Smugglivus

3…2…1…HAPPY by A.E. Ash

Welcome to Smugglivus 2017! Throughout this month, we will have guests – authors and bloggers alike – looking back at their favorite reads of 2017, looking forward to events and upcoming books in 2018, and more.

Our Smugglivus guest today is A.E. Ash, author the short story “Luminous” and the 2017 novella Temporary Duty Assignment

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2017 was crowded and overloud with a whole lot of big freaking awful. Driven to aggressive self-care, I set out to find lightness and sane wherever I could find it. Surrounded by good hearts and blessed with the means to partake of media and the tech that supports it, I dove into many things this year–catching up on my HUGE Comixology backlog, hitting up the local library for manga, gobbling up new (to me) music that made my heart kinder, gaming when I was able, hermiting while I mainlined sweet slice-of-life anime and yes, petting my kittycats a lot, lot, lot.

Three Good and Right things rose to the top of this blessedly impressive pile of lovely things, and I’ll recount what kept me ticking up till now.

3…Listening

One rainy day in a coffee shop, I Shazam’ed a song that made my soul feel a bit healed just in the short excerpt I heard. Smooth, chill beats; a woman’s voice like velvet and sun and neon lights gleaming on a rain-washed city…

Lianne La Havas. <3

The song was Green and Gold, from her album Blood. That same week, hubby told me about two recent purchases he was loving–Laura Mvula’s intense and transforming album, The Dreaming Room (just try to listen to Phenomenal Woman without something awesome happening in your soul) and La Havas’s album that I had only just heard about myself. These are not new–2016 and 2015 respectively, but they were new to us.

I remember that first night I heard Blood all the way through–hubby’s new speakers, a day in the summer when everything was warm and golden melting into a mellow night–and then, THAT VOICE. The opening song, Unstoppable, shimmered into my reality, studded with stars and hope and I don’t remember much after that–just that I was in a better place when the last song drew to a close. La Havas’s lyrics do not shy from struggles or past regret but there everything she writes seems to be infused with innate warmth, gratitude and determination that is infectious. The production quality is wonderful, her muscianship and songwriting exquisite–I cannot praise this album enough. Go, buy it. Do yourself a favor and let some luminous new music into your world.

2…Gaming

This year, my birthday was supposed to be a blip on the radar. I prefer it that way–I’m not one much for big to-do’s, being shy and anxious and all. August was such a busy month, too–I had the honor of celebrating the release of Temporary Duty Assignment, my sci-fi with romance elements novella from our very own beloved Book Smugglers for their amazing Novella Initiative. I was dealing with some heavy chronic pain issues and life changes, and forcing myself to find downtime was a challenge. I remembered at one point how I watched hubby playing Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild earlier in the year and for the first time in a while, I experienced console jealousy. Enter my birthday present–a Nintendo Switch. I’ll not review the console here–others have done that far better–but let’s say, it’s fantastic and I love it.

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is winning Game of the Year awards everywhere, and I can see why. Again, far more qualified reviewers have tackled the many ways this game not just succeeds but exceeds so I’ll just tell you why *I* love it so much.

This world is enormous. Sprawling vistas, sleepy wind-blown plains, shimmering salt flats and deserts, peacefully enchanted or at times dangerous but magical forests, soaring peaks, ancient ruins, Calamity Ganon’s insidious corruption, the remnant defenses that once kept Hyrule a safe and gentle place…and it’s all eminently explorable. The sense of scope is just tremendous, and the way the quests unfold organically as I explore this wide world creates a sense of immersion I have not experienced in a very long time.

The puzzles are just the right amount of challenging, and rewarding for my efforts. The combat system is designed to complement such a wide variety of playstyles…for instance, I’ve never been much of a sword and board warrior, preferring ranged DPS and with my Switch, I can tilt the console to aim for fantastic accuracy as an archer. I can use found items to augment my ranged combat–setting arrows afire, laying chuchu jelly traps, rallying mobs to explosive barrels and using my bomb skill to do some serious AOE (occasionally blowing myself up in the process but yay for saving often). And even in the midst of high-stakes, intense combat and a pressing need to save this beautiful world, there is always a pervasive sense of sweetness, of lightness and hope flooding the game (speaking of light, don’t forget to keep wooden weapons in your inventory when thunderstorms happen, or that wooden weapons in your inventory catch fire when you do lol).

I don’t know how many hours I’ve played this–not as many as I’d like, for sure–but I have spent an absurd amount of my time cooking and creating elixirs, bow hunting, hang-gliding off of mountains BECAUSE I CAN, fishing and then forgetting about my stamina and dying, and my favorite one so far–TAMING HORSES then naming them something lovely or clever because the game lets me. My favorite recurring characters are all at once adorable, funny, infuriating, winning–you get the idea.

And the art, the music or the lack thereof–I don’t think I’ve ever been in a more beautiful pixel world. One of my favorite experiences so far has been hunting at night with sneaky-gear and potions, and my lil’ Link finding himself in a hushed field with fireflies hovering everywhere and clouds scudding over the moon then, just as dawn creeps to the edge of the world, the gentlest piano refrain slipping into the experience as the sun begins to rise.

Play this game if you have the platform to do so–I promise you, it’s worth it in the best possible way.

1… Watching

The last thing I’ll talk about in this little list’o’squee is the most unexpected of all. I have a thing for slice of life narratives these days–particularly in anime and manga. Characters in their own particular worlds, navigating their lives as best they know how with friends, family and ad hoc family, and all the struggles and triumphs that make up a life…plus, in my favorite cases, a little bit of magic, a little bit of otherworldly intrigue or drama.

I was browsing Crunchyroll when I came across one in particular–it looked like it had great potential. Friendships, an adoption story (I LOVE good adoption narratives), and the spirit world–a boy who can see youkai when most others cannot.

I proceeded to gobble up Natsume’s Book of Friends in a way I haven’t devoured a show in quite a while. I don’t want to give away too much here, but Natsume Takashi is a boy who has never fit in–mentally, socially, even amongst family, though he comes to find in the strangest and most magical way that his grandmother was more like him than he could ever have imagined. Orphaned (and it’s implied, likely mistreated), he’s passed around from relative to relative, none of them ever knowing what to make of him. Withdrawn, though kind; reserved but sweet and thoughtful–the show follows Natsume’s journeys and adventures in learning to navigate healthy family and friend relationships, positive and generative boundaries, and begins to make peace with the wild and fey youkai who have been the reason his whole life will never be like many others’ while he develops the strength and bravery to love the people around him without fear.

The plot is often episodic, both human and spirit plots navigating humorous, poignant, and at times achingly bittersweet themes and events. Hubby would come home from work some days to see me on the couch (I get home a bit earlier than him), sniffing and wiping away tears before heading out to physical therapy. There were some ugly-cries, too, but the most cathartic sort.

Magic in this show is as wild or gentle or unpredictable or at times terrifying as the earth itself. There is rarely any mention of good or evil–but danger is often far too real, and Natsume struggles to keep the people he loves–his adoptive caretakers, his friends, even his powerful youkai mentor and companions–safe.

Natsume’s Book of Friends is infused with heart-squishing levels of light and gentleness. One of my favorite moments is one of Natsume’s adoptive caretakers reflecting upon the wonderful things in her life, Takashi himself included. This…this was an ugly-cry moment.

Thankfully, there is enough humor and plenty of triumphs to lighten the at times sweetly melancholy mood. I am planning to rewatch this soon (I gobbled up all that’s out) and I’m currently reading the manga by Midorikawa Yuki but the show is so incredibly done…the music, the aesthetic, the quiet moments punctuated by at times high-stakes action or absurd humor. It is SO worth the time investment, and I’m very much hoping there will be more seasons to come–this is one of my favorite coming of age tales, and seeing Natsume and the people around him open their hearts to the joys of life (and yes, sometimes the pain that comes with them) is one of the most rewarding narrative experiences I’ve enjoyed in a while.

Here’s wishing you all the light and goodness that this world has to offer–there is far more goodness than I could ever even dream. <3

A.E. Ash is a writer, nerd, gamer, mooncalf but not a baker or candlestick maker (and nobody said anything about butcher). She writes speculative poetry and fiction because why not make good use of an over-active imagination? Ash lives in the Midwest with her super-rad husband and her lazy cats who do nothing at all to help her on the path to world domination. You can find her on Twitter at @AEAshWrites or on her blog, www.aeashwrites.com.

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