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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Happy April Fools’s Day everyone 🙂

Review: “Survivor” By Chuck Palahniuk (Novel)

Well, I thought that I’d take a look at a book that I’ve been meaning to read for over a decade and a half. I am, of course, talking about Chuck Palahniuk’s 1999 novel “Survivor”. Back when I was about fifteen or so, I ended up reading Palahniuk’s “Fight Club” (after seeing the movie on TV) and found a copy of “Survivor” sometime later in a charity shop, possibly in Fareham.

From the small pencil marks my younger self used to leave in books as a back-up in case my bookmark fell out, I apparently read about 25 pages of it back then but abandoned it for some reason. So, about a decade and a half later, I finally decided to actually finish reading this book.

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

This is the 2000 Vintage (UK) paperback edition of “Survivor” that I read.

The novel begins with a drunken man called Tender Branson in the cockpit of a jumbo jet, telling his life story to the flight recorder. It quickly transpires that he is the only person on the plane, having hijacked it some time earlier. It will run out of fuel in a few hours and crash into the Australian outback. Tender knows this and he doesn’t care. The only thing that matters to him is leaving some record of the bizarre and utterly messed-up chain of events that led to him being here….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a hilarious dark comedy and a bleakly cynical satire that is vaguely reminiscent of Palahniuk’s “Fight Club” whilst also very much being it’s own thing too. It is a fascinating remnant of a time when literature was expected to be shocking, irreverent, edgy, intelligent and/or confrontational. Back when, if you saw the “Vintage” logo on a book, you knew it was going to be memorable. Yes, this novel takes a little while to really become compelling and it certainly isn’t for the easily shocked or offended, but it’s one of the funniest and most unique literary novels I’ve read in quite a while.

So, I should probably start by talking about the novel’s comedy elements. In addition to lots of hilariously irreverent dark comedy, this novel contains a rather amusing mixture of character-based humour, cynical comments, absurd situations, sexual humour, parody, farce, irony, contrast, slapstick humour, taboo-based humour etc.. Although this novel will probably only have you actually laughing out loud during a few well-placed moments, it is very clearly written with its tongue firmly in it’s cheek. Seriously, I love how fearlessly irreverent this novel is.

Which brings me on the the novel’s satirical elements. This novel is an unflinchingly harsh satire of fame, psychology, religion, conformism and capitalism. Although some of the satire revolves around popular obsessions of the 1990s (eg: cults, televangelists and pre-social media fame) and I can’t imagine any writer writing the opening scene post-9/11, a lot of the satire is surprisingly timeless.

In addition to scenes that somehow reach forward in time to criticise the “misery memoir” trend of the 2000s or to make prescient comments about how everyone in the future will be thinking the same thing (eg: social media etc…), a lot of the novel’s satire focuses on general topics that will probably never get old – such as the corrupt/pathetic lives of the ultra-rich, government incompetence, the hollowness of fame, how religion can be used to exploit people etc..

And, like any good satire, it respects the reader’s intelligence. At least a few of the novel’s most interesting thematic and satirical elements aren’t explicitly spelled out to the reader (such as the religious significance of Tender Branson’s age) and it is up to you to actually think when reading this book 🙂 So, this is probably a book that has some re-readability and a few layers that you will probably miss upon a first reading.

Plus, although I’d hesitate to call this novel a “thriller”, it certainly contains a few interesting elements from the thriller genre that help to keep things compelling. These mostly consist of mystery and suspense, such as the story’s opening segment, a mysterious killer that is following the main character or some of the novel’s later fast-paced segments.

In terms of the characters, this novel is classic Palahniuk. Tender Branson is a cynical world-weary nihilist, who also has a sociopathic streak about a mile wide (eg: he sets up a fake crisis hotline for his own sadistic amusement, steals fake flowers from cemeteries etc…). But the story adds a bit more depth and nuance to him thanks to his backstory, his many failings, the limits of his education/knowledge about the world and the presence of another character called Fertility who can somehow see into the future. Yet, far from making Fertility rich or happy, these visions of the future just cause trouble, despair and a crushing feeling of ennui – with the only “happiness” to be found in messing around at disaster sites and the fact that Tender is so weird that he is almost unpredictable.

In terms of the writing, it is also classic Palahniuk too 🙂 The novel’s first-person narration is written in a fairly informal, conversational and “matter of fact” way, which not only adds a lot of extra personality to the narrator but – thanks to the “telling his life story” premise – allows for a few interesting literary techniques too. These include fourth-wall breaking asides, the fact that Tender will often give the reader random cleaning tips or Bible verses and the way that the novel’s pages are numbered in reverse to reflect the dwindling time he has left to live. Although these techniques add a bit of extra uniqueness and interest to the novel, they can get in the way of the actual story at times. So, this novel can sometimes be slower-paced than you might expect.

As for length and pacing, this novel is a bit of a mixed bag. At an efficient 289 pages, it makes me miss the days when intelligent novels could be short. The novel’s pacing is a bit uneven though – with the beginning and later parts of the novel being utterly gripping, fast-paced and compelling – but the rest of the novel being slower and slightly less compelling. Yes, there are some valid narrative reasons for this (since it reflects the crushing boredom of Tender’s job, the loneliness of his life etc…) but don’t let the “fast-paced” writing style fool you into thinking that this novel will be a high-speed thriller.

As for how this twenty-one year old novel has aged, it wouldn’t be written today. It was written in an age, where thanks to the extra privacy afforded by the lack of social media and the fact that both readers and literary critics wanted to be challenged, writers had more creative freedom than they do today. It was also written about a world that no longer really exists, with different standards, obsessions and expectations to our own. Yet, despite all of this, the novel’s extremely dark comedy and unremittingly cynical and irreverent satire still feel both enjoyably shocking and so very refreshing when read today. In short, this novel is simultaneously timeless and slightly old in the way that a Bill Hicks DVD is.

All in all, there isn’t really anything quite like this novel. It’ll either make you laugh, shudder and think, or it will shock and offend you. Or both. Yes, the pacing is a bit uneven and it probably isn’t quite as good as “Fight Club” but if you want hilariously transgressive dark comedy, grim satire, 1990s edginess, moments that will make you think and/or a story that you won’t forget for a while, then this one is probably worth taking a look at. It has artistic merit and also comes from an age when literary culture was a bit more fearless than it is now 🙂

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

Editorial Cartoon: British Comedy

Well, I hadn’t planned to make an editorial cartoon today but, after watching the news earlier, I felt it only fitting to make a quick cartoon about the history of British comedy. After all, this is probably the only way to make sense of what has happened in politics today. Seriously, you couldn’t make it up!

Since this is a parody/satirical cartoon, it is NOT released under any kind of Creative Commons licence.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Editorial Cartoon – British Comedy” By C. A. Brown

Three Achingly Hip (And On-Trend) Tips For Writing A Modern Novel

Well, I thought that I’d start April’s roster of articles by talking about hip, new, modern fiction. After all, who wants to read old books? What can they teach us about how to write great fiction for today?

Nothing, that’s what!

Just like how literally every gamer will agree that the very latest computer and video games are always the best, every reader is eager to read the latest modern fiction. So, how can you write it?

Here are a few tips, hot off of the press smartphone (I mean, who uses *ugh* printing presses these days? What is this? 1619?)

1) Tomes (or GTFO): You’re never going to believe this but, back in the bad old days, novels were often only a measly 200-300 pages in length. Talk about lazy writing! I mean, these “novels” were the kind of thing that people could read in just a couple of days. It’s practically fraud!

Thankfully, just like how those cool people in Hollywood have realised that the deep and complex drama of a superhero film requires a running time of at least two hours, many modern writers and publishers are giving their readers value for money! In fact, the best modern novels can be so long that most of their readers don’t even finish them. Talk about generosity!

Not only that, the widespread acceptance of 800 -or even 900 – page novels has freed modern writers from the oppressive tyranny of the editors! No longer does a writer have to justify a rich, expansive story to some miserable pen-pusher or agonise about whether their story really needs that 10-page description of a houseplant. No, modern readers want the author’s full artistic vision, in all of it’s majestic length.

In the bad old days, a novel used to be considered to be a paltry 50,000 words or more. These days, if you don’t fill at least a gigabyte of your audience’s e-readers or smartphones (since, like, who uses dead trees any more?), then you are short-changing them! So, remember, the more words the better!

2) Plain Packaging: This will probably disgust you, but back in the bad old days, book covers often used to look like tawdry film posters. A writer’s masterpiece would be handed to some artist who would try to make some patronisingly melodramatic fan art based on it. And the result would often be offensively vivid, shockingly melodramatic and hideously low-brow.

Thankfully, things have been streamlined and regulated these days 🙂 Gone are the glaringly bold and vivid colours of old – a modern novel cover should be rendered in gloomy greys (for thrillers and detective stories) or serene pastels (for everything else). This helps to ensure that no book cover breaks the mellow, ordered harmony of any respectable shop’s website.

Of course, for truly respectable literary novels, there should be no visual elements whatsoever on the cover – just the title and a plain, or lightly patterned, background. This helps to ensure that nothing distracts from the adoring critic quotes on the cover, in addition to ensuring that your readers know that it is a serious novel.

Then again, with the widespread popularity of electronic books, who even needs cover art these days? It’s just a racket to keep those grubby artists in business! So, don’t be afraid to signal your defiance against this painterly cartel by insisting that your latest work is released as a good, honest, plain text file (in Courier, for added authenticity).

3) Social apps: If there’s one terrible thing about reading books it’s that they’re so solitary. It’s like it’s just you and the author. Like you actually have to think and things. Don’t you know that there’s science that says that being alone is bad for you. And, on a more concerning note, who knows what subversive or offensive thoughts might creep into your mind if you have to endure actual privacy whilst reading.

Well, fear no more! One of of the amazing advancements of the electronic reading revolution is that books can now be read on smartphones. And this means that the soma familiar safe haven of social media is no more than a second away at all times 🙂 So, your novel should be written with this in mind.

First of all. All sentences should be short. For easier live-tweeting. #Progress!

There should also be a “like” button on, like, every page too, so that your readers can signal to their friends that they’re, like, actually reading – and, more importantly, what they’re reading. After all, we can’t have people reading the wrong books, can we?

Likewise, don’t worry if you write anything someone doesn’t like. Thanks to modern social media, thousands of enthusiastic critiques from passionate readers will appear within minutes to correct you. So, when you put out the next daily update of your novel, you know what to alter or remove. It’s almost like having a fanatically strict edito… I mean, it’s a bold, democratic alternative to the tyranny of the elitist editors of old!

There has never been a better age to be a writer! It really is a brave new world 🙂

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Happy April Fool’s Day everyone 🙂

Today’s Art (20th March 2019)

Woo hoo! I am very proud to present the first comic in “Damania Requirement”, this month’s four-comic webcomic mini series 🙂 You can also find lots of other comics featuring these characters on this page too 🙂

This satirical comic update was inspired by an episode of a popular British early-evening magazine show that aired last April. Whilst the episode actually made a valid point that I agreed with (eg: plastic pollution in the oceans is a bad thing), the way that this episode got this point across was so obnoxiously smug, self-righteous, preachy, manipulative, emotive, sanctimonious etc.. that I actually found that my views were temporarily less environmentalist for a few hours after watching it. Even though I agreed with the general point of the episode.

As usual, this comic update is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence etc…

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Damania Requirement – Own Goal” By C. A. Brown

Three Random Tips For Creating Satirical Comics

Well, I thought that I’d talk briefly about the subject of satirical comics today, since they can be a bit of a challenge to make if you haven’t had that much practice making them. So, here are a few very basic tips:

1) Emotional distance and introspection: If something annoys you enough to make you want to make a satirical comic, it can be easy to let your emotions take control and produce a rather imprecise, angry, badly-written or impulsive piece of satire. Needless to say, this isn’t a good idea.

To make your satirical comics really work, you have to take a step back and work out exactly what annoyed you and, more importantly, why. Once you’ve worked out why something annoyed you, then take that reason and apply it to a sillier situation and/or take it to an amusingly absurd logical extreme. This is how good satire is made.

2) Err on the side of comedy: Yes, satire doesn’t always have to be funny to be effective. But, if (like me) you’re relatively new to making satirical comics, then it is always best to err on the side of comedy whenever possible. Simply put, if you can make yourself laugh, then you’ll probably be able to make other people laugh. And, well, comedic satire is usually more well-received than serious satire.

Plus, pushing yourself into including comedy in your satirical comic means that you can avoid the risk of turning your comic into an earnest political tract that will make people roll their eyes or just stop reading out of frustration. If you can make your audience laugh, then they’re less likely to ignore or furiously disagree with your comic.

The best satire often isn’t earnest and preachy. It deflates pompousness, ideological rigidity, self-righteousness etc.. When satire is at it’s best, it is irreverent, subversive and merciless. The key word here is “irreverent”. So, it’s often a good idea to include some comedy in your satire.

3) Look at satire: Simply put, one of the best ways to learn how to make good satirical comics is to look at examples of them. See what techniques they use and see what does and doesn’t work. So, be sure to look at newspaper cartoons, webcomics etc..

Likewise, make sure that you look at satire in other mediums too. Watch stand-up comedy videos, animated sitcoms and Youtube videos. Read satirical fiction. Look at parodies (eg: since the best parodies will often include satirical elements too).

In short, just like learning how to do anything creative, look at how other people do it and see if you can draw any general principles and lessons from this. Look at what successful things have in common with each other, and learn from this.

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Sorry about the short article, but I hope that it was useful 🙂

“Zero” By C. A. Brown (Short Story)

A huge smile crossed Bert’s face as he gestured at the large chart behind him: ‘…And, with the recent contractual changes, annual profits per branch have increased by an average of twenty percent. Good work everyone.’

Polite applause followed. Bert scanned the table in front of him, carefully judging how much enthusiasm each branch manager showed. Two of them were over-egging it, almost to the point of sarcasm. He made a mental note of their names.

Keeping the smile on his face, Bert said: ‘Luckily for us, the press have been focusing on the larger companies. Any blowback from employees?’

‘Some grumbling.’ A bald man in a green suit shrugged. ‘I just tell ’em that if they’re good at what they do, they’ll get more hours. Works well enough.’

The man next to him laughed: ‘Too true, mate. I tell them that zero hours means zero hours if they don’t shut up about it. ‘

Beside him, a blonde woman in a pinstripe suit shook her head. ‘We’ve had a surge in union memberships. No strikes so far. Legally speaking, they don’t have a leg to stand on.’

A chorus of approving murmurs echoed around the room. Bert nodded. ‘Some trouble is to be expected. But, things will settle down. It isn’t like the competition can offer them any better. Honestly, I’m surprised that they haven’t sent us a cease and desist letter. I mean, where do you think I got the idea from?’

Polite laughter followed. Bert stood up slightly straighter: ‘Best of all, if trends continue, then I think that we are all going to have a very merry Christmas.’

More applause. A couple of people got up to shake Bert’s hand. He made a mental note of them too. One showed genuine enthusiasm, the other was brown-nosing. Stay at the top long enough and you get an instinct for this kind of thing. His mind began tabulating bonus figures as he waited for the applause to die down.

His eyes drifted over to the clock. It was nearly four. Keeping the smile on his face, Bert said: ‘And that about wraps it up. Keep up the good work everyone.’

As the managers left the room in high spirits, Bert reached for the intercom at the head of the table: ‘Any appointments, Susan?’

Clacking keys echoed over the intercom. A second later, Susan said: ‘Yes, a gentleman just showed up. Very insistent that he meets with you at once. Said that he called a couple of weeks ago and made an appointment. Can’t find any record of it though.’

‘Did you get his name?’

‘Phil Catafalque.’

‘Well, I’ve got a few minutes to spare. I’m sure I can squeeze him in. Send him to the conference room.’

Bert glanced at the clock. Fifty seconds later, Phil strode into the room. Everything from his slicked-back hair to his sharp suit screamed multi-national CEO. And, Bert noted with some glee, not one of those trendy tech company hippies either. A businessman of the old school. They were so rare these days.

As Bert extended his hand, Phil glanced at the clock before nodding at him: ‘I’ve got to say, your list of achievements is impressive. I’ve been waiting to meet you for some time.’

Bert blushed. ‘I wasn’t aware that news travelled so quickly, Mr. Catafalque. Are you interested in this company? I can assure you that our contractual changes are only the start of a wider strategic cost-cutting initiative. There has never been a better time to invest.’

Phil shook his head: ‘I’m interested in you, Bert. You’ve really done well for yourself here. But, alas, all things must come to an end.’

‘I don’t understand. In case you don’t know, I own this…’ Bert’s voice broke off as Phil reached behind his head. From the collar of his suit, Phil pulled a dark hood over his head. Beneath it, his face grew ever more gaunt until it was little more than a skull.

‘You’re… No, you can’t be. It isn’t possible.’ A red flush crossed Bert’s face. ‘If this is some kind of Halloween prank, then I’m calling the police!’

‘You would only be wasting their time. And mine too. Like you, I put a lot of stock in efficiency.’

Bert’s eyes widened: ‘Come on, surely we can work something out? At least let me make a few phone calls. How long have I got?’

A thin smile crossed Phil’s lips. His bony fingers reached towards Bert. ‘Zero hours.