Review: “The Afterblight Chronicles: Kill Or Cure” By Rebecca Levene (Novel)

Well, I thought that I’d take a break from horror fiction and read some post-apocalyptic fiction instead 🙂 I’d originally planned to read an urban fantasy novel but I found that I wasn’t really in the mood for it. So, I needed to find another book.

A few months earlier, I’d read Rebecca Levene’s amazing “Anno Mortis” and was delighted to find that she’d had another novel published by the one and only Abaddon Books in 2007 called “The Afterblight Chronicles: Kill Or Cure”. So, I bought a second-hand copy of it back then… and then somehow forgot about it until now.

Although “Kill Or Cure” is part of a multi-author series called “The Afterblight Chronicles”, this novel can be read as a stand-alone novel. From what I can gather about the series, it seems to consist of several authors writing separate stories that all follow the same post-apocalyptic backstory/premise.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “The Afterblight Chronicles: Kill Or Cure”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2007 Abaddon Books (UK) paperback edition of “The Afterblight Chronices: Kill Or Cure” that I read.

The novel begins with a brief scene showing the narrator, Jasmine, shooting an un-named man. Then the story flashes back to several weeks earlier. With most of the world’s population wiped out by a plague called “The Cull” that kills anyone who doesn’t have O- blood, Jasmine has spent the past five years living in the ruins of the underground research facility that she’d once worked at. The experimental plague vaccine she took back then has also had lingering psychotic side-effects and, in order to quiet the voices in her head, Jasmine has spent the past five years working her way through the facility’s large stocks of morphine.

Then, one day, she hears people breaking into the facility. Although she tries to hide and send out a distress call, the mysterious henchmen catch her and take her to a stolen cruise ship in the Carribbean. The ship is run by a woman called Queen M who orders Jasmine to work as a medic for her, or else. Although life under Queen M’s rule initially seems like the closest thing to a normal life in this post-apocalyptic world, Jasmine is ordered to accompany some of the group’s henchmen on a “recruiting” trip to Paris. The atrocities she witnesses during the trip convince Jasmine that she needs to find some way to escape from Queen M’s headquarters, or die trying…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, to my surprise, it was more of a thriller novel than I’d expected 🙂 Although it certainly contains a fair amount of horror and grim post-apocalyptic “edginess”, it’s actually more like a really awesome 1990s late-night B movie in novel form 🙂 In other words, although this novel includes some fairly grim subject matter, it isn’t really that bleak or miserable to read 🙂 It’s a wonderfully fun and gloriously over-the-top rollercoaster ride of a novel 🙂

So, I should probably start by talking about this novel’s thriller elements, which are excellent 🙂 In addition to fast-paced narration and quite a few intense gunfights, some parts of this novel also read like a mixture of a heist thriller and a prison escape thriller 🙂 Not only are these genres always fun to see but the mixture between fast-paced action and tense, suspenseful thinking and planning really helps to add some variety to this novel too. Plus, the fact that the story has an unreliable narrator also helps to add some extra drama and suspense as well.

This novel also takes the reader on a whistle-stop tour of several intriguingly dystopian post-apocalyptic locations too and the addition of a few horror elements (eg: zombie-like people, evil experiments, gory injuries, creepy characters, psychological horror etc…) also helps to keep the story’s thrilling plot compellingly unpredictable. Plus, although the novel’s grim elements sometimes veer more towards 1990s-style “edginess”, this actually sort of works here since it balances out some of the more stylised, cheesy and over-the-top elements of the story and helps to maintain the reader’s suspension of disbelief.

All of this adds up to, as I mentioned earlier, something like a really fun late-night B-movie from the 1990s 🙂 Seriously, if you like your post-apocalypses filled with evil armed gangs, fast vehicles, anti-heroes and the kind of over-the-top story where, if you weren’t so eager to see what will happen next, you’d be laughing affectionately at it, then you’ll really enjoy this novel 🙂

Interestingly, this novel also contains a few interesting sci-fi elements too 🙂 Not only are some remnants of modern technology still working in the post-apocalyptic world, but the explanation behind the apocalypse is both mysterious enough to be dramatic whilst well-explained enough to be plausible. Not to mention that quite a bit of the story revolves around the topic of medical research too. Yes, the sci-fi elements are more of a background thing, but they help to add an extra layer of depth to the novel.

In addition to this, it’s also a dystopian novel about the contrast between anarchy and dictatorship too, with creepy examples of both appearing within the story. Although the story is a bit of a warning about how chaos allows the most evil people to take charge (in addition to being a criticism of things like colonialism etc.. too), this message is undercut somewhat by the fact that the main characters briefly end up in a nuclear-armed city state that is run by a cultured, benevolent dictator who helps them out. Even so, all of this dystopian stuff helps to add extra drama and suspense to the story, since Jasmine finds herself in a world where nowhere is truly safe and almost no-one can be trusted.

In terms of the characters, this novel is reasonably good. Although you shouldn’t expect ultra-deep characterisation, Jasmine is a really interesting morally-ambiguous anti-hero/unreliable narrator who helps to add a bit of intensity and personality to the story. Plus, the story’s dystopian villains are all suitably creepy and the characters that Jasmine teams up with during her escape are a really interesting bunch of people, whose backstories also give us a brief glimpse at the ways that the apocalypse has affected several other parts of the world too.

In terms of the writing, this novel’s first-person narration is written in the kind of informal, “matter of fact” way that you’d expect from a fast-paced thriller and it works really well 🙂 Not only does the first-person perspective add a bit of extra intensity to the novel but the fact that the reader gets to see inside Jasmine’s mind means that the “anti-hero” parts of the novel are a bit more dramatic, understandable and less cheesy than they would probably be in a novel with third-person narration.

As for length and pacing, this novel is really good. At an efficient 272 pages in length, not a single page is wasted 🙂 And, as you’d expect from a good thriller novel, this one is rather fast-paced too 🙂 However, it is perhaps slightly too fast-paced in some parts – with the novel occasionally moving just a little bit too fast to build the maximum amount of atmosphere or suspense in a few segments. Even so, given that the previous two novels I’ve read have been fairly slow-paced, it was still refreshing to read something a bit more fast-paced 🙂

All in all, even though I preferred Levene’s “Anno Mortis” to this novel, it’s still a really enjoyable one 🙂 If you want a fun fast-paced post-apocalyptic thriller that reminds you of the best late-night B movies from the 1990s, but with a bit of extra grittiness/edginess, 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: “Aliens: Cauldron” By Diane Carey (Novel)

Well, I was still in the mood for horror fiction and, since it’s been quite a while since I last read an “Aliens” novel, I thought that I’d check out a second-hand novel I found online a few weeks earlier called “Aliens: Cauldron” (2007) by Diane Carey.

Although this novel tells a self-contained “Aliens” story and can probably be enjoyed without having seen any of the films, it’s probably worth watching at least one or two of the first four “Alien” films before reading this just so that you have a better idea of what the alien monsters look like. Even so, they are described in this novel.

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

This is the 2007 Dark Horse Books (US) paperback edition of “Aliens: Cauldron” that I read.

The novel begins in space, on the cargo ship Virginia which is caught in a moon’s gravity and close to spiralling out of control. Directed by their charismatic captain, Nick Alley, the crew barely manage to keep the ship under control and, after a small crash with the ship they are meeting to exchange cargo with, both crews breathe a sigh of relief.

Later, in the cargo hold of the Virginia, a couple of crew members carefully doctor the ship’s records to disguise a rogue cargo container containing several dead alien specimens that they’ve been paid a lot to smuggle. However, due to a bizarre series of coincidences, the container gets opened and it turns out that the alien specimens aren’t quite as dead as they had been led to believe.

Meanwhile, on the cargo vessel Umiak, several space cadets are getting ready for a tour of duty before being dropped off at university on the terraformed planet Zone Emerald. The ship’s harsh captain, Pangborn, hates the cadets – not to mention that the cadets don’t exactly get along well with each other either. Still, the tour of duty promises to be a boring one – with the highlight being an upcoming automated cargo transfer with a ship carrying stasis-frozen livestock to Zone Emerald. That ship is, of course, the Virginia….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that I both loved and hated it. In short, this novel was one that slowly grew on me when I was reading it. Even so, when it is good it is good and when it isn’t, then it really isn’t.

I should probably start by talking about this novel’s horror elements and these are really good, if somewhat different to what I’d expected. Although there are a few well-written moments of gory horror, cruel horror, tragic horror and/or monster horror, the bulk of this novel’s horror comes from suspense, tension, claustrophobia and the characters. And this is handled expertly – whether it is several creepily unsympathetic characters who are trapped in space together, the inexperienced cadets facing danger, the constant feeling of fractious tension between the Umiak‘s crew or the many moments of claustrophobic suspense. Although this novel probably won’t frighten you, it’ll certainly make you feel nervous or uneasy at times.

The novel’s sci-fi elements are also fairly complex too, which is both a blessing and a curse. On the plus side, all of the futuristic technology etc… in the story feels well thought-out and very “real”. On the downside, this is achieved through lots of slow-paced descriptive segments (especially in the earlier parts of the novel) that almost seem more at home in a more sedate “Star Trek” novel than a thrilling “Aliens” novel. In other words, all of the cool sci-fi stuff actually tends to weigh the story down a bit too much at times. Even so, all of this meticulous description does pave the way for some brilliant set-pieces during a few later parts of the story.

Talking of “Star Trek”, one of the interesting things about this novel is how it is a bit like a more cynical version of “Star Trek”. The novel does this by focusing a lot on nautical traditions and by making several of the characters a bit more morally-ambiguous than the upstanding spacefarers you’d expect to see in “Star Trek”. On the one hand, this adds a satirical edge, a slight dose of realism and a bleak, tense atmosphere to the story. On the other hand, this also results in a few yawn-inducing nautical lectures, too many characters (2-3 crews, plus some space pirates) and a few cartoonish characters (eg: the harsh captain, the arrogant cadet etc..). So, this element of the story is kind of a mixed bag.

As for the novel’s thriller elements, they’re reasonably good most of the time. There’s a good mixture between fast-paced action scenes and slower moments of suspense. However, although this novel includes thriller novel-like moments throughout, it only really seems to become the kind of grippingly streamlined thriller novel that you’d expect during the later parts. Even so, the novel’s story remains intriguingly unpredictable throughout and it contains many moments that might catch you off-guard or make you curious about what will happen next. Even the story’s ending is, for an “Aliens” novel, something that might catch you by surprise.

In terms of the characters, they aren’t really one of this novel’s strengths. One of the problems is that there are almost too many of them to keep track of, or become invested in, during some parts of the novel (the slightly confusing opening scene is especially annoying in this respect). Whilst there is a core group of characters that you’ll get to know and will probably end up caring about, they can sometimes be a little on the corny and/or stylised side of things. On the plus side, this novel includes some suspenseful “villain vs villain” scenes between Captain Pangborn and one of the cadets, which are almost cartoonish enough to be amusing but just about understated enough to be creepily menacing.

In terms of the writing, this novel’s third-person narration is also a bit of a mixed bag. In the later parts of the novel, where the narration becomes a bit more streamlined and “matter of fact”, it really helps to carry the story and bring it to life. However, the earlier and middle parts of the novel often tend to use a slightly more formal, slow-paced and description/exposition-heavy style which, whilst it does add some depth and atmosphere to the story, isn’t really a good fit with the kind of thrillingly fast-paced story you’d expect to see in an “Aliens” novel and it can make these parts of the story a bit of a chore to read at times. Still, once you get used to the writing style, then this becomes less of an issue.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is also a mixed bag. At 284 pages, this novel may seem reasonably short but the small print and passages of formal narration can make it feel slightly more like 400. As for the pacing, the novel’s early-middle parts can be a bit slow-paced (which works well during some suspenseful moments, but can make other moments a bit boring), although the middle-late parts of the novel are the kind of confident, streamlined and grippingly fast-paced thriller that you’d expect from an “Aliens” novel.

All in all, this novel is a mixed bag. Although it isn’t perfect, there is a good story in here. This is one of those books that will grow on you if you keep reading it and, although it can be a bit too slow-paced and/or corny at times, it is also a fairly unpredictable, suspenseful and creepy sci-fi/horror thriller novel.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get three and three-quarters.

Review: “The Accidental Time Machine” By Joe Haldeman (Novel)

Well, after I read Jodi Taylor’s amazing “No Time Like The Past” a few weeks before writing this review, I decided to look online for other time travel-themed novels to tide me over until later novels in Taylor’s “Chronicles Of St. Mary’s” series came down in price.

And, after a bit of searching, I found a second-hand copy of Joe Haldeman’s 2007 novel “The Accidental Time Machine”. Which, for some reason, I only got round to reading several weeks later.

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

This is the 2008 Ace Science Fiction (US) paperback edition of “The Accidental Time Machine” that I read.

The novel follows Matt Fuller, a research assistant in a future (late 2050s) version of MIT. After Matt presses a button on a piece of scientific equipment, the machine quite literally disappears for a second. Puzzled, he tries it again and the machine disappears for slightly longer. So, after convincing his boss to let him take the machine home for “repairs”, Matt begins to experiment with it.

However, things aren’t going well for Matt. His girlfriend leaves him for another man and he is made redundant from MIT because his boss thinks that he’s over-qualified. But, since he still has the machine, Matt decides to do a major experiment with it. The type of experiment that Nobel prizes are made out of. After connecting the machine to a friend’s car, he gets into the car and presses the button…….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is absolutely brilliant 🙂 Imagine a slightly more serious and atmospheric version of the 1990s TV show “Sliders”, mixed with a little bit of the quirkiness of 1960s/70s science fiction, mixed with a bit of “hard” science fiction and sprinkled with a few subtle hints of Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”, H.P.Lovecraft, Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World“, the game “Deus Ex“, the movie “Army Of Darkness” and the TV show “Doctor Who” and you might come vaguely close to this novel. It is a compelling, atmospheric sci-fi thriller that has personality and heart.

In terms of the novel’s science fiction elements, they are really good. There is enough scientific jargon, explanations, experiments and academic stuff to give the novel an authoritative weight, but enough mysterious unexplained stuff to evoke a feeling of wonder and curiosity.

One theme in this novel seems to be that basic scientific knowledge is a constant throughout most periods of history, with it being one of the relatively few useful things Matt carries with him as he jumps through time. Likewise, this novel also covers topics like artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, time paradoxes etc…

Likewise, the novel’s time travel elements are handled in a vaguely “realistic” way, with Matt only being able to jump forward in time at ever-increasing increments. The time travel process itself follows a number of other rules too, but the main emphasis of the story is on Matt finding himself a “stranger in a strange land” in different versions of the future. This helps to add a lot of intrigue, suspense and wonder to the story.

Another awesome thing about this novel is it’s atmosphere. Virtually every location in this novel (including a snowy near-future version of Boston, a run-down theocratic dystopia, a futuristic version of LA etc….) feels wonderfully vivid and fascinating. Seriously, this is the kind of novel which should be adapted into a film, but which would probably lose a lot if it was. The atmosphere of this book is a little bit difficult to describe (it’s a little bit like a movie/TV show from the 1990s), but it is one of the best things about this novel 🙂

One interesting feature of this novel is that it is both a utopian and a dystopian novel. The strict, poor and theocratic version of Boston is contrasted with an A.I. controlled version of Los Angeles where everyone is rich. Yet, both places are presented with a degree of nuance.

The physical and intellectual horrors of the theocracy aren’t shied away from, yet hints of free thought still bloom in secret, the people there are content because they know little better and – in a conservative US theocracy of all places – there is actually sensible gun control too (although this could be there to foreshadow a later plot point). Yet, in contrast, the refreshingly prosperous and laid-back A.I. controlled utopia has fallen into a vaguely “Brave New World”-style state of mediocrity, vapidity and torpor.

In terms of the writing, the novel’s third-person narration is really good. It is formal and descriptive enough to give the story atmosphere, but it is also informal, nerdy and “matter of fact” enough to keep the story moving at a decent pace. In a lot of ways, the narration in this novel is bit like an updated modern version of the narrative styles used in the sci-fi novels of the 1950s-70s.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is also really good too. At an efficient 257 pages in length, this novel tells a full story without any of the bloat you’d expect to find in a modern novel. Likewise, the story remains fairly compelling throughout – with a good mixture of slower-paced scenes of suspense/atmosphere/world-building and more thrillingly fast-paced moments.

All in all, this is a really brilliant sci-fi novel 🙂 It’s compelling, atmospheric and wonderfully intriguing too. As I mentioned earlier, it’s the kind of book that should be adapted into a film, but would probably lose a lot if it was. So, if you’re a fan of time travel stories, then this one is well worth taking a look at.

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

Review: “Nefertiti” By Michelle Moran (Novel)

A few days before writing this review, I happened to see two documentaries about ancient Egypt. And, since I was in a bit of an “ancient Egypt” kind of mood afterwards, I remembered that I had a second-hand copy of Michelle Moran’s 2007 novel “Nefertiti” that a relative had given me several years ago.

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

This is the 2008 Quercus (UK) paperback edition of “Nefertiti” that I read.

“Nefertiti” is a historical novel about the reign of Nefertiti, queen and Pharaoh of Egypt. The story begins with a brief third-person description of how one of the elder pharaoh’s sons, Tuthmosis, dies in suspicious circumstances. Then, the novel is narrated by Nefertiti’s younger sister Mutnodjemet, beginning in Thebes when the sisters are teenagers and their influential father, Vizier Ay, manages to arrange a marriage between Nefertiti and the elder pharaoh’s only surviving son Amunhotep.

When Amunhotep is granted control of lower Egypt, he begins to order sweeping religious changes in addition to ordering the construction of a new city in the desert. Of course, Vizier Ay hopes that Nefertiti can influence the pharaoh to keep Egypt’s ancient religious traditions. However, the lure of power is strong and Nefertiti is eager to grab it…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a brilliantly epic, dramatic and atmospheric historical saga – although it is rather slow to start.

In essence, if you can get through the first hundred pages or so, then you’ll be rewarded with a wonderfully gripping story that reminded me of both HBO’s excellent “Rome” TV series (in terms of atmosphere, grandeur and style) and “Game Of Thrones” (in terms of ruthless political intrigue, drama, tyrannical rulers etc..). This novel is just as good, if not better, than these TV shows – but only once you’ve got past about the first hundred pages or so. So, stick with this book.

In terms of the historical elements of this novel – I am very glad that I watched a couple of documentaries before I read it. Whilst the story can of course be enjoyed as a simple drama/political thriller/romance/ historical saga without any prior knowledge, having a little bit of general background knowledge will help you to spot some of the novel’s moments of dramatic irony and/or historical accuracy (eg: there’s a throwaway line about Tutankhamun’s sarcophagus late in the book that is accurate to the archaeological findings in one of the documentaries I saw).

But, even if you know enough about the history to know how the story’s main events will turn out, most of the novel is still intriguingly gripping because of all of the various sub-plots and moments of drama. Because the novel is written from the perspective of Nefertiti’s sister, she is able to be involved in events, plots and romances that aren’t part of the well-known historical narrative. Likewise, some of the novel’s political schemes, plots and power plays are also rather unpredictable too. As such, the story can still be nail-bitingly suspenseful even if you know some of the history.

Plus, looking on Wikipedia, there does seem to be some deliberate artistic licence (eg: with regard to Horemheb and Mutnodjemet, with regard to how Nefertiti dies etc…). Although this isn’t historically accurate, it helps to add some unpredictability and drama to the story. However, when doing a little bit of background reading whilst writing this review, I suddenly noticed that two of the novel’s background characters (Ay and Horemheb) later became pharaohs, which is kind of cool.

In addition to this, the story is a grimly compelling drama about the nature of evil and the corrupting influence of power. Since, through Mutnodjemet’s eyes, we get to watch how Nefertiti goes from being a loving sister into a cold-hearted, selfish and imperious ruler.

In addition to this, the Pharaoh Amunhotep/Akhenaten is also a brilliantly chilling character too – he’s a religious fanatic, who is drunk with power and scarily incompetent too (eg: he orders the army to build him a new city, whilst some of Egypt’s outer territories are being invaded by Hittites etc..). So, this novel is a fascinatingly chilling glimpse into the nature of evil and tyranny too.

Yet, the novel’s emotional tone is surprisingly balanced. Unlike, say, “Game of Thrones”, this isn’t an unrelentingly bleak story. Yes, there are certainly grim, shocking, poignant, chilling, bleak and suspenseful moments but these are also balanced out with more joyous, heartwarming and peaceful moments. This novel is a wonderfully powerful emotional rollercoaster. So, if you want something that is a little bit like “Game Of Thrones”, but with a little bit less of a bleak tone to it, then you’ll enjoy this novel 🙂

The religious politics of ancient Egypt are also a really interesting element of this novel too. Basically, the novel covers the relatively brief period of history where Amunhotep/Akhenaten changed the state religion from the religion of Amun (eg: the traditional deities like Horus, Osiris, Anubis, Amun-Ra etc...) to the worship of a single sun god called Aten.

In addition to showing some of the reasons why the Pharaoh did this – eg: a mixture of religious fanaticism and a way to take power away from the influential priests of Amun – Moran also adds a bit of extra drama and suspense to the story by showing many of the characters still secretly worshipping the old gods in a similar way to how Americans drank in speakeasies etc… during prohibition.

The characters in this book are absolutely brilliant and the decision to narrate the story from the perspective of Nefertiti’s younger sister – who just wants to tend a garden and start a family, rather than get involved in politics – is a surprisingly good one. Not only is she a really likeable character, but her humanity is also brilliantly contrasted with many of the more sociopathic and power-hungry characters that she encounters. Seriously, I really loved the characters and characterisation in this novel 🙂

In terms of the writing and first-person narration, it’s fairly good too. The novel is written in a fairly readable style which is descriptive enough to evoke the grandeur and traditions of ancient Egypt whilst still being modern and matter-of-fact enough to be able to be read at a reasonable pace. The novel also uses a few Egyptian words to add flavour to the story, but the meaning is always obvious from the context – so, it never gets confusing.

In terms of the length and pacing, it’s reasonably ok. Although, as I mentioned, the novel is a bit slow to start, the final three-quarters of the book move at a reasonably decent pace. Whilst this isn’t exactly an ultra-fast paced thriller, the narration moves at a good pace and there are enough moments of drama to keep you gripped throughout most of the book. And, at about 420 pages or so, this novel is a little bit on the long side – but still just about compact enough not to feel bloated.

All in all, this is an absolutely brilliant historical novel. Yes, the first hundred pages or so are a bit of a slog but, once you get past those, you’ll be rewarded with a wonderfully gripping tale of power, intrigue, family and politics. I absolutely loved the atmosphere and characters in this novel too. As I mentioned earlier, if you like TV shows like “Rome” and “Game Of Thrones”, then you’ll probably enjoy this book 🙂

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

Review: “Antediluvian Tales” By Poppy Z. Brite (Short Story Collection)

Ever since my very early twenties, Poppy Z. Brite (the pen name of the one and only Billy Martin) has been my favourite author. Although I could probably write an autobiography about the effect that his novels had on me during the two most important years of my life, I want to keep this article below two thousand words.

If you’re new to this author, then the thing to remember is that Martin’s stories are almost always more about the journey than the destination. They’re about spending time in various versions of New Orleans, hanging out with fascinating characters and just soaking in the atmosphere rather than about following a specific story.

Likewise, Martin’s exquisitely lush, vivid writing style is something that has to be read to be believed. Even if you don’t like horror or romance, then his books are still worth reading just for the narration alone!

But, one of the annoying things about being a fan of Martin’s stories is that they aren’t always the easiest thing to find in the world. Aside from his more well-known novels and short story collections, a fair portion of his works are rare, small-press “only published in America” type things. Sure, you can probably get them as e-books, but they are the kind of stories that I feel demand to be read on paper, the old-fashioned way.

Still, when browsing online a couple of weeks before writing this review, I happened to notice that a second-hand copy of “Antidiluvian Tales” was going cheap on Amazon. Well, relatively cheap. Even though it was an ex-library copy from America that would take a fortnight to cross the Atlantic, it still seemed worth getting. Hence this review.

So, let’s take a look at “Antedivulian Tales”. This review may contain some SPOILERS:

This is the 2007 Subterranean Press (US) hardback edition of “Antediluvian Tales” that I read (And yes, that blue thing below the angel is some kind of elaborate ink stain from the library it used to be from.)

“Antedivulian Tales” is a short story collection from 2007 which collects several New Orleans-themed stories that Martin wrote before Hurricane Katrina, in addition to a non-fiction piece about the hurricane. Given that the effects of the hurricane were one of the reasons why he retired from writing, there’s a certain poignance to this collection. It’s a glimpse back at a better time of the author’s life.

One cool thing about this collection is that it is only about 116 pages in length. Although this might sound like it’s a bit too short, it also means that it can be read cover-to-cover within the space of an hour or two. It’s a relaxing, satisfying experience that can be enjoyed without the time investment that would come with a longer collection. Plus, with the vivid narration and deep characterisation on offer here, the collection’s length feels like a brilliant example of quality taking precedence over quantity.

Another interesting thing about this slender collection of stories is how much of a mixture of Martin’s older and newer fiction it is. There are several stories that serve as short prequels to Martin’s “Liquor” novels. But there’s also a random story about absinthe, Mardi Gras and the 1990s. And there are a couple of 1990s-style horror stories featuring Dr. Brite, the coroner of New Orleans. Not to mention that one of the “Liquor” prequel stories is also an old-school 1970s-style ghost story too.

Yet, despite this large amount of variety, the stories are all linked together surprisingly well. This is mostly because of their shared New Orleans setting, Martin’s uniquely brilliant narrative voice and several of the themes running throughout the collection (eg: food, Catholicism, family, death, love, mystery etc..)

So, let’s take a look at the actual stories…

“The Feast Of St. Rosalie” is a slice of life story, focusing on Rosalie Stubbs during the titular “Feast of St. Rosalie”, a Catholic holy day in New Orleans. The story is one of those vivid, atmospheric and mostly plotless stories that is more of a character study than anything else.

“Four Flies And A Swatter” is this wonderful little story about a bar in 1990s New Orleans, the day after Mardi Gras. With only four random customers at the bar, one of the bartenders decides to dust off an old bottle of absinthe that he’s found. Not only does this story contain some very slight hints of “Lost Souls“, but it also contains an absolutely brilliant ending which is simultaneously uplifting, tragic, funny and creepy at the same time.

“Henry Goes Shopping” is a slightly funny short character study about Henry Stubbs. He’s about to buy some condoms, but finds himself in the embarrassing situation of standing behind a nun in the checkout line.

“The Working Slob’s Prayer” is more of a concrete prequel to the first “Liquor” novel, giving us a fascinating “slice of life” glimpse at the kitchen of the Peychaud Grill, where Rickey and G-Man worked before the events of “Liquor”.

Although this story is only sixteen pages long, it feels more like a novel 🙂 Not only do we get to see lots of interesting characters, but there are several story threads and even a possible author insert too. Seriously, how Martin managed to cram all of this amazing stuff into less than twenty pages, without the story ever feeling rushed or superficial, I’ll never know.

“Crown Of Thorns” is the first of the two ‘Dr. Brite’ stories. The story focuses on both a rather strange autopsy and Dr. Brite’s relationship with his new boyfriend Hank.

Although the mystery of why a dead body was found with an unusual gourd in his chest is deepened rather than resolved at the end of the story, the conclusion still feels oddly satisfying. Plus, this story also contains an amusing little reference to “Liquor” at one point too.

“Wound Man And Horned Melon Go To Hell”
takes the form of a gleefully irreverent letter written to Jesus by Dr. Brite, relating the strange events that befell him and Hank whilst visiting a Russian-themed restaurant.

This is another mysterious horror story (with some brilliantly funny moments), that is also wonderfully evocative of the gothic fiction that Billy Martin used to write during the 1990s. Plus, the title is just awesome too.

“The Devil Of Delery Street” is probably the most unusual short story in the collection. It starts out as another prequel story about the Stubbs family, but soon turns into a 1970s-style ghost story with an atmosphere that is very vaguely reminscent of something like “The Exorcist” or “Carrie”. Like with the other horror stories in this collection, there’s a real emphasis on mystery here – which really helps to give the story a surprising sense of realism.

“The Last Good Day Of My Life (A True Story)” is an account of a holiday to Australia that the author took about a month before Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans.

The segments about Australia are written in the lush, vividly descriptive way that you would expect – but all of this beauty is, of course, contrasted with the uglier events that would follow. Although the later part of the account focuses more on Martin’s emotional reaction to Katrina, it is chillingly punctuated with a couple of understated excerpts from a journal that he kept at the time.

All in all, this is a really interesting collection of stories. Yes, it’s the kind of thing that avid fans of the author (like myself) will get the most out of, but it also possibly serves as a really interesting introduction to the different types of fiction that Martin wrote before he retired. What this collection may lack in length, it more than makes up for in both quality and depth.

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

Review: “Resident Evil: Extinction” (Film)

Well, after reviewing the first and second “Resident Evil” films, I thought that I’d check out the third one – “Resident Evil: Extinction”. However, I’m still not sure how many of these films I’ll review (hopefully, I’ll review the fourth one sometime, but I’m not exactly sure when).

Although I remember reading the novelisation of “Resident Evil: Extinction” when I was about twenty, I can’t remember if I’ve seen the film before. I’m pretty sure that I have, but I can’t be 100% certain, so it seemed like it would be worth taking a look at.

As usual, this review will contain SPOILERS. Likewise, the film itself contains some FLICKERING LIGHTS/IMAGES, although I don’t know if they’re intense or sustained enough to cause issues. Plus, this film is best enjoyed after you’ve seen the previous two films too.

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

And, yes, I know that there are six films (although this probably explains why this second-hand DVD boxset was so cheap).

“Resident Evil: Extinction” is a sci-fi/horror/action film from 2007. It begins with what appears to be a recap of the events of the first two “Resident Evil” films.

We see Alice awaken in the shower with no memory and begin to explore the mansion. But then she finds herself inside the laser tunnel below the mansion and it quickly becomes apparent that something isn’t quite right. After dodging the lasers and crawling through an air vent, she finds herself inside Racoon City Hospital.

So, this isn’t re-used footage from the previous film!

However, the hospital seems to be filled with random deathtraps. And, after dodging a guillotine blade, Alice is machine-gunned to death by some kind of futuristic landmine. As she dies, several scientists appear and carry her body away.

Well, that was a short film! What? There’s more…

They carry her body out of the building into a desert and throw it on a pile of identical cloned bodies. The camera then zooms out to reveal that all of this has happened inside a desert research facility that is surrounded by hordes of zombies.

A simple fence is enough to keep the zombies out?!?!? They’re strong enough to tear metal grilles off of windows later in the film.

The film then cuts to a voice-over which explains that, several months after the events of the second film, the world succumbed to the zombie virus and has been reduced to a harsh wasteland filled with nothing but survivors, the undead and the remnants of the nefarious Umbrella Corporation.

Meanwhile, the real Alice is exploring the Utah desert in search of survivors, whilst the other survivors from the first film have joined an armoured convoy in Nevada – led by Claire Redfield (Finally! It’s about time she showed up in these films!).

Better late than never, I guess.

Whilst all of this is going on, Dr. Isaacs is talking with Albert Wesker (again, Finally!). Wesker is now the head of the Umbrella Corporation and he allows Isaacs to continue his research into finding a partial cure for the zombie virus, so that the zombies can be used for forced labour. But because Isaacs’ cloning program hasn’t worked out well, he wants to track down the original Alice in order to use the antibodies in her blood…

One of the first things that I will say about this film is that it combines the best elements of the first and second films. Thanks to the good mixture of slower-paced suspenseful horror and thrilling fast-paced action, this is a fun, scary thriller film 🙂

In addition to this, the film’s post-apocalyptic desert setting really helps to make this film a rather distinctive entry in the franchise too.

Yay! Post-apocalyptic wasteland!

The horror elements of this film work surprisingly well. In addition to the usual zombie-based horror and some more suspenseful scenes, this film also includes things like a genuinely creepy scene involving a group of deranged survivors, a few well-placed jump scares and a cool little homage to George A. Romero’s “Day Of The Dead” (when some scientists attempt to train a zombie). There’s also a greater emphasis on gory horror too, with this film being somewhat more gruesome than the previous two films.

Yay! It’s a homage to “Day Of The Dead” 🙂

The thriller elements of this film work really well, with the survivors often having to fight or evade both groups of zombies and infected crows too. There are also enhanced zombies and a large monster too.

Like in the previous film in the series, the action scenes are all really well-choreographed. However, this film also tones down the “silliness” of the action scenes very slightly- with the combat seeming very slightly more suspenseful and realistic. Plus, since these action scenes occur less often than in the previous film, they are often more thrilling (since they’re contrasted with slower-paced scenes).

Unlike in “Resident Evil: Apocalypse”, the whole film doesn’t consist of scenes like this.

But there’s still the occasional enjoyably silly moment too.

One thing that really helps is that there’s more character-based drama. Although you shouldn’t expect massive amounts of characterisation, the film focuses more on the lives of the survivors as they try to find more fuel, stay alive and work out where they can hide from the zombies.

Likewise, the film’s villains also receive a certain amount of characterisation too, with the charmingly sociopathic Dr. Isaacs being an absolutely brilliant villain. Wesker, on the other hand, really doesn’t get enough screen time or characterisation.

Seriously, Wesker only appear in about three scenes. Three!

Carlos and LJ seem less like the cartoon characters they were in “Resident Evil: Apocalypse” and more like tough, but realistic, characters. Although Claire Redfield is nothing like the videogame character she’s based on – she comes across as a reasonably realistic and well-written/acted character, who reminded me a little bit of Sarah Connor from “Terminator 2”.

Yes, this isn’t even vaguely accurate to the games. But, this scene is still pretty cool nonetheless.

Likewise, Alice is still the same badass action heroine that we all know and love. However, her psychic powers have increased slightly since the ending of the second film, which have led to her being somewhat of a loner since she fears what they might do to those close to her.

The film’s supporting characters also include a few other interesting characters, such as a teenage girl called “K-Mart” who is Claire’s protege, a character called Betty who seems to be LJ’s girlfriend and a cowboy-like guy who, for some bizarre reason, has a British army rifle (that he uses as a sniper rifle).

Seriously, how does he even have this gun?

These supporting characters help to ensure that the film isn’t just about a few main characters – which helps to add some suspense and depth to the story. The fact that the survivors also have to protect a group of kids too helps to add some suspense to the film.

In terms of the film’s special effects, set design and lighting – they’re really good. The film uses a combination of practical and CGI effects, both of which seem to work reasonably well. Likewise, the film’s bleakly bright desert settings are contrasted wonderfully with some rather gloomy chiaroscuro lighting too. The film’s desert setting also allow it to include lots of intriguingly creepy abandoned buildings too, which helps to add some atmosphere.

Such as this creepy abandoned radio station.

Or this ominously disused petrol station.

In terms of the music, the film is reasonably good – with the highlight being a piece of music (that sounds eerily futuristic and distinctively “Resident Evil”) that repeats during several establishing shots. Likewise, when the survivors’ convoy is first introduced, the scene is set to Iron Butterfly’s “Inna-Gadda-Da-Vida”. Somehow, this piece of 1960s music works really well in context, and sounds suitably epic.

Although “Convoy” by C. W. McCall would have been hilarious in this scene!

All in all, this film is a brilliant mixture of the suspenseful horror of “Resident Evil” and the thrilling action of “Resident Evil: Apocalypse”. It is ninety minutes of pure post-apocalyptic sci-fi/horror fun. And it is probably the best film in the series that I’ve seen so far.

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

Review: “How To Rob A Bank” (Film)

Well, it’s been a couple of weeks since I last reviewed a film. So, I thought that I’d check out a comedic heist movie from 2007 called “How To Rob A Bank (…And Tips To Actually Get Away With It)“.

This was mostly because I was in the mood for something a bit more light-hearted after spending a while playing “Silent Hill 3“. And, after looking for second-hand DVDs online, I ended up finding this one.

So, let’s take a look at “How To Rob A Bank”. Needless to say, this review may contain some mild SPOILERS.

I don’t know why the cover art shows Nick Stahl holding a pistol. He’s completely unarmed for the whole film!

This film begins with a guy called Jinx (played by Nick Stahl) who is inside a locked bank vault with a hostage called Jessica (played by Erika Christensen). However, as soon as they begin talking, it quickly becomes apparent that Jessica is actually one of the bank robbers and Jinx is just a guy who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Yes, surprisingly, the sketchy-looking guy is actually the innocent bystander here.

Outside the vault, an armed bank robber called Simon (played by Gavin Rossdale) is absolutely furious about the fact that he can’t get into the vault. So, he calls Jessica… but Jinx picks up the phone instead. Needless to say, the two have quite a laugh about this bizarre misunderstanding and quickly become the best of friends:

Did I say “the best of friends”? I meant to say “bitter enemies”.

Of course, whilst all of this is going on, the police have finally shown up – led by Officer DeGepse (played by Terry Crews) who ends up talking to Jinx via mobile phone. Whilst all of this is going on, Jessica manages to trick DeGepse into thinking that she’s another hostage.

Reluctantly, Jinx goes along with it, before giving DeGepse Simon’s phone number. Simon is understandably annoyed that the cops have got his phone number, but DeGepse refuses to disclose who gave it to him (despite Simon guessing correctly rather quickly). But, then Jinx accidentally starts a conference call…

And, even more amusingly, Jinx tricks Simon into apologising to DeGepse, then tricks DeGepse into accepting the apology.

Needless to say, they’re all in a bit of a pickle….

One of the very first things that I will say about this film is that it isn’t really your typical Hollywood movie. In fact, it’s actually a low-mid budget independent film… and it is all the better for it!

Instead of flashy action sequences, the film focuses a lot more on dialogue, humour and clever plotting. Seriously, a good portion of the film is set within just one room and quite a bit of the film consists of people phoning each other… and it still manages to be a really interesting, and funny, film.

Unlike many heist movies, this one doesn’t focus that much on the elaborate (and mildly confusing) plot behind the heist but, instead, it begins “in medias res” and focuses more on Jinx and Jessica trying to figure out a sneaky way to get past both the other bank robbers and the cops. Although this film certainly contains a bit of suspense, it’s more of a clever comedy film than a thriller movie.

Most of the film consists of scenes like this… and it’s still a surprisingly good film!

And, yes, this film is funny. Although there are only a few “laugh out loud” moments, a lot of this film is filled with subtle humour, ironic humour and irreverent humour.

The bulk of the film’s humour comes from the surprisingly well-written dialogue (and the interactions between the characters in general) and the farcical premise of the film. There’s also a little bit of social satire, some amusing cutaway/flashback moments, some random 80s pop music references and a bit of slapstick comedy in order to keep the humour slightly varied.

For example, one of Simon’s henchmen has a malfunctioning pistol that keeps jamming throughout the film.

Although the film is a comedy, it still tries to squeeze in some endearingly cynical “Fight Club“-esque anti-corporation politics too. The most notable example of this being that the events of the film are set into motion because Jinx’s greedy bank has placed a surcharge on all ATM transactions, which means that he has to enter the bank to withdraw his last $20. And, yes, there are a couple of amusingly cynical speeches about this in the film.

One thing that helps to keep this film focused and interesting is the lean and efficient 78 minute running time. Unlike many Hollywood films, this film actually seems to have an editor and it is all the better for it. Although the film’s pacing sags a little during a couple of scenes, the compact running time helps to ensure that the story keeps moving and the audience remains interested.

Another cool thing about this film is that it was made in the pre-smartphone era. So, all of the mobile phones in this film are good old-fashioned flip phones (which used to be really cool 10-20 years ago) and they’re actually used as phones too. There’s no mobile internet, no “apps” or any of that nonsense. Seriously, there isn’t even any texting. There’s just three groups of people talking to each other on the phone. This helps to keep the film compellingly focused. Seriously, this film just wouldn’t work if the characters were using modern smartphones.

Surprisingly, the film’s flip-phones are also camera phones, but this feature thankfully isn’t used (mostly since some of the clever ruses in the film rely on the absence of cameras).

Another interesting thing about this film is how it handles moral ambiguity. Jinx is originally an innocent bystander, but he soon realises that joining in with the heist might help him get out of the bank. Likewise, although Jessica is initially a rather bitter and villainous character, she ends up being something of a “good criminal” after she realises that she’s in the same situation as Jinx.

So, yes, there’s actual character development in this film.

Likewise, Jessica’s mysterious boss – Nick – also seems to be something of a reluctantly “good” criminal as the film progresses.

Amusingly both DeGepse and Simon are both weary and cynical characters. In a way, they are literally polar opposites of each other, yet also have a lot in common in their amusingly frustrated attitudes towards the situation.

Seriously, I cannot praise the characters in this film enough! Although there isn’t a huge amount of deep characterisation, the characters come across as being somewhat more “realistic” than the characters in an average Hollywood movie. Likewise, a lot of what makes this film so good is the dynamics and interactions between the characters.

Of course, most of those interactions take place over a phone line – but they’re still amusing and/or compelling.

In terms of lighting, set design and special effects, this film is a little on the minimalist side. The bank vault is a fairly featureless white room and the bank just looks like an old American bank. Although, I noticed something eerily surprising about one of the film’s props…

OMG! I’ve just realised that the computer monitor for the bank’s CCTV is exactly the same type of monitor as the monitor on the computer I’m typing this review on!

The film has very few special effects and, aside from some clunky CGI renderings of the vault door mechanism, the film’s few practical effects work reasonably well. Likewise, although the lighting in this film is mostly fairly “ordinary”, there are a couple of moments of beautifully gloomy lighting here.

Amusingly, some cheaper mobile phones that were around in the mid-late 2000s actually had a LED torch feature – so, you didn’t have to use the screen as a torch.

Musically speaking, most of the film’s soundtrack isn’t very memorable. However, the ending credits are graced with a Duran Duran song which, when you’ve seen the film, will make a lot more sense.

All in all, this is a funny heist movie which relies more on well-written dialogue, well-written characters and clever plotting than on fast-paced action in order to remain compelling. It’s very different from the average Hollywood movie and is really interesting as a result.

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