Today’s Art (12th November 2019)

Well, although I’ll probably post a landscape painting tomorrow, today’s digitally-edited painting is a slightly random sci-fi painting that I made when I was fairly tired.

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

“Sci-Fi Station” By C. A. Brown

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.

Today’s Art (24th October 2019)

Well, stay tuned for the beginning of this year’s Halloween comic tomorrow. But, in the meantime, here’s a digitally-edited drawing that I’d originally hoped would be a “1990s sci-fi” kind of drawing. But, due to time and inspiration reasons, didn’t turn out as well as I’d hoped.

As usual, this drawing is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

“Corridor Five” By C. A. Brown

Review: “Aliens: Criminal Enterprise” By S. D. Perry (Novel)

Well, it’s been a while since I last read an “Aliens” novel. And, since I wanted a fairly quick and relaxing novel, I decided to take a look at one of the second-hand “Aliens” novels that I bought several weeks earlier, namely S.D.Perry’s 2008 novel “Aliens: Criminal Enterprise”.

Interestingly, you can probably also enjoy this novel if you haven’t seen any of the “Alien” films. Although knowing a few basic things about the franchise’s famous monsters will probably make this novel slightly more enjoyable, they aren’t really the main focus of the story in the way that they are in most of the other “Aliens” novels that I’ve read.

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

This is the 2008 Dark Horse (US) paperback edition of “Aliens: Criminal Enterprise” that I read.

The novel begins with a man called Tommy Chase awakening from cryo-sleep after dreaming about his unhappy childhood. Tommy is a professional pilot who has agreed to run one job for a group of drug smugglers in order to help out his delinquent brother, Pete, who has got into trouble with them. Whilst Pete awakens from cryo-sleep, two of the crew members, Lee and Moby, want Tommy to land the ship quickly.

The ship lands on Fantasia, an illegally-terraformed planet owned by a drug baron called Msomi and run by one of his lieutenants called Trace. The planet is mostly used as a manufacturing facility and somewhere for wanted members of the gang to hide out until the heat dies down. As an added security measure, all of the areas outside of the main facility are swarming with vicious alien creatures that Msomi has imported onto the planet.

Meanwhile, on the surface, a man called Ray is lying in wait with a team of henchmen. Ray and Trace have fallen out in the past, and he plans to get even by downing the next outgoing cargo ship with an EMP, stealing the contents and framing Trace for the theft.

Whilst all of this is going on, a ship owned by the Neo-Pharm corporation is lurking near Fantasia. Msomi’s operation has been skimming or diverting chemicals from them. So, a team of mercenaries, led by an ex-military ex-cop called Kaye are preparing for a combat raid on the planet….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that the second half of it is better than the first half. In other words, whilst this novel does become really gripping, it takes a while to set everything up. Although this is a short novel, there are three plot threads and at least 10-20 characters. But, if you stick with this book during the earlier parts, then there is a really good payoff.

Interestingly, unlike several of the other “Aliens” novels that I’ve read, this novel is more of a crime thriller novel than a sci-fi or horror novel. Although there is some sci-fi stuff here (eg: illegal terraforming, futuristic drugs, spaceships, EMP weapons etc..) and there are a few horror elements (eg: the alien monsters, some gory moments etc..), the emphasis is firmly on the story’s crime and thriller elements.

In other words, whilst the aliens are a threatening background detail (and something for the characters to fight or avoid sometimes), they aren’t really the main focus of this story. This is more of a story about what happens when two rival groups of criminals and a band of corporate mercenaries collide with each other. Still, this makes a refreshing change from the usual “evil scientists and their research projects” plots that turn up in quite a few of the “Aliens” novels.

And, as a thriller, this novel works reasonably well. Whilst I found that the novel only really started to get gripping a little under halfway through, there’s a good mixture of drama, suspense and fast-paced action scenes. Likewise, thanks to the fact that nothing quite goes to plan for any of the characters, there’s a real sense of tension about who will survive and who won’t.

This novel also uses the technique (which I’ve also seen in Jonathan Maberry’s “Fall Of Night) of adding impact to various scenes by showing the same events multiple times from the “perspective” of different characters. Surprisingly, this works really well and – since the novel uses a third-person perspective throughout – it doesn’t really get confusing or annoying either.

In terms of the characters, they’re fairly well-written. But, whilst several of the characters get a decent amount of backstory and/or characterisation and many of them have realistic motivations and flaws, one of the problems with this story is that there are too many characters. Although the story mostly focuses on a few characters, the time spent introducing all of the characters can slow down the earlier parts of the story slightly. Even so, many of the background characters are well-written enough to make you care about them.

As for the writing, the novel’s third-person narration is pretty standard gritty sci-fi thriller stuff. In other words, the narration uses a rather “matter of fact” style that is fairly readable. Although the narration in this novel doesn’t flow quite as quickly as it does in Perry’s awesome “Resident Evil” novels, it still works well.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is a bit of a mixed bag. At a gloriously efficient 222 pages in length, this story doesn’t feel too long. However, for a thriller novel, it takes quite a while to really get started. Yes, the earlier parts of the story build suspense and introduce both the premise and the large cast of characters, but the story doesn’t really turn into a truly gripping fast-paced action-packed thriller novel until a little under halfway through.

All in all, this is a fairly decent sci-fi crime thriller novel. Even though I found the second half of it to be more gripping than the first half, it is still a fairly enjoyable novel. But, if you’re looking for a thrilling “Aliens” novel with a bit more horror, then check out Perry’s “Aliens: The Labyrinth” instead.

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