Today’s Art (31st May 2019)

Well, due to tiredness, today’s artwork is actually a heavily digitally-edited photo (rather than a painting or drawing). The source photo for it was this photo I took of a river/pond near Bishop’s Waltham last June.

Still, even though I was too tired to make a proper painting or drawing, I’m kind of glad this edited photo gave me the chance to make the kind of gothic, vivid 1990s-style art that I really enjoy making 🙂 The effects I used were a variant of this technique, in addition to numerous other digital effects in a couple of editing programs.

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

“Bishop’s Waltham – Mystical (Edited Photo)” By C. A. Brown

Top Ten Articles – May 2019

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

In terms of articles, most of this month’s articles were writing-based ones and the quality was somewhat variable (mostly due to things like hot weather at the time of writing, which tended to drain my enthusiasm a bit).

This hot weather also had a slight impact on the number of book reviews I posted this month (with only twelve of them appearing). On the plus side, thanks to the fact that the weather sometimes made me gravitate towards quicker/easier novels, I had time to post the first game review I’ve posted here this year (plus, two “Doom II” level reviews too 🙂 ).

Anyway, out of the novels I read this month, the best ones were probably “Dead Of Night” by Jonathan Maberry, “Sacrilege” by S. J. Parris, “More Tales Of The City” by Armistead Maupin, “Bloodlist” by P. N. Elrod and “Dying Words” by Shaun Hutson.

Anyway, here are the lists 🙂 Enjoy 🙂

Top Ten Articles – May 2019:

– “Storytelling In Books vs Storytelling On TV – A Ramble
– “Three Tips For Making Your Zombie Story Stand Out From The Crowd
– “Writing: Creativity Via Limitations – A Ramble
– “Three Tips For Finding A Short Story Idea
– “Four Reasons Why Novels Are More Punk Than You Might Think
– “Three Ways That Writers Make Stories Faster Or Slower To Read
– “Two Ways To Spruce Up A Familiar Story
– “Three Reasons Why Books Don’t Get Remakes
– “Working Out What To Show The Audience – A Ramble
– “Obscurity And The Written Word – A Ramble

Honourable Mentions:

– “Three Thoughts About Writing Fiction Set In The Mid-2000s
– “Three Tips For Coming Up With Realistic Fictional Videogames For Your Story

Obscurity And The Written Word – A Ramble

A few days before I wrote this article, I was reminded of one of the major differences between film/TV/videogames and novels. The novel that I’m (still) re-reading at the moment is a spin-off novel based on the “Final Destination” horror movie series. This was a novel that I first read in 2005/6 and, when I first found my old copy of it, I thought “I remember this! I’ll look online for other books in the series“.

It was quite an eye-opener. Whilst DVDs of the films from this series were reasonably cheap, most of the spin-off novels (all less than two decades old!) were surprisingly expensive out-of-print copies. Whilst I was pretty amazed that I unwittingly owned a book that had become a collector’s item, it also crystallised one of the major differences between prose fiction and other mediums.

Namely that it is much easier for books to be obscure than it is for stuff in other genres. After all, if you see an interesting film or play an interesting game, then there’s a good chance that quite a few people have heard of it. There will be Youtube videos about it, fan art about it and maybe even mainstream press coverage too. On the other hand, if you find a really interesting novel, then there’s a fairly good chance that most people haven’t even heard of it.

There are, of course, a lot of reasons for this. Books take more time and effort to enjoy than other mediums. Publishers’ advertising budgets are lower, so only a few big name authors tend to get promoted. The experience of reading a book is slightly different for every reader. It costs less to produce a book, so there are many more of them. Reading is an inherently solitary activity. I could go on for quite a while, but there are a lot of reasons why books will often be more obscure than things in other mediums.

And, yes, this can be somewhat off-putting at times. I mean, when I got back into reading regularly a few months ago, I soon felt the familiar feeling of disconnection that comes from enjoying a medium that really doesn’t have a mainstream fan culture in the way that games, films, TV shows etc.. do. Or, rather, one that has a very limited mainstream fan culture. Seriously, aside from classic literature and a few big name authors, books really don’t get the kind of press that games, films etc.. do.

And, yes, this can make being a reader, rather than a gamer or a film/TV buff, feel somewhat lonely. But, it isn’t all bad news. For starters, the obscurity of most novels means that there is a whole culture that is “hiding in plain sight” in the modern world. Whilst film franchises might be well-known about, there are loads of even better book franchises that no-one has heard of. And discovering one of these is like finding hidden treasure or joining a secret society or something like that.

Likewise, this obscurity also gives books a level of freedom that other mediums can only dream of. After all, the more mainstream something is, the more it has to appeal to a mainstream audience. Because most novels won’t become well-known, this gives authors a lot more creative freedom. This includes everything from the choice of main characters to the types of stories told to things like censorship-related issues (seriously, read a 1980s splatterpunk horror novel. It’ll make even the most gruesome modern horror movies look tame by comparison.)

Plus, because books don’t require things like special effects, teams of programmers etc… books can do things that films, TV shows and games can’t do. Or, to put it another way, even the cheesiest and most “low budget” novel can be considerably more impressive than even a mid-budget film, game or TV show.

This obscurity also means that books can be years ahead of other mediums too. For example, this horror novel from the mid-2000s actually seems like it’s from the mid-2000s, rather than the “1990s in disguise” that films from the time often inhabited. This sci-fi novel from 1992 reminded me a bit of a sci-fi movie from 1995-99 (like “The Matrix” or “Ghost In The Shell”). I could go on, but because books don’t have to fit into mainstream expectations, they can often be years ahead of more popular storytelling mediums.

The obscurity of books also means that, if a genre that you aren’t a fan of becomes popular, then there are still loads of other good books out there. I mean, whilst superhero films and online multiplayer games might be all the rage these days, lots of new books in all genres are still being published all the time.

So, yes, books being the most overlooked and obscure storytelling medium out there these days isn’t an entirely bad thing.


Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Review: “Denial” (WAD For “Doom II”/”Final Doom”/ “ZDoom”)

Well, due to the hot weather, it’s taking me a bit longer to read the next book I’m planning to review (“Final Destination: Dead Reckoning” by Natasha Rhodes) than I expected. So, for the final review of the month, I thought that I’d take a quick look at another “Doom II” WAD. After all, it’s been a few weeks since my last WAD review.

So, after clicking the “Random File” button on the /idgames Archive a few times, I ended up with a single-level “Doom II”/”Final Doom” WAD from 2006 called “Denial“.

As usual, I used the “ZDoom” source port whilst playing this WAD, although it’ll probably work with most modern source ports. Likewise, since it’s a “vanilla” WAD (eg: it only uses the standard textures, monsters, weapons etc..), it’ll also work with many mods (like “Brutal Doom” etc..) too.

So, let’s take a quick look at “Denial”:

“Denial” is a medium length single-level WAD which, for some bizarre reason, takes up the level 28 slot. What this means is that, when you start the game, you’ll have to type “IDCLEV28” to skip to this level (if you don’t want to play levels 1-27). I’ve never quite understood why some WAD designers do this. If it’s a single-level WAD, then it should be level one!

One of the first things that I will say about this WAD is that it’s a lot of fun. It’s a mildly-moderately challenging level that will probably take you an hour or so to complete. It’s a perfect level if you’re slightly out of practice, if the weather is a little bit too hot or if you don’t have too much time. Likewise, if you’re a more inexperienced player, then this level will probably be quite an enjoyable challenge.

But, if you’re a more experienced player, then you’ll get to feel like an expert when you play this mildly challenging level.

A lot of the level’s challenge is achieved through careful weapon/ammo/health placement, claustrophobic design and well-planned monster encounters. Although you’ll mostly encounter low-level monsters throughout the level, these segments still remain mildly challenging due to the number of these monsters (eg: small hordes of them), the cramped locations you fight them in and/or their hitscan attacks.

Seriously, this segment might look really easy, but there’s very little cover to hide behind…

Still, the level throws a few mid-high level monsters and/or small arena fights at you occasionally in order to keep you on your toes. Even so, don’t expect the large numbers of monsters that you’d normally see in a more challenging modern WAD. But, saying this, the level still includes the obligatory Arch-Vile too 🙂

Seriously, no “Doom II” WAD is truly complete without one of these 🙂

In terms of the level design, this WAD is reasonably good. Not only is the level an old-school non-linear level, but there’s also a good mixture of claustrophobic corridors and small-medium size arena areas too.

The bulk of the level is spent trying to find one key – which can sometimes lead to you getting lost or stuck, although this thankfully doesn’t last too long (thanks to the size of the level). But, once you’ve found the key, then the level becomes a lot more straightforward – with the other two locked doors being fairly close to the first one.

Still, it’s always awesome to see FPS game maps that look like this 🙂

The level also includes a couple of basic switch puzzles and a few fairly obvious secret areas too, which help to keep things interesting (since they’ll sometimes allow you to glimpse later parts of the level). Plus, whilst this WAD can probably be played using a more “traditionalist” approach, if you want to get the plasma rifle, then you’ll need to use a source port that allows you to jump.

Luckily, this wall of switches doesn’t seem to be a combination puzzle 🙂

I’m pretty sure that you can’t get this without jumping, although there might be a hidden teleporter or something.

All in all, this is a reasonably fun and well-designed level that will provide an hour or so of mildly-moderately challenging fun. Yes, you might get lost or stuck for a few minutes, but it’s always good to see an old-school non-linear level that requires you to explore 🙂

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

Three Thoughts About Writing Fiction Set In The Mid-2000s

Well, I ended up thinking about the subject of mid-2000s style fiction after I began re-reading a horror novel from 2005 called “Final Destination: Dead Reckoning” by Natasha Rhodes (although, due to a heatwave at the time of writing, it might take me longer to read/review this novel than usual). It could be because of the fact that I first read this novel in 2005/6, but it seemed so wonderfully mid-2000s in a lot of ways.

This then made me think of a horror novel from 2006 that I re-read a while ago called “Dying Words” by Shaun Hutson, which seems to be the perfect distillation of mid-2000s Britain. And, since the mid-2000s is just slightly too recent to really be a part of popular nostalgia at the moment, I thought that I’d offer a few tips about how to write stories set in the mid-2000s. And for the purposes of this article, I’ll define the mid-2000s as 2004-6 or so.

1) Culture and context: Culturally, the mid-2000s was a different age. Despite all of the lingering post-9/11 fear and angst, culture was a bit more optimistic and interesting than the present day. In part, this was probably because the 2008 financial crash hadn’t happened yet. So, here are a few of the cultural differences between the mid-2000s and the present day.

As for films, horror movies were a lot more popular 🙂 At the time, the psychological horror/jump scare trend of the early-mid 2000s was still going strong (with, for example, a Hollywood remake of “The Grudge” in 2004) but, with the release of the first “Saw” film in 2004, the early beginnings of the grittier and more brutal horror movie trends of the mid-late 2000s were also emerging too. Superhero movies also existed at the time, but were thankfully more of an occasional infrequent novelty rather than a major genre 🙂

Pop and rock music (especially indie rock) were popular genres of music too. Heavy metal music from the time usually tended to be a bit more shoutier and/or angst-filled than it was in previous decades though. There were also some lingering remnants of the awesome pop-punk trend of the mid-1990s/early-mid 2000s in the charts too 🙂 The Emo subculture was also a popular thing too. In terms of fashions, boho chic was one of the most popular trends.

Videogames were a popular thing, but were also still something of a niche hobby too. First-person shooter games were still primarily single-player games (and were all the better for it!) and genres like the 3D platformer genre and the survival horror genre were still reasonably popular too 🙂 Whilst online multiplayer obviously existed back then, there tended to be more of a focus on good, honest local multiplayer for console games. However, the modern renaissance in indie games hadn’t happened yet, so most games were popular “AAA” games made by larger studios.

Politically, this was the age of George W. Bush and Tony Blair. Both were mercilessly satirised at the time and for good reason. Still, even though the mid-2000s was a relative utopia compared to the present day, we didn’t know any worse back then. As such, pessimism, angst and gloom about politics were a major thing back then. Whether it was angst about the erosion of civil liberties, worries about terrorism, worries about Blair acting in an authoritarian fashion, worries about the Iraq/Afghanistan wars etc… It was a fairly angst-filled time.

But it was, in Britain at least, a much more hedonistic age too 🙂 For example, this was an age when there were still tabloid moral panics about “binge drinking” (because people still actually went out drinking/clubbing at the weekend 🙂 ).

2) The technology: The thing to remember about the mid-2000s is that, in technological terms, it was mostly a more sensible version of the present day. In other words, whilst things like mobile phones, some types of social media etc.. still existed, they were a little bit more sensible.

In other words, smartphones didn’t really exist. Mobile phones existed (and were very popular), but they were actual phones with numerical keypads. They were primarily used for phone calls and simple text messages. Some phones had low-resolution cameras, limited internet connectivity and colour screens, but that was about it (and adding anything more usually tended to result in commercial failure, see the Nokia N-Gage for an example). They had much longer battery life than modern phones and they couldn’t really access social media in the way they do today 🙂

Social media, of course, being something you accessed via a desktop computer (running Windows 98 or XP 🙂 ). Even then, it was at least slightly different to what it is today. Back then, social media tended to focus slightly more on things like public forums (where people would discuss a topic, instead of themselves), instant messenger programs and – of course- traditional blogs, where people could write at length in an articulate fashion 🙂

Yet, unfortunately, the beginnings of modern-style social media were also starting to emerge too. Myspace was, of course, around at the time. An obscure video-sharing site called Youtube appeared in 2005. In 2006, Twitter began (as a service that allowed you to send SMS text messages to the internet with your phone) and Facebook opened itself to the public too. Yet, in 2004-6, social media was still something of an obscure hobby that had not grown to the ridiculous level of prominence that it has today.

As for portable date storage, re-writable CDs were a popular way of backing up large amounts of data. Whilst USB memory sticks existed during the mid-2000s, they were much smaller (eg: tens or hundreds of megabytes) and people still used floppy disks occasionally. Computers still often had floppy drives installed as standard too 🙂

Likewise, whilst some mobile phones had low-resolution cameras, most people used good, honest stand-alone digital cameras to take photos. However, cheap disposable film-based cameras were still reasonably popular for things like holidays etc…

Plus, the mid-2000s was one of the last time periods where physical media was king 🙂 In other words, when you bought a film, you bought it on DVD (or maybe VHS, if you could find it). Traditional paperback and hardback books were the only way to read fiction 🙂 Music was still primarily sold on CDs too 🙂

Likewise, although things like Steam did exist back then, if you bought a computer or video game, you almost certainly bought a physical disc from a physical shop (as such, things like DLC, loot boxes etc.. weren’t common and most games were actually released in a finished state too 🙂 )

3) The stories aren’t that different: You’ll have probably noticed that I’ve spent most of this article talking about background and contextual stuff, rather than about writing. There’s a good reason for this. The mid-2000s weren’t that long ago.

In other words, stories that would work in the modern day can often also work reasonably well when set during the mid-2000s. Most of what makes a story set during this time period different from a more modern story are the background details and the atmosphere (eg: angst-filled/pessimistic, yet also more innocent and optimistic) more than anything else.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Review: “Inferno” By Dan Brown

Well, it has been ages since I last read a Dan Brown novel. I remember enthusiastically reading “The Da Vinci Code” and “Angels & Demons” in mid-late 2005. Then, in 2009, I read Brown’s “The Lost Symbol” (a new hardback copy on release day, no less!), “Deception Point” and “Digital Fortress”.

So, when Dan Brown’s “Inferno” was released in 2013, I…. eventually ended up getting a hardback copy a year later, which I didn’t get round to reading (since I was starting to lose interest in books at the time) and ended up losing somewhere in the depths of one of my book piles.

But, after discovering a cheap second-hand paperback copy of “Inferno” in a charity shop in Petersfield last year, I thought that I’d take a proper look at it. So, yes, this review has been several years in the making.

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

This is the 2014 Corgi (UK) paperback edition of “Inferno” that I read.

The novel begins with a mysterious man called The Shade running through the streets of Florence before hurling himself off of a building and falling to his death.

Meanwhile, revered American symbology professor Robert Langdon is having a bizarre nightmare, filled with hellish visions from Dante’s “Inferno”. When he wakes up, he finds that not only is he in hospital, but he cannot remember the events of the past 2-3 days. Needless to say, the situation becomes stranger when he learns from a visiting English medic called Sienna that he is actually in Italy rather than in America and that he was brought into the hospital after being shot in the head.

However, before Langdon can really start to piece together the events of the past few days, a mysterious assassin breaks into the hospital and tries to kill him. Luckily, Sienna is able to help Langdon escape the hospital before this happens and it soon becomes obvious that someone powerful is out to get them. But, why?

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a gloriously silly thriller novel that, despite a few flaws, was a lot of fun to read 🙂

Like in Brown’s other Langdon novels, this novel is a little bit different from a typical gung-ho action thriller novel. In other words, it is a novel where Langdon has to rely on quick thinking and academic knowledge in order to survive. Since Langdon is unarmed throughout the story, this novel actually has quite a bit of suspense – given that he spends quite a bit of the story chased by various heavily-armed people, whilst also solving mysterious puzzles based on Dante’s “Inferno” in order to prevent a major catastrophe.

And, yes, this is actually a much more intelligent novel than you might expect. This is both a strength and a weakness. On the plus side, this novel is fairly well thought-out and extremely well-researched.

On the downside, Brown feels the need to show off his research constantly via lots of info-dumps, which can sometimes make the book seem more like a slow-paced mixture between a tour guide of Italy and a history textbook during what are supposed to be thrillingly fast-paced moments. Yes, some of these segments are pretty interesting, but they do slow down the story quite a bit!

Still, this novel is a fairly gripping thriller regardless. Although there are more than a few silly moments (such as a random tricycle chase, some character-based stuff, some of the more contrived puzzles/clues/plot twists etc..), this novel still manages to remain compelling thanks to both the premise and the suspenseful storyline.

The idea of starting the story halfway through, with the main character not remembering what happened beforehand isn’t an entirely new technique (I mean, it turned up in the previous book that I read), but it works pretty well here. Likewise, the fact that Langdon is unarmed helps to add extra suspense to the story’s many chase sequences.

Plus, the novel also includes some fairly bold and dramatic plot twists too – although some of these aren’t always foreshadowed as much as they should be. Even so, the plot twists kind of reminded me a bit of the first “Mission Impossible” film, which helped to add to the story’s enjoyable silliness.

One interesting theme in this novel is that of the dangers of overpopulation, with the main villain (Zobrist) taking it upon himself to “correct” the problem via a genetically-engineered virus. In a rather clever move, the novel initially takes a rather simplistic “good vs. evil” approach to this by making the virus out to be a modern version of the bubonic plague. However, the novel achieves a greater level of intellectual and moral complexity when it is later revealed that the virus merely makes one-third of the world’s population sterile. Refreshingly, the novel then leaves it up to the reader to come to their own conclusions about the morality of Zobrist’s actions.

The novel also possibly contains a little bit of satire about the thriller genre too, with a group of characters called “The Consortium” who are a well-funded ship-based group of mercenaries who will carry out any task, with the justification that they are merely a tool for other people and bear no responsibility for how they are used. Although this probably has no connection to Clive Cussler’s “Oregon Files” novels, it’s hard not to see it as a slight parody of these stories (and the action-thriller genre in general).

In terms of the characters, this novel is pretty cheesy. In addition to Robert Langdon (who is a cultured, highly-intelligent and fairly tall professor), his side-kick Sienna initially seems to be a hilariously corny character (eg: a slightly rebellious genius with an IQ of 208, who also owns a motorised tricycle for… reasons). However, she gains a bit more character depth as the story progresses. Some of the background characters are a bit more well-written though, with the most intriguing character being the mysterious antagonist, Zobrist.

In terms of the novel’s writing, it’s ok. Although this novel is a very readable thriller, the story is slowed down quite often by lots of descriptive info-dumps about history, architecture, tourist attractions etc… Even so, I can’t really fault the actual writing in this novel too much. The action scenes are very readable and the descriptions are fairly evocative too. Likewise, Dan Brown makes pretty good use of his traditional ultra-short chapters here too 🙂

In terms of length and pacing, this novel needs improvement. At a mammoth 620 pages in length, this novel would have benefitted from trimming some of the background details and repetitive descriptions of major plot points (although, saying this, if you’re reading this book a few chapters at a time, then these are probably fairly useful recaps. Even so, they get a bit annoying if you’re binge-reading).

Likewise, although the novel moves along at a reasonably decent pace (thanks to the suspenseful storyline, short chapters etc..), the story is bogged down quite a bit due to all of the info-dumps that I’ve mentioned before. Seriously, this novel is supposed to be a thriller.

All in all, this is one of the most gripping tour guides/history textbooks you’ll read. It is also a rather silly, but more intelligent than you might think, thriller novel too. Whilst it doesn’t quite reach the high standards of Brown’s earlier works, it’s still a lot of fun to read 🙂

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