Fuck. Time. It is a thing. Seriously 2022 still looks like the date you’d pick for a 1960s sci fi show about a moon colony. Where’s my fucking moon colony.
I do sometimes play video games that aren’t vampire themed, but having talked about Vampire Survivors a few months ago I’ve now picked up V Rising. Confusingly, Vampire Survivors is a game which features neither survival elements nor a particularly strong vampire theme, so while I enjoyed it in all its only-costs-three-quid glory I did feel a little bit let down by the title. V Rising actually is a survival crafting sim where you play a vampire, and it’s great. It’s still early access so it has some teething problems (for a while it was impossible to play offline which was a pisser) but it does a really good job of selling the fantasy of being a full on classic Bela Lugosi-ass swishy-cloak wearing vampire. Where in other survival sims you’d be harvesting wood for lumber and rocks for ore and growing plants for food, keeping busy by day and hiding in your camp by night in case the monsters get you, in V Rising you’re … well, you’re still harvesting wood for lumber and rocks for ore, but you’re also hunting mortals for their blood and you’re mostly staying active at night while you spend the day hiding in the shadows from the terrible rays of the sun.
I will say that while the game is mostly great on the spooky-vampire-fantasy (you can build graves in your garden that spawn skeletons that you can then farm for bones) the core crafting loop does sometimes stretch it ever so slightly. Like I revisited Dracula fairly recently (hot damn Stoker loves the word “voluptuous”) and I’m pretty sure I missed the bit where it goes:
Jonathan Harker’s Journal, 3 May: I looked out of the window tonight and saw a sight that both sickened me and chilled my blood. The Count was standing in the courtyard chopping down trees with an axe, then a wolf came up to him and he circle-strafed around it until it was dead, then he picked up the hides it had dropped and went back to farming mats.
The Spice Girls Being on the Circle
I like reality TV. And of the reality TV that I like I find The Circle one of the easiest to like uncomplicatedly. I think it’s something about the artificiality of the setup—everybody in their own little rooms spending most of their time doing slightly absurd timewasting activities and occasionally having group chats in a highly restricted, clearly controlled format. It makes the whole thing very, very low-stakes. Nobody is looking for a career. Nobody is looking for love. Nobody is looking to become America’s Next Top Anything. It’s a popularity contest that openly states it’s a popularity contest populated by contestants who are so bored out of their minds half the time that they tend not to be able to invest too much in the actual contest part as anything other than a distraction from being locked in what does ultimately boil down to solitary confinement for three weeks.
And somehow, the all-in-good-fun-low-stakesness was improved immeasurably by the introduction of the Spice Girls.
There’s a bit of context to this. Apparently one of the Bs (either Mel or Emma—they both wound up on the show) was a big fan of The Circle and said as much on Whichever Social Media Platform People Are Using These Days, and the creator/director/showrunner reached out and said “hey, do you want to do a thing?”
For those who aren’t familiar with the show, its whole premise is that because all the contestants are isolated nobody knows who anybody else is, and contestants are able to enter as either themselves, or as somebody else they know. So you get people playing their husbands, their sisters, their mothers, and so on. And sometimes, they’re the Spice Girls.
Obviously, millionaire celebrities competing for a cash prize against people who actually need the money is kind of sketchy, so the setup was a bit different. The Spice Girls entered under a profile provided by the production company, with instructions that if they could remain undetected the other contestants would get more money. This could, in theory, have led to the other contestants screwing themselves, since they’d have got nothing if they’d rumbled the Spice Girls too early but, well, reality TV is fake and a huge amount of the series was set up to make it practically impossible for that to happen.
The way it worked was that the Spice Girls acted as completely ordinary players for a couple of episodes, then sent a video message (on the show’s instructions) to the rest of the players saying “hi, one of the players in this game is actually The Spice Girls”, and the other players were then asked to solve the mystery of Which Player Is Secretly The Spice Girls. There is no lower stakes mystery than Who Is Secretly The Spice Girls. In fact, there is no situation which cannot be improved by assuming that somebody is Secretly The Spice Girls. Very occasionally, the secret identity aspect of The Circle can go to some places that are a bit difficult, like if somebody winds up in a flirty relationship with a person who turns out not to be the person they thought they were flirting with, and that can sometimes make people feel slightly betrayed, but it’s pretty much impossible to feel betrayed by somebody being Secretly The Spice Girls.
You might notice I’ve been saying Secretly The Spice Girls a lot. That’s because it gets said a lot in the show and it never stops being funny. Because The Circle is reality TV, there are bits where the players kind of speak their thoughts aloud like they’re doing a soliloquy in a Shakespeare play and the moment the Spice Girls were in play, half those soliloquys were people saying things like “but what if he’s … The Spice Girls” or “I just don’t think Carol would be …The Spice Girls” or in one particularly excellent case “have I just been flirting … with the Spice Girls?”
Everything is funnier when you assume things are The Spice Girls.
My New Website
Umm…you’re looking at it right now? Hi! It’s cool! I hope you like it. It was made by Joelle of Moxie Design Studios.
Rewatching All of Poirot
There is a certain Sunday-afternoon comfort to Agatha Christie’s Poirot (as in the TV series named Agatha Christie’s Poirot with David Suchet as Poirot as opposed to the character of Poirot created by Agatha Christie). It ran for long enough that widescreen became a standard format for TV midway through, and over the course of its twenty-four year run they did every goddamned novel and short story Christie wrote with the exception of a few shorts that were later adapted into full-length novels, the play Black Coffee that wasn’t novelised in Christie’s lifetime, and the technically-non-canon The Regatta Mystery.
I’m trying to capture, in words, the strange nostalgic feeling of watching Poirot and failing hard (hell I wrote an entire novel that tried to capture that feeling and I’m not sure I managed it). It’s all tied up in my head with a whole lot of place-and-time stuff that, if I’m honest, doesn’t have a huge amount to do with the actual mysteries. In a lot of ways Poirot is an idea as much as anything else and for basically anybody who watched TV in the UK in the 1990s that idea is David Suchet with a funny moustache.
In the original run, the first three series, and series five, were mostly adaptations of specific short stories while series 4 and 6-13 were feature-length adaptations of full novels. They were released fairly infrequently (hence the twenty-plus year run time despite “only” thirteen seasons), and some of the later series only had two episodes total so it was kind of event television, not really designed to be sat down and binged over the course of a couple of weeks on a sofa. But since that’s how I watched it, that’s really coloured my perception of the whole thing. And not in a bad way, necessarily, just in a way that really changes the emphasis of some things.
For example, when you stream multiple series in a row holy crap do you notice how often disguise and mistaken identity appear as major plot points. In the later series there are about five consecutive episodes where the major plot reveals are (spoilers, although not by name, for multiple very old detective stories follow): that the killer disguised herself as the victim in order to attend a family funeral and throw off the time of death/suggest a connection between a murder and unrelated death from natural causes; that the real murder had taken place years earlier and that the mysterious heiress around whom the mystery revolved had been the victim, the woman purporting to be that heiress now being an imposter (both this and the previous episode involve the explicit clue that nobody has seen the character in question for many years previously); that the killer, who was using an assumed name and was really the disguised son of a murderess, impersonated his victim by telephone in order to draw other suspects to the crime scene to create the impression that the killer was a woman; that the killer was an actual undercover spy; that the prime suspect’s father was really a man he had known in South Africa who was impersonating him to steal his inheritance (which, once again he could do because nobody had seen him in many years); and okay they’re not the exact same plot beat but those are consecutive episodes over two seasons and when you watch them all in a row, they add up.
One of the things I observed about the necessity of the changes in the second series of Bridgerton was that genres run on tropes and that some tropes work fine when they recur in books but look really odd when they recur in a visual medium you’re binge-watching. Even on TV, as originally broadcast, the episodes would have been fine—you’re be watching them weeks or years apart and because there’s no ongoing story you wouldn’t really be considering them as a single continuous thing. Plus the “fair play” style of mystery, even more than romance absolutely needs its tropes to work properly. While I was writing this part of this post, I took another glance at The Simple Art of Murder to see if I could find a pithy Chandler quote to explain why solving a cosy mystery is about genre familiarity more than it is familiarity with actual matters of evidence. I was thinking of that line about how the sort of person who knows a lot about Egyptian needlework doesn’t know a lot about the police (I think there’s some unexamined assumptions going on there but that’s a different conversation) but I was amused to find that only a paragraph after the bit I was looking for he launches into a long description of the plot of A. A. Milne’s 1922 novel The Red House Mystery. A novel which hinges (spoilers for a book that turned 100 in April) on the murderer persuading the victim to impersonate his own brother so that when the “brother” is murdered and the victim “disappears” he can be the prime suspect in his own death. This plot works because—wait for it—nobody has seen the victim’s brother in many years.
I admit I only found this funny because I’d chain-watched most of Poirot. But I still found it very funny.
The thing is, Chandler makes a big deal about how implausible this is and, yeah, no duh. But he goes on to conclude that this makes the novel worthless as an “exercise in logic and deduction”, which I think kind of misses the point. A classic detective story is an exercise in logic and deduction in the same way a game of Cluedo is an exercise in logic and deduction. Yes when you think about it it’s weird that you’ve got a murder that’s being investigated only by the suspects, where you have no idea where the killing took place even though several of the possible murder weapons would have caused the victim to bleed copiously, and where apparently the state of the body is such that it could as easily have been killed with a rope as a revolver. But that isn’t the game, and suggesting that the game falls apart because it doesn’t map 1:1 onto what you think real world policing looks like would be immensely silly.
Incidentally, going back and rereading The Simple Art of Murder and, after that, Why Do People Read Detective Stories and its follow-up Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd was a timely reminder for me that pissing on each other’s genres (Edmund Wilson clearly has exactly as much contempt for Chandler as Chandler has for the golden age of detective fiction and sees no real distinction between the two subgenres) is as old as the hills and has always had a strong air of being petty-minded bullshit.
And thinking about it, in a lot of ways I took the wrong lesson away from my season after season of back-to-back Poirot. Because to an extent I absolutely was meant to notice that the recurrence of the “but Messieur Gray, he had not been seen in these parts for many years” trope. And I wasn’t supposed to forget about it so I’d be surprised the next time, I was supposed to remember it so I’d notice the next time because that’s part of the game. Chandler is dead right that you can’t solve a cosy detective story by asking “what would the actual police actually do in this situation?” That’s not the point. What you’re supposed to ask yourself is “what do I know from other novels of this type that I have read?” You’re absolutely supposed to pick up on a casual reference to somebody having been out of the country for years and recognise that it’s a clue.
Also: there are two murders on luxury trains. Agatha, I love ya, but I really feel you only get to play that card once.
I have recently rediscovered the Pot Noodle. They are bangin’. This, I should stress, is the only adjective that I think correctly describes the positive qualities of the pot noodle. Like I don’t think they can strictly be described as nice and they certainly aren’t good for you but there are times when you just really want a Pot Noodle and then you have a Pot Noodle and then you say to yourself “ah, that was bangin’.”
So that’s what I’ve Liked this month. As ever, tell me what you Liked in the comments or, y’know, don’t.
Oh, and … err … I’m (virtually) at the Blue Willow bookshop tomorrow night if that’s a thing you’d like to come to! You do have to register via the link but the event itself is free!