Today’s Art (14th September 2019)

Well, although I might spend the next day or two making photo-based paintings, I was feeling mildly more inspired (and less full of cold) when I made this digitally-edited cyberpunk painting.

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

“Signal” By C. A. Brown

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Review: “The Deep” by Nick Cutter (Novel)

Several weeks before I wrote this review, I happened to see something online mentioning a sci-fi horror novel from 2015 called “The Deep” by Nick Cutter. If I remember rightly, “The Deep” was likened to a modern version of H.P.Lovecraft. So, naturally, I was curious enough to look for a second-hand copy of it. To my delight, the author quote on the cover was from none of than Clive Barker too 🙂

Then, I got distracted by other books. But, since I was in the mood for horror fiction, I thought that I’d finally read “The Deep”.

So, let’s take a look at “The Deep”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2015 Headline (UK) paperback edition of “The Deep” that I read.

The novel is set in the near future, where the world has been reduced to a semi-apocalyptic state by a mysterious epidemic called “the ‘gets”. This disease makes people forget things, turning them into listless zombies before they eventually forget how to breathe or eat or drink.

A veterinarian called Luke arrives on the island of Guam. The night before, he got a phone call from the US military asking him to hurry over there. His genius brother, Clay, has been working in a deep-sea research station at the base of the Mariana Trench. The military has lost contact with the base. Clay’s last message to the surface was a strange phone call asking for his brother.

When Luke arrives at the surface station, one of the scientists shows him a mysterious substance dredged from the deepest point of the ocean called ambrosia. It has the potential to both cure diseases and heal horrific injuries. So, it seems like the most promising avenue for a cure for the ‘gets. However, before Luke descends below the surface, he sees what happened to the last scientist to surface from the research base.

Despite the grisly terror of what he has seen, Luke is eager to check on his brother. So, along with an experienced naval officer called Alice (or “Al” for short), they begin their descent into the deep….

One of the first things that I will say about this book is that it is probably one of the most unnerving, disturbing and terrifying books I’ve ever read. Imagine a cross between horror movies like “The Thing”, “Event Horizon“, “Hellraiser” and “Triangle” and survival horror games like “Silent Hill 3“, but about twice as disturbing. Usually, I tend to take author quotes on book covers with a pinch of salt, but the Clive Barker quote on the cover is as much a genuine warning as it is praise for the novel.

So, I suppose that I should probably start talking about this novel’s horror elements. This novel is what would happen if H.P.Lovecraft, Clive Barker and David Cronenburg decided to write a book together.

There is an insidious, unnerving and downright petrifying mixture of psychological horror (lots and lots of it!), body horror, paranormal horror, character-based horror, phobia-based horror (insects, clowns, darkness etc..), realistic horror, cruel horror, monster horror, claustrophobic horror, ominous horror, suspenseful horror, scientific horror, gory horror, bleak post-apocalyptic horror and types of horror that probably don’t even have names.

Although the earlier parts of this book, when you don’t know the characters and don’t know what to expect, are slightly scarier than the later parts – the novel’s horror is fairly evenly-distributed throughout the story. Just when you think that you’ve got a handle on this book and think that it can’t do anything more shocking or disturbing than it already has, it will come up with something.

This is also one of those incredibly rare horror stories where reality itself cannot be trusted. Although this incredibly disturbing type of horror is more common in film and television, this is one of the relatively few written examples of it that I’ve seen. And, yes, whilst you’ll eventually be able to guess what is and isn’t a nightmarish hallucination, don’t be too certain about this. As I said, this novel can surprise you. It can lull you into a false sense of security and then get you.

As for the novel’s characters, they are brilliantly chilling. We are shown more than enough of Luke’s disturbing past to really care for him and to dread what other traumatic memories will be dredged from his psyche by the malevolent forces lurking in the underwater station. This is the kind of novel where the most terrifying character, Luke’s mother, never directly appears in the story outside of flashbacks, thoughts and hallucinations. Yet, she is in many ways a more terrifying evil than the malevolent forces at work in the depths of the ocean…

The other characters are fairly well-written and some of them have a real Lovecraftian flavour. Whether it is Luke’s brother, a brilliant but coldly emotionless scientist, or a segment of the novel showing the final journal of one of the doomed scientists, this novel can be very Lovecraftian at times. In addition to these Lovecraftian characters, there is also an interesting variety of other characters such as a courageous navy officer called Al and an adorable dog called LB too.

And, yes, I should talk about this novel’s sci-fi elements too, since it is a sci-fi horror novel. Although this novel explores the traditional Lovecraftian theme of scientists meddling with things they shouldn’t, the sci-fi horror elements are made even more chilling due to their realism.

Whether it is a mysterious pandemic or the fact that the scientists don’t know what the mysterious substance at the bottom of the trench is or the fact that the technology isn’t that much more advanced than current technology, this isn’t some distant fantasy set in outer space. It is chilling “it could happen” near future sci-fi horror!

In terms of the writing, this novel is brilliant. The novel’s third-person narration contains just the right mixture of fast-paced “matter of fact” narration and slow, creeping descriptive narration. Seriously, a lot of the horror in this novel comes from the way that scenes of the story are written. In the hands of a lesser writer, this story would be a hilarious dark comedy rather than fear in book form.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. Although, at 394 pages, it is a little on the longer side of things, it is partially structured like a modern thriller novel. In other words, there are lots of shorter chapters that lend the story a slightly staccato and fast-paced rhythm. But, unlike a modern thriller, there is only one plot thread and the novel isn’t afraid to slow down slightly at times to drench the reader in slow, creeping dread.

All in all, this is an extremely scary horror novel 🙂 For all of the people who worry that the horror genre has declined in recent years, this novel will prove you wrong. The horror genre may not be as prominent as it was in the 1980s, but it has been festering in the darkness of obscurity and slowly gathering its strength. Seriously, this novel is scary. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a five.

Three Differences Between 2010s and 1980s Horror Fiction

Well, since I’m reading a modern horror novel (“The Deep” by Nick Cutter) at the moment and have read both older 1980s horror novels and more modern ones (like Edgar Cantero’s “Meddling Kids” and Sarah Lotz’s “Day Four) recently, I thought that I’d offer a few general observations about how modern horror novels differ from 1980s horror novels.

1) Psychological horror: The popular horror fiction of the 1980s (in Britain at least), mostly consists of ultra-gory splatterpunk fiction, grisly stories about giant animals/monsters etc.. This type of horror fiction is really dramatic, wonderfully cheesy and just generally fun to read, but it often isn’t really that scary. In a lot of ways, this is actually a good thing, since it makes the reader feel more courageous/tough than they actually are.

However, with the exception of the zombie genre (which is the last remnant of classic-style splatterpunk fiction 🙂 ), modern horror fiction has moved away from stylised, fantastical ultra-gruesome tales of the macabre. Yes, modern horror novels do still have grisly moments when required, but the focus often tends to be more on psychological horror.

This is mostly because this type of horror tends to be considerably scarier due to it’s realism. After all, we all have worries, uncertainties etc..

Although this is also something of a move back to the classic traditions of horror fiction (eg: mysterious ghost stories, H.P.Lovecraft etc…), it often tends to have a more irreverent, quirky and/or “realistic” tone to it these days. This lends modern horror novels a level of chilling relatability that more stylised 1980s novels may not have.

This focus on psychological horror also extends to stories about monsters too. For example, both Edgar Cantero’s “Meddling Kids” and Nick Cutter’s “The Deep” both include some kind of mysteriously malevolent antagonist. However, more emphasis is often placed on how the presence of this affects the characters psychologically rather than just on “Boo! A scary monster!“.

Likewise, a lot of the horror in Sarah Lotz’s “Day Four” and Nick Cutter’s “The Deep” comes from the bleak and desolate nature of the settings. In both stories, the characters are cut off from the rest of the world by the sea and this is used to create a lot of realistic suspense and tension. Yes, isolated settings are a traditional feature of the horror genre (and turn up in 1980s novels like Shaun Hutson’s “Erebus” and “The Skull), but the focus on how this isolation affects the characters is slightly more prominent in modern horror fiction.

So, modern horror fiction often tends to focus more on psychological horror than 1980s horror fiction does.

2) Nostalgia:
Although 1980s horror novels are wonderfully “retro” when read these days, they contain considerably less nostalgia than modern horror fiction does.

In 1980s horror fiction, the world of the novel is often just the “ordinary” world of the 1980s. Although some ’80s horror novels do contain historical flashbacks (eg: Whitley Strieber’s “The Hunger” and James Herbert’s “The Jonah), the tone of these segments is often anything but nostalgic.

On the other hand, modern horror fiction tends to focus a lot more on nostalgia. For example, Robert Brockway’s “The Unnoticeables” has lots of atmospheric segments about 1970s New York. Likewise, Edgar Cantero’s “Meddling Kids” is not only set in a vaguely “Twin Peaks”-like version of the early 1990s, but it is also a bit of a homage to the 1960s TV show “Scooby Doo” too.

There are a lot of possible reasons for this. First of all, contrasting the nostalgic warmth of the past with horrific stuff is one way to unsettle readers. Secondly, the past was a less technologically sophisticated time (allowing for the use of classic pre-internet/mobile phone horror tropes).

Thirdly, readers are likely to either have their own nostalgic memories of the 20th century or be curious about this part of history. Fourthly, it’s often a bit of a homage to the historical heyday of the horror genre. Fifthly, it’s kind of fun to see writers doing new things with established horror tropes.

3) Complex protagonists: Whilst the horror fiction of the 1980s did sometimes feature morally-ambiguous, complex and/or flawed protagonists (Strieber’s “The Hunger”, Clive Barker’s “Cabal” and Nancy A. Collins’ “Sunglasses After Dark” spring to mind), they weren’t really as common as they are these days. Often, the main character would just be an ordinary person who heroically stops the world from being overtaken by evil forces (or at least tries to do this).

Following up with my earlier point about psychological horror, modern horror protagonists tend to be a lot more complex, “realistic” and flawed. For example, the main character of Cutter’s “The Deep” is haunted by a terrifying past. The main characters in Sarah Lotz’s “Day Four” are a realistically complex and/or flawed assortment of people. Likewise, the main characters in Cantero’s “Meddling Kids” are a group of misfits whose lives have been ruined by one terrifying week during their youth.

But, why? Simply put, by making the protagonist a bit more conflicted, uncertain or vulnerable, the audience is less likely to assume that they are going to win or survive. It instantly adds extra suspense to a story. Likewise, making the protagonist less “authoritative” or confident also adds an unsettling element of unreliability to the story too.

It’s kind of like the difference between, say, “Resident Evil 3” and “Silent Hill 3“. In one of these horror videogames, your character is a confident and well-armed ex-police officer. In the other, your character is a frightened teenager. One of these games is considerably scarier than the other…

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Review: “Butcher” (WAD for “Doom II”/ “Final Doom”)

[Well, due to a scheduling mishap, enjoy this bonus review today. Apologies in advance if there’s an article/review missing on any day in the future (and I’m still not sure why there were two scheduled for today).]
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Well, since I’m still reading the next novel I plan to review (“The Deep” by Nick Cutter), I thought that I’d take the chance to look at another “Doom II”/”Final Doom” WAD. After all, it’s been about three weeks or so since my last WAD review.

And, after clicking the “Random File” button on the /Idgames Archive, I found myself looking at a WAD from 1995 called “Butcher” by none other than Milo Casali, of “Final Doom” fame 🙂

As usual, I used the “ZDoom” source port whilst playing this WAD. However, given the level’s age, it will probably run on pretty much any source port. In fact, it’ll probably run on the original DOS version of “Doom II” too.

So, let’s take a look at “Butcher”:

As you may have already guessed, this is an earlier “work in progress” version of level nine from Final Doom’s “The Plutonia Experiment” episode. Given that this is my favourite ‘official’ Doom II episode (especially the twenty-ninth level, “Odyssey Of Noises”) and it is an episode that I’ll replay every now and then, it was really cool to see an earlier version of part of it 🙂

For the most part, the level is pretty much identical to level nine of “The Plutonia Experiment”. In other words, it is a reasonably challenging and slightly non-linear medium-length level that contains a few small arena-style battles, some well-placed monster closets and a few moments of more claustrophobic combat.

So, yes, it’s the same traditional – but challenging – type of “Doom II” level that you would expect 🙂

Given how amazingly fun, well-designed and re-playable “The Plutonia Experiment” is, playing this level was an absolute joy – even if I already knew where everything was and how to complete it. But, I suppose that I should probably talk about the differences between this level and the final commercial version of it.

In short, there aren’t many. Although the comments on the web page for the level tipped me off to the fact that the very final room of the level is smaller, easier and more primitive than the final version, the only other difference I was able to spot was the fact that the items in the secret area in the blue key room were slightly different.

Yes, the level is a lot more generous here, compared to the finished version.

The most noticeable difference is this final room. Not only is it smaller and less complex, but there are also far fewer monsters too.

All in all, there isn’t that much to say about this level. If you’re a fan of “The Plutonia Experiment”, then it is an interesting curio. If you’ve never played “Final Doom”, then this level will give you a taste of what to expect from the best official “Doom” game. Yes, the official version of this level is marginally better than this earlier “work in progress” version, but it is still an incredibly fun level 🙂

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four and a half.

Should You Use First Or Third Person Perspective Narration In Your Story?

If you’re about to start writing a story, then working out which perspective to use can be a bit of a challenge. Although you’ll either develop a preference over time or an instinct for which one works best with a particular story, this is something which can be a bit confusing if you’re new to writing.

So, I thought that I’d list some of the pros and cons of first-person and third-person narration.

First-person narration: First-person narration is easier to write for a number of reasons. Since your story is narrated from the perspective of one character, you only really have to worry about the things that this character sees, does or hears about. This also immerses the reader in the story a lot more easily, since they are quite literally placed inside the mind of the main character.

First-person narration is also great for shorter stories. After all, if your main character is the narrator, then you can focus more on what is happening to them or what they see than on describing them.

Likewise, it is easier to use a distinctive narrative voice, to show your main character’s thoughts, to make your story “flow” better and to give your main character lots of characterisation if you’re writing from a first-person perspective.

On the downside, you can’t really show what other characters are thinking since your story is told from the perspective of just one character. Yes, this can be used to add mystery to other characters (the famous example being Sherlock Holmes. Most of the original stories are narrated by Holmes’ colleague Watson). But, if you want to give lots of characters lots of characterisation, then this is more difficult from a first-person perspective.

In addition to this, since you’re only showing things from one character’s perspective, first-person narration feels a bit more subjective and unreliable. Whilst this can be useful in some types stories, it doesn’t always fit in with literally every type of story out there.

Likewise, if you’re telling a large-scale story or even just a story that involves several plot threads, then this is a lot more difficult in first-person perspective. Yes, there are ways to do it (eg: dialogue, documents or even using more than one first-person narrator), but these are often a bit awkward to read unless handled really well. So, it only really works for stories with one main plot thread.

Third-person narration: Third-person narration gives you a lot more control over what you can show the reader. If you want to focus on one character, to focus on several characters or to describe something that the characters don’t see, then this is easy to do in third-person. It is a more “cinematic” form of narration that gives you more choice.

Likewise, third-person narration means that it is easy to have multiple plot threads – which are essential in longer stories, or stories that have a much grander scale to them. For example, an epic sci-fi, thriller or fantasy story will probably involve multiple characters in multiple locations. This is much easier and more intuitive to do with third-person narration.

Third-person narration also sounds a lot more “objective” and “authoritative”. Since the narrator is looking at the events of the story from a distance, this means that the reader is too. So, a story will feel a lot more weighty and dramatic if you use third-person narration.

On the downside, third-person narration is more difficult to write. After all, since the narrator is separate from the characters, you have to make a lot more creative decisions about what you describe, the pacing of your story, how you handle dialogue, what style of narration you use etc.. Likewise, handling multiple plot threads means that you have to plan and think about how they interact with each other too.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂