Review: “Warhol’s Prophecy” By Shaun Hutson (Novel)

Well, I wasn’t feeling enthusiastic about reading, so I needed to find a novel that I knew that I’d read. And, since it has been about a month or so since my last Shaun Hutson novel review, I rifled through my book piles for a one of them and ended up turning up a copy of Hutson’s 1999 horror novel (Sorry, “dark urban thriller”. Gotta love 1990s publishing jargon) “Warhol’s Prophecy” that I must have bought sometime during the early-mid 2000s, but never actually got round to reading at the time.

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

This is the 2000 Pan Books (UK) paperback edition of “Warhol’s Prophecy” that I read.

The novel begins with a description of one of the Manson murders in 1960s America. Then we flash forwards to the 1990s and see a woman called Hailey Gibson in a shopping centre near London. Her daughter, Becky, has just gone missing and she is desperately trying to find her. After frantically searching, she finds a member of staff and gets them to put out an announcement on the P.A. Several minutes later, a man called Adam Walker finds Becky and returns her to Hailey.

We then see another description of a notorious real murder from the 1960s before the novel returns to the 1990s. A prisoner at Wandsworth prison called David Layton is due to be released in a matter of weeks, but he’s been asked by a gang boss to brutally wound another prisoner in retaliation for some slight or another. Since refusal will mean death and because Layton hopes that this might result in favours down the line, he begins planning the attack with the help of his cellmate.

When Hailey and Becky get home from the shopping centre, Hailey’s husband Rob finds out about Becky getting lost and the couple argue. Again. Ever since Rob’s recently-ended affair with his secretary, arguments have been a lot more common in the Gibson household. So, when Hailey happens to meet Adam again a little while later, she’s eager to talk to someone friendly…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is probably one of the creepiest and most disturbing Shaun Hutson novels I’ve read. But, despite some very effective scenes of horror and scarily prescient social satire, the novel takes quite quite a while to really get started and, at times, reads more like a “gritty” soap opera-style drama than a horror novel. Yes, I can understand some of the creative reasons for this (eg: characterisation, suspense etc…) but expect a more slow-paced and small-scale experience than you’ll typically find in a Hutson novel. Even so, when this novel is at it’s best, it is genuinely terrifying.

So, I should probably start by talking about the novel’s well-crafted horror elements. It contains a genuinely chilling blend of psychological horror, slow-building suspenseful horror, cruel horror, creepy characters, a grim atmosphere, gory horror and – most disturbing of all – descriptions of real historical murders and serial killings.

Although these real historical crimes are written about in the extremely graphic and unflinching way that you’d expect in a Hutson novel, they do actually have a level of plot-relevance and artistic justification that consists of more than just “shock value”. Even so, they tend to appear more often during the otherwise less eventful early parts of the novel and, given that one of the crimes described (the murder of Gianni Versace) happened a mere two years before the novel was first published, the description of it may have possibly been a bit “too soon” when the novel was first published.

But, despite this, I’d argue that the inclusion of these extremely disturbing historical scenes is artistically justified due to their connection to the novel’s main themes. The novel’s title is a reference to Andy Warhol’s famous quote about everyone getting fifteen minutes of fame, and Hutson uses this as way to analyse and satirise how the media sensationalises and over-emphasises crimes. How extensive press coverage of atrocious acts not only lends the perpetrators a level of fame that they don’t deserve but also encourages other criminals too. And, given that mass shootings and/or terrorist attacks have become a depressingly frequent part of the news during the past few years, this late 1990s horror novel feels chillingly prescient in a lot of ways.

Plus, by contrasting the grim and almost unreadably horrible reality of these disgusting crimes with both “dramatic” media quotes from the killers and several characters’ fascination with “true crime” books, Hutson makes an utterly terrifying point about how popular culture has a warped view of the very worst criminals. How they are sometimes almost treated like celebrities in the popular imagination, when they should just be forgotten about.

All of this stuff is also part of the novel’s bitter satire and criticisms of fame itself which, in this era of social media, feels both chillingly prescient and yet very dated (after all, on the internet, almost everyone is mildly “famous” these days). So, as shocking, “tasteless” and/or extremely repulsive as parts of this novel may seem, these scenes are there to make a very valid moral criticism of society.

As for all of the novel’s other horror elements, they are also chillingly effective. Unlike a lot of Hutson’s classic novels from the 1980s, this novel focuses slightly less on gory horror (though there are still some very grisly moments) and instead focuses more on gradually building suspense, creating a chillingly bleak atmosphere and gradually ramping up the tension.

Since this novel was published during that awkward time in the 1990s when many publishers often wouldn’t print new horror novels unless they were gritty, realistic “psychological thrillers”, the tone and atmosphere of this novel is a lot more “realistic” and down-to-earth than Hutson’s classic fiction. Whilst this focus on small-scale drama and realism serves to intensify the horror, it also means that this is often a slightly slower and less “over-the-top” story than you’d usually expect from Shaun Hutson.

The novel’s thriller elements are also quite well-handled and take heavy influence from both the detective genre and hardboiled fiction. In short, there are several characters with motives for some of the horrific acts that happen to the main characters and you’ll probably be guessing who is responsible right up until their identity is revealed. Not only does this allow for a few dramatic plot twists but, like in classic hardboiled crime fiction (eg: Chandler, Hammett etc..), a complicated web of crime, secret affairs etc… also helps to add complexity and unpredictability to the plot too.

In terms of the characters, they are both brilliant and terrible. In short, the characters here feel like very realistic people with realistic flaws, motivations, personalities and thoughts. The novel also devotes a good amount of time to showing the main characters’ everyday lives, allowing us to build a connection with them. So far, so good. However, one of the flaws with this is that the main characters spend so much time arguing with each other that parts of the novel can feel more like a soap opera than a horror novel. Likewise, this focus on the main characters’ ordinary lives also means that this novel can feel more slow-paced than a typical Hutson novel too.

As for the writing, this novel is fairly good. As you’d expect from a Shaun Hutson novel, it is written in a fairly “matter of fact” way that both adds gritty realism to the story whilst also allowing the narration itself to move at a reasonably fast pace (even if the events of the story don’t always do so). Although this novel contains a few of Hutson’s famous words and catchphrases (eg: “orbs”, “scapula”, “liquescence” etc…), one repetitive element that got a bit annoying was the fact that he over-uses the word “rasped” when describing speech in later parts of the book.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is very much a mixed bag. At a hefty 541-3 pages in length, it does feel a little too long at times. Even so, the narration moves at a fast enough pace to stop things from dragging too much. This novel also focuses a lot more on slow-building suspense and drama than you might expect. Although this means that the later parts of the story feel nail-bitingly tense, intensely horrifying and extremely gripping by contrast, expect the early-mid parts of the book to be a bit of a slog at times. Still, the ending of this story is one of the most dramatic I’ve seen in a Hutson novel since “Relics” – with an expertly-handled mixture of irony, tragedy, shocking horror, dark humour and poetic justice that might catch you by surprise.

As for how well this twenty-one year old novel has aged, it has aged better than I’d expected. Whilst the story very clearly takes place in a grittily “realistic” version of the mid-late 1990s, a lot of the novel’s themes feel eerily ahead of their time. Although the novel’s “inspiration” for some shocking later parts of the story is clearly stated to be crimes that took place in 1980s and 1990s Britain, this horrific part of the story feels terrifyingly prescient and relevant when read these days. Perhaps more so than modern novels and films, given that modern standards and sensibilities probably wouldn’t allow writers these days to handle such topics in the unflinchingly stark way that they are handled here. Likewise, thanks to all of the novel’s comments about society, the dedication to the timeless satirist Bill Hicks at the beginning of the book isn’t just there for show 🙂

All in all, this is a better novel than I’d originally thought it to be. Yes, it can occasionally seem a bit slow-paced and the constant arguments can make the plot feel more like a soap opera at times, but not only is it a horror novel that is extremely disturbing on more levels than you might expect, but it is also an expertly-written, eerily prescient and utterly chilling piece of satire that has much more artistic merit than it might initially appear to have. If you want a satire of the worst parts of the modern world, written at a time when satirists had more freedom to be unflinchingly cynical, then read this book.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: “All Tomorrow’s Parties” By William Gibson (Novel)

Well, after enjoying the first two novels in William Gibson’s “Bridge” trilogy (Virtual Light” and “Idoru) several months ago, I’ve been meaning to read the third one – “All Tomorrow’s Parties” (1999) for a while.

After all, I ended up finding the entire trilogy in various second-hand bookshops in Brighton and Aberystwyth during the late 2000s and didn’t get round to reading them back then (despite enjoying Gibson’s “Sprawl” trilogy at the time). So, this review has been a long time coming.

Although “All Tomorrow’s Parties” can theoretically be read as a stand-alone novel (thanks to several recaps), I wouldn’t recommend starting with it. Some parts of this novel won’t fully make sense and you’ll miss out on some of the story’s depth unless you’ve read both “Virtual Light” and “Idoru” beforehand. So, unlike those two books (which can be read as stand-alones), this one should be read in the correct order.

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

This is the 2000 Penguin (UK) paperback edition of “All Tomorrow’s Parties” that I read.

Set in the near future, the novel begins with a sociologist called Yamazaki descending into an underground train station and finding an elaborate homeless encampment made from cardboard boxes. He is there to meet a chemically-enhanced data analyst called Laney, who lives in the backroom of a model-painter’s studio and is suffering both a respiratory infection and the obsessive side-effects of the experimental drugs he was dosed with during his childhood. Laney has called for Yamazaki because he needs to get in touch with their mutual friend Rydell and send him to San Francisco because something important is going to happen.

Rydell is now working as a security guard for a convenience store called the Lucky Dragon when he gets the call. And, after getting fired, he takes a car-share to San Francisco with an alcoholic country musician called Buell Creedmore. Meanwhile, in San Francisco, a heavily-armed and nameless man decides to take a cab towards the autonomous city-state that lives on the city’s bridge.

A mute boy called Silencio lives on the bridge with his two older criminal friends, Raton and Playboy. When they go out for the evening, both of Silencio’s friends make the foolish mistake of trying to rob the nameless man. It does not end well for either of them.

Meanwhile, Chevette is now house-sitting in a beach-side villa with her documentary-maker friend Tessa and several media students. However, after one of Tessa’s cameras spots a car belonging to Chevette’s violent ex-boyfriend Carson, both of them decide to sneak away to San Francisco before he can find them. Needless to say, they find their way to the bridge too…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, although it takes a while to really get started, it is a really good conclusion to the trilogy. In a lot of ways, this novel is more like a mixture of “Virtual Light” and “Idoru” than it’s own unique thing in the way that those novels were.

This novel is probably closer in atmosphere and tone to “Virtual Light” – with a bit more grittiness, lots of scenes set on the bridge and a more thriller-style plot. But, several familiar characters from “Idoru” show up here and there are also a few cool cyberpunk moments too (including another glimpse or two of the Walled City). But, although it is really awesome to see more “Virtual Light”, I was a little surprised that this novel didn’t really have it’s own different personality in the way the previous two books did.

As for the novel’s sci-fi elements, they carry over from the previous two books too – with the novel being set in a gritty, cyberpunk-influenced near future version of America. Since the novel is focused on the ramshackle free city on the bridge, there is slightly more of a focus on interesting antiques and makeshift stuff than on science fiction. Even so, the novel still includes it’s fair share of futuristic gadgets/weapons, holograms, nanotech, a few cyberspace-based scenes and a few parts that are just as surprisingly ahead of their time as “Idoru” is.

In the scenes set in Chevette and Tessa’s house, the media students are obsessed with recording their lives in a surprisingly similar way to modern social media, selfies etc… Not to mention that there’s also a segment about online privacy, where Chevette realises that her evil ex-boyfriend tracked her down because she appeared in a party photo that was posted online. Plus, Tessa also uses something very similar to a modern camera drone during several parts of the story too.

Although “life logging” was a niche tech pursuit in 1999, the fact that this novel shows such things in pretty much the same mundane, ordinary way that they exist in 2020 is truly mind-blowing! Even so, this novel has less of these “Wow! Is this really from the 1990s?” moments than “Idoru” does. Even so, it’s still amazing to see them here 🙂

Thematically, this is a novel about history and anarchy. Not only is there a lot of focus on antiques and on how the past affects the present, but the central conflict of the story revolves around the status of the bridge itself. Like the virtual recreation of Kowloon Walled City that appears in this series, the bridge is a free anarchist mini-state that actually functions reasonably well as a society – however, outside forces want to commercialise, standardise etc… for their own ends. When read today, it is almost impossible not to see this as a metaphor for the internet and how it went from a free, utopian, home-made thing to being the tightly-regulated commercial and social thing it is today. And, again, this novel was published in 1999!

It’s also a bit of a novel about gentrification, hipsterism etc.. too, with a sub-plot about Tessa wanting to make a documentary about the bridge because she considers it to be an “interstitial society” or something like that. Her distanced academic curiosity about this “edgy” place is expertly contrasted with lots of scenes showing people who actually live on the bridge and just see it as ordinary.

In terms of the novel’s thriller elements, they’re reasonably good too. Although you should expect more of a traditional-style thriller than an ultra-fast paced one, this novel does a really good job of gradually building suspense and adding intriguingly mysterious things to it’s intricately-planned plot.

Plus, although it’s slightly less of an action-thriller story than “Virtual Light”, there are certainly a few dramatic fight scenes here – that manage to blend futuristic tech/weapons with gritty realism (eg: every injury, death etc.. has lingering consequences) in a way that really helps to add extra suspense and intensity to these moments. Still, this novel’s thriller elements are probably slightly more focused on mysterious large-scale drama and conflict than on smaller-scale fight scenes.

As for the characters, they’re as good as ever. If you’ve read the previous two books, then there will be a lot of familiar faces here 🙂 Still, the novel manages to introduce a few interesting new characters who have their own story arcs, backstories, flaws, quirks personalities etc.. Whether it is Silencio, Tessa, an antique dealer called Fontaine, Buell Creedmore, a businessman called Harwood or the mysterious armed man, all of the new characters feel like reasonably realistic people.

In terms of the writing, it is a William Gibson novel 🙂 In other words, the novel’s third-person narration is written in a way that manages to be simultaneously “matter of fact” and filled with atmospheric and poetic descriptions. It is hardboiled literary fiction or literary hardboiled fiction. It is simultaneously fast-paced and slow-paced, both complex and simple at the same time. It is atmospheric and unique. Yes, Gibson’s writing style will probably take you a while to get used to if you haven’t read any of his books before, but it is well worth doing so 🙂

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is reasonably good. At a fairly efficient 277 pages in length, it never really feels like there is a wasted page here 🙂 Likewise, although this novel is probably fairly slow-paced by modern standards and the early parts feel a little unfocused, everything comes together in a really brilliant way as the story progresses. Not only does the novel’s suspense and drama gradually ramp up as the story progresses, but the “slow paced” aspects of the novel are mitigated with several mini-cliffhangers, mysterious events, shorter chapters, atmospheric moments and Gibson’s distinctive writing style 🙂

As for how this twenty-one year old novel has aged, it has aged reasonably well. Yes, there are a few slightly dated and/or “politically incorrect” moments, but the story’s atmospheric near-future setting still feels reasonably convincing, the plot is still compelling and the characters are still interesting. Likewise, although this novel isn’t quite as ahead of it’s time as “Idoru” was, there are at least a couple of “modern” moments that will make you wonder how the hell someone thought of them in 1999.

All in all, this is a really good conclusion to the “Bridge” trilogy 🙂 Yes, the story takes a while to get started and it is more like a mixture of the previous two novels than it’s own unique thing but, given how good those two books were, this is hardly a bad thing 🙂 So, if you enjoyed “Virtual Light” and/or “Idoru”, then this novel is well worth reading.

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

Review: “Survivor” By Chuck Palahniuk (Novel)

Well, I thought that I’d take a look at a book that I’ve been meaning to read for over a decade and a half. I am, of course, talking about Chuck Palahniuk’s 1999 novel “Survivor”. Back when I was about fifteen or so, I ended up reading Palahniuk’s “Fight Club” (after seeing the movie on TV) and found a copy of “Survivor” sometime later in a charity shop, possibly in Fareham.

From the small pencil marks my younger self used to leave in books as a back-up in case my bookmark fell out, I apparently read about 25 pages of it back then but abandoned it for some reason. So, about a decade and a half later, I finally decided to actually finish reading this book.

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

This is the 2000 Vintage (UK) paperback edition of “Survivor” that I read.

The novel begins with a drunken man called Tender Branson in the cockpit of a jumbo jet, telling his life story to the flight recorder. It quickly transpires that he is the only person on the plane, having hijacked it some time earlier. It will run out of fuel in a few hours and crash into the Australian outback. Tender knows this and he doesn’t care. The only thing that matters to him is leaving some record of the bizarre and utterly messed-up chain of events that led to him being here….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a hilarious dark comedy and a bleakly cynical satire that is vaguely reminiscent of Palahniuk’s “Fight Club” whilst also very much being it’s own thing too. It is a fascinating remnant of a time when literature was expected to be shocking, irreverent, edgy, intelligent and/or confrontational. Back when, if you saw the “Vintage” logo on a book, you knew it was going to be memorable. Yes, this novel takes a little while to really become compelling and it certainly isn’t for the easily shocked or offended, but it’s one of the funniest and most unique literary novels I’ve read in quite a while.

So, I should probably start by talking about the novel’s comedy elements. In addition to lots of hilariously irreverent dark comedy, this novel contains a rather amusing mixture of character-based humour, cynical comments, absurd situations, sexual humour, parody, farce, irony, contrast, slapstick humour, taboo-based humour etc.. Although this novel will probably only have you actually laughing out loud during a few well-placed moments, it is very clearly written with its tongue firmly in it’s cheek. Seriously, I love how fearlessly irreverent this novel is.

Which brings me on the the novel’s satirical elements. This novel is an unflinchingly harsh satire of fame, psychology, religion, conformism and capitalism. Although some of the satire revolves around popular obsessions of the 1990s (eg: cults, televangelists and pre-social media fame) and I can’t imagine any writer writing the opening scene post-9/11, a lot of the satire is surprisingly timeless.

In addition to scenes that somehow reach forward in time to criticise the “misery memoir” trend of the 2000s or to make prescient comments about how everyone in the future will be thinking the same thing (eg: social media etc…), a lot of the novel’s satire focuses on general topics that will probably never get old – such as the corrupt/pathetic lives of the ultra-rich, government incompetence, the hollowness of fame, how religion can be used to exploit people etc..

And, like any good satire, it respects the reader’s intelligence. At least a few of the novel’s most interesting thematic and satirical elements aren’t explicitly spelled out to the reader (such as the religious significance of Tender Branson’s age) and it is up to you to actually think when reading this book 🙂 So, this is probably a book that has some re-readability and a few layers that you will probably miss upon a first reading.

Plus, although I’d hesitate to call this novel a “thriller”, it certainly contains a few interesting elements from the thriller genre that help to keep things compelling. These mostly consist of mystery and suspense, such as the story’s opening segment, a mysterious killer that is following the main character or some of the novel’s later fast-paced segments.

In terms of the characters, this novel is classic Palahniuk. Tender Branson is a cynical world-weary nihilist, who also has a sociopathic streak about a mile wide (eg: he sets up a fake crisis hotline for his own sadistic amusement, steals fake flowers from cemeteries etc…). But the story adds a bit more depth and nuance to him thanks to his backstory, his many failings, the limits of his education/knowledge about the world and the presence of another character called Fertility who can somehow see into the future. Yet, far from making Fertility rich or happy, these visions of the future just cause trouble, despair and a crushing feeling of ennui – with the only “happiness” to be found in messing around at disaster sites and the fact that Tender is so weird that he is almost unpredictable.

In terms of the writing, it is also classic Palahniuk too 🙂 The novel’s first-person narration is written in a fairly informal, conversational and “matter of fact” way, which not only adds a lot of extra personality to the narrator but – thanks to the “telling his life story” premise – allows for a few interesting literary techniques too. These include fourth-wall breaking asides, the fact that Tender will often give the reader random cleaning tips or Bible verses and the way that the novel’s pages are numbered in reverse to reflect the dwindling time he has left to live. Although these techniques add a bit of extra uniqueness and interest to the novel, they can get in the way of the actual story at times. So, this novel can sometimes be slower-paced than you might expect.

As for length and pacing, this novel is a bit of a mixed bag. At an efficient 289 pages, it makes me miss the days when intelligent novels could be short. The novel’s pacing is a bit uneven though – with the beginning and later parts of the novel being utterly gripping, fast-paced and compelling – but the rest of the novel being slower and slightly less compelling. Yes, there are some valid narrative reasons for this (since it reflects the crushing boredom of Tender’s job, the loneliness of his life etc…) but don’t let the “fast-paced” writing style fool you into thinking that this novel will be a high-speed thriller.

As for how this twenty-one year old novel has aged, it wouldn’t be written today. It was written in an age, where thanks to the extra privacy afforded by the lack of social media and the fact that both readers and literary critics wanted to be challenged, writers had more creative freedom than they do today. It was also written about a world that no longer really exists, with different standards, obsessions and expectations to our own. Yet, despite all of this, the novel’s extremely dark comedy and unremittingly cynical and irreverent satire still feel both enjoyably shocking and so very refreshing when read today. In short, this novel is simultaneously timeless and slightly old in the way that a Bill Hicks DVD is.

All in all, there isn’t really anything quite like this novel. It’ll either make you laugh, shudder and think, or it will shock and offend you. Or both. Yes, the pacing is a bit uneven and it probably isn’t quite as good as “Fight Club” but if you want hilariously transgressive dark comedy, grim satire, 1990s edginess, moments that will make you think and/or a story that you won’t forget for a while, then this one is probably worth taking a look at. It has artistic merit and also comes from an age when literary culture was a bit more fearless than it is now 🙂

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

Review: “Resident Evil: City Of The Dead” By S. D. Perry (Novel)

Well, for the next novel in this month’s horror marathon, I thought that I’d take a look at a zombie novel that I’ve been meaning to re-read for ages. I am, of course, talking about S.D. Perry’s 1999 novel “Resident Evil: City Of The Dead”.

I can’t remember if I played the PC port of the original “Resident Evil 2” videogame before or after first reading this book during my early-mid teens. But, the original “Resident Evil 2” holds a special place in my heart for so many reasons (amongst other things, magazine articles about it were my first introduction to the zombie genre). So, I’ve been meaning to re-read this novel for a long time.

But I should probably point out that, addition to being a novelisation of the original “Resident Evil 2” videogame, this novel is also a sequel to Perry’s “Resident Evil: The Umbrella Conspiracy” and “Resident Evil: Caliban Cove“. Although it is possible to read most of this novel as a stand-alone book, a few of the extra scenes (not found in the game) will make a lot more sense if you’ve read Perry’s previous two books first.

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

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

The novel begins with a collection of local newspaper articles from 1998, talking about police politics and mysterious murders in the US city of Racoon City. The novel then includes a brief (non-canonical) scene showing Jill Valentine returning to her apartment to pick up some stuff, before joining the surviving S.T.A.R.S team members as they prepare to flee to Europe.

The novel then begins the story of “Resident Evil 2”. A rookie cop called Leon Kennedy is running late for work after misjudging the traffic in New York. It is his first day on the force in Racoon City and he wants to make a good impression on Chief Irons. But, as he approaches the city, he notices that the streets are unusually deserted. Not long after that, he makes a grisly discovery.

Meanwhile, Claire Redfield, is riding her motorbike to Racoon City after not hearing from her brother Chris in several weeks. When she arrives in town, she decides to stop off in a local all-night diner, only to find that the cook has turned into a zombie and started devouring another member of staff.

As more zombies lurch towards her, Claire flees the restaurant and runs into Leon. Needless to say, both of them need to find some way to survive in this city of the dead….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a really compelling zombie thriller novel that also does some clever stuff with the source material too. However, since it is a thriller, it doesn’t stand up to re-reading as much as I’d hoped (since the suspense works less well if you already know what will happen). Even so, it’s still a fast-paced, action-packed thrill ride of a story that fans of the zombie genre and/or “Resident Evil” will enjoy 🙂

In terms of the novel’s horror elements, they mostly consist of lots of well-written gory horror, some body horror/monster horror, some suspenseful horror and a bit of character-based horror. Whilst this novel isn’t really that frightening, it’s considerably gorier than the original videogame and is a bit like a fast-paced splatterpunk novel (such as Shaun Hutson’s “Erebus) in some ways 🙂

Still, as mentioned earlier, this novel is more of a thriller than a horror novel. And, in this regard, it works really well. Not only is there lots of suspense, multiple plot threads (with mini-cliffhangers), a fast-paced writing style and lots of dramatic fight scenes, but the novel also manages to keep some of the survival horror elements of the original games. In other words, the characters are sometimes low on ammo and/or wounded in some way or another.

In terms of how well it adapts the original “Resident Evil 2”, this novel does a really good job 🙂 The novel follows Leon’s “A” scenario and Claire’s “B” scenario, interweaving both storylines absolutely perfectly. Yes, there are a few small changes (eg: Leon has the magnum from the start of the story, the gun shop guy is already dead when Leon finds him etc…) but the novel manages to cram pretty much every major moment of the game’s story into one book. Plus, some extra stuff too.

In addition to adding a lot of extra characterisation to both the main characters and a few of the background characters (eg: Ada, Sherry, Annette, Chief Irons etc…), the novel also includes a few extra scenes and references that link in with the continuity of Perry’s novel series. Whilst the scene involving Jill Valentine has become non-canonical ever since “Resident Evil 3” was released, these extra scenes are a cool bonus for people who have read the previous two books. However, they may be a little bit confusing if you haven’t.

In terms of the writing, it’s really good. As you would expect, this novel’s third-person narration is mostly written in the kind of informal, fast-paced, “matter of fact” way that you’d expect from a gripping action-thriller novel. But, in a nod to the source material’s horror elements, there is also more formal/descriptive narration during some moments of horror too 🙂

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. At 338 pages, it might seem a little long at first – but, considering that it is cramming two versions of the same game (eg: Leon and Claire’s campaigns) into just one novel, it is relatively short 🙂 Likewise, as I’ve mentioned before, this novel is a thriller novel, so expect a reasonably fast-paced story with some slightly slower suspenseful moments too. Surprisingly, this works really well, considering how slow-paced the original videogame is.

As for how this twenty year old novel has aged, it has aged really well. Although the story itself will probably evoke lots of 1990s/early 2000s nostalgia (and there isn’t a smartphone in sight 🙂 ), it is the kind of adaptation that could almost have been written today. It also has a level of gruesomeness that reminded me of the preview footage I’ve seen of the modern remake of “Resident Evil 2” (yes, I write these reviews quite far in advance.)

All in all, whilst the novel’s thriller elements work better when you read this novel for the very first time, it is still a really great zombie thriller novel 🙂 Not only does it cram the whole of “Resident Evil 2” into just one book, but it also adds lots of extra stuff and is also more of an intense experience (eg: pacing, horror etc..) than the original videogame is too 🙂 Even so, you need to read Perry’s previous two “Resident Evil” books to get the most out of this one.

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

Review: “Frost Bitten” (WAD For “Doom II”/ “Final Doom”/ “MBF Engine” [?]/ “ZDoom”)

Well, since I’m still reading the next novel that I plan to review (a Lovecraftian “Scooby Doo” parody called “Meddling Kids” By Edgar Cantero), I thought that I’d take a look at a “Doom II”/”Final Doom” WAD. After all, it has been a little under a month since my last WAD review and, well, tradition is tradition.

So, after clicking the “Random File” button on the /idgames Archive a few times, I ended up with a level from 1999 called “Frost Bitten“.

Although this WAD was apparently designed for a source port I’d never even heard of before called “MBF Engine”, it was mostly functional with the “ZDoom” source port that I usually use. However, one feature mentioned in the readme file (friendly monsters) didn’t work with ZDoom.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Frost Bitten”:

“Frost Bitten” is a single-level WAD that also includes some new textures and features. It’s a short to medium-length level with some cool lighting, cool area design and a reasonably good variety of gameplay styles too.

Seriously, the lighting here is really awesome 🙂

As for the level design, the level is non-linear enough to be interesting but it flows really well enough that you won’t really get lost. The level design is also used to add challenge to the level in a few interesting ways, some of which are cool and some of which are a little bit cheap.

On the plus side, the level features this wonderfully tense segment where you have to explore a dark and claustrophobic air vent maze (which doesn’t show up on the in-game map) that is patrolled by spectres. Since you can usually hear the monsters, but can’t see them, and since you’ll probably also have relatively limited health and weapons, this segment of the level is surprisingly suspenseful and even borders on scary at times 🙂

Yes, this part of the level is actually scary 🙂

On the downside, there are a couple of cheap moments. Whether it is a (relatively) close-quarters Cyberdemon fight or a segment where you have to jump into a fast-flowing stream of blue radioactive waste and then stop moving at exactly the right moment to avoid certain death (and, yes, it’ll require a bit of trial and error), the level does occasionally include some cheap difficulty.

In terms of the general difficulty of the level, it’s probably moderately challenging at the very most. Experienced players won’t have too much trouble with this level and, even the Cyberdemon fight that I mentioned isn’t exactly unfair. You’re given enough ammo and just enough cover, but expect a relatively long fight with lots of trial and error.

If you’re an experienced player, then this fight isn’t exactly difficult. But, it is kind of time-consuming….

The new textures are reasonably good and they mostly consist of small signs, vending machine logos etc.. in addition to some rather cool snowy outdoor areas too. The best one of these is probably at the beginning of the level, where there is actually animated “snow” that hangs in the air. Although the animation is relatively basic, it still looks really cool and I wish that it had been used in the other wintery parts of the level.

Seriously, why wasn’t this in the later parts of the level too?

As mentioned earlier, I couldn’t get the “friendly monsters” feature to work with the source port I used – but some of the other features still worked. These mostly include things like underwater areas, small air vents and raised passageways which the Doomguy will automatically crouch into or jump onto when you walk up to them etc… Although this stuff might not sound that impressive these days, it was probably quite a technical achievement in 1999.

All in all, this is a fairly cool level 🙂 Yes, it does have a few annoying or frustrating moments, but if you want a reasonably interesting short-medium length level that includes the kind of features you don’t see that often in 1990s Doom WADs, then this one might be worth taking a look at.

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

Review: “Resident Evil 3” (PC Version) (Retro Computer Game)

Well, because I’m still reading the next novel I plan to review (“Transition” by Iain Banks) and because I had a bit more time whilst reading another novel, I thought that I’d take the chance to replay an old favourite of mine 🙂

I am, of course, talking about Capcom’s 1999 survival horror classic “Resident Evil 3” (or, more accurately, the PC port of it from 2000). After all, I’ve reviewed the film adaptation of this game and the novelisation of the film (but I haven’t got round to re-reading S.D. Perry’s novelisation of the game yet). So, I’m kind of surprised that I haven’t reviewed the actual game itself yet.

This is a game which I first played on the Playstation during the early-mid 2000s and then replayed it at least once when I found a version of it that ran on the PC (during the late 2000s, if I remember rightly). So, I thought that I’d replay it yet again – albeit in “easy mode”, mostly for time reasons.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Resident Evil 3”. Needless to say, this review may contain some (unrealistic) GRUESOME IMAGES.

*Sigh* I miss the days of budget games, second-hand game shops and when the BBFC was hilariously over-zealous about displaying age certificates on games.

The events of “Resident Evil 3” take place during the same time period as the events of “Resident Evil 2“. It is the late 1990s and the American city of Racoon City has been infected by a zombie virus, leaving the streets crawling with the undead.

Jill Valentine, star of the first “Resident Evil” game, must explore, puzzle and fight her way through the city and reach safety. Not only that, there’s also a giant mutant called “Nemesis” chasing her too.

And, yes, he’s the kind of gnarly heavy metal monster you’d expect to see on an Iron Maiden album cover.

One of the first things that I will say about “Resident Evil 3” is that, whilst I should be cynical about it, I absolutely adore this game 🙂 Even though I’m more nostalgic about “Resident Evil 2”, I’ve probably replayed this game more times than any other horror game. It’s just the right mixture of challenging, spectacular and fun. This is probably because it was designed for both die-hard fans of the series and for people who are new to the series.

On the one hand, things like the slightly more action-packed gameplay, the “easy” difficulty option (on the PC at least) and the game’s (ridiculously silly) costume design were designed to appeal to the “mainstream” and/or “casual” gamers of the late 1990s/early 2000s. But, for fans of the series, the game contains numerous awesome call-backs and references to previous games in the franchise – with the core gameplay not being too different either.

Not only does Brad Vickers have a cameo in this game, but you also get to explore part of the police station from “Resident Evil 2” too 🙂

Surprisingly, this dual focus actually works really well and it turns the game into it’s own distinctive thing. But, I should probably start by talking about the gameplay.

Whilst the exploration, puzzle and combat gameplay is fairly similar to the previous two games and is something of an acquired taste (eg: modern gamers might take a while to get used to the movement/combat controls, the animation that plays every time you walk through a door, the fixed camera angles, the limited inventory space and the obtuse puzzles), there are numerous cool additions which help to give the game more depth and drama.

Whether it is the much wider range of locations to explore, the fact that there’s now a “dodge” move (and an auto-aim feature), the inclusion of exploding barrels or the fact that this game contains refreshingly limited early versions of over-used modern things like quick-time events and a crafting system, this game feels a little bit more action-packed and “cinematic” than the first two games in the series. Yet, unlike what I’ve heard about some of the later sequels, this game doesn’t lose it’s identity and turn into a generic mindless action-fest either.

Yes, the only “quick time events” in this game are a few multiple choice questions 🙂

Likewise, the only “crafting” here is a fairly basic gunpowder-mixing system 🙂

This is helped a lot by the inclusion of difficulty settings (in the PC version at least) – if you play on “hard mode”, then the game is more of a traditional survival horror game, with fairly limited ammunition, limited saves and lots of other things that really help to ramp up the suspense and tension. Yes, the auto-aim makes the game a bit easier than previous instalments, but it’s still reasonably similar.

If you play on “easy mode”, then you get unlimited saves (but you still have to use fixed save points) and lots of extra weaponry – which makes the game a bit more relaxing, action-packed and “casual”. So, you can choose what type of game you want it to be – which is really cool.

On “hard” difficulty, this game is a tense, challenging old-school survival horror game.

But, on “easy” difficulty, it’s more of a wonderfully badass action-horror game 🙂 [and, yes, the exploding barrels are also there in “hard” difficulty too]

Still, one change I’m a little ambivalent about is the lack of character selection. Yes, there are technically two playable characters (eg: Jill and Carlos) – but the game switches between them automatically at certain points in the story. In other words, you don’t get two separate campaigns in the way that you did in the previous two games. On the one hand, this means you only get half a game. On the other hand, it does make the story a little bit more streamlined and varied.

As for the graphics and visual design, they are awesome 🙂 Yes, even with the PC version’s enhanced graphics, the game’s 3D models and CGI cutscenes still look pretty dated. However, this game has aged really well visually thanks to all of the really awesome pre-rendered backgrounds, dramatic camera angles and dramatic lighting. Seriously, I love old-school pre-rendered backgrounds and this game is an absolute work of art 🙂

Seriously, the background here could almost be something out of “Blade Runner” 🙂

And just check out the awesome lighting here 🙂 Seriously, people knew how to use lighting properly during the 1990s 🙂

And just look at all of the background detail here 🙂

In terms of the game’s horror elements, whilst you shouldn’t expect something genuinely scary (unlike, say, “Silent Hill 3), this game is a pretty decent horror game.

In addition to all of the suspense that things like the limited inventory, saves and/or camera angles can provoke – this game also uses jump scares slightly more frequently and effectively than the previous two games in the franchise usually do.

Boo!!! With the exception of the “Dog” scene from the first game, this game has some of the best jump scares in the old “Resident Evil” games 🙂

Other horror elements include the creepily unwelcome return of the series’ giant spider monsters too. Likewise, you can also find lots of ominous in-game documents describing the spread of the zombie virus. Plus, of course, there’s also a really awesome scene where some zombies quite literally rise from the grave….

This is so cool 🙂

In terms of the writing and the characters, they’re “so bad that they’re good”. Whether it’s the series’ traditional hilariously awful voice-acting, the gloriously wooden script, the minimalist characterisation/story or the ridiculously silly costume design….

Note how these experienced, well-trained zombie fighters wear sensible protective clothing like sleeveless vests, tube tops and mini skirts.

…. This game is utterly hilarious. But, this is part of the charm of the series. It was the 1990s, a more laid-back age when “dramatic” games could be hilariously silly. When games were still “low culture” in the same way that old pulp novels, horror comics, B-movies etc.. were.

Plus, in addition to having better 3D models, the ability to skip cutscenes/ door animations and the inclusion of more difficulty options, one interesting feature of the PC version of the game is that the unlockable costume selection option in the Playstation version is unlocked by default (and also now contains something like eight different options too).

And, yes, you can play as the “Resident Evil 1” version of Jill too.

In terms of the game’s music, it is the kind of dramatic, suspenseful, spectacular orchestral music that you’d expect from a classic “Resident Evil” game. In other words, it is absolutely epic 🙂

All in all, whilst this game is a bit of an acquired taste, it is a hell of a lot of fun 🙂 If you miss classic survival horror games, if you want a gloriously cheesy “B-movie” of a game, if you want to wander the streets of a post-apocalyptic city or if you just miss the creativity of the 1990s, then this game is well worth playing 🙂 If you want a tense survival horror game, play it on “hard” difficulty. If you want a fun, slightly quicker and gloriously silly action game, play it on “easy”.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, then I’d personally give it a five 🙂 But, more objectively, it’s probably more like a four or a three and a half.