Today’s Art (9th April 2020)

This digitally-edited painting was originally meant to be more of a gothic painting, but it ended up going in slightly more of a cyberpunk direction when I was making it.

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

“Rendezvous” by C. A. Brown

Two Thoughts About What Makes A Novel “So Bad That It’s Good”

Well, for today, I thought that I’d take a quick look at fiction that is “so bad that it’s good”. I’m not sure if I’ve covered this topic before, but it was something that I thought about whilst reading the next novel that I plan to review (a modern novelisation of a 1970s horror film) and it is an absolutely fascinating topic.

After all, this type of fiction differs a lot from “bad” fiction, because it is still very entertaining to read – despite containing qualities that would normally ruin a story.

So, here are a couple of quick thoughts about what can make a story “so bad that it’s good”:

1) Quality distribution and contrast: One of the major differences between a bad novel and a “so bad that it’s good” novel is how the story’s quality is distributed.

In short, a bad novel will be uniformly terrible – with the writing, characters, plot etc… all being terrible in some way or another. On the other hand, a “so bad that it’s good” novel will excel in one area, but fail in another – and the contrast between these two things lends the story an unusual quality that makes it genuinely fun to read.

For example, Matthew Reilly’s 2001 thriller novel “Area 7” is technically speaking, a “badly written” novel. But, just try putting it down after you’ve read the first hundred pages. Although the writing style is very simplistic and breaks numerous stylistic rules, it is paired with the kind of ultra fast-paced, extremely gripping, suspense-filled, action-packed plot that is more spectacular than even modern Hollywood movies can dream of achieving. Because of the unusual contrast between the “terrible” writing style and the gripping, well-planned plot, this novel is quite literally “so bad that it is good” πŸ™‚

To give another example, Shaun Hutson’s 2011 horror novel “Twins Of Evil” is technically speaking very well-written – with a narrative style that is both fast-paced and yet descriptive/formal enough to evoke the novel’s 19th century setting. It makes the novel very readable, creating a gothic horror atmosphere without the slow pacing typically associated with the genre. The actual writing in this novel is brilliant πŸ™‚ Yet, the novel’s plot – based on an actual 1970s horror movie – is filled with corny horror tropes, ridiculous amounts of sleaze, over-wrought melodrama and other sources of unintentional comedy. But, because the novel’s corny and dated plot is contrasted with really good writing, it lends the novel this wonderfully weird “so bad that it’s good” quality πŸ™‚

So, one of the hallmarks of “so bad that it’s good” fiction is a dramatic contrast in quality between two elements of the story. Whether it is a badly-written story with an excellent plot or vice versa, the contrast between these things makes the story “brilliantly terrible” in a really cool way πŸ™‚

2) Earnestness: This one is a bit counter-intuitive, but “so bad that it’s good” novels are never deliberately meant to be like this. When this type of story is at it’s best, it isn’t some kind of ironic parody.

It is someone making something imperfect – but with passion, care and enthusiasm. It is someone really wanting to make something good, even though they have technically failed to do so. It is someone trying. It is someone having fun and following their dreams. This feeling of passion, this enthusiastic desire to create something awesome is something you can always sense in proper “so bad that it’s good” novels, and it is really endearing and heartwarming πŸ™‚

For example, when reading Reilly’s “Area 7”, you really get the sense that he was trying to write the best thriller novel ever – a novel that was faster-paced and more spectacular than anything else ever written before it. And – despite the technical imperfections – this dream shines through. You really get the sense that he loves the thriller genre and wants to make something truly great, despite any technical shortcomings in how it is done. And such passion is an absolute joy to behold. Seriously, it is pretty much the ultimate “feel good” experience.

Likewise, in Hutson’s “Twins Of Evil”, the novel’s foreword points out that old Hammer Horror movies were one of the author’s earliest experiences of the horror genre and that he has been a fan of them ever since. He shows knowledge and interest in the subject matter he is writing about, bringing years of finely-honed writing experience (And if you haven’t read some of his novels from the 1980s, like “Deathday” or “Erebus“, then you’re missing out!) to the film that he is adapting. The fact that the source material hasn’t aged well doesn’t seem to matter quite as much when you can quite literally feel how much he cares about the story – via the quality of the writing, the atmosphere etc… It isn’t a parody of a cheesy old movie, it is a love letter to it – an expression of nostalgia. And this makes what would otherwise be a very “corny” novel strangely endearing to read.

So, this type of fiction is never ironic or deliberate. It is a valiant attempt at something great. It is someone caring so much about something that they are willing to ignore any technical shortcomings because it matters too much. And it is heartwarming to see in the best possible way πŸ™‚

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Sorry for the short article, but I hope that it was interesting πŸ™‚

Today’s Art ( 8th April 2020)

This digitally-edited painting was a more detailed one than I’d expected (not to mention that it’s also the first time I’ve used digital blurring effects in a painting for quite a while, let alone for depth of field effects) and it was inspired by a bit of a “cheesy 1980s hair metal” phase I went through at the time of painting it.

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

“And Then The Hair Metal Band Showed Up” By C. A. Brown

Review: “Vittorio, The Vampire” By Anne Rice (Novel)

Well, it’s been a little while since I last read a horror novel. So, I thought that I’d take a look at Anne Rice’s 1999 novel “Vittorio, The Vampire”.

I ended up finding a second-hand copy of this book a few weeks ago, shortly after enjoying Rice’s “Pandora” and wanting to read the other novel in this short spin-off series from Rice’s main “Vampire Chronicles” series.

Interestingly, although “Vittorio, The Vampire” is a spin-off novel, it can still be read as a stand-alone novel – especially since even the opening chapters point out that it has little to no connection to Rice’s main “Vampire Chronicles” series, other than it is a novel narrated by a vampire. So, you can read this novel without having read any other Anne Rice novels beforehand.

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

This is the 2000 Arrow (UK) paperback edition of “Vittorio, The Vampire” that I read.

The novel begins in rural Italy in the late 1990s. A vampire called Vittorio sits in the ruins of his ancestral castle and, at the request of some vampires that he barely knows from New Orleans, he decides to set his life story down on paper.

He begins with his idyllic childhood in the mid-15th century, where he was both a young scholar and a knight in training. His father was wealthy, his castle far from any place of strategic importance to any of the bands of mercenaries who fought wars between city states. Yet, in the midst of this idyll, young Vittorio begins to hear frightened whispers amongst his father’s friends and also begins to have nightmares about holding the severed heads of his younger siblings.

Shortly after Vittorio turns sixteen, there is a mysterious high-ranking visitor to the castle one night. Vittorio’s father meets him at the gate and sends him away, before rushing to the chapel and gathering his family around him. The night passes safely.

The next night, they are not so lucky. Vampires storm the castle and begin to massacre everyone. Vittorio hides in the crypt with his siblings, but cannot protect them. Furious, he tries to kill one of the vampires – a woman called Ursula – but fails. To his surprise, she persuades the other vampires to spare his life.

Alone in a castle filled with corpses, Vittorio swears revenge and begins a journey to find the vampires…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it was much more of a horror novel than I’d expected πŸ™‚

I’d expected something similar to the rich, sumptuous splendour of Rice’s “The Vampire Armand” and, whilst “Vittorio, The Vampire” certainly has elements of this, all of this novel’s beauty is also counterpointed by a decent amount of exquisitely creepy horror too πŸ™‚ Plus, it is also a slightly faster-paced novel than I’d expected too πŸ™‚

So, I should start by talking about the novel’s horror elements, and they are excellent πŸ™‚ In addition to vampire horror, paranormal horror and a few moments of gory horror, this novel also includes lots of unsettling moments involving things like creepy places, moral horror, body horror, tragic horror, religious horror, sexual horror and psychological horror πŸ™‚ Seriously, it is so good to see a gothic vampire novel that is actually scary πŸ™‚

A lot of the novel’s creepiest horror elements revolve around themes of moral corruption and compromise, with the best examples of this probably being Vittorio’s character development throughout the story and a brilliantly disturbing segment set in a walled town that is just slightly too idyllic. If you’ve read dystopian sci-fi novels about flawed utopias, then you’ll probably know what to expect here, but the segment is still surprisingly creepy thanks to both it’s unexpected appearance in a historical gothic vampire novel and the very deft and subtle ways that the town’s horrifying secret is revealed to the reader.

Not only that, the novel’s horror also relies heavily on the contrast between beauty and disgust. But, unlike a 1980s splatterpunk novel, this isn’t achieved through the use of elaborate gruesome descriptions, but instead through the use of settings and places. As you would expect from an Anne Rice novel, this story is richly atmospheric and this is used to full effect here – whether it is a sumptuous castle populated by a court of satanic vampires or the contrast between the beautiful architecture of Florence and the deterioration of Vittorio’s mind, this novel uses the settings as a chillingly brilliant source of contrast πŸ™‚

Another theme in this novel is the passage of time with, for example, the contrast between Vittorio’s outward youth and extreme age at the beginning of the novel or – even more dramatically – the fact that, during the progress and innovation of the renaissance, the main group of vampires in the story still lives like a medieval court and arrogantly assumes that this can continue forever. Given that vampire novels are often about the perks and perils of immortality, these background elements really help to add a lot of extra depth to the story πŸ™‚

The novel also uses religion as both a source of drama and horror. Whether it is the “evil church” that the vampire court worships in, the fact that the ordinary church cannot protect Vittorio from the vampires, the religion-based inner conflict that rages in Vittorio’s mind for most of the novel, the way that the benevolence of a group of monks is contrasted with the evil of the vampire court or some unnervingly surreal psychological horror sequences featuring angels, this novel uses religious themes to brilliantly dramatic historical effect here.

Although I haven’t studied the history of renaissance Italy in great detail, the novel’s setting certainly feels complex, atmospheric and realistic enough, thanks to the excellent writing and a few well-placed references to various artists, the Medicis etc.. Interestingly though, this novel also sets itself apart from “The Vampire Armand” (which is also partially set in renaissance Italy) thanks to the fact that most of the story takes place in forests, castles and rural towns rather than opulent cities. This rural setting also lends the novel a slight medieval fantasy-style atmosphere too πŸ™‚

In terms of the characters, this novel excels πŸ™‚ Not only does Vittorio have a lot of personality and character development throughout the novel, but he also feels like a realistically flawed person who suffers from the earnestness and emotions of youth.

The novel’s vampire romance elements are also handled reasonably well, with the relationship between Vittorio and Ursula being a complicated and conflicted one, with some creepiness added to it by the subtle, bizarre and/or sneaky ways that Ursula tricks or manipulates Vittorio at various moments in the story. Yet, for all of her evil, Ursula is also more of a complicated – and sympathetic character than she first seems. Likewise, all of the novel’s background characters also feel like realistic people too.

In terms of the writing, this novel’s first-person narration is splendid πŸ™‚ One of the cool things about this novel is that, at the beginning, Vittorio explicitly points out that he won’t be telling his story in some antiquated “historical” style (mostly because he has 500+ years worth of linguistic knowledge). What this means is that the novel not only contains the beautiful, sumptuous and descriptive gothic prose that you’d expect from an Anne Rice novel, but also more of an informal and “matter of fact” style too – which really helps to keep the story moving at a decent pace. The narration here is atmospheric, personality-filled and an absolute joy to read πŸ™‚

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is really good. At 339 pages (excluding the bibliography), this novel feels fairly lean and efficient πŸ™‚ Plus, although the novel is relatively slow to start, it is much faster-paced than I’d expected πŸ™‚ This is one of those horror novels that gets more and more compelling as it goes along, so expect to read more pages than you plan to whenever you pick it up πŸ™‚

As for how this twenty-one year old novel has aged, it has aged really well πŸ™‚ Thanks to the historical setting, the story itself feels pretty much timeless – not to mention that the decision to mix more modern-style faster-paced narration with sumptuous, formal etc… descriptions means that this novel contains the very best elements of both modern fiction and slightly older fiction. Not only that, most of the novel’s horror still remains brilliantly creepy when read these days too πŸ™‚

All in all, this novel is excellent πŸ™‚ If you want an atmospheric, gothic vampire novel that also contains a decent amount of actual horror too, then this one is well worth reading πŸ™‚

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

Today’s Art ( 7th April 2020)

Well, today’s digitally-edited painting turned out better than I’d expected was kind of inspired by a moment of nostalgia about those wonderful years in the early-mid 2000s where Japanese horror movies (and Hollywood remakes of them) were a popular genre πŸ™‚

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

“The Ghost At The Window” By C. A. Brown

Three Ways To Make Vampires Scary

A while before writing this article, I was reading a vampire novel (“Vittorio, The Vampire” by Anne Rice) and was delighted to find that it contained much more horror than I’d been expecting πŸ™‚ After all, although vampires are a fairly traditional part of the horror genre, they aren’t always presented in a very frightening way.

Whilst there are some good creative reasons for this – including everything from exploring the themes associated with vampirism, because vampires are one of the coolest types of monster in the horror genre (see the “Blade” and “Underworld” movies, Jocelynn Drake’s “Dark Days” novels etc… for good examples) and/or because the gothic melodrama traditionally associated with them is a brilliant source of comedy (see the TV show “What We Do In The Shadows” for a hilarious example of this), there’s also something to be said for scary vampires too. If only because they are a great way to surprise jaded readers.

So, how can you make vampires scary?

1) Other types of horror: Most of the scariest vampire fiction out there will often include other types of horror that aren’t traditionally associated with vampires. For example, the opening segments of Whitley Strieber’s “The Hunger” present the vampire characters in a way reminiscent of the serial killer villains in slasher movies.

Shaun Hutson’s “Erebus” takes a hint from Richard Matheson’s “I Am Legend” and presents the vampires in a very zombie-like way, allowing for a level of ultra-gory, fast-paced apocalyptic horror that you don’t typically see in the vampire genre. Yes, zombies aren’t very frightening – but including elements of this genre creates a chillingly bleak, nihilistic and grim atmosphere that you really don’t see that often in the vampire genre.

An especially creepy example of including another type of horror in the vampire genre (SPOILERS ahoy!) can be found in Anne Rice’s “Vittorio, The Vampire”.

In this historical vampire story, the main character flees from his ancestral castle after surviving a vampire attack and finds sanctuary in a nearby town called Santa Maddelena. Initially, the town appears quiet, friendly and idyllic… too idyllic. With a series of brilliant hints and subtle moments, Rice gradually reveals the blood-curdling secret behind this town’s joyous faΓ§ade. It is a brilliantly unexpected use of the “flawed utopia” trope (typically found in the sci-fi genre) and it is used to exquisitely chilling effect here πŸ™‚

So, the lesson here is to incorporate other types of horror into the vampire genre, to read widely (eg: not just horror fiction) and surprise your reader with scary stuff that they won’t usually find in a typical vampire novel.

2) Moral horror: One of the things that separates “feel good” vampire fiction from genuinely scary vampire fiction is how the morality of vampirism is presented. In “feel good” stories, the vampires will either just be “100% evil” villian characters or, if they’re the good guys, then they will drink synthetic or donated blood, bite in a non-lethal fashion etc… In short, these “feel good” vampires are presented in a way that doesn’t conflict too much with the reader’s moral sensibilities.

In scarier vampire stories, the vampires will be the protagonists, but will actually have to bite and kill other characters. These vampire characters are complex, ordinary people who have been forced into a cold and grim life of repetitive murder because of either a tragic accident, an unexpected vampire attack and/or a misunderstanding of what it is to be a vampire. How the characters reconcile themselves to this evil life and how it changes them can be a potent source of subtle, creeping horror that can really catch the reader by surprise πŸ™‚

Interestingly, the very best example of this type of morality-based horror can actually be found in a computer game. I am, of course, talking about “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines“. In this game, you play as a newly-created vampire and have a lot of freedom to make decisions. Although the game may not feel or look very frightening at first, expect to feel a slow, creeping sense of horrified revulsion shortly after your first session with the game, when you actually think back on all of the evil decisions that you made in order to survive and/or thrive in the game’s harsh and seedy world.

3) Realism: One of the simplest ways to make vampires frightening is just to add a bit of realism to your story by thinking about the life of a vampire in practical terms. This can work in so many ways.

Whether it is adding elements of science to the vampires (eg: vampirism working like a disease, scientists wanting to study vampires etc…), whether it is just presenting your vampire characters as being ordinary and unremarkable people (giving the reader the impression that anyone could be a vampire, waiting to drink their blood!), whether it is showing a vampire protagonist trying to cover up evidence of their crimes and/or being chased by the police or whether it is just showing all of the gory after-effects of a vampire biting someone, one of the best ways to make vampires scary is to add a bit of realism to your story.

Yes, the idea of a hidden world filled with gothic vampires who read poetry, drink absinthe, visit cool nightclubs, have passionate romances etc… is one of the central appeals of the vampire genre πŸ™‚ It is really cool. But, at the same time, it isn’t very scary for the simple reason that it isn’t very realistic – it is an escapist fantasy, rather than a terrifying nightmare.

Horror is often at it’s very scariest when it is grounded in the real world, when the reader really thinks “this could happen!” and shudders at the thought. So, if your vampires exist in a stylised gothic world, then they are going to be less frightening than if they just live down the road from wherever your reader happens to be.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

Today’s Art (6th April 2020)

This is a digitally-edited “1990s hippie” painting that I made when I was slightly tired. It was also a partial remake of this digitally-edited drawing (which, if I remember rightly, was something of an early experiment with digital lighting effects and with the texture fill effects in this open-source program) that I made a couple of years earlier.

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

“Video Label” By C. A. Brown