatures are lurking in the depths, ready to destroy the fragile contrivance temporarily suspending you above the waves.

All of which is to say, I'm now wondering whether the third novel in this series will involve spaceflight!

On the whole, I think I liked The Scar more than Perdido Street Station, mainly on the strength of its characters. Bellis is fantastic. She anchors the story; she isn't the only POV character, but drives by far the majority of the story. She's pretty thoroughly unsympathetic: she doesn't have much empathy, cares more about her own well-being than the misery of slaves living below her, is content to remain isolated in her small room rather than speak with other people, has a very transactional view of relationships. Yet, this limited personal character makes it all the more impactful when, late in the novel, she starts feeling remorse and regret for her actions: it makes the moral crisis more urgent and gives a larger sense of scale.

The supporting characters are almost all more likeable. Tanner Sack doesn't get all that much "screen time", but is the compassionate heart of the novel. I liked his back-and-forth evolution where he grows in a certain direction, encounters hardship, becomes fearful or avoidant, but then resumes towards his goal with a greater sense of purpose. Uther Doul is an intriguing enigma, mostly exposed through  exposition but with occasional glimpses at what might be the real man within. Even rarely-seen characters like Hedrigall and Bastard John become a part of Armada's framework: they may be gruff and antisocial, but they're also true believers in the freedom of the city and the chaotic system that uplifts it.

MEGA SPOILERS

The very end of the novel becomes a bit of a shaggy dog story: they never do lay eyes on the Scar, we never learn what the Lovers intended to do with its power of potentiality. I was still satisfied with it, though. As I see it, this is the one universe that can make sense: in all the other ones where they entered the Scar, Bellis and her letter could never have returned. This way, at least we get a second-hand glimpse of what it offers.

The political dimension to the book was fascinating. I really dug the eventual inversion of the putative threat the Grindylow pose to New Crobuzon. I doubt that it was specifically intended as an allegory, but it's all too familiar to those who have seen America go forth and destroy in order to develop infrastructure and expand markets. Likewise, the maintenance of the Malarial Queendom as a sort of rump state protected by an external force felt oddly realistic.

Magic in this novel generally felt more vibrant and useful than in Perdido Street Station, where it was generally unreliable and costly. That said, we don't see much of it. I do really like the sense that magic (or thaumaturgy or whatever) is another branch of natural philosophy, something that people are studying and grasping in the same way that they are grasping principles of steam power and oil drilling.

END SPOILERS

This was a huge book, and I feel like I should say more about it, but I think that'll do me for now. This series continues to be a weird, dark, compelling place to visit, and each time I finish one of these books I'm grateful again to not live there.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

So Long

Life is Strange has had a significant impact on me. Not just as a piece of art that I admire, not just as a story that I think about a lot, but as something that has caused me to reflect on my own life and start making changes to become the person I want to be. So, I've felt a mix of anticipation and sorrow at the approach of Farewell, the final installment that closes out the extended first season and the story of Max and Chloe.

MINI SPOILERS (for Farewell, Mega for Life Is Strange)


As the series moves further along, we go further back in time. Before the Storm showed Chloe's transformation from moody teen into confident rebel, and Farewell shows her happier childhood. I was expecting this episode to be very nostalgic, and it definitely is: seeing these two people again, the seeds of what they will become, spending more time in a house that has come to mean so much. What I wasn't expecting, though, was for the episode to be internally nostalgic as well. Most of the episode is focused on Max and Chloe exploring their own childhood, looking back at a still-earlier period when they were younger but already had a strong bond. We are delighted to watch their own delight, looking at them as they look at themselves, in sort of Matryoshka arrangement.


Whenever making prequels, there's a huge risk of leaning too heavily on foreknowledge, winking to an audience that attaches more significance to something than the characters do. Whether it's Palpatine telling Anakin that he'll watch his career with great interest, or Gandalf advising Legolas to visit a young ranger, these can feel like cheap ways to capitalize on existing sentiment in order to pull up a new work. Farewell has ample opportunity for this sort of thing, especially given its construction, but avoids the problem, feeling very genuine and rooted. I tensed a little when Max picks up William's camera, knowing how important it will be in the future; but it's actually integrated into the story, becoming a significant element of the playthrough. And seeing the key photo of Max and Chloe in the kitchen is obviously moving, but Max breezes right past without calling special attention to it. These things can just be, and we can appreciate their presence.

I'd been looking forward to spending more time with the young Chloe, before her life turned so hard. I expected her to be different, a bit lighter and more innocent. That's true, but I was surprised to see that Max is different as well: perhaps not as dramatically changed as Chloe, but she's notably more confident and brave than the version of Max we see in the original Life is Strange. When her quest takes her into the dark, spider-filled attic, she's excited to go in there, even all by herself, where the later Max would almost certainly have been more hesitant.


Seeing that reinforced to me how the their separation was also traumatic for Max. Not to the same extent as Chloe, but being relatively less painful does not mean it wasn't the worst thing to have happened in Max's life. Max also lost her own best friend, and lived through years of guilt, and withdrew into a shell of tentative isolation. Seeing this earlier version of Max, I can see how easily she could have ended up as alternate-timeline Max from Episode 3: a fun, outgoing, social young woman. We're all a product of our genes, our environment, and our actions. I think we tend to think of people (and ourselves) as immutable expressions of a single personality, but that personality came from somewhere, and needn't be set in stone.


I mentioned way back in my initial post on the first game that Max's story had rekindled some ancient feelings of guilt, and I felt those even harder during this episode. Like Max, I moved away to another state while I was growing up, and I keenly recalled the anxiety of informing a very good friend of my impending departure. I think it was unusual for me to feel that sort of responsibility at that age, to recognize an obligation I had to deliver external news that was difficult for both of us. I think I did a slightly better job, at least at first, at keeping in touch and maintaining the relationship; but I'm also recognizing how difficult that must have been on the other side, to partially lose someone during formative years. Though I suppose all years are formative, but teenage years seem more formative than most.

MEGA SPOILERS

There aren't a whole lot of choices in Farewell - you're mostly just along for the ride - but the most emotionally difficult one for me came near the end, when you and Chloe are discussing the move. I chose the dialogue option like "I'll write and call you all the time", which felt both necessary and devastating. As a player, I know that Max won't live up to this, that she's going to abandon Chloe, and I feel awful that I'm giving her false hope. But it's still what I want to be true, and these seem to be the words that Chloe needs to hear in the moment.

It gets even harder after that. I don't think I'd fully registered the fact that this episode takes place later on the very same day as the time-travel encounter in Episode 3, which means that it's also the day that William dies. It's so sad to listen to Max's heartfelt voice message to Chloe on the tape recorder. Max is so emphatic, so determined, so loving. Chloe needs this so badly, clutching to it desperately. And it all goes away. Chloe will be left with nothing but her own pain.


The moral of the story, of course, is Bae > Bay. After Chloe has been abandoned so badly and lived through a life of broken promises, I'd do anything to make amends. And not just out of sympathy for her: you can see throughout this episode that their affection goes both ways, that Max needs Chloe just as much as Chloe needs Max. Whether Chloe stretches out on the couch or Max takes her hands, you see all sorts of ways that they connect, support one another, make each other better. The overriding legacy of Before the Storm continues to be further affirmation of my initial decision at the end of Life is Strange.

END SPOILERS

There aren't many photos in this post because I didn't take any screenshots while playing. I picked up a Steam Link a while ago specifically to be able to play these games in my living room. It's... kind of bad? I bought it on sale for $5 so I shouldn't complain, but it won't even turn on most of the time and requires constant fiddling to fix. But when it runs it's pretty nice, and lounging on the couch is a really nice way to play such a low-key game like this. The one downside is that I lose access to my treasured F12 key for taking screenshots, so I only grabbed a handful of shots while in Collector Mode while writing this post, and they aren't really personal.

That's fine, though. Farewell is by far the most linear episode in the series, with no major branching choices and few roleplaying options. I became rather attached to my personalized Chloe in Before the Storm, but I think that every players' Max will be fairly similar to one another.

The game is pretty short. I was a completionist, looking at everything, and spent time relaxing during the moments of calm, and I think it took me just over two hours to finish. The gameplay is simple, with few real choices and straightforward mechanics; there's a single straight-up puzzle to solve, which is fun and well-done.

All that said, I absolutely and unreservedly recommend paying for the Deluxe upgrade to buy this episode. It's such a beautiful, well-crafted, graceful bookend to the series.

I'm not sure yet which bookend it is, though. I increasingly think that I'll recommend new players start with Before the Storm prior to Life is Strange, but I'm not sure yet whether to recommend Farewell prior to BtS or after Episode 5. It works so well in both ways: as a greeting and an introduction to these people we'll come to love, or as a goodbye and a reminder of what they have meant to us. Regardless, it's an addition to the series that has already come to feel essential to me.