The second thing to do is realize it's very very good. It's a good D&D idea. It's a good short story.
The third thing is to know that James Teleleli Hutchings sent me his book, months and months ago ("The New Death and Others") and asked if I might review it. Which he did with a lot of bloggers.
So I read The New Death at the same time I was reading How To Live Safely In A Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu. A much more celebrated book.
Aside from the fact that both of them--the "compelling new voice" and the total unknown--represent people steeped in games and sci-fi movies and comics and things like that turning themselves into writers (which is going to be a very big theme in American and British lit in the next 15 years, I think), they both have 2 other things in common.
The first thing is: both authors are really good at writing about weird things. So they're worth paying attention to.
Like I said: the link at the top is a short story. Some dipshit may come in my comments and demand that stories have beginnings, middles and ends in narrated time rather than simply be long descriptions but this person would be wrong and ignorant of many authors including probably the patron saint presiding quietly over both Charles Yu and James Hutchings' work here, Jorge Luis Borges. And even if the person was not wrong, they would be ignoring the fact that the text above does whatever work a short story is supposed to do, so it comes to the same thing.
Now the second thing Charles Yu and James Hutchings have in common: both of them are less good when they try to use their very good writing about weird things in a more conventional story format.
Hutchings presses his concisely imagined, poetic, inventive worldbits into service as plot set-ups in horror stories or otherwise tales of the post-Gaiman post-Barker weird genre. Yu sends his sci fi brain ("a certified network technician for T-class personal-use chronogramattical vehicles, and an approved independent affiliate contractor for Time Warner Time, which owns and operates this universe as a spatio-temporal structural and entertainment complex zoned for retail, commercial, and residential use.") to work meeting the demands of middlebrow literary fiction (the main characters has a...sigh...distant father and a...yawwwwn...inscrutable mother and is...zzzzzz...concerned about it).
In both cases, the writing goes all flabby and flat when it's just doing the work of weaving the details around a plot we are supposed to (by broad assumption) all care about.
You can have a story about a boy who does something bad and there are terrifying consequences and you can do a story about a guy who wants to understand his dad, but in both cases you have to treat trying to communicate these things in a new and real way as if it were as hard as communicating about a time-distortion shark that chews people open from the inside-out.
Our traditional interest in traditional concerns should not be assumed, and in both these cases I think it is.
And here's the point.
Crazy weird inventive things are not just a new set-dressing for ordinary, traditional stories about ordinary traditional people with ordinary traditionally humanistic concerns.
It's a truism that you can tell the same story in Camelot as in Brooklyn as in the 3000th century but, as a writer, if you do exactly that, and don't let the style inform the form at all, you are missing some important differences between Camelot, Brooklyn and the future.
Set dressing means something (though this is not necessarily easy to decode). It's not just the art direction is new, the whole thing is new.
A JG Ballard story not only is not about the same things as an Isaac Asimov story, it goes to different places and requires different kinds of characters. The same goes for Lovecraft, Vonnegut, Orwell, anyone who has successfully used Weird New Ideas. They have to warp the entire form and all the characters to accomodate the new ideas.
I wish The New Death had been a little braver and just decided "Ok, a description of some Cold People who live in a forest is a story. I don't need to tell people to be afraid of them or not afraid or have a character meet them, I just have to put the best of what I have to offer and nothing else out there by itself and see what kind of story it is. And if the story needs more that more will have to be written with the same energy of invention as the new idea was.".
As is, I'd rather read every day of James' Teleleli blog than James' stories. And I get the impression he'd rather write it than write his stories.
I think this is a challenge for every RPG-influenced writer that has come along or will--and many will in the next few years, there are more of them every day.
How many awesomely conceived and animated Japanese cartoons have you seen weighed down by yet another moony love-triangle where people hug their knees and stare off at falling leaves? How many pop fantasy novels combine one or two great worldbuildy ideas with 300 pages of He moved like a shadow through the whatever toward the imposing whatever.
What James and Charles have done is a more sophisticated version of the same bait-and-switch: hedging their bets about the resonance of their new ideas with tried-and-true formulae about beginnings middles and ends and relatable characters and emotions that stories are supposed to make us feel.
I wish people who lived and were clearly raised in worlds of ideas had more confidence in the power of ideas alone to be compelling. When I was 10 I didn't need Batman to have a kid sidekick in order to be able to render it readable, I still don't.
Either leave Robin out or take on the hard work of making him as interesting as Batman.
There is an idea that these stock plots and forms exist because they resonate with something eternally unchangingly human in us. But there are a lot of things about "us" that do change. We like new ideas because we are new people, and the forms need to change to respect that.
I could go on and try to explain how this all relates in my mind to recent trends in RPGs related to commodifying gamable ideas into stock drooler-story formats, but I finished my review and those thoughts are still half-formed.