Today’s Art (29th February 2020)

Well, this is the seventh digitally-edited painting in my 1990s-style “Horror Bookshop” art series and, although for time reasons, it was a bit more minimalist than I’d expected, I really like how it turned out 🙂

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

“Horror Bookshop – Stockroom” By C. A. Brown

Top Ten Articles – February 2020

Well, it’s the end of the month, so I thought that I’d do my usual thing of collecting a list of links to the ten best articles about writing etc… that I’ve posted here over the past month (with a couple of honourable mentions too).

All in all, this month’s articles/reviews were a bit slower to write than I’d expected due to being busy with other stuff (eg: although they appeared daily, I had to rely on my “buffer” of pre-written articles quite a bit – so they took longer than a month to prepare) but they turned out better than I’d expected 🙂

In terms of reviews, I surprisingly ended up reviewing three modern computer games (Neverending Nightmares“, “Hard Reset Redux” and “Devil Daggers) but, due to both this and the shorter length of this month, I only ended up reviewing ten novels this month.

Anyway, my favourite novels that I reviewed this month were probably “The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet” by Becky Chambers, “The End Of The Day” by Claire North, “The Rosewater Insurrection” by Tade Thompson, “Accursed” by Guy N. Smith and “World’s End” by Joan D. Vinge.

Anyway, here are the lists 🙂 Enjoy 🙂

Top Ten Articles – Feburary 2020:

– “Three More Reasons Why Reading Regularly Is Important For Writers
– “Three Sneaky Hacks For Writing A Novel If You’re A Short Story Writer
– “Three Tips For Writing Victorian-Style Narration
– “Why Knowing Your Chosen Genre Results In Better Stories – A Ramble
– “How To Mix First And Third Person Perspective Narration”
– “When Should You Reference Your Previous Stories?
– “Three Reasons To Use A Formal Writing Style In Your Story
– “Three Reasons Why Horror Stories Are Set In The Past
– “Four Reasons Why Horror Novels Are Similar To Heavy Metal Music
– “Good Action Sequences In Thriller Novels Are Like Puzzles – A Ramble

Honourable mentions:

– “Why Difficult Computer Games Are Good For Your Creativity
– “Three Rambling And Rose-Tinted Tips For Adding Early-Mid 2000s Nostalgia To Your Art Or Story

Today’s Art ( 28th February 2020)

Well, this is the sixth digitally-edited painting in my 1990s-style “Horror Bookshop” art series and, annoyingly, it didn’t turn out as well as I’d hoped (I’d originally planned to include a medieval executioner on the left-hand side of the painting, but he was kind of badly-drawn, so I eventually ended up shrouding this part of the painting in shadows instead).

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

“Horror Bookshop – Reading Nook” By C. A. Brown

Three Rambling And Rose-Tinted Tips For Adding Early-Mid 2000s Nostalgia To Your Art Or Story

Well, although I’ve probably talked about this before, I thought that I’d look at early-mid 2000s nostalgia today. After all, this time period is probably still just about recent enough at the time of writing for it not to be a major source of pop-culture nostalgia in the way that the 1980s and 1990s currently are. So, I thought that I’d offer a few tips about random ways to add some early-mid 2000s nostalgia to your story.

I’ll mostly be focusing on early-mid 2000s Britain (and to a lesser extent America) here and this article may well turn into more of a nostalgic ramble than any actual serious advice. Although, of course, the irony here is that when I was a teenager during the early-mid 2000s, I never actually thought that I’d get nostalgic about such a “crappy” part of history. Of course, in comparison to the modern world… Anyway, onwards with the article.

1) Horror, gloom and angst: Although the 1990s technically ended in the year 2000, they probably ended culturally on one terrible day in 2001. The mood of optimism, innocence and hope that characterised a lot of 1990s culture came to a reasonably abrupt end after 9/11. Although this resulted in more polarised politics, wars, more authoritarian government in both the UK and US etc… It also had an effect on popular culture too. In short, things got a bit gloomier, more “serious” and angst-ridden. This is one of the core cultural differences between the 1990s and early-mid 2000s.

Of course, this change was most noticeable in the thriller genre. Whilst the relative peace of the 1990s forced writers, screenwriters etc… in this genre to come up with imaginative, wonderfully silly and gleefully unrealistic plots, almost everything in this genre suddenly became focused on serious topical stuff like terrorism, moral issues surrounding torture etc.. during the early-mid 2000s (eg: TV shows like “24”). In this time, the detective genre also saw more of a shift towards police procedural type stories that focused on forensics etc.. (as seen in TV shows like “CSI” etc..)

This change in mood also had an effect on films too. One of the interesting things about the early-mid 2000s was that horror movies were actually a popular genre of cinema for a while 🙂

Not only was Hollywood remaking a lot of suspenseful, supernatural-based psychological horror films from Japan (with “The Ring” being the classic example), but it was also a good time for the zombie genre (eg: films like “Shaun Of The Dead”, “28 Days Later” and the “Resident Evil” films) and for new horror franchises in general (eg: “Final Destination”, “Saw” etc…). Of course, some slight hints of the superhero genre (eg: “X-Men” and the first “Spiderman” film) popped up sporadically in cinemas, but they were thankfully still just an occasional infrequent novelty back then.

Likewise, horror was also a popular genre in videogames too 🙂 Yes, the survival horror genre was invented in the 1990s (in both “Alone In The Dark” and the original “Resident Evil”), but it reached its zenith during the early-mid 2000s with games like “Silent Hill 2”, “Silent Hill 3“, “Project Zero/Fatal Frame”, “Forbidden Siren” and possibly the remake of the original “Resident Evil”. It was a good time to be a fan of horror videogames 🙂 Another cool thing was that most horror games of the time still used the classic “tank controls” that – whilst obtuse to modern gamers – are surprisingly intuitive if you grew up with them.

Even music was affected by this gloomy mood too. Not only was the most popular type of heavy metal music during the early-mid 2000s Nu Metal music (and, later, shouty angst-ridden metalcore music). But, even more melodic popular rock/metal groups often tended to have a bit more of an angsty and/or gothic influence to them. This was a time period where both Evanescence’s “Fallen” and HIM’s “Love Metal” albums were reasonably popular 🙂 Yes, at the time, I didn’t really think that they were as good as the 1980s heavy metal I was also listening to, but I still really miss the days when records like these could actually have mainstream chart success.

Likewise, pop-punk music was also afflicted by the angst-ridden mood of the time. Whether it was the slightly heavier, more morose and/or gloomier sound of The Offspring’s “Splinter” album, Sum 41’s “Does This Look Infected?” album and Green Day’s “American Idiot” album when compared to earlier albums by all three bands, early-mid 2000s pop-punk music certainly reflected the mood of the time. And, yes, pop-punk was actually still a popular genre then 🙂

2) Culture, phones and the internet: Both the internet and mobile phones existed in the early-mid 2000s. But, mobile phones were thankfully just phones (not portable computers. Seriously, text messaging was still an exciting new thing. Yes, phone cameras existed on high-end phones – but the picture quality was often atrocious) and faster broadband internet was also only just starting to be widely introduced too (with many people still using dial-up internet).

The blissful absence of smartphones also meant that lots of other portable things were more popular (eg: portable MP3/CD/Cassette players, digital cameras, paperback books, disposable film cameras, wristwatches, notebooks [the paper type] etc…) too. Not only were these more reliable (eg: if your CD player runs out of battery, you can still write stuff in a notebook, read a novel or check the time on your watch) but – novels aside- they often weren’t the type of all-consuming distractions that modern smartphones are. They were functional single-purpose items that didn’t get in the way of life.

The landscape of the internet was also very different too. A few examples of this are the fact that many pages were still optimised for slower dial-up internet (and for desktop PCs too 🙂) or the fact that “social media” tended to consist of more localised, private or topic-focused things like forums, MSN Messenger, MySpace etc… Or the fact that video streaming wasn’t really a thing (Youtube began in 2005 and Netflix was still a DVD rental company during the early-mid 2000s). Or the fact that there was a lot more variety and competition when it came to search engines (*sigh* I miss AltaVista).

Likewise, because the internet was less of a well-developed thing and smartphones didn’t exist, it was less of a distraction too. People actually went to pubs/clubs, read books, played local mutliplayer videogames/ had LAN parties, hung out in town, went to the cinema, took photos of places and other people (rather than of food and of themselves) etc..

3) Fashions and physical media: The fashions of early-mid 2000s Britain tended to be a bit more understated/ordinary, although some fashion trends and subcultures (eg: “emo” fashion, Burberry caps, hoodies, short-sleeved flame print shirts layered over T-shirts, chain wallets, “Boho chic” etc…) emerged during this time. Still, the “look” of the early-mid 2000s is probably a bit more subtle, understated and less out-there than the “look” of decades like the 1960s, 70s, 80s and 90s.

Still, one of the really cool things about the early-mid 2000s was that it was one of the last times where physical media was king 🙂 It was a time when CDs, DVDs, VHS tapes (yes, you could still buy them back then), paperback books, magazines and game discs/cartridges were were a lot more widely used. Yes, “100% digital” media certainly existed back then too – but, with the exception of a few sites like the early versions of iTunes and possibly Steam, physical media was usually what people chose when they were actually buying entertainment.

But, although I don’t want to ramble too much about physical media, it had all sorts of cool effects on everyday life.

Whether it was how your book/CD/DVD collection could also add a bit of life and personality to a room (and is a million miles away from the cold, soulless minimalism that is so popular these days), whether it was things like demo discs on videogame magazines or CD singles in shops, whether it was old ex-rental VHS tapes in gigantic cases (I once found one of “Army Of Darkness” that contained the alternate ending. For years, I thought it was the actual ending of the film), whether it was buying a random second-hand book by one of your favourite authors – only to find that it is a signed copy (this happened to me at least twice with Shaun Hutson novels) etc… I have a lot of nostalgia for the heyday of physical media and, for some things at least, still vastly prefer it to modern “100% digital” equivalents.

And, on a more general level, because physical media was more popular, things like record shops, game shops, second-hand shops, magazine racks, bookshops etc.. used to be a bit more common during the early-mid 2000s than they are today. Kind of like how payphones were also a lot more common because mobile phones were slightly less ubiquitous.

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Well, although this turned into a bit of a ramble, I hope it was useful 🙂

Review: “Ice Station” By Matthew Reilly (Novel)

Well, it’s been about a decade since I last read a Matthew Reilly novel and I was in the mood for something fast-paced, so I thought that I’d take a look at his 1998 thriller novel “Ice Station”.

This was one of two novels in Reilly’s “Scarecrow” series that I found in a second-hand bookshop in Petersfield last year. Since I’d enjoyed the first three books in Reilly’s “Jack West Jr” series during the mid-late 2000s/early 2010s (although they were “so bad that they’re good”, they were still gripping enough for me to actually get a new hardback of “The Five Greatest Warriors” shortly after it was released in the UK), my decision to get these books was a bit of a no-brainer.

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

This is the 2001 Pan Macmillan (Aus) paperback edition of “Ice Station” that I read.

The novel begins with a couple of book/lecture extracts about Antarctica and about a US military officer called Otto Niemeyer who mysteriously disappeared during the 1970s. The story then focuses on an American research base in the Antarctic called Wilkes Station. The scientists in the station have lost contact with a group of divers who have been sent to investigate an anomaly in the ice. When the rescue team surfaces in an ice cavern, they spot what appears to be a spacecraft lodged in the ice. However, they are soon attacked by something.

Back at the base, one of the researchers sends out a distress call detailing everything that has happened. A crack team of US marines, led by Shane “Scarecrow” Schofield, happen to be on the nearest ship and are dispatched to the base. However, the distress call had been sent out on an open broadcast. A broadcast that has been picked up by several other countries who are also interested in the spacecraft below the ice and are prepared to kill for it…

One of the first things that I will say about “Ice Station” is that it is a much better book than I’d expected 🙂 It’s a gloriously gripping, breathlessly fast-paced, gleefully over-the-top, brilliantly spectacular and just generally fun thriller novel that reminded me a little bit of a cross between Clive Cussler’s nautical thrillers, S.D.Perry’s “Resident Evil” or “Aliens” novels (albeit without the zombies/aliens) and maybe Dan Brown’s “Deception Point”:) Seriously, if you enjoy gloriously over-the-top thriller novels, then this one is well worth reading.

So, I should probably start by talking about the novel’s thriller elements. This novel contains a brilliantly compelling mixture of suspense, mystery, plot twists, paranoia and the kind of ludicrously spectacular action set-pieces that only the highest-budget of blockbuster films could even dream about. The vast bulk of the novel focuses on Schofield having to hold the base against French and British special forces, with numerous time limits, harsh weather conditions, perilous situations, a murder mystery or two, the possibility of a traitor within his team and certain death looming around every corner.

This novel marries suspense and action absolutely perfectly, with each balancing the other out and ensuring that neither gets monotonous. In general, the novel will place the characters in a series of incredibly dangerous situations that they have to survive in various inventive, clever and/or action-packed ways. This cycle between suspense and action works pretty much every time and never really gets old. Not only that, the novel also makes good use of mini-cliffhangers and even a couple of sub-plots to keep things even more compelling 🙂

And, yes, although some of the novel’s set-pieces are highly-contrived “action movie” style scenes that also contain some obvious sci-fi technology (presented as “realistic” secret military equipment, weapons etc..) and some creatively silly bending of the laws of physics, this doesn’t actually matter thanks to the fact that not only does everything have an explanation that usually makes sense but also because of the sheer scale and drama of these scenes. This novel is the best type of thriller novel in that almost every perilous situation is actually a suspenseful timed puzzle that has to be solved through the use of thought, cunning and/or clever tactics rather than just mindless violence.

But, this isn’t to say that this is a pacifist novel. In fact, one of the interesting things about this novel is how much inspiration it takes from the horror genre 🙂 In addition to some chilling moments of suspense, cruelty, nature-based horror and character-based horror, this novel is almost as splatteriffically gruesome as a good 1980s horror novel too. Although the novel’s gory moments are a little quicker and less detailed than in a splatterpunk novel, they lend the action scenes a level of impact, grittiness and weight that you don’t usually see in more sanitised mainstream action-thriller novels.

In terms of the characters, whilst you certainly shouldn’t expect ultra-deep characterisation, there’s enough here to make you care about the characters – with Schofield coming across an expert marine and badass action hero without being that much of a two-dimensional character. His team all have distinctive personalities, the civilians come across as reasonably realistic people and the villains are all suitably evil, formidable and/or chilling too 🙂 Plus, although it was a bit weird to see a thriller novel where the SAS were actually the villains, they’re presented in a suitably competent and fearsome way that makes them a worthy adversary for the main characters.

As for the writing, it’s better than I’d expected 🙂 For the most part, this novel uses the kind of slightly informal and occasionally technical “matter of fact” third-person narration that you’d expect from a fast-paced and highly-readable thriller novel. And, although there are a couple of signature Reilly flourishes (such as about four occasions where he uses a mid-sentence line break for “dramatic effect”), the novel comes across as being much more well-written than what I remember of his “Jack West Jr” novels. The closest comparison I can make is probably the writing style used in S.D.Perry’s “Resident Evil” and “Aliens” novels, yet the writing style still feels very much like Reilly’s.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is excellent 🙂 Yes, it’s a hefty 611 pages in length, but you’ll probably blaze through this in the time it’ll take you to read a non-thriller novel a third the length. I’ve already mentioned how this novel mixes suspense and action perfectly, and this cycle continues throughout the novel. This is one of those books that never gets boring and which pretty much demands that you read more pages than you’d planned to read 🙂

In terms of how this twenty-two year old novel has aged, it has aged excellently. Seriously, if it wasn’t for a brief mention of a VCR and some vaguely “X-Files” influenced conspiracy theory stuff, you’d be hard-pressed to work out that this novel was from 1998 (rather than 2008 or 2018) if you didn’t look at the publication date.

All in all, this novel was a lot of fun to read 🙂 If you want a slightly over-the-top, wonderfully silly and very gripping thriller novel to relax with, then this one is well worth taking a look at. It also mixes suspense, mystery and action absolutely brilliantly, whilst also including a few well-placed horror genre elements too 🙂

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