Do Plot Spoilers Really Matter? – A Ramble

Well, I thought that I’d talk briefly about plot spoilers today (so expect a couple in this article). This is mostly because I was introduced to the novel I’m currently reading (“A Canticle For Liebowitz” by Walter M. Miller Jr.) by a really interesting “Extra Sci Fi” Youtube video which pretty much spells out every major plot point and theme of the novel. Yet, despite these major plot spoilers – or rather because of them – I actually tracked down a copy of the novel and started reading it.

But why would I want to read a novel when I already know how it is going to end? Well, in the case of this book, it is more about the journey than the destination. I was so intrigued by the descriptions of the setting and the general concept of the book that I wanted to learn more about it, to see it “in action”, so to speak. Yet, with some other types of story, I’d probably find too many plot spoilers to be incredibly annoying.

In short, plot spoilers tend to matter more when there are twists or mysteries in a story. The whole point of – say – a detective novel or a thriller – is to uncover a mystery, to be astonished by new information and to follow every unpredictable direction that the plot might take. This is also why these novels tend to be a little less re-readable than novels in other genres. Because their stories rely so heavily on the reader not knowing things, they tend to lose some of their impact if you already know what will happen.

Yet, even then, a certain level of spoilers can actually make these stories more interesting – provided that the spoiler raises more questions than it answers (and therefore deepens the mystery).

For example, I binge-read a copy of Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None” about eleven years ago, purely because someone pointed out that it is a detective novel that ends with all of the main characters dying. I thought “how is this even possible?” and was curious enough to read the whole book in a single night.

Because I’d heard a major plot “spoiler”, but didn’t have any information about how or why it happened, I wanted to find out more. Without this intriguing spoiler, I probably wouldn’t have even thought about reading this brilliantly creepy mystery novel.

But, going back to what I was saying earlier, spoilers are at their very best when they are for stories that aren’t entirely about the plot. In other words, novels with intriguing settings, interesting ideas/concepts, an interesting writing style, fascinating characters or unusual subject matter. These are stories where a mere description of what happens doesn’t really do justice to the actual experience of reading the novel for yourself. Here, a spoiler gives you an intriguing idea of what to expect and then says “Go on, find out more”.

In other words, the more creative a story is, the less that spoilers matter.

When a story is more about the journey than the destination, then spoilers act more like a “teaser” trailer than some kind of horrible, mean-spirited thing that drains all of the joy from the story. They give you a hint of what kind of things to expect and then make you actually want to see it for yourself.

So, yes, spoilers aren’t always a bad thing. Yes, major spoilers should often be avoided in the detective and thriller genres, but – with many other genres – they can actually make a story more interesting, especially if it is a rather creative one. Still, it’s usually polite to include some kind of warning before spoiling a story, since I’m sure that my views on the subject aren’t shared by everyone.

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Sorry for the short, rambling article – but I hope it was interesting 🙂

Three Totally Rad RGB-lit Tips For Reading Novels At “90 FPS”

Well, I thought that I’d start off April’s roster of articles with something a little bit different. Over the past couple of years, I’ve found myself watching a lot of PC building videos on Youtube.

Even though the closest things I’ve ever done to actual PC building are replacing a DVD drive and oiling a case fan, there’s just something cool about watching knowledgeable people building computers and then testing them by running the latest games and carefully noting how many frames per second (or “FPS”. Not to be confused with the computer game genre frequently used for testing this) their system is able to render – and, as every elite PC gamer knows, the ideal FPS is 90 (it apparently used to be 60, but then the console gamers started catching up. And we can’t have that, can we?).

But, although I’ve got back into gaming over the past few months, I still find myself reading more novels than playing games. Reading novels has a reputation for being a “geeky” activity today – but with none of the slick, modern and RGB-lit glamour of the PC building and gaming scene’s unique brand of geekiness 😦 Well, fear no more readers! We can have some of this too!

PC building, like sports cars and fast food, is all about speed. And we readers can do this too. After all, who wants to savour the world, characters and exquisite narration of a brilliant novel over a couple of deeply immersive reading sessions where the world just melts away for several hours? No-one, that’s who!

These days, the only thing that matters is doing things more quickly than everyone else. And, whilst you could do this by reading a fast-paced thriller novel, sticking to more efficiently-written modern novels and/or gradually building your vocabulary and confidence through years of regularly reading both old and new books in a variety of genres, where is the coolness in that? It would be like running an ancient 1990s computer game at ludicrous speeds on a low-end early 2010s computer. Utterly awesome in practice, but not something you can boast about to random people on the internet – and that is what really matters here!

So, here are three totally rad modern tips for reading novels at “90 FPS”. RGB lighting is NOT optional:

1) Screens: Chances are, you are reading this on a screen (if you aren’t, then I salute you. Er… I mean, get with the times!). In fact, you’ve probably read a lot of websites on screens.

Screens are not only perfectly optimised for grabbing and holding your attention for far longer than you want them too, but their shape also means that screen-based text is often written and formatted in a way to allow for quick scanning and scrolling. I mean, who actually reads the average website word for word, carefully thinking about and comprehending the content of every sentence?

Screens are fast, modern and efficient. And, guess what, you can also boast about how fast you are speed-reading on social media whilst you are reading too. I’m sure that people are even developing “apps” that will add a fun social media feed beside the text of your book, which allow you to read and comprehend both at once. You do have a multi-core brain, don’t you?

If you’re one of those dreary old traditionalists who prefers *ugh* paper books, then don’t worry about it. The tech industry has you covered. Virtual reality is the hot new thing at the moment and I’m sure it won’t be long before someone creates a virtual reading “app” for it that allows you to read virtual paper books from behind the safe comfort blanket of two screens strapped to your face.

Yes, you might say “Wouldn’t it be cheaper to just read a real book?“. Well, smarty pants, answer me this! HOW are you supposed to live-stream a paper book to your followers on Youtube whilst also offering snarky commentary and amusing on-screen GIFs? You’d actually have to read it alone without hundreds of thousand people staring over your shoulder. Ugh! It doesn’t even bear thinking about. Oh no, now I’m thinking. It’s happening again! Jeeves! Fetch the smartphone and order me a collection of the latest memes, on the double!!!

2) Speed-reading apps: As everyone knows, all the cool people use “apps” these days. After all, what kind of dinosaur uses a fully-featured computer program when they could be using a smaller (yet somehow more bloated) simplified mobile phone “app” that is also kind enough to remind you about itself regularly through lots of helpful notifications and non-optional updates?

Anyway, a quick search on the internet will show you that there are a few speed-reading “apps” out there. The most prominent type seems to be ones that flash up a single word at a time, allowing you to subliminally absorb it in a fraction of a second before automatically moving on to the next one. Not only that, since you can see and/or choose the rate at which words appear, you’ll also have the most important thing of all – impressive-sounding statistics that you can brag about on the internet 🙂

Sure, some people might point out that seeing a single word at a time with little to no accompanying context and no ability to quickly jump backwards and re-read means that even the best novel would be reduced to mindless gibberish, robbed of its power to summon beautiful worlds inside the reader’s imagination. And this may well be true. But, who cares when you can quite literally “read” a novel at 1000 words a minute just by staring at a screen. Progress!

3) Watch the film: Books are old technology. I mean, museums even have books from the middle ages. Talk about obsolete!

Well, your friends in Hollywood have got your back here! If a book is worth reading, then these awesome people will turn it into a gloriously efficient two-hour film that strips out all of the useless stuff like sub-plots, detailed character development, thought-provoking intellectual depth, beautiful prose written in a unique style, the reader’s imagination and intriguing descriptive asides.

Why waste six to eight hours of effort reading a novel, when you can lay back on the sofa and get through the same story in a blisteringly fast two hours, with lots of well-known celebrity actors saving you the inefficient work of having to create your own bespoke images of the characters from written descriptions? And, best of all, Hollywood usually gets it absolutely right. I mean, just look at how eerily accurate their casting was for the burly, toweringly tall muscle mass that is Lee Child’s well-known action hero Jack Reacher. It’s almost like reading the books! Hollywood is awesome!

Although films may only be created at a measly 24 FPS (Ugh! Even console gamers would notice that!), you can watch them in 4K – which, as any PC gamer knows, is the bare minimum resolution for when you want to show off on the internet. And it is basically the same as reading the book. I think. Oh heavens! Jeeves! Reality TV – five seconds ago! What do you mean that the smart TV is still updating? Damn and blast it! Break out the radio! Yes, that old thing! Find a station that is playing the charts! Be quick about it!

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Happy April Fools’s Day everyone 🙂

Three Tips For Finding Novels That You’ll Enjoy Reading

Well, ever since I got back into reading regularly over a year ago, one of the rules I’ve set myself is to only read books that I actually enjoy.

Aside from the fact that reading is meant to be fun, one of the initial reasons for this was that I was terrified that I’d lose interest in reading if I tried to force myself to read books that didn’t make me actually want to read more of them. So, I got reasonably good at finding novels that I knew I’d enjoy reading (hence why there aren’t any one or two star book reviews on this site). And I thought that I’d share a few tips to help you find books that you will enjoy.

1) Know yourself: In order to find books that you’ll enjoy, you have to know what you enjoy. This sounds really obvious, but it is the most important thing you’ll need to do if you want to find enjoyable books. If you’re new to reading novels, then the best way to work out what books you’ll enjoy is to just look at what genres of films and TV shows you enjoy. There will be books in those genres too. Lots of them.

Genre is a great starting point for finding enjoyable books. For example, most of the books I review on here tend to fit into the sci-fi, horror, thriller, detective, historical and/or urban fantasy genres. By mostly sticking to these six genres that I enjoy, I’ve streamlined the process of finding enjoyable books quite a bit.

Plus, the more you read, the more details you learn about what you do and don’t enjoy in fiction – eg: styles of narration, sub-genres, emotional tone, story concepts, types of pacing etc… So, even if you occasionally stumble across a book that you don’t enjoy (and it’ll happen occasionally), then it will still help you to find books that you do enjoy, by letting you get to know yourself better. Speaking of which….

2) Abandon books you don’t enjoy!: You are under no obligation to finish every novel that you start reading. If a book seems to have no redeeming qualities, if it seriously annoys you, if it feels like a chore to read or if you find yourself regretting ever picking it up, then ditch it and find a better book!

There is nothing wrong with doing this. It is a good thing to do. Not only will you have saved yourself the time you’d have wasted with that book (which you can use to read a better book), but it’ll also teach you what to avoid in future and will also help to preserve your love of reading too. After all, you are the only person who can motivate yourself to read. This isn’t school, college or university – where you have to read a list of set texts. This is reading for fun. So, have fun.

If you started watching a TV series that you didn’t like, you’d change channel or choose another boxset after an episode or two. It’s no different with books. Seriously, one of the best ways to find enjoyable books is to get totally comfortable with the idea of ditching books that you don’t enjoy. Being able to just put them aside without a second thought, to work out why you didn’t enjoy them and then go off in search for another book that doesn’t make this mistake will result in a much better reading experience and a much higher ratio of enjoyable books to non-enjoyable books.

If it makes you feel better about doing this, then think of it as literary self-defence. By ditching books you don’t enjoy, you are protecting your enjoyment of reading.

3) Try new authors: If you’ve only got a couple of favourite authors, it can be easy to think that their books are the only good ones out there. This isn’t true. There are so many good books and authors out there that you’ll never actually be able to read all of them even if you tried. However, you probably haven’t even heard of most of them. So, how do you discover them?

Well, one way is to set yourself rules that push you to find new authors (and to keep your favourite ones interesting). When I got back into reading regularly a year or two, I started by binge-reading thriller novels by Clive Cussler. I really enjoyed these books. And I read about seven or eight of them in a single fortnight. By the end of this, I just couldn’t read another one. I’d seen so many of them so quickly that I’d become bored by them.

So, to prevent this from happening with my other favourite authors, I set myself a rule that every book I read had to be written by a different author to the previous book I’d read. This pushed me to actively look for authors I hadn’t read before. And, being on the lookout for new authors (rather than just sticking with a few that you know) is one of the best ways to discover loads of brilliant books.

Although this rule was a bit of a challenge to follow at first, it led to me discovering loads of amazing authors. My list of favourite authors increased quite a bit over the space of a year or so.

If I hadn’t set myself this rule, I wouldn’t have enjoyed awesome novels by Jodi Taylor, Jack O’ Connell, Tade Thompson, Alice Hoffman, Joe Haldemann, Becky Chambers, Weston Ochse, Sarah Lotz, Jocelynn Drake, Gary Brandner, Rebecca Levene, Jonathan Maberry, S.J. Parris, Neal Stephenson, Dana Fredsti, Robert Brockway, Joan D. Vinge, Dashiell Hammett, Tess Gerritsen etc…

So, if you’re stuck and can’t find a book that you enjoy, then it might be worth taking a look at authors that you’ve never heard of before. [Edit: Like with the article a few days ago, I prepared the first draft of this one several months ago. And, as such, I’ve now removed an exhortation to visit bookshops, libraries etc… since this is NOT a good idea, given the current pandemic. Sorry about this pre-publication change. Anyway, here’s the rest of this sentence…]… and you might end up finding a new favourite author (or ten) that you didn’t even know existed.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Four More Reasons To Read Older Novels

Well, although one of the things I’ve discovered since I got back into reading regularly a year or two ago is that modern novels are better than I’d expected, I thought that I’d talk about some of the reasons to read older novels today.

This is mostly because this was what really got me interested in reading during my teenage years in the 2000s was finding lots of older novels in second-hand bookshops and charity shops. Whether it was the gruesome 1980s horror novels, the 1940s-1980s dystopian novels and the “edgy” 1960s-90s literary novels that first showed me that books could be cool, the 1950s/60s science fiction I enjoyed in my mid-late teens or even a phase I went through when I was about seventeen where I read lots of Sherlock Holmes and H.P. Lovecraft, I read quite a few older novels back then.

But, having read much more of a mixture of older and modern novels over the past year or two, I can compare the two in a bit more detail than I could when I was younger. And, yes, although modern novels do have some advantages over older ones, I thought that I’d look at some of the good things about slightly older novels.

1) Complexity, atmosphere and detail: Books are the literal opposite to computer games in this regard. If you want a computer game with ultra-realistic HD graphics and lots of detail, then you choose the most modern one you can find – and just hope that your machine meets the sky-high system requirements. But, if you want the literary equivalent of this, then it is usually worth reading an older book. You’ll need to be a slightly more experienced or skilled reader, but it is well worth it if you are.

Modern novels are often written in an efficient and readable way that is designed to grab the reader’s attention and to compete with the distractions of the internet, smartphones, boxsets etc… This isn’t an entirely bad thing, but it means that they can often have slightly less linguistic or descriptive detail than older novels do. They often have shorter sentences, slightly simpler vocabulary, more informal narration etc…

On the other hand, even “low brow” horror and thriller novels from the 1970s-90s will often use more sophisticated/formal vocabulary, sentence structures etc… than you might expect. People had less distractions back then and they read more books, so there was more of an incentive for writers to show off a bit more and to really use the written word to its fullest extent.

Yes, this means that older novels can be a little slower to read and that you might have to work out the meaning of some unfamiliar words from their context (or just look them up online). But, not only does this result in a much richer and more “high definiton” story (with more atmosphere, precision, depth, character etc…), but it will also help you to expand your vocabulary, increase your attention span and help you become more adept at reading complex texts.

2) Cost and serendipity: Yes, some older books (even relatively recent ones) can go out of print and become ridiculously expensive. However, this isn’t the case with most older books. If you are looking to build a personal library on a budget, then many paperback novels from even just a few years ago can be found incredibly cheaply second-hand. Likewise, if you want to go back even further, then many out-of-copyright 19th century/early 20th century novels can often be found in inexpensive “classics” editions or as free e-books.

[Edit: The original draft of this article, prepared several months ago, included a passage about finding interesting random books in second-hand bookshops. But, given current events, visiting physical shops isn’t something that I can recommend at the moment.]

So, being willing to read older novels can broaden your horizons, surprise you and allow you to build up a “to read” pile at a fraction of the cost.

3) Time travel: I’ve mentioned this in previous articles, but it’s worth repeating. Another cool thing about older novels is that they allow you to directly step into the past in a way that things like modern historical fiction, historical dramas etc… won’t allow you to do. After all, when you read an older novel, you are not only reading something written in the past but you are also reading exactly the same thing that people in the past read for entertainment. In other words, your experience of reading an older novel will be at least slightly similar to that of someone from the time it was published.

Although this will sometimes show you how backwards and narrow-minded the past can be, it’ll also help you to see the past in a more “realistic” way too. And the past can often seem more “modern” than the stylised nostalgia or re-creations that you’ll see in the media these days might lead you to believe. Older novels weren’t written with the thought “in 20-50 years time, people will think this is retro“, they were written to entertain people at the time they were written. So, they will depict everything and everyone in a more “realistic” way than you might expect if you’ve only seen modern TV shows, movies etc… set in the past.

This is kind of hard to describe well, but it not only gives you a more accurate look at (and understanding of) the past but – thanks to the immersive nature of books – it can feel like you are actually travelling back in time too. It’s really cool 🙂

4) Books mattered more: One of the cool things about older books is that books used to matter to everyone more in the past than they do today. They were read more, they were respected more and they were more popular. Not only does this mean that older books will usually be edited/proof-read to a higher standard, but it also means that they have a level of intensity and gravitas that you don’t always find in more modern novels.

People read more in the past than they do now, and older books will often reflect the fact that books mattered more. They weren’t some obscure hobby or trendy “sophisticated” activity – they were ordinary everyday entertainment. Which, of course, is still the best way to read and view books.

For good example of how books mattered more in the past, look at articles about the reactions to the Armed Service Edition novels that were issued to US troops during WW2, look at the sheer level of importance the Lady Chatterley Trial had in 1960s Britain (because book censorship affected a lot more readers back then) or look at how 19th century readers reacted when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle “killed” Sherlock Holmes. Books mattered to people more in the past.

And you can often see this in older books. Whether it is 1980s British horror novels that tried to out-shock each other because horror fans read them as an alternative to the heavily-censored films in cinemas at the time. Whether it is how 1970s-90s literary novels will sometimes try to be a bit edgier or more controversial, because people read and discussed books more (and books were respected enough that calling for book censorship was rightly seen as an evil or totalitarian thing to do). Whether it is how older dystopian novels will almost always use the dystopian setting as a way of making a point about something – rather than just as a dramatic backdrop – because they were writing for a much larger audience who thought about what they read etc…

Even the cover art is usually better in older books, because it had to be dramatic in order to stand out. Without the internet to help potential readers find books and because people could only buy physical books (to read in public, to leave lying around at home etc…), cover art had to be cooler and more artistic in the past – because it mattered more.

So, one cool thing about older novels is that they show you what books were like when everyone cared about them and read them a bit more.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Three Cool Things That Only Novels Can Do

I don’t know if I’ve written about this topic before, but I thought that I’d take a quick look at some of the things that only novels can do. After all, even though novels probably aren’t the most popular entertainment medium these days, they can do a lot of really cool and interesting stuff that you won’t really see in films, TV shows, videogames etc…

So, here are just three of the many cool things that you’ll only really see in novels:

1) Deeper Characterisation: One of the things that novels can do better than literally any other medium is to create complex, detailed characters. This is because novels can quite literally show you what the characters are thinking and feeling. Yes, other mediums can imply some of this stuff by using things like voice-overs, editing, dialogue, flashback scenes, facial expressions, in-game text etc… but only books can quite literally place you inside someone else’s mind.

And this isn’t just for stories told from a first-person perspective, it also appears in many third-person perspective stories too. Because novels are a non-visual medium, they aren’t limited by what can be shown in an image (eg: a frame of a film or a game). As such, they can go a lot deeper when it comes to showing how characters react to things, what they are feeling, what they think about various topics, how they see the world etc.. than any other medium can.

Not only does this give you the unique experience of temporarily being someone else, but it also adds an extra level of richness and depth to the other parts of a story too. For example, a suspenseful scene in a novel will be a lot more suspenseful because you can feel the character’s pounding heart and hear their racing thoughts. A romance will be more passionate because you’ll actually get to directly know what one or both of the couple are feeling. A horror story will be a lot scarier because you’ll get every detail of a character’s terrified reactions and/or a chilling glimpse inside the mind of a scary person.

I could go on, but one of the things that novels can do a hundred times better than any other medium is quite literally letting you see things from the characters’ perspectives.

2) Personal interpretation: Another unique thing about novels is that no two readers will have quite the same experience when they read the same book. When you see a film or play a game, it will look exactly the same as what everyone else sees when they look at it. Not so with novels.

With novels, you quite literally have to build your own mental images of the settings, characters etc… from the descriptions that the author has provided. What this means is that you get an experience that is tailor-made to your own experiences, imagination and sensibilities. A version of the story that is unique to you. Your own personal “cover version” of whatever was inside the author’s imagination when they were writing.

Not only is this a great workout for your imagination, but it has lots of other cool effects too. The setting of a novel will usually feel a lot more immersive and memorable because you have to “build it yourself”. Older novels can also sometimes age a lot better than older films, videogames etc… can, because you are the one supplying the “graphics”, “special effects” etc… (For a good example, read Neal Stephenson’s 1992 sci-fi novel “Snow Crash“. Despite being almost three decades old, it still “looks” as realistic and detailed as a modern CGI-heavy film and/or “AAA” videogame).

This also means that you’ll feel much more of a personal connection to a novel than you probably will to a film or a game. After all, whilst a film can play to an empty room and some games can technically play themselves (with bots etc..), a novel literally cannot “work” without your unique personal input.

3) Time and focus: Novels can play with time and focus in a way that other mediums can’t do anywhere near as well. Yes, films and games can include things like slow motion, close-ups, turn-based gameplay and fast editing, but one second of film or gameplay will always take one second. Likewise, a close-up shot of something can only show you the outside of it and will only usually last a few seconds (or longer, if it’s an art film).

On the other hand, not only can time flow a lot more freely in novels, but they can also focus on things in a way that film makers and game devs really can’t. To give you an example, a novel may spend an entire page describing an old statue – keeping the reader interested in it by focusing on numerous unusual details, using clever descriptions and talking about the statue’s interesting history. And the scene might take place in, say, the one second it takes for a character to glance at the statue.

Going back to the first point on my list, a novel might devote several pages to describing all of the thoughts, memories and feelings that go into a split-second decision that a character makes. It might then devote a single paragraph to, say, the year that follows this decision. And, when done well, this would not only “flow” in a really seamless way, but the differences in focus would also shape how the reader experienced these parts of the story too (eg: the “split-second” part would have more impact than the “year” part).

But, it gets even cooler than this. One of the awesome things about the written word is that an author can also influence how quickly the reader can read any part of the story by adjusting things like sentence structure/length, the simplicity/complexity of the language etc… What this means is that, for example, a scene that takes place in ten minutes of real time can be written in a way that allows the reader to blaze through it in just two. Or, with some changes to the writing, that “ten minute” segment could actually take ten minutes (or longer) to read.

So, novels have a level of freedom with time and focus that other mediums can only dream of.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Similarities And Differences Between British And American 1980s Horror Novels

Well, since I’m currently reading a 1980s horror novel (“Carrion” by Gary Brandner), I thought that I’d talk about this cool era in the history of the horror genre today. But, one thing I noticed when reading “Carrion” was that, like other US horror novels from the 1980s, it was both similar and different to the British 1980s horror novels (by authors like Shaun Hutson, James Herbert etc..) that first made me interested in horror fiction during the early-mid 2000s.

So, I thought that I’d offer a few random thoughts about this topic- although I’ll probably be focusing slightly more on British horror fiction, since I’ve read more of it. Likewise, I’ll be talking about general trends that I’ve noticed. So – of course- there are exceptions (eg: Guy N. Smith’s “Accursed“, Jo Gannon’s “Plasmid” etc..) to some of these trends.

Anyway, the main difference between 1980s horror novels in Britain and America is probably the types of horror that they focus on. In short, due to things like stricter film censorship at the time (but little, if no, literary censorship 🙂 ), British horror novels from the 1980s often tend to focus a bit more on cynicism and shock value. They are often set in gloomy, seedy cities or bleak rural areas and the most prominent type of horror usually tends to be gory horror.

Yes, there are usually other types of horror too, but horror novels from 1980s Britain will usually take a certain amount of glee in grossing the reader out with beautifully-written gory descriptions. After all, horror movies were getting banned or trimmed to shreds for stuff like this, so there was much more of an incentive for writers to both rebel against this censorship and to give horror fans a more intense version of what they were missing out on in the video shops. This also links into the cynicism that you’ll usually find in British horror fiction from the 1980s.

The most famous way (probably pioneered in James Herbert’s 1974 novel “The Rats) that this cynicism is used is in how these novels handle background characters. In short, these novels will often start a chapter by introducing a new character and then spend several pages showing their backstory, everyday troubles etc.. only for them to suddenly die horribly at the end of the chapter. Not only does this create a bleak and nihilistic atmosphere, but it also allows for things like social commentary/satire and helps to give the stories a greater sense of scale too.

Likewise, thanks to the influence of James Herbert’s “The Rats”, monster horror also became a popular sub-genre in 1980s Britain. Often, this would take the form of a “scary” type of animal (eg: rats, slugs, crabs, scorpions etc…) becoming mutated and extremely bloodthirsty, and terrorising a town or city. In addition to being a hangover from the “Invasion Literature” of the early 20th century, this could also be a reflection of the apocalyptic cold war fears of the time too.

In contrast, the 1980s horror novels from the US that I’ve read often tend to focus slightly less on gory horror than their British counterparts. Instead, these horror novels often tend to be a little bit more traditional in their horror – with more of a focus on things like atmosphere, dread, psychological horror, the paranormal etc… After all, not only was film censorship less of an issue in the US (so there wasn’t an incentive to rebel against it), but the literary and cultural influences that went into these novels were probably slightly different too.

At a guess, this is probably because – during their formative years, these horror authors probably had greater or easier access to the works of early-mid 20th century US authors like H.P.Lovecraft and Shirley Jackson, who really helped to define this style of slow, creeping tension and dread for the modern age. Likewise, the influence of the classic horror comics of the 1940s-50s probably also played a role too, with these comics often focusing on morally-ambiguous characters (who suffer cruelly ironic fates) and having a distinctively twisted sense of humour that differs slightly from the cynical humour found in horror novels from 1980s Britain.

But, these differences aside, both types of horror novel have a lot in common with each other. Both usually contain a lot of subtle or overt social commentary about the issues of the day, both usually focus on ordinary people confronted with extraordinary things, both usually include lots of characterisation and both aren’t averse to including unhappy endings.

Another thing that both types of horror novel have in common is creativity and fun. One of the cool things about the 1980s was that horror fiction was both a popular genre and one that wasn’t seen as very “respectable”. What this meant was that there was a real incentive for horror authors to either come up with interesting ideas that would stand out from the crowd or to create their own distinctive “brand” of horror that you couldn’t find elsewhere. Plus, because they didn’t have to worry about impressing literary critics, 1980s horror novels could also be a lot weirder and wilder than other genres could be.

And, since the people who would judge these novels were ordinary readers rather than newspaper critics, there was also more of an incentive to make these stories fun to read. In other words, they often tend to have slightly more of a thriller-like structure, with well-placed dramatic or shocking moments and some of the coolest cover art that you’ll ever see. These were books written for the enjoyment of ordinary people (in the way that popular crime thriller novels are today) and this usually means that they will often still be a lot of fun to read even three or four decades later.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Do Thriller Novels Have To Be Fast-Paced? – A Ramble

If there is one novel-related word that tends to get misunderstood, it is “thriller”. When you think of this, you’ll probably think of car chases, gunfights and, most importantly, writing so fast-paced that the book has to be a giant 400-600 page tome because it only takes as long to read as a typical 200-300 page novel does. Yet, the relatively slow-paced horror/detective novel that I reviewed yesterday includes the term “thriller” on the back cover blurb – and it is technically accurate.

Strange as it might sound, thriller stories can be either fast paced or slow paced and still fit into the same genre. Yes, they might differ in sub-genre (eg: action thriller, crime thriller, legal thriller, psychological thriller, tech thriller etc…) but even the slowest-paced thriller is still a thriller novel. But, why?

The essential elements of a thriller are suspense and mystery. Both of these things are well-suited to both fast and slow-paced stories. Whether suspense comes from lots of blisteringly fast danger-filled moments or is slowly built up over the course of several pages or chapters, it is still suspense. Likewise, an intriguing mystery is still an intriguing mystery regardless of whether there are any car chases or fight scenes.

To give you two contrasting examples, Matthew Reilly’s “Ice Station” is a really fast-paced action thriller novel that focuses on a group of US marines defending an Antarctic research base against several rival special forces groups, whilst also trying to understand the mysterious item that the researchers have found under the ice. This novel contains both suspense (eg: whenever the marines are endangered, outnumbered or outgunned) and mystery (what is under the ice and why is it there?). Ergo, it is a thriller novel.

Now take a look at Koji Suzuki’s “Ring“. This is a relatively slow-paced novel about a reporter who begins to investigate a series of strange deaths (mystery) and soon finds that he has been cursed to die within seven days unless he can figure out a way to save his life (suspense). Although this novel moves at a fairly slow pace when compared to “Ice Station”, it is focused on both mystery and suspense – and is therefore also a thriller novel.

So, the “thriller” description is less about pacing and more about the fact that a story will rely heavily on suspense and/or mystery in order to keep you – the reader – wanting to read more. In addition to this, it’ll also tell you to expect a story where the main focus is on the plot.

And because the plot matters so much in a thriller, it’ll usually be a relatively complex one filled with twists and turns – similar to what you’d expect from a detective story (since the two genres have a lot of common history), but not necessarily revolving around solving a murder. These types of complex, intricate plots can be found in both slow-paced and fast-paced thriller novels. So, if you see “thriller” on the back of a novel cover, then it is also about the type of plot that you can expect.

It means that the story isn’t a character-focused literary novel, a novel focused on a type of setting (eg: historical, futuristic etc..) or a more experimental plotless work. It is a story where the main attraction is a complex, well-planned plot. So, if you consider plot to be one of the most important parts of a novel, then seeing “thriller” on the cover of a book means that you’ll be more likely to enjoy it.

But, again, it has very little to do with the actual pacing of the novel.

If you want a fast-paced novel, then it’s often much better to do something like read the first few pages, read reviews and/or to do a bit of research into the author’s other books than it is to see whether or not the word “thriller” appears on the blurb. On the flip side, just because a book is described as a “thriller”, it doesn’t mean that it won’t tell a rich, substantial story that can be enjoyed at a leisurely pace.

The only thing that the term “thriller” will tell you is that the novel will include a complex plot and will use both suspense and mystery in order to keep you interested.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂