Review: “Barb Wire” By Neal Barratt Jr. (Novel)

Well, I thought that I’d take a look at a film novelisation that I’ve been meaning to read for at least a decade and a half. I am, of course, talking about Neal Barratt Jr’s 1996 novelisation of “Barb Wire”.

If I remember rightly, I first learnt that there was a novelisation of this film when, during my teenage years, I happened to see a copy of it (along with the novelisation of “Eraser”) in either a HMV, MVC or Fopp store (anyone remember those?). Although I’d seen the film on late-night TV a year or two earlier, the idea of a “Barb Wire” novel just seemed hilariously awesome, so I ended up buying a copy.

Then, I forgot about it. However, after chancing upon a fan-made trailer/ music video for the film on Youtube, I thought “I should watch this film again for a laugh“. But, since I’m not really going through a film-watching phase at the moment, I remembered the novelisation. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find it anywhere and, at a guess, I must have sent it to the charity shop during a clear-out I had in late 2017. Luckily, after a bit of searching, I was able to find a cheap second-hand copy online. So, this book review has been a long time in the making.

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

This is the 1996 Boxtree (UK) paperback edition of “Barb Wire” that I read.

The novel is set in the dsytopian future of 2032. After a military coup led by far-right elements in the US Congress, America is in the middle of a second civil war. Well, except for the city of Steel Harbor, a UN-administered demilitarised zone that is filled with low-lives, gangsters and crooks. It is also home to the Hammerhead Bar & Grill, a late-night establishment run by an ex-soldier called Barb Wire.

The novel begins with Barb Wire blowing up a generator facility using both motorbike-mounted missiles and grenades. Then, we see a senior officer in the Congressional Directorate – Colonel Victor Pryzer – cruelly torturing a resistance member for information about a fugitive scientist called Dr. Cora Devonshire and the whereabouts of a very expensive pair of contact lenses.

Whilst Cora and a man called Axel Hood try to sneak into Steel Harbour, Barb finds that she is running low on cash. So, she decides to spend the evening doing a spot of bounty hunting. The fugitive is called W.R. Krebs. One spectacular gunfight later, Barb hands Krebs over to a dodgy bail bondsman called Rhino. However, she later gets a visit from the local chief of police who is looking for Krebs. To Barb’s surprise, the chief tells her that Krebs was a member of the resistance….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it was better than I’d expected 🙂 Although the early parts didn’t really wow me, it turned into a much more atmospheric, compelling and thrilling novel than I’d expected. In fact, it was actually better than what I remembered of the film. If you like 1990s-style edginess with a hint of cyberpunk, a hint of film noir and a decent dose of dystopian fiction, then this novel is well-worth reading. Seriously, why didn’t I read this when I was a teenager?

I should probably start by talking about the novel’s thriller elements, which are a good mixture of thrillingly fast-paced action scenes and more suspenseful moments. Surprisingly, the emphasis is slightly more on suspense, with a vaguely Chandleresque plot involving various factions within the city and a few scenes where characters have to hide from the authorities or deal with the local criminal underworld. All of this suspense also means that, when the novel’s action-packed finale eventually roars into view, it seems even more thrillingly dramatic by comparison.

The novel also includes a few well-placed horror elements too 🙂 Whether they are descriptions of life in the city (where rats are ever-present and many people live in grim poverty), some grisly moments, the war horrors relayed during the backstory segments or pretty much every scene involving Pryzer, this novel definitely has a rather chilling undercurrent to it which really help to add some intensity,darkness and atmosphere to this adaptation of a cheesy late-night movie.

In terms of the novel’s sci-fi elements, there’s relatively little in the way of futuristic technology (other than a creepy mind-reading machine, some high-tech contact lenses and numerous fictional weapons) and the focus is more on the story’s dystopian alternate future. The novel goes into this in a lot more detail than the film does, with “excerpts” from a history book of the time appearing in between chapters of the story. Not only does this help to make the novel feel a bit more like a “serious” work of dystopian fiction, but this is also beautifully counterpointed by the atmosphere of the story too.

Seriously, this novel has the kind of sleazy, run-down, hedonistic, mildly cyberpunk and vaguely post-apocalyptic atmopshere that you only ever seem to see in films from the more hedonistic days of the 1980s/90s, and it is an absolute joy to behold here 🙂 A fair amount of the story takes place on dangerous streets, in Barb’s bar, in ominous abandoned buildings etc… and, thanks to the novel’s descriptions, these places feel like more than just film sets.

One interesting difference between the novel and what I remember of the film is that the novel’s dramatic final scenes take place in the dead of night rather than in the middle of the day – this is a small change, but it really helps to add both extra suspense and coolness to these spectacular action scenes. Likewise, it is implied that the novel takes place sometime around 2032 whereas- looking online – the film apparently takes place in the distant future of 2017. So, the book’s setting is a little bit more believable than the film’s.

In terms of the characters, this novel is surprisingly good. Thanks to the fact that this is a book rather than a film, there is a lot more focus on characterisation here. In addition to giving the villain more of a chilling backstory and adding extra complexity to Barb’s character (eg: her past with Axel, her desire to remain neutral in the war etc…) whilst still allowing her to be the kind of badass anti-hero that you’d expect from a 1990s movie, the novel also adds a bit more characterisation to many of the background characters too – which adds extra drama to the story, since you actually care about what happens to them.

In terms of the writing, this novel is better than I’d expected. The novel’s third-person narration mostly consists of the informal, hardboiled, fast-paced “matter of fact” narration that you’d expect from an action-thriller novel, but this is also paired with quite a few brilliant descriptive moments and gloriously cheesy ones (eg: ‘The sun was a scabrous orange, draining its venom into another day’) that help to add extra atmosphere.

This novel also has a few mildly experimental flourishes too, such as a film-script style dialogue scene, a few vaguely cyberpunk-influenced narrative moments and numerous “excerpts” from a fictional history book. Amusingly though, for such an “edgy” novel, the dialogue is surprisingly polite (with, for example, characters saying “friggin’ ” rather than the word you’d realistically expect them to use).

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. At a reasonably efficient 267 pages, it never outstays it’s welcome. The pacing is reasonably good too, with most of the story being moderately fast-paced (with the pace kept up via dialogue, suspense and occasional action scenes) and the final segment being slightly more fast-paced and action-packed. This contrast makes the ending seem even more thrilling and it works really well.

As for how this twenty-three year old novel has aged, it has aged weirdly. The plot is still compelling, the locations are still atmospheric and the characters are still interesting. Yet, this novel really does feel like something from a different era – an era where people were a bit more hedonistic, where gloomy dystopian cyberpunk-influenced sci-fi was a more popular genre (seriously, it even turned up in the music video for “Spice Up Your Life” by the Spice Girls), where “edgy” anti-hero characters were popular etc… And I kind of miss it. Yes, some parts of this book haven’t aged all that well and there are a few “politically incorrect” moments. But, these aside, this book is a wonderfully nostalgic slice of late-night 1990s nostalgia.

All in all, this novelisation is much better than what I can remember of the film it is based on. On it’s own merits, it’s a reasonably fun, well-written, cheesy and very 1990s “edgy” dystopian sci-fi thriller novel that is compelling and atmospheric. Yes, it isn’t anything too groundbreaking, but it’s a far better book than I’d expected it to be.

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

Review: “Dawn Of The Dead” By George A. Romero & Susanna Sparrow (Novel)

Well, for the penultimate novel in this month’s horror marathon, I thought that I’d read a zombie novel. In particular, I thought that I’d re-read George A.Romero & Susanna Sparrow’s 1978 novelisation of Romero’s classic zombie movie “Dawn Of The Dead”.

Although I first saw the film and read this novelisation during my mid-teens (after finding a copy for just 40p in a charity shop/second-hand bookshop), I couldn’t really remember that much about either thing. So, it seemed like the perfect time to take another look at the book.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Dawn Of The Dead”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 1979 Sphere Books (UK) paperback edition of “Dawn Of The Dead” that I read.

The story begins in Philadelphia, in the studios of W-GON TV during a zombie apocalypse. Whilst debates about the apocalypse rage on air, assistant manager Francine Parker tries to get an updated list of rescue stations posted on air against the wishes of her boss. After several arguments break out and everything starts to fall into chaos, Francine’s boyfriend Steve tells her about a plan to use the traffic helicopter to escape.

Meanwhile, Steve’s friend Roger is waiting outside of an apartment block. Roger is a member of a S.W.A.T team, aided by the military, who want to evacuate the residents of the tower to a rescue station. The people in the tower don’t want to leave, and it isn’t long before a gunfight breaks out between them and the authorities. In addition to this, many of the tower’s dead also begin to rise from the grave as flesh-eating zombies.

During the violent chaos, a trooper called Peter saves Roger’s life and – realising that the battle isn’t going well – Roger tells Peter about Steve’s plan to steal a helicopter and get the hell out of town. So, both men decide to go AWOL….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, although it isn’t perfect, it’s a reasonably compelling zombie thriller that is still fairly readable. In short, it’s a book that – whilst still fairly ok – seemed much more impressive when I was a teenager.

In terms of the novel’s horror elements, they consist of the gory horror and post-apocalyptic horror that you would expect from a zombie story, in addition to many moments of suspenseful horror, claustrophobic horror and character-based horror too.

Although the novel is slightly more gruesome than what I remember of the film, the novel’s moments of gory horror are probably more comparable to other 70s horror novels, like James Herbert’s “The Rats“, than the ultra-gruesome splatterpunk fiction of the 1980s.

Surprisingly, the main focus of the novel’s is more on suspense and post-apocalyptic chaos. These elements works really well, with the survivors spending most of the novel in peril from either zombies, environmental factors or other survivors. This story also has a really claustrophobic atmosphere that helps to add a lot of tension to the story.

Likewise, one interesting thing about the novel’s bleak post-apocalyptic settings is that, for the most part, the power grid is still working – giving the story’s iconic shopping centre a really eerie atmosphere (eg: since it seems both normal and post-apocalyptic at the same time).

In addition to this, the fact that the electricity is somehow still on also allows the characters to find radio and TV reports about the apocalypse, which help to add a sense of scale to the story whilst also adding to the desolate atmosphere too (since most of the TV broadcasts are debates/arguments about how to deal with the zombie plague).

In terms of the novel’s thriller elements, they work fairly well. Although the characters find themselves in lots of suspenseful situations and/or fast-paced battles, some of these seem more suspenseful than others (due to the writing style). Even so, the novel is still a fairly decent thriller that mixes tense scenes of survival with more action-packed scenes.

Thematically, the novel seems reasonably similar to what I remember of the film. However, the story’s parallels between zombies and consumerism are made a bit more explicit in the novel (with a couple of references to “a consumer society” etc..). The novel also seems to add a few feminist themes to the story too. Some of these moments work fairly well in dramatic terms (eg: Fran’s frustration at not being seen as an equal member of the group), but some are a bit corny (eg: the line “But now was not the time to raise his consciousness” etc…).

In terms of the writing, it is… functional… I guess. Overall, the novel’s third-person narration is the kind of narration you’d expect from a 1970s thriller novel (eg: slightly more formal than a modern one, but still fairly “matter of fact”). But, whilst this novel is fairly readable most of the time, the narration probably isn’t the most well-written that I’ve ever read.

In addition to several noticeable uses of the passive voice, some rather dull/repetitive sentences, weird terminology (eg: rifle bullets are referred to as “shells”), random jumps to other locations (without so much as a line break) and a few sentences that don’t flow that well, some of the novel’s more suspenseful scenes also get so bogged down in descriptions of locks, doors, escalators etc.. that they can become mildly confusing. Even so, this novel is mostly still fairly readable despite some noticeable flaws with the writing.

As for the characters, they’re ok. Whilst there isn’t lots of ultra-deep characterisation, there is enough characterisation to make you care about the characters. Likewise, a lot of the novel’s drama comes from the complicated and terse relationships between the four main characters. A lot of the characterisation is also done in a cinematic way (eg: through dialogue, personalities etc..), although there are obviously a few moments of more traditional novelistic characterisation too.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is interesting. At an efficient 216 pages, this novel could teach modern novels a thing or two about brevity. But, whilst the novel’s pacing is moderately fast throughout, the story is probably at it’s most gripping during the earlier and later parts. Whilst the middle is still fairly compelling, the focus on survival within a single location doesn’t really have the same sensation of motion that the rest of the story does.

As for how this forty-one year old novel has aged, it shows it’s age but hasn’t aged too terribly. For the time it was written, it was probably a fairly progressive novel – even if the way the novel handles this will sometimes seem a bit awkward, earnest and/or dated when read today. Likewise, whilst the writing style and atmosphere of the story are fairly 70s, it’s still fairly readable and the story still remains compelling when read these days.

All in all, whilst this novel is probably best enjoyed when you are an uncritical teenager rather than a more cynical adult, it’s still a fairly compelling and atmospheric zombie thriller. Even though the writing isn’t spectacular, the novel’s horror elements still work reasonably well and there’s a decent amount of suspense too.

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

Review: “Resident Evil Genesis” By Keith R. A. DeCandido (Film Novelisation)

Well, although I’d planned to read a different novel, a combination of being busy and tired meant that I needed to read something a lot more readable and faster-paced.

Luckily, several months earlier, I’d found my old copy of Keith R. A. DeCandido’s 2004 novelisation of the first “Resident Evil” film that I’d bought sometime during the ’00s, but never got round to reading. So, this seemed like the perfect time to actually read it.

Although it is possible to enjoy this novel without having seen the film, I’d recommend watching the film first since the novelisation makes a few changes to various things. But, like with the original film, be sure to have a copy of the sequel (either the film sequel or DeCandido’s novelisation of it) nearby, since it follows on directly from the end of this story.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Resident Evil Genesis”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2004 Pocket Books (US) paperback edition of “Resident Evil Genesis” that I read.

The novel begins with a meeting between a man called Aaron Vricella and another man called Matt Addision. Both are part of a secret group who are devoted to taking down the nefarious Umbrella Corporation, a pharmaceutical company who may be working on illegal bio-weapons. In order to do this, they need someone on the inside and, after some discussion, Vricella reluctantly agrees to allow Matt’s sister Lisa to do the job.

Lisa is, of course, glad to help out because one of Umbrella’s malfunctioning medicines and the subsequent cover-up (and campaign of intimidation) killed her friend Mahmoud. So, she interviews for a computer maintenance position in Umbrella’s mysterious underground Hive facility near the town of Racoon city………

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is kind of like an expanded and slightly re-edited version of the film. This is both a good and a bad thing.

On the plus side, all of the extra “deleted scenes” help to turn this novelisation into something more like a conventional novel. They add a bit of extra depth to the story and help to fill in some small gaps (eg: how and why Alice’s contact, Lisa, spied on Umbrella) in the story. But, as I’ll explain later, not following the structure of the film’s story also has some negative effects on the novelisation too.

Another good thing is that this novel also includes a lot of extra characterisation which not only helps to add extra depth to the story, but also means that the scenes where background characters (who only appear for a few seconds or minutes in the film) die have a lot more dramatic and emotional impact than they do in the film. Good horror relies on good characterisation and all of the extra characterisation in this adaptation helps a bit with this.

On the downside, the re-edited story means that the novel is fairly slow to start. Basically, all of the stuff that is told via flashbacks later in the film makes up the first 50-100 pages of the novel. This change also means that the grippingly mysterious early scene of the film where Alice wakes up with no memory doesn’t have the same impact in the novel because it happens on page 116 – after we’ve already learnt a lot about Alice’s backstory.

Likewise, the novelisation also adds some extra thematic stuff, but it is somewhat muddled. Basically, one theme in this novel seems to be that the US Govt/Police are stuck in the 1950s with regard to gender politics, with two characters (Alice and Rain) joining the nefarious Umbrella Corporation’s security division because it actually offered to promote them on merit. Whilst this could possibly be political satire, it not only comes across as a little bit heavy-handed but it also slightly undermines the “ultra-rich corporations are evil” theme that also runs through the novel too.

Still, if there’s one thing that this novel gets right, it is the original film’s suspense and sci-fi elements. The slow beginning means that it is even longer until the first zombie lurches into view (it doesn’t happen until page 180). However, like with DeCandido’s adaptation of the film’s sequel, the novelisation doesn’t use the added freedom of the written word to add lots of extra gory horror to the film’s story (unlike, for example, S.D. Perry’s brilliantly macabre novelisation of the first “Resident Evil” videogame). So, this is more of a suspenseful thriller novel than a horror novel.

On the plus side, the fact that the story is told via words means that there’s more room to explore the sci-fi elements of the film. Although these aren’t explained in a huge level of depth, there’s enough extra stuff here to give the story a bit more atmosphere and depth than the film had in this regard.

In terms of the writing, the novel’s third-person narration is reasonably good. The novel is narrated in a reasonably matter of fact way, with the narration being more descriptive in some scenes and more informal during more fast-paced moments. It’s fairly readable and the writing doesn’t really get in the way of the story.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is ok. At 277 pages in length, it thankfully isn’t too long, although I got the feeling that the story could have probably been told in 150-200 pages. Likewise, whilst the later parts of the novel are more fast-paced than the early ones, the slow-paced expanded introduction robs the story of some of the film’s pacing (although it does add a bit of extra suspense to the novelisation though).

All in all, this is a reasonably good novelisation of the first “Resident Evil” film. Yes, all of the changes and additions are a bit of a mixed bag. Still, if you want a slightly slower-paced and more suspenseful version of the film with a lot of extra character depth, then this novelisation might be worth reading.

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

Review: “Resident Evil: Apocalypse” By Keith R. A. DeCandido (Film Novelisation)

Although I reviewed the film version of “Resident Evil: Apocalypse” about five or six months ago, I thought that it would be kind of fun to see what the film novelisation of it was like.

Since, although I’ve read all of S.D. Perry’s excellent novels based on the original “Resident Evil” videogames, I can only vaguely remember reading Keith R. A. DeCandido’s novelisation of the third film (Resident Evil: Extinction) about a decade or so ago. So, I thought that I’d check out his 2004 novelisation of “Resident Evil: Apocalypse”.

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

This is the 2004 Pocket Books (US) paperback edition of “Resident Evil: Apocalypse” that I read.

The novel begins by giving us some backstory for Timothy Cain, one of the high-ranking henchmen of the nefarious Umbrella Corporation. A scientific team from the corporation begins to re-open the corporation’s secret underground laboratory (called “The Hive”) after some kind of mysterious accident happened there. Of course, once they open the doors, a horde of zombies pours out…

Soon, the local town is infested with zombies. A suspended police officer called Jill Valentine, who has encountered the zombies before, decides to fight them. Meanwhile, a team of Umbrella mercenaries, led by Carlos Olivera, enters the town. A high-ranking Umbrella scientist realises that his daughter is missing. A character called LJ is arrested and almost bitten by a zombie at the police station. One of the survivors of the Hive disaster, Alice Abernathy, wakes up in hospital. Needless to say, the stage is set for some thrilling drama…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a reasonably good adaptation of the film – in other words, it is a gloriously silly, over-the-top action-thriller novel. Or, at least, most of it is. If there is one flaw with this novel, it is that it is a bit slow to start – with many earlier segments of the book being taken up explaining the backstories of various characters and recapping the events of the first “Resident Evil” film.

Even so, when this book hits it’s stride, it is a fun, fast-paced action thriller story that can be read reasonably quickly. However, you’ve probably noticed that – for a novel about zombies- I haven’t mentioned the word “horror” once. This is because this really isn’t as much of a horror novel as I had expected. Sure, there’s lots of death, monsters, suspense and zombies but – like the film – there’s relatively little in the way of horror.

One of the things I loved about reading S. D. Perry’s novelisations of the “Resident Evil” videogames when I was a teenager was that she was able to inject a bit of horror into the stories. Perry’s novelisations were at least three times as gruesome, grotesque and intense as the videogames were.

However, unlike Perry, DeCandido sticks pretty closely to the relatively bloodless action-thriller style of the film in his novelisation of “Resident Evil: Apocalypse”. So, if you’re expecting a bit more horror than you saw in the film, then you’re going to be disappointed.

In terms of how this novelisation relates to the film, it is fairly close. Although there is a lot more characterisation than in the film and there are a couple of very small story differences to what I can remember from the film (eg: Alice finds a zombie-filled Italian restaurant, Alice doesn’t use batons during one of the later fight scenes etc.. ), the most noticeable difference that I found was that Jill and Alice have slightly different outfits in the novel than they do in the film. In other words, Jill wears shorts and Alice keeps her lab coat. Aside from this, the book is extremely close to the film.

This is helped by the novel’s third-person narration, which is written in a very informal style which really fits the “cheesy action movie” atmosphere of the film. Although more prudish readers might not like the sheer number of four-letter words that have been added to the narration, they lend the story a greater degree of intensity whilst also evoking nostalgia for the more immature and “edgy” elements of the early-mid 2000s.

The style and tone of the informal third-person narration also changes slightly depending on the character that is being focused on. For this most part, this works reasonably well and helps to immerse the reader further. However, this can be a bit on the cringe-worthy side of things in a few scenes.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is ok. At 277 pages, the story’s length is fairly reasonable and it never really outstays it’s welcome. The pacing in most of the book is fairly good too, although the earlier segments of the novel were a little too slow-paced for my liking (especially when compared to the beginning of the film).

Yes, taking the time to set the scene and develop the characters would be admirable in an ordinary novel – but this novel is based on an ultra-fast paced, super-cheesy action movie. So, a bit more action in the earlier parts of the story would have been welcome.

All in all, this novel is a reasonably good adaptation of the source material. And for a novel based on a film based on a videogame, it’s surprisingly good. Yes, there are a few flaws. But, for the most part, it is a very readable, fast-paced novel that can be enjoyed within a small number of hours. Still, if you want to read something “Resident Evil”-related, then I’d probably recommend S.D. Perry’s “Resident Evil” novels over this one.

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

Review: “007: Tomorrow Never Dies” By Raymond Benson (Film Novelisation)

Well, since I haven’t read an action-thriller novel in a while and because I was feeling nostalgic for the 1990s, I thought that I’d check out Raymond Benson’s novelisation of the 1997 James Bond film “Tomorrow Never Dies”.

Although it has been quite a few years since I watched the film that this novel is based on, it is something which holds quite a bit of 1990s nostalgia for me. Seriously, to me, James Bond will always be Pierce Brosnan. So, when I realised that there was a novelisation (that was going very cheaply second-hand online), I just had to read it.

So, let’s take a look at “Tomorrow Never Dies”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 1997 Coronet (UK) paperback edition of “Tomorrow Never Dies” that I read.

The novel begins in the Khyber Pass, where a number of international criminals and terrorists are holding a weapons market. Back in Britain, MI6 are keeping a close eye on the proceedings, accompanied by naval officers and a Russian general. After a while, the navy decide to launch a missile at the weapons market, but MI6’s man on the ground – elite agent James Bond – spots a stolen nuclear weapon at the bazaar. With minutes left until the missile hits, Bond has to come up with a daring plan to get nuke out of there and back into the right hands. Needless to say, lots of thrilling action follows.

Sometime later, a British naval vessel is sailing in the South China sea when they are radioed by the Chinese navy and asked to surrender because they have strayed into Chinese waters. However, the GPS still shows that they are in international waters. The Chinese navy launch a couple of fighter planes. However, these are shot down by missiles from an unknown source whilst the British vessel is scuppered by a torpedo-like drilling machine. As the vessel sinks, mysterious divers close in on it and the surviving sailors are gunned down in cold blood.

Needless to say, Britain thinks that China attacked them and vice versa. With the two countries on the brink of war, it is up to James Bond to get to the bottom of things. Meanwhile, the Chinese intelligence services have also dispatched their top agent, Wai Lin, to look into the matter too. Soon, both agents find themselves meeting each other at the launch for the new headquarters of a news organisation called Carver Media Group in Hamburg….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it was really fun to read 🙂 Imagine something like a more efficient Clive Cussler novel (this novel is a lean and efficient 213 pages long 🙂 ) that has a bit more of a traditional British thriller-style atmosphere. Seriously, I actually prefer this novel to what I can remember of the film. It keeps the classic 1990s James Bond atmosphere whilst also telling a story that is much more suited to the page than the screen.

A lot of what makes this adaptation work so well is that – compared to what I can remember of the film – there’s a lot more depth and a bit more grittiness. Not only do we get to learn a lot more about the history of all of the characters (including the sordid histories of many of the villains), but this novel also takes advantage of the fact that it doesn’t have to pass a film censor in order to inject a bit more impact and intensity into the film’s action scenes. Plus, a lot of the film’s more comedic moments translate to the page fairly well too 🙂

Plus, the novel’s story is also fairly close to what I can remember of the film. The only major story differences that I noticed were that when Bond and Wai Lin are captured by the main villain, he doesn’t give a speech about chakras when he threatens to torture them. Likewise, there’s a small sub-plot about James Bond learning Danish that I don’t remember seeing in the film. Still, if you’ve seen the film more recently, then you’ll probably be better at spotting story differences than I am.

In terms of the narration in this novel, Benson’s third-person narration works fairly well. The narration is, as you would expect, a little bit more formal and descriptive than more modern action-thriller novel narration is – but it is still very readable and reasonably fast-paced. Likewise, Benson is really good at translating cinematic action scenes to the page in a way that isn’t too confusing either.

In terms of the pacing and characters, this novel excels itself 🙂 As I mentioned earlier, all of the characters get a lot more depth and backstory when compared to the film. Plus, this novel manages to cram a full, self-contained thriller story into 213 pages 🙂

Given how long a lot of thriller novels from the 1980s/90s onwards tend to be, it is so refreshing to see a thriller novel that is so lean and efficient. Yet, it never feels like the novel is abrupt or rushed either. Not only does Benson tell a gripping, concise story – but he also has time for a few brief 1-2 page descriptive segments about history, food etc.. too. Seriously, I miss the days when paperback novels could be this short 🙂

In terms of how this twenty-two year old novel has aged, it has mostly aged well. In other words, although there are a few descriptions, plot elements and moments that will seem cringe-worthily dated when read these days, this novel mostly reads like a wonderful piece of 1990s nostalgia. Plus, as I mentioned earlier, the narration is a little bit formal by modern action-thriller novel standards, but still very readable.

All in all, this is a brilliant film novelisation. It isn’t merely a re-telling of the film, but an expansion of it. It adds a bit of extra depth, grittiness and intensity to the film, whilst still retaining everything that makes the film so wonderfully gripping and cheerfully nostalgic. So, if you miss the days when Pierce Brosnan was James Bond and/or you want some 1990s nostalgia, then this novel is worth checking out. If you’re a fan of Clive Cussler, you’ll like this novel too. Likewise, if you want a good short thriller novel, then this one might be worth looking at too.

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

Review: “Gremlins 2: The New Batch” By David Bischoff (Movie Novelisation)

A couple of days before I wrote this review, I needed to find a book. The two books I’d planned to read were ones that, for whatever reason, I just couldn’t get into. Worried about losing interest in reading once again, I needed to find something easy and readable. And quickly!

Then I remembered that there was a book. A book I’d owned for over a decade and a half and still hadn’t got round to reading. I am, of course, talking about David Bischoff’s 1990 novelisation of “Gremlins 2: The New Batch” (if you want to see my review of this “so bad that it’s good” comedy horror film, then you can read it here).

Although it’s probably theoretically possible to enjoy this book without watching the film, I’d strongly recommend that you watch the film at least once or twice before reading the book in order to get the most out of it.

So, let’s take a look at the novelisation of “Gremlins 2: The New Batch”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 1990 Corgi (UK) paperback edition of “Gremlins 2: The New Batch” that I read.

The story to this novel is, as you might have guessed, pretty much identical to the movie. The story begins in Chinatown, New York, where an elderly shopkeeper called Mr.Wing is visited by a rather unpleasant man called Forster who works for a business magnate called Daniel Clamp.

Clamp is interested in redeveloping the area, but Mr.Wing won’t sell his shop despite Forster’s arguments. After they leave, Mr. Wing catches his pet Mogwai (a cute, fluffy creature called Gizmo) watching a Rambo movie on TV and scolds him for it.

Several weeks later, Mr. Wing dies of old age and Clamp begins to demolish the shop. Gizmo barely escapes from the wreckage before he is found and kidnapped by a guy who is lurking in an alleyway.

Meanwhile, young couple Billy Peltzer and Kate Beringer are travelling to work at the Clamp Center, a vast office tower run by Daniel Clamp. Several years earlier, Billy and Kate’s humdrum rural life had been shattered when Billy’s dad had given him Gizmo as a Christmas present. You see, there are several rules with Mogwai. They don’t like bright lights, they spontaneously reproduce whenever they get wet and you must never, ever feed them after midnight. If you do, they turn into fearsome, destructive gremlins. Gremlins that almost destroyed Billy and Kate’s old hometown. But, of course, that’s all in the past. It could never happen in New York, right….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a surprisingly good adaptation of the film. In other words, it is also “so bad that it is good”. Not only does the book absolutely nail the slightly quirky, referential, tongue-in-cheek tone of the film, but it also adds a bit of extra humour and background stuff too.

Still, Bischoff’s third-person narration can take a little while to get used to. He writes in a very informal, fast-paced and referential way that you’ll either find wonderfully readable or slightly annoying. Fortunately, for me, the former was true. But, this is only because I’ve seen the film several times before.

If I hadn’t seen the film, then I’d probably find the narration to be a little bit on the confusing side. Even so, the narration is full of these brilliantly fast-paced rushing-to-meet-a-deadline descriptions that almost have a certain poetry to them. Likewise, the informal narration fits in really well with the zany, anarchic tone of the film too.

Plus, as mentioned earlier, the narration (like the film) is fairly referential too, with frequent references to movies, TV shows, celebrities etc… Although this mostly works well, it all depends on how many of the references that you get. Luckily, most of them have stood the test of time. But, I’m guessing that, if you were living in the US during the 1990s, you’ll probably get slightly more out of this book than you would if you read it for the first time in 2010s Britain.

Likewise, the story itself moves at a reasonable pace too. Since this book was published in 1990, it is actually able to be short. What this means is that – over just 225 pages – the book can tell a reasonably focused story that doesn’t waste too much of the reader’s time. Seriously, I really miss the days when short books were nothing unusual. So, yes, this is a very readable book that will probably only take you a small number of hours to read too.

Although this novel follows the story of the film fairly closely, there are a reasonable number of extra little jokes thrown into the narration – mostly consisting of puns, sarcastic descriptions and parodies (eg: a mention of a werewolf movie called “The Jowling” which is a parody of a film called “The Howling” that was directed by the guy who directed “Gremlins 2”).

However, some visual parodies in the film don’t turn up in the book (eg: the “Batman” reference when the bat gremlin escapes the lab). But, although this novel mostly follows the story of the film, there are a couple of interesting story differences too.

For example, the novel initially seems to follow the film’s idea of making Daniel Clamp a thinly-disguised parody of Donald Trump (even taking it a step further than the film by hinting that Clamp wants to run for US President. As if anyone could imagine something so ludicrously absurd!). Yet, unlike the film, the novel actually mentions that Donald Trump is Daniel Clamp’s arch-rival. So, in the book at least, they’re supposed to be two totally different people.

Likewise, the fourth wall-breaking “film montage” scene in the original movie is replaced by a short chapter where the brain-serum gremlin breaks into David Bischoff’s apartment and narrates for a page or two before Bischoff is able to scare him away and continue telling the main story. Although this is quite a clever way to adapt this scene, and it also includes references to the original montage scene, I still slightly prefer the version in the film.

In addition to this, we get a very brief description of the Mogwai homeworld (implying that Gizmo is an alien), the film’s “New York, New York” musical montage scene is less of a major moment in the book (since it’s a book) and the electrocution scene is a little bit more intense and grotesque than it is in the film. Plus, in a scene that I don’t remember from the film, Grandpa Fred gives a speech about chaos and order that sums up the themes of the “Gremlins” series absolutely perfectly.

In terms of how this 29 year old novel has aged, it has aged as well as the film has. In other words, it’s a “so bad that it’s good” relic of the early 1990s. But, even though some of the book’s pop culture references are a little dated, it still reads reasonably well. If you’ve see the film and you know what to expect, then this book is a wonderful piece of 90s nostalgia. If you haven’t seen the film, you’ll probably find it less readable/enjoyable.

All in all, this novel is quite literally “Gremlins 2” in book form, even down the somewhat quirky/zany tone of the story. And, I’m honestly not sure whether I prefer it to the film or not. Like the film, it is “so bad that it is good”. It is endearingly annoying, it is a dreadful delight….

So, like the film, if I had to give this novel a rating out of five, it would get… both one and five simultaneously.