Review: “Universal Harvester” By John Darnielle (Novel)

Several weeks earlier, I saw a mention of John Darnielle’s 2017 novel “Universal Harvester” on an online list of recommended horror novels.

The premise of the story intrigued me and it seemed like my kind of thing. So, naturally, I… forgot about it for several weeks before eventually remembering it and tracking down a second-hand copy.

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

This is the 2017 Scribe (UK) paperback edition of “Universal Harvester” that I read.

The novel begins in the late 1990s in a small town in Iowa called Nevada. Jeremy Heldt works in Video Hut, an independent video rental shop that is gradually losing out to the larger video shop nearby. It is a fairly ordinary winter afternoon and Jeremy passes the time talking to the regular customers. But, when a regular called Stephanie returns a video, she mentions that something has been spliced into the tape.

Curious, Jeremy takes the video home to check it out. Sure enough, there are a few seconds of bizarre gloomy footage in the middle of the film. Not only that, one of the other tapes contains bizarre camcorder footage of a hooded woman in a barn. Although Jeremy is a bit freaked out by this, he gets on with his life and only mentions it to his boss, Sarah Jane, a while later.

Sarah Jane begins to look into the mysterious tapes and becomes more and more curious. So much so that she tracks down the barn from the film. After talking to its current owner, Lisa, Sarah Jane starts spending more and more time there…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is what would emerge if David Lynch, Jack O’Connell and Alice Hoffman sat down and decided to write a novel together 🙂 In other words, it is an atmospheric and strange story that only just about makes sense, but is so unique, interesting and well-written that you won’t really care. Seriously, if you like weird novels and TV shows from the 1990s, then you’ll love this novel 🙂

Surprisingly though, this wasn’t as much of a horror novel as I’d expected. Yes, there are some ominous, mysterious and chilling moments. Plus, there is a creepily mysterious backstory involving a cult and a theme of death and loss running through the story too. But, it isn’t really a horror story. In a lot of ways, it is like the TV show “Twin Peaks” – in that it contains elements of horror, but isn’t really a horror story.

And, yes, I should probably talk about this novel’s 1990s elements, since they are brilliant 🙂 Not only does this novel almost read like an “alternative” novel from the 1990s (eg: the sort of thing that would have been reprinted by Vintage in the 2000s), but it perfectly captures the warm and wintery rural atmosphere of various American films/TV shows from the decade too.

In addition to this, it is also a novel that includes stuff like video rental shops, lots of VHS tapes, old computers etc… Seriously, if you remember any of this stuff from the late 1990s/early 2000s then the book is wonderfully nostalgic 🙂

Interestingly though, this novel isn’t entirely set in the 1990s. There are a few random time jumps to both the 1950s-1970s and the present day which, although they are a bit unexpected, really help to add a lot of extra depth and atmosphere to the story. Seriously, I cannot praise the atmosphere of this novel highly enough.

One other cool thing about this novel is it’s focus on alternate timelines and parallel universes. Although this is mostly just a stylistic thing where the narrator will talk about what could happen, it really adds a lot to the novel. Not only that, there is at least one scene (where Sarah Jane describes what she saw in the farmhouse) which contradicts the descriptions in previous chapter – implying either an unreliable narrator, a multi-verse or an unreliable character. This really helps to add a lot of atmosphere and mystery to the novel.

In terms of the characters, this novel is really good. We get enough characterisation and detail to really care about the characters, but enough is left unexplained or unsaid to make some of the characters seem intriguingly mysterious. Interestingly, although Jeremy is set up as the main character at the beginning of the novel, the story is more about several of the other characters than him. This reminded me of a very vaguely similar technique used in M.John Harrison’s “Nova Swing” and it really helps to add depth and realism to the story.

Needless to say, all of this makes the novel really compelling. The best way to describe the characters in this book is that they are like a very slightly more understated, mysterious, realistic and/or hardboiled version of the characters you’d see in an Alice Hoffman novel or an episode of “Twin Peaks”.

In terms of the writing, this novel is really brilliant. For starters, the novel is technically narrated from a first person perspective, but it often reads more like a third-person novel until the narrator suddenly drops a dramatic fourth-wall breaking description or intriguing plot spoiler. Likewise, you’ll also spend quite a bit of the novel trying to work out who the narrator actually is until their identity is (sort of) revealed in the final few pages of the story.

The writing style in this novel is really brilliant too. It’s “matter of fact” enough to keep the story moving, but also beautifully descriptive and unique at the same time. It’s a little bit like a mixture between the high-brow hardboiled prose of Jack O’Connell and the vivid, poetic prose of Alice Hoffman.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. At a gloriously efficient 214 pages in length, it never feels like a page is wasted. Likewise, although this isn’t a fast-paced novel, it isn’t a slow-paced novel either. Although the story’s time jumps can take a while to get used to, there is enough atmosphere and mystery to keep the story really compelling 🙂

All in all, whilst this novel probably isn’t for everyone, I really loved it 🙂 It’s this gloriously weird mixture of 1990s nostalgia, ominous mystery, meta-fiction/experimental fiction and atmosphere. If you want a story which explains everything and has a linear plot, read something else. If you want a unique, intriguing and well-written novel, read this one.

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

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

Well, since I’m still reading the next novel I plan to review (“Linesman” by S. K. Dunstall), I thought that I’d take the chance to take a quick look at another “Doom II”/”Final Doom” WAD.

So, after clicking the “random file” button on the /idgames Archive a couple of times, I ended up with a single-level WAD from 2017 called “Impact“.

As usual, I used the “ZDoom” source port whilst playing this level. However, since this is a “vanilla” level (eg: it only uses the standard textures, monsters etc..), it will probably work with pretty much any source port and/or mods that you want (although, obviously, I didn’t use mods in this review).

So, let’s take a look at “Impact”:

“Impact” is a short single-level WAD that, according to the accompanying text file, is both the mapper’s first map and an attempt to create an introductory level for new players that also follows John Romero’s design principles. And, when viewed with these things in mind, the level actually works reasonably well.

Needless to say, this is a very easy level. But, whilst experienced players will blaze through it in less than five minutes, the moderate number of low-level monsters will probably present a bit of an enjoyable challenge for inexperienced players.

It’s probably more challenging than the original “E1M1”, but reasonably easy compared to most other levels.

For an easy introductory level, this level actually has a fairly good monster progression, weapon progression and difficulty curve, since the level initially starts by throwing smaller groups of zombies and imps at the player, before a rather cool set-piece featuring a room lined with zombies (where the player is given a chaingun) and a short final segment that also includes a pink “demon” monster too.

If you’re a new player, then I imagine that this set piece will probably be a lot more intense/dramatic.

In terms of level design, this level is very short and very linear…. just like E1M1 from the original “Doom”, which seems to be one of it’s inspirations. There are a couple of very small side areas to explore at the beginning, but the level progresses along a single, focused path. Given that this is meant to be an easy level for new players, this is probably a good design choice.

Still, there are a good variety of areas here (including a cracked floor that reminded me a little of Romero’s modern WADs, like “Tech Gone Bad) that keep the level visually interesting and help to create a sense of progression.

This cracked floor looks really cool, plus the raised area is a tantalisingly visible part of a secret area too.

Likewise, one cool feature of this level is that several secret areas are clearly visible, but difficult to get to – which provides a little bit of extra challenge and/or replay value. Not only that, this sort of thing is also a cool homage to the level design of the original “Doom” too.

All in all, this level fulfils it’s goals really well – it is a forgivingly easy and short introductory level that is also a bit of a homage to the original “Doom” too. Yes, if you’re an experienced player, then this level will just be three minutes of mindlessly easy fun. But, I can imagine that it will probably be a lot more enjoyable and a bit more challenging for the novice players that it is aimed at.

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

Review: “The Midnight Line” By Lee Child (Novel)

Well, I hadn’t planned to read a Lee Child novel (the last one I read was in 2017, when I wasn’t reading much) but, after reading a fairly slow-paced novel recently, I wanted something relaxing, gripping and refreshingly fast-paced.

Out of instinct, I’d bought a copy of Child’s 2017 novel “The Midnight Line” in a charity shop in Petersfield last year when I realised that it was a Lee Child novel I hadn’t even heard of before. So, this seemed like a good time to read it.

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

This is the 2018 Bantam (UK) “Richard & Judy’s Book Club” paperback edition of “The Midnight Line” that I read.

The novel starts with an ex-military policeman Jack Reacher in Milwaukee. His lover has just left him after three days together and Reacher decides to deal with this by continuing his travels. So, he gets on a bus that is heading for a small town near Lake Superior.

But, on the way, the bus stops off for a rest stop at a small town. Reacher wanders around the town and ends up in the local pawn shop. He spots a ring. It is a graduation ring from the prestigious West Point US military academy that is inscribed with the initials “S. R. S” . Soldiers don’t usually sell things like that. So, after buying the ring, Reacher stays in town and decides to track down the owner….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that I’d forgotten how good Lee Child novels are. Yes, even though this one doesn’t quite live up to the standards of some of Child’s older novels (eg: “Gone Tomorrow”, “The Hard Way”, “Persuader”, “Tripwire” etc..) – it’s still the kind of gripping, incredibly readable, precisely-written thriller novel that is as compellingly relaxing as a good DVD boxset. Or, to put it another way, even a “low-budget” Lee Child novel is still considerably better than most books by many other thriller authors.

For the most part, this novel is actually more of a detective thriller novel than an action-thriller novel. Seriously, there are only about four or five short fight scenes in the entire book – with at least a few other moments where Reacher actually solves problems in a non-violent way. Surprisingly, this actually adds some extra realism (and unpredictability) to the novel, in addition to placing emphasis on the detective elements of the story too.

And, for the most part, these work fairly well – with Reacher and several other detectives (eg: a cop, a P.I. and a federal agent) investigating the mysterious case in different ways and for different reasons. However, a lot of the story’s gripping suspense is lost when Reacher meets the ring’s owner about two-thirds of the way through the novel. After that, the novel turns into slightly more of a conventional crime thriller/action-thriller novel – which is good, although it isn’t quite as good as the compelling mystery of the scenes where Reacher is trying to find out about who owns the ring.

Even so, these crime thriller/action-thriller scenes later in the book still remain reasonably compelling, thanks to a well-placed set piece and a rather clever, if unconventional, plot device involving a character with a dwindling supply of narcotics. However, Reacher’s final showdown with the novel’s main villain is surprisingly brief, anti-climactic and understated (with the most dramatic part of the scene also being little more than an implied background detail too).

Likewise, given that the crime thriller elements of the novel revolve around the drug trade, this allows Lee Child to explore how the opioid epidemic has affected rural America. This element of the book is handled surprisingly well, with Child’s ire about the situation quite rightly directed towards pharmaceutical companies and organised crime gangs, instead of their victims (who are presented in a fairly compassionate way).

In terms of the settings, most of this novel takes place in a small town and in various remote areas of Wyoming. Although this rural remoteness adds some mystery and menace to a few scenes in the novel, it does tend to get a little bit dull after a while. Even so, the plot still helps to keep everything interesting – especially during the parts where Reacher is trying to track down the ring’s owner.

As for the characters, they’re reasonably good. Jack Reacher is, well, Jack Reacher – he’s the same intelligent, tall and courageous wandering ex-military policeman as usual (although he’s a little bit more of a pacifist, relatively speaking, in this novel). The other characters are also pretty interesting, with most of them having distinctive quirks, motivations and flaws. However, the novel’s main villain doesn’t quite get enough characterisation though. Although the characterisation in this novel is very slightly on the minimalist side of things, it still works reasonably well and you’ll find yourself caring about what happens to the characters.

One interesting element of this novel is how all of the various detectives etc… interact with each other. Unlike in some of Lee Child’s other novels, Reacher seems to be on incredibly good terms with the police in this novel – with his old military credentials (and the business that the villains are in) basically meaning that the police everywhere he goes end up siding with him, helping him out and/or looking the other way when he breaks the rules. I’m not sure if this is realistic or not, but it works reasonably well – although it slightly lessens the suspense in some parts of the novel.

As for the writing, Lee Child’s third-person narration is the kind of precise, fast-paced, “matter of fact” narration that you would expect. As thriller novels go, Lee Child’s are some of the most well-written ones that I’ve read and this novel is no exception. The writing never patronises the reader, yet this is the kind of novel which can still be read easily when you’re really tired and/or the weather is annoyingly hot, which is quite an achievement on Lee Child’s part.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. Although it’s about 450 pages long, this is the kind of novel which will take you less time to read than some 300 page books will. In other words, the story is reasonably fast-paced throughout. Seriously, even in the scenes where nothing much happens, the novel still remains pretty gripping.

All in all, whilst this certainly isn’t the best Lee Child novel I’ve read, it’s still an incredibly gripping and compelling novel. Yes, it’s more of a detective thriller novel than an action-thriller novel, but this works surprisingly well. But, if the Jack Reacher novels were a TV show, this one would probably be a low-budget bottle episode. Even so, it’s still one of the better non-sci fi/non-urban fantasy/ non-horror thriller novels I’ve read since I got back into reading regularly a few months ago.

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

Review: “Autonomous” By Annalee Newitz (Novel)

Well, I thought that I’d take a break from all of the fantasy fiction I’ve been reading recently and read some science fiction instead 🙂

I first heard about Annalee Newitz’s 2017 cyberpunk/biopunk novel “Autonomous” after seeing this online review that likened it to “Blade Runner”. Naturally, I was intrigued.

When I looked the book up online, I found that it had been praised by none other than Neal Stephenson and William Gibson (two of my favourite cyberpunk authors). After reading the online preview chapters, I realised that this was my kind of novel. So, after thinking about it for a couple of weeks, I decided to splurge on a new paperback copy of it. Thankfully, I wasn’t disappointed 🙂

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

This is the 2017 Orbit (UK) paperback edition of “Autonomous” that I read.

Set in Canada in 2144, pharmaceutical pirate Judith “Jack” Chen is making a smuggling run in her submarine when she happens to spot a news story about a student who has become chemically addicted to homework.

It doesn’t take Jack long to realise that this must be a dangerous undocumented side-effect of the Zaxy Corporation’s unreleased productivity drug Zacuity – a drug that she recently reverse-engineered and replicated for quick cash. But, before Jack’s can think about this too much, her sub’s defence systems alert her to the presence of intruders. Stowaways are trying to steal her drugs!

Meanwhile, International Property Coalition military combat bot Paladin is going through the final stage of training at a desert base. However, soon after the training mission, Paladin is paired with an IPC agent called Eliasz and ordered to track down Jack….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is really brilliant. Imagine the style and atmosphere of Neal Stephenson’s “Snow Crash“, mixed with the philosophy of movies like “Blade Runner” and “Ghost In The Shell”, mixed with the liberal open-mindedness of “Dreamfall: The Longest Journey“, mixed with a bit of the intelligent grittiness of “Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams” and you might get a vague idea of what this novel is like 🙂 Like all great sci-fi novels, this one is also at least 5-10 years ahead of what Hollywood is doing in the sci-fi genre too.

Where do I even start? I suppose that I should talk about the sci-fi elements of this story first. Needless to say, these are all really well-handled. In addition to things like nanotechnology, body-modding, biodegradable phones, stealth kayaks, a programming language called “Adder” (Python, surely) and all sorts of other fascinating background details, all of the technology here seems like an extrapolation from current technology. And, given that the author has worked as an editor for several tech websites, all of this stuff has a real feeling of authenticity to it too.

Seriously, it’s really awesome to see a truly modern cyberpunk novel – which manages to create the same sense of fascination about modern technologies (eg: 3D printing, AI, “smart” drugs etc..) that the cyberpunk writers of the 1980s/1990s created about the internet.

Plus, this novel also tackles all sorts of modern tech topics too (eg: open source software, online privacy, security concerns about the “internet of things”, sex robots etc…). So, yes, this is very much a science fiction novel – in addition to being a rather gripping story too.

The setting and atmosphere of this novel is really interesting too. Whilst it mostly eschews rainy, neon-lit mega cities in favour of more realistic futuristic versions of Canada, Casablanca etc.. it is still very much a cyberpunk novel. In addition to the story’s dystopian world (which includes things like slavery, powerful pharmaceutical corporations etc..), this novel also has the “high tech and low lives” moral ambiguity which is central to the cyberpunk genre. And, given the focus on things like medical chemistry, body modding, cyborgs etc.. it’s also a biopunk novel too 🙂

In terms of the writing, it is really brilliant. This novel’s third-person narration is informal and fast-paced enough to be compelling, amusing, dramatic and intriguing – whilst also being complex enough to give the story a real sense of depth. Like in any good cyberpunk novel, the narration also contains futuristic and scientific jargon that really helps to immerse the reader (whilst also being written in a way where the reader can usually easily understand it from the context).

This brings me on to the characters. Whilst all of the characters can feel very slightly “larger than life” in a really interesting way, they still feel like realistic people who live complicated lives within a complicated world. The story also devotes quite a bit of time to characterisation and flashbacks too – whilst this can slow the story down a bit at times, it really helps to add some depth to the story.

Jack is a former student radical, turned drug pirate, who is trying to sort out the mess she made by selling a defective drug (whilst also trying to take down the corporation who designed the drug). She reluctantly teams up with a liberated slave called Threezed, who is at least somewhat traumatised by his past. In addition to this, she also meets some of her former student friends – some of whom have gone into legal open-source pharmacology instead (which allows the story to explore the merits of open source stuff vs. piracy).

On the other side, Eliasz and Paladin are the kind of brutal, morally-ambiguous “evil detectives” who wouldn’t be entirely out of place in a film like “Blade Runner”.

Yet, they are humanised quite a bit in this story – with Eliasz falling in love with Paladin (and trying to reconcile this with the conservative culture inflicted on him when he was younger), and Paladin gradually trying to learn more about both who they are and how humanity works. Seriously, Eliasz is one of the best “I shouldn’t feel sympathy for this character, but somehow I do” characters I’ve seen since Deckard in “Blade Runner”.

In addition to this, the story is also filled with a rather interesting background cast too. The most interesting members of the background cast are probably the autonomous robots, who are basically free robots with human rights etc.. And the robot district of Vancouver, designed by robots for robots is one of the most fascinating settings in the story 🙂

Thematically, this novel is as intelligently complex as you would expect 🙂 In addition to tackling topics like slavery, free will, humanity, unjust laws and capitalism, the story also focuses on topics like open-source technology (as an alternative to piracy) too.

“Autonomous” also includes some really interesting LGBT themes too 🙂 One fascinating element in this story is how both the protagonist (Jack) and the antagonist (Eliasz) are bi – but, whilst Jack is completely at ease with this part of herself, Eliasz is racked with anxieties, repression and old prejudices about his feelings for Paladin.

In addition to being a subtle commentary about how modern culture views male and female bisexuality differently, it also shows the psychological damage that growing up in ultra-conservative surroundings (a religious part of Poland in Eliasz’s case) can sometimes cause. This element of the story also helps to emphasise the contrast between the free, open and bohemian world of the pharma pirates and the authoritarian, repressive, regimented world of the IPC.

Plus, the subject of Paladin’s gender is handled in a really interesting way too. For starters, Paladin doesn’t even think about this topic until Eliasz mentions it. Paladin is a robot with a male-looking exterior who later discovers that their organic brain (which is only used as a graphics/facial recognition processor, and doesn’t hold memories) came from a female donor.

Eliasz is eager to see Paladin as female once he learns this (in order to quell his own anxieties), and Paladin goes along with this (even after the organic brain is later destroyed in combat) even though Paladin doesn’t really seem to feel innately male or female. This external imposition of gender links into the novel’s themes of free will, authoritarianism etc.. whilst also emphasising that gender resides in a being’s mind/consciousness rather than the physical body/physical brain.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. “Autonomous” is a lean and efficient 291 pages in length, which is a wonderful rarity in both modern novels and cyberpunk novels 🙂 Seriously, it’s always cool to see a modern novel that isn’t a gigantic tome 🙂 In terms of pacing, this novel is reasonably good too. Although the character-based flashback scenes do slow the novel down a bit occasionally, it is mostly a rather fast-paced and compelling thriller story.

All in all, this novel is absolutely awesome 🙂 It’s a compelling, intelligent, atmospheric modern cyberpunk novel 🙂 2017 was a bit of a renaissance for the cyberpunk genre (eg: “Blade Runner 2049”, the US remake of “Ghost In The Shell” etc..) but “Autonomous” is one of the very few things from that year I’ve found that genuinely feels like a truly modern continuation of this awesome genre.

So, if you want to see what Hollywood sci-fi movies will probably look like in a decade’s time, then this novel is well worth looking at.

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

Review: “May You Burn” By Jan Merete Weiss (Novel)

Well, it’s been a while since I last read a detective novel. And, although I’d planned to read Dashiell Hammett’s “The Maltese Falcon” before reading the next novel in Jocelynn Drake’s “Dark Days” series, I ended up reading a modern detective novel from 2017 called “May You Burn” by Jan Merete Weiss instead.

This was a book that my mum had recently won in a magazine competition and, since she isn’t a fan of detective fiction, she offered it to me. Since I hadn’t heard of the author and since it was a shiny new book (since I mostly read second-hand books, I’m always surprised by new books), I decided to check it out.

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

This is the 2017 Austin Macauley (UK) paperback edition of “May You Burn” that I read.

The novel begins in the Italian city of Naples, where Carabinieri captain Natalia Monte has been called out to investigate an art theft from a church. However, a while after her investigation begins, she also ends up being drawn into investigating the murder of a Roma street musician in an alleyway near a local marketplace….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it’s a reasonably good detective story. It sits somewhere between a police procedural (eg: initially, it reminded me a little bit of an Italian version of “The Bill), a drama/literary novel and a more traditional detective story. It’s the sort of thing that would probably be absolutely perfect for a TV adaptation on BBC4.

The detective elements of the story involve a good mixture of deductions made from physical evidence and evidence gained through interviews and conversations. Yet, the detective elements of this story sometimes don’t feel quite as focused as they should be.

In a way, it could be said that this story takes a more “realistic” approach to detective fiction (as opposed to a more traditional Agatha Christie/Conan Doyle-style focus on a small group of suspects). And, although this helps to add drama to the story, the detective elements sometimes feel a little bit like a background element. Whilst the conclusion to the mystery certainly packs an emotional punch and there’s also an intriguing plot twist or two, the detective elements of the story sometimes feel a little understated. Even so, everything comes together fairly well in the later parts of the story.

But, this is a story that is as much about the characters as it is about Natalia’s investigation. And, the characters here are all reasonably well written and come across as reasonably realistic. Natalia is a fairly interesting protagonist since, because she grew up in the area she works in, some of the local Camorra gangsters are people she grew up with. So, she sometimes finds herself torn between duty and old friendships. Not only that, she’s also subject to some internal friction within the Carabinieri and is involved in a romantic sub-plot with a Roma lawyer (Claudio).

One of the major themes in this novel is the theme of not belonging and this is explored through both Natalia’s complicated relationship with some of her childhood friends (one of whom, Lola, is involved with organised crime) and the unease with which some of her fellow officers view her because of these friendships. She isn’t quite at home amongst her old friends, or amongst the officers at her job. This theme of not belonging is also explored through Claudio’s complicated relationship with the local Roma, some of whom despise him for living outside the encampment.

Another interesting theme in this novel is art and music. And, since Caravaggio is one of my favourite historical artists, it was pretty cool to see quite a few references to him (and his contemporaries) throughout the story. And, if you’re interested in classical music, then the novel’s musical references (eg: various types of violins, various classical pieces) will probably delight you too.

Weiss’ third-person narration is reasonably good and it combines the kind of descriptive narration that you’d expect to see in a literary novel with the more matter-of-fact narration that you’d expect to see in a modern detective story. Likewise, the dialogue in this novel is also reasonably good too and seems fairly realistic. Although I’ve never been to Italy, the novel’s descriptions of Naples contain a good balance between more stylised/romanticised descriptions and more “ordinary” realistic/gritty descriptions of a modern city.

However, although the narration in this novel is reasonably good, the publisher should really have paid more attention to proof-reading (in the edition that I read). Although I’m not usually one to nitpick about errors, there were a few fairly noticeable ones here.

These include a couple of omitted words (eg: “I him leave” on page 12 etc..), a misplaced comma on page 231 and, during a description of a bell on page 155, the word “peel” is used instead of “peal”. Although I’d normally be willing to overlook the occasional error or two, it’s a little surprising to see several of them in a new professionally- published novel. Still, it is easy to work out what is meant from the context and these errors didn’t really affect my enjoyment of the novel.

In terms of the length and pacing, it’s reasonably good. At 292 pages, this novel doesn’t feel too long. And, although the story sometimes travels at a slightly leisurely pace, nothing in it really felt like filler and it doesn’t really feel like a “slow” novel. Yes, I’d have liked to have seen slightly more of a consistent focus on the central mystery of the story, but all of the other stuff helps to add background, depth and character to the story. So, this isn’t a major criticism.

All in all, this is a reasonably good detective novel. It’s a little bit more on the literary/drama side of things, although the detective-based elements of the story all work reasonably well (and are often slightly more like a “realistic” detective story than a more traditional detective story). The characters, atmosphere and dialogue in this story are also fairly good too. However, the publisher probably should have paid more attention to proof-reading.

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

Review: “Twin Peaks: A Limited Event Series” (2017) (TV Series)

Although I hadn’t expected to see the new season of “Twin Peaks” so soon after it was released, I happened to get a gift voucher for Christmas last year and decided to treat myself to a DVD boxset of it. And, yes, I prepare these reviews ridiculously far in advance.

Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS. Likewise, the DVD box contains a warning about FLASHING LIGHTS/ STROBING EFFECTS. Plus, you should watch this season of the show after seeing the first two seasons of “Twin Peaks”, otherwise it may not make that much sense.

So, let’s take a look at “Twin Peaks: A Limited Event Series”:

“Twin Peaks: A Limited Event Series” is an 18-episode horror/ dark comedy/ surrealist/ detective TV series that begins 25 years after the events of the second season of “Twin Peaks”.

And, yes, there’s a flashback to this scene too.

The plot of this new season is somewhat difficult to describe but, in essence, it revolves around Dale Cooper. With the “evil” Dale Cooper still loose after 25 years, the “good” Dale Cooper is released from the black lodge in order to track him down. But, during the journey back to Earth, he suffers severe brain damage and is then mistaken for an insurance agent called Dougie.

And all of this happens within the first couple of episodes…

Whilst all of this is going on, there are a number of other sub-plots also taking place. These revolve around a few familiar residents of Twin Peaks, in addition to several new characters in Las Vegas and the town of Buckhorn, South Dakota. There’s intrigue, murder, mystery, paranormal drama and lots more….

One of the very first things that I will say about this season of “Twin Peaks” is that it is really, really good… but it is an acquired taste. Even if you’ve seen the first two seasons of “Twin Peaks” (and you should before you watch this one), then this new season will still take a bit of getting used to. It’s totally worth sticking with, but don’t expect to really feel at home with this series until at least halfway through.

Yet, it is still very much “Twin Peaks”…

Yes, it’s still “Twin Peaks”. But, most of the time, it’s a little bit different…

But, if you’re expecting cosy 1990s nostalgia, then you’re going to be disappointed. This is “Twin Peaks” as it would be if it was a modern TV series, with David Lynch having full creative control. It takes all of the themes and elements of the old seasons of the show and brings them up to date. For example, whilst the original series showed the seedy underbelly of idyllic 1980s/90s rural America, this series focuses on the grim, poverty-stricken, drug-ravaged rural America of 2017.

Likewise, the relatively understated horror elements of the original series have given way to a more intense and overt style of horror. This takes the form of grisly “Supernatural“-like scenes, utterly unnerving nightmare-like scenes of psychological horror and shockingly intense scenes of violence.

There’s also a fair amount of character-based horror too – whether it is the chillingly evil version of Dale Cooper, a bizarre serial killer from a parallel dimension or several thoroughly disturbing misogynistic characters who appear at various points throughout the series.

Yes, this series contains some pretty chilling villains…

Yet, all of this horror is leavened slightly by both the welcome return of many familiar characters (eg: Gordon Cole, Andy & Lucy Brennan etc…), some amusingly eccentric moments, some witty dialogue, some gleefully rebellious moments (eg: with regard to things like “no smoking” rules etc…), a few moments of slapstick comedy, some utterly hilarious George Carlin/Bill Hicks-style rants from Dr. Jacoby and a few brilliantly ironic moments (eg: Bobby Briggs is now a police officer etc..).

Not only are Dr. Jacoby’s scenes a hilarious parody of the self-help genre, but they also include these incredibly funny George Carlin/Bill Hicks-style rants too.

Plus, we actually get to see Diane in this series too, and she’s hilariously cynical.

There’s also lots of incredibly subtle dark humour too. Seriously, it’s worth going into this series with the knowledge that it is meant to be a dark comedy – otherwise, you’ll find it incredibly depressing to watch. A lot of the series’ dark humour consists of the kind of subtle ironies and contrasts that only become obvious later when you think about the episode(s) you’ve just watched.

In addition to this, there are a lot more surrealist/art film elements here too. These are really awesome, but it can take a few episodes to even begin to get used to the bizarre dream logic of this new series. The viewer is quite literally thrown in at the deep end from the first episode onwards, with the surrealist elements of the series reaching a peak in the grippingly compelling – yet utterly bizarre – eighth episode.

I’d say that this makes sense in context. But, it probably doesn’t. Yet, you’ll be glued to the screen for the entire eighth episode nonetheless.

Another major change is to the pacing of the series. Like with sophisticated modern films such as “Blade Runner 2049”, the new season of “Twin Peaks” uses deliberately slow pacing – perhaps as a reaction to the pacing in a lot of modern movies/TV shows. Although this slow pace can take a little while to get used to, it is used expertly to build suspense, add realism and/or to give the audience time to think about what is happening.

The characters in this series are really interesting too. As you would expect, they’re a rather eccentric bunch. In addition to seeing how the passage of time has affected familiar characters, there are quite a few strange new characters here. These include a man from London who always wears a green glove, a pair of fast-food loving assassins, two Mafia bosses, Ike the Spike, a blind woman from another dimension, Audrey Horne’s poor husband etc… These characters are also counterpointed with more “serious” good and evil characters too.

And, yes, the mafia bosses are both menacing and hilarious at the same time.

Thematically, this series is as complex as you would expect. I’ve only seen it once, but it is the kind of TV series where you actually have to think. In addition to the obvious theme of doubles and doppelgangers, the series also includes themes of impaired cognition, dreams, history repeating itself, identity, authority, parallel worlds etc… Seriously, this is the kind of TV series that will probably be dissected by critics for years to come.

The series also includes some brilliant social satire too. There are too many examples to list, but a good one would be the way that this series handles the topic of guns in America. In short, guns are often actually scary in this series. A lot of the time, they’re in the hands of dangerously unstable individuals. Likewise, there’s one scene involving a gun accident (of the kind that is probably fairly common in the US). Plus, in one scene, a random character pulls out a powerful machine pistol after a small traffic altercation. And this is just one example of the subtle, but brilliant, social satire in this series.

One bizarre feature of this new season of “Twin Peaks” is that many of the episodes end with a musical interlude – which often consists of a random indie band performing at the roadhouse during the final 3-5 minutes of each episode. This music often has an eerie, hauntingly relaxing quality to it and it’s an utterly brilliant subversion of the trend of TV show episodes ending with dramatic cliffhangers.

Seriously, it’s like the exactly opposite of most TV show episode endings. It’s relaxing.

I should probably also talk about the ending to the series too. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil the details. But, it’s the kind of ending you would expect from a season of “Twin Peaks”. Still, I found that the ending of the seventeenth episode had a much greater emotional impact than the ending of the eighteenth episode did. But, I’ve seen theories on the internet that suggest that the season has two endings, with the ending of each of these two episodes being a conclusion of a different type.

All in all, this is a completely unique TV series. It’s complex, intelligent, gripping and creative. However, it is something of an acquired taste. If you’re expecting light entertainment or cosy nostalgia, then watch something else. But, if you want an intense, intelligent TV series that requires you to think about it and demands perseverance, then this might be the TV series for you (but, again, watch the first two seasons of “Twin Peaks” first).

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

Today’s Art (25th June 2018)

Woo hoo! This is the sixth (and final) comic in my “Damania Retroactive” webcomic mini series. If you missed any of the story, I’ll post a full retrospective later tonight. In the meantime, you can check out lots of other comics here.

And, yes, given the amount of cynicism in the rest of the mini series, a happy “deus ex machina” ending seemed like a good idea. Hey, it worked in this TV show. And, yes, I decided to add the slightly clunky dialogue about passports to the third panel since, whilst planning the comic I suddenly thought “how the hell would they get through customs?“.

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

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Damania Retroactive -Deus Ex Machina” By C. A. Brown