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IN THE VALLEY OF THE SUN

A Sims 3 Mystery

By S.A. Hunter, editor, author of Stalking Shadows

Jul 26, 2010: The Valley of the Sun is a completed story told through the Sims 3. I read Alice and Kev a while back, and while both stories use images from the game for illustration, VotS is not a simple observational story. It has an author generated plot. The story begins with a reporter named Lilith being given the assignment of researching an old abandoned house that has had mysterious lights on at night. Soon people begin dying, and Lilith is the prime suspect. Someone or something seems to be invading her mind and controlling her.

The story is told primarily through pictures with only minimal text. There are many instances of just images narrating the story. I am intrigued by the whole Sims storytelling process. I’m not sure how the story is exactly generated. Alice and Kev is simple straight observation. The author watched what her Sims did and narrated their actions and feelings. Here the author must have directed each character’s actions, created the settings, and then took snapshots. I don’t know how difficult that is, though I imagine it takes some skill. This style of storytelling seems fairly robust and highly adaptable. I continue to be intrigued by this format, though it is not something I feel capable of mastering.

I cannot comment on the game manipulation to create this story, only on the end product, and while I don’t know Sims, the game well, I do have some understanding of story. Much of the story has Lilith in a dream-like trance which is interesting and well presented, but there is not much in the way of plot, background, or general explanation. At the end, the story just stops, and we are left to interpret what might have happened. This is dangerous because thinking back over the story, I began to wonder about things like how the villain gained so much power, what his ultimate endgame was, what did life fruit do, did he ever harvest some, and what exactly happened at the end anyway are all questions left unanswered. A good mystery has a big denouement at the end, but none happens here. At the end, I couldn’t tell what was happening from the silent images: what was real and what wasn’t were lost on me. It seems the villain was thwarted, but I didn’t realize it until reading over the comments on the last chapter.

At the end of the story, I was left with a hollow feeling that answers should have filled. I read this story eagerly with the hope of finding out what was going on. When no explanation materialized, I was quite disappointed. Reading Valley of the Sun was an interesting experience using a dynamic format, but the story did not gel. I appreciate what the author was trying to accomplish, but it shouldn’t require reading the comments to understand.

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IN THE VALLEY OF THE SUN

Editor’s First Impression

By Linda Schoales, editor

Jul 12, 2010: I don’t play Sims but I’m guessing the images interspersed with the text are graphics from Sims. The first chapter is an odd mixture of soap opera and computer game back story. Not much is happening yet except for introducing the main character and her boyfriend.

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THE ICE CREAM MEMORIES OF CHARLOTTE ROWE

Chilly, with a bitter aftertaste

By Fiona Gregory, editor

Jul 23, 2009: I didn’t like this story, but it’s not the fault of the writing. The writing, in fact, is of a very high calibre: sophisticated, rich, intelligently researched, effectively surreal – and full of horror. And cold.

It starts off relatively innocently, the elegantly designed website seducing the hapless reader. Even if you don’t decide to read the story, you must take a look at this website – it’s gorgeous. An old lady lies in bed, being interviewed by an academic doing research on early 20th century Spiritualism. She was reputed to be a medium of great talent and popular acclaim in her youth. Her initial story reminds me of Maggie Fox (if you don’t believe it realistic that a young child could or would convince her parents and other adults that she had paranormal powers, check out the real life fantastical romance that was the life of the Fox sisters.)

The old lady admits making things up, but also recounts eerie experiences that she believes really happened to her; but she’s no longer sure which is which, and so of course the reader doesn’t get to know either. Her father mysteriously disappears and reappears years later with only the most bizarre explanation, and it’s never entirely clear what really happened to him. It’s frustrating, and mysterious – but this is a mystery that gets nastier the deeper we get into it. Terrible crimes are committed on and by small children, alive and dead. And the ice cream, which I thought was going to be the light relief, well, let’s put it this way, it’s not. The ice cream turns out the worst of all! Sometimes it seems just random eeriness: I gave up understanding much of Charlotte’s theosophical babblings under trance, but (for example) at one time she goes on about little invisible men that apparantly follow people and may kill you just for fun without intending any malice – yet we never hear anything more about the little men. And it’s all so cold and distant – I cringe at the horrible things that befall them, but feel little empathy for any of the characters.

It’s not that it’s bump in the night terrifying, it’s more that it leaves your head swirling in disturbed confusion, and your heart a little chilled. If you like intelligent, complex stories of paranormal horror and disturbed psyches, you might want to take on Ice Cream Memories. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.

This was a hard one for me to rate; how do you describe the quality of homemade radish ice cream mixed with blood?

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