Review “The Phantom Of The Opera” (WAD for “Doom II”/”Final Doom”/ “ZDoom”)

Well, since I’m still reading the next novel I plan to review (“Fall Of Night” by Jonathan Maberry), I thought that I’d take the chance to look at another “Doom II”/”Final Doom” WAD, since it’s been about two or three weeks since my last WAD review.

And, after clicking the “random file” button on the /idgames Archive a couple of times, I ended up with a single-level WAD from 2005 called “The Phantom Of The Opera“.

As usual, I used the “ZDoom” source port to play this WAD, although it will probably work with almost any other source port. However, since this WAD uses a couple of the WW2-themed “Wolfenstein 3D” textures and enemies from Doom II’s secret levels, this WAD may not work with censored versions of the game (eg: the BFG edition and/or the German version of the game).

So, let’s take a look at “The Phantom Of The Opera”:

The level takes place in two different areas, an opera house-style area and some underground tunnels/crypts.

Given that the level only uses the standard textures (including the “Wolf 3D” ones from the secret levels), these areas are fairly well-designed and they look reasonably close to what they are supposed to be (for example, in order to progress to part of the opera house, you have to walk through a curtain. Likewise, there’s a boat that teleports you to another part of the level etc..).

What do you mean, unsafe? It looks perfectly seaworthy to me!

And, for something made with the standard textures, this opera house looks pretty impressive, if a little small.

In addition to this, the level also tries to add a bit of visual/combat variety by using a couple of enemies and a portrait from Doom II’s WW2-themed “Wolfenstein 3D” secret levels.

But, although this WW2-related stuff adds a bit of extra content to the level, it does seem at least slightly out of place in a level that is supposed to be set in 19th century France.

The level design itself is reasonably good, with the level being a non-linear level which is also small/streamlined enough that you’ll never really get lost. Like in any classic “Doom II” level, you’ll be searching for keys in order to progress (and these are pretty easy to find). Likewise, there are a few secrets to find too. Although the very first one is pretty easy to find, there’s a well-designed secret involving a piano/organ, which was kind of cool.

The level’s difficulty is kind of interesting. Although there aren’t that many monsters, the level achieves a certain level of challenge by heavily rationing the amount of ammo available to you.

If you find the blue health sphere near the beginning of the level, then this won’t be too much of a problem – but this is one of those levels where you have to know when to fight and when to run. This is especially true in the final segment of the level, when you are faced with multiple arch viles (and have little to no ammo).

Well, it wouldn’t be a “Doom II” level without THESE!

Surprisingly, this adds a bit of extra fun to the level, since you’ll have to use all of the reflexes and tactics that you’ve learnt from playing other levels. Likewise, the sheer number of arch viles near the end means that the final segment is much more like a basic puzzle (eg: you have to work out what to do and how to do it quickly) than a combat segment, since you can’t possibly fight all of the arch viles.

Even so, experienced players will find this level to be very much on the easier side of things. Even so, it’s still fairly fun.

In terms of music, this level uses the standard “Doom II” music – which is kind of annoying, given that it is meant to be based on The Phantom Of The Opera.

All in all, this is a fun and well-designed – but rather short and relatively easy level – that is a fun way to spend 10-15 minutes. It’s interesting to see someone trying to recreate The Phantom Of The Opera (even with some anachronistic WW2-era elements).

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

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Review: “Star Trek: The Next Generation – Dark Mirror” By Diane Duane (Novel)

Well, after abandoning the novel I’d originally planned to read today since I really didn’t enjoy the first forty pages, I needed to find a better book… and quick!

Luckily, I’d been to Portchester the day before preparing this review and I’d found a few interesting books in the charity shops there. One of those books was a hardback copy of Diane Duane’s 1993 novel “Star Trek: The Next Generation – Dark Mirror”.

According to a note at the beginning of the book, this original spin-off story takes place during the same time period as the fourth season of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” (mostly because of a few brief references to Picard’s history with the Borg). Still, although this is a new self-contained story, it is worth being familiar with the characters from “Star Trek: TNG” and/or one or two parts of “Star Trek” mythology (eg: the mirror universe) before reading this book.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Star Trek: The Next Generation – Dark Mirror”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 1993 Simon & Schuster (UK) hardback edition of “Star Trek: The Next Generation – Dark Mirror” that I read.

The novel begins with the USS Enterprise waiting in an empty region of space. Captain Picard is painting a picture of France when he receives a report that a ship owned by a spacefaring people called the Lalairu is approaching the USS Enterprise for a rendezvous. The ship has been carrying a dolphin-like Starfleet navigation expert called Hwiii, who has been conducting scientific studies of the area.

However, shortly after Hwiii joins the Enterprise’s crew, the captain of the Lalairu vessel gives Picard a cryptic warning about something dangerous in the area before leaving very quickly. A while later, the Enterprise experiences some kind of weird spacial distortion before the security systems alert the crew to an intruder. When the intruder is caught, it turns out to be a crew member called Ensign Stewart. The only problem is that, according to the ship’s computers, Ensign Stewart is asleep in his quarters.

After some medical tests, the captured intruder turns out to be a slightly different copy of Ensign Stewart. He freezes with terror when Counsellor Troi tries to talk to him and it soon becomes obvious that the Enterprise has found itself in a cruel dystopian parallel universe. Not only that, an “evil” version of the USS Enterprise is also nearby too. Needless to say, it isn’t long before the “good” Enterprise’s crew begin to hatch a plan to infiltrate the evil version of their ship and stop it from destroying them….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, although it is fairly slow to start, it becomes a lot more compelling and atmospheric as it continues. Imagine a slower-paced two-part episode of the TV show, but with more depth, atmosphere and drama – and this will give you a good impression of what this story is like.

The “mirror universe” (an alternate timeline containing an evil dystopian version of Starfleet) is an absolutely fascinating part of the series’ mythology and it’s a shame that it never appeared in the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” TV show. So, it is absolutely awesome to see a novel that rectifies this mistake 🙂

In addition to seeing both chillingly evil versions of familiar characters and an atmospheric dystopian version of the Enterprise, this novel also delves into some of the mirror universe’s backstory in addition to exploring issues like morality, loyalty, colonialism etc… too. Likewise, the interactions between the “good” and “evil” versions of familiar characters also allow for lots of drama too.

And, yes, this is more of a suspense-filled spy drama novel than anything else. It is the kind of novel that is more compelling than thrilling, if this makes sense. In other words, if you’re expecting a fast-paced action-thriller novel, then you’re going to be disappointed. But, if you want a grippingly suspenseful dystopian spy story that is filled with compelling drama and science fiction, then you’ll enjoy this one 🙂

Another interesting thing about this novel is that it is a lot more high brow than I’d expected. Yes, the show itself contains some high brow moments, but this novel turns them up to eleven. In addition to lots of complicated scientific lectures and some fairly formal narration, there are numerous high brow cultural references too.

For example, when the Enterprise’s translator finds it difficult to translate the irregular grammar of the Lalairu’s language, the novel jokingly likens this to the experimental writings of James Joyce and Anthony Burgess. Likewise, there’s also a two-page scene that quotes a large portion of an altered Shakespeare play. Even so, if you don’t get all of the high brow references (I didn’t get the opera, poetry and Greek mythology ones), then there’s usually enough contextual information for them still to make sense.

In terms of the characters, they’re really well-written. The main characters are reasonably true to the TV show, with the novel also adding a bit of extra depth to them too. And, although the story mostly focuses on Picard, Troi and La Forge, most of the other characters also get a decent amount of characterisation too. Likewise, their interactions with their evil twins also allows for a lot of extra character-based drama too. In addition to this, Hwiii is an absolutely brilliant new character too – and, although he only appears during a few scenes, he adds some extra humour, sophistication and drama to the story too.

In terms of the writing, it’s fairly good. As I mentioned earlier, the novel’s third-person narration is fairly formal and descriptive (and is a little bit like a literary novel). Although this does slow the story down a bit and might take you a little while to get used to, it really helps to add a lot of extra atmosphere and depth to the story.

In terms of length and pacing, this story is ok. At 337 pages in length, the novel feels slightly on the long side, although not too much so. The novel starts fairly slowly, although the pace picks up slightly later. As I mentioned earlier, this story is more compelling than thrilling – so, expect a more moderately-paced, but gripping, story.

In terms of how this twenty-six year old novel has aged, it has aged reasonably well. This is mostly thanks to the story’s futuristic setting, not to mention that most of the technology still just about seems futuristic (eg: 512 terabyte storage devices, computers with 19 processing cores etc..). However, a brief “historical” reference to an opera house riot in 2002 seems a little bit silly when read today. Likewise, whilst the story itself remains compelling to this day, the more formal and “literary” writing style may seem out of place when compared to modern expectations about TV show spin-off novels.

All in all, this is an atmospheric, suspenseful and compelling novel that “Star Trek: TNG” fans will enjoy 🙂 Yes, it’s a bit slow-paced, a bit formal and perhaps a little bit too high brow. But, if you stick with it, then you will be rewarded with something that is not only like a “lost” episode of the TV show, but is also a bit richer, deeper and more compelling too.

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

Review: “The Ectoplasmic Man” By Daniel Stashower (Novel)

Well, it has been far too long since I read anything Sherlock Holmes-related. And, after a family member found three modern Sherlock Holmes novels in a charity shop and thought that I might be interested in them, I was spoilt for choice.

Since the weather was still fairly hot, I decided to go for the shortest book in the pile – Daniel Stashower’s 1985 novel “The Ectoplasmic Man”. Although this novel can be enjoyed without reading Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories, you’ll get a lot more out of it if you read at least a few of them first.

So, let’s take a look at “The Ectoplasmic Man”. Needless to say, this review may contain some mild-moderate SPOILERS (but I won’t give away the solution to the mystery).

This is the 2009 Titan Books (UK) paperback reprint of “The Ectoplasmic Man” that I read.

The novel begins, like most modern Holmes novels, with the author’s account of how he “discovered” a lost manuscript by Doctor Watson, detailing a meeting between Sherlock Holmes and Harry Houdini in 1910.

Then, we are taken to 221b Baker Street, where Inspector Lestrade makes a sudden arrival after dashing across town. Lestrade tells Holmes that he suspects a visiting American escapologist called Harry Houdini of carrying out a terrible crime. Yet, much to Holmes’ annoyance, Lestrade also tells Holmes that he has been ordered not to reveal the details of the crime.

Naturally, Holmes is curious and decides to meet Houdini. The two don’t get along well, and part on angry terms. But, later that evening, Houdini’s wife Bess shows up at Baker Street, imploring Holmes to attend Houdini’s show because Houdini has received a threatening note from an old rival called Kleppini and she fears he may be in danger. Holmes scoffs at this and points out that he is not a praetorian guard. Out of honour, Watson decides to attend the show to keep watch for any danger.

During the show, Houdini spots Watson in the audience and asks him to help out with one of his tricks – an escape from a glass box filled with water. After a bit of a mishap, where Watson takes the act too seriously and smashes the glass box with a fire axe, Lestrade shows up and arrests Houdini for the theft of sensitive royal documents. But, before Lestrade begins to take Houdini to the police station, Holmes emerges from the audience and declares that Houdini is innocent and that he shall prove it…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel was that it is brilliantly theatrical 🙂 Although the actual mystery at the heart of the story is fairly compelling, the main attraction of this story is probably the humour, the atmosphere and the characters. If you love the moments in Conan Doyle’s original stories where Holmes indulges in tricks, disguises and witticisms, then you’ll love this novel 🙂 It is delightfully amusing 🙂

Seriously, I wasn’t exaggerating when I said that this novel was theatrical. Not only does this novel focus on the themes of magic tricks and escapology, but both Holmes and Houdini also get so many wonderfully theatrical moments too, much to the consternation of poor Dr. Watson and Inspector Lestrade.

Seriously, if you’re fascinated by things like stage magic, “impossible” feats, escapology, lock-picking, disguises etc… then you’ll have a lot of fun with this book. It has a gleeful theatrical flair to it that perfectly mirrors the themes of the story.

And, as I mentioned earlier, it is also a comedic novel too 🙂 A lot of the novel’s humour is, like in Conan Doyle’s original stories, kept reasonably subtle – with most of it being found within the narration, footnotes, references and dialogue. However, this novel also includes some brilliantly vaudevillian moments of traditional comedy, such as a hilariously over-dramatic phoney seance.

The mystery at the heart of the story is fairly interesting and it includes a couple of dramatic plot twists, an intriguingly “impossible” crime and the drama of Houdini being falsely accused of it. But, even though the reader is given a few clues (which are explained by Holmes at the end) and the case itself is certainly worthy of Sherlock Holmes, this is one of those stories which is slightly more of a thriller than a traditional detective story.

In other words, it is one of those stories where the main focus is on how the crime was carried out, rather than the identity of the criminal. Even so, this allows the novel to include some wonderfully thrilling and gloriously melodramatic (if a little contrived) chase sequences, a daring prison escape and a vaguely “Charles Augustus Milverton“-style scene where Holmes and Watson break into a theatre.

In terms of the characters, they are brilliant. Not only are Holmes and Watson fairly faithful to the original stories (although Holmes’ attitudes towards women are a little bit cartoonish/two-dimensional in this story), but one of the best parts of this story is the interactions between Holmes and Houdini.

At first, the two are very much rivals – with Holmes’ scepticism and Houdini’s brash confidence putting them at odds (and leading to some hilarious dialogue exchanges) but, as the story progresses, they end up becoming quite the team. Seriously, since both Holmes and Houdini are masters of trickery, logic and theatricality, it is an absolute joy to see both of them in the same novel 🙂

Likewise, if you enjoy the definitive ITV adaptation of “Sherlock Holmes” starring Jeremy Brett, then you’ll enjoy this novel even more 🙂 Seriously, the version of Holmes in this novel is more like Brett’s interpretation of the character (eg: disguises, caustic wit, theatricality, eccentricity, Latin quotes, practical jokes etc…) than either Basil Rathbone’s or Benedict Cumberbatch’s interpretations of the character.

In terms of the writing and narration, Watson’s first-person narration is reasonably true to the original stories. However, it has been very subtly streamlined for slightly more modern audiences. Even so, expect lots of wonderfully formal and dramatic narration. In other words, this novel uses a reasonably good imitation of Conan Doyle’s style that really helps to add some atmosphere and authenticity to the story 🙂

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is really good. At a brilliantly efficient 203 pages in length, this novel stays true to the focused brevity of Conan Doyle’s original novels and short stories 🙂

Likewise, the pacing is mostly good – with the story moving along at a decent pace most of the time, although there’s a slightly slow part (eg: when Watson spends a while describing an aeroplane) during what should be a fast-paced scene. Even so, the pacing of this novel is really good and it is as gripping as the original Sherlock Holmes stories.

As for how this thirty-four year old novel has aged, it has aged really well 🙂 Thanks to the historical setting, the vintage-style narration and the recognisable characters, this is one of those novels that could almost have been written today.

All in all, this is a gloriously theatrical, intriguingly thrilling and wonderfully amusing novel that fans of the great detective will really enjoy 🙂 It was a lot of fun to read 🙂

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

Review: “Plague Town” By Dana Fredsti (Novel)

Well, I was in the mood for another zombie novel. So, I thought that I’d take a look at a novel that I’ve been meaning to read for a while. I am, of course talking about a second-hand copy of Dana Fredsti’s 2012 novel “Plague Town” that I found online a couple of weeks earlier.

Interestingly, this book seems to be the first part of a trilogy (and, yes, I’ll hopefully read the other two books at some point in the future), although it can also be enjoyed as a (mostly) stand-alone novel too.

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

This is the 2012 Titan Books (UK) paperback edition of “Plague Town” that I read.

The novel begins with a short scene showing a family transforming into zombies after falling ill from a disease called “Walker’s Flu”. Then the story follows Ashley Parker, a student at a small university in the northern California town of Redwood Gove. Ashley is having a bad day.

Not only is she running late for lectures, but the lecturer’s sanctimonious assistant Gabriel berates Ashley for being late, whilst also giving annoying unsolicited dietary advice too. Once the lecture is over, Ashley meets her boyfriend Matt and both of them run into Gabriel. A hilarious scuffle between Matt and Gabriel follows, which ends with the three of them … sort of… becoming friends.

Sometime later, Ashley and Matt are having a romantic candlelit picnic on the campus grounds – when they are suddenly attacked by zombies. Ashley is bitten, but wakes up in a makeshift military hospital in the university.

Ashley’s lecturer informs her that the town has been overrun with zombies, but that she is a “wild card” – part of 0.01% of the population who are immune to the virus (and gain slightly enhanced strength, healing, senses etc.. when exposed to the virus). And, it soon becomes obvious that the military want the few immune survivors to join a secret task force dedicated to fighting the zombies….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it was a lot of fun to read 🙂 The best way to describe this story is “Buffy The Vampire Slayer mixed with a late-night zombie movie” and it is absolutely awesome. There’s a really good mixture of horror, dark comedy and thrilling action scenes and it is one of those novels that is, in the best way possible, like watching a gloriously cheesy B-movie 🙂

Whilst the novel’s horror elements aren’t that scary, they work really well. In addition to numerous ultra-gruesome scenes involving zombies, the novel also uses a few other types of horror too.

In addition to disease-based horror, character-based horror, suspenseful horror, tragic horror, scientific horror and post-apocalyptic horror, there’s also a brilliantly disturbing scene (involving a survivor in a cabin) that will catch you by surprise at a point where you’re just starting to think “this is turning into more of a thriller novel than a horror novel“.

Likewise, this novel is also something of an old-school zombie novel too. In other words, the zombies here are traditional slow-moving zombies (with the story even containing some sarcastic remarks about how fast zombies only exist in movies because people have short attention spans). And, whilst the story contains many familiar zombie tropes, it also does a few innovative things too… which I won’t spoil. Even so, one of the story’s zombie-related plot twists is foreshadowed so heavily that it’s fairly easy to guess.

The novel’s thriller elements are also really good too. Although the main characters have the advantages of strength and weaponry, the novel often manages to add a real sense of drama and suspense to some of the story’s many zombie battles through things like making sure that the characters are vastly outnumbered and/or have to help their wounded comrades.

Even so, at least a couple of the thrilling action scenes in this novel have all of the suspense of a superhero movie (which is to say, very little). Even so, this novel is a really enjoyable action-thriller novel.

In terms of the novel’s comedy elements, they’re absolutely brilliant. In addition to lots of amusingly sarcastic dialogue/narration and a bit of dark comedy, this is also one of those novels that is absolutely crammed with pop culture references – and most of them are really good (eg: The Evil Dead, Army Of Darkness, Tremors, Alien, Buffy, The A-Team, Romero, Fulci etc..). This novel is also a brilliantly cynical parody of a few horror/thriller tropes too – such as in a scene involving a sociopathic army general and in a segment about the value of pet cats.

The novel’s characters are surprisingly good too. Many of the characters have distinctive personalities, emotions, motivations and actual character development too (with at least a couple of unsympathetic characters becoming more sympathetic as the story progresses). Likewise, the dynamics of the zombie-fighting team and the relationships between the characters are also an important part of the story too.

Ashley is also a really cool protagonist too. Not only is she gleefully sarcastic and wonderfully badass, but she’s also the opposite of more prim and puritanical characters of this type (eg: Anita Blake, Buffy Summers etc..) too, which is really refreshing 🙂 Seriously, I love how this novel will often treat any kind of self-righteousness with the merciless sarcasm it deserves 🙂

The novel’s writing is also really good too. Most of the novel is narrated by Ashley, which not only gives the story a bit more personality but also allows for informal narration that is both hilarious and reasonably fast-paced too.

However, there are also a few random third-person segments which show how the zombie virus is affecting other parts of the town. Surprisingly, these perspective changes actually work really well – since they are both clearly signposted through the use of italic type and are short enough not to distract from the main story too much.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. At 350 pages in length, this novel is pretty much on par with many modern novels and didn’t feel too long. The novel’s pacing is really good too, with the story remaining reasonably fast-paced and gripping.

The novel’s more spectacular, suspenseful and thrilling moments are also balanced out with moments of comedy and character-based drama too. In addition to this, the story’s main plot is thankfully resolved in a satisfying way – with only a small last-minute cliffhanger setting up the sequel.

All in all, this was a really enjoyable and gripping novel 🙂 It contains an almost perfect mixture of horror, humour and thrills, which are backed up by good characterisation and personality-filled narration too 🙂 As I mentioned earlier, reading this novel is a bit like watching a really awesome late-night B-movie. Seriously, it is a hell of a lot of fun 🙂

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

Review: “Personal” By Lee Child (Novel)

Well, although I hadn’t planned to read another Lee Child novel so soon after reading “The Midnight Line” two or three weeks ago, the weather was still fairly hot and – as such- I needed something relaxing, gripping and just generally fun to read.

So, I thought that I’d check out Lee Child’s 2014 novel “Personal” today. This is a book that I’ve been meaning to read ever since a relative found an American hardback edition of it in a charity shop in Salisbury a couple of years ago and thought that I might be interested in it.

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

This is the 2014 Delacorte Press (US) hardback edition of “Personal” that I read.

The novel begins with wandering ex-military policeman Jack Reacher sitting on a bus that is travelling to Seattle. Since the bus travels near a military base, a soldier ends up leaving a copy of Army Times behind. Out of professional curiosity, Reacher decides to take a look at it… and finds his own name in the personal ads segment. The US military wants him to call them.

After getting off the bus in Seattle, Reacher calls the military and he is quickly flown to a top secret part of Fort Bragg. A sniper has threatened the French President and the international intelligence community has narrowed the suspects down to four possible people. One of whom is a man that Reacher arrested for murder sixteen years earlier. Needless to say, Reacher agrees to help out with the case….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that this is a thriller novel. It contains an absolutely brilliant mixture of spy drama, crime drama, suspense, action and detective work. Although the earlier parts of the story tend to focus more on suspense and detective work, the story becomes even more dramatic and gripping as it progresses.

Seriously, this novel gets the balance between these different sub-genres of thriller fiction fairly right, meaning that the story remains fairly consistently gripping throughout since Lee Child can just switch from sub-genre to sub-genre in order to add variety without slowing the pacing down too much.

In addition to this, the novel is also a little bit like a “greatest hits” compilation of what I can remember of Child’s older novels too. There’s a sniper-based storyline (like in “One Shot”), there’s a segment set in Britain (like in “The Hard Way”) and there’s a gang/crime theme too (like in “Persuader”).

Although most of the novel’s detective elements happen during the earlier parts of the story, there are several cool moments throughout the story where Reacher makes Sherlock Holmes-style deductions about various things. Plus, not only is Reacher referred to as “Sherlock Homeless” a couple of times (which always made me think of the “Viz” cartoon of the same name) but there’s even a vague reference to the BBC’s “Sherlock” TV show, when Reacher “calls the police” in London by firing a gun several times (like in “A Scandal In Belgravia).

The novel’s spy thriller elements are also pretty interesting and they lend the story a murky, secretive and ambiguous atmosphere which helps to increase the feelings of suspense – especially when contrasted with the equally murky world of organised crime.

Even so, there are a few inconsistencies with the novel’s spy elements. For example, when Reacher arrives in London, it is made very clear that he’s there unofficially (and that it would cause an international incident if MI5 found out about it). Yet, when he later gets spotted by a British agent that he met earlier in the story, they just team up and MI5 is totally cool with it (even offering help and support to Reacher at various points in the story).

This novel is also a fairly decent action-thriller novel, with very little of the pacifism that can be found in Child’s “The Midnight Line”. Although this does give parts of the novel a slightly vigilante-like tone, it also allows for a fair number of dramatic, fast-paced and impactful fight scenes – which are often also paired with suspenseful elements (eg: time limits, worries about stray bullets, Reacher meeting a well-matched adversary etc..) to help keep the reader on the edge of their seat.

In terms of the characters – whilst you shouldn’t expect ultra-deep characterisation, there’s enough characterisation here. Not only does Reacher get a fairly decent amount of characterisation, but several members of the supporting cast do too.

On the other hand, the novel’s villains (eg: the evil sniper, the gangsters from Romford etc...) are a little bit on the cartoonish side of things – although this is done in a way that makes them feel extra menacing, so it isn’t an entirely bad thing.

In terms of the writing, this novel is as good and fast-paced as ever. Plus, unlike some of Lee Child’s novels, this one is narrated by Reacher himself. This lends the story an even greater degree of focus, suspense and character. It also helps to add a sense of vulnerability to the story, since we only see and know what Reacher does.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. The hardback edition I read was a relatively efficient 353 pages long, although this may be due to the slightly larger page size. Even so, the length is fairly comparable to other Lee Child novels, with the suspense and pacing making sure that the novel never feels too long. Likewise, as you would expect from a Lee Child novel, the pacing is reasonably fast too. However, this novel starts out in a slightly slower and more suspenseful way before becoming more fast-paced later in the story.

All in all, this is a really good thriller novel. It’s an intriguing blend of the spy thriller, crime thriller, action-thriller and detective genres 🙂 Whilst it doesn’t do anything especially new or innovative, it’s still a brilliantly gripping novel that was a lot of fun to read.

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

Review: “No Time Like The Past” By Jodi Taylor (Novel)

Well, since the weather was still annoyingly hot, I thought that it was time for me to read Jodi Taylor’s 2013 novel “No Time Like The Past”, since I was lucky enough to find an affordable second-hand copy of it online a couple of months ago and had been saving it for an occasion like this.

This is the fifth book in Taylor’s excellent “Chronicles Of St. Mary’s” series and you can find my reviews of the previous four “St. Mary’s” books here, here, here and here.

Plus, although this book is the fifth in a series, it can pretty much be read as a stand-alone novel, thanks to a lot of recaps throughout the story. However, a few scenes will have more emotional impact and/or make slightly more sense if you’ve read the previous books.

So, let’s take a look at “No Time Like The Past”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2015 Accent Press (UK) paperback edition of “No Time Like The Past” that I read.

The novel begins about a year after the events of the fourth novel, and the disaster-prone time-travelling historical research institute of St.Mary’s is pretty much back to normal. The story begins when oafish security officer Markham claims to see a person falling past one of the windows on several different occasions, yet a body is never found. So, naturally, Chief Operations Officer Madeleine Maxwell (or “Max” for short) is curious.

After a calamity-filled trip back to a Civil War-era version of St.Mary’s in order to investigate, the mystery is solved. However, there’s a lot more stuff for Max to do.

Not only does she need to organise a peaceful, uneventful and disaster-free (yeah, right…) trip to 1851 for most of the institute’s staff, but there’s also the matter of another treasure-grabbing trip to placate the institute’s sponsors, not to mention that several old enemies have turned up again and… worst of all… Max also has to plan the institute’s annual open day too…..

One of the first things that I will say about this book is that this series just keeps getting better and better. If you’ve never read a “St. Mary’s” book before, then the series is a little bit like a cross between “Doctor Who“, a more grown-up version of “St. Trinian’s“, a military sitcom called “Bluestone 42” and the comedy of Terry Pratchett and/or Douglas Adams.

Plus, not only does this instalment in the series have a more well-structured story with a brilliant balance of comedy, thrilling action and serious drama but it also does a few other interesting things too.

The most interesting of these is probably the opening segment of the story – which is almost a self-contained story in it’s own right. Seriously, the first 50-60 pages of this book could easily be a stand-alone novella and, far from being a distraction, this works perfectly. Not only does it get the story off to a reasonably strong start, but it also serves as a really good introduction to/recap for the series too – with the beginning containing all of the elements that make the series so great.

Seriously, this is one of those books that gets the story density absolutely right. Although there are quite a few sub-plots in this story, they are all linked together and follow on from each other in a logical way – with the emphasis firmly being on just one at a time, which helps to ensure that the story never loses focus. This is the kind of book that feels like watching an entire season of a TV show, whilst still being less than 300 pages long. Now that is good writing!

The novel’s comedy is even better than usual, with a really excellent mixture of eccentric humour, a couple of new running jokes (eg: Markham’s knowledge of classic literature), some well-placed slapstick comedy/farce, some cynicism (eg: Max’s comments about a variety of topics), lots of character-based humour, some brilliant pop culture references (eg: not only does the movie “Tremors” make an appearance, but there’s also a deliberately vague reference to Leon getting a fancy new screwdriver too) and a few other things like that.

The time travel/sci-fi elements are pretty cool too. The novel contains at least three wonderfully suspenseful parts where the characters either have to avoid causing time paradoxes and/or damaging to the timeline. Likewise, the novel also contains a good repertoire of historical settings that include a Civil War-era version of St. Mary’s, the great fire of London, The 1851 Great Exhibition, 15th century Italy and Ancient Greece.

The story’s moments of serious drama work really well most of the time too. Although a couple seem either a little bit over-dramatic or a bit under-dramatic, most of them work really well. However, some of these scenes will have a lot more emotional resonance if you’ve read the previous books in the series. Likewise, Max and Leon’s argument-filled relationship might seem a bit random or bizarre if you don’t know the characters well.

In terms of the writing, the novel’s first-person narration is as good as ever. Max is one of the funniest, most unique and most gleefully irreverent narrators I’ve ever read and this book is no exception. Plus, like in the other books in the series, the narration is informal and “matter of fact” enough to keep the story moving at a decent pace, whilst also being descriptive enough to add atmosphere to the story.

In terms of the characters, they’re as good as ever. If you’ve never read the series before, then expect lots of hilariously eccentric characters 🙂 Interestingly, although this novel does focus on Max and Leon’s relationship during several parts of the story, there’s a lot more focus on Markham (of all people) in this book than I expected. Plus, a couple of familiar villains also make a return too – and, although they don’t really appear for as long as I would have hoped for, both scenes are pretty dramatic.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is really good. Not only does this novel manage to cram a lot of story into a gloriously efficient 291 pages, but the story’s pacing is a lot better than some earlier instalments in the series too. In other words, whilst you shouldn’t expect an ultra-fast paced story, the story moves along consistently at a fairly decent pace.

All in all, this is another great instalment of a great series. If you want a short, but story-filled, sci-fi novel that also contains lots of comedy, drama, thrills and cups of tea, then this one is certainly worth reading 🙂 Seriously, this is one of those book series that should be adapted to television, but would probably lose a lot if it did (since the narration is one of the major reasons this series is so good). So, if you want something that is like a great TV series, but better, then this book is worth reading.

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

Review: “Zombie Apocalypse! Horror Hospital” By Mark Morris (Novel)

Since the weather was still pretty hot, I felt like reading a nice relaxing zombie novel. So, I thought that I’d take the chance to read a book that I’ve been meaning to read for a few months, namely Mark Morris’ 2014 novel “Zombie Apocalypse! Horror Hospital”.

I first saw this book online a few months ago and was impressed by the dramatic title and gloriously melodramatic cover art. But, since it was slightly expensive at the time, I ended up reading Alison Littlewood’s “Zombie Apocalypse! Acapulcalypse Now” instead. However, a couple of weeks before writing this review, second-hand copies of the book were a little bit cheaper online, so I decided to get a copy.

Although this book seems to be a spin-off from Stephen Jones’ “Zombie Apocalypse!” series, it seems to be a fairly self-contained novel. Yes, some elements of the book will probably make more sense if you’ve read the main series (which I haven’t, since they seem to be epistolary novels. And, although I read “Dracula”, “Carrie” and “World War Z” during the ’00s, I’ve kind of gone off of this narrative style). But, this is pretty much a self-contained stand-alone novel with conventional third-person narration 🙂

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Zombie Apocalypse! Horror Hospital”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2014 Robinson (UK) paperback edition of “Zombie Apocalypse! Horror Hospital” that I read.

The novel begins in London, in a dystopian version of Britain (well, more dystopian than usual). A night-shift nurse called Cat Harris is on her way to Lewisham Hospital when a frenzied person covered in blood lurches out in front of the car. Luckily, Cat is able to get away but she feels slightly shaken by the incident and somewhat guilty about not helping the person who lunged at her car. Still, there is work to be done at the hospital’s A&E department…

Meanwhile, a seventeen-year old gang member called Carlton is preparing for an attack on a rival gang. Although Carlton’s gang have the element of surprise on their side, Carlton ends up getting stabbed in the hip by a youth from the rival gang. So, naturally, he ends up being taken to A&E at Lewisham Hospital….

Whilst all of this is going on, there’s a hen party in a nearby nightclub. Although the evening is going well, a bearded man in a white robe enters the nightclub and begins to rant about beltane, fleas and other arcane things – before suddenly biting the bride-to-be. Whilst the other people at the club beat the bearded man to a pulp, the hen party make their way to Lewisham Hospital’s A&E department….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is basically an updated modern version of classic 1980s splatterpunk fiction 🙂 Everything from the cynical dystopian satire to the gritty inner London setting to the gallons of gore is wonderfully evocative of classic ’80s splatterpunk authors like Shaun Hutson, James Herbert etc…

But, it is also a modern novel too – about the best way to describe this is that the novel is maybe a little bit like Attack The Block mixed with the film adaptation of V For Vendetta mixed with 28 Days Later and/or possibly the first “Resident Evil” movie.

As a horror novel, this story works really well 🙂 Although it isn’t exactly scary, it is filled with the kind of intense, ultra-gruesome, claustrophobic, tragic, dystopian, fast-paced and suspenseful horror that you would expect from a 1980s-style splatterpunk novel.

Likewise, this novel also includes some transgressive horror, some medical horror, a bit of paranormal horror, lots of apocalyptic horror, a few moments of gothic horror and some insect-based horror too. In other words, this isn’t a novel for the easily shocked or horrified.

Interestingly, the zombies in this novel are modern-style fast-moving zombies – with the zombie virus also being spread via infected fleas (like the bubonic plague) and having some kind of paranormal component to it too.

This allows for some fairly inventive scenes, such as infected characters having psychic visions or pickled specimens in a nearby medical museum returning to life. In addition to this, the fast-moving zombies also help to keep the later parts of the story suitably thrilling too. But, thankfully, some classic tropes of the genre (eg: aim for the head!) still remain too 🙂

Like any good zombie story, this novel also contains a fair amount of dark humour too 🙂 In addition to a few movie/TV references, a subtle reference to James Herbert’s “The Rats“, arguments about whether the zombies are actually zombies and some amusing dialogue segments, there are also a few brilliant moments of grotesque humour too (such as a heartwarmingly romantic reunion… of zombies) which will either make you laugh out loud or feel slightly queasy.

The novel’s dystopian elements are pretty interesting too. Although they’re mostly kept to the background, this story is set in a vaguely “V For Vendetta”-style version of Britain that has a nationalistic UKIP/Tory-style government, daily curfews, armed police, mysterious conspiracies etc.. With the only reason that it hasn’t turned into a full-blown 1984-style dictatorship mostly just being because of governmental incompetence, stinginess/austerity etc.. Seriously, this novel is a brilliant piece of political satire.

However, one fault with this novel is that it overloads the reader with characters and sub-plots during the first half of the novel. Yes, all of these sub-plots do add scale, suspense, emotional depth, narrative breadth etc… and the story does become more streamlined later, but it means that the crucial early parts of the story aren’t always as fast-paced or focused as they should be.

This wouldn’t have been too bad if this novel had used the classic splatterpunk technique of killing off most of the background characters after just one chapter, but they’ll often get at least a couple of chapters (if not more) – which bogs the story down a bit.

In terms of the characters, they’re all reasonably well-written. Like in classic splatterpunk novels, the focus is more on ordinary people rather than on soldiers, politcians, police officers etc.. Although, as mentioned earlier, the focus on introducing lots of characters near the beginning of the story does make the story feel a little bit less focused than it should be.

In terms of the writing, the novel’s third-person narration is really good. In addition to switching between more formal and more informal narration depending on the situation, the story’s narration also contains some absolutely awesome descriptions – like this one: “The church was a squat, ugly, moss-covered building that perched like a toad in a sea of mud and tangled vegetation, from which broken, slanted gravestones jutted like old teeth.

However, one minor annoyance is that the novel randomly switches to present-tense narration during one or two chapters though. Even so, this novel is wonderfully readable 🙂

Like with the other “Zombie Apocalypse!” spin-off novel I’ve read, this one also includes a few greyscale illustrated pages too. But, most of these just seem to be pictures of blood-spattered hospital corridors and they don’t really add too much to the story. Then again, if you’re having difficulty picturing the settings, then I suppose they might come in handy.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is ok. At 343 pages, it’s a little long by classic splatterpunk standards but on par with other modern horror novels. Likewise, although the novel becomes a lot more focused and fast-paced during the later parts, the numerous character introductions and the emphasis on suspense etc.. near the beginning means that the novel gets off to a slightly slower and less streamlined start than I would have liked.

All in all, this is a really good zombie novel. Yes, it isn’t quite perfect, but it’s still really brilliant 🙂 If you want to read a slightly more updated, modern version of the type of awesome old 1980s splatterpunk horror novels that used to be common in second-hand bookshops/charity shops a decade or two ago, then check this novel out.

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