Today’s Art ( 30th November 2018 )

Well, due to tiredness, today’s digitally-edited painting is a minimalist cyberpunk painting. Seriously, it’s been ages since I last made one of these.

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

“Light Tube” By C. A. Brown

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Top Ten Articles – November 2018

Well, it’s the end of the month and this means that it’s time for me to compile my usual list of links to my ten favourite articles about making art, making comics, writing fiction etc… that I’ve posted here over the past month. As usual, I’ll include a couple of honourable mentions too.

All in all, this was a bit of a variable month in terms of articles. Not only were there more reviews than I had expected, but I had both highly-inspired days and uninspired days when writing the non-review articles. So, the quality of this month’s articles varied quite a bit. Hopefully, next month’s articles will be better ๐Ÿ™‚

Anyway, here are the lists. Enjoy ๐Ÿ™‚

Top Ten Articles – November 2018:

– “Want More Originality? Try Some Emotional Variation – A Ramble
– “What Can Games Teach Writers About Challenging Their Audience? – A Ramble
– “What An Old Novel Taught Me About Writing Thrilling Dialogue
– “What Tribute Bands Can Teach Us About Fan Art- A Ramble
– “Is There An Artistic Equivalent Of A “Live Version” Of A Song? – A Ramble
– “Three Tips For Remaking Your Old Webcomic Updates
– “Three Tips For Bringing Old Genres Up To Date
– “Three Random Tips For Modern 1970s-Style Storytelling
– “Four Tips For Getting Back Into Reading Regularly
– “The Library Of The Imagination – A Ramble

Honourable Mentions:

– “Why You Should Create Your Own Fictional Universe When Making Comics – A Ramble
– “How Subtle Should Dark Comedy Be? – A Ramble

Review: “The Pharaoh’s Secret” By Clive Cussler & Graham Brown (Novel)

Well, after reading “Zero Hour” (2013), I was eager to read another thriller novel by Clive Cussler & Graham Brown. And, in my small collection of second-hand Clive Cussler books, the only other one I had was one called “The Pharaoh’s Secret”.

Interestingly, despite the slightly more understated cover art, this book is actually newer than “Zero Hour” – being published two years later in 2015. Still, given how much better I had found “Zero Hour” to be than the older Clive Cussler novel I’d read beforehand, I had high expectations for “The Pharaoh’s Secret”.

So, let’s take a look at “The Pharaoh’s Secret”. Needless to say, this review will contain some moderate SPOILERS.

This is the 2016 Penguin (UK) paperback edition of “The Pharaoh’s Secret” (2015) that I read.

The novel begins in Ancient Egypt during the reign of Pharaoh Akhenaten. In the dead of night, a group of travellers sneak towards Abydos, the forbidden city of the dead. A mysterious plague has been spreading through the land and the travellers believe that the temple of Osiris may hold salvation. When they arrive, one of the travellers is greeted by a terrifying vision of Osiris who tells him that the plague victims will be saved if he agrees to poison Akhenaten as punishment for turning his back on the old gods.

Then we flash forward to 18th century Egypt. Napoleon’s ships are getting a sound thrashing from Nelson’s fleet. During the chaos, a French scholar called Emile D’Campion is trying to smuggle several mysterious crates out of Egypt. After narrowly escaping from one embattled ship with the crates, D’Campion finds himself on Admiral Villeneuve’s ship. Sensing that the battle will not go in their favour, the admiral retreats back to France…

After this, we flash forward to 2015. A smuggling ship called the M.V. Torino is travelling through the seas near Malta. However, the ship’s captain soon notices another vessel following them. The crew quickly arm themselves as several speedboats of gunmen begin to board the Torino. After the battle that follows, the ship runs aground beside the Italian island of Lampedusa, before exploding spectacularly. An ominous chemical mist begins to spread from the gutted vessel, quickly engulfing the island….

Some time later, Kurt Austin (a high-ranking member of a US maritime agency called “NUMA”) is conducting an archaeological dive on a Roman-era ship with his buddy Joe Zavala when they get a mysterious distress call from Lampedusa…..

One of the first things that I’ll say about this novel is that it is as gripping as you would expect ๐Ÿ™‚ Like with “Zero Hour”, it is a novel that begs to be binge-read.

However, it sets itself apart from “Zero Hour” in several interesting ways. If “Zero Hour” was like an over-the-top 1990s action movie, then “The Pharaoh’s Secret” is more like a “James Bond” or “Mission: Impossible” film…. with maybe a hint of TV shows like “The A-Team”, “24” and “Burn Notice” too.

In other words, the drama is a little bit more topical, there’s slightly more of an emphasis on suspense and the action scenes are kept at least vaguely “realistic”. Still, this works in the story’s favour.

The main characters often find themselves in suspenseful situations where they have to think on their feet. This emphasis on thinking and ingenuity really helps to keep the story gripping (since the characters can’t just mindlessly shoot their way out of literally every situation).

But, this isn’t to say that “The Pharaoh’s Secret” is bereft of spectacular car chases, gunfights etc…. Yes, there aren’t as many of these as there were in “Zero Hour”, but this just serves to make them more spectacular by contrast. Whether it’s the ferocious battle for the M.V. Torino, a dramatic chase in Malta, a daring secret mission in Cairo etc… there’s still a fair amount of thrilling action here.

Plus, although the story includes some serious topical drama (revolving around the after-effects of the Arab Spring), there’s a reasonable amount of humour too. Not only are there a few brilliantly witty dialogue exchanges, but there are also a few moments of unintentional comedy too. Basically, some of the main villain’s henchmen have hilariously melodramatic code-names like “Talon”, “Shadow” and “Scorpion”. Plus, the main villain has a crocodile pit too. A crocodile pit! Seriously, this is gloriously cheesy!

The novel’s characters are reasonably good too, if somewhat stylised. Kurt’s team is a good mixture of daring heroes and clever scientists. Plus, the novel’s main villain is a pretty classic “villain” character, who is cartoonishly evil in the best possible way. Interestingly though, several of his henchmen get some character development too – with “Scorpion” actually having a bit of an interesting backstory.

Plus, the novel’s new supporting character – Dr. Renata Ambrosini – is kind of interesting. Initially, she’s a typical scientist/doctor character who is a bit of a pacifist. However, by the end of the novel, she’s a badass scuba-diving, pistol-shooting, car chasing etc.. action heroine character. But, since this novel is basically a Hollywood action/thriller movie in book form, then the lack of ultra-deep or realistic character development doesn’t really ruin the story too much.

Whilst this novel’s pacing isn’t as rollercoaster-fast as the pacing “Zero Hour” was, it’s still really good. This novel takes a little bit more time to build up suspense, with the novel’s more slow-paced scenes also helping to make the action scenes more thrilling by contrast too. Still, this isn’t exactly a “slow” novel. It’s the sort of thing that can easily be binge-read in about two or three days.

Even so, one scene (where two characters discover a dry lake that the audience already sort of knows about) seemed a little bit superfluous. Likewise, there’s at least one contrived “deus ex machina” moment later in the story where the protagonists just happen to stumble across something incredibly useful at the right time.

Since this novel has slightly more of an emphasis on suspense and investigation than on rollercoaster-like thrills, these scenes are a little bit more difficult to overlook. Even so, the superfluous scene is over quickly and the “deus ex machina” scene allows for some spectacular moments a little while later. So, these small flaws are easily forgivable.

Likewise, this novel contains some interesting thematic variety too – incorporating elements from other genres such as the medical thriller and political thriller genres. In addition to this, it also includes a small number of vaguely Dan Brown-esque historical detective scenes, which also provide an interesting change of pace too.

One interesting little Easter Egg in this novel is that it references two other co-written Cussler novels (which I’ve still got to read) that were published around the same time. In one scene, Sandecker mentions that Dirk Pitt is in South America (presumably a reference to “Havana Storm”) and, in another scene, the main characters briefly find themselves in the middle of what I assume to be a scene from “The Emperor’s Revenge”.

All in all, “The Pharaoh’s Secret” is a gripping thriller novel. It’s more sophisticated, slightly more “realistic” and more suspenseful than “Zero Hour”, but it isn’t quite as rollercoaster-like as a result. But, on it’s own merits, “The Pharaoh’s Secret” is still one of the better thriller novels I’ve read. If you want a binge-readable novel that is like a high-quality Hollywood action thriller movie in book form, then you could do a lot worse than this novel ๐Ÿ™‚

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

Today’s Art (28th November 2018)

Well, today’s digitally-edited painting is a slightly surreal 1980s/90s-style painting, which was mainly inspired by the fact that I was watching the new series of “Twin Peaks” at the time – which made me think of the older series of the show (which have a much more “cosy” tone/atmosphere), which then made me want to make a slightly surreal 1980s/90s-style painting set in a wooden building.

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

“The Curious Corner” By C. A. Brown

Three Tips For Bringing Old Genres Up To Date

Whilst reading the book I reviewed a couple of days ago, I realised something. It was a book from 2013 that was basically a 1990s-style action movie in disguise ๐Ÿ™‚ It surprised me that the type of films that I really wish Hollywood still made still existed… but in book form.

Not only that, the novel had also brought this old genre (eg: 1990s-style action movies) into the present day in a way that didn’t really seem too nostalgic or old-fashioned. It felt totally fresh and new, yet it was undeniably a 1990s action movie in book form.

So, this made me think about how to bring old genres up to date – and I thought that I’d offer a few tips:

1) Timeless elements: The best way to bring an old genre up to date is to look at the basic underlying elements that make the genre so distinctive. The qualities that can be quickly summed up in ten words or less. In other words, the timeless parts of the genre.

For example, with 1990s-style action movies, this would include things like: Ludicrous villain plots, non-topical drama, teams of main characters (instead of a lone hero), an optimistic attitude, interesting location choices, a friendly atmosphere, light-hearted romance, a sense of humour, making mundane things thrilling etc…

With 1980s-style cyberpunk novels, this would include things like: Information overload, jargon-heavy narration, gloomy weather, morally-ambiguous protagonists, alternative worlds (eg: cyberspace), cynicism, hyper-capitalist dystopias, fast-paced storytelling etc…

With 1980s-style splatterpunk horror novels, this would include things like: Poetic descriptions of ugly things, gory violence, the mundane mixed with the horrific, a dark sense of humour, a grim sense of poetic justice, complex background characters who die soon after they appear, lurid titillation etc..

Once you’ve found the timeless elements of an old genre (by studying it), then it’s just a simple case of writing a modern story that includes these elements. Even if your story is set in the present day and has a few differences, if you include lots of the timeless elements from an old genre, then your story will remind people of it.

2) Nostalgia: This is a bit of a complicated one. On the one hand, nostalgia is absolutely amazing. On the other hand, it can get in the way of what makes updated modern versions of old genres so fascinating – namely the feeling of discovering something new in a genre that you thought was long since gone.

After all, many of the original works in an old or forgotten genre weren’t made for nostalgia. They were made to tell stories, to entertain people and as a form of creative expression. All of the nostalgia was added later by fans. So, even if you don’t include any nostalgia, then your audience will add it anyway.

As such, don’t go overboard with nostalgia when updating an old genre if you can help it. As counter-intuitive as it sounds, too much obvious nostalgia can remind the audience that they’re looking at something based on something old – rather than getting to experience the joy of discovering a totally new work in a forgotten genre. So, be subtle about including nostalgia and don’t include too much of it.

3) Streamlining: Simply put, get rid of whatever doesn’t work whenever you’re updating an old genre. Be ruthless.

But, be sure that you have a good understanding of how an old genre works before you decide what is worth keeping. To use a videogame-based example, a lot of “awkward” design choices in old survival horror games (eg: strange camera angles, limited inventory, clumsy movement/combat controls etc..) are deliberately there to make the player feel vulnerable, and therefore even more scared.

But, if you find something that used to work in a genre (but which doesn’t work these days), then get rid of it and replace it with something that does work. One example of this that I briefly mentioned in an article a couple of days ago is how older and newer thriller novels handle things like sentence length and linguistic complexity differently.

One of the main differences between a thriller novel from the 1970s and one from the 2010s is that the old one only had to compete with films/TV, but the new one also has to compete with boxsets, smartphones, the internet, videogames etc… too. So, things like more matter-of-fact descriptions, shorter sentences and shorter chapters might mean that new thrillers aren’t the same as classic thrillers. But, they work!

These changes mean that they’re efficient and readable enough to hold their own against boxsets, games etc.. They still evoke the same emotions as older thriller novels do, but they’ve had to cut out the excess in order to keep doing this in the 21st century.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful ๐Ÿ™‚

Today’s Art (27th November 2018)

Today’s digitally-edited painting is a memory painting of a rather gothic-looking church that I happened to see on a journey home a while before I started making this painting.

Although I’d had a couple of drinks earlier in the evening, the painting turned out better than I had expected – although it doesn’t quite capture the exact feeling that seeing the church evoked in me (it was like a combination of seeing a real-life gothic metal album cover and also suddenly remembering the old, autumnal gloom of the Halloweens and harvest festivals of my childhood.)

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

“And A Gothic Church” By C. A. Brown