Spooktober Special: House of Psychotic Women

House of Psychotic Women - Paperback Cover

With October again upon us, the time has come for the seasonal tradition of Spooktober to begin once more. This year, however, I’m going to be doing something rather different. Rather than delve into a bunch of horror-themed things, I am going to limit myself to an intensive look at just one subject. There are a number of reasons for this; I haven’t been looking for new horror movies, books, and games with the fervor of previous years, I’ve had a number of personal issues crop up that have cut into my productivity, and I’ve come to find I’m not that comfortable doing a lot of write-ups in a short space of time. I may do another review if fancy strikes me, but for now this will be the main event.

Fortunately for you guys, I’ve found a real treat: the book House of Psychotic Women: An Autobiographical Topography of Female Neurosis in Horror and Exploitation Films, by the Canadian film writer Kier-La Janisse.

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(Repost) Entering a Radiant State, Part II

And now, the final part of our discussion of Radiant State, along with a small capstone for our discussion of the Wolfhound Empire trilogy as a whole. I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank Michal for caving in to my nagging and giving these books a try, as well as suggesting we do this collaborative review in the first place. If any of you out there are inspired to give these books a try, feel free to share your own thoughts about them in the comments below.

As for our final discussion, we narrow in on the final antagonist of the trilogy and discuss the ways he both does and does not conform to the image and personality of Josef Stalin. As someone with a more-than-casual interest in the life and memory of Stalin, I locked on to the “Kantor/Rizhin is Stalin” idea fairly early on, to the point of giving me a case of tunnel vision. It’s always good to have someone outside your head to give you some perspective.

One Last Sketch


Stalin, Stalin, wherefore art thou Stalin?

Part I

Alasdair: But even the Lodka cannot outrun Rizhin forever. As Lom searches the abandoned Lodka for Chazia’s secret archive, he is followed inside by Rizhin’s police agents, tasked by the President-Commander with demolishing the building. Despite the best efforts of the vyrdalak sisters, they succeed in their mission, and the Lodka, the final landmark of old Mirgorod, goes up in flames. And yet there is something curious about this event. In spite of the destruction of centuries worth of police files and confiscated artifacts, the novel emphatically describes the Lodka’s demise as “a good thing.” The immolation of the Lodka is another in the trilogy’s endless series of historical breaks, but it is one with a double meaning. On the one hand, it severs the last link Rizhin’s Mirgorod has with the Mirgorod of the Novozhd, the Mirgorod we were introduced to…

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(Repost) Entering a Radiant State, Part I

At long last, me and Michal Wojcik have returned to discuss the final installment of Peter Higgins’ Wolfhound Empire books, 2015’s Radiant State. Once again, the book opens with a radical break from the previous volume, with both a six-year timeskip and a Vlast that has been transformed from the crumbly half-magical tsarist-Soviet hybrid we know from the first two books into a radical science-fictional vision of Stalinist hyper-modernism. Please enjoy the first half of our review, in which we plumb the depths of Papa Rizhin’s New Vlast. (Fair warning: this may actually be the biggest installment of our review series to date. Suffice to say, I have a lot of opinions about Stalinism.)

One Last Sketch


There is only the future

At long last, we’re down to the last volume in Peter Higgins’ Wolfhound Empire trilogy, 2015’s Radiant State, and Alasdair Czyrnyj’s back for another round of discussion.

Six years have passed since Truth and Fear and the Vlast is a very different place; the nuclear shenanigans have spirited away the multi-future seed of the Pollandore and changed its fundamental nature, but have also sealed the stone archangel within the borders of the endless forest along with its new aspect in Maroussia Shaumian. Forest and Vlast are now fundamentally alienated both in space and in time; the slow struggle between angel and forest continues to play out but the rest of world is left to the designs of Papa Rizhin, the Vlast’s newly-minted dictator. And his desires are to force the Vlast into a rapid, impossible technological leap that will make humankind oust the stone…

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The Underworld Inside Her Head – Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice


Back in 2012, I was on a forum looking at a thread discussing the lackluster sales of Prototype 2, the somewhat disappointing sequel to one of my absolute favorite sandbox games. In the course of the discussion, one poster opined that the ultimate problem with the game was that it was a member of a dying breed: the “AA game.” These were games that fit in an intermediate stage between giant franchises like Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed and tiny games pushed out by small studios; too big and mechanically complex to safely self-fund, but too esoteric or dense to turn into a money-printing machine. While these sorts of games had been the bread-and-butter of a lot of publishers in the late 1990s and early 2000s, they began to disappear as more publishers moved to a blockbuster-based business model and the indie scene exploded. For myself, I have no idea if “AA game” is anything more than a journalist’s buzzword, but I have found it useful in describing the sorts of games I like: a bit flashy, but with something interesting going on under the hood.

Recently, the legend of the “AA game” has been revived in the gaming  press with Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, developed and self-published by British developer Ninja Theory and released earlier this August. I’m not that familiar with Ninja Theory, mostly because their previous games have tended to be in genres I don’t have much interest in. However, enough buzz blew up around the game in my usual haunts that I decided to plunk down $30 and have a look. What I found was…surprising, to say the least.

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(Repost) All that’s Left is Truth and Fear, Part II

And now, the second part of our discussion of Truth and Fear, in which we begin our discussion on the role nuclear weapons play in the trilogy, particularly on how they drastically alter not only the military and metaphysical balance of power, but the nature of the story.

Oh, and that header image is a little something I found while trawling online. In some ways, shortsighted postwar American optimism is the gift that keeps on giving.

One Last Sketch

Part I

Nukes are Kind of Magic

Michal: Higgins is very clear that the introduction of nuclear weapons represents a cosmic-scale shift in humankind’s relationship with the supernatural. Up until this point, the citizens of the Vlast conceptualized power almost entirely through the stone angels. The remnants of their bodies are literally the source of the Vlast’s strength, experimenting with those remnants the primary driver of industrial development. The living stone angel is the apex for most of what power even means. However, not all focus has remained on the angels, and when scientists develop nuclear technology it upends the very idea of how power works in the Vlast. Before, the measure of power was how closely you communed with the stone angels, afterwards, we’ve flipped the hierarchy. Wolfhound Century spent so much time emphasizing the insignificance of the Vlast’s petty squabble when measured against the greater struggle between…

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(Repost) All that’s Left is Truth and Fear, Part I

Well, it’s happened again. Me and my buddy Michal over at One Last Sketch are back to continue our collaborative review series of Peter Higgins’ Wolfhound Empire books. Today, our discussion focuses on Truth and Fear (2014), the second book of the trilogy. It is a story of storm and stress; of werewolves and heavy bombers, of endless snowy vistas and stinking cattle cars, of the magic of the deep forest and the alchemy of a fission reaction. Suffice to say, there’s a lot going on in this book.

And now, without further ado, please enjoy the first part of our review, in which we ramble on at length about World War II and the thematic importance of not being a Nazi.

One Last Sketch


Amidst the Ruins

As promised, I’m bringing back Alasdair Czyrnyj to continue our discussion of Peter Higgins’ Wolfhound Empire trilogy. This time, we’re taking on the middle volume, Truth and Fear.

Truth and Fear is in many ways a departure from Wolfhound Century while drawing on many of same themes and inspirations. While the first novel was mainly an atmospheric piece, here we have a much greater focus on narrative and on relating the actions of the characters to the thrust of the story.

In Wolfhound Century, the assassination of the Novozhd that capped off the novel seemed to be largely a side-event, deflated from significance by how peripheral it was to the journey of Vissarion and Maroussia, but here the full consequences of the assassination come to the fore. The power struggles in Mirgorod to fill the vacuum left behind by the beloved dictator actually have consequences…

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(Repost) Surviving the Wolfhound Century, Part II

And now, the second part of me and Michal’s discussion of Wolfhound Century, this time focusing on the antagonists of the story and the nature of Mirgorod itself.

One Last Sketch


City and Swamp

Part I

Alasdair: The point you make about authoritarian regimes narrowing the scope of possibility for the future is an important one. Indeed, all of the major antagonists of the Wolfhound Empire trilogy are concerned with remaking the Vlast according to a singular vision.

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