Four Reasons Why Spin-Off Novels Are So Awesome

Well, I thought that I’d talk about original spin-off novels based on movies, TV shows, games etc… today. This is mostly because I seem to be going through a bit more of a phase of reading this genre than usual recently. I’ve probably talked about this topic before, but it seemed like it was worth revisiting given how overlooked this genre often is.

So, why are spin-off novels so awesome?

1) Extra stuff: One of the coolest things about spin-off novels is that they are like extra (non-canonical) TV show episodes, film sequels/prequels etc… that can focus on characters, story elements etc.. that were overlooked in the original source material. Not only that, they also have absolutely no budgetary limitations whatsoever too.

For example, many of the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” spin-off novels I’ve read will include the kind of settings, special effects, depth of storytelling etc… that wouldn’t have been practical in an “ordinary” episode of the TV show.

Likewise, although the film sequel to the 1982 sci-fi classic “Blade Runner” appeared in cinemas in 2017, readers have had sequels available since the mid-1990s, thanks to a series of spin-off novels by K. W. Jeter. I’m currently re-reading the first one of these (“Blade Runner 2: The Edge Of Human”) and it reminded me of how, when I first read it in 2008, it was so awesome to actually have a sequel at a time when film companies had no interest in making one.

So, yes, spin-off novels provide a lot of extra stuff. Not only that, since multiple authors often write spin-offs for the same series, these novels tend to appear more often or in a larger quantity than the actual source material.

For example, although some of them can get a bit formulaic, there are far more “Aliens” spin-off novels than actual films in the franchise (which only get made every couple of years at the very most).

2) They’re made for fans: One of the cool things about spin-off novels is that, because they cost a lot less to produce, there’s less incentive for things to be diluted for a mainstream audience.

After all, if a studio is spending millions on a film, then they’re going to want to make sure it appeals to the widest possible audience. If they’re just spending thousands commissioning a spin-off novel, then there’s more incentive to appeal to fans.

This often results in spin-off novels being more of a satisfying experience to read than you might expect. For example, the mid-1990s “Blade Runner” spin-off novel I’m reading at the moment not only includes a clever twist on a continuity error in the original film but it also includes a few elements from the 1960s novel that the original film was based on. It’s the kind of sequel that is made for people who are massive fans of the original film.

So, yes, if you’re a fan of something, then spin-off novels can often be a more intense, geeky and satisfying experience than their actual source material.

3) Innovation and creativity: Although spin-off novels have to have official approval, the fact that they are written by a single author (rather than designed/made by a large team) and usually aren’t seen as canonical often results in a lot more innovation and creativity than you might expect.

Yes, this isn’t always the case, but it can be really cool to see. For example, even though I mentioned that some of the “Aliens” spin-off novels are a bit formulaic, one surprisingly creative example is probably Robert Sheckley’s “Alien Harvest” – which is a surprisingly light-hearted, quirky and vaguely cyberpunk heist thriller set in the “Aliens” universe.

Likewise, although all but two of the novels in S.D.Perry’s “Resident Evil” series are direct novelisations of the source material rather than new spin-off novels, the first four books contain a totally new long-running sub-plot (revolving around a character called Trent) that isn’t present in the original games. Not only that, the sub-plot itself is also resolved in a really dramatic way in the spin-off novel “Resident Evil: Underworld” (which I really need to re-read) too.

So, yes, spin-off novels can sometimes include a lot of extra creativity that isn’t present in the source material.

4) Quality control: In the past, I’ve seen spin-off novels likened to fan fiction. Whilst these novels probably are “fan fiction” in the technical sense of the word, the fact that they are often published in paperback with official approval usually means that they are a cut above what you’d normally expect to find on the internet. They have editors, quality checks, consistency checks etc…

In short, they often allow readers to experience all of the benefits of fan fiction (eg: new stories in a familiar “world”) but without any of the downsides that you might encounter if you go looking for random fan fiction on the internet.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Two Very Basic Tips For Reading A “Difficult” Book

Well, I thought that I’d talk briefly about “difficult” books today. This is mostly because I recently read William Gibson’s 1993 novel “Virtual Light” and it took me a while to get used to his (awesome, but something of an acquired taste) writing style again.

This reminded me of my very first attempt at reading Gibson’s 1984 sci-fi classic “Neuromancer” when I was about seventeen. Back then, I just couldn’t get into the book and abandoned it after one chapter. Two or three years later, I read the whole novel and was astonished by it. So, yes, sometimes books can seem “too difficult” to read. But, luckily, there are ways around this.

1) Let it wash over you: One of the simplest ways to handle a book that is written in an experimental, archaic or unusual style is simply to keep reading even if you don’t understand literally everything. Just let the words wash over you and don’t try to make too much sense of it. Not only does this help you to get used to the writer’s style but, after a while, you’ll probably find that some parts of the story will begin to make sense too.

Yes, this doesn’t work with literally every story. But, if the novel has an interesting idea behind it or if individual sentences are interesting enough that you actually want to read more of it, then this is the way to deal with it. Just let the words wash over you, don’t expect to understand literally everything and, gradually, at least some parts of the story will begin to make sense to you.

The best thing about taking this slightly “open” approach to reading is that it makes you better at dealing with these types of things in other books.

For example, between my abandoned first attempt at reading “Neuromancer” and my successful attempt at reading it a couple of years later, I read a few 1950s-60s “beat literature” novels (which sometimes include almost-incomprehensible plots and/or experimental writing techniques). So, when I returned to “Neuromancer”, I felt a bit more confident.

2) Practice reading widely: First of all, if you can’t get into a “difficult” book, then there’s no shame in putting it aside and returning to it at some later point. One of the best ways to deal with a “difficult” book is simply to get more practice at reading before you read it. But, remember to read books by lots of different authors and to take chances on authors you haven’t heard of and/or haven’t read before.

This is important for several reasons. Firstly, it gets you used to reading lots of different writing styles, which means that adapting to the style of a “difficult” book is a bit easier. Secondly, and most importantly, it means that you might encounter milder versions of the writing style you’re having trouble with – which means that you’ll have a better chance of understanding the “difficult” book when you return to it.

For example, reading 19th century-style narration became a lot easier after I read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes” stories at the age of seventeen. Since these stories are short, really compelling and have clearly defined plots, they are a fun way of acclimatising to (and appreciating) these older writing styles. And, it also has the side-effect of making other 19th century novels (and modern 19th century style ones) more readable/understandable afterwards.

Likewise, when I read Gibson’s “Virtual Light” recently, it was a lot easier than the time I managed to read “Neuromancer” for the simple reason that I’d read a lot more books in the meantime. I could see how Gibson’s style was similar to “hardboiled” 1930s-50s American detective fiction, how it took influence from thriller fiction, how it was similar to other cyberpunk authors etc…..

So, practice reading widely and you’ll find that “difficult” books become a bit less difficult to read.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Things I Learnt From This Month’s Horror Novel Marathon

Well, since I’ve spent the past month reviewing about 10-12 horror novels, I thought that I’d look at some of the things that this experience has taught me. Although I’ve probably mentioned some of these things in previous articles, I felt like writing something of an overview article too.

Anyway, here are some of the things that I learnt from the horror marathon:

1) Balancing spontaneity and planning: The horror marathon was something of a spontaneous “wouldn’t it be cool if I did this?” kind of idea. Sometimes, these kinds of ideas can work really well (I mean, how do you think this site started?) but they should probably be paired with some level of planning too.

For example, one of the largest problems with the horror marathon was probably finding enough reading matter for it without reading more than one book by any particular author. In the end, about half of the novels I ended up reading were ones that I’d already read 10-15 years ago. It wasn’t like I had a shortage of horror novels, it was just that most of the novels I had that would have been perfect for the series were ones I’d already reviewed within the past few months. If I’d have known about the series then, I could have saved them up for this month.

So, yes, whilst a spontaneous “wouldn’t it be cool?” moment is a great way to build motivation for a project, you also need to think about planning too. Although your initial burst of enthusiasm will carry you into a project, you also need to think about how you are going to keep going when this passes. In other words, some level of long-term planning and/or advance planning is usually a good thing.

2) Variety is the spice of life: During the marathon, I read two novels (P.N.Elrod’s “Lifeblood” and Tess Gerritsen’s “The Apprentice” ) that weren’t, strictly speaking, horror novels. Sure, both of them contained elements from the horror genre, but they were closer to the detective genre than the horror genre. This was due to more than just running out of traditional horror novels to review. I needed a break from horror fiction.

Reading nothing but horror fiction isn’t as awesome as it may initially seem. In short, if you just read horror fiction then it becomes a little bit more predictable and mundane after a while. This means that scenes of horror don’t really have quite the same dramatic impact that they might do if you read novels from other genres in between each horror novel.

This, by the way, is also important if you’re planning on writing any horror fiction. Many of the best horror novels I read during the marathon also took inspiration from other genres. Whether it is the dystopian sci-fi elements in S.L.Grey’s “The Mall“, the disaster movie-style elements in James Herbert’s “The Rats“, the thriller novel elements in S.D.Perry’s “Resident Evil: City Of The Dead” etc… the best horror fiction often takes inspiration from outside of the horror genre.

3) Modern vs. old horror fiction: Although I focused on 1970s-90s classics fairly heavily during the marathon, I also read about three modern horror novels too. Still, a focus on the classics also made me think more about the modern horror novels that I’d read in the months before the marathon. It reminded me of how the two types of horror fiction differ from each other.

And, yes, horror novels are still being written these days. They’re usually scarier too. This is mostly because, whilst 1970s-90s horror novels do include multiple types of horror, there often tends to be more of a focus on less scary things like monster horrror and gory horror. On the other hand, modern horror novels will often place more emphasis on scarier things like atmosphere, psychological horror, suspense etc…

A good example from the marathon is probably Adam Nevill’s 2011 novel “The Ritual“. This is a novel about four hikers who are trapped in an abandoned forest and hunted by something. Yet, the novel is much scarier than a 1980s monster novel for the simple reason that there is a lot of focus on things like suspense, the fraying sanity of the hikers and atmospheric descriptions of the scary forest.

So, yes, although the classics are still awesome, don’t overlook modern horror fiction. It’s usually a lot more scary than you might think.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Four Advantages That Horror Film/Game Novelisations Have Over The Source Material

Well, I thought that I’d talk about a somewhat overlooked segment of horror literature today. I am, of course, talking about novelisations of horror films and games. This is mostly because I recently re-read S.D.Perry’s novelisation of “Resident Evil 2” and because I’m currently re-reading George A. Romero & Susanna Sparrow’s novelisation of “Dawn Of The Dead”.

But, I should probably talk briefly about the history of novelisations before I talk about some of the advantages that they have over the source material. Even though I’ve only done some brief reading about the history, novelisations seem to have emerged as a literary genre thanks to the lack of home video in the past. In short, once a film ended it’s run in the cinema, the only way to re-experience it at home in the past was to read a novel based on it.

In addition to this, although novelisations are less common today, one reason why they are still written is because they are apparently relatively cheap to commission (and therefore can be profitable even if they sell a relatively small number of copies). But, although they are apparently written more quickly than original novels, they still have a number of interesting advantages over the source material that they are adapting, especially in the horror genre:

1) Depth: Because even the shortest novels can cover more ground than a 1-2 hour horror movie and can do things that videogames can’t, novelisations will provide a much richer and deeper experience than the source material. They can get inside of the heads of the characters, they can use language to set the scene/mood in interesting ways, they don’t have to worry about a “special effects” budget, they instantly have ultra-realistic “graphics” etc….

So, you’ll usually get an experience that is more atmospheric, peopled with better characters and more spectacular than the source material. This is useful in the horror genre for the simple reason that these things also improve the horror elements too.

For example, in the original 1998 “Resident Evil 2” videogame, the horrifying zombies and monsters were blocky, pixellated 3D models. In S.D.Perry’s 1999 novelisation, they are the kind of gruesome, realistic walking corpses and inhuman beasts that you might expect to see in a trailer for the 2019 remake of the videogame. Yes, the novel was 20 years ahead of the games in this regard!

Likewise, the characters in the original 1998 videogame had a few cheesy lines of dialogue and a few short CGI movies to tell you who they are. On the other hand, the novelisation gives even some of the background characters (who only appear a couple of times in the game) a lot more personality and backstory. This means that the reader cares more about the characters, which means that the scenes of horror have more of an impact than they did in the source material.

So, horror movie/game novelisations will often tell a deeper and more dramatic version of the source material’s storyline.

2) Alterations: This one can be a bit hit-and-miss but, when it works, it works! In short, in order to adapt a film or game into a book, the author usually has to make some alterations. These can result in all sorts of really creative changes which can really add a lot to the source material.

Going back to S.D.Perry’s novelisation of “Resident Evil 2”, one of the major changes from the game is to the pacing. The original 1998 videogame is a surprisingly slow-paced thing that involves lots of exploration and puzzle-solving. On the other hand, Perry’s novelisation is much more of a streamlined, fast-paced thriller. This turns the game’s story into something much more intense, gripping, suspenseful and dramatic than you might expect.

Yes, sometimes, alterations don’t always work perfectly (compare Keith R. A. DeCandido’s novelisation to the first “Resident Evil” movie for an example), but they’re also really fascinating because they provide something new for people who have already read/played the source material.

A good example of this is David Bischoff’s novelisation of the early 1990s comedy horror movie “Gremlins 2“. In the film, there is a fourth-wall breaking scene where the gremlins insert themselves into various other films playing in a cinema. The novelisation adapts in this in a really clever way by replacing it with a scene where the gremlins break into the author’s study and try to write part of the book.

So, yes, novelisations can be really interesting “alternate versions” of the source material. So, if you’ve seen a horror movie or played a horror game, you can’t be entirely certain of what to expect when you read a novelisation. Which adds to the horror 🙂

3) No censorship: This was much more of an issue in the past than it is today, but one advantage that horror novelisations traditionally had was the fact that that they didn’t have to get the approval of a censorship board before they were released. Anyone who has read anything about the history of British film censorship will know that it is only relatively recently that the censors have stopped routinely hacking horror movies to shreds.

A good example of this is Romero & Sparrow’s 1978 novelisation of “Dawn Of The Dead”. Although it has been about a decade and a half since I saw the film (so I can’t make much of a comparison), one of the cool things about the novel is that it is even more gruesome than you might expect.

Yes, it’s slightly less gory than the splatterpunk fiction of the 1980s, but it still has a level of intense grisly horror that would have probably been heavily trimmed by the film censors of the day. So, novelisations were historically a way to bypass censorship.

4) No barriers to entry: One of the really cool things about novelisations is that they are a more open format than films or games can be.

For example, unlike their source material, videogame novelisations don’t have system requirements. This is why, although I didn’t have any technology modern enough to play the game on, I was still able to enjoy Rick Burroughs’ novelisation of “Alan Wake”. It didn’t bar my entry to the story with a list of expensive tech I had to buy beforehand, it just welcomed me with open arms.

Likewise, going back to film censorship, I both read and watched “Dawn Of The Dead” for the first time during my mid-teens. With the book, it was just a simple matter of spotting it in a charity shop/second-hand bookshop and then buying it (for just 40p, according to the price written in the inside cover. I miss early-mid 2000s book pricing). I really enjoyed the novel back then and, along with numerous other vintage horror novels, it was something that fostered a long-lasting interest in both reading and writing.

On the other hand, when I saw the film back then, I had to wait for it to appear on TV and then set up my VCR. After all, thanks to over-zealous film censors (who were obviously never teenagers), I couldn’t exactly walk into a shop and buy a VHS or DVD copy of it because I didn’t look close enough to eighteen. The film didn’t deprave or corrupt me (it didn’t even frighten me, if I remember rightly) but, thanks to some people in an office in London, I had a much more difficult time finding and enjoying this cool movie than I probably should have.

So, one awesome thing about horror novelisations is the fact that they don’t have a load of deliberate barriers (like system requirements, film certificates etc..) that get between the audience and the story 🙂

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Three Thoughts About Re-Reading Novels

One of the interesting things I’ve noticed about this month’s horror novel marathon is that I’ve been re-reading more books than usual. I’ve re-read Shaun Hutson’s “Relics” , Clive Barker’s “The Hellbound Heart“, S. D. Perry’s “Resident Evil: City Of The Dead“, James Herbert’s “The Rats” and I’m currently re-reading Graham Masterton’s “The Hymn”.

Before I got back into reading regularly the best part of a year ago, I hardly ever re-read books. The idea of it seemed absurd, especially when I could just read another book where I didn’t know what was going to happen next.

So, naturally, this made me think about re-reading and I thought that I’d offer a few random thoughts.

1) Leave it at least a decade: Re-reading novels is only truly fascinating when a lot of time has passed since you last read the book. Personally, I’d suggest leaving it at least a decade for the best results. After this amount of time, you’ll often only have a hazy memory of the entire storyline and maybe a clear memory of a couple of scenes. This, of course, allows the book to surprise you once again.

And, yes, books can surprise you when you only remember them vaguely. This can be both a good and a bad thing. On the plus side, you can notice things like great descriptions, interesting themes, plot twist foreshadowing, subtle details etc… that you might have missed the first time around. On the downside, parts of a story that have aged badly can be a lot more noticeable when you re-read a book many years later.

Re-reading a book after more than a decade is also interesting because of the fact that you’ll probably be a fairly different person to the one you were when you first read it. You’ll be more mature, you’ll be more intelligent and your imagination will be more well-developed. In other words, you’re more likely to discover hidden depths that you might not have noticed the first time round.

2) Choose carefully: If you read a lot, then books will be connected with your memories of the past. With most of the books I’ve re-read, I can usually remember something about where and when I originally read them. So, re-reading books can be a good way to evoke rose-tinted memories of your past.

On the other hand, this can be a reason to be selective about which books you re-read. When you re-read a book, you can also create a new set of memories surrounding it that can sometimes crowd out or dilute your older memories. You’ll be older than you were when you first read it and you’ll probably also be re-reading it in a different context too.

Whilst this can sometimes be a good thing, be careful with re-reading books that are linked to your very best memories and/or which seem to symbolise especially great times in your life. Sometimes, it is best to keep these books as a fond memory – however much you really want to re-read them.

So, choose what you re-read carefully. When you re-read, you are overwriting your past.

3) Read new books too: Seriously, I can’t stress this enough. Read new books too! Not only will this give you something to re-read in the future, but it’ll also allow you to get more out of the books that you re-read too.

For example, reading several modern horror novels over the past few months has allowed me to see how the older 1970s-90s horror novels I’ve been re-reading differ from them. It has allowed me to see how the genre has changed over the decades (eg: modern horror novels tend to focus more on atmosphere, psychological horror etc… than gory horror). It has also dispelled the myth that the horror genre has declined in recent years. If anything, it has got scarier!

Reading new books also reminds you of the value of a good story. It stops you from focusing on just one author (and being limited to reading only the novels that they have written). Having to search for new reading matter also means that you’ll probably end up finding brilliant books by authors that you’ve never read before.

So, don’t fall into the pattern of just re-reading the same books or authors again and again. Re-reading can be awesome, but you also need to read modern books and/or books that you haven’t read before.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Another Two Reasons Why Books Are Better Than Games

Well, although I’ve talked about the subject of “books vs. games” before, I thought that I’d take a slight break from this month’s horror genre theme to talk about it again.

This is mostly because, due to the usual worries that I was “less of a gamer than I used to be“, I ended up replaying the earlier parts of “Resident Evil 3” on a higher difficulty setting. It was a lot of fun.

But, saying all of this, there’s still a lot to be said for books. After all, I’ve spent quite a few months reading lots of them. So, here are two more reasons why books are better than games.

1) Saving: Yes, many classic computer games (eg: “Doom II”, “Blood” , “Deus Ex“, the PC port of “Silent Hill 3” etc..) don’t have this problem. However, one of the problems with many modern and older games is that they don’t always give the player the opportunity to save at any time and pick up from where they left off.

Whether it is the dreaded checkpoint saving or, like in the first three “Resident Evil” games, actually limiting the number of times players can save, games can demand that you play them for longer unless you want to lose your progress. Regardless of the reasons given by game designers for this sort of thing, it is more than a little bit annoying/off-putting for a game to tell you “you’d better keep playing now, or else!” when you really want to get on and do other things.

Books, on the other hand, have none of these problems. You simply use a bookmark and put the book down. You can use pretty much anything as a bookmark You can even use more than one bookmark if you want to mark multiple parts of the novel (unlike some games that only have one save slot).

If you don’t have a bookmark, then – if you own the book – you can just dog-ear the page. And, yes, I know that dog-earing is a controversial topic, but if it’s your book and you don’t have a bookmark, what else are you going to do?

Even so, all books allow you to “save” your progress at any time. Unlike many games.

2) History: A few days before I wrote this article, I was spending a few minutes on Youtube when I happened to notice a retro gaming video about a cool-looking videogame I’d read about in a magazine many years ago but couldn’t remember the name of (D2“, if anyone is curious). Needless to say, I was amazed. I wanted to play it.

The only problem was that I don’t own a Sega Dreamcast. To directly experience this part of gaming history, I’d have to track down and buy a piece of out-of-production hardware before I even got the game. And, even then, a Dreamcast would only allow me to play a fraction of the interesting old games out there.

I mean, I’ve got a few old game consoles lying around (eg: a SNES, a N64 [somewhere], a GBA, a GBC [somewhere], two original Game Boys, a PsOne and a sadly no longer functional PS2). Yet, even with these, there are many older games I can’t play because I don’t have the right hardware. Because, rather than making games available to all, classic games were often locked to just one or two platforms.

It was part of the business model. After all, if you grew up in the 1990s and liked console gaming, you were often either on the side of Nintendo or Sega. Each system had it’s own parallel culture of “exclusive” games. These days, even PC games can often be exclusive to various DRM-filled digital shops/launcher programs. And don’t even get me started on the sorry state of game preservation these days…

On the other hand, the next horror novel I plan to review is an early 1990s reprint of a novel from 1974 (“The Rats” by James Herbert). I can read it just as easily as a modern horror novel. The physical book still “works” just as well as a modern book does. I don’t need anything extra to read it. It is a book like any other.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Three Reasons Why Paperback Books Are Awesome

Well, I thought that I’d talk about paperback books today. In particular, why they are one of the most awesome types of books out there. And, no, this isn’t a “physical books vs e-books” article. Why? Well, if you’re reading an article with a title like this, then you’ve probably already decided which format you prefer 🙂

So, here are three of the many reasons why paperback books are awesome:

1) Approachability: Paperback books are designed to be read. If you want to show off your literary tastes or make your bookshelf look more impressive, then hardback books can work well. But, if you actually enjoy reading books, then a chaotic pile of paperbacks beats a well-ordered shelf of hardbacks any day.

Paperback books are designed to be carried around easily, to be left lying around (to be picked up when you have the impulse to read one) and to curl up with and enjoy. Although there is something to be said for spending time with a nice, weighty hardback book, there’s just something intuitive about spending time with a light, flexible paperback. It doesn’t boast or get in the way. It is just you and the story.

Not only that, because paperback books don’t really have the sense of prestige that hardback books do, they remind you of how much fun reading is supposed to be. After all, reading isn’t meant to be some kind of posh activity that you do in order to look sophisticated, it is something that is meant to be enjoyed. And, well, a humble paperback book is the perfect expression of this.

2) Nostalgia, coolness and fun: Simply put, old paperback books are cooler than old hardback books. Because paperback books were originally designed for mass entertainment, they often contain gripping stories (that didn’t always get a hardback release) and attention-grabbing cover art. Here are a few examples of both modern and classic paperback covers to show you what I mean:

Here are some examples of cool-looking paperback books, some of which probably didn’t get a hardback release.

Not only that, paperback books can be really nostalgic too. Although this might be different for you, most of the books I used to read for fun when I was a teenager were paperbacks. Usually slightly older second-hand ones. When I got back into reading regularly several months before writing this article, I found myself gravitating back to this again and, to my delight, it was just as fun as I remembered 🙂

3) Space: Simply put, paperback books are smaller than hardback books. What this means is that a pile of paperback books will contain more books than a similarly-sized pile of hardback books will. So, if you like to keep a good stock of books ready for when you finish your current one, then paperback books are often better than hardbacks.

This is especially true these days, where more books get both a paperback and hardback release. Often, the binding in modern hardback books is very similar to the binding used in paperbacks. So, there isn’t really that much practical difference between the two – except for their size.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂