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.

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

Well, since I’m still reading the next novel I plan to review (“Bring Up The Bodies” By Hilary Mantel), I thought that I’d take the chance to review another “Doom II” WAD, since it’s been about three weeks or so since my last WAD review.

So, after clicking on the “Random File” button on the /idgames Archive Database a few times, I ended up finding a WAD from 2006 called “Unruly Evil“.

As usual, I used the “ZDoom” source port whilst playing this WAD. Since it seems to be designed specifically for ZDoom, I don’t know how well it will work with other source ports (although I guess that ZDoom-based source ports, like GZDoom, might possibly be ok).

So, let’s take a look at “Unruly Evil”:

“Unruly Evil” is a short to medium length single-level WAD which includes a few new features/mechanics.

It also, for some bizarre reason, takes up the Map 28 slot – so, when you start the game, you’ll have to type “IDCLEV28” to skip to this level (or play through the first 27 levels of “Doom II” or “Final Doom”) before you can get to this level.

Yes, if you see something like this, just type “IDCLEV28”. And, yes, I’m using “Final Doom” (because “The Plutonia Experiment” is awesome 🙂 )

One of the first things that I will say about “Unruly Evil” is that, according to the accompanying text file, it was apparently made as a tech demo to show how a level editor called “DCK 3.62” can use some ZDoom-specific features. And, as a tech demo, it’s pretty cool. But, as a level, it isn’t really that great.

Ok, it has some good moments but, on the whole, it’s kind of… meh.

The main features that this WAD shows off include enemies that can turn invisible, in-game text and underwater areas (with an accompanying oxygen mechanic). For the time that this WAD was released, I can see how they would have been fairly impressive. However, whilst it’s neat that this level shows all of this stuff off, it does ruin the gameplay somewhat.

For starters, the enemies that can phase in and out of visibility at will are an impressive feature. However, they are more than a little bit frustrating, due to the fact that they can suddenly pop up out of nowhere without warning. Whilst this does add a little bit of extra challenge and tension to the level, the way it is implemented (eg: with no spectre-like silhouettes when the monsters are invisible) can come across as a cheap, annoying and unfair way of adding difficulty.

Likewise, the in-game text is a rather cool feature. However, it often relays obvious instructions to the player – which can come across as patronising at times. And, when combined with the reasonably linear design of the level, this makes the level feel less like a “Doom II” level and more like a caricature of a more modern FPS game. Still, this text is used in a rather interesting end-level cinematic… which then crashed ZDoom after it had finished.

However, the dark blue text used here is kind of difficult to read against the gloomy background. The bright yellow text in the rest of the WAD would have been a better choice.

Finally, the underwater area is kind of a neat addition. Still, given that most “Doom II” levels with underwater areas don’t include an oxygen mechanic, expect to get caught out by this when you venture into this area for the first time.

The Doomguy can drown? But what about that spacesuit/oxygen mask that he usually wears?

The level itself is, as I mentioned, somewhat linear (with only a few non-linear elements) and there are a few moderately challenging elements- such as a couple of enjoyable small-medium size arena fights (which, to the level’s credit, feature a Cyberdemon and an Arch-vile).

On the plus side, this is one situation where the in-game text is actually kind of epic.

The level is both generous and stingy when it comes to heath too. Although there are a reasonably number of health packs near the beginning of the level, I didn’t really find many in the later parts. And, since your health is likely to be low during the later parts of the level, the sudden appearance of invisible enemies can result in a frustrating insta-death occasionally.

All in all, this is a pretty cool old tech demo. But, when seen on it’s own merits as a level, it isn’t that great. It’s linear and frustrating. Even so, it’s a cool glimpse into the history of “Doom II” modding, source ports etc…

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get two and a half for the level design but four for the features.

Review: “Dead Man Rising” By Lilith Saintcrow (Novel)

Well, after reading Lilith Saintcrow’s “Working For The Devil” a week or two ago, I’d planned to read more books in Saintcrow’s excellent “Dante Valentine” series – especially since I found a cheap second-hand paperback omnibus online. So, I thought that I’d take a look at the next novel in the series – “Dead Man Rising” (2006).

Although this sci-fi/urban fantasy/horror/detective novel can theoretically be read as a stand-alone novel (since it contains recaps), it is best read after “Working For The Devil”. Not only will some elements of the story make more sense, but this novel will also have a much greater emotional impact if you’ve read the previous one first.

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

This is the 2011 Orbit (UK) paperback omnibus which contained the copy of “Dead Man Rising” that I read.

Set in a futuristic cyberpunk-style city called Saint City, the novel starts with half-demon necromancer Dante Valentine and her ex-boyfriend Jace in the middle of a dangerous bounty hunting mission. After the events of the previous novel, Dante has thrown herself into her work in order to distract herself from the emotional and physical pain that she feels.

However, after the bounty has been caught, Dante gets a call from her old friend on the police force. There have been a series of grisly murders and a clue found next to one of the bodies suggests that Dante and one of the victims have a common history. Despite the fact that Dante is still deeply troubled by this distant part of her past, she agrees to help investigate the case…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is both very gripping and it also contains far more horror elements than the previous novel did 🙂 This novel is also more of a character-based drama too, with lots of emphasis placed on Dante’s emotional battles as well as more physical conflicts. So, yes, the emotional tone of this story is a lot darker and grimmer than the previous one, although this segues quite well with the ending of the previous novel in addition to emphasising the horror elements of the story too.

Talking of which, I cannot praise the horror elements of this story highly enough. Although this novel contains a decent amount of gory horror and paranormal horror, there’s also a chilling focus on the nightmarishly dystopian psychic school that Dante was forced to attend when she was younger. Whilst the reader is given enough grim details about this to make them recoil and shudder, there’s also the creeping sense that these details are just the tip of a very disturbing iceberg. So, unlike the previous “Dante Valentine” novel, this novel is actually a horror novel.

The novel’s detective elements are reasonably good too, since they lend the story a level of claustrophobic suspense and gritty tension that the previous novel lacked slightly. Although the solution to the mystery is something that you might guess about half to two-thirds of the way through the story, it includes some really clever flourishes – such as a variation on the traditional “locked room mystery” sub-genre of detective fiction.

In a lot of ways, the detective elements of this story reminded me a bit of both Mike Carey’s excellent “Felix Castor” novels and the “Blackwell” computer games (which I reviewed here, here, here, here and here). Not to mention that they help to keep the story moving at a reasonably decent pace too.

But, whilst this novel is more of a traditional detective/horror thriller, there are still a few action-packed moments too – the best of these being a really cool, if somewhat superflous, fight scene set in a vampire nightclub – which reminded me a little bit of Jocelynn Drake’s excellent “Dark Days” novels (which is never a bad thing 🙂).

In terms of the writing, Saintcrow’s first-person narration is as good as ever – and it is written in the kind of informal “matter of fact” way that you would expect in a good thriller or noir novel. Like with the previous novel in the series, the narration also includes a few mildly cyberpunk flourishes (eg: futuristic jargon like “holovids”, “plasguns”, “plasteel” etc..) in addition to including a fair amount of introspection and characterisation too.

As for the characters in this novel, they’re reasonably good and this story devotes quite a bit of time to characterisation too. However, the characterisation in this story is very much on the “gritty drama” side of things, with lots of scenes showing how traumatic effects have affected the characters. Likewise, the story’s main villian is left mysterious enough to be genuinely creepy too. So, yes, the characterisation in this novel is pretty interesting.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is ok. Whilst the omnibus edition of “Dead Man Rising” seems to be an efficient 250-70 pages in length, this is only due to larger pages and smaller print. Looking online, the stand-alone paperback edition of this novel is about 416 pages long. Still, the novel never really felt like it was too long. Likewise, even though some of the gloomy introspection slows the story down a bit, this novel was still gripping enough for me to binge-read most of it within the space of a single day.

All in all, this is a gripping paranormal detective thriller/horror novel 🙂 Yes, the emotional tone of this story is a bit on the depressing side of things – but, despite this, it is still a creepily chilling and grippingly compelling novel.

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

Today’s Art (12th May 2018)

Today’s digitally-edited painting was something of an experimental one. Basically, after listening to a song that made me nostalgic about winter 2006 (wow, I didn’t think I’d get nostalgic about this), I decided to try to make a still life-style painting that evoked my memories of the time.

Or, at the very least, I tried and failed to capture the atmosphere of the time (a winter warmed by the glow of cheap spirits, accompanied by lustrously intense music, perfumed with nail varnish, shrouded in beautiful snow and lit by the glow of computer screens and amber streetlights).

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

“2006” By C. A. Brown