Perhaps not the best music objectively speaking, but certainly the music that had the greatest impact on my year

Every year, I like to do some kind of write-up of the music I enjoyed the most.

There was a lot of good music this year, and I listened to it while in quarantine, while moving over the summer, and ultimately adjusting to what life looks like in 2020. Below, in reverse order of how much I liked them, you’ll find my favorite albums from this year.

I distinctly remember first listening to Saint Cloud during the early months of the pandemic. Its late-March release primed this album to become my background music to coping with a changed world and…

How ‘Hades’ shows the strengths of relying on ancient stories for inspiration

Supergiant games are known for making fascinating video games that usually marry beautiful storytelling with intriguing gameplay. Their latest title, Hades, raises this (deserved) reputation even further. For proof, look no further than The Game Awards list of game of the year nominees. Sitting alongside heavy hitters like The Last of Us Part II and Ghost of Tsushima you’ll find the comparatively small budget Hades vying for the year’s highest honor.

That Hades is an amazing video game is hardly news, especially to anyone who has read press coverage around the title. I want to take a few words to…

A good, if slightly underwhelming, return to the world of ‘The First Law’

Joe Abercrombie is a prolific fantasy author (and a pretty interesting person to follow on Twitter, too). He’s best known for his First Law trilogy, but he has also written a few young-adult books, a follow-up trilogy to First Law, and a set of spinoff books set in the same universe. Best Served Cold is one of those spinoffs. It’s about a mercenary in Styria, a nation geographically close to Adua (where much of The First Law is set.

I chose to read this book because I liked The First Law a great deal and think Abercrombie’s writing style is…

A fantastic end to a trilogy I wish more people were talking about

It could be just me, but it seems like there have been a lot of fantasy novels that have a title in the “ ____ of ______” format lately. Robert Jackson Bennett’s excellent Divine Cities trilogy all had titles like this, as did the first two books in Chakraborty’s Daevabad trilogy before Empire. To be quite honest, I get the appeal. The titles sound cool and allow the author to strike the right balance between cryptic and engaging.

The book I want to spend this post briefly reviewing, The Empire of Gold, is an excellent end to what was already…

RJ Barker’s imagination and world-building make this project stand out

I got roughly 2/3s through RJ Barker’s excellent The Bone Ships before I realized that the term the book used for sea dragons — “arakeesians” — was unique to his work. I had googled the term, looking for some pictures to jog my imagination, but it turns out that these mythical creatures only exist (at least as far as I can tell) in The Bone Ships. This realization told me two things: that Barker has a pretty cool imagination and that he’s really good at telling stories.

The Bone Ships is a nautical fantasy story about hunting down a sea…

A unique setting, an engaging story, and intentional design make this game stand out

I can count on a few fingers the number of times that playing a video game has left me truly terrified. There are a few scenes in The Last of Us and its sequel that would be on the list, as well as a few other games that boast equally scary moments. But the thing about video games is that they’re often designed so you can beat them, which means that (usually) even the biggest bad guys can be beaten down with enough time and energy.

However, there are some games where the most threatening enemies can’t be beaten. All…

Why the games are a comforting presence, even though they look different

The first thing that hits you when you turn on a sporting event in 2020 is that everything is different. MLB and NBA games are taking place in front of empty stadiums, and the NFL will also play for fewer people than normal once it gets started this week. Sports are often touted as an escape from the stress of everyday life, but at this particular moment they also serve as a stark reminder of how different things are this year.

And yet, when I watch baseball or basketball, I find that these games have most of the same appeal…

How the author of World War Z created another terrifying story that reads like nonfiction

Escapism has rarely been more appealing than in the middle of a pandemic. The chance to throw on a tv show, pick up a book, or sink into a video game and forget the outside world can give people a chance to forget everything around them, if only for a few minutes. The escapism label clearly applies to Max Brooks’ Devolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre, but perhaps not in the way most people might want. …

Months after finishing the game, I’m still captivated by its story and presentation

Mobius Digital // Annapurna Interactive

Haunting guitar notes greeted my first meeting with Outer Wilds, the 2019 indie game created by Mobius Digital and published by Annapurna Interactive. As the game’s menu loaded in, the melody gradually bloomed into a beautiful theme, the centerpiece of the game’s soundtrack. Great music doesn’t always mean a great game, but in this case the two are inextricably linked.

I’m writing this post because — months after I hit the final credits — the music, story, and overall experience of playing Outer Wilds all refuse to leave my head. This is a rare game, truly unique in the industry…

Why a book about a pandemic is perfect reading in the summer of 2020

Back in the spring, in what now seems like the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, I wrote about reading Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven. It’s a post-apocalyptic novel set in the aftermath of a civilization-destroying plague and reading it felt fitting as nations around the world shut down. It turns out that Station Eleven — as excellent as it is — isn’t the only book that fits perfectly with our time. Enter Lawrence Wright’s The End of October.

A novel about a literal pandemic sweeping through the United States, The End of October feels at once both eerily…

Thomas Jenkins

Writer, among other things. Here, you’ll find my thoughts on a host of subjects, but primarily history and video games.

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