Today’s Art (18th July 2019)

Well, I felt like painting another realistic landscape. So, today’s digitally-edited painting is based on this photo I took of the picturesque overflow pond next to a sewage treatment plant called Budd’s Farm in Broadmarsh last August.

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

“Budd’s Farm – Overflow Pond” By C. A. Brown

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The Joy Of… Second-Hand Books

Well, I thought that I’d talk about one of the most interesting types of books today. I am, of course, talking about second-hand books.

First of all, second-hand books are often slightly older. Not only does this mean that readers can find all sorts of hidden gems that they wouldn’t see on the pristine bestseller-filled shelves of a major high-street bookshop (I mean, old second-hand 1980s splatterpunk horror novels and the occasional 1960s/70s sci-fi novel were the things that kept me reading when I was a teenager), but it also means that authors can get new fans from books that their publishers have long since stopped promoting.

This brings me on to another cool thing about second-hand books, they are pieces of history. Although the difference between collectable “vintage” books and ordinary “second-hand” books means that, unlike in the halcyon days of the ’00s, you’re less likely to find lots of awesome old 1970s-90s horror novels, 1960s/70s sci-fi novels etc.. in charity shops these days, second-hand books are still brilliant pieces of literary history. They allow you to travel back in time to what popular fiction used to be like a decade or two ago.

Like libraries, second-hand books also encourage readers to “take a chance” on authors that they haven’t read before, in a way that expensive new books might not allow them to. Whether someone is curious about an author and shops for a second-hand copy of one of their books online or just randomly browses the shelves of a physical second-hand bookshop or charity shop until they find something interesting, second-hand books allow readers to discover authors that they might not have otherwise read.

Plus, in an age where e-book piracy is unfortunately a thing, second-hand physical books offer a much more ethical, fair, legal and mutually-beneficial alternative to this that both allows readers to find cheaper books and also contains some “built in” protections for authors/publishers too.

First of all, for literally every second-hand book sold in the weeks, months and/or years immediately after first publication, someone has to have bought a new copy first. So, unlike piracy, authors and publishers are guaranteed compensation for their work at the most crucial time (eg: when a book is most heavily-promoted and/or prominently displayed in bookshops).

Yes, second-hand books do sometimes get sold and then later re-sold, but there is always a time gap between a book’s first publication and it going on sale second-hand (again, allowing for a crucial initial run of new sales directly after a book is released).

Thanks to the laws of supply and demand, the second-hand market also contains some “built in” protections which mean that any “losses” from second-hand sales are fairly scaled depending on an author’s popularity and sales figures (eg: bestselling authors will still have millions of new sales before lots of ultra-cheap second-hand copies start to appear. On the other hand, second-hand copies of lesser-known, independently-published and/or mid-list books will be rarer and/or more expensive, meaning that there is more incentive for readers to buy a new copy).

Second-hand book sales also help to support charities, libraries (eg: “withdrawn” books) and small-medium sized businesses too (even if those businesses often have to use major websites as an intermediary for online sales).

Another cool thing about second-hand books is that someone has been there before. Although you’ll sometimes find interesting things like notes in the margins, forgotten bookmarks, the author’s signature and even, once, an old plane ticket – it’s more about the relaxing feeling that the book isn’t pristine. That it’s something unpretentious that you can curl up with and enjoy, without worrying about creasing pristine pages or anything like that. In other words, it is a book that is clearly meant to be read.

There’s also the practical argument too. Second-hand books are a form of recycling. A form of recycling that doesn’t involve lots of factories, pulping machines etc… and which ensures that books don’t go to waste.

Finally, another reason why second-hand books are awesome is because they still give readers all of the rights they had in the pre-internet age 🙂 In this age of “subscriptions”, “streaming” and dystopian DRM added to many digital goods, it is so refreshing to be able to actually own a physical book, to be able to give books to charity, to be able to make a choice between buying a cheaper (but slightly worn/used/old) book or splashing out on a pristine new copy, for the book not to demand subscription fees from you or to become obsolete etc…

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Review: “Resident Evil Genesis” By Keith R. A. DeCandido (Film Novelisation)

Well, although I’d planned to read a different novel, a combination of being busy and tired meant that I needed to read something a lot more readable and faster-paced.

Luckily, several months earlier, I’d found my old copy of Keith R. A. DeCandido’s 2004 novelisation of the first “Resident Evil” film that I’d bought sometime during the ’00s, but never got round to reading. So, this seemed like the perfect time to actually read it.

Although it is possible to enjoy this novel without having seen the film, I’d recommend watching the film first since the novelisation makes a few changes to various things. But, like with the original film, be sure to have a copy of the sequel (either the film sequel or DeCandido’s novelisation of it) nearby, since it follows on directly from the end of this story.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Resident Evil Genesis”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2004 Pocket Books (US) paperback edition of “Resident Evil Genesis” that I read.

The novel begins with a meeting between a man called Aaron Vricella and another man called Matt Addision. Both are part of a secret group who are devoted to taking down the nefarious Umbrella Corporation, a pharmaceutical company who may be working on illegal bio-weapons. In order to do this, they need someone on the inside and, after some discussion, Vricella reluctantly agrees to allow Matt’s sister Lisa to do the job.

Lisa is, of course, glad to help out because one of Umbrella’s malfunctioning medicines and the subsequent cover-up (and campaign of intimidation) killed her friend Mahmoud. So, she interviews for a computer maintenance position in Umbrella’s mysterious underground Hive facility near the town of Racoon city………

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is kind of like an expanded and slightly re-edited version of the film. This is both a good and a bad thing.

On the plus side, all of the extra “deleted scenes” help to turn this novelisation into something more like a conventional novel. They add a bit of extra depth to the story and help to fill in some small gaps (eg: how and why Alice’s contact, Lisa, spied on Umbrella) in the story. But, as I’ll explain later, not following the structure of the film’s story also has some negative effects on the novelisation too.

Another good thing is that this novel also includes a lot of extra characterisation which not only helps to add extra depth to the story, but also means that the scenes where background characters (who only appear for a few seconds or minutes in the film) die have a lot more dramatic and emotional impact than they do in the film. Good horror relies on good characterisation and all of the extra characterisation in this adaptation helps a bit with this.

On the downside, the re-edited story means that the novel is fairly slow to start. Basically, all of the stuff that is told via flashbacks later in the film makes up the first 50-100 pages of the novel. This change also means that the grippingly mysterious early scene of the film where Alice wakes up with no memory doesn’t have the same impact in the novel because it happens on page 116 – after we’ve already learnt a lot about Alice’s backstory.

Likewise, the novelisation also adds some extra thematic stuff, but it is somewhat muddled. Basically, one theme in this novel seems to be that the US Govt/Police are stuck in the 1950s with regard to gender politics, with two characters (Alice and Rain) joining the nefarious Umbrella Corporation’s security division because it actually offered to promote them on merit. Whilst this could possibly be political satire, it not only comes across as a little bit heavy-handed but it also slightly undermines the “ultra-rich corporations are evil” theme that also runs through the novel too.

Still, if there’s one thing that this novel gets right, it is the original film’s suspense and sci-fi elements. The slow beginning means that it is even longer until the first zombie lurches into view (it doesn’t happen until page 180). However, like with DeCandido’s adaptation of the film’s sequel, the novelisation doesn’t use the added freedom of the written word to add lots of extra gory horror to the film’s story (unlike, for example, S.D. Perry’s brilliantly macabre novelisation of the first “Resident Evil” videogame). So, this is more of a suspenseful thriller novel than a horror novel.

On the plus side, the fact that the story is told via words means that there’s more room to explore the sci-fi elements of the film. Although these aren’t explained in a huge level of depth, there’s enough extra stuff here to give the story a bit more atmosphere and depth than the film had in this regard.

In terms of the writing, the novel’s third-person narration is reasonably good. The novel is narrated in a reasonably matter of fact way, with the narration being more descriptive in some scenes and more informal during more fast-paced moments. It’s fairly readable and the writing doesn’t really get in the way of the story.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is ok. At 277 pages in length, it thankfully isn’t too long, although I got the feeling that the story could have probably been told in 150-200 pages. Likewise, whilst the later parts of the novel are more fast-paced than the early ones, the slow-paced expanded introduction robs the story of some of the film’s pacing (although it does add a bit of extra suspense to the novelisation though).

All in all, this is a reasonably good novelisation of the first “Resident Evil” film. Yes, all of the changes and additions are a bit of a mixed bag. Still, if you want a slightly slower-paced and more suspenseful version of the film with a lot of extra character depth, then this novelisation might be worth reading.

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

Three Beginners’ Tips For Writing Heavy Metal-Themed Stories

Although I’ve probably talked about this topic before, I thought that I’d look at heavy metal-themed stories. This is mostly because the writing project (which I probably won’t post here) that I started shortly before writing this article will hopefully become one of these. Still, heavy metal-themed stories have a reputation for being cheesy or “so bad that they’re good”. This is especially the case when they are written by people who aren’t fans of the genre.

So, here are a few thoughts about writing stories that are based on one of the best musical genres in the world 🙂 For the purposes of this article, I’m going to assume that you aren’t a metalhead (eg: a fan of heavy metal). If you are a metalhead, then skip the first two points on this list.

1) Do your research: Heavy metal music is a much more complex and varied genre than you might think. So, listen to it. Get a feel for the differences between all of the major sub-genres of heavy metal (eg: classic metal, power metal, symphonic metal, thrash metal, metalcore, black metal, death metal etc..) and also do some general research into the history, culture and fashions of the genre too. If you live in the UK, then Metal Hammer magazine is probably a good place to start.

The essential metal bands to listen to whilst researching are probably influential metal bands (that formed in the 1960s-1980s) like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, Helloween, Motorhead, Metallica etc… in addition to a couple of slightly later, but also well-known, bands like Nightwish, Rammstein, Arch Enemy and Cradle Of Filth.

If your story is set in the present day, then also check out some more modern metal bands like Unleash The Archers, Storm Seeker, Ghost, Lyzzard, The Unguided, Lady Beast, Monument, Ancient Bards, Headbanger, Iron Spell, Gloryhammer, Frozen Crown, Powerwolf, Alestorm, Rage Of Light etc… too.

However, unless your story is set in the 1980s, then don’t rely on the classic pop culture idea of what heavy metal is. Heavy metal has moved on since then!

These days, metal fashion tends to be a bit more understated (eg: band T-shirts, dark clothes etc…), metal bands usually tend to play to a devoted audience of fans rather than a mainstream audience and the genre is less cartoonishly hedonistic than it was in the 1980s too.

Metal is also a more high-brow genre than you might think and there is more musical variety than there was during the 1980s (for example, this Ancient Bards song has a classical/baroque-style segment [at about 2:52 into the video], Van Canto perform metal songs a capella and many songs by Nightwish incorporate elements of opera).

2) Theatricality and contrast: The important thing to remember about heavy metal is that it is a very theatrical genre which doesn’t usually take itself very seriously. In other words, if you’re telling a heavy metal-themed story then you need to be aware of the contrast between the “scary” imagery etc.. used in the genre and how non-seriously it is usually taken by fans, musicians etc…

Yes, this varies slightly between the fandoms of different bands/ different types of metal, and there have also unfortunately been a small number of occasions where angry, hateful etc.. people have used the “scary” parts of the metal genre as an “excuse” for doing horrible things (such as a well-documented series of violent crimes in early 1990s Norway). But, it is important to remember that most metal fans and musicians are just ordinary people who enjoy the music and, quite rightly, don’t take the “scary” elements of the genre seriously. These “scary” elements of the metal genre are there to be enjoyed for their amusing theatricality, dark comedy, “over the top” melodrama, rebellious “shock value” etc…

Plus, the use of horror imagery etc.. isn’t an integral part of every type of heavy metal. For example, symphonic metal music (from bands like Nightwish, Visions Of Atlantis etc…) will often have a more positive/uplifting emotional tone and/or more of a focus on wonder, nature, myths etc… than on horror. Likewise, the pirate metal genre (eg: bands like Running Wild, Alestorm, Storm Seeker, Lagerstein etc..) also tends to focus more on classic-style pirates, sailing, rum, humour, hedonism etc… than horror too.

So, if you remember that the “scary” parts of the metal genre aren’t taken seriously by most metal fans and musicians, then your heavy metal-themed stories will feel a lot more authentic.

3) Descriptions and lyrics: Since the copyright rules about using/quoting real song lyrics in works of fiction can best be described as “not friendly towards authors”, it is usually a good idea to come up with your own fictional songs and lyrics for your story.

Although I’m not a lawyer (and this is NOT legal advice), some research will show you that merely referencing the names of songs or bands generally seems to be ok (eg: “… and then they played a cover of “Painkiller” by Judas Priest” would probably be ok), but quoting lyrics in works of fiction apparently tends to require hefty royalty payments for even the smallest quotations. Hence why coming up with your own fictional songs/lyrics is better.

This can be a bit of a challenge, but just think of it like writing rhyming poetry or something like that. Plus, of course, heavy metal lyrics can include everything from simple repetitive rhymes to elaborate 19th century-style poetry (eg: most of Cradle Of Filth’s lyrics).

The important thing to remember though is that they lyrics should flow at least vaguely well when read aloud. So, a good test for fictional lyrics is simply just to read them aloud and see how they sound.

Likewise, describing music and musical performances can be a difficult thing to get right. So, if you’re having problems with this, then keep the music itself as a background element and focus on other things (eg: characters, drama etc..). For example, instead of showing a concert, just have a character briefly mention or describe it instead.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂