Layered Snake: What Writers Can Learn from Metal Gear Solid — Engen Books

•October 8, 2019 • Leave a Comment

Hideo Kojima, the creative force behind the Metal Gear Solid series and, most recently, Death Stranding, is one the gaming industry’s great auteurs. With each entry in the MGS series, he pushed the envelope with regards to how a video game can tell a story. In this blog post I’m going to talk about some strategies […]

via Layered Snake: What Writers Can Learn from Metal Gear Solid — Engen Books

Welcome to the Loser’s Club: Some Thoughts on It Chapter Two

•September 7, 2019 • Leave a Comment

Guys, have you heard the news? It: Chapter Two is long. Like really long. Like really really long. You’re gonna have to go nearly three hours without checking your phone. I heard it was so long, someone died while they were watching it. It’s that long!

Joking aside, yes, the movie is too long. But it’s getting a little exhausting seeing every review immediately prefaced with a diatribe on the run-time. Has our attention spans gotten so bad that watching a slightly overlong movie now qualifies as some kinda torture?

Personally, I didn’t start feeling the length until the ending. There’s an unnecessary LOTR-style multiple closings. I’m gonna try and keep this blog post spoiler-free as much as possible, so I’ll just say there’s like three possible endings and they should’ve just stuck with one.

Of course, when people complain about run-time, it’s really pacing they’re complaining about. And It: Chapter 2 is definitely guilty of some pacing issues. On top of the ending, I thought some of the flashback sequences were too long, which came at the expense of developing the characters as adults. I would’ve liked to have seen more time spent with the adults in the current lives. That first act felt very rushed. The Muschiettis really wanted to get them all to Derry as fast as possible. If they’d trimmed the movie by like twenty mins, it would’ve been perfect. Or at least better prioritized screen time.


Overall, I was really pleased with It Chapter 2. But I probably came in with lower expectations than most, because the old TV mini series’ part 2 is just so spectacularly awful. Also, the adult sections of the book tend to be the most boring. So the Muschiettis had their work cut out for them. It’s also worth noting this is the first big time movie for them. Yes, It was very successful, but it had a much smaller budget and exceeded its expectations. I feel like they really wanted to do justice to the story and reached a little too far with scope and editing etc.

The movie’s greatest strength is definitely the casting. Bill Skarskgard was a great choice as Pennywise, and James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain are solid as usual. But Bill Hader and James Ransone really steal the show here. Real talk, Ransone as adult Eddie Kaspbrack might be the most inspired casting since Brando as Don Corleone. OK, maybe I’m being hyperbolic. Maybe.

In terms of the direction, I would argue that, in some ways, It: Chapter 2 better captures the tone of the novel than the first movie. There’s a manic energy in this movie that is so rare. It felt like it was a comedy where the horror intruded, which we don’t see a lot in western horror films. Muschietti seemed inspired by Korean horror like The Host or The Wailing. This is appropriate because when Stephen King is at his full powers, he manages to combine melodrama, comedy, and horror into a delicious cocaine-fueled stew. It: Chapter 2 is best in the moments that it manages to capture that vibe.


It has always been my favourite King novel, even thought it’s not his best (I’d say Pet Sematary is). I read It when I was 14 and can remember being shocked by its content. I didn’t know you were allowed to publish that kind of stuff. There are scenes in that novel that are unfilmable — and not just *that* scene.

The novel’s structure also makes it a challenge to adapt. Rather than halving the book chronologically like the TV mini series and films, King bounces back and forth in time. This leads to a double climax that is one of the most amazing conclusions I’ve ever read. The last 200 pages or so of It is King’s best writing. I’d reason It would work best as a longer TV mini series in the vein of Mike Flanagan’s recent Hill House. Maybe in another twenty-seven years I can hope for the next adaptation lol.

It is also King’s most Lovecraftian novel. Pennywise is very much inspired by Nyarlathotep. But It is more than just a Lovecraft pastiche. There’s also a Shirley Jackson-esque critique of small town America. It is the King novel that contains all King novels. He called It his dissertation on the horror genre. This is clear with all his homages to classic cinematic horror monsters as well as the frequent meditations on phobias and nightmarish visions.


More than that, It really shows King’s core philosophy. Unlike Lovecraft, who was consumed with a cynical nihilism, King is willing to gaze into the abyss without succumbing to despair.

Pennywise serves as a metaphor for inherent cruelty of life. He is presented as a chthonic force, millions of years old. The town of Derry is built atop his nest, and he thrives under its indifference. The Losers are terrorized by Pennywise and Bowers but the adults do nothing. King’s message is clear: the world is a nasty place and all the institutions you think are meant to protect you (family, law, community) will fail you.

But this is where King and Lovecraft part ways. Instead of his characters all dying or losing their minds, they fight back. Instead of succumbing to the abyss, they create friendships that are stronger than any familial or community bond. I love this earnestness in King’s writing. In Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, Gertrude Stein says “We all fear death and question our place in the universe. The artist’s job is not to succumb to despair but to find an antidote for the emptiness of existence.” When the Losers defeat Pennywise, King is showing how friendship is the antidote to despair.

So It isn’t just King’s love letter to horror, it’s also a testament to friendship. I’d argue the Muschiettis really grasped this duality, which is why their two movies shine despite their flaws.

Dracarys! Spectacle vs Storytelling — Engen Books

•May 15, 2019 • Leave a Comment

Another episode of Game of Thrones and another cry of indignation from fans. This seems to have become the norm with this season, the cracks having started to form in the one previous. Coincidentally, these are the seasons where the showrunners have truly had to go on without source material; season six was still dealing […]

via Dracarys! Spectacle vs Storytelling — Engen Books

Parade’s End: Thoughts on Endgame

•April 28, 2019 • Leave a Comment

!Warning! Endgame spoilers! Turn back now!


After about ten years and twenty movies and we’ve finally seen the culmination of one of the most ambitious film projects in history. Whether you like the MCU or superhero movies in general, you have to concede that Infinity War and Endgame represent one of the biggest moments in modern popular culture. We have such few examples of monoculture nowadays, that it is cool to see so many people around the world hyped over one movie.

Personally, I really enjoyed it. I can’t think of any other examples where a movie had to meet so many expectations. Maybe Phantom Menace. And that certainly didn’t deliver. It’s not like these ensemble movies write themselves either. Look at Justice League to see how easily something like this can go sideways.

Gotta give lots of respect to the Russo brothers. I’ll admit that I had my doubts when they were brought on for Winter Soldier, but I was clearly wrong. I mean, who has ever watched an episode of Arrested Development or Community and thought these guys could do something like that battle scene in Endgame? They’re apparently moving on from the MCU and I’m excited to see what they’re gonna do next.

This is obviously a huge turning point in general for the MCU. A few integral characters have been killed off or semi-retired, and a new crop are being positioned towards the centre. Also, Disney seems to have corralled all the Marvel IPs, so we can probably expect the X-Men and Fantastic Four, etc to be brought into the fold.

What has impressed me most about the MCU project is that they managed to pull this off without their most famous characters: Wolverine and Spider-Man. I was skeptical that Iron Man, Captain America and Thor could carry this thing. But it was really Robert Downey Jr that made it all happen. It was therefore only fitting that he got the big hero’s exit.

Personally, I was really hoping that it would be Nebula to kill Thanos, but I can see why they went with Tony.


Speaking of personal wishes not coming true, I’ve noticed a vocal minority of fans lashing out at Cap’s ending with hashtags like #notmysteverogers. There’s more than a few thinkpieces going around that “Stucky” never got its due. Some people are even suggesting that this is the Russos lashing out at fandoms shipping these characters. Nevermind that it was the Russos who really pushed Stucky in Winter Soldier and Civil War.

What pisses me off about this kinda fandom entitlement is that instead of just saying “well, this is what I wanted and am disappointed it didn’t happen” these stans feel the need to raise their disappointment to the level of low rent criticism. I’m sorry, but it isn’t out of character (OOC) for Cap to want to have a relationship with Peggy. His heartache over that loss has been a steady part of his character throughout the entire MCU. It’s not unreasonable that the guy felt totally spent after all he’s been though and decided it was his time to live his own life on his terms.

Now, the ending prioritizes Falcon over Bucky. But so what? Falcon had a strong relationship with Cap, too. Personally, it seemed Cap was sitting there like he was leaving it up to them to see who would take up the mantle. And Bucky encouraged Falcon to go for it. Within this MCU, it makes more sense for Falcon to be Cap now. Maybe you felt like Stucky needed a more proper sendoff, but I don’t see anything egregiously wrong here with regards to character arcs, etc.

Again, it’s perfectly fine to be disappointed that a franchise you’ve invested a lot in didn’t go a certain direction you were expecting or hoping. But to take your personal disappointment and use it to shit all over said franchise is the kinda toxic fandom bullshit we’ve seen time and again with stuff like Star Wars.

There’s lots of great reasons I could give why Nebula should’ve been the one to stop Thanos, but there’s great reasons for Tony as well. The creators have to make tough choices and maybe they felt like after *three* movies of Stucky, that was a relationship that didn’t need more precious screen time. For all we know, they may have shot such a scene but felt like it detracted from Falcon’s moment.

Kant said that aesthetic judgment is a subjective experience that feels objective. We see a work of art and we feel like our personal experience of it should be felt by everyone else. But that’s impossible. That’s what makes art such a confounding and fun–in my opinion anyway–to debate. This paradox, which Kant articulated so beautifully, applies more than ever in our social media age of endless verbiage.



The Virtue of Final Fantasy VII’s Ambiguous Ending

•April 18, 2019 • Leave a Comment

Whatever the medium, ambiguous endings can oftentimes feel gimmicky. Like the creators are thumbing their nose and the audience, or they’re reaching for some kinda unearned gravitas. However, when used correctly, ambiguous endings can help to drive home certain thematic points or character arcs. I’d argue that Final Fantasy VII, which has arguably one of the most controversial endings in all of gaming, does exactly that.

Spoilers ahead!


Aside from killing off one of its main characters, FF7 shocked gamers when it potentially killed all off the rest of them (excluding Red XIII). Or did they?

Final Fantasy VII ends with Aeries’s Holy defeating Sephiroth’s Meteor. However, it is up to Holy to decide whether it is best for the planet to eradicate all of humanity. We see Holy destroy Meteor, but beyond that the game doesn’t give us a clear answer. During an after-credits cutscene, we see Red XIII running with, presumably, his children to show them the ruins of Midgar, overgrown with vegetation. The screen does a quick edit to the FF7 logo with the sound of children laughing.

There are then two ways to interpret this: 1) Holy decided humans were a threat and now only animals and other sentient beings like Red XIII are left. 2) People have survived, but are living more in tune with nature, hence the laughing children.

For the purposes of this post, I don’t intend to argue which of these interpretations is correct. Rather, I want to point to the purposeful ambiguity and how it reinforces the story’s themes.

(I’m also going to ignore the sequels.)


FF7 was pretty ahead of its time with its embrace of environmentalist themes and its critique of modern industrialization. Shinra plundering the earth for mako is clearly a metaphor for our present day over-reliance on fossil fuels. The Cetra, who are a sort of inter-planetary custodians, are presented as the ideal. If I may use a cliche, they are “one with nature.”

We follow our cast of characters through around forty hours of gameplay (that’s if you’re not being a completionist or a speedrunner) as they defeat Shinra, Jenova, and Sephiroth. Along the way, each character is given a rich backstory and mini arc, which I think is a big reason why FF7 is head and shoulders above its peers. By the end of the game you really care about these characters, so it’s a pretty big punch in the guts when the ending comes and they’re potentially wiped out due to an environmental disaster.

The ending is thus a sort of activist call to arms. It’s saying, if you want to protect the things you care about then you must do something. If the ending showed the characters surviving then the gamer would have walked away with a sense of completion; it wouldn’t linger in your brain. On the other hand, if it had explicitly shown that the characters were dead then it would have came across as too fatalistic, that we can’t do anything. The ambiguity of the ending leaves just enough reasonable doubt to believe the characters survived.

The ending hits that perfect note somewhere between hope and despair.

Final Fantasy Foiling: Sephiroth vs Cloud — Engen Books

•April 7, 2019 • Leave a Comment

One of the great challenges writers face is creating a compelling conflict between their protagonist and antagonist. Too often the hero and villain exist within in their own respective vacuums. The hero saves the day because that’s their job while the villain twirls their moustache and exists as the hero’s make-work project. I think a […]

via Final Fantasy Foiling: Sephiroth vs Cloud — Engen Books

Useful Idiot: The unexpected virtue of Trudeau’s gender equality

•March 10, 2019 • 1 Comment

After four years of writing the same “Has Justin Trudeau lost his stride?” op-ed, conservative columnists around the country can finally rejoice. Yes, there were a few minor inside baseball hiccups here and there, but this SNC Lavalin/Jody Wilson-Raybould is a many-tentacled monster of Lovecraftian proportions. Based on his treatment of JWR, and now other female cabinet members, Trudeau has been outted, rightly I’d argue, for being a fake feminist. To borrow a phrase from The Wire, this is Trudeau’s first bowl of shit.

Back in 2015, when Trudeau was recently elected, he famously chose his cabinet members to be 50/50 across gender lines. I defended this move in a blog post at the time, and I stand by it, even though it didn’t work out the way he wanted it to. All those conservatives who scoffed at it at then should now be grateful because without it Trudeau would still be arguably invulnerable.

Allow me to explain.

As an aboriginal woman, JWR isn’t a part of the old, white Laurentian boys club of Canadian politics. Once a weakness, this is now a strength. She doesn’t need their approval to survive. So when Trudeau and his regime tried to strong arm her into kowtowing to the party line, she refused.

This is the virtue of a diverse party. Individuals can step out of line because they’re less beholden to the same sources of power.

Conservatives and New Democrats are drooling at the possibility this could be the end of Trudeau’s Liberals, but I have my doubts. Harper had his share of scandals, including being the only party in the history of the Commonwealth to be found in contempt of parliament.

Also–depending what else comes of this–I don’t see this as a big challenge for the Liberals to spin. It seems like no laws were broken and Trudeau could argue that he was just trying to protect jobs. Seeing how all the SNC Lavalin scandals happened under the Conservatives, I’m sure they’ll be wary of leaning too hard into this.

To me, it seems like a bubble.

If Trudeau is going to be defeated it’ll come down to the economy, which seems to be doing pretty good, and his Carbon Tax.

Deep Work: Why a $2 kitchen timer was one of the best investments I made in my writing — Engen Books

•February 10, 2019 • Leave a Comment

In a recent post, I talked about flow and the effort it takes to achieve it. Today, I want to talk more about that, specifically about making your writing space “sacred” and creating a “closed-loop system,” particularly with regards to distractions, vis a vis your phone. In that post about flow, I discussed the pomodoro […]

via Deep Work: Why a $2 kitchen timer was one of the best investments I made in my writing — Engen Books

Otaku ’bout It: Why Horror Is Having a Moment — Engen Books

•December 15, 2018 • Leave a Comment

If you have any kind of feel for the zeitgeist then you’ve noticed that the horror genre is having quite the moment nowadays. There have always been successful horror movies like Paranormal Activity or Saw that spawn lucrative imitators, etc. but presently there are releases that are also enjoying heaps of critical praise like Get […]

via Otaku ’bout It: Why Horror Is Having a Moment — Engen Books

Podcast Interview: This Is Your Mixtape

•December 5, 2018 • Leave a Comment

I recently had a great chat with Michael Collins (not the Irish revolutionary) of This Is Your Mixtape, a podcast where guests pick five songs that impacted them throughout their life. You can check out the interview here. There’s lots of other great episodes to check out there as well. It’s also available on iTunes, Spotify, etc.


For my five songs I picked Scar Tissue – Red Hot Chili Peppers; The Decline – NoFX; All The Things You Are – Joe Pass; Sounds of Science – The Beastie Boys; Atlas, Rise! – Metallica

The main thread throughout the conversation started with me picking up guitar as an adolescent after I saw the music video for Scar Tissue and my growth as a musician and subsequent transition into being an author. This lead to topics like self-confidence, virtuosity vs artistry, recognizing when to give up on certain goals, and re-discovering things you liked when you were a kid as an adult.