Review: “England Expects” By Sara Sheridan (Novel)

Well, I thought that I’d take a break from reading spin-off novels and take a look at a detective novel that I’d planned to read about two or three years ago. I am, of course, talking about Sara Sheridan’s 2014 novel “England Expects”. This was part of a boxset of the first three of Sheridan’s “Mirabelle Bevan” novels that I was given by a family member for Christmas in 2016.

At the time, I read the first two books (but only got round to reviewing the first one) and also ended up getting a copy of the fourth one . A couple of months ago, I ended up reading the fifth novel because I couldn’t find my copies of the third and fourth books at the time. Needless to say, they turned up shortly afterwards and I’ve been meaning to read them ever since.

Although “England Expects” is the third novel in a series, it can be enjoyed as a standalone novel. Yes, you’ll get slightly more out of it if you already know the characters from the first two books, but it tells a fairly self-contained detective story.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “England Expects”. Needless to say, this review may contain some mild-moderate SPOILERS.

This is the 2016 Constable (UK) paperback edition of “England Expects” that I read.

The novel begins in Brighton in 1953. It is a bright summer day and Express reporter Joey Gillingham has just arrived in the city to investigate a story. But, since he has a bit of time to spare, he decides to stop off at a local barbershop for a shave and a haircut. Whilst the barber goes into the backroom to get some tea for Joey, a mysterious man strides into the shop and slashes Joey’s throat.

Needless to say, ex-military intelligence officer turned debt collector and unofficial detective Mirabelle Bevan is intrigued when she hears about the murder. Her friend and colleague, Vesta, has other things on her mind though. Her partner Charlie has proposed to her and she isn’t sure whether to accept or not, because she worries that it might affect her job with Mirabelle. So, the case provides a welcome distraction for her too.

Not only that, the lead detective on the investigation (McGregor) is shocked to hear that one of his detectives has moved Joey’s body before he had a chance to examine it and that Joey’s notebook is missing. And, after someone dies in suspicious circumstances at the local masonic lodge, it soon becomes clear to all concerned that the case is more complex than it first seemed….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a fairly compelling detective thriller novel, which is a little bit like a blend of classic Agatha Christie, modern historical fiction and a hardboiled detective novel. Even though it has a couple of small flaws, the novel has a fairly good historical atmosphere and a plot that becomes more thrilling as the story progresses.

In terms of the novel’s detective elements, they’re fairly good. There is the usual thing about seemingly separate crimes turning out to be part of the same case, and the investigation includes a really good mixture of Agatha Christie-style questioning scenes, some suspenseful sneaking around, a couple of red herrings, a few Sherlock Holmes-like deductions and a few elements that wouldn’t be out of place in an old hardboiled crime novel. These elements work really well and it’s really cool to see an Agatha Christie-style mystery, but with a slightly grittier and more hardboiled edge to it 🙂

The novel’s thriller elements, which mostly consist of suspenseful spy-like snooping and a couple of more dramatic moments, appear more prominently in the later parts of the story and help to keep things fairly gripping. Likewise, one of the major themes of this novel is secret societies, which helps to add a bit of extra suspense and drama too – even if this topic is handled in a rather cheesy and/or stylised way during some parts of the story.

In terms of the novel’s historical elements, the novel has a really impressive historical atmosphere and, like in many of Sheridan’s other novels, is also critical of the problems and narrow-minded attitudes lurking behind the twee respectability of 1950s Britain. Although this element of the story is mostly handled well, a couple of moments would probably have worked better if they had been handled in a more subtle way.

The novel also includes some rather amusing satire – such as in the opening scene involving the Express reporter (who, for example, wants a conservative military haircut). Not to mention that, if you’ve ever visited the modern version of Brighton, it’s fascinating to see what the city would have looked like during the 1950s (with, for example, the Royal Pavillion being in a state of disrepair etc..) too.

In terms of the characters, they’re really good. In addition to seeing a few familiar characters from other novels in the series, the characters all seem like fairly realistic (if mildly stylised) people with realistic motivations, imperfections and personalities. The characters really help to add a lot of drama and historical atmosphere to the story and are probably one of the best parts of the novel.

As for the writing, it’s really good too. This novel’s third-person narration is formal and descriptive enough to add some historical atmosphere to the story, whilst also being “matter of fact” enough to be fairly readable and relaxing too.

Likewise, the novel’s length and pacing are really good. At an efficient 271 pages in length, the novel never feels bloated. Likewise, although some of the earlier parts of the story are closer to a slower-paced traditional detective story, the story gradually becomes more thrilling and fast-paced as it progresses in a way reminiscent of classic vintage thriller novels like Agatha Christie’s “N or M?” and classic hardboiled detective fiction.

All in all, this is a compelling historical detective thriller. It’s an atmospheric and intriguing blend of traditional Agatha Christie-style fiction and more hardboiled fiction that combines it’s detective and thriller elements really well. Yes, there are some small flaws, but it is still a good novel.

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

Review: “Doom: The Golden Souls 2” (WAD For “Doom II”/ “Final Doom”/ “GZDoom”)

Well, since I’m still reading the next novel I plan to review (“England Expects” By Sara Sheridan), I thought that I’d finally review a “Doom II”/”Final Doom” WAD (well, technically, a “.pk3”) that I’ve wanted to play for at least a year or two.

I am, of course, talking about the Cacoward-Winning WAD “Doom: The Golden Souls 2“, sequel to the excellent “Doom: The Golden Souls“.

As regular readers of this site will know, I got a vaguely modern refurbished computer a week or two earlier. This computer can actually run version 3.4.1 of the GZDoom source port (v 3.6.0 had problems recognising my USB keyboard and mouse), which is the minimum needed to play “Golden Souls 2”.

Yes, it’s a sad state of affairs when a mod for a game from 1994 actually has system requirements and demands a modern computer (and why I didn’t review this WAD a year or two ago, because I couldn’t play it on the vintage mid-2000s computer I was using). But, I can finally play it now 🙂

So, let’s take a look at “Doom: The Golden Souls 2” 🙂 However, I probably should warn you that part one of the industrial levels contains a flickering/strobing lighting effect (either that or it was some kind of glitch) that may or may not cause problems for some players.

Finally! I’ve wanted to play this for ages 🙂

Following on from the events of “Doom: The Golden Souls”, the Doomguy’s pet rabbit has been kidnapped by demons and it is up to him to get the rabbit back before it is used in an evil ritual. Thus begins a full-length megawad (with at least 20-30 levels) that contains new textures, weapons, monsters, sounds/music, gameplay mechanics etc…

One of the first things that I will say about this WAD is that it deserves it’s Cacoward 🙂 It is one of the most creative, detailed and generally innovative WADs that I’ve seen in quite a while.

Yes, this isn’t your average “Doom II” WAD….

Like with it’s predecessor, this WAD is heavily inspired by the “Mario” games, whilst still being both very recognisably a “Doom” WAD and it’s own thing at the same time. It’s a gleefully cartoonish, ’90s nostalgia-filled thrill ride of a WAD that will make the many hours it will guzzle up feel like time well wasted 🙂

Seriously, this is one of those “just one more level” kind of WADs that will keep you coming back for more. So, Expect to end up playing this one for at least an hour or four every day until you finish it. It’s that good.

So, yes, don’t expect to get anything productive done in the days after installing this WAD.

I should probably start by talking about the level design. In addition to featuring an absolutely stunning “Super Mario World”-style worldmap that allows you to revisit previous levels and stock up on items/health between missions (using coins you find in-game), the level design here is brilliant. There’s a really good mixture of more linear platform game style levels, traditional-style levels, boss levels and a few more puzzle/exploration-based “ghost house” levels.

Seriously, the world map is absolutely giant and will fill you with nostalgia for “Super Mario World” too 🙂

Plus, there’s a good mixture between platforming…

And more traditional level design too 🙂

Not only that, there are so many cool level design tricks. Whether it is a dormant mini-boss that you don’t fight until later in the level, a level that can be turned upside-down, an easter egg or two, some clever switch puzzles, segments involving flying, a few destructible walls etc… this is one of those WADs where the levels can surprise you in all sorts of ways. Not only that, the levels are all a reasonably consistent length and the game as a whole has a fairly good difficulty curve too.

In addition to this, the visual design of the levels can be really brilliant. Yes, there are a few generic-looking “industrial”, “hell”, “gothic mansion” etc.. style levels, but many of the levels are absolute works of art 🙂 Whether it is ancient Egyptian-style areas, snowy fields, a Lovecraftian world of mists, an ancient Japan-style level, caves filled with glowing stuff, a “Sonic”-inspired level, tropical island style levels, a cyberpunk level or even a really beautiful 1960s-style Beatles-inspired level, the visual design here is absolutely brilliant.

Groovy!

Seriously, I love Ancient Egpyt-themed levels in games 🙂

Literally the only criticism I have to make of the level design is that one “ghost house” level in the version I played (v1.3) contained an organ-like switch that didn’t seem to work and the only way I was able to progress was via cheat codes.

The gameplay itself is really good too. Although this WAD includes a lot of first-person platforming, this isn’t as annoying as it sounds – mostly because of the excellent jumping mechanics (eg: you can jump higher and move around in the air) that actually make these segments fun. Likewise, the combat (which, in true platform game style, focuses almost entirely on projectile-dodging) and monster placement is tough enough to be enjoyably challenging, whilst also being forgiving enough that you’ll probably be able to get through each level in an hour or two.

Still, if you’re new to the classic “Doom” games, get some practice with “Final Doom” before playing this WAD.

As for the monsters, they’re also excellent. Not only is there a brilliant variety of monsters that are introduced throughout the game, but there’s also a good mix of traditional “Doom II” monsters (plus one from “Heretic” too 🙂 ), monsters from the first “Golden Souls” WAD, several new boss monsters and quite a few all-new monsters.

Plus, several of the monsters also do innovative things too. Whether it is monsters that can resurrect other monsters of their type, a clever twist on the “Pain Elemental” monster, squids that cover the screen with ink, monsters that can only be harmed with certain weapons etc… the monster design and variety in this WAD is brilliant.

Splat! Luckily the visor of the Doomguy’s helmet is self-cleaning!

In terms of the weapons, they’re fairly creative too. In addition to some traditional FPS staples (which include modern reloading mechanics), there are some eccentric ’90s-style weird weapons too 🙂 Whether it is a rapid-fire star launcher, a trumpet-shaped blunderbuss or a cupid-themed laser sniper rifle, the weapons are a brilliant mix of whimsical 1990s-style silliness and FPS tradition. Likewise, at one early point in the game, you might find a seemingly “weak” infinite ammo/recharging laser pistol… only to discover that it’s a really useful long-range weapon later in the game.

It’s a sniper rifle! How romantic!

And, yes, this gun makes silly trumpet noises when you fire it 🙂

However, one annoying thing about the weapons is that they sometimes feel a little underpowered. This has been done deliberately, since one of the many additional features of this game is that weapon upgrades can be unlocked if you find enough “big coins” hidden throughout the game.

The upgrades also turn your weapons gold, but don’t expect to get more than one or two of them unless you spend ages searching.

Given that these can often be really difficult to find and that many also seem to require hidden items from other levels (eg: skull keys) to reach, don’t expect to get many upgrades unless you put about twice as much time into this long game than you might otherwise do.

As for music and sound design, this WAD absolutely excels. In addition to lots of wonderfully cartoonish and/or adorable monster sounds, there is also lots of awesome 1990s platform game music and even a Beatles-based MIDI tune in one level too. Not only that, at least one of the game’s cool easter eggs is sound-based too (eg: press “use” near the red AC/DC-style guitar in the “Strawberry Fields” level).

“Thunderstruck” AND “Doom II”? This is AMAZING 🙂

All in all, this WAD is excellent 🙂 Not only is it basically a full-length game, but it also sums up everything excellent about 1990s-style games 🙂 Whether it is the whimsical atmosphere, the nostalgia, the humour, the creativity or how both the platforming and FPS elements feel really well-designed, this is an amazing follow-up to “Doom: The Golden Souls”. Yes, there are a couple of small flaws, but for a fan-made WAD created by one person, it is better than some actual “proper” computer games 🙂

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

Review: “Doctor Who: Combat Magicks” By Steve Cole (Novel)

Well, since I was still going through a phase of reading spin-off novels, I thought that I’d check out a “Doctor Who” novel from 2018 called “Combat Magicks” by Steve Cole.

This was a hardback novel that I splashed out on last December (and, yes, I prepare these reviews quite far in advance) shortly after series eleven of “Doctor Who” had finished.

Although I didn’t have time to review more than the first episode of this series, it was probably one of the best series of the show that I’ve seen and, well, I wanted more of it (especially since the 2018 “Christmas episode” was postponed to New Year’s Day 2019 and the show apparently won’t return until 2020). Hence getting this book.

I should probably also point out that, although “Combat Magicks” tells a stand-alone “Doctor Who” story and can be read without watching the “Doctor Who” TV show, it’s probably worth watching at least a couple of series eleven episodes before reading this novel in order to get to know the main characters.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Doctor Who: Combat Magicks”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2018 BBC Books (UK) hardback edition of “Doctor Who: Combat Magicks” that I read.

The novel begins with the TARDIS, a time-travelling spaceship shaped like an old police call box, being knocked off-course by a mysterious energy field. Inside the TARDIS, The Doctor and her earthly companions Ryan, Yaz and Graham try to work out what has happened.

When the TARDIS lands, they find themselves in Gaul in 451 AD. The sky is glowing. Something is interfering with Earth’s history and it is up to the Doctor to find out what it is and put everything right.

But, there is just one little problem. In the area around the TARDIS, the forces of Attila The Hun are about to do battle with the Romans who control the area. Being a fixed historical event that is a crucial part of Earth’s timeline, The Doctor can do nothing to stop the war. Still, it doesn’t take her too long to find out that mysterious witch-like creatures called the Tenctrama are involved in this whole mess…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it’s like an extra episode of “Doctor Who”, but with a slightly more complex storyline, slightly more horror and a much larger special effects budget 🙂

In other words, it’s a brilliant mixture of quirky science fiction, subtle comedy, gruesome horror and thrilling drama 🙂 Yes, it takes a little while for the novel’s story to really become gripping, but it is worth sticking with this novel 🙂

I should probably start by talking about this novel’s sci-fi elements. Every futuristic thing here has a logical explanation and follows a consistent set of rules (which the characters have to try to understand). The nefarious Tenctrama who are threatening Earth also have realistic motivations for their actions and all of the story’s futuristic technology also feels like technology rather than magic.

Of course, thanks to the historical setting, many of the Roman and Hun characters consider alien technology to be magic. This allows the story to include some really cool dark fantasy-style elements, in addition to allowing the story to occasionally explore the difference between knowledge and superstition. Seriously, as sci-fi stories go, this one is well within the “Doctor Who” tradition.

In terms of the novel’s horror elements, they’re really cool 🙂 In addition to some brilliant scenes of paranormal horror, scientific horror, death-based horror, zombie/monster horror and suspenseful horror, the novel also includes a surprising amount of gruesome horror too 🙂

Yes, this gruesome horror is relatively tame when compared to “proper” horror novels (with the story’s grislier moments being described in a slightly quicker and/or less detailed way), but it still adds a bit of extra atmosphere, grittiness and horror to the story in a way that the TV series probably wouldn’t be allowed to do.

Not only that, the story also includes zombies too 🙂 Yes, they are a little different from typical horror movie zombies, but it’s always really cool to see zombies in “Doctor Who” (like in the series eleven episode “The Witchfinders”).

In a lot of ways, the horror elements of the story reminded me a little of modern historical dark fantasy/horror/zombie novels like Rebecca Levene’s “Anno Mortis” or Toby Venables’ “Viking Dead“, which is never a bad thing 🙂

Of course, all of these horror elements are also balanced out with the series’ trademark sense of humour, consisting of things like pop culture references, amusingly eccentric comments from the Doctor and a few amusing narrative moments. So, this is more of a “feel good” novel than you might initially think.

As for the novel’s thriller elements, they’re really good too 🙂 Although the story takes a while to lay out all of it’s plot threads and become really gripping, this is worthwhile. There’s a really good mixture of suspenseful moments, a couple of plot twists, dramatic action sequences, clever plans and large-scale drama.

One of the cool things about the Thirteenth Doctor having three companions (rather than the usual one) is that this allows for more complex stories when they become separated, and this novel takes full advantage of this fact.

In terms of the characters, they’re fairly good. Not only are the main characters reasonably close to their TV show counterparts, but this story also allows them to be a bit more badass – whilst still staying within the show’s traditional pacifist themes.

Likewise, the fact that this is a novel means that there’s even more room for personality and humour too. In addition to all of this, the novel’s historical background characters are reasonably well-written – with the highlights being Attila The Hun and a Roman version of “Torchwood” called “The Legion Of Smoke” – although they don’t get quite as much characterisation as the four main characters do.

Plus, as mentioned earlier, the novel’s villains (the Tenctrama) also come across as characters with defined motivations who do evil things for a practical reason rather than just for the sake of being evil. Because of this, they are even more chillingly effective villains. Not to mention that their backstory and motivations also help to feed into the novel’s anti-war theme too.

In terms of the writing, this novel is fairly good. The story’s third-person narration has a little bit more of a distinctive “style” than I expected and it’s this brilliant mixture of more informal observations and mildly formal descriptions. It fits in surprisingly well with the tone of the TV show and, although there are a few mildly confusing moments (eg: a third-person segment written from the perspective of one of the Huns early in the story), it means that the story is a very readable and relaxing way to spend a few hours.

As for length and pacing, this novel is also really good. At an efficient 264 pages in length, it never feels like a page is wasted. The pacing is mostly really good too, although the second half of the story is probably somewhat more gripping than the first half is. Although this is probably because the earlier parts of the story have to spend time setting everything up for the spectacular drama in the later parts of the story.

All in all, this is a really good “Doctor Who” novel 🙂 Yes, it takes a little while to really become compelling, but it’s a brilliant blend of the sci-fi, horror and thriller genres 🙂 So, if you enjoyed series 11 and wonder what it would look like with a higher budget, a bit more horror and more time to tell a story, then this novel is worth reading.

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

Review: “Blade Runner 2: The Edge Of Human” By K. W. Jeter (Novel)

Well, since it’s November 2019, I thought that I’d re-read another “Blade Runner” – related book. I am, of course, talking about K. W. Jeter’s 1995 novel “Blade Runner 2: The Edge Of Human”.

Yes, long before “Blade Runner 2049” appeared in cinemas two years ago, Jeter had written three totally different (and, now, non-canonical) official sequel novels to “Blade Runner”.

Although the final one (“Blade Runner 4: Eye And Talon”) seems to be somewhat rare and expensive, I happened to find cheap copies of the first two sequels in a second-hand bookshop in Petersfield a couple of months before I prepared this review (because I couldn’t find my old copies of both books).

Since it has been about eleven years since I first read “Blade Runner 2: The Edge Of Human” during a holiday in France, I thought that it was the perfect time to re-read it 🙂

However, since this novel is a direct sequel, you need to watch “Blade Runner” before reading this book. Likewise, although it isn’t essential, it is also well worth reading “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?” by Philip K. Dick (the novel “Blade Runner” is based on) before reading this novel, since you’ll get more out of it if you do 🙂 Of course, you don’t need to watch “Blade Runner 2049” before reading this book – since it tells a totally different story.

So, let’s take a look at “Blade Runner 2: The Edge Of Human”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

– This is the 1996 Orion (UK) paperback edition of “Blade Runner 2: The Edge Of Human” that I read.

Set nine months after the events of “Blade Runner”, the novel begins with Chief Bryant drinking alone in his office in the hours after Gaff’s funeral. To his surprise, a mysterious person enters his office and, after a short conversation, draws a gun and shoots him.

Meanwhile, in Oregon, Deckard is living in a cabin in the woods with his replicant lover Rachael. Since she is nearing the end of her pre-determined four year lifespan, she spends most of her time in a stasis booth that Deckard acquired from several of his contacts, only regaining consciousness every few weeks to spend a single day with Deckard. Most of the time, Deckard is alone. So, when he hears the sound of a spinner heading towards the cabin, he isn’t sure if he’s imagining things.

This is especially true when the spinner lands and a woman who looks exactly like Rachael emerges from it. She introduces herself as Sarah Tyrell, head of the Tyrell Corporation since the death of her uncle Eldon nine months ago. Sarah wants Deckard to return to LA and do a job for her and, with the contingent of armed Tyrell Corp security she’s brought with her, he doesn’t exactly have much choice in the matter…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, even though it can get a little contrived and convoluted at times, it’s a really cool alternative sequel to “Blade Runner” 🙂

Not only is it reasonably true to the tone of the original film, but it is also darker, more spectacular and very atmospheric too. It’s the kind of sequel that was written for enthusiastic “Blade Runner” fans and, in some ways, is probably a more “accurate” sequel than “Blade Runner 2049” is.

In terms of the novel’s sci-fi elements, it is a “Blade Runner” novel. Not only is it set during the summer in a slightly more expanded version of the grim, dystopian proto-cyberpunk world of the original film (with some of the hot, dusty post-apocalyptic atmosphere of “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?” too), but it also expands on a lot of the film’s thematic material too.

In other words, this is a novel where – thanks to the existence of ultra-realistic robots – no-one can be quite certain who is human or even if they are human themselves. In addition to this, the novel also adds a lot of conspiracy-based paranoia which is evocative of the untrustworthy, unreliable world of “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?” too 🙂

The novel also expands on several of the moral questions posed by the film, with Deckard being presented in an even more morally-ambiguous way, several references to times that blade runners have killed humans by mistake and more disturbing details about replicant slavery in the off-world colonies.

This, of course, brings me on to the novel’s horror elements. Whilst this novel isn’t a “horror novel” as such, there are quite a few disturbing moments and/or psychological horror elements here.

Whether it is a chilling train-based scene that subtly references the Holocaust, the scenes involving a “repaired” version of Pris or some hints about Eldon Tyrell’s backstory, this can be a surprisingly unsettling and disturbing novel at times. Yet, all of this horror is very much in keeping with tone of the original film – even if there is more emphasis on it than you might expect.

Surprisingly, this novel is also more of a thriller novel than you might expect. In addition to a few spectacular fast-paced action set pieces (some of which reminded me of “Blade Runner 2049” and the spin-off anime), this novel also focuses a lot on conspiracy-based paranoia, suspense and things like that too. Whilst this novel as a whole isn’t a particularly fast-paced thriller, it’s certainly a compelling one.

However, as mentioned earlier, some elements of the story’s conspiracy thriller plot can get a little convoluted at times. There are also a couple of small plot holes (eg: video filtering technology that works inconsistently in one scene) and a few scenes can also feel a little contrived too. Still, the level of plot complexity here is vaguely reminiscent of Raymond Chandler at times 🙂

In terms of the writing, it’s really good 🙂 This novel’s third-person narration uses a very descriptive, but appropriately hardboiled, style that goes really well with the story. Given that the original film is a masterpiece of visual art, it is really cool to see narration that captures this level of harsh hardboiled beauty. Yes, the descriptive elements of the narration do slow the story down a bit, but they also make it feel like a genuine part of the “Blade Runner” universe too 🙂

This novel also rewards your knowledge of both the film and Philip K. Dick’s novel, with numerous references to familiar locations from both things, a plot point involving a script error in older versions of the film, a dramatic scene involving the off-world advertising blimp, slightly more focus on background characters from the film (eg: Holden, J.F.Sebastian etc..) etc… Seriously, if you’re a massive fan of “Blade Runner”, then this novel is the kind of sequel you were probably secretly hoping for in 2017.

In terms of the characters, this novel is fairly good. In addition to seeing what has happened to familiar characters from both “Blade Runner” and “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?”, they also get a bit more depth too (after all, this is a novel).

In addition to this, the novel also contains a couple of new characters who are interesting alternative versions of familiar characters. If you’re a fan of the film, then all of this extra characterisation is an absolute joy to behold 🙂

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is interesting. At 340 pages in length, it doesn’t look too long, but it will take you longer to read than you might expect. In other words, whilst this novel contains a few fast-paced moments, the story’s pacing is a little bit closer to the slightly slower, more atmospheric pacing of the original film. Even so, this novel can probably best be described as a moderately-paced thriller.

As for how this twenty-four year old novel has aged, it has mostly aged well. Yes, there are a few “politically incorrect” moments (eg: some of Bryant’s dialogue, a somewhat transphobic scene etc…), but the novel as a whole feels almost as timeless as the original “Blade Runner” film. Not only that, the focus on post-apocalyptic wastelands and spectacular action set-pieces in some parts of the novel is also fairly evocative of the recent “Blade Runner 2049” film too 🙂

All in all, whilst this alternative sequel isn’t as good as the original film, it certainly comes close 🙂 Even though it may no longer be canonical, it is still well worth reading if you’re a fan of “Blade Runner”. It’s atmospheric, dark, complex and dystopian. It’s also somewhat closer in style and tone to the original film than “Blade Runner 2049” was too.

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

Review: “Gone Home” (Computer Game)

Well, I thought that I’d take a very short break from book reviews to review a computer game that I’d planned to review about two years ago.

Back then, I happened to notice that the game “Gone Home” (2013) was on sale on GOG and since I’d heard that it was set in the 1990s and since it used something that looked like the Source Engine (in reality, the game uses Unity), I decided to get a copy… only to find that the vintage mid-2000s computer I was using at the time didn’t have enough VRAM to run it.

But since, for various reasons, I got a vaguely modern refurbished computer (eg: Core i5-3570, 8gb RAM etc.. Which, by my standards, is practially futuristic) the day before I wrote this review, I suddenly remembered this game and decided to re-download it and take a look at it.

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

“Gone Home” is set in 1995 and begins with university student Kaitlin Greenbriar returning home to her family’s new house in Oregon after a gap year in Europe. However, when she gets back, she finds that no-one is there. So, she has to search the house for clues about what has happened….

Surprisingly, despite the gloomy atmosphere, this ISN’T a horror game.

One of the first things that I will say about this game is that, whilst it has a few flaws, it’s a really interesting narrative game. If you enjoy exploration, ominous mansions and/or anything 1990s-related, then it’s worth taking a look at this game.

Since this game is the classic example of a “walking simulator”, the main types of gameplay here are exploration, detective work and a small amount of puzzle solving.

In short, the game involves searching the house for clues about what has happened and for audio logs from Kaitlyn’s younger sister, Sam. As an interactive story, it works really well – with the game’s story being this bittersweet tale that will probably make you cry at least once or twice and will linger in your imagination for a while after you’ve finished playing.

The exploration elements of the game are really cool too, with lots of interesting background items to examine, atmospheric lighting, “ordinary” 1990s rooms and even a few secret passages. Seriously, I absolutely love the idea of a game that revolves around exploring somewhere (that isn’t a mostly-empty open world). Seriously, this is a game that is very much about place, atmosphere and subtle retro nostalgia 🙂

And there’s some awesome 1990s-style lighting too 🙂 Of course, when you turn the lights on, it disappears…

And, I vaguely remember seeing THESE word processors in shops when I was younger too. Nostalgia 🙂

VHS and audio cassettes 🙂 Yes!

Literally the only complaint I have about this element of the game is the movement speed. Yes, it might be because I’m used to older FPS games, but the movement speed here can best be described as “glacial”, which can sometimes make the interesting exploration feel like a bit of a chore and/or a way of padding out the length of the game.

But, this is worth putting up with given the sheer amount of background details, quirky notes, subtle humour, retro technology, 1990s punk music etc… that you’ll find. Seriously, if you’re a fan of 1990s US TV shows/movies, then it’s really cool to see a game that focuses on this period of American history 🙂

The truth is out there!

Likewise, the fact that the game is set in an ordinary house (albeit a mansion-sized one) allows for a surprising level of realism that will probably evoke a small amount of 1990s nostalgia (even if, like me, you grew up in 1990s Britain rather than America).

Another cool thing about this game is that most of the game’s documents are handwritten, which gives everything a lot more personality than typical in-game text 🙂

Seriously, whilst the game’s “walking simulator” concept is very different to a traditional game, it’s really cool to see a game that focuses so much on subtle, “realistic” 1990s nostalgia 🙂 Even if, as I mentioned, the movement speed is a bit on the slow side.

As mentioned earlier, this game also contains a few *ugh* puzzles too. Since I’m not really a fan of puzzle games (and am terrible at them), I eventually had to resort to a walkthrough for many of them.

And then was astonished that I missed an obvious clue like this one!

Even so, the puzzles are solvable if you are willing to search, think and examine everything. Plus, the 1990s was a decade when even first-person shooter games included puzzles (it was the “crafting system”, “permadeath” etc.. of it’s day), so it’s good to see that they have got this nostalgic element of the game right 🙂

In terms of the story, atmosphere and characters, this game is really brilliant 🙂 Although Kaitlin is the player character, the main character of this game is her sister Sam, whose story the game tells.

This is a surprisingly poignant, bittersweet and emotional tale that is relayed through audio logs, realistic notes/scribbles (social media wasn’t really a thing in the 1990s) and it really adds a level of humanity to the game that you might not expect. For a character who you never actually meet, Sam is one of the most well-written game characters I’ve seen in a while.

Not to mention how the location design in this game also adds a lot of extra characterisation and personality too.

Thematically, the game is a story about love, about the grinding conformity of 1990s suburbia, about secrets, about the awesomeness of discovering punk music when you were a kid in the 1990s (in the game, this is “Riot Grrl” style punk. But, it still reminded me of the first time I heard The Offspring, AFI, Sum 41 etc..), about dysfunctional families etc… So, yes, this game is a bit more complex and intelligent than you might think.

In terms of the atmosphere, this game is wonderful. In addition to lots of subtly realistic 1990s background details, there are also quite a few ’90s pop culture references (and a few punk songs too), lots of wonderfully gloomy lighting and some wonderful rain/thunder sound effects too.

Although this game isn’t a horror game, this gloom really goes well with the game’s bittersweet story and helps to add a lot to the game. Not to mention that creeping around gloomy mansions is always fun (and very ’90s too – I mean, just look at “Resident Evil”, “Alone In The Dark”, the ghost house levels in “Super Mario World” etc…).

Yes, seriously, this ISN’T a horror game.

In terms of length, this is a famously short game. Using a walkthrough for most of the puzzles, I completed it in about two hours and fifteen minutes. But, if you don’t use a walkthrough, then it’ll probably take you a little bit longer.

Even so, this game is about the right length for the story it tells. It’s the computer game equivalent of a novella or a longer short story. But, it’s probably best to wait until this game goes on sale before getting it (since a lot of the anger about this game’s length probably comes from people who paid full price and had full price expectations).

All in all, whilst this game has a few flaws, I really love the concept of it. It’s a 1990s nostalgia game that involves exploring a gloomy mansion 🙂 It’s quirky, bittersweet, atmospheric, poignant, occasionally funny and it has a level of realism and humanity to it that you don’t often see in games.

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

Review: “Torchwood: Long Time Dead” By Sarah Pinborough (Novel)

Well, a week or two before I wrote this review, I was reminded about the sci-fi horror TV show “Torchwood” after talking to a relative about “Doctor Who”. This then stirred a vague recollection of seeing Torchwood-themed books in bookshops ages ago.

After a quick internet search, I ended up getting second-hand copies of a couple of these books. So, for today, I thought that I’d look at Sarah Pinborough’s 2011 novel “Torchwood: Long Time Dead”. After all, it was apparently a prequel to the only complete series of “Torchwood” that I’ve actually seen (eg: the “Miracle Day” series from 2011).

Interestingly, although this novel references the TV show a few times, there are enough explanations and recaps for the story to be enjoyable if you’ve only got vague memories of the show or if you haven’t seen it. Likewise, this novel also tells a fairly self-contained story too.

So, let’s take a look at “Torchwood: Long Time Dead”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2011 BBC Books (UK) paperback edition of “Torchwood: Long Time Dead” that I read.

The novel begins with a government scientist called John Blackman exploring the burnt-out ruins of a secret underground facility with orders to recover any technology found within it. He hears someone groaning and, to his surprise, finds a woman lying on the ground in one of the rooms. Her stomach starts to glow red. But, before John can talk to her, she stabs him with a shard of glass.

Meanwhile, in Cardiff, a detective called D.I. Cutler is spending some free time watching a mysterious government site that has sprung up in the city after a terrorist attack three weeks earlier. He doesn’t quite understand why, but he has become obsessed with this strange site.

Back underground, the site’s commander – Elwood Jackson – discovers John’s grisly corpse and is shocked to find that his eyes are missing. Whilst all of this is going on, the resurrected woman, former Torchwood agent Suzie Costello, has managed to sneak out of the facility and travel to a safety deposit box she set up in case of emergencies. However, to her surprise, she finds that she has an urge to kill again…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it’s a fairly compelling sci-fi horror thriller that also vaguely reminded me of classic 1980s horror fiction (eg: Shaun Hutson, James Herbert etc..) too, which is never a bad thing 🙂

In terms of the novel’s horror elements, they’re really good. Although this novel contains a few moments of gory horror and also uses the classic splatterpunk technique of introducing several random background characters who only survive for a single chapter, the main types of horror in this novel are psychological horror, cosmic horror, paranormal horror, implied horror, death-based horror, tragic horror and/or character-based horror.

These types of horror work really well and, although they aren’t usually outright scary, they help to add a rather ominous and creepy atmosphere to the story. Not only will the reader occasionally find themselves sympathising with the story’s creepy villain, Suzie Costello, but the novel’s themes of death and trauma and it’s vaguely Lovecraftian hints about a terrifying hell dimension are also fairly creepy too.

In terms of the novel’s sci-fi elements, this novel is probably a bit more like H.P.Lovecraft than anything else. In other words, whilst there are references to alien technologies, monsters from outer space and other dimensions, the story focuses slightly more on the effects that these mysterious things have on the characters rather than on the mechanics behind them (although the novel does give an explanation for why Suzie returned to life). But, although the sci-fi stuff is a bit more of a background detail than I’d expected, it is well written and helps to add a lot more atmosphere to the story.

The novel’s thriller elements are fairly interesting too, with the story mostly focusing on both D.I. Cutler’s investigation into a mysterious series of deaths and on Suzie’s attempts to understand what is going on whilst also staying one step ahead of the authorities. This adds a lot of suspense and drama to the story, which helps to keep it really compelling.

In terms of the characters, they’re fairly good. Most of the characters get enough characterisation to make you care about what happens to them, with the novel’s best character probably being Suzie – who, although clearly the story’s villain, is written about in such a way that you’ll probably end up either feeling sorry for and/or sympathetic towards her during a few parts of the story.

In terms of the writing, this novel is fairly good too. The novel’s third-person narration is written in a fairly fast-paced, informal and “matter of fact” way that also focuses quite heavily on the characters’ thoughts and feelings (which helps to add to the story’s horror elements too). Likewise, there are also a few italicised flashback scenes that presumably describe moments from previous series of the TV show too.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is really good. At an efficient 250 pages in length, it never feels like a page is wasted. Likewise, this novel is written in a reasonably fast-paced way and also uses an interesting cross between a thriller novel-style structure (with alternating chapters focusing on the two main characters) and a 1980s splatterpunk novel-like structure (with some chapters and segments focusing on random background characters dying in horrible ways).

All in all, this is a fairly decent sci-fi horror thriller novel that is also vaguely reminiscent of the classic horror fiction of the 1980s too 🙂 The characters are well-written and the plot is both creepy and compelling too.

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

Review: “Virtual Light” By William Gibson (Novel)

Well, I was in the mood for a cyberpunk novel. And, although I’d originally planned to re-read William Gibson’s “Neuromancer”, I happened to spot my copies of Gibson’s “Bridge Trilogy” that I’d been meaning to read for about a decade or so.

So, wanting to try something slightly different, I thought that I’d take a look at the first novel in the trilogy, “Virtual Light” (1993), today 🙂

Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 1994 Penguin (UK) paperback edition of “Virtual Light” that I read.

Set in in the high-tech near-future year of 2005, the novel begins with a mysterious description of a man watching several video feeds from a hotel room in Mexico City.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, ex-cop and private security officer Berry Rydell is driving around with his allergy-ridden partner Sublett. Their night is filled with a series of bizarre events that lead to Rydell crashing the van into a house. Although Rydell isn’t fired over the mistake, he ends up resigning from the security company when faced with the prospect of being relegated to uneventful guard duty.

In San Francisco, a bicycle courier called Chevette is delivering a package to a posh hotel. After dropping off the package, she is about to go back to her bike when she meets a drunken woman in a lift who invites her to a party in one of the hotel rooms. During the party, a sleazy guy starts hassling Chevette and, out of spite, she steals a pair of expensive-looking sunglasses from his jacket before leaving the party.

Back in Los Angeles, Rydell’s flatmate Hernandez eventually gets him a job as a freelance driver for a skip tracer in San Francisco called Warbaby. When Rydell arrives, Warbaby tells him that a man has been murdered and a very important pair of sunglasses have been stolen…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, although it’ll take you a while to get used to Gibson’s trademark writing style, this story is a really compelling cyberpunk/post-cyberpunk thriller. In addition to making me feel nostalgic about the first time I read Gibson’s “Neuromancer”, it also reminded me a bit of Neal Stephenson’s “Snow Crash” and M. John Harrison’s “Nova Swing” too. Which is never a bad thing 🙂

In terms of the novel’s sci-fi elements, this novel mostly takes the post-cyberpunk approach of focusing on ordinary people’s lives in a futuristic tech-filled dystopia. Yes, there are a few hints of the virtual reality hacking of “Neuromancer” here and loads of subtly futuristic and/or “edgy” background details, but this is more of a story about people trying to make a living in a moderately dystopian future. In essence, this is a drama set in a somewhat cyberpunk world rather than a traditional cyberpunk story.

But, what a world it is 🙂 Although this novel contains quite a few “realistic” urban settings, they are filled with enough futuristic tech and/or bizarre backstory to make them absolutely fascinating. Even so, the best location in the novel is the Golden Gate bridge, which has been turned into this wonderfully atmospheric rusting, neon-lit, rainy, ramshackle anarchist encampment. And, yes, like in the modern computer game “Shadowrun: Dragonfall“, this novel actually contains a fairly nuanced depiction of what an anarchist society would look like.

As for the novel’s thriller elements, although this story is a bit of a slow burn at times, it gets more suspenseful and action-packed as it progresses. Even so, the novel uses a few classic thriller techniques like mini-cliffhangers and alternating plot threads throughout the novel. It’s also the kind of story which starts out fairly randomly and then gradually becomes more and more focused too.

Thematically, this novel is fairly interesting too. In addition to being a novel about authority, it’s also a story about things like gentrification, the unreliability of history, religion, the media, income inequality etc… too. Cyberpunk fiction is, after all, one of the most thematically complex genres of science fiction out there. Even so, most of this stuff feels slightly more like a background detail than you might expect.

In terms of the characters, this novel is fairly good. Although all of the characters in this novel are slightly stylised, they really feel like part of the story’s world. Many of them also get a reasonable amount of backstory and characterisation too. Not to mention that, if you’re a fan of Neal Stephenson’s “Snow Crash”, then the fact that one of the main characters in “Virtual Light” (Chevette) is also a punk-like courier is pretty cool too.

In terms of the writing, this novel is really good when you get used to Gibson’s writing style. The novel’s third-person narration has a really distinctive voice that is both very “matter of fact”/hardboiled and very detailed at the time. It’s fast-paced and slow-paced at the same time. It has some really interesting experimental flourishes (eg: mixing past and present events and tenses etc..) and it’s also kind of a more subtle and realistic version of the intentionally confusing “bombard the reader with futuristic details” technique that Gibson uses to great effect in “Neuromancer”.

If you’ve read and enjoyed slightly more obscure genres of fiction (eg: cyberpunk fiction, hardboiled detective fiction, beat literature, gonzo journalism etc..) in the past, then you’ll “get” the writing style of this novel and really enjoy it 🙂 But, if you’ve only read more “traditional” fiction, then you might find the writing style in this novel mildly confusing.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is really interesting. At 294 pages in length, this novel feels both shorter and longer than this. In short, whilst it only has a fraction of the epic scale of – say – Neal Stephenson’s “Snow Crash” or “The Diamond Age”, the novel still somehow feels longer than a typical 200-300 page novel.

A lot of this probably has to do with the pacing. In short, this is the most fast-paced slow-paced novel you’ll ever read. Whilst each sentence flows breathlessly into the next, there is so much detail to keep track of that each page will take longer to read than you expect. But, on the whole, the novel’s pacing is fairly good – with the story gradually becoming more focused and suspenseful as it progresses.

As for how this twenty-six year old novel has aged, it has aged interestingly. Leaving aside a few “edgy” and/or “politically incorrect” moments, it’s intriguing to see what this novel predicted correctly (eg: augmented reality glasses, flat-screen TVs, the disturbing trend of “Swatting“, an Anonymous-like group of hackers etc…) and what it got wrong (eg: people still using fax machines, various medical advances, a lot of the novel’s history etc..). Still, if you ignore the fact that this novel is supposed to be set in 2005, then it’s a really interesting and atmospheric cyberpunk story that is still enjoyable to read.

All in all, whilst this novel probably isn’t for everyone, it is a really interesting and atmospheric cyberpunk thriller. Although it isn’t quite as good as “Neuromancer” and it lacks some of the depth and scale that you might expect, it’s still really cool to read a 20th century William Gibson novel 🙂 Likewise, if you’re a fan of Neal Stephenson’s “Snow Crash”, it’s really interesting to see what Gibson can do with some of the themes/ideas from that novel.

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