Today’s Art (26th December 2018)

Well, due to time and inspiration reasons, today’s digitally-edited painting ended up being a minimalist gothic vampire painting (which also includes some digital lighting effects too).

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

“Blood Moon” By C. A. Brown

The Complete “Work In Progress” Line Art For My “Damania – A Cynical Christmas (2018)” Webcomic Mini Series

Well, I thought that I’d do my usual thing and show off the “work in progress” line art for my recent “Damania – A Cynical Christmas (2018)” webcomic mini series. Plus, if you missed the link to the line art for yesterday’s Christmas cartoon, then you can also see it here.

Anyway, due to the slightly rushed/busy production schedule for this mini series, the dialogue/art changes between the line art and the finished comics in this mini series just consist of small mistakes that were corrected in the finished comics.

The most significant change in this mini series happened between the planning and line art stages for the second comic (“Cycle”). Basically, in my original plan, the dialogue/punchline in the final two panels was fairly similar to this old comic – so, I made some last minute changes before I made the line art.

You can click on each piece of line art to see a larger version of it. Enjoy 🙂

“Damania – A Cynical Christmas (2018) – Tradition (Line Art)” By C. A. Brown

“Damania – A Cynical Christmas (2018) – Cycle (Line Art)” By C. A. Brown

“Damania – A Cynical Christmas (2018) – Clogged (Line Art)” By C. A. Brown

“Damania – A Cynical Christmas (2018) – Slow (Line Art)” By C. A. Brown

“Damania – A Cynical Christmas (2018) – Ahead (Line Art)” By C. A. Brown

“Damania – A Cynical Christmas (2018) – Jump (Line Art)” By C. A. Brown

Merry Christmas Everyone :)

Merry Christmas everyone 🙂 I hope that you have a wonderful day 🙂 Normal articles will resume tomorrow but, in the meantime, here’s this year’s Christmas comic (and, if anyone’s curious, here’s the “work in progress” line art for it too. Lots of other comics featuring these characters can also be found here too.).

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

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Merry Christmas 2018” By C. A. Brown

The Complete “Damania – A Cynical Christmas (2018)” – All Six “Episodes” Of The New Webcomic Mini Series By C. A. Brown

Well, in case you missed any of it, here are all six “episodes” of this year’s Christmas webcomic mini series in one easy-to-read post. If you want more Christmas comics, then you can check out the previous two “cynical Christmas” mini series here and here. Likewise, lots of other comics can also be found on this page.

Although, due to being busy with things like the book reviews I’ve been posting here over the past month or so, the art (especially the backgrounds) in this mini series ended up being a little bit simpler than I’d have wanted. Even so, I quite like how the writing, humour etc.. in this mini series turned out 🙂

As usual, all six comic updates are released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence. You can also click on each comic to see a larger version of it.

“Damania – A Cynical Christmas (2018) – Tradition” By C. A. Brown

“Damania – A Cynical Christmas (2018) – Cycle” By C. A. Brown

“Damania – A Cynical Christmas (2018) – Clogged” By C. A. Brown

“Damania – A Cynical Christmas (2018) – Slow” By C. A. Brown

“Damania – A Cynical Christmas (2018) – Ahead” By C. A. Brown

“Damania – A Cynical Christmas (2018) – Jump” By C. A. Brown

Today’s Art (24th December 2018)

Here’s the sixth (and final) comic in this year’s Christmas webcomic mini series. Don’t worry if you missed any of it, I’ll post a full retrospective here later tonight (you can also check out lots of other comics here too). Likewise, I’ll probably post a Christmas cartoon here tomorrow too.

But, yeah, does anyone else remember when jump-scare based horror movies were ultra-popular? I mean, the only reason they were actually scary (for more than five minutes) was usually because they also contained some kind of underlying ghost story too.

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

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Damania – A Cynical Christmas (2018) – Jump” By C. A. Brown

Review: “The Diamond Age” By Neal Stephenson (Novel)

Whilst waiting for several books to arrive, I suddenly realised that I needed to find something to read in the meantime. Luckily, having read a lot in the past, I’m not exactly short of books. But, although I tried to read “The Difference Engine” by William Gibson & Bruce Sterling, I just couldn’t get along with the narration. Even so, I wanted to read something vaguely cyberpunk and/or steampunk.

Then I remembered that there was an old cyberpunk novel in the far corner of my room, wedged behind a stack of old DVDs. So, I decided to fish it out and take a look. It was none other than a second-hand copy of Neal Stephenson’s 1995 novel “The Diamond Age”, which my younger self seemed to have bought for just 80p. After finishing it about two or three nights later, I realised that not only had I found buried treasure but that it was also the best 80p that I’d ever spent.

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

This is the 1996 Roc (UK) paperback edition of “The Diamond Age” that I read.

“The Diamond Age” is set in a futuristic version of China, and revolves around an interactive book called “A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer”. Although this book was commissioned by a wealthy neo-Victorian gentleman in order to teach his granddaughter to think more subversively, an illicit copy of the book (that the book’s designer made for his daughter) is stolen and ends up in the hands of a young girl called Nell from the poorer part of town….

One of the first things that I will say about “The Diamond Age” is that it is one of the most intelligent and profound novels that I’ve ever read. I almost feel guilty about writing a mere review of this book, since some kind of dissertation would probably be more appropriate. Seriously, not only does it tell a complex multi-layered story (my short summary of part of the main plot really doesn’t do this book justice), but it also includes philosophical complexity, thematic complexity, narrative complexity and emotional complexity. Seriously, this book is a work of art.

When I started reading it, I worried that I was out of my depth. Like I’d tried to install a modern “AAA” computer game on the classic mid-2000s machine I typed this review on. But, as I kept reading it and got used to the narrative style, I began to realise what a treasure this book is.

Seriously, it’s the kind of book that makes films like “Blade Runner 2049” and the original “Ghost In The Shell” look like simple, shallow, superficial things by comparison. Not only that, it is the kind of book that holds all sorts of deeper meanings and profound moments that will make you think. In other words, if you put the effort into reading this book, then you will be rewarded for it!

I should probably start by talking about the book’s narration. For the most part, the novel uses a rich, dense, highly-descriptive narrative style that is heavily inspired by 19th century writing (but with some modern elements). Although this narrative style can be a bit of a challenge to get used to at first, you’re in for a treat when you’ve had a bit of practice at reading it.

This dense, formal and descriptive narrative style allows Stephenson to render every scene of the story with a level of high-definition comic book vividness that is really astonishing 🙂 This novel takes the “information overload” narrative technique of a novel like William Gibson’s “Neuromancer” and turns it into something even more sophisticated and refined. Basically, imagine the ultra-detailed artwork of Warren Ellis’s “Transmetropolitan” comics but in prose form…

The novel’s formal narration is also counterpointed with a couple of other narrative styles too. Whether it’s the traditional 1980s-style cyberpunk narration that appears earlier in the story (during scenes that are a brilliantly cynical parody of “Neuromancer” etc..), or the story within the “Primer” – which starts out as a simple children’s fairytale and gradually becomes more complex as the story progresses (and Nell gets older), the novel’s narration is more flexible than you might expect.

The characters and “world” of this novel are also more complex and realistic than you would expect. Unlike the classic cyberpunk novels of the 1980s, the main characters aren’t anti-heroes. The one character (Bud) who initially seems like a typical cyberpunk protagonist is, after a few pages, realistically shown to be a dangerous violent criminal (who is quickly arrested and sentenced to death). Seriously, this segment of the story is one of the most cynical parodies of 1980s-style cyberpunk I’ve ever seen.

By contrast, the main characters in “The Diamond Age” are people from different walks of life who live in a complex and dangerous world. The novel’s characters really come across as realistic people with emotions, motivations and personalities. Seriously, I cannot praise the characterisation in this story highly enough! Whether it is Nell’s journey through life, or the travails of poor Mr. Hackworth, or Miranda’s story arc, or Judge Fang’s Confucian beliefs leading him in unexpected directions etc.. the characters in this story are unique, interesting people.

In emotional terms, this story contains pretty much every emotion under the sun. There are descriptive segments where you will be in awe, there are scenes that will feel warmly reassuring, there are surprisingly harsh moments that will make you recoil with shock/horror/disgust, there are parts that will be really depressing, there are parts that will be really uplifting, there are moments that will make you laugh out loud, there are parts that will make you feel nervous, there are scenes that will make you cry (in a good way) and there are scenes that will fill you with righteous fury. Emotionally, this novel is a truly mature and complex thing.

But, the main attraction of this story is the sheer number of themes that it explores and deals with. This is one of those books that probably requires multiple readings and lots of background reading in order to really get the most of out of it, but here are some of the themes I found when I read it.

One of the major themes in this story is people attempting to make sense of new things using old ideas. Within the world of the story, there are groups of people who try to follow old ways of living in the belief that they are better. Whether it is the neo-Victorians (who try to emulate their 19th century namesakes) or the Chinese traditionalists who follow the teachings of Confucius, a lot of this story is about people apply trying to apply older standards to a futuristic world with varying degrees of success.

Another theme in this story is the power and value of stories. This novel is one of the best works of metafiction that I’ve ever seen. Not only does it contain a story-within-a-story, but the entire novel is about the impact that one person reading one book can have on the world. In addition to this, it is also a novel about how stories can teach and shape us. “The Diamond Age” is a beautiful celebration of the magic of reading and telling stories.

The novel also explores the tension between individuality and conformity. Whilst a lot of the novel focuses on Nell learning to stand up for herself and think for herself, the story takes place in a world that has been fragmented into numerous micro-states that are run by different ideological “tribes”. This novel takes a fairly deep look at the benefits and downsides of both individuality and conformity, with the reader often left to come to their own conclusions. Still, it is important to be aware of this theme, since the story’s ending won’t completely make sense unless you think of it in these terms (eg: is it better to be a unique individual in a dangerous situation or to find safety in extreme conformity?).

These are just a few of the themes explored in this novel (other themes include poverty, ethics, cultural capital, nature vs. nurture, gender politics, technology etc..). But, if you like things that make you think, then you’ll absolutely love this novel 🙂 Seriously, this is the kind of novel that is probably a set text for a university course somewhere. If not, it really should be. Seriously, I wish I’d read this when I was at university.

In terms of how this twenty-three year old novel has aged, it has aged astonishingly well. Not only does all of the futuristic stuff still seem very futuristic, but the narration still feels both timelessly old and timelessly modern too. Aside from maybe one or two brief sentences, references and/or descriptions, this novel could easily be published today and it would still seem very modern.

All in all, this review really hasn’t done this book justice. “The Diamond Age” is a bit of a challenging read, but it is well worth putting the effort into it! Seriously, this is one of the most intelligent, profound, unique and complex books that I’ve ever read. “The Diamond Age” is to books what “Blade Runner” is to film and what Neil Gaiman’s “The Sandman” is to comics. In other words, it is a profound, unique and thought-provoking work of art that will linger in your imagination long after you’ve finished reading it.

If I had to give this novel a rating out of five, it would get a solid five. Read it!

Today’s Art (23rd December 2018)

Woo hoo! I am very proud to present the fifth comic in this year’s Christmas webcomic mini series. You can check out the previous two Christmas mini series here and here, as well as finding lots of other comics here. You can also catch up on previous comics in this mini series here: Comic One, Comic Two, Comic Three, Comic Four,

Ok, Roz was actually undecided during the referendum. But, artistic licence…

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

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Damania – A Cynical Christmas (2018) – Ahead” By C. A. Brown

Three Tips For Writing 1990s-Style Cyberpunk Fiction

Well, for today, I thought that I’d talk about 1990s-style cyberpunk science fiction. This is mostly because I’m reading a cyberpunk (or, technically, post-cyberpunk) novel from 1995 called “The Diamond Age” by Neal Stephenson at the time of writing.

This novel is surprisingly different from traditional 1980s-style cyberpunk (Neuromancer“, “Blade Runner” etc..) and it also reminded me a bit of other 1990s cyberpunk works like Warren Ellis’ “Transmetropolitan” comics and the original 1995 “Ghost In The Shell” anime film.

So, since 1990s cyberpunk is kind of it’s own distinctive “thing”, I thought that I’d offer a few tips about writing this style of cyberpunk.

1) The technology isn’t everything: If 1980s cyberpunk focused on amazing the audience with what the internet, virtual reality etc… could be like in the future, 1990s cyberpunk takes a step back from this. Although futuristic technology is obviously still a major part of 1990s cyberpunk, it’s a little bit more of a background element. In short, there’s more of a focus on “functional” everyday technology than on things like virtual reality etc…

In 1990s-style cyberpunk, the technology tends to be a lot more subtle and insidious. For example, nanotechnology features heavily in “The Diamond Age” and “Transmetropolitan” – where it is used for purposes like surveillance, weather control, weapons, motion tracking, compact computing etc.. But, in both stories, it is just shown to be an “ordinary” thing to the characters.

Likewise, whilst 1995’s “Ghost In The Shell” focuses on robotics and cybernetics (like 1982’s “Blade Runner”), these mostly aren’t presented with quite the same level of emphasis and fascination as they are in “Blade Runner”. They’re just an ordinary, mundane part of everyday life. The main character has a cybernetic body, ordinary people sometimes have them and sometimes the antagonists do too. They’re just ordinary. However, this is a lot more obvious in the spin-off “Stand Alone Complex” TV series made during the 2000s.

In other words, in 1990s cyberpunk, the futuristic technology usually isn’t everything. It’s an important part of the story, but it’s also – realistically – just a mundane background element, rather than the central focus of the story.

2) Protagonists: There’s a brilliant scene in the earlier parts of Neal Stephenson’s “The Diamond Age” (spoilers ahoy!) which shows the difference between 1980s and 1990s-style cyberpunk protagonists absolutely perfectly.

Basically, the story starts with a typical 1980s-style cyberpunk character called Bud, who is getting a powerful weapons system implanted in his skull. He wears very cyberpunk-like leather clothes and he’s a freelance street criminal too. These scenes are also narrated in a typical 1980s cyberpunk style too. Initially, Bud seems like he’s going to be the main character.

But, he is then shown to be more of an unsympathetic character (eg: he’s shown to hold racist attitudes, he shoots defenceless people etc..). Almost as if he’s a…scary violent criminal (who would have thought it?). Then, before we even reach page fifty, he has been arrested and sentenced to death. This is both a perfect parody of 1980s cyberpunk and a great example of how 1990s cyberpunk differs from 1980s cyberpunk.

By contrast, the rest of “The Diamond Age” focuses on ordinary people within the story’s futuristic world. The main characters include people like a judge, an actress, two impoverished children and a prestigious engineer. In short, not the typical “anti-hero” characters of the 1980s. In fact, one of the story’s philosophical discussions briefly features a character mentioning how computer hackers were used as “trickster” archetypes in late 20th century stories.

You can see the same things in other 1990s cyberpunk works too. In Warren Ellis’ “Transmetropolitan”, the main character is a drug-addled journalist (inspired by the one and only Hunter S. Thompson). In “Ghost In The Shell”, the main character is a member of a military police unit (who are shown to be the good guys, rather than the dystopian villains they would be if it was 1980s cyberpunk).

In other words, 1990s-style cyberpunk is more about ordinary people living in futuristic cyberpunk worlds than about “cool” anti-hero computer hackers or anything like that.

3) Narration and tone: Simply put, 1990s-style cyberpunk fiction will often ditch the traditional “Neuromancer”-like narration and do something a bit different.

For example, although the scenes involving Bud in “The Diamond Age” do use 1980s-style cyberpunk narration, this quickly gives way to a highly-descriptive and slightly formal narrative style that is more like something from a 19th century novel (Dickens, Conan Doyle etc..) than a 1980s cyberpunk novel.

Likewise, the general tone of the stories tends to be a lot more varied too. For example, whilst “Transmetropolitan”, “Ghost In The Shell” and “The Diamond Age” might have a few scenes set at night in the dystopian, rainy, neon-lit streets of a mega-city, they also feature much brighter scenes set during the day too. Kind of like pretty much every other story, comic or film would probably do.

In short, like with the other examples, 1990s cyberpunk (or “post-cyberpunk”) focuses more on what ordinary life in a futuristic cyberpunk world would be like. It focuses less on dazzling the audience with a unique version of the future, but uses it as a backdrop for a much wider variety of drama, science fiction etc… instead.

———

Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Today’s Art (22nd December 2018)

Woo hoo! I am very proud to present the fourth comic in this year’s Christmas webcomic mini series. You can check out the previous two Christmas mini series here and here, as well as finding lots of other comics here. You can also catch up on previous comics in this mini series here: Comic One, Comic Two, Comic Three,

And, yes, Rox has been using a dial-up modem since 2015/16.

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

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Damania – A Cynical Christmas (2018) – Slow” By C. A. Brown

Review: “Scorpion” By Michael R. Linaker (Novel)

As I mentioned in yesterday’s article, I first heard of Michael R. Linaker’s “Scorpion” (1980) when I saw a review of it on a website about old horror novels (I used to read a lot of these novels when I was a teenager during the early-mid 2000s). Needless to say, the review made me morbidly curious enough to find a cheap second-hand copy of “Scorpion” on Amazon.

When the book arrived, it was a refreshingly slender volume (only 159 pages! If only modern books could be this concise!) whose pages had turned a warmly familiar shade of second-hand bookshop orange and also exuded the oddly reassuring aroma of old cigarette smoke. Not only that, the cover also had a perfectly-placed crease that made holding the book even more ergonomic than usual. Likewise, the back page of the book also contained a postal order form for books like James Herbert’s “The Rats” and Frank Herbert’s “Dune”. Needless to say, I was feeling nostalgic already. You don’t get this with e-books.

So, let’s take a look at “Scorpion”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS (and some spoilers for James Herbert’s “The Rats” too).

This is the 1980 New English Library (UK) paperback edition of “Scorpion” that I read.

“Scorpion” begins in the town of Long Point in Kent. Outside the local nuclear power plant, there is an environmentalist protest that is being attended by a man called Les Mason. However, he’s got other things on his mind. Something has stung his hand!

Within minutes, Les starts to feel ill and one of the protest organisers – Chris Lane – insists on driving him home. When they get back to Les’ flat, he tells Chris to return to the protest, although she insists on calling a doctor before leaving. Once she leaves, Les looks at his hand. It looks absolutely horrifying!

Within an hour or two, he is wheeled into the emergency ward of the local hospital. Despite heavy sedation, he keeps screaming in agony. A medical researcher at the hospital, Allan Brady, decides to investigate….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is “so bad that it is good”. Everything from the occasionally corny dialogue, the descriptions of the scorpions, the ridiculous amount of sleaze, the premise of the story to Linaker’s narration just oozes low-budget cheesiness. I was torn between laughter and the sad feeling that I’d have probably enjoyed this book twice as much if I was half as old.

Even so, the experience of reading this book made me nostalgic for the Cornish summer holidays of my youth where I’d go on shopping sprees in second-hand bookshops and binge-read old second-hand horror and sci-fi novels on car journeys. Although the novel is set in Kent rather than Cornwall, I could almost taste the clotted cream and feel the summer sun when I was reading this book.

But, anyway, this is a good old-fashioned 1980s splatterpunk novel that was also part of the “creature feature” craze of the 1970s-80s. A lot of the horror in this novel is achieved through descriptions of swarms of scorpions and through the kind of grisly over-the-top blood-soaked ultra-violent horror that the splatterpunk genre is famous for. And, whilst this novel doesn’t have quite as much gore as a Shaun Hutson novel like “Erebus“, it could still give a modern horror movie a run for it’s money.

Whilst the scenes involving the scorpions often display a reasonable amount of inventiveness and never really get that monotonous, there is at least one scene that is possibly a cool little homage to the ending to James Herbert’s “The Rats”. This is a scene about two-thirds of the way through the story where the main characters encounter two larger, but weaker, scorpions within the scorpions’ lair. These scorpions are then splattered with pickaxe handles. Although there are differences, it reminded me a little bit of the memorable scene near the end of “The Rats” where the main character encounters the giant two-headed rat.

In terms of the narration, it is gloriously low-budget. Yet, the very slight clunkiness and/or amateurishness of it is all part of the charm. You sometimes get the sense that Linaker was actually trying to tell a story, that he was trying to find a way to write the type of novel he’d like to read. Yes, he isn’t always as eloquent as his contemporaries (eg: Shaun Hutson, James Herbert etc..), but this is part of the fun of the story. I mean, it’s a novel that sometimes reads a bit like an episode of “Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace“. And this is adorable!

Although, saying all of this, the narration does get a bit sleazy at times. This isn’t to do with the subject matter being written about (regardless of author, 1980s horror novels aren’t for the prudish) but it is to do with the way that these scenes are described and what the narration chooses to focus on. These scenes sometimes feel like they were written more for the author’s private enjoyment than because they are an organic part of the story.

The novel’s characters are reasonably good. As you would expect from a 1980s horror novel, even the background characters get a fair amount of characterisation. A lot of the novel’s best character-related moments take place during arguments with unsympathetic characters. Whether it is Chris Lane’s long-standing rivalry with the nefarious Mr.Condon who guards the gates of the power station, or Allen Brady’s dealings with the patronising and overbearing Dr. Camperly – the novel’s arguments are often hilariously dramatic. The romance between Chris and Allen is also fairly understated and rather heartwarming too.

In terms of the plotting, pacing and structure, this story is really good. Not only is it split into a three-act structure but there are also a couple of plot threads which go together fairly well. Likewise, this novel also makes full use of the classic splatterpunk technique of introducing new characters (eg: a hiker, a homeless man, a nude sunbather, an amourous couple, a mechanic, wealthy American tourists etc..) only for them to die in some horrible scorpion-related way a couple of pages later.

Not only that, this novel’s short length (a lean and efficient 159 pages) means that there are barely any wasted pages here too. Seriously, I miss the days when books could be short. This book tells a complete story that can be read in 2-4 hours and feels very much like a “full-length” novel. Seriously, I wish more books were like this! Not every novel needs to be a doorstopper!

In terms of how this thirty-eight year old novel has aged, it has aged hilariously terribly. Whether it’s the earnestness of the story’s message about the dangers of nuclear power, or the “sleazy” narrative tone of many of the novel’s more risque scenes or just the general 1980s-ness of the story, it is very much a relic of another age. Even so, the underlying story remains compelling and the scenes of horror still retain their potency. Not only that, the novel also includes a bit of timeless cynicism about the right-wing tabloid press too.

All in all, this novel is “so bad that it is good”. It’s the novelistic equivalent of a low-budget horror movie. Although it is a lean, efficient story with some timelessly horrific and creepy moments (that can also be read within 2-4 hours), it is still very much a “low-budget” horror novel. It’s so bad that it’s good. Still, if you’re in the mood for retro nostalgia or you want an old splatterpunk novel that you haven’t heard of before, then “Scorpion” will probably do the job.

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