Review: “Doctor Who – The Feast Of The Drowned” By Stephen Cole (Novel)

Well, due to the hot weather when I was preparing this review, I was still in the mood for an easy-reading “feel good” sci-fi novel. So, I thought that I’d finally take a look at the other “Doctor Who” novel (than this one) that I found in a second-hand bookshop in Petersfield several months earlier. I am, of course, talking about Stephen Cole’s 2006 novel “Doctor Who – The Feast Of The Drowned”.

Although this novel tells a new story that is set during the second series of the modern version of “Doctor Who” (which starred David Tennant and Billie Piper), it can still pretty much be read as a stand-alone novel if you haven’t seen series two of the TV show.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Doctor Who – The Feast Of The Drowned”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2006 BBC Books (UK) hardback edition of “Doctor Who – The Feast Of The Drowned” that I read.

The novel begins on board a navy ship called H.M.S Ascendant which has suddenly and mysteriously started sinking in the middle of the North Sea. A sailor from the ship’s stores, Jay Selby, tries to save another sailor called Barker before he is suddenly swept overboard and dragged underwater by something.

In London, Rose Tyler is visiting her friend Keisha after spending a year travelling through time and space with The Doctor. Keisha is in floods of tears, mourning her brother Jay – who has recently been listed as missing in action by the navy. When The Doctor shows up a little while later, he suggests getting fish and chips. But, shortly after he leaves, Jay’s ghost suddenly appears in Keisha’s flat and gives Rose and Keisha a cryptic warning…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it was quite enjoyable to read 🙂 It’s kind of like an extended, high-budget “lost episode” from series two of the show and, best of all, it is also a horror-themed “episode” too 🙂 Since the show is often at it’s very best when it includes a bit of horror, it was great to see this here 🙂

So, I should probably start by talking about this novel’s horror elements. It contains a really good mixture of monster horror, ghost horror, body horror, psychological horror, disaster horror, drowning-based horror, suspense, death-based horror and even a few hints of the zombie genre too 🙂

Although this novel probably won’t be that scary to experienced horror novel readers, these elements certainly add a lot of extra drama and atmosphere to the story. Not to mention that, being a novel rather than a TV show episode, not only do the creatures look a lot more “realistic”, but this book can also include a slightly more intense level of horror than is probably allowed on early-evening television too 🙂

The novel’s monster design is brilliantly inventive and very well thought out too 🙂 The “monster of the week” here is a giant collective of microscopic alien creatures called The Waterhive, who can travel through and manipulate water, can influence people and can also affect everything at the atomic level too.

In addition to turning people into zombie-like creatures, they can also drain the body-water of surrounding people in order to create ghost-like hallucinations that will lure their victim’s loved ones into a watery grave. They can also turn into wonderfully Lovecraftian slime monsters and/or pearl-eyed walking corpses too. Seriously, as “Doctor Who” monsters go, these are one of the creepiest and most formidable that I’ve seen in a while.

Not only that, the monsters are given a realistic motivation for their actions and they also follow a series of “rules” which are used to great effect, which brings me on to the novel’s sci-fi elements. These are excellent as ever, with every “paranormal” event in the story having a scientific explanation which the main characters have to learn about. This focus on solving an ominous scientific mystery also helps to keep the novel fairly compelling too.

Which brings me on to this novel’s thriller elements 🙂 It’s kind of like a fast-paced episode of the TV show, with a really good mixture between suspenseful sneaking, large-scale set-pieces, chilling disaster drama (as London slowly succumbs to The Waterhive’s brainwashing), fast-paced survival drama scenes and even a couple of brief fight scenes too. One of the cool things about novels is that they don’t have the budgetary or practical restrictions that films or TV do and the “special effects” tend to seem a lot more realistic too, and this novel uses this fact to full advantage here 🙂

Plus, another cool thing about this novel is it’s mid-2000s atmosphere too 🙂 This is mostly achieved through a lot of subtle moments – such as mentions of “Disk Doctors” in computer shops, no mentions of social media, comments about fish and chips no longer being wrapped in newspaper etc… and it really helps to add a little bit of nostalgia to the story when it is read today.

In terms of the characters, this novel is fairly good. Although you shouldn’t expect ultra-deep characterisation, there is enough here to make you care about the characters. For the most part, Rose, The Doctor and Mickey also seem fairly close to their TV show counterparts, with the only possible difference being a couple of jokes that seem very mildly “out of character” for The Doctor.

A lot of this novel’s characterisation also comes from the interactions between the characters and this mostly works well. However, there is a vaguely soap-opera style sub-plot involving a past affair between two characters, which almost gets annoying. Thankfully though, every time the novel begins to feel a bit more like “Eastenders” than “Doctor Who”, the arguing characters are usually interrupted by ghosts and/or a zombie pirate 🙂 Did I mention there was a zombie pirate in this novel? 🙂

In terms of the writing, this novel is fairly good 🙂 The novel’s third-person narration is written in a reasonably fast-paced, informal and “matter of fact” style that fits in well with the atmosphere of the TV show, in addition to allowing for a few humourous moments and a very readable story too 🙂 Even so, whilst the novel’s fast-paced narration keeps everything moving at a decent speed, it comes at the slight cost of the extra atmosphere that you get from having more moments of formal/slow narration. Still, this is a small criticism – especially given that the novel’s locations, “special effects” etc… all seem a bit more impressive than those in the TV show.

As for length and pacing, this novel is also really good too 🙂 At an efficient 249 pages in length, this novel never really feels bloated. Likewise, the novel moves at a reasonably similar pace to a good episode of the TV show, with relatively short chapters and a decent amount of of mystery, action, horror and/or drama to keep everything compelling 🙂

All in all, this is a really fun “Doctor Who” novel that is kind of like an extended, high-budget “horror” episode of the TV show 🙂 If you want an enjoyably relaxing and readable sci-fi horror mystery or are just feeling nostalgic about the mid-2000s, then this novel might be worth taking a look at.

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

Review: “Twisted Metal 1024” (WAD For “Doom II”/ “Final Doom”)

Well, since I’m still reading the next novel I plan to review (“A Canticle For Liebowitz” by Walter M. Miller Jr ), because it has been nearly a month since my last “Doom II” WAD review and because there hasn’t really been much gaming-related stuff on here recently (I’d planned to finish and review either “Braid” and/or “Cosmo’s Cosmic Adventure”, but got distracted by playing “Devil Daggers” again) – I thought it was time to review a “Doom II” WAD.

And, after clicking the “random file” button on the /idgames Archive a few times, I eventually found an interesting-looking WAD from 2006 called “Twisted Metal 1024“.

As usual, I used the GZDoom source port whilst playing this WAD – although I guess that it will probably work on pretty much any source port. It might even possibly work on the original DOS/Windows 95-8 versions of “Doom II” or “Final Doom”, but I haven’t tested this.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Twisted Metal 1024”:

“Twisted Metal 1024” is a small single-level WAD that also contains new MIDI background music too.

From everything I’ve read about it, it was created for a map-making contest where every map had to be no more than 1024 x 1024 (not sure of the exact units) in size. In other words, it is a fairly small level.

Not that you’ll really notice this all the time.

The main reason for limitations like this is to force level designers to be creative – and this WAD absolutely excels here 🙂 Seriously, if you want an example of well-planned, compact level design that makes the absolute most of the space available, then play this level.

It is filled with carefully-placed passages and walkways that intersect or even – sort of- pass above each other (thanks to the running jump feature of the original “Doom” engine), which not only make the level feel significantly larger than it actually is, but also allow for some really good level progression too.

This is also helped by some well-placed enemy spawns in previously-visited areas.

Progress through the level is achieved by pressing switches to open doors and/or finding skull keys. Although this adds a certain amount of linearity to the level, the fact that you often have to backtrack to find doors lends the level a feeling of non-linearity, whilst the compact size of the level also means that you don’t have to worry about getting lost or stuck in the way that you might do in larger levels 🙂

There are also a few other cool level design tricks that add length to the level whilst keeping the map size down, such as a fast-paced and claustrophobic corridor segment involving switches, walls and monster closets. Seriously, I cannot praise the design of this level highly enough 🙂

In terms of difficulty, this is a mildly-moderately challenging level that mostly features low-level enemies and a couple of mid-level enemies. Whilst this might not sound like much of a challenge, the claustrophobic rooms and corridors mean there is relatively little cover when encountering monsters, and the careful placement of several chaingun zombies can whittle your health down fairly quickly if you aren’t careful (and there are just enough health power-ups, but don’t expect loads of them here. Likewise, there’s no super-shotgun to make things easier). This results in a fun, and sometimes frantic, level that is more reminiscent of classic 1990s “Doom II” levels than more modern WADs.

And, yes, this was a bit of a surprise 🙂

As for the new music, it is the kind of fast-paced classic-style music that you’d expect to hear in a level like this. It really helps to add a bit of retro atmosphere to the level, although it probably isn’t quite as memorable as some of the music from the original games.

All in all, this is a really fun little level 🙂 If you want a short, classic-style level that also contains some excellent level design and planning, then this one is well worth checking out 🙂

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

Review: “Stargate Atlantis – Reliquary” By Martha Wells (Novel)

Well, since I was in the mood for both sci-fi and thriller fiction, I thought that I’d take a look at Martha Wells’ 2006 novel “Stargate Atlantis – Reliquary”.

Although I hadn’t planned to read another “Stargate” novel after my slightly lukewarm reaction to a couple of “SG-1” novels I read last year, I ended up getting a second-hand copy of this novel after seeing it highly recommended in a comment below an online article about books. Plus, I was also feeling a bit nostalgic about the time when I watched “Stargate Atlantis” on DVD back in 2014/15 too.

Although this novel tells a stand-alone “Stargate Atlantis” story, I would strongly recommend watching the TV show before reading it – both to get to know the characters and, more importantly, to understand some of the series’ jargon, backstory etc… too. Some parts of this novel probably won’t make sense if you don’t at least have some vague memories of the TV show.

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

This is the 2006 Fandemonium (UK) paperback edition of “Stargate Atlantis – Reliquary” that I read.

The novel begins on Atlantis, with McKay and Zelenka arguing with Ford and John Sheppard about what to do with a large new room that they’ve found on the ancient extraterrestrial floating city. John and Ford want to turn it into a sports pitch of some kind, but McKay and Zelenka are fascinated by a pillar-like device that they’ve found in the middle of the room. And, after some tinkering, it suddenly displays a glitchy hologram that contains a gate address.

After some discussion with Weir, they send a MALP probe through the stargate to the address – which shows an empty coastal region and some kind of building that looks a bit like one of the Ancients’ repositories. Thinking that it might contain technical information and/or some much-need zero-point energy modules, Weir authorises an exploratory mission to the planet.

When the team get there, they find that the repository is long-since deserted and notice signs of both vandalism and bomb damage. Although there don’t seem to be any life signs in the area, John begins to feel uneasy – as if there is something there. This feeling only gets worse when the team accidentally open the entrance to a gloomy underground bunker and John smells a mysterious odour of decay…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, although it wasn’t always as fast-paced as I’d hoped for, it’s a really good “Stargate: Atlantis” novel 🙂 Not only is it in keeping with the style and tone of the TV show, but it also contains the series’ classic mixture of sci-fi, humour, thrilling suspense/action and horror 🙂 In other words, this novel is kind of like a really good two-part episode of the TV show.

In terms of the novel’s sci-fi elements, not only does it contain all of the technology from the TV show but it is also a novel about the risks and misuse of genetic engineering and the dangers of bio-weapons. Although this is handled in a slightly stylised way, it allows for some interesting plot elements (such as John slowly mutating into a reptilian creature) and a few brilliantly creepy moments of horror too.

These horror elements include a really good mixture of creepily atmospheric moments, tragic horror, psychological horror, the macabre, monster horror, moral horror/scientific horror, character-based horror and body horror – which really help to add a bit of extra intensity to the story 🙂

But, more than all of this, this novel is a thriller novel. And, although it is sometimes a little slower-paced (due to descriptions, scientific explanations etc…) than a traditional action-thriller novel, these elements of the story work really well here. In short, if you’ve seen the TV show, then you’ll know what to expect. Not only is there a decent amount of suspense, a few fight scenes and a plot twist or two, but the story also includes numerous moments when the characters find themselves in dangerous situations and have to rely on their wits (rather than just brute force) in order to come up with a clever way of dealing with whatever is threatening them.

The novel’s thriller elements are probably at their very best in the mid-late parts of the story, which are a little bit like a version of “Die Hard” set on Atlantis. These parts of the story contain a really compelling mixture of suspense, action and clever planning/teamwork. Still, although the earlier parts of the story are a little slower at times, this does help to build atmosphere and suspense – not to mention that it makes the later parts of the story seem even more dramatic by contrast.

Plus, one cool thing about this novel is that it absolutely nails the TV show’s sense of humour too 🙂 This mostly consists of amusing dialogue and the occasional descriptive moment, but the novel also goes a step further and also includes a few well-placed pop culture references (eg: to “Alien”, H.P.Lovecraft, Monty Python etc…) which really fit in well with the events of the story.

Although this novel isn’t really “laugh out loud” funny most of the time – except for Teyla’s “World war two?” comment, which did make me laugh out loud – this subtle humour really helps to add a lot of personality to the story and also helps to prevent the horror elements from becoming too bleak too.

In terms of the characters, they’re fairly accurate to the TV show – the point where reading this book almost feels like watching an extra episode or two of it. But, although you shouldn’t expect too much extra character development, the novel’s focus on John’s slow transformation into a mutant creature is handled in the kind of immersive way that only novels can do 🙂 This novel is also mostly focused on John and McKay, which also allows for a lot of amusing dialogue exchanges and/or arguments between them too 🙂 Plus, although the novel’s villain can be a bit cartoonishly evil at times, he actually has a reasonably well-written backstory and is also a suitably intelligent foe for the team to battle against too 🙂

As for the writing, it’s fairly good. The novel’s third-person narration is kind of a blend between more informal/”matter of fact” thriller narration and the kind of descriptive, formal narration that you’d expect from a sci-fi novel. It’s very readable, although the descriptive elements do mean that some of the more thrilling moments don’t always feel quite as fast-paced as you might expect from a traditional action-thriller novel or an episode of the TV show. Still, the writing is fairly good overall and these descriptive elements also add atmosphere to the story.

As for length and pacing, this novel is reasonably good. At an efficient 220 pages in length, there isn’t a single wasted page here 🙂 The novel is moderately-fast paced most of the time, with the pacing being a bit slower in the more suspenseful and atmospheric earlier parts, before increasing slightly in speed and intensity as the story progresses. But, whilst it isn’t exactly a “slow paced” novel, it may seem very slightly slower than you’d expect if you’re used to ultra-fast action-thriller novels (by authors like S.D. Perry, Matthew Reilly etc..).

All in all, this is a really good “Stargate Atlantis” novel 🙂 It really does feel like an extra two-part episode of the TV show, complete with amusing dialogue, creepy sci-fi horror and a good amount of gripping suspense/action. Yes, it wasn’t always as fast-paced as I’d expected, but it’s still a good novel and is also probably the best “Stargate”-related novel that I’ve read so far 🙂

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

Review: “Aliens: DNA War” By Diane Carey (Novel)

Well, it has been a while since I last read an “Aliens” novel and, since I was going through a bit of a sci-fi phase, I looked around online and ended up finding a second-hand copy of Diane Carey’s 2006 novel “Aliens: DNA War”.

Although it is theoretically possible to read this original spin-off story without watching any of the “Aliens” films, it is worth watching at least the first two films (Alien” and “Aliens) before reading this book, since the novel basically assumes that the reader knows at least a little about the series’ famous alien monsters.

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

This is the 2006 DH Press (US) paperback edition of “Aliens: DNA War” that I read.

The story begins on the spaceship Vinza, which is trying to land on a habitable planet called Rosamond 6 to evacuate a science team before a team of aggressive terraforming robots can deal with the xenomorph infestation that is killing off the planet’s fauna. However, the ship is having some problems. Namely that the medic’s pet bat has got loose and the rest of the crew are trying to catch it.

When they eventually land on the planet, the ship’s legal officer – Rory Malveaux – joins in the expedition to find the scientists, since he is the son of famed ecologist Jocasta Malveaux, who is leading the research team. Needless to say, Rory did not have a happy childhood and feels that he will be the only one there who will be able to persuade his fanatical, manipulative and charismatic mother to leave the planet.

However, when they reach the main research settlement, all that the team finds are several corpses. Although the rest of the crew want to get the hell out of there, Rory points out that most of the research team is still unaccounted for and that he won’t sign off on using the terraforming robots until he has found them……

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a suspenseful, and gloriously cheesy, sci-fi horror thriller 🙂 Whilst this novel is both similar and different to the other “Aliens” novels that I’ve read, it remained compelling throughout. It also reminded me a little bit of the later “Prometheus” prequel movie (mostly due to the planet-based scenes), whilst still having a fairly classic “Aliens”-style atmosphere too 🙂

In terms of the novel’s horror elements, it tends to rely more on suspense and character-based horror than on gory horror. Sure, the novel contains a few grotesque scenes of grisly alien-based horror but the main sources of horror here are the hostile environment that the characters find themselves in, Jocasta’s sociopathic nature and the way that character deaths affect the other characters. So, whilst this novel isn’t that much of a gore-fest (relatively speaking), it still works really well as a horror novel.

In terms of the characters, although there are a surprisingly large number of background characters, the main characters are fairly well-written (if a little stylised). Although Rory is a likeable and slightly morally-ambiguous main character, the most well-written character is probably the story’s villain, Jocasta. She’s this creepily evil charismatic cult leader, who is also a fanatical environmentalist who cares more about aliens and science than about humans. Seriously, as villains go, she’s actually scarier than the aliens.

Jocasta is also contrasted with a space medic called Bonnie who, in addition to being a love interest for Rory, also seems to be like a “good” version of Jocasta who cares about both humans and animals (eg: an adorable pet bat called Butterball). Although she makes some rather naive mistakes during the story, which help to add suspense to some scenes, she comes across as a really likeable and realistic character.

In terms of the sci-fi elements, this novel contains some fairly interesting technology, not to mention an intriguingly mysterious planet too. Still, a lot of the focus of this story is on the ethics and legality of things like space exploration and terraforming.

This is also used as an avenue to show the inadequate nature of fixed rules in a complex universe, with even the most “lawful” character (Rory) having a fairly morally-ambiguous past. Likewise, the novel’s laws about terraforming are used as both a weapon against Jocasta and a tool for Jocasta and her fanatics. It’s a really interesting novel about the gap between formal rules and reality.

It’s also a novel about the dangers of things like ideologies and personality cults too, with these elements being one of the novel’s main sources of horror. And, in this spirit, the novel is also written in a brilliant way that will probably frustrate anyone wanting to analyse it in political terms (eg: it’s both a liberal and a conservative novel etc..). In other words, this is a novel about ambiguity and plurality.

Likewise, the novel mostly stays within the general mythology of the “Alien” films, whilst also doing a few innovative things with the alien creatures too. This helps to keep things surprising and suspenseful, whilst also allowing Carey to use the reader’s knowledge of the films to add extra suspense and implied horror during a few scenes too 🙂

In terms of the writing, the novel’s first-person narration is written in a fairly informal way. Although this includes a few slightly quirky descriptions, these help to give the story a bit of personality (as well as adding to the “cheesy late-night sci-fi movie” atmosphere 🙂) and are part of the fun of the novel. Likewise, the informal narration also helps to keep the story moving at a decent pace and allows for a few occasional moments of comedy too.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. At a wonderfully efficient 269 pages in length, this novel never really feels too long. Likewise, there’s a really good mixture between slower-paced moments of claustrophobic suspense, character-based drama etc… and faster-paced moments of drama and action. This novel flows really well and moves along at a fairly decent pace.

All in all, this is a really fun, suspenseful and compelling sci-fi horror thriller 🙂 Yes, it contains a few tropes which seem to turn up in almost every “Aliens” novel I’ve read (eg: sociopathic scientists, desolate planets/space stations etc..) but it still a compelling story with some really good character-based horror too.

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

Review: “Nova Swing” By M. John Harrison (Novel)

Well, I thought that it was time to take a look at a noir sci-fi/cyberpunk novel I’ve been meaning to read for the past couple of weeks. I am, of course, talking about M. John Harrison’s 2006 novel “Nova Swing”.

This is a novel that I found by accident whilst sorting out several of the older book piles in my room. At a guess, I first found “Nova Swing” in a discount bookshop (“66 Books” according to the sticker on the back) sometime during the late ’00s and probably bought it purely on the basis of the intriguing title and cover art. Although the blurb states that the novel is a sequel to another novel, it pretty much works as a stand-alone novel.

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

This is the 2007 Gollancz (UK) paperback edition of “Nova Swing” that I read.

The novel is set on another planet, in a city called Saudade. After some kind of cataclysmic event decades or centuries ago, something called “The Event” sits next to the city. It is the edge of another universe or dimension, which seems to follow different logic and laws of physics to our reality.

Vic Serotonin is a tour guide who works out of Liv Hula’s bar with his sidekick Antoyne. Although taking people on tours through “The Event” is technically illegal, the cops only really bother investigating if people start stealing or selling artefacts from the other side. Vic, of course, has a little bit of a sideline in this too. But, when the story starts, he is approached by a mysterious woman who wants a tour. The tour doesn’t go well and they both end up fleeing “The Event”. However, the woman soon starts looking for Vic again….

Meanwhile, an ageing tour guide called Emil Bonadventure lies on his deathbed, tended to by his daughter Edith. An Albert Einstein-like detective called Aschermann pulls himself away from the serial killing case he’s been working on for years after he notices mysterious people emerging from part of “The Event” in a bar called Cafe Surf. He suspects local gangster, Paulie DeRaad, of being involved in it somehow…..

In another part of the city, Paulie has recently bought a rather strange artefact that Vic picked up during one of his trips into “The Event”. However, it is having some rather bizarre side-effects on him…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is brilliant – but it is also something of an acquired taste. It is beautifully-written and positively dripping with atmosphere but, if you go into this story expecting a logical and straightforward plot, then you may be disappointed. Still, if you can handle a story that almost borders on incomprehensible at times, then you are in for a real treat 🙂

This novel is what would happen if William S. Burroughs, Neal Stephenson, Jack O’Connell, Raymond Chandler, David Lynch and Satoshi Kon sat down together and tried to come up with something vaguely similar to “Blade Runner” 🙂

In other words, this novel is joyously surreal and filled with all manner of complex sub-plots, futuristic jargon and slightly random character moments. It is a bizarre book where the best way to read it is just to let the beautiful prose wash over you and hope that you’ll make sense of it eventually. And you probably will, if you put in the effort (and take a few notes along the way).

I’m not going to sugar-coat this, it took me several attempts at reading this novel before I really got into it. But, I’m so glad that I put in the effort 🙂 Although this book may seem utterly confusing and frustratingly slow-paced at first, it will not only start to make more sense after you’ve spent a while reading it but, at the end, you’ll actually find that you miss reading it.

The best part of the novel is probably the atmosphere. This is a noir sci-fi novel that is filled with faded 1950s glamour, neon signs, pouring rain, sleazy nightclubs, derelict industrial buildings, worn out spaceships, realms beyond space and time etc… and all of this atmosphere is created through some wonderfully weird and descriptive third-person narration. Yes, all of this description can really slow the story down and some of the ultra-long sentences can border on being confusing, but it has a wonderful hardboiled poetry to it 🙂

Thematically, the novel is really complex too. In addition to the usual dystopian cyberpunk stuff (eg: underfunded police, delinquent youths, virtual reality, body modification etc..), one of the main themes in this novel is saudade. This is a Portuguese word that translates to “sorrowful nostalgia” or something like that, and this novel is absolutely saturated with it. All of this really helps to add to the “film noir”-like atmosphere of the novel, in addition to allowing for a lot of extra character depth and emotional depth too.

The novel also covers a lot of other topics too, such as introspection, dreams, the way the past lingers in the present, bereavement, mortality, mystery, fantasies etc.. but one interesting thematic part of the novel is probably Emil’s attempts at mapping the un-mappable world of “The Event”, a bizarre shifting dreamscape that can have strange effects on all those who interact with it.

In terms of the characters, they are all pretty interesting. In true hardboiled fashion, the characters are an odd assortment of misfits, has-beens, cops and crooks. Although all of the characters initially seem to have very little depth, you’ll find that you end up caring more about them as the story progresses. Likewise, the characters you’ll find yourself caring about the most will often be very different to what you might expect. This is one of those novels where a few background characters eventually end up being the main characters in later parts of the story, which lends the story a “life goes on” kind of quality.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is interesting. Although it looks like an efficiently short 246-page novel, “Nova Swing” is more like a 500 page novel in disguise. In other words, it is a rather slow-paced story which doesn’t so much have a plot, but is more of a “slice of life” that contains several sub-plots and characters. So, even though this is a short book, don’t expect it to be a quick read. But, when you get used to the writing style, the story does go a little bit faster. Although, by the time this happens, you’ll probably wish that the novel was longer.

All in all, this novel is absolutely brilliant – but it is an acquired taste! It is beautifully weird, brilliantly atmospheric and totally unique, but it probably isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Still, if you don’t mind putting some effort into making sense of the story and spending a lot longer than you would expect reading what looks like a short book, then you will be richly rewarded for your time 🙂

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would just about get a five. But, again, this novel is an acquired taste!

Review: “Denial” (WAD For “Doom II”/”Final Doom”/ “ZDoom”)

Well, due to the hot weather, it’s taking me a bit longer to read the next book I’m planning to review (“Final Destination: Dead Reckoning” by Natasha Rhodes) than I expected. So, for the final review of the month, I thought that I’d take a quick look at another “Doom II” WAD. After all, it’s been a few weeks since my last WAD review.

So, after clicking the “Random File” button on the /idgames Archive a few times, I ended up with a single-level “Doom II”/”Final Doom” WAD from 2006 called “Denial“.

As usual, I used the “ZDoom” source port whilst playing this WAD, although it’ll probably work with most modern source ports. Likewise, since it’s a “vanilla” WAD (eg: it only uses the standard textures, monsters, weapons etc..), it’ll also work with many mods (like “Brutal Doom” etc..) too.

So, let’s take a quick look at “Denial”:

“Denial” is a medium length single-level WAD which, for some bizarre reason, takes up the level 28 slot. What this means is that, when you start the game, you’ll have to type “IDCLEV28” to skip to this level (if you don’t want to play levels 1-27). I’ve never quite understood why some WAD designers do this. If it’s a single-level WAD, then it should be level one!

One of the first things that I will say about this WAD is that it’s a lot of fun. It’s a mildly-moderately challenging level that will probably take you an hour or so to complete. It’s a perfect level if you’re slightly out of practice, if the weather is a little bit too hot or if you don’t have too much time. Likewise, if you’re a more inexperienced player, then this level will probably be quite an enjoyable challenge.

But, if you’re a more experienced player, then you’ll get to feel like an expert when you play this mildly challenging level.

A lot of the level’s challenge is achieved through careful weapon/ammo/health placement, claustrophobic design and well-planned monster encounters. Although you’ll mostly encounter low-level monsters throughout the level, these segments still remain mildly challenging due to the number of these monsters (eg: small hordes of them), the cramped locations you fight them in and/or their hitscan attacks.

Seriously, this segment might look really easy, but there’s very little cover to hide behind…

Still, the level throws a few mid-high level monsters and/or small arena fights at you occasionally in order to keep you on your toes. Even so, don’t expect the large numbers of monsters that you’d normally see in a more challenging modern WAD. But, saying this, the level still includes the obligatory Arch-Vile too 🙂

Seriously, no “Doom II” WAD is truly complete without one of these 🙂

In terms of the level design, this WAD is reasonably good. Not only is the level an old-school non-linear level, but there’s also a good mixture of claustrophobic corridors and small-medium size arena areas too.

The bulk of the level is spent trying to find one key – which can sometimes lead to you getting lost or stuck, although this thankfully doesn’t last too long (thanks to the size of the level). But, once you’ve found the key, then the level becomes a lot more straightforward – with the other two locked doors being fairly close to the first one.

Still, it’s always awesome to see FPS game maps that look like this 🙂

The level also includes a couple of basic switch puzzles and a few fairly obvious secret areas too, which help to keep things interesting (since they’ll sometimes allow you to glimpse later parts of the level). Plus, whilst this WAD can probably be played using a more “traditionalist” approach, if you want to get the plasma rifle, then you’ll need to use a source port that allows you to jump.

Luckily, this wall of switches doesn’t seem to be a combination puzzle 🙂

I’m pretty sure that you can’t get this without jumping, although there might be a hidden teleporter or something.

All in all, this is a reasonably fun and well-designed level that will provide an hour or so of mildly-moderately challenging fun. Yes, you might get lost or stuck for a few minutes, but it’s always good to see an old-school non-linear level that requires you to explore 🙂

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

Review: “Dying Words” By Shaun Hutson (Novel)

Shortly after I’d finished reading Shaun Hutson’s “Last Rites“, I wanted to read some more of Hutson’s novels from the 2000s. And, after looking online, I found a cheap second-hand copy of Hutson’s 2006 novel “Dying Words”.

I wasn’t sure if I’d already read this novel back in the day (I probably did), but it intrigued me enough to buy a copy…. which then promptly languished on my “to read” pile for about three months. But, after reading Hilary Mantel’s “Bring Up The Bodies“, I wanted to read something a bit more fast-paced. So, yes, this review is long overdue.

So, let’s take a look at “Dying Words”. Needless to say, this review may contain some mild-moderate SPOILERS.

This is the 2007 Orbit (UK) paperback edition of “Dying Words” that I read.

The novel begins in London with a high-speed car chase. Detective Inspector David Birch is in pursuit of a serial killer and he’s damned if he’s going to let him go. After leaving a trail of destruction, the killer gets out of his car, draws a knife and flees – cutting down anyone who gets in his way. Birch gives chase. Finally, there is a tense stand-off in an underground station – which ends with Birch gleefully throwing the disarmed killer onto the electrified rails.

Meanwhile, a biographer called Megan Hunter is discussing her latest historical book about a little-known Renaissance thinker called Giacomo Cassano with her editor Frank. Compared to Dante and Caravaggio, no-one has heard of Cassano, and Megan hopes that her book will change this.

Back at the police station, Birch is called to the Commissioner’s office to account for his actions. After giving Birch a scare, the Commissioner eventually decides to turn a blind eye to the serial killer’s suspicious death.

A while later, Birch is called out to investigate a new case. Frank has been brutally murdered, yet there is no evidence of anyone else leaving or entering the locked room that he died in…..

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it’s a really brilliant, but intriguingly different, Shaun Hutson novel. Although it still contains the horror and thriller elements you’d expect from a Shaun Hutson novel, this novel is actually more of a detective novel most of the time. And this works surprisingly well. Likewise, this novel is also an intriguing piece of metafiction, an awesome heavy metal novel and a wonderfully evocative piece of mid-2000s nostalgia too 🙂

I should probably start by talking about the novel’s detective elements. Apart from the beginning and the ending, this novel mostly takes a fairly “realistic” attitude towards detection, with large parts of the story involving Birch interviewing people, examining crime scenes, talking to other detectives and following up on leads. In a lot of ways, this novel is kind of like a cross between a drama and a gritty police procedural. And, surprisingly, this works really well – with the “locked room mystery” elements also helping to add some intrigue to the story too.

Likewise, this novel is also a really good horror novel too. Although it isn’t really that scary, there’s a really brilliant mixture of ultra-gruesome splatterpunk horror, creepy implied horror, suspenseful horror, atmospheric horror, criminal horror, medical horror and some paranormal horror … all of which gradually engulf what initially appears to be a fairly “ordinary” detective story 🙂 Seriously, this is one of the best blendings of the detective and horror genres that I’ve seen in a while.

As mentioned earlier, “Dying Words” is also a work of metafiction too – and it works really brilliantly. Although it initially appears to be a rather cynical satire about the publishing business and about critics (of which I now seem to be one), the novel also covers topics like the power of books, the power of authors and the nature of creativity itself too.

In addition to this, one fun element of the story is that one of the characters is a horror author called Paxton. Although I initially thought that this was an author insert, it’s probably more of a self-parody and/or a parody of the popular image of horror authors. Plus, there’s an absolutely brilliant description of one of Paxton’s books being launched, which is wonderfully evocative of the genre’s heyday in the 1970s-90s (which, sadly, I only discovered belatedly via second-hand books during the ’00s).

This novel is also a brilliant piece of mid-2000s nostalgia too 🙂 Everything from the cynical description of a “misery memoir”, to some of the fashions (eg: Megan’s boho chic outfit in one scene), to the general atmosphere of the story, to the vaguely “Silent Hill 3“-style settings in one part of the novel, to the mentions of CDs/DVDs, to the blissful absence of smartphones etc… is gloriously reminiscent of an era of history that popular nostalgia hasn’t quite reached yet.

So, if you miss the mid-2000s (and, back then, I never thought that I’d say those words… Wow, the present day sucks!), then this novel is well worth reading for nostalgia alone.

This novel is also a heavy metal novel too 🙂 In addition to some utterly brilliant Iron Maiden references (especially to this song) that are integrated into the story in a really cool way, there are also possible references to Judas Priest’s “Electric Eye” and Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” too 🙂 Seriously, it’s always brilliant to read a novel by an author with such good taste in music \m/ 🙂 \m/

In terms of the characters, they’re reasonably good and they all come across as fairly realistic – if somewhat stylised – people. Although, like in Hutson’s “Last Rites”, many of the characters have tragic backstories – this element isn’t emphasised quite as much in this novel, which helps to stop the story’s emotional tone from becoming too bleak or depressing (still, don’t expect a cheerful tale. This is a Shaun Hutson novel, after all).

In terms of the writing, the novel’s third-person narration is a really interesting mixture of the more descriptive (and slightly formal) style that Hutson used in his classic 1980s horror novels and the faster, grittier and more “matter of fact” style that he used in his 1990s/2000s thriller novels. Still, this novel mostly tends be more like a classic-style Hutson novel in terms of the writing.

Interestingly, this novel only partially includes some of Hutson’s trademark phrases though (eg: the word “cleft” appears, but I didn’t notice the word “liquescent” anywhere). Still, it includes the brilliant description “mucoid snorting” at one point.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. At 357 pages in length, this novel doesn’t feel that much longer than Hutson’s classic 1980s fiction. The novel’s pacing is handled in a really interesting way too. Both the beginning and ending are as fast-paced as a good thriller novel, whereas the pacing of the rest of the novel is much closer to that of a horror or detective novel. This contrast works really well, since it helps to build suspense and make the thrilling segments of the novel even more fast-paced by comparison 🙂

All in all, this is a brilliantly enjoyable novel 🙂 Yes, it’s a bit different to pretty much every other Shaun Hutson novel, but at the same time it is also very much a Hutson novel. If you want a really interesting mixture of the detective, thriller and horror genres, if you want some intriguing metafiction or if you’re just feeling nostalgic for the mid-2000s, then this novel is definitely worth reading 🙂

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