Review: “Devil Daggers” (Computer Game)

Well, since I’m still reading the next novel I plan to review (“Ice Station” by Matthew Reilly), I thought that I’d take a look at a computer game that I’ve wanted to play for a while. I am, of course talking about an indie game from 2016 called “Devil Daggers” (V.3, I think), which I happened to notice was on special offer on GOG several days before I prepared this review.

So, let’s take a look at “Devil Daggers”. However, I should probably warn you that this review will contain some mild gameplay SPOILERS and some (unrealistic) BLOODY IMAGES.

“Devil Daggers” is a minimalist 1990s-influenced first-person shooter game and, in true ’90s tradition, there isn’t much of a story. You play as an unnamed person who finds a mysterious hovering dagger in a gloomy room. When you pick it up, you are transported to an arena in hell where skeletal monsters constantly attack you. There is no end, no victory. Only survival until cold, inevitable death.

One of the first things that I will say about this game is that it is a hell of a lot of fun 🙂 Yes, it probably isn’t for everyone, but if you’re a fan of 1990s/ early-mid 2000s FPS games then you’ll really enjoy it. Not only does it do some innovative stuff with a familiar formula, but it is also a game in the truest sense of the word. In other words, like a lot of great classic games, the emphasis is very firmly on the actual gameplay.

: Image of a hand shooting magical dagger-like projectiles at a group of floating skeletal monsters in a dark, blood-spattered arena. Text in the upper left corner reads New High Score.

Yes! Gameplay! In a modern FPS game! Who would have thought it?

And what gameplay it is! In essence, this game is a stripped-down version of a classic ’90s shooter, with the player only having a small number of attacks (eg: a continuious fire mode and a shotgun-like blast attack) at the beginning of the game – both of which are accessed via the same mouse button. These attacks become more powerful after collecting a certain number of crystals dropped by fallen enemies (and there’s an incentive to stop shooting occasionally, since they float towards you when you do).

In the classic fashion, you can also run and turn very quickly. You only have one health point. Various skeletal monsters keep spawning endlessly (in a predicable, pre-set fashion that you’ll have to learn). There is no way of “winning” and, instead, you are scored on how long you managed to survive. At the time of writing, my personal best is 149.7742 seconds.

This took me way too much practice. Not to mention decades of playing old FPS games before finding this game.

All of this adds up to an incredibly fast-paced, frenetic, thrilling and streamlined game that also feels a lot like learning a skill 🙂 It is a game where, every time you fail, you’ll want to pick yourself up and practice some more. Not only do you need quick reflexes but, like in many of the classic FPS games of the 1990s, there are tactics and strategies you need to learn in order to stand a chance.

Whilst avid 1990s FPS gamers will probably be very familiar with some of them (eg: circle-strafing etc..), each of the game’s monsters have different weak points, attack patterns etc… that you’ll need to learn if you want to do better than you did last time.

Image of a hand shooting magical dagger-like projectiles at the middle of a giant floating eight-legged skull creature. A smaller skull, the creature's weak point, is glowing from being struck by the daggers.

For example, you need to hit a very specific spot in order to harm this monster.

For example, one of the game’s monsters is a horned skull. After you’ve died a few times, you’ll realise that if you don’t see one of these on screen then it often means that it is right behind you and you have less than a second left to live! So, you need to fight these horned skulls before fighting other types of monsters.

:  Image of an outstretched hand in front of a horde of levitating skeletal monsters. A horned skull looms large in the close foreground.

Yes, this is actually a good thing. It’s when you can’t see the horned skulls that you have to worry.

Plus, since you only have one health point, literally all of the game’s monsters are a serious threat to you – although this is balanced by the classic “bullet hell” technique of giving the player a tiny hitbox. All of this brilliantly replicates the suspenseful and challenging fun of old FPS games like “Blood“, where every battle actually feels like a genuine struggle for survival.

Like in a classic FPS game, there’s a really good variety of monsters too. Like in “Doom” and “Quake”, most of these have a skeletal, hellish and/or Lovecraftian theme to them. And, as mentioned earlier, they all have different attack patterns, weak spots etc.. that you have to learn too. This really helps to prevent the game from becoming monotonous and also sets it apart from famous horde-battle games like “Painkiller” and “Serious Sam“, in that mindless shooting won’t really get you very far.

Although this game doesn’t have a saving system, it doesn’t actually need one. Since you are scored on how long you survive, the game only needs to save your highest score. Plus, like in old-school FPS games, there is a very fast iteration time too (which helps prevent your numerous deaths being too frustrating). Once you die, you can just click “retry” and start a new game less than a second later.

Of course, this can easily lead to a fairly bad case of “just one more go…” where a quick five-minute session can turn into half an hour or more without you even really noticing or caring. So, yes, this game is a serious time-guzzler – which is either a good or a bad thing, depending on how you look at it.

The game has a lot of options too. In addition to a field of view slider, you can also enable/disable various flickering effects etc… and even better, you can actually choose to play as a left-handed character. It’s a tiny thing, but is still really cool to see (given that I’m left-handed) and it also places the game in the tradition of the original “Doom”, “Quake II” (you have to choose it in the options though), the old “Zelda” games and a few others 🙂

Image of an outstretched left hand, the thumb little more than bone, in front of a giant hovering centipede like creature made out of bones.

Seriously, it’s so cool to play as a left-handed character 🙂

One of the cool things about the DRM-Free GOG version of this game I played is that it actually contains an optional “offline mode” 🙂 So, if you believe that single-player games shouldn’t require an internet connection and that the best form of competition is against yourself, then the GOG version of this game is well worth playing 🙂 I haven’t tested the online mode but, from what I’ve read, it seems to involve competing for a place on an online leaderboard.

In terms of the graphics and art style, this game is very heavily influenced by both the hellish atmosphere of the original “Doom” and the creepy Lovecraftian aesthetic of “Quake”, whilst also being it’s own thing too. The game contains deliberately old-school 3D models that still somehow manage to look cooler, creepier and just generally more awesome than the most “realistic” modern “AAA” graphics. Seriously, the moment where the giant skull-spider appears for the first time is something that you’ll never forget. This game is a work of art, and proof that a distinctive aesthetic beats hyper-realistic graphics every time 🙂

An image of the game, but the colours are bright, highly-saturated yellows, reds and pinks.

Plus, whenever you gain a weapon upgrade from collecting crystals, time slows down for a second or so and this cool effect plays.

Plus, like in a lot of great older games, there is a lot of emphasis placed on lighting too. Whether it is all of the various glowing projectiles or the fact that the game tells you that you’re getting dangerously close to the edge of the arena (which, of course, has a bottomless pit behind it) by how dark the floor is, it is so awesome to see a game that uses light and darkness in such a conscious and cool-looking way 🙂

In terms of the music and sound design, this game is really good 🙂 The sound effects are all suitably crunchy, which really helps to add a lot of atmosphere and weight to the game. The music is the kind of ominous, creepy ambient soundtrack that wouldn’t be out of place in the original “Quake”. But, whilst this certainly adds a creepy atmosphere to the game, it is slightly at odds with the fast-paced and frenetic gameplay. So, after a while, I just went through my music collection and put some heavy metal music on in the background instead.

All in all, this is a really cool tribute to classic 1990s/early-mid 2000s FPS games like “Doom”, “Quake”, “Blood” and “Painkiller” 🙂 Not only is it enjoyably challenging and incredibly thrilling, but it also sticks to the traditions of innovation and creativity that used to be standard in the FPS genre. It is both very similar and very different to the classic games that it takes inspiration from. It is unique. Just don’t expect to get anything productive done after you’ve installed it though. It’s a time-guzzler, but in the best possible way.

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

Review: “World’s End” By Joan D. Vinge (Novel)

Well, I thought that I’d take a look at a sci-fi novel that I’ve been meaning to read for about a decade or so. I am, of course, talking about Joan D. Vinge’s 1984 novel “World’s End”.

If I remember rightly, I found a copy of this book in a charity shop in Aberystwyth during the late 2000s/early 2010s and bought it purely on the strength of the cool-looking cover art (seriously, I miss the days when painted cover art was standard for sci-fi, horror and fantasy novels) – and I’ve been vaguely meaning to read it since then, but never got round to it until now.

However, I should probably point out that this novel is the second in a series. Although I haven’t read the first one (“The Snow Queen”), this novel contains enough recaps to just about work as a stand-alone novel. Even so, be sure to read the blurb carefully and expect the earlier parts to be a bit more confusing (since the best and most useful recaps don’t appear until a little way into the novel) if you haven’t read the previous novel.

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

This is the 1985 Orbit (UK) paperback edition of “World’s End” that I read.

The novel begins on a planet called Number Four, with a scarred police commander called BZ Gundhalinu getting ready for a formal ceremony. He has become famous, but isn’t too happy about it. So, whilst he waits, he opens his audio recorder and goes over his diary of the past few weeks and months.

We then flash back to some time earlier. BZ, a member of a poor, dishonoured family and recently suspended from the police force, arrives in an inhospitable region of the planet called “World’s End”. This area is run by a single mega-corporations that also allows prospectors to look for valuable minerals in the more barren areas – for a cut of the profits.

After BZ brought his family into poverty and disrepute, his brothers travelled to World’s End to try and make the family fortune back. BZ hasn’t heard from them since then and, worried, wants to find them….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, whilst it takes a while to really get going (and may be mildly confusing at first if you haven’t read “The Snow Queen”), it is this really cool mixture of dystopian sci-fi, “grimdark” fantasy, old-school adventure stories, horror fiction and trippy/weird 1920s-1960s style sci-fi 🙂

Imagine a cross between something like Frank Herbert’s “Dune”, Harry Harrison’s “Deathworld”, the old “Star Wars” films, Jim Theis’ “The Eye Of Argon”, an old “Fighting Fantasy” gamebook, Tanith Lee’s “Kill The Dead“, Joseph Conrad’s “Heart Of Darkness” and S. K. Dunstall’s “Linesman” and this might give you a very vague idea of what to expect 🙂

In terms of the novel’s sci-fi elements, they’re very well-developed – although the story spends quite a while setting everything up. This novel is one of those fantasy-style sci-fi stories that is set on an almost feudalistic world, but one with technology instead of magic. The technology feels well-developed and includes things like FTL travel/communication, laser weapons, a virus that turns people into computer-like beings called “Sibyls” and numerous other things.

Although this novel contains some elements that appear to be fantastical, they always have a scientific explanation of some kind. Still, it feels like a really cool blend between olde worlde fantasy (with the politics, traditions, the grim lawlessness of the wasteland etc..) and old school sci-fi 🙂

Thematically, this novel is a lot closer to fantasy fiction though – with the main themes being stuff like guilt, redemption, honour, power, tradition, otherworldly forces, long-lost love, lost worlds, faded glory etc… It’s really interesting to see this stuff mixed in with the sci-fi genre and it helps to lend the story a fairly unique atmosphere 🙂 Plus, the “used future” elements of some parts of the story also help to add a wonderfully 1980s “Star Wars”/”Blade Runner”-style atmosphere to some moments too 🙂

This novel is also really atmospheric too 🙂 Although the writing borders on melodramatic and over-descriptive at times (hence my comparison to “The Eye Of Argon”), it just about stays on the right side of unintentional comedy, and actually adds a lot of atmosphere to the story. A lot of this story has a wonderfully dystopian atmosphere that also reminded me a bit of “grimdark” fantasy fiction too 🙂 Seriously, this is cynical 1980s-style fantasy at it’s best 🙂 If you enjoyed Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone’s “Fighting Fantasy” gamebooks and want a slightly grittier linear novel, you’ll be in your element here 🙂

World’s End is a hostile place and a lot of the novel’s drama comes from both Gundhalinu’s struggle to survive there but also from his various inner struggles with his past. And, as a thriller, this novel isn’t really that fast-paced by modern standards, but the constant suspense, dystopian stuff and struggles for survival really keep the story compelling. In addition to this, there’s also a lot of claustrophobic character-based suspense in the earlier parts of the story and some more typical adventure/fantasy-style stuff in the gripping later chapters too 🙂

Plus, although this isn’t a horror novel, there are some well-written horror elements (eg: bleak horror, psychological horror, dystopian horror, insect-based horror, macabre horror etc…) here that really help to add some extra darkness, grittiness and atmosphere to the story too 🙂 Not to mention that the disintegration of Gundhalinu’s mind in some parts of the novel and the generally bleak atmosphere also reminded me a little bit of H.P.Lovecraft’s horror fiction too 🙂

In terms of the characters, Gunhalinu gets a lot of characterisation and really comes across as a realistic, flawed person who is trying to find some kind of redemption for his past sins in the harsh wasteland. This level of characterisation also means that you’ll probably end up caring a lot about his struggle for survival too. Although the other characters don’t get quite as much characterisation as him, they all also feel like realistic flawed people who vary from sympathetic to downright scary.

As for the writing, I’ve already mentioned that it’s very descriptive and can border on melodramatic- yet, it works! It adds a lot of drama and atmosphere to the story, whilst also giving it a wonderfully “old school” kind of atmosphere too. The narration is also formal enough to lend weight to the story, whilst also “matter of fact” enough to add realism and immediacy. Most of the novel consists of first-person perspective diary entries, although there are a few third-person segments too (for the frame story). This focus on one perspective and the clear use of an in-story document (Gunhalinu’s diary) means that the few perspective changes never really get confusing.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. At an efficient 230 pages, this novel might look short but – thanks to the pacing and formal narration- it’ll probably take you as long to read as a 400-500 page modern novel will. And, yes, whilst this novel is a bit slow-paced, the story speeds up a little bit and becomes more compelling as it goes along. Plus, it’s kind of cool how this novel starts out as a small-scale survival drama and gradually becomes slightly more of a large-scale adventure story too 🙂

As for how this thirty-six year old novel has aged, it has aged fairly well. Yes, it is written in a slightly old-fashioned way and there are a few “gritty”/rough moments that would probably be portrayed slightly differently in a modern story, but thanks to the fantastical setting, the novel has aged surprisingly well. It’s as atmospheric and compelling as ever and it feels very “80s” in a way that isn’t too stylised or “nostalgic” (think “Star Wars” or “Blade Runner” or something like that).

All in all, whilst this novel might take you a while to get into (especially if, like me, you haven’t read the previous book in the series), it is well worth sticking with 🙂 It’s a gritty, dramatic, dark, atmospheric and brilliantly compelling piece of retro sci-fi 🙂 Yes, it’s a bit melodramatic and cheesy at times, but this just adds to the charm. If you like Harry Harrison’s “Deathworld” or the old “Fighting Fantasy” gamebooks or you just want a gritty “grimdark” fantasy-inspired piece of dystopian sci-fi adventure fiction, then this book is worth taking a look at 🙂

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

Review: “Accursed” By Guy N. Smith (Novel)

Well, I thought that I’d take a short break from sci-fi novels and read a 1980s horror novel 🙂 In particular, I thought that I’d take a look at Guy N. Smith’s 1983 novel “Accursed”.

And, yes, as soon as I saw this novel’s wonderfully melodramatic title and noticed that it had an ancient Egypt theme to it, I just had to get a second-hand copy of it. Plus, although my reaction to the other Smith novels I’ve read over the years (like “The Undead) was fairly lukewarm, this one seemed to show a bit more promise 🙂

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

This is the 1988 Arrow (UK) paperback edition of “Accursed” that I read.

The novel begins in Egypt during the early 1920s. An English vicar and archaeologist called Mason is arguing with a local guide called Suma. To Mason’s arrogant dismay, Suma also refuses to have anything to do with the latest tomb that he has discovered. Most of the local workers leave too. Undeterred by this, Mason breaks into the tomb and discovers two mummies and a mysterious serpent amulet. Ghostly voices speak to him, begging him to remove them from this place.

Mason ends up taking both the mummies and the amulet back to England for further study. However, in our humid climate, the mummies begin to rot and – after some complaints about the smell from his housekeeper – he decides to bury them near the river. However, in the middle of this, the serpent amulet glows and speaks. Frightened by this diabolical turn of events, Mason throws it into the open grave. The mummies howl with anguish and betrayal. Mason flees to the house and begins to write a letter before suddenly dying of a heart attack.

Then we flash forwards to the 1980s. In the midlands, a grumpy and unemployed middle-aged man called George Brownlow lives in a posh part of town with his wife Emily, who has become a snob ever since she won enough money to buy the house. They argue regularly. But, after seeing a story on the news about nuclear tensions in Libya, George decides to build a fallout shelter in the garden, regardless of what Emily might think about it. But, when he starts digging, he quickly finds buried treasure! An amulet…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel was that it was a lot creepier than I’d expected. Yes, it can be amusingly melodramatic at times, but if you’re expecting a gloriously cheesy and gleefully fun 1980s cursed amulet splatterpunk novel like Shaun Hutson’s “Deathday“, then you might be in for a frightening surprise. Seriously, this was a much more effective horror novel than I’d thought it would be 🙂

So, I should probably start by talking about this novel’s excellent horror elements. Although it contains a few infrequent moments of 1980s-style gory horror, this surprisingly isn’t the main focus of the story. Instead, this novel contains a wonderfully disturbing mixture of claustrophobic horror, psychological horror, disease horror, death-based/macabre horror, suspense, apocalyptic horror, tragic horror, paranormal horror, ghostly horror, insect horror, character-based horror and religious/mythological horror.

Guy N. Smith is a much better horror author than I’d previously thought. Although this novel will rarely shock you, it is filled with a creepy, uneasy and oppressive atmosphere of dread that will weigh heavily on you. It will unsettle and disturb you with bizarre occurences and the slow spectacle of a dysfunctional family becoming more and more dysfunctional. Plus, even though they shouldn’t “work”, the scenes that transplant the Biblical plagues of Egypt to 1980s Britain not only work well but are actually more scary if you already know this old story.

And, yes, the parallels between Ancient Egypt and Christian mythology in this novel are fairly interesting – with the ancient Egyptian god Set taking the role that the devil would typically take in more traditional horror stories. And what a monster he is. Although you don’t really see him directly, he speaks to the characters in a wonderfully creepy – yet melodramatic – way, not to mention that the eyes of his serpent amulet also glow bright red at almost every opportunity. Although all of this stuff should be hilariously silly, the novel is written in a way that actually makes it scary (well, most of the time at least).

The novel is also made more unsettling through the theme of ancient tragedy too, with the events of the story paralleling the tragic fates of an ancient Egpytian priestess and a commoner – whose doomed love is forced to play out again through the possessed bodies of the Brownlow family. Far from ruining the suspense, this sense of knowing what has happened and what will happen again actually adds to it – and this novel is almost like watching a horrific tragedy in slow-motion and feeling powerless to prevent it. This gut-clenching feeling of inevitable doom is also enhanced by the cold war nuclear paranoia in the background of the story too.

The ancient Egypt-themed elements of the story work fairly well, and really help to add a lot of atmosphere to the novel – especially when they are transplanted to the more familiar setting of 20th Century Britain with, for example, spiders replacing scorpions and the country being stricken by a terrible heatwave that reminded me a lot of the one that happened in 2018 (although, of course, the novel’s heatwave is based on the famous one in 1976).

Smith has obviously done his research, since there are lots of Egyptian terms and little bits of mythology sprinkled throughout the novel, in addition to a few Biblical-style elements too (eg: lots of snake imagery, plagues etc..). My only complaint is that the mummification scene doesn’t involve the most well-known part of the mummification ritual, which (as anyone who has read a “Horrible Histories” book or ten when they were younger will know) involves the removal of the brain with a hook. I was kind of expecting, perhaps even dreading, this… and was a little bit disappointed, for want of a better word.

In terms of the characters, this novel is surprisingly good. The novel’s characters are one of the main sources of horror here, and they all come across as very realistic and normal people, with all of the flaws and emotions that you would expect. Although you shouldn’t expect hyper-detailed backstories, the characters really do feel like real people leading tragic lives. Likewise, the character development sometimes goes in some surprisingly unexpected ways too, such as downtrodden George slowly becoming a possessed fanatic and the tyrannical, snobbish Emily very gradually becoming more of a sympathetic character.

In terms of the writing, this novel’s third-person narration is ’80s horror fiction narration at it’s best 🙂 It is formal and descriptive enough to add atmosphere and weight to the story, whilst being “matter of fact” enough to keep things moving at a decent pace and give the story a more realistic feeling. This novel is also written in a very dramatic way and although this adds extra horror most of the time, it can sometimes veer into hilariously amusing melodrama (with sentences like “Death!” and chapter titles like “Snakes!” and “Horus!”). Still, given the overwhelming and oppressively claustrophobic atmosphere of the story, these moments of unintentional comedy add some much-needed relief 🙂

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is really good too. At an efficient 239 pages in length, it never feels like a page is wasted. Likewise, although this novel relies on gradually building suspense, it never really feels slow-paced when you’re reading it thanks to lots of exquisitely creepy moments of horror.

As for how well this thirty-seven year old novel has aged, it has aged surprisingly well. Yes, there are some very ’80s elements here, like the class politics, the cold war nuclear fears etc… and some moments are probably a bit “politically incorrect” by modern standards too. But, the novel’s horror and atmosphere are pretty much timeless. The story itself almost feels like something that could have played out in the 1990s or the 2000s or even the 2010s. And the atmosphere of miserable, mundane suburban life is a surprisingly timeless thing too.

All in all, this is a really good horror novel 🙂 If you like ancient Egypt or want a 1980s horror novel that might actually scare you, then this one is well worth reading 🙂 Seriously, Guy N. Smith really is a better horror writer than I’d previously thought.

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

Review: “Doctor Who: The Last Dodo” By Jacqueline Rayner (Novel)

Well, although I’d originally planned to read a crime thriller novel, I was still in the mood for sci-fi. And, during a book-shopping trip to Petersfield a couple of days before preparing this review, I happened to find a couple of slightly older “Doctor Who” spin-off novels in a second-hand bookshop in Petersfield.

Since I quite enjoyed reading a more modern novel in this series a few months earlier, I was eager to read one of them as soon as possible. And, since Jacqueline Rayner’s 2007 novel “Doctor Who: The Last Dodo” involved both a dodo and time travel (the very idea brought back very fond memories of reading one of Jodi Taylor’s “Chronicles Of St.Mary’s” novels), I ended up choosing it.

Interestingly, although this novel is based on an older version of the “Doctor Who” TV series (the version starring David Tennant and Freema Aygeman), it can still be enjoyed if you haven’t seen the show – since the earlier parts of the novel explain/recap all of the important elements of the TV series.

So, let’s take a look at “Doctor Who: The Last Dodo”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2007 BBC Books (UK) hardback edition of “Doctor Who: The Last Dodo” that I read.

The novel begins in Mauritius in 1681, with a scene showing a dodo fleeing from hungry sailors who have recently found the island. When the dodo realises that she is the only dodo left on the island, two people in green shirts suddenly appear and rescue her.

Then we flash forwards to 2007, Martha is standing around inside the TARDIS and trying to make a decision. The Doctor has told her that the TARDIS can take her anywhere in time and space and this has left Martha frozen with indecision. Eventually, she suggests visiting the zoo – which prompts something of a self-righteous lecture from the Doctor about why he doesn’t like zoos. So, after happening to notice that the Doctor is using a dodo feather as a bookmark, Martha suggests going back in time to see the dodos before they became extinct.

Using the feather as a locator, the TARDIS travels through time and space. But, when the doors open, Martha and The Doctor find themselves inside a giant museum. In front of them, the last dodo floats in a box frozen in stasis. But, before Martha or The Doctor can really make sense of it, alarms go off and they are seized by armed guards. The museum’s director, Eve, explains that they are in the Museum Of The Last Ones – a planet-sized collection of the last members of all extinct species. And several specimens have recently been stolen from the “Earth” segment…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, whilst it isn’t perfect, it certainly has some good moments. It is reasonably compelling and is also generally in keeping with the tone and style of the TV series (which is both a good and a bad thing). So, yes, I have fairly mixed views about this novel.

In terms of the novel’s sci-fi elements, this novel contains all of the stuff that you’d expect from “Doctor Who” (eg: time travel, other planets etc…) in addition to some classic sci-fi stuff like teleportation etc.. But the most interesting thing about this novel is how well it both does and doesn’t predict the future.

In at least one part, this novel is startlingly ahead of it’s time – since a running plot point in this novel involves Martha playing a vaguely “Pokemon Go”-style animal-spotting game on a tablet computer/electronic book that looks “a bit like a large iPod”. For reference, this novel was published in 2007 (and probably written a year or two earlier). On the other hand, this novel predicts that a near-future Britain will use the Euro as a currency and also predicts/implies that the Kakapo would become extinct in 2017. So, it’s a rather interesting glimpse into the near-past’s visions of the future.

The novel’s main plot is a rather interesting mixture of a detective and thriller story – with the earlier parts of the novel involving Martha and The Doctor trying to track down who has been stealing animals from the museum and the mid-late parts of the novel being a more traditional-style adventure/ thriller/ caper story.

Both of these parts work reasonably well and are fairly compelling, but are a little on the amusingly cheesy side of things (occasionally veering into “so bad that it’s good” territory). The detective segments have more of a focus on clue-finding and interviewing people and the thriller segments are a mixture of hilariously awesome/silly set pieces (sometimes involving dinosaurs) and classic-style cackling villainy, dramatic plot twists, clever plans, general chaos etc… These later parts are most close in tone to the TV series and, if you stick around for them, then you’ll be rewarded with something like a larger-budget mid-2000s episode of the TV show 🙂

Thematically, this is a novel about environmentalism and conservation. However, like some of the worst episodes of the TV show, this novel can sometimes take a fairly heavy-handed, patronising and/or lecturing approach to these topics. Not only that, whilst The Doctor does have quite a few comedic and eccentric moments, he can often be somewhat self-righteous during several parts of this novel.

Still, leaving this aside, some of the characters in this novel are reasonably well-written. The best characters are probably Martha and a dodo called Dorothea, although many of the background characters feel like fairly realistic characters (even if they don’t get that much characterisation). Likewise, there are at least a couple of surprisingly emotional parts later in the novel (which are in keeping with the best character-based moments in the TV show).

However, although the novel’s main villains do get well-written motivations and backstories, they are very much from the cackling, moustache-twirling “elaborate and almost nonsensical evil schemes” school of villainy. Needless to say, this results in some wonderfully silly moments and other “so bad that it’s good” kind of stuff.

In terms of the writing, this novel is very much a mixed bag. On the plus side, the writing in this novel is informal and fast-paced enough to both make the novel very readable and to give it personality, whilst also being descriptive enough to add atmosphere to the story.

On the downside, the perspective is quite literally all over the place. Expect random jumps from first to third person perspective (or vice versa) to happen in the middle of chapters, with very little consistency (eg: some Martha-based scenes are first-person, some are third-person etc…) and with only the barest minimum of signposting to tell you what is happening. Yes, you’ll get used to this after reading the book for a while, but there never seems to be any real reason or logic for the perspective changes and the novel would have been much better if it had stuck with either first or third-person narration.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is really good 🙂 At a very efficient 248 pages in length (less if you don’t count the encyclopaedia/game score segments), this is the kind of refreshingly short novel that can easily be enjoyed in a couple of hours or so 🙂 Plus, the pacing is reasonably good too – with a good mixture of suspense, mystery, drama, fast-paced set pieces and location changes that remain compelling throughout the novel. Not to mention that the later parts of the novel almost feel like watching a “lost episode” of the TV show too.

All in all, if you can put up with random perspective changes and a bit of self-righteousness, and if you don’t mind a little “so bad that it’s good” silliness, then there is actually a fairly good story buried in here. When it is at it’s best, this novel is like a really good older episode of the TV show (but with a slightly larger budget) and, when it is at it’s worst, it’s like one of the more annoying episodes of the TV show.

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

Review: “The Rosewater Insurrection” By Tade Thompson (Novel)

Well, I was in the mood for some sci-fi. So, I thought that I’d take a look at Tade Thompson’s 2019 novel “The Rosewater Insurrection” (the sequel to Thompson’s excellent “Rosewater) since a relative pre-ordered a copy of it for me as a gift a few weeks before I prepared this review. And, yes, I write these reviews quite far in advance.

Before I begin the review, I should probably also point out that “The Rosewater Insurrection” is a direct sequel to “Rosewater” (and is the second book in a trilogy). Although it contains a few recaps, the story probably won’t make that much sense if you haven’t already read “Rosewater” first. So, this is a series that should probably be read in order.

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

This is the 2019 Orbit (UK) paperback edition of “The Rosewater Insurrection” that I read.

The novel begins in Nigeria with a flashback scene set in 2055. Eric is a sensitive (someone with psychic-like abilities, due to alien spores) working as a field agent for Section 45. He has been sent to Camp Rosewater, the settlement surrounding a mysterious alien bio-dome that has recently arrived on Earth, with orders to track down and kill a local revolutionary called Jack Jacques.

Eric infiltrates Jack’s camp and spends quite a while working as a labourer there, waiting for a chance to get close to Jack. But, when he eventually does, he gets a message from Kaaro telling him to get the hell out of there, because Section 45 consider him expendable and are going to use him as a human targeting beacon for an air-strike. Eric flees and is demoted to a desk job.

And, after Molara delivers a short lecture about the symbiotic history of humans and aliens to the reader, we flash forwards to the city of Rosewater in 2067, where a woman called Alyssa wakes up and finds that she has no memory whatsoever…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, like “Rosewater”, it was a lot of fun to read 🙂 As you might expect, this sequel tells a larger and more epic story than “Rosewater” does. Although this means that the story doesn’t feel quite as focused during the earlier parts, if you stick with it then you’ll be rewarded with a gripping, spectacular sci-fi thriller that could probably put even the largest-budget modern movies to shame 🙂 Seriously, why hasn’t this series been turned into a film or TV series yet?

In terms of this novel’s sci-fi elements, it expands a lot on some of the stuff introduced in “Rosewater”. Not only do we get to learn a lot more about the aliens’ backstory, motivations and plans for Earth (including a novel twist on the familiar “alien invasion” trope) but the novel also includes all of the intriguing background details that you’d expect from a biopunk/cyberpunk novel too 🙂 The world-building is as good as ever, and the novel’s technology, alien fauna etc… also plays a role in the story in all sorts of dramatic, and occasionally surprising ways, too. Even so, this novel is very slightly more focused on it’s thriller elements than it’s sci-fi elements.

In terms of the novel’s thriller elements, it contains a really good mixture of suspenseful scenes, fast-paced action set pieces, tech/sci-fi based scenes and political/military/war drama too. All of these things also exist in both large and small scale versions too, adding even more thrilling variety and depth to the novel too. Although the novel takes a while to set up all of it’s many plot threads (which can make the story feel mildly confusing or unfocused at first), everything comes together in a really spectacular way and the mid-late parts of the story. Reading this novel feels like watching a much more intelligent, complex, creative and immersive version of a large-budget CGI blockbuster film 🙂

As you might expect if you’ve read “Rosewater”, the novel also contains some elements from the horror genre too 🙂 Although these are less prominent than they were in “Rosewater”, they turn up in a few wonderfully creepy moments (eg: the scene with Bewon and the plant growing in his apartment) – but their main purpose here is to add more atmosphere/realism to the setting and also to add extra impact, creativity and epic-ness to some of the novel’s action scenes. Even though this is less of a horror novel than it’s predecessor, these horror genre elements (eg: body horror, gory horror, zombies and psychological horror) really add a lot to the novel 🙂

Thematically, this novel is fairly interesting. Not only is this a novel about how power corrupts (shown through both Jack’s character arc and a few references to “Macbeth”, amongst other things) but it is also a novel about the environment, politics, warfare, how history is recorded etc… too. Most of this thematic stuff is more of a subtle background thing, but it plays a fairly major role in the events of the novel and also helps to add extra depth and realism to the story too.

As for the characters, this novel is as good as ever 🙂 Unlike “Rosewater”, this novel focuses a lot less on Kaaro (although he still gets some character development and a few really cool moments) and instead focuses a lot more on Aminat, Alyssa and Jack. All three of these characters have a decent amount of characterisation and character development – with Aminat going from being a slightly squeamish mid-level agent to a much more tough and heroic character, with Alyssa coming to terms with what is happening to her and with Jack slowly becoming corrupted by power. Yet, in an interesting twist, Jack isn’t the novel’s villain – but someone that the other characters have to reluctantly work with for the sake of their collective survival.

In terms of the writing, this novel is both similar and different to “Rosewater”. For the most part, this novel uses present-tense third-person narration that is informal enough to add personality to the story and keep things moving at a decent pace, but also descriptive and/or informative enough to add a lot of atmosphere to the story and make everything feel solid enough. The third-person narration also allows for a more complex and large-scale story. There are also a few mildly experimental flourishes too – such as random “extracts” from an in-universe historical novel (written by a character called Walter) that appear occasionally and provide extra backstory.

The novel also includes several first-person perspective segments and, although the jump from one perspective to another is a little surprising, the narrative voice is consistent enough and these segments are signposted well enough (each chapter title tells you which character it focuses on, and the infrequent chapters focusing on Eric and Walter are in first-person perspective) that this didn’t really become too confusing. Still, I’m kind of puzzled by this aspect of the novel – although, at a guess, Eric’s segments are in first-person because his opening segment is similar to the first-person narration used throughout “Rosewater” (and it provides a good bridge between the two books) and Walter’s segment is in first-person because it focuses a lot more on his thoughts, reactions etc…

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is reasonably good. At 374 pages, it is shorter than “Rosewater”, yet manages to tell a much larger story 🙂 And, although the story’s plot may feel a little less focused at first, all of the novel’s plot threads blend together well and provide a lot of payoff. The novel also contains a really good mixture of fast-paced action and moderately-paced drama/suspense, whilst still being as compelling as you’d expect from a thriller novel. Plus, although this novel is the middle part of a trilogy, the ending contains as much drama and resolution as you would expect from a stand-alone novel 🙂

All in all, this is a really enjoyable and compelling novel 🙂 Yes, it takes a little bit longer to really get started than “Rosewater” did (and the perspective/focus changes might take you a while to get used to), but it tells an even more spectacular story 🙂 This novel is a sequel in the truest sense of the word, taking everything good about the first novel and turning it up to eleven 🙂

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

Review: “Terror!” (WAD For “Doom II”/ “Final Doom”/ “GZDoom”)

Well, since I’m still reading the next novel I plan to review (“The Rosewater Insurrection” by Tade Thompson) and because I wanted to make sure that at least one “Doom II” WAD review appeared here this month, I decided to click on the “Random File” button on the /idgames Archive until something interesting appeared. And, after a while, I found a rather amusing WAD from either 1995 or 2005 (the information is a little ambiguous/contradictory, but I’m guessing it’s from 1995) called “Terror!“.

As usual, I used the GZDoom source port whilst playing this WAD. However, it’ll probably work with almost every source port (and possibly even the original DOS/Win 95 versions of “Doom II” and “Final Doom” too).

So, let’s take a look at “Terror!”:

“Terror!” is a fairly small and fairly “vanilla” (eg: it uses standard textures, monsters etc…) level that also contains some custom MIDI music too. The basic premise of the level is that you are visiting an ancient Greek temple and have to fight some monsters there.

Interestingly, this is the kind of single-player level that would probably work well (or even better) in co-op and/or deathmatch – given that it takes place in a single arena-like room with a simple temple-like structure in the middle.

The text file accompanying the WAD points out that the design of the level took inspiration from level 7 of “Doom II” and, whilst it is easy to see the influence and it is cool that the mapper has done something a bit different with the idea, don’t expect the same level of complexity or level design here.

In terms of the level design, this level is a hilariously fun “so bad that it is good” level. In addition to starting the level with two Cyberdemons in sight, the level exit switch can literally be found within less than a minute of starting the level. This is a level that, theoretically, you can probably complete in less than ten seconds and without firing a single shot. But, where is the fun in that?

Yes, THIS is literally right around the corner.

If you refuse to press the exit switch until you’ve defeated all of the monsters, then this is actually a rather enjoyable little arena level that – if it was made in 1995 – was something of a precursor to the “slaughter map” WADs that would become popular during the ’00s onwards. Although it doesn’t contain a huge number of monsters, it makes up for this by including nothing but mid-high level monsters. In addition to about four Cyberdemons, there are also two Arch-Viles, a Pain Elemental, a Mancubus and a couple of chaingun zombies and Arachnotrons too.

All of this is completely optional, but rather enjoyable nonetheless.

This is balanced out by the level’s wide-open layout (with lots of cover and space for dodging/strafing) and the fact that there is a decent amount of health and ammo scattered around the level. Whilst experienced players will probably find this level to be mildly-moderately challenging at most, I imagine that it’d probably pose more of a challenge to novice players. Still, it is a fun way to waste 10-20 minutes if you stick around and actually fight the monsters.

As I mentioned earlier, this WAD also contains some custom MIDI music and this is also part of the level’s charm. In classic 1990s fashion, a simple MIDI cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” plays in the background. In addition to being hilariously incongruous with the fast-paced action of the level (in a gloriously amateurish “isn’t this cool?” way) , this also made me very nostalgic for the days when finding MIDI covers of songs on the internet was the coolest thing ever. Seriously, if you grew up in the 1990s/early-mid 2000s, then this level is worth playing for the hilarious internet nostalgia alone 🙂

All in all, this level is “so bad that it’s good”. If you want a bit of 1990s nostalgia or a wonderfully silly level that you can mess about in without too much pressure (since, if it gets too challenging, you can just press the “exit” button), then this level will provide 10-20 minutes of amusement. Still, I imagine that it is probably even more enjoyable in co-op or deathmatch, if only because of the sheer silliness of the four Cyberdemons that you’ll also be sharing the level with.

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

Review: “The End Of The Day” By Claire North (Novel)

Well, after reading Gary Brandner’s “Death Walkers“, I was still in the mood for the macabre. So, I thought that I’d take a look at a rather interesting second-hand book that I ended up getting several weeks earlier because of the intriguing premise, I am of course talking about Claire North’s 2017 novel “The End Of The Day”.

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

This is the 2017 Orbit (UK) paperback edition of “The End Of The Day” that I read.

The novel begins with a man called Charlie sitting in a hotel room with some pills and wondering if death will come for him. Then we flash back to some time earlier when Charlie is in Peru, meeting an old woman who is the last speaker of a language. There is another flashback scene showing Charlie taking a job interview in Milton Keynes for the position of Harbinger Of Death. The messenger that travels ahead of Death, sometimes as a courtesy and sometimes as a warning…..

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is amazing 🙂 It’s this wonderfully unique mixture of poignant drama, dark comedy, magical realism, topical satire, chillingly realistic horror, heartwarming “feel good” moments, profound thought-provoking stuff, fascinating places, fascinating ideas etc…

It is an intelligent, humane and mature (in the truest sense of the word) novel that goes beyond merely telling a story to taking on an almost spiritual quality at times. In other words, it is art. It has literary merit. You will feel slightly richer, or changed, after reading it. In short, if you enjoy things like Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” comics or Winston Rowntree’s “Subnormality” webcomic, then this book is probably your sort of thing 🙂

Interestingly, although this is a novel that is quite literally about death, it isn’t as much of a horror novel as I’d expected. Yes, there are a few gruesome moments, descriptions of disturbing events/situations (eg: torture, war, poverty etc…) and even a scene that is vaguely reminiscent of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Masque Of Red Death”, but it isn’t really a horror novel. It’s more of an exploration of the concept of death itself, with – for example – the death of an idea, or a place, or a phase of a person’s life or a period of history being described with the same dramatic weight as an actual death. And, like with Tarot cards, death is presented more as a force of change than of destruction.

This is also one of the novel’s major themes. It is about how the world is constantly changing (in both good and bad ways) and how this is an essential part of the world. This is also the focus of a lot of the novel’s topical stuff and it is one of those wonderfully rare things, an intelligent modern left-leaning novel that doesn’t really feel the need to earnestly preach at the reader in the patronising way that some novels do. It actually respects the reader’s intelligence, maturity and knowledge of the world and this is so refreshing to see. Yet, at the same time, it also makes a lot of points about a lot of topical stuff.

And, as well as being a timeless novel about one of the most timeless things in existence (or non-existence, as it may be), it is also a very modern novel at the same time. There is a lot of topical stuff here, which is handled in all sorts of amusing, interesting, serious, poignant and/or clever ways.

In addition to scenes set in places like melting ice caps and war-torn Syria, one fascinating experimental feature of the novel – which really sets the mood – is that some chapters consist entirely of random dialogue fragments from conversations near Charlie (it is left ambiguous whether these take place in his mind or not). Although it takes a while to get used to these chapters, they feel like a fascinating glimpse into the collective subconscious mind in a way that is really difficult to describe, but really effective.

This novel is about more things than I can describe here but, in addition to the themes that I’ve already mentioned, it is also a novel about capitalism, it is about how we lose humanity when we see others as less than human (shown, amongst other things, by random lines that consist entirely of the words “human” and “rat” in varying quantities. It makes sense in context), it is about how unique everyone is, it is about how similar everyone is. It is about a lot of stuff. But it is also a fascinating story at the same time, feeling like an intriguing glimpse at several years in the life of a man with a very unusual job.

In terms of the characters, they are excellent 🙂 Since this is a novel about life and humanity, the characters are probably the most important part of the story. Seriously, I cannot praise the characterisation here highly enough.

Earlier, I likened this novel to both Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” comics and Winston Rowntree’s “Subnormality” webcomic and this is mostly because of the realistic, interesting, nuanced characters. Even Charlie, who seems like a bit of a bland “everyman”/”expert traveller” kind of character at first, gains more depth and realism as the story progresses. Still, the numerous people he meets along his travels throughout the world are often slightly more interesting characters – many of whom are pretty much short stories in their own right.

Plus, like in “Sandman”, Death is actually a character too (who is often friendly, unless angered or summoned). In fact, all four horsemen of the apocalypse are characters. They retain their essential qualities and personalities, whilst also changing appearance, gender, shape etc… depending on who is looking at them at any one time. This both shows how they are timeless and yet still very much shaped by the world they live in. It’s difficult to describe, but it works really well. Not to mention that the scenes involving the horsemen are sometimes absolutely hilarious too.

In terms of the writing, this novel’s third-person narration is amazing 🙂 Yes, it might take you a little while to work out what is happening in the early parts of the story and to get used to a few slightly experimental elements (like the random dialogue fragments I mentioned earlier), but stick with it!

Most of this novel is written in a way that is informal/matter of fact enough to both feel realistic and to be easily readable, yet the writing is also descriptive, poetic (eg: certain repeated lines, descriptions etc..), vivid etc.. enough to literally make you feel like you’re reading an amazing graphic novel (eg: Gaiman, Rowntree etc..) at the same time. Yet, it also does all sorts of amazing stuff that can only be done with the written word and it is one of those novels that would lose a lot of it’s atmosphere, richness and depth if it was ever adapted to the screen or to a comic. Again, this is hard to describe fully, but it works really well.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. At 403 pages in length, it is a bit on the longer side of things, but justifies it’s length by telling a story that is both epic and small-scale at the same time. In terms of the pacing, this novel moves at a fairly moderate pace (and doesn’t have a traditional “plot”, which may put some readers off) – but this is one of those books that is atmospheric, unique, thought-provoking, emotionally-powerful, intelligent etc.. enough that you’ll probably want to savour it over several days rather than binge-read it.

All in all, this review probably hasn’t done justice to how good this book is. It is an intelligent, readable, compelling, unique, profound, humane, quirky, funny, chilling, sad, happy and fascinating novel. It is a piece of art that you will leave feeling richer than when you entered. Or, to put it another way, I went into this novel expecting either a horror and/or dark comedy novel, but found myself reading something that could easily rival Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” or Winston Rowntree’s “Subnormality”, and that sheer level of quality is something that doesn’t appear all too often.

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