spooky action at a distance

a SFF & IF review



IF review: parser as hallucination in “Lime Ergot”

“Lime Ergot”, by Caleb Wilson, was first written for ECTOCOMP 2014 and is now playable at Sub-Q Magazine, here.

I said last time I wanted to play a parser next, and so indeed I have done; and that I wanted to play a parser while thinking about voice, so clearly I have chosen correctly in selecting “Lime Ergot”, a very weird and very gorgeous little game which uses the parser mechanic to model a hallucinatory world of post-colonial rot.

Continue reading “IF review: parser as hallucination in “Lime Ergot””

IF review: voice and cohesion in “Birdland”

Birdland, by Brendan Patrick Hennessy, is playable here:

(Birdland is another Twine game, but a much more complex and multi-branching one than most of the Twine I’ve played so far. It has a statistics system, where the choices that the reader makes have a direct influence on what further choices they will be able to make. I note that it has enormous replay value, something that is new to me in IF that I’ve read.)

There’s been a whole lot of press and positive buzz about Birdland, and I am not likely to be original in my effusive praise of the thing, but I have been having a lot of thoughts about the nature of the interactive part of interactive fiction, especially after my experience with First Draft of the Revolution, and Birdland is an example of something I’m still struggling to articulate: how to manage character creation and ‘game’ elements while keeping a consistent narrative voice and a cohesive sense of the protagonist’s personality.

So this is less of a review and more of a meditation on style.

Continue reading “IF review: voice and cohesion in “Birdland””

INTERVIEW: Max Gladstone on “Choice of the Deathless”, “City’s Thirst”, and the Craft universe

Today, Spooky Action at a Distance brings you something slightly different! We sat down to chat with Max Gladstone, John W. Campbell Award-nominated SFF and IF author, creator of the Craft Sequence novels (Last First Snow is the latest), Choice of the Deathless, The City’s Thirst and Bookburners. Below, he shares his thoughts about writing in the Craft universe for Choice of Games, what interactive and linear narrative share in common, and crafting choices with meaningful impact.

Thanks, Max! We appreciate it.

The Craft Sequence universe spans both interactive fiction and non-interactive fiction. What’s it like writing in the same world in two different formats? Do you think of interactive fiction as being a separate genre from non-interactive fiction?

Max: “Genre” is a very interesting word in this context—interactive fiction is a different form, for sure, and the stories crystalized around that form have developed their own genre markers.  Think about the “Bioware RPG”: there’s the form of action RPG, a meld of real-time combat scenarios and “out of combat” talk in which most choices are made through a conversation tree.  Then there are genre markers—like the way the games hinge on the navigation of party relationships and the development of romance.  Those genres are kind of… orthogonal to what we think of as genre markers in non-interactive fiction, if that makes any sense?  It doesn’t really matter whether the game has spaceships in it or not—is the game fundamentally about love, or blowing things up?  Or something else entirely?

Continue reading “INTERVIEW: Max Gladstone on “Choice of the Deathless”, “City’s Thirst”, and the Craft universe”

IF REVIEW – travel & the iterative self: “Detritus”

Playable for free online here:

Mary Hamilton’s “Detritus”, like last week’s game, is written in Twine – but unlike “Solarium”, “Detritus” is not using Twine to tell a story so much as to experiment with the creation of a self – which, of course, is a kind of story in its own right.

Continue reading “IF REVIEW – travel & the iterative self: “Detritus””

REVIEW THEME #1: spies, deception, and disguise

Spies, deception, disguise: our first review exchange. Two rec lists and two reviews.

Continue reading “REVIEW THEME #1: spies, deception, and disguise”

Spooky Action At A Distance – Welcome

Welcome to Spooky Action at a Distance, an IF/SFF review. This blog is a joint project between Arkady Martine and Cat Manning, covering exciting new writing in the disparate-but-overlapping narrative circles we love and work in. There’s so much cool stuff being published in both speculative and interactive fiction right now that it can be easy to miss exceptional, exciting work.

Cat: Arkady and I have had many conversations about how speculative fiction and interactive fiction speak to and can influence one another profoundly and productively. Interactive fiction takes up many of the same themes that SFF is interested in, and SFF plays with structure in ways that feel distinctly new. Even so, we aren’t yet really talking to each other as creative communities. We can learn from one another.

At the same time, we both became aware of the real need for more short SFF fiction and interactive fiction reviews — places to have conversations about the abundance of excellent, compelling, and diverse SFF & IF being published today. However: both of us are writers, and there are genuine ethical arguments against reviewing in the same space one is writing in. I don’t believe that this always has to be the case, and I’ve reviewed interactive fiction before while writing my own — and Arkady reviews for Strange Horizons (though mostly novel-length work.) But it was a concern we were both aware of — and combined with our growing interest in having our communities talk to one another …

… we came up with the idea of working together on an exchange: a review trade where we each explore the rich offerings in a field which we’re interested in or enthusiastic about, but isn’t our primary genre.

Spooky Action at a Distance comes from the idea of quantum entanglement — how two particles can interact in such a way that the state of each particle cannot be described independently. They don’t touch, but they mutually influence each other across a distance. Interactive fiction and speculative fiction both have porous boundaries. Our fields are constantly being redefined: as we create and innovate and complicate genre boundaries. Arkady and I want to acknowledge and explore the common threads in IF and SFF — it’s well past due.

Continue reading “Spooky Action At A Distance – Welcome”

Blog at

Up ↑