cw: anhedonia, suicide ideation, depression, mental illness, references to violence (in context of the text)
No, readers, don’t get too excited.
Although Soft & Cuddly is a Jarett Kobek book that was (I think?) published following the least successful flawless (within context) realist novel released by a major publisher I’ve ever read, The Future Won’t Be Long, and before his rambling tho brilliant self-published (I think?) commercial success killed by lack of marketing pair of 2021 books on the Zodiac Killer, but it is not the book that explains what happened to his undeservedly not stratospheric literary reputation.
That book, though, does exist: it is Only Americans Burn In Hell, and is probably the one i should be commenting on now, as I read that first and have yet to depressededly tap my opinions on that best-of-the-century type into my phone.
I decided to spew my thoughts on Soft & Cuddly first because I felt it would be easier for me. Simpler. Less complex.
I’m all dried out from the psychiatric medication, so the threat of putting effort into thoughtfulness is… ahh… tough. Tougher.
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Plagued by pleasurable thoughts of suicide, I slide into 2023 like a rotisserie chicken that’s been spitted and left to turn and burn for literally ten years longer than it had any right or need for.
Ten years ago I was finishing up writing a novel (never (yet? (lol)) published), I was applying for MA programmes, I was deeply suicidal and desperate (see the previous two actions as evidence of that) and within a few months I would have begun regularly recording and publishing my intellectual (?) and psychological (?) reality in a format and location that I would then continue to use for far too long.
The fact that TriumphoftheNow.com persists is as much of an embarrassment as the fact that scott manley hadley persists.
Like that burned, charred, spinning, chicken, my skin is dry, I am inedible, I feel no pleasure, I feel no joy, I lay no more eggs, I merely spin and spin and persist and there is no reason for me to do either.
A spinning spinning chicken.
A spinning charred chicken.
I wish I was a spinning charred plucked corpse. Oh, reader, that I do. Oh, oh, reader, that I do. Pluck me, pluck me, pluck me, burn the flesh away.
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Soft & Cuddly was published in 2017 by Boss Fight Books, a little indie publisher who specialises in books about computer games. Or is that meant to be video games? I don’t know what the difference is, or if one is a now archaic term, I also don’t know which one I should use about Soft & Cuddly. Is the correct term something I should know, having read a book from a publisher of non-fiction about video/computer games? I dunno.
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From the reviews I noticed while ordering my copy of Soft & Cuddly, Kobek’s volume is apparently not representative of Boss Fight Books’ usual output, and it appears to have alienated some of the “mouth breathing incel proud boy fascist” types one ordinarily associates with video games/computer games (delete as appropriate), by being a book that is an engaging, interesting, articulate and serious exploration of a particular socio-cultural era (the 1980s), rather than a list of – I don’t know what these people want – like… err… binary computer programming code interspersed with like err pornographic jpegs and like err 4chan memes about minorities and like err other shit things?
Kobek’s book is not the dry history of a computer game made by collating contemporary interviews with 1980s nerds, new interviews with 1980s nerds, historic research into magazines and zines from the 1980s and a wide reading of other publications about the history of video games/computer games (delete as appropriate), and though it contains elements of this – enough to fill the brief of the publisher but not enough to please the publisher’s fans (who wouldn’t know a good book if they read one (because they did read one and didn’t understand that it was good)) – this material, about a horror themed game (Soft & Cuddly, The Power House, 1987) doesn’t overwhelm the good stuff, which is a long form essay on censorship, right wing propaganda, the rise of home computing and the – overwhelmingly successful – efforts by big finance to gain a stranglehold over programming and ensure that the opportunities and promise of the digital age was dissipated and drowned before it ever got out.
Kobek discusses Mary Whitehouse, Jimmy Saville, the “video nasties” scandal (which is playfully if bleakly evoked in Prano Bailey-Bond’s 2021 film Censor), Amstrad, early electric cars and other minutae of recent British pop cultural history that implies a great level of knowledge of the UK, which is sadly undercut when California-based Kobek abbreviates the address of the Prime Minister to “10 Downing”, something no one – even in London, England’s California – would ever do.
It is witty, it is informative, it is about a key part of recent sociological change and it does all this by loosely tying itself to the history of a video game/computer game (delete as appropriate) that was made and distributed on – I shit you not – audio cassette.
It’s about DIY culture, about distribution methods, about community and communication and it’s about, too, the importance of fun.
A great read, and highly recommended for anyone with an interest in the grimier, grubbier, sleazier end of 1980s British culture.