Some Thoughts About Film Adaptations Of Novels – A Ramble

As regular readers of this site know, I tend to prepare these articles quite far in advance. So, very early this year, I was surprised to read that there is a modern US film adaptation of an “edgy” 1990s horror novel I’d reviewed quite a few months earlier called “Piercing” by Ryu Murakami.

Although I haven’t seen the full film at the time of writing, the trailer (which is probably “not safe for work”, hence the lack of a link) seems to have kept the disturbing premise of the novel and even seems to have kept a lot of the novel’s grim farce and unsettling psychological drama too. Yet, even though it looked like a good adaptation, I found myself reluctant to put the full film on my “to watch” list. This, of course, made me think about film adaptations of novels.

One of the strengths of the written word is that it makes the reader use their imagination. A novel is a personal experience. Every reader’s memory of a story – the compressed collection of images, moods and impressions that lingers long after the final page has been read – will be different. So, one of the problems that film adaptations can have is that they will inevitably be different from this. After all, cinema is a mass medium where everyone sees the one identical interpretation of a story.

This, incidientally, is why I refuse to watch some film adaptations – like “The Beach” or any of the “Jack Reacher” films – since I’m worried that they will overwrite my amazing memories of the novels they are based on. Yet, when I saw the film adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s excellent “Shutter Island” several months after reading the book, I found it to be a really good distillation of how I imagined the book – with the only problem being that I already knew the ending (which I won’t spoil here. You need to read or see it for yourself).

However, all of this also extends to everything surrounding a novel. Because novels are things that the reader has to co-create using their imagination, they are strongly linked to the time and place that they were read and to the imagination of the reader at that point in their life.

This is probably one of the reasons why I’m reluctant to watch the adaptation of “Piercing” since, although I only read the novel a few months earlier, I chose to read it as a way of feeling nostalgic for a time – about a decade earlier – when I read several other books by the author. Of course, even the best film can never quite capture that exact feeling of personal nostalgia.

On the flip side, reading a novel after seeing the film adaptation is actually a rather fun experience. In addition to being able to gain a deeper insight into the surface-level drama of what you’ve seen on screen, the fact that you will probably imagine the characters in the same way that you saw them on screen makes the process of reading feel a little bit more concrete. This is kind of hard to describe, but it’s strangely relaxing to read a story where you already know what the characters look like – it’s like part of your work as a reader has already been done for you.

Another difference between film adaptations and novels is how they are made. Novels are created by one author, the product of a single imagination given the freedom to be as unique, quirky and creative as possible. On the other hand, films are a team effort that cost millions to make. As such, there’s much more of an incentive for a film to have mass appeal or, at the very least, a wider appeal than the original novel. In principle, this is a good thing, but it can often end up losing or changing what made the original novel so interesting to read.

However, the best film adaptations actually use this to their advantage. For example, the 1980s cinematic masterpiece “Blade Runner” is both visually and stylistically different to the excellent novel that it is based on. These changes allow for a lot of amazing creativity that works really well on screen, whilst still keeping many of the core elements of the story.

And, this thing about the core elements of the story is probably one of the most important things about film adaptations. For example, although it would have been cool to see a cinematic version of the gritty late-night 1990s Toyko setting of Murakami’s “Piercing”, one of the surprising things about the trailer for the film adaptation is how well it seems to transplant the atmosphere, themes etc… of the story into what I presume is modern America. Yet, the trailer still seems to be very clearly based on the novel. If a story can jump from one time and place to another and still retain a lot of what made it so dramatic, then it is a good story.

So, in this sense, I can see why people often view a film adaptation of a novel as the ultimate form of praise. If a novel can survive the adaptation process and still result in a compelling film, then the underlying story is a good one. If all of the author’s uniqueness can be removed and lots of details changed, and it still results in something recognisable or compelling then this is a testament to the author’s skill.

But, at the same time, there’s something a little bit disturbing about seeing film adaptations as the ultimate literary award. Anyone who has read a lot of novels will probably find amazing ones that they feel deserve the full adaptation treatment and deserve to become a part of popular culture, yet never get adapted.

If adaptation was the ultimate award, then there would be a lot more novel adaptations in the cinemas. Yet, all of your favourite un-adapted novels still remain as brilliant as ever. They still remain things that linger in your imagination. Things that you judge all novels you read afterwards in comparison to. Things that make you want to write stories that are even half as good. Things that quite literally become part of your memories of a particular time in your life.

So, yes, film adaptations of books are complicated things.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Review: “Shadow Warrior (2013 Remake)” (Computer Game)

Well, since I’m still reading the next book that I plan to review (“The Sinner” By Tess Gerritsen), I thought that I’d review a computer game I’ve been waiting quite a few years to play. I am, of course talking about the 2013 remake of the classic 1997 first-person shooter game “Shadow Warriror” 🙂

When I first heard about this remake back in 2013, I was really amazed. After all, growing up in the 1990s/early-mid 2000s and being a fan of FPS games, the original 1997 “Shadow Warrior” game evokes a lot of nostalgia for me (even if, by modern standards, some elements of that game haven’t aged well). However, back in 2013, I had a very old and low-end computer and I was uncertain about whether it could run the modern remake of “Shadow Warrior”.

Of course, about three or four weeks before I prepared this review, I got a modern refurbished computer and, since “Shadow Warrior (2013)” was on special offer on GOG at the time, I had to get a copy. To my delight, it still ran fairly well and also looked good on medium to low graphics settings with my computer’s integrated Intel HD 2500 graphics.

However, I had problems taking gameplay screenshots using my usual method (eg: using “print screen” and pasting the image into MS Paint didn’t work [Edit: And, no, I didn’t know what the Windows 10 “Game Bar” was when I prepared this review]). So, apologies about the lack of screenshots in this review.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Shadow Warrior (2013)”.

The game begins with a mysterious animated cutscene about demonic creatures in another world. Then we see Lo Wang, a top assassin for a powerful man called Zilla, rocking out to some classic ’80s hair metal whilst he drives through the forest to meet a man called Mizayaki.

Mizayaki has an ancient sword called the Nobitsura Kage and Zilla wants it. So, Lo Wang makes Mizayaki an offer, two million in cash or death. Mizayaki, of course, chooses the third option – commanding his henchmen to kill Lo Wang. Needless to say, this doesn’t end well for the henchmen. But, when Lo Wang confronts Mizayaki, he is captured after Mizayaki summons a mysterious supernatural creature.

After escaping, Lo Wang decides to get revenge on Mizayaki and his henchmen. However, there is just one problem, the henchmen are already dead and the surrounding area is filled with hideous demonic monsters….

One of the first things that I will say about this game is that, even though it’s a bit different to the 1997 classic, it is still a hell of a lot of fun 🙂 In essence, this game is like a “Shadow Warrior”-themed version of something like “Painkiller” or “Serious Sam” – with much more of an emphasis on fast-paced combat than on exploration or puzzle-solving. Even so, this game still keeps a lot of what made the original game enjoyable, whilst also adding some more modern features and drastically improving both the story and characters too.

As mentioned earlier, the gameplay focuses heavily on fast-paced combat – with Lo Wang having to clear arena-like portions of each level before he can progress. This combat is a really cool mixture of the original game’s combat (eg: you can carry lots of different weapons, battles are ludicrously gory, you can use some monster body parts as weapons etc..) and some more modern innovations.

In addition to being able to upgrade your weapons (eg: alternate fire modes etc..) and/or melee attacks with bonuses/coins you find in-game (no micro-transactions here 🙂 ), there is also a lot more emphasis on melee combat than in the original game. Lo Wang’s katana becomes more powerful throughout the game and remains a surprisingly useful weapon in even the later levels – plus, you get a higher score after each battle if you use it.

In addition to this, there are a few “standard” FPS game weapons (eg: shotgun, machine gun, rocket launcher etc..) and some creative 1990s-style weapons like a crossbow, throwing stars, magical abilities (that require button combos), a flamethrower and a couple of monster body parts. Plus, the basic pistol reminded me a little bit of Deckard’s revolver from “Blade Runner” too 🙂

Given the more combat-focused nature of the game, a lot of effort has been put into this part of the game. Many battles will be frenetic, crunchy and blood-drenched things where you’ll be dodging, healing and fighting in equal measure. Not only does the game help you out with generous ammo caches (and the option to “buy” ammo with coins you find in-game), but it also has a really cool health system too.

In addition to finding 1990s-style health kits lying around and being able to take health from some defeated monsters, you can also replenish health at any time using a special ability. However, to avoid the unfair boredom of *ugh* regenerating health, this ability actually requires skill to use.

In other words, you have to tap a button combination and hold the right mouse button to heal. Doing this quickly in the middle of a fast-paced battle can be a challenge in it’s own right and is made a little bit more forgiving by the fact that Lo Wang can still fight (with reduced accuracy etc..) whilst healing. Likewise, Lo Wang’s attacks also become more powerful when he drops below a certain health percentage. It’s a really good middle-ground between the mercilessly unforgiving health systems of old and ludicrously over-protective modern ones.

The game also keeps the constant combat interesting via a fairly decent difficulty curve and – more crucially- excellent monster variety too 🙂 In classic 1990s style, there are several types of low-level monsters with different attacks, there are teleporting and shield-bearing mid-level monsters and there are also about three types of larger monsters that pose a serious challenge to the player. The toughest of these are stone creatures that can only be harmed by shooting a weak spot on their back. They only appear in about four or five moments in the game, but each one of these moments is practically a boss battle in it’s own right.

And, yes, there are boss battles too. In the style of a game like “Painkiller”, the bosses are absolutely gigantic – and, in true 1990s fashion, they have to be defeated in a very specific way too 🙂 Yes, the game tells you what to do and keeps feeding you a steady supply of ammo, but it’s still really cool to see this style of boss battle in a modern FPS 🙂

As for the level design, it is very linear – to the point where most of the “secret areas” are practically in plain sight. After each battle, the game will quite literally tell you where to go next via glowing doors/gates. Although it’s sad to see a remake of something like “Shadow Warrior” succumbing to this dreary modern trend, this is mitigated quite a bit by the “Serious Sam”-inspired gameplay.

In other words, the game uses linear level design as a way of placing the player in lots of fun fast-paced arena battles. Not only that, the levels all look really beautiful and have a decent variety between urban, rural, industrial, snow and hell-like areas to keep things interesting too. Seriously, it’s so nice to see 1990s-style visual variety in this game 🙂

Following on with my comments about how this game balances 1990s and modern features, the saving system is a really strange mixture of the dreaded checkpoint saving and the proper “save anywhere” system that should be mandatory in FPS games on the PC. Although you only have one save file per profile and the game will auto-save after every level segment, the game’s menu includes a “save” button that functions a lot like the quicksave feature in many older games.

Best of all, in true 1990s FPS fashion, this game actually has personality and a sense of humour 🙂 Unlike the 1997 original, the game’s humour is a lot more sarcastic and, although some of the things that Lo Wang will shout during battle seem a bit generic, there are still quite a few funny lines, a few pop culture references (eg: I’m sure I heard Eddie Izzard’s “cake or death?” referenced at one point 🙂 ), easter eggs and loads of comedic dialogue exchanges.

And, in true modern fashion, this game actually has a story and characterisation. Although Lo Wang’s character arc is the classic “a badass becomes even more of a badass” one, he is more of a “realistic” character than he was in the 1997 game. He also spends most of the game accompanied by a supernatural character called Hoji – who has a much more complex and interesting backstory that is slowly revealed throughout the game. Not only does this make Hoji a more complex character, but it also means that the events of the game end up taking on a truly epic level of drama and significance too 🙂

The voice-acting is really good and fits in well with the characters, giving them personality whilst also being much more “realistic” than the cartoonish/stereotypical voice-acting in the 1997 game. However, the game’s background music is the kind of ambient instrumental music that you’d expect from a modern game. It adds atmosphere to the levels, but isn’t really as memorable as the more distinctive tunes (eg: Doom’s E1M1 music, Duke 3D’s “Grabbag” theme etc..) that used to be a mainstay of the FPS genre in the 1990s.

As for length, this is a full-length game consisting of about seventeen or eighteen levels. And, in terms of actual gameplay time, it didn’t differ that much from a re-play of the original 1997 game. Of course, your mileage may vary, but this is still a decent medium to long game. Plus, things like a survival mode and an unlockable “Ex mode” (where you can start the game with everything you ended it with) also add some replay value to the game too.

All in all, even though there are some major gameplay differences, this is a really great mixture of the old and the new 🙂 Plus, it’s great to see a modern FPS that has been designed primarily for PC gamers rather than ported over from a console. Yes, it has more in common with something like “Serious Sam” or “Painkiller” than the original “Shadow Warrior”, but if you want a modern FPS game that contains things that used to be standard in the 1990s (eg: personality, creativity, fun, humour, ludicrous gibs etc..) then this one is well-worth playing 🙂

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

Today’s Art (30th November 2019)

Well, I was still in the mood for “retro” art. Although to my surprise today’s digitally-edited painting was set in the 1950s. In short, I was initially inspired by a novel set in 1950s Britain that I was reading – but, for some bizarre reason, the painting ended up being set in a highly-styled version of 1950s San Francisco instead (probably due to reading this sci-fi novel a week or two earlier).

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

“Tram Car 1953” By C. A. Brown

Review: “Resident Evil: Underworld” By S. D. Perry (Novel)

Well, since I seem to be going through a phase of reading spin-off novels, I thought that I’d take the opportunity to re-read S.D.Perry’s 1999 novel “Resident Evil: Underworld”. This is the fourth novel in Perry’s “Resident Evil” series (you can find my reviews of the previous three books here, here and here ) and it tells an original story that isn’t based on any of the “Resident Evil” videogames.

This was a novel that I first read at some point during my mid-late teens. Since I didn’t remember much about it other than reading the shockingly dramatic epilogue during a train journey, I was eager to see if it was still as dramatic as I remembered.

However, I should point out that, whilst this novel theoretically works as a stand-alone novel (since there are a lot of recaps), the story and characters will make more sense if you’ve read the previous three novels before reading this one. But, if you’re familiar with the first two “Resident Evil” videogames, you can probably get away with just reading the second novel (“Resident Evil: Caliban Cove”) before reading this one.

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

This is the 1999 Pocket Books (US) paperback edition of “Resident Evil: Underworld” that I read.

Set in 1998, the novel begins with a series of news reports that detail the destruction of Raccoon City. With all evidence of the zombie plague destroyed, the nefarious Umbrella Corporation has pulled some strings and placed most of the blame for the incident on both the city’s police chief and the members of the force’s elite S.T.A.R.S unit.

With many of the S.T.A.R.S members hiding in Europe, the remaining members of the resistance against Umbrella (Leon, Claire, Rebecca, John and David) are driving to a private airfield in Maine with a plan to join up with them when several cars filled with Umbrella’s henchmen give chase. After a spectacular car chase and gunfight, the team manage to get to the airfield and take off before reinforcements arrive.

Halfway through the flight, Leon gets up to use the bathroom, only to be interrupted by a mysterious man emerging from the cockpit. The man is none other than Trent, the shadowy informant who has given the team crucial, but cryptic, information about Umbrella in the past.

Trent has engineered a face-to-face meeting with the team because he needs their urgent help in recovering a code book from a secret Umbrella facility in Utah that is due to go online in a matter of days. Reluctantly, the team agree to travel to Utah instead…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a gloriously cheesy, and thoroughly entertaining, sci-fi horror thriller. Yes, it’s a bit different to all of the other “Resident Evil” novels and, if you’ve read some of Perry’s “Aliens” novels, you’ll probably spot the familiar formula of “confined space plus villain equals drama” here, but it’s still a lot of fun to read 🙂

I should probably start by talking about the novel’s horror elements, which are less prominent than you might expect. Yes, there is a fair amount of suspense, lots of monster horror/scientific horror and some moments of gory horror, but this novel isn’t the kind of gruesome zombie gorefest that you might be expecting. In fact, there isn’t a single zombie in sight.

Instead, there are several hilariously awesome mutant creatures (eg: acid-spitting goat-lizards, pterodactyl-bats etc…) in addition to the “hunter” monsters from the first videogame. The sheer level of creative silliness here gives the story more of a “brilliantly fun B movie” atmosphere than a horror novel-like atmosphere. If anything, this novel is more of a wonderfully cheesy action-thriller novel than anything else.

But, what a thriller novel it is! From the spectacular opening car chase/gunfight, to numerous suspenseful moments, to a few dramatic set pieces, to the story’s twin plot threads, this is a textbook example of a fun action-thriller novel.

The best parts of this take place in the test chambers of the Umbrella facility which, like an evil version of “The Crystal Maze” or the levels of a videogame, are split into four themed zones (eg: forest, desert, mountain and city) that each introduce a new type of monster for the characters to fight. It’s contrived as hell, but is so much fun to read 🙂

All of this is also paired with a few more traditional thriller elements and a fast-paced writing style that really helps to keep this novel gripping. Like any good action-thriller story, this is the kind of novel that is just good relaxing fun to read. It is the kind of story that you can blaze through in two or three thoroughly satisfying hours.

As for the writing, it is really good. This novel’s third-person narration is written in the kind of informal, “matter of fact” way that you’d expect from a fast-paced thriller. It is the kind of writing style that grabs you and carries you forwards through the story at a decent speed. The novel’s action scenes all have an appropriate amount of impact (plus, it’s always fun to see a novel that uses the word “KA-WHAM” when describing explosions) and there is just enough focus on descriptions and characters to give the story a bit of atmosphere too.

In terms of the characters, although the novel has a relatively large main cast (eg: five or six main characters, plus Trent and the villain), they all seem like distinctive people with personalities and backstories. Yes, the novel’s characterisation partially relies on you having read the previous three novels in the series, but there are enough recaps and there’s enough characterisation here to do the job.

In addition to this, it’s interesting to see that this novel also contains some more subtle hints about the possible romance between Leon and Claire that was hinted at in Perry’s “Resident Evil: City Of The Dead”. Plus, the epilogue also contains a stunningly dramatic moment of characterisation that provides a wonderful payoff for people who have been reading the series.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is really good. At an efficient 244 pages in length, this novel feels wonderfully streamlined. Likewise, whilst the first half of this novel has a few slower dialogue/recap-heavy moments, this novel is a textbook example of a fast-paced thriller 🙂

As for how this twenty-year old novel has aged, it has aged really well. Although it is the kind of gloriously cheesy sci-fi horror thriller that could only have been written during the 1990s, this just evokes nostalgia for a more innocent age when thriller stories could be a bit sillier. Not to mention that the writing still feels fast-paced, the action scenes still feel dramatic and the story is still incredibly fun to read too.

All in all, this novel is fun 🙂 Yes, the “Resident Evil” purists amongst you might be disappointed by the lack of zombies but, if you can get over this, then you’ll be rewarded with an absolutely awesome “late night B movie” of a novel 🙂 It is one of those gleefully silly, yet wonderfully compelling, stories that is fun in the way that “so bad that it’s good” ’90s monster movies like “Primal Species” are 🙂

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

Four Reasons Why Spin-Off Novels Are So Awesome

Well, I thought that I’d talk about original spin-off novels based on movies, TV shows, games etc… today. This is mostly because I seem to be going through a bit more of a phase of reading this genre than usual recently. I’ve probably talked about this topic before, but it seemed like it was worth revisiting given how overlooked this genre often is.

So, why are spin-off novels so awesome?

1) Extra stuff: One of the coolest things about spin-off novels is that they are like extra (non-canonical) TV show episodes, film sequels/prequels etc… that can focus on characters, story elements etc.. that were overlooked in the original source material. Not only that, they also have absolutely no budgetary limitations whatsoever too.

For example, many of the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” spin-off novels I’ve read will include the kind of settings, special effects, depth of storytelling etc… that wouldn’t have been practical in an “ordinary” episode of the TV show.

Likewise, although the film sequel to the 1982 sci-fi classic “Blade Runner” appeared in cinemas in 2017, readers have had sequels available since the mid-1990s, thanks to a series of spin-off novels by K. W. Jeter. I’m currently re-reading the first one of these (“Blade Runner 2: The Edge Of Human”) and it reminded me of how, when I first read it in 2008, it was so awesome to actually have a sequel at a time when film companies had no interest in making one.

So, yes, spin-off novels provide a lot of extra stuff. Not only that, since multiple authors often write spin-offs for the same series, these novels tend to appear more often or in a larger quantity than the actual source material.

For example, although some of them can get a bit formulaic, there are far more “Aliens” spin-off novels than actual films in the franchise (which only get made every couple of years at the very most).

2) They’re made for fans: One of the cool things about spin-off novels is that, because they cost a lot less to produce, there’s less incentive for things to be diluted for a mainstream audience.

After all, if a studio is spending millions on a film, then they’re going to want to make sure it appeals to the widest possible audience. If they’re just spending thousands commissioning a spin-off novel, then there’s more incentive to appeal to fans.

This often results in spin-off novels being more of a satisfying experience to read than you might expect. For example, the mid-1990s “Blade Runner” spin-off novel I’m reading at the moment not only includes a clever twist on a continuity error in the original film but it also includes a few elements from the 1960s novel that the original film was based on. It’s the kind of sequel that is made for people who are massive fans of the original film.

So, yes, if you’re a fan of something, then spin-off novels can often be a more intense, geeky and satisfying experience than their actual source material.

3) Innovation and creativity: Although spin-off novels have to have official approval, the fact that they are written by a single author (rather than designed/made by a large team) and usually aren’t seen as canonical often results in a lot more innovation and creativity than you might expect.

Yes, this isn’t always the case, but it can be really cool to see. For example, even though I mentioned that some of the “Aliens” spin-off novels are a bit formulaic, one surprisingly creative example is probably Robert Sheckley’s “Alien Harvest” – which is a surprisingly light-hearted, quirky and vaguely cyberpunk heist thriller set in the “Aliens” universe.

Likewise, although all but two of the novels in S.D.Perry’s “Resident Evil” series are direct novelisations of the source material rather than new spin-off novels, the first four books contain a totally new long-running sub-plot (revolving around a character called Trent) that isn’t present in the original games. Not only that, the sub-plot itself is also resolved in a really dramatic way in the spin-off novel “Resident Evil: Underworld” (which I really need to re-read) too.

So, yes, spin-off novels can sometimes include a lot of extra creativity that isn’t present in the source material.

4) Quality control: In the past, I’ve seen spin-off novels likened to fan fiction. Whilst these novels probably are “fan fiction” in the technical sense of the word, the fact that they are often published in paperback with official approval usually means that they are a cut above what you’d normally expect to find on the internet. They have editors, quality checks, consistency checks etc…

In short, they often allow readers to experience all of the benefits of fan fiction (eg: new stories in a familiar “world”) but without any of the downsides that you might encounter if you go looking for random fan fiction on the internet.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Two Very Basic Tips For Reading A “Difficult” Book

Well, I thought that I’d talk briefly about “difficult” books today. This is mostly because I recently read William Gibson’s 1993 novel “Virtual Light” and it took me a while to get used to his (awesome, but something of an acquired taste) writing style again.

This reminded me of my very first attempt at reading Gibson’s 1984 sci-fi classic “Neuromancer” when I was about seventeen. Back then, I just couldn’t get into the book and abandoned it after one chapter. Two or three years later, I read the whole novel and was astonished by it. So, yes, sometimes books can seem “too difficult” to read. But, luckily, there are ways around this.

1) Let it wash over you: One of the simplest ways to handle a book that is written in an experimental, archaic or unusual style is simply to keep reading even if you don’t understand literally everything. Just let the words wash over you and don’t try to make too much sense of it. Not only does this help you to get used to the writer’s style but, after a while, you’ll probably find that some parts of the story will begin to make sense too.

Yes, this doesn’t work with literally every story. But, if the novel has an interesting idea behind it or if individual sentences are interesting enough that you actually want to read more of it, then this is the way to deal with it. Just let the words wash over you, don’t expect to understand literally everything and, gradually, at least some parts of the story will begin to make sense to you.

The best thing about taking this slightly “open” approach to reading is that it makes you better at dealing with these types of things in other books.

For example, between my abandoned first attempt at reading “Neuromancer” and my successful attempt at reading it a couple of years later, I read a few 1950s-60s “beat literature” novels (which sometimes include almost-incomprehensible plots and/or experimental writing techniques). So, when I returned to “Neuromancer”, I felt a bit more confident.

2) Practice reading widely: First of all, if you can’t get into a “difficult” book, then there’s no shame in putting it aside and returning to it at some later point. One of the best ways to deal with a “difficult” book is simply to get more practice at reading before you read it. But, remember to read books by lots of different authors and to take chances on authors you haven’t heard of and/or haven’t read before.

This is important for several reasons. Firstly, it gets you used to reading lots of different writing styles, which means that adapting to the style of a “difficult” book is a bit easier. Secondly, and most importantly, it means that you might encounter milder versions of the writing style you’re having trouble with – which means that you’ll have a better chance of understanding the “difficult” book when you return to it.

For example, reading 19th century-style narration became a lot easier after I read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes” stories at the age of seventeen. Since these stories are short, really compelling and have clearly defined plots, they are a fun way of acclimatising to (and appreciating) these older writing styles. And, it also has the side-effect of making other 19th century novels (and modern 19th century style ones) more readable/understandable afterwards.

Likewise, when I read Gibson’s “Virtual Light” recently, it was a lot easier than the time I managed to read “Neuromancer” for the simple reason that I’d read a lot more books in the meantime. I could see how Gibson’s style was similar to “hardboiled” 1930s-50s American detective fiction, how it took influence from thriller fiction, how it was similar to other cyberpunk authors etc…..

So, practice reading widely and you’ll find that “difficult” books become a bit less difficult to read.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Things I Learnt From This Month’s Horror Novel Marathon

Well, since I’ve spent the past month reviewing about 10-12 horror novels, I thought that I’d look at some of the things that this experience has taught me. Although I’ve probably mentioned some of these things in previous articles, I felt like writing something of an overview article too.

Anyway, here are some of the things that I learnt from the horror marathon:

1) Balancing spontaneity and planning: The horror marathon was something of a spontaneous “wouldn’t it be cool if I did this?” kind of idea. Sometimes, these kinds of ideas can work really well (I mean, how do you think this site started?) but they should probably be paired with some level of planning too.

For example, one of the largest problems with the horror marathon was probably finding enough reading matter for it without reading more than one book by any particular author. In the end, about half of the novels I ended up reading were ones that I’d already read 10-15 years ago. It wasn’t like I had a shortage of horror novels, it was just that most of the novels I had that would have been perfect for the series were ones I’d already reviewed within the past few months. If I’d have known about the series then, I could have saved them up for this month.

So, yes, whilst a spontaneous “wouldn’t it be cool?” moment is a great way to build motivation for a project, you also need to think about planning too. Although your initial burst of enthusiasm will carry you into a project, you also need to think about how you are going to keep going when this passes. In other words, some level of long-term planning and/or advance planning is usually a good thing.

2) Variety is the spice of life: During the marathon, I read two novels (P.N.Elrod’s “Lifeblood” and Tess Gerritsen’s “The Apprentice” ) that weren’t, strictly speaking, horror novels. Sure, both of them contained elements from the horror genre, but they were closer to the detective genre than the horror genre. This was due to more than just running out of traditional horror novels to review. I needed a break from horror fiction.

Reading nothing but horror fiction isn’t as awesome as it may initially seem. In short, if you just read horror fiction then it becomes a little bit more predictable and mundane after a while. This means that scenes of horror don’t really have quite the same dramatic impact that they might do if you read novels from other genres in between each horror novel.

This, by the way, is also important if you’re planning on writing any horror fiction. Many of the best horror novels I read during the marathon also took inspiration from other genres. Whether it is the dystopian sci-fi elements in S.L.Grey’s “The Mall“, the disaster movie-style elements in James Herbert’s “The Rats“, the thriller novel elements in S.D.Perry’s “Resident Evil: City Of The Dead” etc… the best horror fiction often takes inspiration from outside of the horror genre.

3) Modern vs. old horror fiction: Although I focused on 1970s-90s classics fairly heavily during the marathon, I also read about three modern horror novels too. Still, a focus on the classics also made me think more about the modern horror novels that I’d read in the months before the marathon. It reminded me of how the two types of horror fiction differ from each other.

And, yes, horror novels are still being written these days. They’re usually scarier too. This is mostly because, whilst 1970s-90s horror novels do include multiple types of horror, there often tends to be more of a focus on less scary things like monster horrror and gory horror. On the other hand, modern horror novels will often place more emphasis on scarier things like atmosphere, psychological horror, suspense etc…

A good example from the marathon is probably Adam Nevill’s 2011 novel “The Ritual“. This is a novel about four hikers who are trapped in an abandoned forest and hunted by something. Yet, the novel is much scarier than a 1980s monster novel for the simple reason that there is a lot of focus on things like suspense, the fraying sanity of the hikers and atmospheric descriptions of the scary forest.

So, yes, although the classics are still awesome, don’t overlook modern horror fiction. It’s usually a lot more scary than you might think.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂