Review: “Aliens: Rogue” By Sandy Schofield (Novel)

Note: Due to scheduling reasons, the “making of” line art post for my recent webcomic mini series won’t appear here until tomorrow. Sorry about this.

Well, although I’d originally planned to read something a bit more “high brow”, I was kind of in a stressed out mood and just wanted to read something fun. Something like the kind of novels I used to read all of the time when I was a teenager.

Then I remembered that I still hadn’t read the second half of a two-novel “Aliens” omnibus (that contains Robert Sheckley’s 1995 novel “Aliens: Alien Harvest” and Sandy Schofield’s 1996 novel “Aliens: Rogue”) that I’d bought second-hand a few months ago. So, this seemed like the perfect opportunity πŸ™‚

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

This is the 1996 Orion (UK) paperback omnibus that contained the version of “Aliens: Rogue” I read.

The novel begins with the crew of a civilian spacecraft, captained by Joyce Palmer, emerging from suspended animation after a long voyage to a remote asteroid facility called Charon Base. The spacecraft is carrying a passenger called Mr.Cray to the facility, since he seems to have some kind of classified business there.

Meanwhile, in the former penal colony mining tunnels near the facility, a detachment of space marines are trying to catch an alien specimen for Professor Kleist, the ZCT Corporation scientist who runs the facility. Unfortunately, the experimental technology the marines are using to stun the deadly aliens doesn’t work perfectly and one of the marines is killed – prompting another marine to blast the alien to smithereens with his rifle. Watching on CCTV, Kleist is absolutely horrified…. about the death of one of his alien specimens.

After a brief meeting with Kleist, Joyce and her crew stay at the facility for a few days. Although Joyce is happy to meet her occasional lover, Hank, she soon starts hearing news of mysterious deaths and disappearances amongst the facility’s crew and decides to investigate…..

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, whilst it isn’t anything particularly new, it’s a hell of a lot of fun to read πŸ™‚ Although the basic premise (an alien-filled research facility run by a mad scientist) is pretty much identical to S.D.Perry’s “Aliens: The Labyrinth“, the novel does a few interesting things with this premise.

This novel is as much of an action-thriller novel as a sci-fi horror novel, with the general tone and atmosphere of the novel reminding me a lot of the original “Red Faction” computer game.

In addition to lots of desolate mining tunnels, a lot of the novel focuses on several groups of characters (both civilian and military) who start a resistance movement against Kleist and his henchmen. So, in a lot of ways, this is also a dystopian novel too πŸ™‚ Yes, the “plucky band of rebels” thing is a well-worn sci-fi/fantasy trope, but it’s handled in a really thrilling way in this novel, which will really have you cheering for the rebels.

Seriously, although it contains nothing especially new, this novel is the perfect blend of dystopian sci-fi, thrilling action and macabre horror fiction πŸ™‚ Reading this novel is like watching a really fun late-night 1980s/90s B-movie, like “Fortress” or something like that.

As for the horror elements of this novel, they’re pretty good. Although this novel isn’t that scary, it certainly has a rather ominous claustrophobic atmosphere, in addition to lots of grisly moments of gory horror, creepy alien-based moments (including a giant genetically-engineered alien king) and plenty of scenes featuring Kleist’s evil experiments too. These horror elements complement the novel’s action-thriller elements really well and not only add more atmosphere and tension to the story, but also give it a bit more depth by allowing for more moments of human drama too.

As for characterisation, this novel is reasonably decent, with several of the civilian and military characters receiving enough backstory and emotional moments to make you care about what happens to them. Likewise, the space marines are also shown to be an efficient, courageous and resourceful team too. However, the evil Professor Kleist and his security guard henchmen don’t really get much in the way of backstory and mostly just come across as cheesy, melodramatic “villain” characters (which is kind of fun in a “corny B-movie” kind of way, though).

In terms of the writing in this novel, it’s reasonably good. This novel’s third-person narration is descriptive enough to be atmospheric whilst also being “matter of fact” enough to not only keep the story moving at a decent pace, but also to make it reasonably relaxing to read too. Even so, in the edition I read, the editor missed a few basic mistakes (eg: misspelling Cray’s name as “Clay” once, spelling “gel” as “jell” once etc..) to the point where these errors actually became noticeable.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is reasonably good. In addition to being a fairly efficient 288 pages long, the pacing in this novel is fairly good. It starts off in a suitably ominous way before gradually building into a more traditional thriller (where chapters jump between two or three groups of characters, with lots of mini cliffhangers etc..) which remains fairly gripping throughout.

As for how this twenty-three year old novel has aged, it’s aged really well. Although the story has a fairly “1990s late-night TV” kind of atmosphere during a few moments, this just adds to the story’s enjoyably fun “cheesy B-movie” quality. But, like with S.D.Perry’s “Aliens: The Labyrinth”, this novel is pretty timeless thanks to it’s distant-future setting (which still comes across as reasonably futuristic).

All in all, whilst this novel doesn’t really do anything new, it is still a lot of fun to read. So, if you want to relax with the literary equivalent of a great late-night movie from the 1990s, then this novel is well worth checking out. Likewise, if you want a dystopian sci-fi horror thriller novel, then this is definitely one of the more enjoyable ones.

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

Advertisements

Review: ” A Trail Through Time” By Jodi Taylor

Well, after reading the first three novels in Jodi Taylor’s amazing “The Chronicles Of St. Mary’s” series (you can see my reviews of them here, here and here), I reluctantly stopped reading the series for a while since second-hand copies of them were getting progressively more expensive the further I went through the series.

But, when I noticed that the fourth and fifth books weren’t quite as expensive as I’d thought, I decided to splash out on them. And, although I’ll probably save the fifth book for a later date, I thought that I’d take a look at Taylor’s 2014 novel “A Trail Through Time” today πŸ™‚

Although this is the fourth novel in a series, it contains quite a few recaps. So, it can theoretically be read as a stand-alone novel. However, the story will have much more comedic, dramatic and emotional impact if you’ve read the other three books first.

So, let’s take a look at “A Trail Through Time”. Needless to say, this review will contain a metric ton of SPOILERS (including for the previous three novels).

This is the 2017 Accent Press (UK) paperback edition of “A Trail Through Time” that I read.

The novel begins with a recap of the ending of the previous novel. Time-travelling historian Madeleine “Max” Maxwell has just found herself in a parallel universe with a version of her lover, Leon. In Max’s universe, Leon died. In Leon’s universe, Max died. Needless to say, both are pretty amazed to see each other again.

However, before Max and Leon can spend too long in each other’s company, they get a phone call warning them that someone is coming. Less than a minute later, mysterious armed men begin to attack Leon’s house.

Luckily, this version of Leon has a time travel pod hidden in the garden. So, they jump back in time to a deserted tropical island. Leon explains that the armed men are the time police! The name pretty much says it all really. They’re after Max. And it isn’t long before they show up on the island.

After dodging them again, Max and Leon jump back to 17th century London. There is a frost fair on the river Thames, and it is bloody freezing! Needless to say, it isn’t long before the time police show up again. But, how long can our favourite fugitives keep ahead of them?….

One of the first things that I will say about this book is that it’s even more compelling than I expected. I binge-read most of it in a single day πŸ™‚ Everything great about the first three novels in the series has been focused, refined and reinvented and it is brilliant. It is epic. Seriously, I cannot praise this novel highly enough! It’s like “Doctor Who” meets “Sliders” meets “Bluestone 42” meets “Stargate SG-1” meets… well… something even more awesome.

Not only is the early part of the novel like a brilliantly comedic version of “Doctor Who” (seriously, it reminded me a bit of this episode), but the time police are an absolutely brilliant addition to the story too. They’re exactly the right combination of chillingly menacing and hilariously silly (I mean, time police!). Likewise, turning Max and Leon into fugitives is a brilliant way to keep the story focused whilst also adding lots of thrilling suspense, chase scenes and character-based drama. Genius!

Likewise, the slightly slower middle parts of the story add more atmosphere, characterisation and depth (including hinting at a lot of dramatic “off screen” politics, conflicts etc..) whilst also building up to a spectacularly dramatic, powerful and thrilling final act πŸ™‚ And, yes, the later parts of the story are absolutely epic. Imagine the series finale of a great TV show and you might come close. Although the final battle is relatively small in scale, this only makes it more powerful and dramatic.

The parallel universe premise of the novel is utterly amazing too πŸ™‚ Not only does this allow the story to return to it’s roots, but it also allows for lots of other interesting changes and subtle differences that really help to keep the reader on their toes. It also adds a lot of drama and suspense to the novel too, since Max finds herself abandoned in another, strange world with a very slightly different history.

Plus, as you’d expect from a “St.Mary’s” novel, there are also quite a few interesting time travel scenes too. Although these aren’t the main focus of the story, there are a reasonable number of them and they include random and eccentric things such as a visit to ancient Egypt to see Pharaoh Akhenatan, the eruption in Pompeii, a frost fair on the River Thames, a character catching bubonic plague in the middle ages etc…

As for the novel’s characters, they’re as eccentric and well-written as ever. In addition to the parallel universe storyline allowing for the return of a familiar villain (Barclay) and for some interesting character changes, the novel’s early focus on Max and Leon fleeing the time police also allows for a lot of characterisation too. Likewise, as mentioned earlier, the time police are brilliant antagonists too – being just the right mixture of menacing and hilariously silly.

In terms of the writing, it’s also as good as ever too. If you’ve read previous novels in the series, you’ll know that Max’s first-person narration is a wonderfully unique combination of irreverent humour, serious storytelling and more “matter of fact” narration. It might not be to everyone’s tastes, but I find the narration in this series to be an absolute joy to read πŸ™‚

In terms of the length and pacing, it’s reasonably good. Although the novel is 379 pages long, it never really feels too long. Likewise, not only is this novel more of a fast-paced thriller, but even the novel’s slower-paced scenes still feel gripping thanks to the dramatic backstory. Likewise, this novel has a really good structure and story arc too. There’s also a really good balance between faster and slower segments of the novel, and the story feels a lot more confident and focused than some earlier novels in the series did.

All in all, this is an absolutely awesome sci-fi/comedy/thriller/drama novel πŸ™‚ Everything that makes this series so brilliant has been refined, focused and reinvented excellently in this novel. If you want a novel that is a bit like a more eccentric, comedic, irreverent and grown-up version of “Doctor Who” – complete with a really epic story arc – then you can’t go wrong with “A Trail Through Time”.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least a five πŸ™‚

Six Things I’ve Learnt From Running A Blog For Six Years

Woo hoo! This blog is six years old πŸ™‚ I know that I say this every year, but back when I started this blog in 2013, I had no idea that this random, impulsive project would keep going for so long πŸ™‚ Seriously, I’m surprised that it has only been six years since I started this blog since it feels like it’s been a part of my life for longer than this.

Anyway, like I do on each of these anniversaries (eg: 2014 [part one, part two], 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 ) , I thought that I’d share some of the things that I’ve learnt from running a blog, in case it is useful to you too.

So, let’s get started:

1) Good rules have multiple uses: Although I’ve set myself various rules about this blog over the years, I’ve noticed something about the rules that I’ve actually kept following. If a rule is good, then it will often quickly turn out to be useful for other reasons too.

For example, a few months ago, I got back into reading books regularly and I also started posting novel reviews here every 2-5 days. However, after the first eight book reviews, I set myself a rule that I wouldn’t read two books by the same author directly after each other. But, why?

Simply put, the only way I could get back into reading was to start by binge-reading eight thriller novels by the same author (Clive Cussler). But, by the end of the eighth review, I didn’t even want to look at another Clive Cussler novel. I was completely and utterly bored with them. Which was a shame, because they were so much fun to read. So, I initially set myself this rule so that I wouldn’t end up ruining the works of my other favourite authors for myself.

But, after following it for a while, it turned out to have a lot of other benefits that I hadn’t expected. It pushed me to look for authors I hadn’t read before (and I discovered some really brilliant ones, like Jocelynn Drake, Jack O’Connell, Jodi Taylor and Neal Stephenson). It also meant that I read books in all of my favourite genres, rather than just focusing on just one or two of them. I could go on for a while, but it’s a really useful rule πŸ™‚

So, yes, one test of a good rule is that it will often usually have more than one benefit.

2) Keep a link directory: If you’re writing blog posts/reviews quite far in advance of publication, then it’s usually a good idea to keep a directory of links to some of your upcoming articles in case you have to link to them in future articles.

Most blogging sites will often include a “permalink” description for scheduled and drafted articles. For upcoming articles that you might link to in other future articles, just copy these permalinks into a text file – like this:

This is a screenshot of my link directory, containing permalinks to all of the book reviews I’ve posted since 2018/19. At the time of preparing this article, all of these reviews hadn’t been posted yet (and were draft articles).

Not only will a directory like this make it easier to link within your site, but it can also be useful for your own reference too. For example, by keeping links to all of my book reviews, I’m able to work out how many books I’ve reviewed since I got back into reading regularly. This helps to keep me motivated to read and review more.

3) Know your limits (and work around them): In addition to writing regular book reviews, another thing I got back into was writing fiction. Although most of it hasn’t appeared on this site – all of this extra reading and writing meant that I had less time than I’d had a year or two ago.

And, well, something had to give. But, I didn’t want to reduce my posting schedule or anything like that. So, I had to be a little bit sneaky. It took me a little while, but I realised that one of the largest time-drains was trying to think of ideas for paintings. And, since I’d recently got a second-hand digital camera and had practiced making photo-based paintings in the past, the solution to this problem was a little bit of a no-brainer. Most of my art over the past few months has been photo-based paintings, like this one:

“Fareham Creek – Window” by C. A. Brown

This is a photo I took of Fareham Creek last May (and, yes, I make these photo-based paintings quite far in advance).

Yes, these are a bit different to my traditional sci-fi, gothic horror, 1990s etc.. paintings, and I really miss making these kinds of art [EDIT: These types of art will return more regularly from mid-June onwards πŸ™‚ ], but it’s allowed me to keep painting when I’ve had less time. Likewise, my monthly comics have become a bit shorter and visually simpler for time reasons.

Plus, in order to fit in the reading time for the book reviews, I’ve been watching far less TV and playing fewer computer games (which is why there are fewer TV show-based articles/reviews, no film reviews, no game reviews other than the usual “Doom II” level reviews etc… [EDIT: Game reviews will also return more regularly in November πŸ™‚ ]) over the past few months.

So, yes, know your limits – and find ways to work around them.

4) Experiment: Over the past few months, I’ve been messing around a lot with an open-source graphics program called “GIMP” (GNU Image Manipulation Program).

Not only has this given me numerous ways to improve my usual digitally-edited watercolour paintings, but it’s also meant that I’ve been able to make things like dramatic digitally-edited line drawings and even the occasional 100% digital piece of art:

“Westbrook – Sleeping Sun” By C. A. Brown

“Low Light – Silent Hall” By C. A. Brown

So, why have I mentioned this? Simply put, it’s to remind you that it can be a good idea to experiment with different things occasionally. If you want to keep up your interest in the things that you’re blogging about, then don’t be afraid to experiment with different stuff every now and then.

5) Review notes: Although this isn’t exactly something new that I’ve learnt, it’s something I’ve been reminded of over the past few months. Basically, if you’re reviewing something, then take notes. Even if you don’t use literally everything in your notes in your review, then take notes regardless.

There are lots of ways to do this. For example, when reading a novel, I’ll use a small square of note paper as both a bookmark and a space to note down what is happening. Having small handwriting helps here (and, yes, ballpoint pens are annoying for tiny writing – but the ink doesn’t soak through the paper like with rollerball pens).

Here’s an example (which contains SPOILERS for Jodi Taylor’s “A Symphony Of Echoes):

This is one side of my bookmark plot notes for Jodi Taylor’s “A Symphony Of Echoes”. Hooray for micro-writing!

After each reading session, I’ll also make more extensive “impressions so far” notes in a notebook. Instead of focusing on writing down plot details (I’ve got the bookmark for this, after all), these notes tend to focus on things like themes, techniques and my general impressions of what I’ve read.

Yes, stopping to take notes can get in the way of enjoying the thing you’re reviewing, but it’s important because it not only helps you to remember more stuff about the thing you’re reviewing, but it also means that you can look back at your notes and see how your views about the thing you’re reviewing have changed whilst you’ve been reading, watching, playing etc.. it.

So, even if you don’t end up using literally every detail in your notes, then taking notes will still result in better reviews.

6) Always have a buffer!: When I was writing some of the daily short stories (like these) that were posted here early last year, I forgot one of the earliest lessons that I’d learnt when I started this blog back in 2013.

Back then, I didn’t have a buffer of pre-made/ pre-scheduled articles, so the early days of my blog were a chaotic, stressful, rushed and panicked time. Over time, I thankfully built up a fairly large buffer of articles – meaning that I didn’t feel anywhere near as much time pressure or deadline stress.

Since these daily short stories were a spontaneous idea, I foolishly forgot this. As such, I was constantly panicking about finishing and posting a story at the end of every day. Eventually, I was able to build up a small 5-7 day story buffer but, because of all of the time stress before this, I ended up abandoning the idea of daily short stories after a month or two. In retrospect, I should have built up a buffer before posting any stories here.

So, yes, always build up a buffer before you start posting regular features on your blog! And, yes, it can be easy to forget this when you’re eager to start a new project. But, it’s very important!

————

Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

Review: “Patient Zero” By Jonathan Maberry (Novel)

Well, I thought that I’d look at a book that I’ve been meaning to read for a while. Originally, I’d planned to read Jonathan Maberry’s 2009 novel “Patient Zero” soon after finishing another zombie novel called “Zombie Apocalypse! Acapulcalypse Now” by Alison Littlewood.

However, for some reason, my second-hand copy of “Patient Zero” ended up languishing near the bottom of my “to read” pile for at least a month or two.

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

This is the 2010 Gollancz (UK) paperback edition of “Patient Zero” that I read.

The novel begins in America, where a policeman called Joe Ledger is relaxing on the beach – before suddenly being approached by two FBI agents. Although Joe worries that this might have something to do with the violent counter-terrorism raid he took part in a few days earlier, he isn’t sure why the FBI are interested in him. The agents escort him to an interrogation room.

Some time later, Joe is joined by a mysterious fellow called Mr.Church, who wants to recruit him for a top-secret task force called the Department Of Military Sciences (DMS) due to both Joe’s military background and the fact that he showed no hesitation in combat during the counter-terrorism raid. However, there is one final test. Joe has to walk into another room and handcuff a criminal.

When Joe enters the room, he notices that the criminal in question is one of the terrorists he shot during the raid. Not only that, the man is still very much alive. In fact, he seems to be some kind of ferocious, flesh-eating zombie

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it’s a really interesting mixture of genres. Although it’s a fast-paced modern militaristic thriller novel in the tradition of writers like Lee Child, Clive Cussler etc.. (a genre I went off of slightly after binge-reading eight of these novels in a row a few months ago) it is kept dramatic and interesting thanks to the inclusion of zombies πŸ™‚

In a lot of ways, this novel reminded me a bit of the first “Resident Evil” movie, thanks to it’s claustrophobic action scenes, sci-fi elements, military/industrial theme and zombie virus storyline.

Likewise, although “Patient Zero” is more of a thriller novel than a horror novel, it thankfully doesn’t skimp on the horror too much. In addition to lots of fast-paced suspenseful horror and several well-placed scenes of gory horror, the novel has a surprising focus on moral/psychological horror too.

In other words, the psychological effects of having to shoot zombified civilians take their toll on the main characters throughout the story. Although this element is focused on a little too much, it helps to prevent the story from turning into too much of a generic action-thriller novel.

Plus, the zombie-related elements of the story are pretty interesting too. At one point, the novel contains a scientific lecture about how the zombie virus works and this allows the story to introduce some interesting elements (eg: zombies become dormant in cold temperatures, they are driven to spread the virus rather than eat people, the zombie virus is stored in the brainstem/spine, the zombies aren’t technically dead etc..).

However, for the most part, the zombies are pretty standard “aim for the head!” horror movie zombies, albeit of the modern fast-moving variety. But, as the novel progresses, a more intelligent type of also zombie appears too.

The novel’s action-thriller elements are really good. Since the main focus is on containing the zombie virus before it spreads, most of the zombie-related fight scenes tend to happen in claustrophobic, confined settings – which really helps to add a lot of immediacy, suspense and grittiness to these scenes.

These thrilling action scenes are also complemented by some rather suspenseful sub-plots. In addition to chapters that show what the villains are getting up to, there’s also a rather suspenseful, paranoia-filled sub-plot about a saboteur gaining access to the DMS’s secret base. All of this helps to ensure that the novel’s slower and quieter moments still remain reasonably gripping.

But, whilst the novel’s thriller elements are certainly thrilling, this novel reads a lot like something from early-mid 2000s America in terms of it’s “war on terror” theme and attitudes. Even so, the novel does try to add some nuance via a few dialogue scenes (and some British characters and references, which were kind of cool to see) but, for the most part, this novel reminded me a bit of US TV shows like “24” and “NCIS”. Yes, like those TV shows, it’s still very gripping – but this element of the story is probably a little bit overbearing.

As for the characters in this novel, they’re fairly interesting. Whilst you shouldn’t expect ultra-deep characterisation, the main characters have enough depth to keep them interesting. Whether it’s Joe’s conversations with his psychologist (Rudy), a sarcastic DMS scientist called Dr. Hu, the tough SAS major who is second-in-command, the mysterious Mr. Church or even a couple of the villains (eg: a greedy industrialist and his sarcastic henchman), many of the characters in this novel are distinctive and interesting enough to stop the story from feeling too generic.

As for the writing in this novel, it’s interesting. One strange technique that Maberry uses is to alternate between first and third person perspective in different chapters. Surprisingly, this doesn’t turn the novel into a disorientating mess. Although it surprised me at first, it was pretty easy to get used to thanks to both clear signposting at the beginning of each chapter and the fact that Maberry’s narrative voice remains pretty similar in both first and third-person scenes (which keeps the story flowing, despite the frequent perspective changes).

In terms of the actual narration itself, it’s reasonably standard fast-paced modern thriller novel stuff and it does the job reasonably well. Likewise, the novel also has a sense of humour too, which helps to keep things interesting. Plus, this novel also includes more than it’s fair share of pop culture and technology references – and, although most of these still hold up reasonably well when read today, they’ll probably end up dating the novel quite a bit in another decade or two.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is reasonably good. Although it’s almost 500 pages long, the novel is written in a fairly fast-paced way which means that the story never really feels too long. Likewise, the novel expertly balances and contrasts slower and more suspenseful scenes with thrillingly fast-paced scenes of pulse-pounding action too. So, the length and pacing are reasonably good.

All in all, this is a rather fun twist on a rather familiar and generic type of story. Yes, if you want a gripping, gruesome, action-packed zombie thriller novel, you’re probably better off reading S.D.Perry’s “Resident Evil” novelisations or possibly “Erebus” by Shaun Hutson. But, even so, this novel is like a gripping modern military thriller novel, but with zombies πŸ™‚

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

Review: “Minion (Special Edition)” By L. A. Banks (Novel)

A while before writing this review, I was in the mood for some vampire fiction (what can I say? I’ve been looking for something as awesome as Jocelynn Drake’s “Dark Days” novels ever since I finished reading them). And, after looking online, I discovered an author I hadn’t heard of before called L. A. Banks. So, I decided to order a second-hand copy of the first novel in her “Vampire Huntress” series – a novel from 2003/4 called “Minion”.

However, I should probably point out that this novel seems to be the first part of a continuous series and it isn’t a self-contained novel. I was forewarned about this by a few reviews I saw, but don’t go into this novel expecting a full story. Likewise, the edition of “Minion” that I read is a “special edition” version, which apparently contains some extra scenes that aren’t in older editions of the novel.

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

This is the 2004 St. Martin’s Paperbacks (US) special edition paperback of “Minion” that I read.

The novel begins in New Orleans in the 1980s, when the wife of a preacher believes that her husband is having an affair with a mysterious handsome man that he’s met. Filled with jealousy, she ends up consulting a local magician for some kind of spell in order to exact revenge. However, this spell doesn’t exactly work as intended….

Flash forward to the mid-late 1990s and two people called Marlene and Shabazz are in a nightclub, searching for someone called Damali. When the band appears on stage, Marlene realises that the teenage lead singer is none other than Damali. After the concert, Marlene approaches Damali and offers to sign her to her record label – which is, of course, a cover for a group of vampire hunters. Since, although she doesn’t know it, Damali is the Neteru- some kind of mythical chosen one.

A few years later, in 2003, Damali is twenty and she is a well-trained member of the vampire hunting team. The team have travelled to Philadelphia to fight some vampires, but they find themselves in an alleyway where everything is mysteriously silent. Something is wrong. Of course, it doesn’t take long before the vampires attack. However, these vampires are different. They’re more powerful, more ferocious and are nothing like anything Damali has ever seen before….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, during it’s best moments, it’s kind of like a cooler and more badass version of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer“. Yes, it isn’t a self-contained story and it certainly has a few flaws but, when this story is at it’s best, it’s kind of like watching a really cool late 1990s/early 2000s urban fantasy TV show πŸ™‚ Plus, it’s one of the few novels about vampire hunters that I’ve read which still manage to include a lot of the edginess of a good vampire novel πŸ™‚

Interestingly, this novel is more of a thriller/drama novel than a horror novel. Sure, there are a few moments of gruesome horror, a suspenseful atmosphere and some fairly cool moments of paranormal horror too. But, for the most part, this is more of an urban fantasy drama novel with a few sizzlingly sensual moments and some well-placed action scenes. Surprisingly, this works really well.

In addition to some detective/crime thriller elements, a lot of the story also focuses on the lives of the vampire hunters, their plans, their conflicts and Damali grappling with her fate as a Neteru (which is presented as something of a second adolescence).

Although this novel is one of those stories where the main characters argue with each other quite a bit, this actually works quite well thanks to the general atmosphere of the story and the way that the characters are written. In other words, the conflicts between the characters emerge from their different perspectives, personalities and worldviews rather than just being there for the sake of drama. Likewise, the Los Angeles setting of most of the story is reminiscent of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”, whilst also allowing for a lot more atmosphere and grittiness too.

Even though the story could have done with more action scenes, this is compensated for via a reasonably compelling plot and a suspenseful atmosphere in many scenes. Likewise, many of the story’s more action-packed moments are pretty cool too – with the highlights including a fight involving a three-sided sword and a rather cool chase scene that not only includes some beautiful descriptions of Chinatown, but also includes some fairly suspenseful combat scenes too.

Plus, even though this story contains a clear “good vs. evil” conflict, it is thankfully a little bit more sophisticated than this. In other words, most of the “good” characters aren’t joyless, self-righteous bores and some of the story’s villains are a little bit more ambiguous too.

Even the novel’s most puritanical character, Marlene, is given enough characterisation for her more self-righteous moments to make sense in the context of the story. Best of all, Damali is actually a fairly realistic twentysomething main character who (unlike many thriller novel protagonists) actually wants to enjoy life – much to Marlene’s prim consternation.

Plus, one of the characters (Carlos) is initially presented as a villainous drug baron, but he gains a bit more depth (and even some reader sympathy) as the story progresses. In other words, this novel contains a bit more nuance and humanity than “good vs. evil” vampire stories focusing on vampire hunters usually do. This really helps to add atmosphere to the story too πŸ™‚

Still, this isn’t to say that the story doesn’t have some hilariously cheesy elements too. Whether it’s a rival music label who are quite literally run by demons and vampires (and, in true 1980s/90s moral panic fashion, promote goth music and drug-fuelled rock music) or a scene involving an alliance between crime gangs, this story can be a little bit silly. Likewise, one scene involving a vampiric council who reside in the depths of hell is straight out of a cheesy horror movie. Still, these elements help to add some cheesy, light-hearted fun to the story and provide a bit of balance to the grittier and more serious aspects of the story.

But, although this story is reasonably atmospheric and fairly cool, it isn’t without flaws. Most of these happen near the beginning and ending of the novel, which are literally the last places where a writer should make mistakes.

After the prologues, the novel begins with what should be a suspenseful and gripping action scene – but it is bogged down by the fact that this scene introduces quite a few characters very quickly, which can get confusing. Likewise, the climactic moments of the story are basically a long-winded exposition-filled data dump about the series’ backstory. Yes, this segment does also serve as a cliffhanger ending, but it’s a fairly boring way to include one.

In terms of the writing, Banks’ third-person narration is somewhat on the informal side of things, whilst also being reasonably descriptive too (and fairly “matter of fact” during more thrilling moments). Although it took me a little while to get used to Banks’ writing style (probably because I read a slightly more formal novel directly beforehand), it works reasonably well – with the informal elements also helping to reinforce the story’s atmosphere too.

As for length and pacing, this novel is an efficient 286 pages in length – however, this isn’t a self-contained story (so, it’s more like the first part of a longer novel). Likewise, as mentioned earlier, chapter one overloads the reader with characters and the cliffhanger ending is far too slow-paced. However, the pacing throughout the rest of the story is reasonably good.

All in all, whilst this novel isn’t without flaws, it is still fairly interesting. When it is at it’s best, this novel is as fun as watching a really cool TV show. The middle parts of this novel are dramatic, atmospheric and compelling. Yes, both the beginning and the ending are a bit weak – and the story isn’t even vaguely self-contained. But, these flaws aside, this novel still has some really good moments.

If I had to give “Minion” a rating out of five, it would just about get a four (even though, in some parts, it’s a solid four and a half and in other parts is more of a three and a half).

Review: “Dominon” By C. J. Sansom (Novel)

Well, I’ve been meaning to read C. J. Sansom’s 2012 alternate history novel “Dominion” for a few weeks – ever since a relative found a copy of it in a charity shop and thought that I might be interested in it, given my enthusiasm for Sansom’s excellent “Shardlake” series.

However, I should probably point out that “Dominion” isn’t a Shardlake novel (it’s set in the 20th century, rather than the 16th century) – but I was curious to see how Sansom would handle other genres of fiction.

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

This is the 2012 Mantle (UK) hardback edition of “Dominion” that I read.

The novel takes place in an alternate timeline where, in 1940, Winston Churchill is made Minister Of Defence instead of Prime Minister. Without Churchill’s determined leadership, the second world war ends up just being a short and unsuccessful campaign in France and Norway – which ends with Britain surrendering and signing a peace treaty with Germany.

As part of the treaty, the German military occupies the Isle of Wight and a far-right puppet government (a historical rogues’ gallery consisting of Lord Beaverbrook, Oswald Mosley, Enoch Powell etc..) takes office in Britain. Britain is allowed to retain control of it’s empire and, for a while, to keep up the pretence of democracy. However, opposition to the puppet government is slowly crushed and the German embassy in London gains a lot of political influence.

Most of the events of the story take place in London twelve years later (in 1952) and they involve a civil servant called David, who helps the resistance by copying government documents for them. One of David’s old university friends (called Frank) ends up in an asylum after having a nervous breakdown following a fight with his brother – a scientist who has been working in America.

The resistance realise that Frank might have overheard secret information and begin a plan to smuggle him out of the country. Of course, it also doesn’t take the staff of the German embassy long to realise this too. But, who will get to Frank first…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, although it is a good novel, it takes quite a while to really get going. About the first half of the novel is spent introducing the characters, adding atmosphere and explaining all of the backstory, with the second half of the novel being a much more compelling and focused thriller story.

Even so, this isn’t to say that the first half of the novel is bad. Yes, it’s very slow-paced, but this is kind of the point. A lot of the chilling dystopian horror of this novel comes from how everyday life in the story’s alternate 1950s isn’t that different from the actual 1950s.

The parts of the novel where relatively little actually happens are so chillingly fascinating because of how easily and seamlessly the dystopian fascism of the story blends in with 1950s Britain. How the stuffy, formal world of 1950s Britain sits so easily alongside cruel, harsh authoritarianism. It’s really creepy.

Likewise, whilst this story certainly reminded me of a TV series I saw a couple of years ago called “SS-GB“, the frequent focus on ordinary, everyday life in the first half of the story lends everything a much more plausibly dystopian atmosphere than the more overt melodrama of a typical “What if Britain lost WW2?” alternate history story.

The atmosphere and level of background detail in these parts of the story is also pretty interesting too. In addition to having this wonderfully creepy 1950s-style atmosphere and some clever satirical moments, the level of thought that has been put into the story’s timeline is really astonishing. Yes, a lot of this detail is relayed to the reader through numerous random conversations about politics etc.. but you really get the sense that this chillingly dystopian timeline could have happened.

Even though the novel was published in 2012, the story’s criticisms of nationalism seem eerily prescient when read in this age of Brexit, Trump etc.. However, a lot of this is probably because the novel was written as a riposte to the then-upcoming Scottish independence referendum (with a few polemics against the SNP at various points within the novel).

And, as mentioned earlier, “Dominion” turns into more of a focused and fast-paced thriller novel later in the story. These parts of the story work reasonably well and remain brilliantly suspenseful throughout (with the 1950s-style London smog adding a claustrophobic element to some scenes too). Not only are they a very refreshing change of pace from the slower first half of the story, but thanks to all of the characterisation and background details earlier, they also have a lot more dramatic impact than a typical thriller novel too.

In terms of the characters, they’re really brilliant. Yes, there is a lot of time devoted to characterisation and flashback scenes (which can slow the story down quite a bit), but this results in some really interesting and realistic characters. And, as you would expect from a dystopian novel, most of the characters lead fairly bleak and miserable lives too. Although this can make the novel fairly depressing at times, it fits in really well with the setting and themes of the story – in addition to making the story’s more hopeful moments stand out really well too.

Plus, like in Sansom’s “Shardlake” novels, the most interesting characters are the ones who don’t quite “fit in” with the world around them – with Frank being the best example. In addition to several chilling backstory segments about how he was bullied at school, his somewhat cautious and nervous outlook on the world (in addition to the psychological strain of having to keep some fairly major military secrets) is a refreshing change from the more bold and extroverted characters typically found in thriller novels.

As for the writing, Sansom’s third-person narration uses a slightly formal and descriptive – but reasonably “matter of fact” – style that goes really well with the novel’s 1950s setting, whilst still being a very readable modern novel.

Given how well Sansom was able to add a 16th century flavour to the modern narration in his “Shardlake” novels, it’s really interesting to see how he does something similar with a 1950s setting. Yes, there are a few slightly clunky elements to the writing (eg: phonetic Scottish accents, random political conversations etc..) but, for the most part, it works reasonably well.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is a typical modern C. J. Sansom novel. I’ve already talked about how the first half of the novel is ridiculously slow-paced when compared to the more thrilling second half but, as you would expect from a C. J. Sansom novel, this one is ridiculously long too.

The hardback edition that I read is 569 pages long (not including the 20-30 additional pages of historical notes, essays etc.. at the end). And, looking online, the paperback edition is 700+ pages long (presumably due to the smaller page size). So, yes, this is a long novel that could have probably benefitted from a bit of trimming.

All in all, this is a pretty good – but not perfect- novel. It’s chillingly atmospheric and brilliantly detailed – however, the story doesn’t really get going until about halfway through the book. Likewise, it’s probably a little bit too long too. Even so, the level of atmosphere, suspense, characterisation and detail in this story is well worth sticking around for. But, if you want to see Sansom at his absolute best, read his “Shardlake” novels instead.

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

Review: “Try Before You Die” (WAD For “Doom II”/ “Final Doom”)

Well, since I’m still in the middle of reading a rather long C. J. Sansom novel (is there any other type?), I thought that I’d take the chance to review a “Doom II”/”Final Doom” WAD today.

After all, it’s been at least a couple of weeks since the last WAD review and, despite playing an older version of “Reelism” occasionally, I was worried that I was getting out of practice.

So, after clicking the “random file” link on the /idgames Archive a few times, I eventually found a rather interesting-looking WAD from 2016 called “Try Before You Die“.

As usual, I used the “ZDoom” source port whilst playing this WAD. According to the accompanying text file, this WAD is designed for ZDoom-based source ports – so, it will probably work with ports like GZDoom too.

So, let’s take a look at: “Try Before You Die”:

“Try Before You Die” is a medium to long single-level WAD which revolves around a demonic invasion of Earth.

With Earth in ruins, humanity’s only hope is for the Doomguy to complete some kind of infernal trial in order to rid the planet of hell’s forces. So, yes, pretty standard stuff really.

Well, what were you expecting? A romantic comedy?

One of the first things that I will say about this level is that it’s pretty cool. Not only is the level design the kind of interesting non-linear level design that you’d expect from a classic 1990s FPS game, but the gameplay is also suitably challenging too πŸ™‚

And, in keeping with the 1990s style of the level, this is also one of those modern levels where jumping is disabled by default (although the level is designed with this limitation in mind, so it isn’t really that noticeable whilst playing).

I should probably start by talking in more detail about the level design. In addition to containing a reasonably good mixture of claustrophobic corridors and arena-like areas, this level is also divided into two distinctive areas. There’s a ruined city area and a demonic fortress area (with four sub-areas you can teleport to in any order you want) – and, considering that this WAD only uses the standard “Doom II” textures, both areas look pretty cool.

Woo hoo! Gloomy post-apocalyptic landscapes πŸ™‚

And THIS area almost looks like something from “Final Doom” too πŸ™‚

This is also one of those awesome non-linear levels where you’ll often find yourself having to explore, in addition to finding new routes back to earlier areas of the level. Although the level is reasonably large, it’s still small enough to make exploration interesting rather than frustrating. In other words, it probably won’t take you too long to work out where you’re supposed to go next.

Likewise, this level also contains some fairly interesting, but solvable, puzzles too. For example, if you step through a teleporter in one area, you’ll quickly get torn to pieces by imps when you emerge on the other side. As such, you have to find where the teleporter exits and then use a nearby window/hole in the wall to deal with the imps first.

The level also includes an interesting little puzzle involving teleporters and barrels, a few basic switch puzzles, some combat-based puzzles etc… These puzzles are interesting enough to be reminiscent of the classic FPS games of the 1990s whilst also being straightforward enough not to become frustrating.

Hmmm…. I’m surrounded by barrels o’ fun!

In terms of the difficulty, experienced players will find this level enjoyably challenging πŸ™‚ Whilst it is more of a standard-style level (think “Final Doom” turned up to eleven) rather than a “slaughtermap”-style level (where you’re faced with giant hordes of monsters), the level’s difficulty is achieved in a variety of interesting ways.

When you start the level, you’re faced with a reasonable number of mid-low level monsters, few health power-ups, relatively little ammo and a few claustrophobic areas. Whilst the difficulty in these parts of the level can feel a little bit cheap (especially if you’re slightly out of practice), the level soon begins to include a variety of different types of challenging combat.

These include really fun arena areas, areas where you’ll be running for your life, tense battles in narrow corridors, a Cyberdemon battle and even a fun little slaughtermap-style segment where a wide corridor quickly fills with powerful monsters (and you’ll have to use quick reflexes and clever tactics to find a way to escape).

And, yes, this level fulfils it’s mandatory Arch-vile quotient too πŸ™‚

In addition to all of this, the relative scarcity of health items throughout the level (seriously, my health was less than 20 for large portions of the level!) helps to keep things suspenseful and challenging too πŸ™‚

All in all, this is a really fun level πŸ™‚ It’s a really cool modern twist on classic 1990s-style FPS levels. If you feel that “Final Doom” is a little bit too easy or you want a slightly more epic classic-style “Doom II” level, then this one is certainly worth checking out.

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