In gaming, I'm in the middle of Tron 2.0. It really is a rather fun little game, even if "pine 3.0" does show up as a resource-hogging application on the 80's-era mainframe from the original movie. I felt guilty derezzing it; I still use "pine" as my mailreader, after all (now up to version 4.58!). I guess that makes me some sort of luddite nowadays.
In reading, first up is Nightmare House by Douglas Clegg (Cemetery Dance, 2002). Ethan Gravesend's grandfather has just died, leaving Harrow, his rambling New England mansion, to Ethan. Ethan moves in and immediately starts seeing strange things in the mansion and on the grounds (including an unusually large population of feral cats; not that this is particularly relevant, but hey, I like cats). As one immediately expects given the setup, the mansion hides all manner of secrets; Ethan's grandfather was apparently much more than he seemed. And, of course, helping and hindering Ethan in his investigations are the usual stock of characters: the dowager butleress Mrs. Wentworth; the shy and shifty maid Maggie; the small town policeman Grayson Pocket. From a spoiler-free summary, it all sounds a bit trite, but Clegg does wonders with the setting. All the characters turn out to have unexpected depths, and the secrets of the mansion are far more bizarre than I was expecting. Throughout, Clegg does a brilliant job of maintaining the creepy atmosphere and constant tension. A great book, and I'm looking forward to the sequels (which, conveniently, are already sitting on my shelves).
I haven't read many graphic novels over the years, but I do try to read one now and then for variety. Most recent was Alex Robinson's Box Office Poison (Top Shelf, 2002). The characters are an assortment of 20-something's trying to make it in New York City. There's Sherman, a bookstore clerk; his friend Ed, who wants to be a cartoonist, still living at home; Irving Flavor, an old and bitter former cartoonist Ed works for; Dorothy, another writer and eventually, Sherman's girlfriend; and Jane and Stephen, the more-or-less happy couple from whom Sherman rents a room (they have a cat, too). Box Office Poison follows the rise and fall of the characters' relationships, Ed goads Irving into suing his old publisher for a share of the movie revenue from his old characters, Sherman thinks about quitting his job a lot. In other words, it's about ordinary people living ordinary lives. But it's charmingly done, with lots of good humor, and I found it an oddly addictive read.
Back to prose, next up is Lucky Wander Boy by D. B. Weiss (Plume, 2003). This is a book in which the narrator, Adam Pennyman, rhapsodizes about MAME, and is compiling a "Catalogue of Obsolete Entertainments", consisting of scholarly essays about the Golden Age of video games from 1978 to 1984 ("The Pac-Man's insatiable hunger for the dots and Power Pills that fill the corridors of his maze-worlds suggests weighty parallels, such as the ravenous hunger for More Life that Darwin saw in all species, any one of which would overpopulate and overrun the earth if not for the predatory ghosts of natural selection."). Just as Adam's girlfriend finds his preoccupation with MAME incredibly tedious, I would imagine anyone who hasn't played Pac-Man, Frogger, Donkey Kong, et al. would find this book impossibly dull. Adam spends most of the book working for a typical Bay Area Web portal gaming and entertainment company. Weiss perfectly captures the feel of working for a dot com and the bizarre business processes dictated by the warped logic of venture capitalists. Adam has taken the job (which he mostly tries to avoid doing) in hopes of meeting the creator of Lucky Wander Boy, who has optioned movie rights to his employer. His quest to actually meet her becomes increasingly bizarre, with an ending as unexpected and strange as you might find in the weirdest of Japanese RPG's. The book itself is written in an over-the-top literary style; it's a great parody of a "serious" literary work. I liked it a lot, but it's definitely not for everybody.
In a much more serious vein, Homecoming by Natasha Radojcic-Kane (Four Walls Eight Windows, 2002) is a novel about a Muslim Croatian soldier returning to his small hometown village after being wounded in the war in Sarajevo. Halid really didn't want to return home, but the hospital needed the bed for more critically injured, and former soldiers were not welcome in Sarajevo after the tentative peace in 1993. His best friend Momir, a Christian, fought for the other side, and was killed by a land mine. Halid himself has terrible memories of the killing he has done; he cannot face his mother when he returns home, sleeping in the family's orchard rather than returning to his house. The town itself is as depressing a place as you can find, the factories closed, most of the men still at war, or dead, the women and children near starving. Only the gypsies, who have taken over an abandoned workers barracks outside town, are doing well, making money on gambling and black market cigarettes and guns. Halid wants to make things better, but between bad judgement and too much drink, and taken advantage of by those he once thought his friends, he finds nothing but despair. This is a first novel for Radojcic-Kane, but it's excellently written. It's also one of the most depressing books I've ever read.
Finally, a random short story, "The Quest for Saint Aquin" by Anthony Boucher (in The Compleat Boucher, NESFA, 1999, originally published in F&SF January 1959). In a world ruled by the Technarchy, in which all religion and superstitious belief has been banned, Thomas has been sent by the pope (who is living undercover) to locate the body of Aquin to verify that it has been uncorrupted and that Aquin should thus be elevated to sainthood. Assisted by a talking robass (robotic donkey), with whom he discusses theology, and who in the end, tries to tempt Thomas away from his goal, Thomas travels to Aquin's secret resting place where he learns the truth about Aquin's miraculous abilities to convert people to Christianity. A rather unusual story, very nicely told, but with an ending that I imagine would infuriate any atheists who happen to read it.