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What's on your bookshelf?: Dread Delusion and The Night is Darkening's James Wragg


A lady reads a book in Eugène Grasset's Poster for the Librairie Romantique
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Hello reader who is also a reader, and welcome back to Booked For The Week - our regular Sunday chat with a selection of cool industry folks about books! Words are amazing, aren’t they? I once put in a cover letter to a creative writing university course that I’d “even invented several of my own words” before my mate talked me down from it. Spoilsport. This week, it’s the creative director of Dread Delusion, maker of The Night is Darkening, and Lovely Hellplace director, James Wragg! Cheers James! Mind if we have a nose at your bookshelf?

What are you currently reading?

Lord Of Light by Roger Zelazny. It's a 60s science-fantasy novel in which the lines between magic and technology have thoroughly blurred, much like a certain book about worm-surfing.

The conceit is that Buddhist reincarnation is enforced through tech. When someone nears death, their 'Karmic record' (a brain-scan) determines their new body. Of course, because the so-called gods are really just tech bros, morality becomes politicised. It's like if Elon Musk could turn you into a snail.

It's a riveting book, but - like Dune before it - there's an element of cultural appropriation. Zelazny was a white American whose fiction was absolutely enriched by the mythologies he borrowed from; make of that what you will.

What did you last read?

The Faithful Executioner by Joel F. Harrington. It's a biography of a 16th century Nuremberg executioner who spent forty-five years trying to get a different job. The trouble is, once you've lopped off a head or two, nobody else will employ you.

Harrington does a fascinating job of deconstructing the medieval justice system to reveal why punishments were often so brutal. In a time when a single arsonist could burn down a city or bereaved relatives could incite a riot, executions were a way for the burgeoning state to project the illusion that everything is under control, honest.

What are you eyeing up next?

My wife has given me Salt Slow by Julia Armfield, which is a collection of hypnagogic stories where the surreal seeps into the everyday. My wife is much further along the path of reading every book ever written, so I'm always grateful for her picks.

I also want to grab Technofeudalism when it's out in paperback. It's Yanis Varoufakis' argument that tech monopolies have become our new feudal overlords, because they extract all this wealth from the world economy without giving anything back.

What quote or scene from a book has stuck with you?

It's an obvious one, but at uni 1984 just blew my mind. Specifically, how O'Brien crushes Winston's individualism at the end. He argues that "If both the past and the external world exist only in the mind, and if the mind itself is controllable", then the Party's version of Truth is absolute. It's kind of an indisputable argument, and it chilled me to the bone. It's also why Half-Life 2 is rubbish 1984 fanfiction - because it doesn't end with the player's entire worldview being smashed to bits.

What book do you find yourself bothering friends to read?

Everything You Ever Wanted by Luiza Sauma. Ostensibly it's about a millennial Londoner who gets enrolled on a new-age colony trip to another planet, though really it's a poignant reflection on depression and isolation.

Also, The Gallows Pole by Benjamin Myers, about a Yorkshire coin-forgery gang in the 18th century. It's written in this earthen, rhythmic prose that somehow fills your nostrils with the smell of country mud.

Also, Blindsight by Peter Watts. I'm lowkey obsessed with what the hell consciousness is, and this first-contact novel is entirely about the quirks and paradoxes of human psychology. Plus it has vampires.

Also, once I went through a period - after reading No Logo by Naomi Klein - of loudly ranting in pubs that clothes are evil.

What book would you like to see someone adapt to a game?

I'd love to play an RPG based in the world of Marlon James' Black Leopard Red Wolf, which is a dark fantasy tale inspired by ancient African mythology. I have no idea what the mechanics of such a game would be, but with such a beguiling setting you couldn't really go wrong.

“I was pretty sure I had listed every book ever written, but then I read it back and I'd only listed 11,” James wrote in his email to me. I’m sorry James, but what might have been a great series of responses in any other column is, here, simply an utter failure to name every book in existence. The fact you’ve cottoned on to this most secret of objectives might actually make it even more of a miserable failure, since you can’t even hide behind a veil of ignorance. Can’t be helped, I suppose! So, pop back next week for another cool industry person telling us about their favourites.

Also! Some valued RPS community members asked what I’ve been reading in the comments, so here’s a quick bonus round. I’ve actually got four on the go. Voracious by Belicia Rhea (Pregnant bulimic teenager has terrified visions of insect apocalypse, perfect breezy summer read). The Last Yakuza by Jake Adelstein (who wrote that legendary bit of games journalism). Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz (suggested by Nikhil Murphy) and that book wot Alice Bell done. Book for now!

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