Three Reasons Why Paperback Books Are Awesome

Well, I thought that I’d talk about paperback books today. In particular, why they are one of the most awesome types of books out there. And, no, this isn’t a “physical books vs e-books” article. Why? Well, if you’re reading an article with a title like this, then you’ve probably already decided which format you prefer 🙂

So, here are three of the many reasons why paperback books are awesome:

1) Approachability: Paperback books are designed to be read. If you want to show off your literary tastes or make your bookshelf look more impressive, then hardback books can work well. But, if you actually enjoy reading books, then a chaotic pile of paperbacks beats a well-ordered shelf of hardbacks any day.

Paperback books are designed to be carried around easily, to be left lying around (to be picked up when you have the impulse to read one) and to curl up with and enjoy. Although there is something to be said for spending time with a nice, weighty hardback book, there’s just something intuitive about spending time with a light, flexible paperback. It doesn’t boast or get in the way. It is just you and the story.

Not only that, because paperback books don’t really have the sense of prestige that hardback books do, they remind you of how much fun reading is supposed to be. After all, reading isn’t meant to be some kind of posh activity that you do in order to look sophisticated, it is something that is meant to be enjoyed. And, well, a humble paperback book is the perfect expression of this.

2) Nostalgia, coolness and fun: Simply put, old paperback books are cooler than old hardback books. Because paperback books were originally designed for mass entertainment, they often contain gripping stories (that didn’t always get a hardback release) and attention-grabbing cover art. Here are a few examples of both modern and classic paperback covers to show you what I mean:

Here are some examples of cool-looking paperback books, some of which probably didn’t get a hardback release.

Not only that, paperback books can be really nostalgic too. Although this might be different for you, most of the books I used to read for fun when I was a teenager were paperbacks. Usually slightly older second-hand ones. When I got back into reading regularly several months before writing this article, I found myself gravitating back to this again and, to my delight, it was just as fun as I remembered 🙂

3) Space: Simply put, paperback books are smaller than hardback books. What this means is that a pile of paperback books will contain more books than a similarly-sized pile of hardback books will. So, if you like to keep a good stock of books ready for when you finish your current one, then paperback books are often better than hardbacks.

This is especially true these days, where more books get both a paperback and hardback release. Often, the binding in modern hardback books is very similar to the binding used in paperbacks. So, there isn’t really that much practical difference between the two – except for their size.


Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

The Joy Of… Second-Hand Books

Well, I thought that I’d talk about one of the most interesting types of books today. I am, of course, talking about second-hand books.

First of all, second-hand books are often slightly older. Not only does this mean that readers can find all sorts of hidden gems that they wouldn’t see on the pristine bestseller-filled shelves of a major high-street bookshop (I mean, old second-hand 1980s splatterpunk horror novels and the occasional 1960s/70s sci-fi novel were the things that kept me reading when I was a teenager), but it also means that authors can get new fans from books that their publishers have long since stopped promoting.

This brings me on to another cool thing about second-hand books, they are pieces of history. Although the difference between collectable “vintage” books and ordinary “second-hand” books means that, unlike in the halcyon days of the ’00s, you’re less likely to find lots of awesome old 1970s-90s horror novels, 1960s/70s sci-fi novels etc.. in charity shops these days, second-hand books are still brilliant pieces of literary history. They allow you to travel back in time to what popular fiction used to be like a decade or two ago.

Like libraries, second-hand books also encourage readers to “take a chance” on authors that they haven’t read before, in a way that expensive new books might not allow them to. Whether someone is curious about an author and shops for a second-hand copy of one of their books online or just randomly browses the shelves of a physical second-hand bookshop or charity shop until they find something interesting, second-hand books allow readers to discover authors that they might not have otherwise read.

Plus, in an age where e-book piracy is unfortunately a thing, second-hand physical books offer a much more ethical, fair, legal and mutually-beneficial alternative to this that both allows readers to find cheaper books and also contains some “built in” protections for authors/publishers too.

First of all, for literally every second-hand book sold in the weeks, months and/or years immediately after first publication, someone has to have bought a new copy first. So, unlike piracy, authors and publishers are guaranteed compensation for their work at the most crucial time (eg: when a book is most heavily-promoted and/or prominently displayed in bookshops).

Yes, second-hand books do sometimes get sold and then later re-sold, but there is always a time gap between a book’s first publication and it going on sale second-hand (again, allowing for a crucial initial run of new sales directly after a book is released).

Thanks to the laws of supply and demand, the second-hand market also contains some “built in” protections which mean that any “losses” from second-hand sales are fairly scaled depending on an author’s popularity and sales figures (eg: bestselling authors will still have millions of new sales before lots of ultra-cheap second-hand copies start to appear. On the other hand, second-hand copies of lesser-known, independently-published and/or mid-list books will be rarer and/or more expensive, meaning that there is more incentive for readers to buy a new copy).

Second-hand book sales also help to support charities, libraries (eg: “withdrawn” books) and small-medium sized businesses too (even if those businesses often have to use major websites as an intermediary for online sales).

Another cool thing about second-hand books is that someone has been there before. Although you’ll sometimes find interesting things like notes in the margins, forgotten bookmarks, the author’s signature and even, once, an old plane ticket – it’s more about the relaxing feeling that the book isn’t pristine. That it’s something unpretentious that you can curl up with and enjoy, without worrying about creasing pristine pages or anything like that. In other words, it is a book that is clearly meant to be read.

There’s also the practical argument too. Second-hand books are a form of recycling. A form of recycling that doesn’t involve lots of factories, pulping machines etc… and which ensures that books don’t go to waste.

Finally, another reason why second-hand books are awesome is because they still give readers all of the rights they had in the pre-internet age 🙂 In this age of “subscriptions”, “streaming” and dystopian DRM added to many digital goods, it is so refreshing to be able to actually own a physical book, to be able to give books to charity, to be able to make a choice between buying a cheaper (but slightly worn/used/old) book or splashing out on a pristine new copy, for the book not to demand subscription fees from you or to become obsolete etc…


Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

The Joy Of….”Middle Brow” Fiction

Well, for today, I thought that I’d talk about one of my favourite types of fiction – “middle brow” fiction. This is the type of fiction that includes all of the thrills, creativity and cool stuff you’ll find in “low brow” fiction, but with the level of characterisation, linguistic skill, thematic complexity, descriptive depth etc.. that you’ll find in more “high brow” fiction.

It is quite literally the best of both worlds and it is utterly awesome. Yet, it is annoyingly difficult to define. Ok, I could probably list examples of it that I’ve read (like “Box Nine” by Jack O’Connell, “Snow Crash” by Neal Stephenson or, the novel I’m reading at the moment, “Weaveworld” by Clive Barker), but it’s really difficult to spot it at a glance.

I mean, it’s easy enough to see whether a novel is a fun “low brow” thriller/horror/detective/sci-fi novel or a prestigious, intellectual and realistic “literary” novel just by looking at the cover. One has excitingly dramatic cover art and the other usually has trendily boring cover art that is filled with adoring critic quotes. But, things that fall in between these categories are usually a little bit more difficult to spot at a glance.

But, I guess that this is part of the charm of “middle brow” fiction – that brilliant sense of surprise when you sit down to read what you think will be an ordinary thriller, horror, sci-fi or detective novel only to find that it’s a lot more atmospheric, deep, intelligent, unique or vivid than you had expected 🙂 Or, when you think “I should read something intellectual“, only to find that the book you’ve pushed yourself to read is a lot more gripping than you’d expected 🙂

Yet, this type of fiction is really difficult to define. Is it genre fiction with extra depth and complexity? Is it literary fiction with an actual plot, some imagination and a proper narrative drive? Is it both of these things?

Surprisingly, it’s actually easier to think of non-book metaphors for it. It’s kind of like the equivalent of a more prestigious popular TV show like “Game Of Thrones”, “Twin Peaks” or “Boardwalk Empire” – which contains enough depth and complexity to be more than mindless Hollywood entertainment, whilst also still being entertaining enough to make you want to binge-watch entire seasons of it.

Another interesting thing about “middle brow” fiction is that it also reminds us of what popular fiction used to be like. Yes, there’s a lot to be said for more fast-paced, informal and “matter of fact” modern narration – it keeps the story wonderfully gripping and it also means that modern books can compete with smartphones, the internet, videogames etc.. for people’s attentions. But, at the same time, it can also lack a certain depth and atmosphere that even the most “low brow” of older novels often used to have.

To give you an example, take a look at “Erebus” by Shaun Hutson (1984). This is a fast-paced, ultra-gruesome horror novel about zombie vampires that I first discovered when I was a young teenager during the early-mid 2000s. It just seemed like a really cool, fun and rebellious novel back then. But, when I re-read it as an adult, I was surprised by how complex the writing sometimes was when compared to some of the more contemporary novels I’d read in the meantime.

Here’s a quote from “Erebus” to show you what I mean: “Elsewhere in the office things were at various stages of organized pandemonium as other reporters rushed to complete their assignments, hampered by the fact that their typewriting dexterity had not yet extended to more than one finger“.

This was “low brow” popular entertainment in 1984! A mere 35 years ago, a novel containing complex sentences like this was seen as a mindless “everyday” way to pass the time (like videogames, Facebook or Youtube would be these days). Just think about that for a second.

Another cool thing about reading “middle brow” fiction is that it’s kind of like a reward for having to read more dull “high brow” fiction in the past (eg: the set texts at school/college/university). Thanks to your prior experience, not only can you read it with relative ease – which feels like playing a videogame you’re really good at- but you also actually have fun at the same time. It’ll make you see the wisdom of having to slog through the works of writers like Shakespeare, Bronte, Dickens, Austen, Fowles, Woolf etc.. when you were younger.

Of course, as a side note, one amusing irony is that Shakespeare and Dickens were, at the time they were originally writing, “low brow” popular entertainment. I mean, just do some research into 16th century theatre audiences (eg: wild, rowdy, chaotic etc..) or into how many of Dickens’ novels were originally published (eg: popular serials in newspapers/magazines).

Anyway, “middle brow” fiction shows you that reading all of those boring books means that you can breeze through much more interesting books with a sense of ease and skill that may very well catch you by surprise and make you feel like some kind of expert or intellectual.

In short, “middle brow” fiction is totally and utterly amazing. Yes, it was probably more popular in the past than it is now (I mean, all of the examples I listed earlier in the article come from the 1980s/90s) but – in a landscape where popular modern novels often seem to be sharply divided between grim detective thrillers/ Fifty Shades Of Twilight and pretentious plot-less “literary” novels, there has never been more of a need for intelligent, well-written novels with a good gripping plot 🙂


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

The Joy Of … The “Hedonism” Genre

A while before I wrote this article, I was reminded of one of my favourite genres of film/television/fiction. I am, of course, talking about the hedonism genre. And, yes, I would argue that it is actually a genre (even though it can include other genres like comedy or horror).

But, before I talk about some examples and strengths of the genre, I should probably define the genre first. As the name suggests, this is a genre that revolves around fun and wild excess. It can either be a celebration of these things, a satire of these things and/or something that evokes similar emotions to these in the audience. The heyday of this genre was probably during the 1980s and 1990s.

This genre is so awesome because of the sense of freedom and/or nostalgia that it evokes in the audience. It’s a form of escapism that not only allows the audience to vicariously enjoy a rebellious life of wild hedonistic excess in a safe way, but it also makes the audience think about their worldview and attitude towards life too. One of the central features of this genre is that it focuses on characters who enjoy life, or believe that life should actually be enjoyed.

And, in this day and age, this is always an incredibly refreshing thing to see. Anything which places narrative importance on actually having fun is like an oasis in a desert.

The hedonism genre is also perhaps the only genre where having an “immortal” main character can actually work in dramatic terms. Usually, in hedonistic stories, the main character will either survive things that many people wouldn’t or get away with things many people wouldn’t. This turns these characters from ordinary fictional characters into more archetypical figures, like the ancient Roman god Bacchus. These characters become symbols of a life lived for the fun of it. And, again, in a dour age such as the one we live in these days, our popular mythology desperately needs characters like this (if only for the sake of balance).

Anyway, the thing that reminded me of this genre is the fact that I’ve started re-watching an absolutely amazing sitcom from the 1990s/2000s called “Absolutely Fabulous” which focuses on the hilariously chaotic lives of two middle-aged fashionistas called Edina and Patsy.

This is a screenshot from series 1, episode 1 (1992) of “Absolutely Fabulous” showing Edina and Patsy attending a fashion show after-party.

Although the show is clearly meant to be a vicious satire of trendy people from London (and it’s eerily timeless in this respect), the hedonistic “world” of the show is absolutely fascinating. Although the show’s hedonism is carried to comedic excess and laced with layer upon layer of satire, it’s still oddly refreshing to see a TV show about two main characters whose main goal in life is to enjoy it (and look fabulous whilst doing so).

Another awesome example of fun hedonistic storytelling is probably Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin’s “Tank Girl” comics. These are classic 1980s/90s punk comics about the bizarre adventures of a hard-partying army deserter called Tank Girl and her boyfriend Booga (a giant mutant kangaroo) in a bizarre version of post-apocalyptic Australia which is, culturally, more like 1990s Britian than anything else.

This is an excerpt from “Tank Girl 2” (1996) by Hewlett & Martin.

This comic series is utterly brilliant, because it revels in silliness, rebellion and chaos. It isn’t some gritty story about saving the world or anything like that. It’s the kind of comic that will make you laugh and feel like a punk when you read it. And in an age where controversies about comics are still a thing, seeing a comic that just doesn’t give a damn is extremely refreshing in creative terms.

Of course, the genre can also be used as a brilliant source of horror too. A great example of this is probably the brilliant 1990s film adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas“. If you’ve never heard of this before, it’s a story about the misadventures of a drug-addled journalist and his equally drug-addled attorney during a trip to Las Vegas in the 1970s.

Although it isn’t explicitly a horror story (it’s more of a dark comedy and a lament for the death of the 1960s counterculture), it uses hedonism as a brilliant source of horror. As the film progresses, everything gradually becomes more surreal and paranoia-filled as the main characters’ drug binge increases in intensity – with the set design in the film gradually turning into a demented “Alice In Wonderland”-like alternate world, as the main characters gradually lose their grip on reality.

This is a screenshot from “Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas” (1998), showing some of the film’s more surreal and chaotic set design.

Whilst many films in the (similar, but different) stoner genre use this sort of thing as a brilliant source of feel-good comedy, this film turns it up to eleven and it becomes a source of nightmarish, paranoid horror instead. It’s a cautionary tale about the dangers of being too hedonistic, but it isn’t judgmental or preachy about it and – as such- it fills it’s role far more effectively than any kind of stern lecture ever could.

So, whether they are allowing the audience to vicariously revel in a life of wild hedonistic excess (without the dangers of doing this for real), making the case that life should be enjoyed or offering a gentle non-judgemental warning to keep real life hedonism within vaguely sensible limits, the hedonism genre is one of the best genres out there.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

The Joy Of… Alternative Mainstreams

The day before I prepared this article, I happened to hear about a couple of long-running BBC radio shows (one of which had been running for more than sixty series!) that I’d never even heard of before (which have possibly inspired more popular TV shows on the BBC). This intrigued me because radio seemed like a totally separate media ecosystem with it’s own traditions, history etc… that runs parallel to the more well-known one on television.

In other words, it was an alternative mainstream. I vaguely remember finding something similar whilst playing a low-budget computer game called “Retro City Rampage”, which also references well-known indie games in a similar way to how it references well-known films, old “mainstream” games etc.. This made me think of the idea of there being a “mainstream” for indie games, and how interesting this would be.

However, a better computer game-related example of this type of thing would probably be games in the hidden object genre. Although it’s been quite a while since I’ve last played a hidden object game, this is a genre that is pretty much never mentioned in mainstream gaming media, yet it pretty much has it’s own ecoystem – with big name publishers, smaller developers and long-running series (eg: “House Of 1000 Doors”, “Twisted Lands” etc.. ). It’s like an entirely different gaming culture that exists in parallel to the more well-known one.

Then there’s music. I remember hearing part of a fan recording of an Iron Maiden concert where the lead singer, Bruce Dickinson, went on this absolutely brilliant rant about how their music is never played on the radio, how it doesn’t appear in the most music magazines etc… and yet they still have literally millions of fans, because people can make up their own minds about music. It made me think about the contrast between the mainstream mainstream and alternative mainstreams.

Because Iron Maiden is, quite rightly, one of the most popular heavy metal bands out there. They were the band that introduced me to heavy metal and, even in the days when online shopping was still a relatively new thing, you could always find their CDs in even the most mainstream of high-street record shops. This made me think of the idea of a more meritocratic mainstream, where (like with heavy metal bands like Iron Maiden), popularity is determined entirely by quality and musical skill rather than celebrity.

Then there’s the TV show “Eureka”. This is a sci-fi TV series set in a secret town in America where all of the country’s top scientific geniuses live. One of the interesting things in the show was how it would reference real 20th/21st century scientists in the same way that famous historical figures etc.. are usually referenced.

Although this idea isn’t entirely new (it reminded me a bit of an old episode of “Sliders” where academics are treated like famous sports stars), it made me think about how fame in certain spheres rarely translates to fame in the everyday world. In other words, it made me think about alternative mainstreams again.

So, why are alternative mainstreams such a fascinating thing?

In addition to all of the stuff I’ve mentioned about how they often tend to work differently to the actual mainstream (eg: they can be more meritocratic, they can be less commercialist, they can be more tradition-based, they can place emphasis on different qualities etc..), there’s also the intriguing idea of these things quite literally “hiding in plain sight”, like some kind of secret parallel culture or something like that.

But, more than all of this, alternative mainstreams are fascinating because they show us how culture works. They hold a mirror up to “mainstream” culture and allow us to see which parts of it developed “naturally” and which parts of it were due to celebrity, advertising etc…

Finally, they are also reassuring because they show us that “the mainstream” isn’t the only mainstream out there. That, hiding in plain sight, there is a “world” where bands gain popularity purely on musical merit, where low-budget 2D games can be popular and where well-known programs can run for over sixty series.


Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

The Joy Of…. B-Movie Fiction

Well, for today, I thought that I’d talk about both a rather cool genre of fiction and the creative process behind one of the short stories in last year’s Halloween collection. Although the collection started out as a more “serious” collection of vintage sci-fi style horror stories, it also ended up including a silly story about gangsters and pirates… and I had a lot of fun with that story.

Yes, it wasn’t the most elegantly-written story in the world. Yes, it probably wasn’t that scary. Yes, old horror comics from 1950s America probably had more logical storylines. But, well, it was a lot of fun to write.

Everything from the melodramatic scene with the tommygun (and, yes, I actually listened to an audio recording of a tommygun on Youtube to get the “sound effects” vaguely right), to the movie-like flying car segment, to the giant pirate skull and the vaguely comedic dialogue was just a joy to write. Although this short story series had been plagued by writer’s block, this was one of the few stories that just “flowed” really well when I was actually writing it.

It also reminded me of what I like to call “B-movie” fiction. Although this could be confused with genre fiction, I feel that it’s important to make a distinction between the two things. Unless you are the most snooty and pompous of literary critics, there’s no denying that “genre fiction” can include things like serious intelligent stories and expert authors who quite rightly deserve their bestseller status (eg: J.K.Rowling, Lee Child, G.R.R Martin, William Gibson etc..).

“B-Movie” fiction is something slightly different, and it is also absolutely awesome. These are stories that know that they’re “unrealistic” or “silly” and they revel in this fact. Like their cinematic namesake, these are stories that are explicitly designed to entertain, amuse, thrill, shock, provide escapism and/or appeal to fans of a particular genre.

In a way, I’d argue that this type of fiction is one of the best types of fiction out there – mostly because of the way that it places emphasis on the story itself.

First of all, this type of story is often very readable. Since it is designed to entertain, it is written in a way that grips the reader and encourages them to binge-read. This also reminds both readers and other writers of the value of a compelling and readable story. For example, ‘Seven Ancient Wonders’ by Matthew Reilly is – on a purely technical level – a somewhat “badly-written” novel. But, just try putting it down after you’ve read the first hundred pages or so….

You can write the most profound, elegantly-written and “literary” novel in the world but, if it isn’t written in a way that makes the reader want to see what happens next, then the chance of all or most of your audience actually finishing the book probably isn’t that high.

Secondly, many stories in this genre aren’t written by famous authors, but this doesn’t matter – because the premise is the thing that gets potential readers interested. Once again, this reminds both readers and other writers of the value of a compelling story.

For example, I have only read one novel by Toby Venables. I hadn’t heard of him before I found this novel (during an online search for zombie novels) and I haven’t heard of any of his other works. But, the idea of “Vikings vs. zombies” was intriguing enough for me to order a book and read the whole thing.

So, as well as being a reminder of the importance of an interesting premise, it is also proof that fame isn’t everything. At the end of the day, most authors won’t become world-famous. So, seeing examples of fascinating stories by people you’ve never heard of before can be a good way to dispel the “bestseller or nothing” myth. Plus, there’s just something meritocratic about a story being read because of an interesting premise rather than because of how famous or trendy the author is.

Finally, these types of stories celebrate creativity and imagination. By not rigidly sticking to “realistic” or “serious” stories, “B-movie” novels remind readers of how much fun it is to daydream about all sorts of weird and wonderful things.

This feeling of “wouldn’t it be cool if..” is pretty much the core of almost every form of creative inspiration. So, if you are a creative person, then these types of stories are good for your imagination because they help to remind you of what it feels like to be inspired.


Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

The Joy Of… Mixing Ancient And Futuristic Things

Although this is an article about art, comics, literature, film etc… I’m going to have to start by talking enthusiastically about computer games for a while first. As usual, there’s a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later.

A coupe of days before I originally prepared the first draft of this article, I suddenly noticed that the fourth instalment of the “Temple Of The Lizard Men” series of fan-made “Doom II” levels had finally been released 🙂 And, unlike some modern “Doom II” levels, it would actually run on my computer too 🙂

If you’ve never heard of “Temple Of The Lizard Men” before, it’s a series of full-length fan-made sci-fi/horror level sets for “Doom II”/”Final Doom” which revolve around fighting lizard monsters in ancient Aztec/Maya-style temples. It’s kind of a little bit like the original “Unreal” mixed with some elements from “Serious Sam: The Second Encounter“, but with more horror elements.

This is a screenshot from “Temple Of The Lizard Men IV” (2017). Yes! A modern “Doom II” WAD that both looks cool AND works with slightly older versions of “GZ Doom” too 🙂

Anyway, like with another really cool set of “Doom II” levels called “Ancient Aliens” (and the previous “Lizard Men” level sets, like this one), I really love it when people blend ancient-style architecture and futuristic sci-fi.

Some other example of this blending of ancient civilisations and futuristic sci-fi include Iron Maiden’s “The Book Of Souls” album, which does this in the opening song. Then there are the various zones in “The Crystal Maze“, and the scenes from Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner” that were filmed in the Mayan-inspired Ennis House. Or perhaps the futuristic version of Ancient Egypt in “Stargate SG-1“, or.. Well, I could go on for a while.

So, why are mixtures of the ancient and the futuristic so incredibly cool?

The first reason is that because “old” things are juxtaposed with things that are meant to be from the distant future, it creates something of an association between the two things within the minds of the audience.

This means that whenever the audience see old buildings, old castles etc… in other contexts, they seem cooler and more “relevant” due to their association with modern creative works (for example, although it doesn’t really contain any sci-fi elements, “Game Of Thrones” changed my entire attitude towards the middle ages). So, these types of stories, films, games etc.. help to make history even more interesting than it already is.

The second reason is because of the contrast between the distant past and the distant future. Usually, creative works in this genre will include the idea that people in the ancient world were more intelligent and/or advanced than we usually think. And not only is this really intriguing but, in some cases, it’s actually true too. For example, just look at ancient Persia – they had a type of air conditioning and a type of refrigerator too.

Thirdly, there’s the fact that things in this genre include two time periods that we’ll never get to see directly (yes, we can deduce things about the past from historical artefacts/documents and we can attempt to predict the distant future, but we never get to directly experience either).

So, seeing a representation of both time periods within the same creative work reminds us of the vast scale of time. It also makes us realise that the present day is somewhere between the ancient past and the distant future. So, by extension, our lives already include elements from both.

Finally, this genre is cool because it reminds us that some things are truly timeless. Whether it is lighting design, architecture, visual arts etc… things in this genre help to remind us that there’s nothing entirely “new” in the world.


Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

The Joy Of… Slightly Old Creative Works

Well, for today, I thought that I’d talk about slightly old creative works and why they’re so awesome. For the purposes of this article, I’m going to limit myself to novels published between 1950-2000, music from 1980-2000, games from 1990-2005, comics from 1980-2001 and films/TV shows from 1980-2005. Sorry for the ultra-specific definitions, but the term “slightly old” is fairly ambiguous.

So, why am I talking about these creative works? Well, it’s mostly because a large percentage of the creative works that I’ve ever read, played, watched or listened to fit into this category. For quite a while, this was mostly for financial reasons and/or practical reasons. But, these days, it’s as much of a choice as anything else.

But, why are slightly old creative works so awesome? Simply put, they often tend to have more of a “personality” to them. In part, this is because they depict a historical version of the world that no longer exists but also in part because culture seemed to contain a lot more variation in the past. Hollywood took more risks (and used less CGI), large game studios innovated more, comics aimed at mature audiences were still a “new” thing, mid-list authors could still succeed etc…

Likewise, older creative works can contain a lot more personality for the simple reason that many of them came from a time before the internet was mainstream. From a time before mainstream culture was more universal and research material was just a click away. What this means is that authors, film-makers, game developers etc… had to rely on whatever they had for inspiration. Their creative works tended to be more of a reflection of their personal interests, their own worldviews, their social circle etc..

Another cool side effect of creative works from before the internet was a mainstream thing was that there was a larger separation between creative people and their critics. No, I’m not talking about things like reviews (which are a good thing from a consumer standpoint). I’m talking about the modern phenomenon of a few people on Twitter or Tumblr or wherever stirring up gigantic worldwide controversies or genuinely calling for censorship, because they personally disagree with or dislike a creative work.

In the past, these “critics” were restricted to writing to their local paper or grumbling to their friends in person. One side-effect of this is that slightly old creative works often tend to contain slightly more nuanced, moderate, ambiguous, unusual and/or complicated opinions and worldviews. In these polarised and ideologically-rigid times, this can be surprisingly refreshing.

Another reason why slightly old creative works are so interesting is because they don’t tend to have that much publicity these days. Since the media always promotes the latest thing, a gigantic number of interesting older creative works can get overlooked slightly. So, when you discover something good online or in a second-hand shop, it really feels like serendipity. It really feels like luck, because you found it on your own.

Then, of course, there’s the issue of cost. One really great things about older creative works is that, since they tend to be released on physical media, you can usually find second-hand copies of things cheaply. But, even if you buy retro games via digital download, then they still often tend to be cheaper than new ones. So, unlike the latest new thing, older creative works tend to be a bit more sensibly-priced – which means you can enjoy more of them for less.

Then, especially with films, TV shows and games, there are the technological limitations. Because directors and game developers couldn’t dazzle audiences with lots of flashy graphics and/or CGI effects, they had to find other ways to make their works interesting. In other words, things like enjoyable gameplay, good storytelling, good characterisation etc…

Finally, slightly older creative works aren’t some kind of dusty, faded relics. They are designed to be enjoyed and you’d be surprised at how much fun can still be had with these creative works that have faded from the public imagination slightly.


Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

The Joy Of… Old Paranoia (In Fiction)


Well, with Halloween approaching, I thought that I’d write about an absolutely fascinating type of fear-based fiction. I am, of course, talking about older works of fiction that either reflect public fears that didn’t come to pass and/or predicted feared events incorrectly.

This was mostly because I ended up reading parts of William LeQueux’s “The Great War In England In 1897“. Although I unfortunately didn’t have time to read the whole thing, I read the first 60-70 pages, the final chapter and the plot summary on Wikipedia. This was a novel that was first published 20 years before World War One began and it predicted a major European conflict… incorrectly.

Form what I read, the novel predicted a short European war (in 1897) in which France and Russia attempt to invade Britain after learning of a secret alliance between Britain and Germany. The novel alternates between narrative storytelling and stern lectures about the state of the British military in the late 19th century. It’s kind of like a cross between a melodramatic thriller novel and a paranoid political tract. It’s chilling, thrilling and occasionally unintentionally hilarious.

But, it made me think about a lot of other old stories, films etc… that tried to scare people about threats that either never came to be or which weren’t quite the thing people should have been worried about. A good cinematic example of this is an American film from the 1980s called “Red Dawn” about the Soviet Union attempting to invade the US.

The subject of Cold War-era fears was also handled in a much more “realistic” and chilling way in another 1980s film called “Threads” (about the aftermath of a Cold War nuclear conflict in the UK). This is a film which still somehow manages to maintain the power to chill, depress and disturb even when watched today – although that’s mostly due to the writing, acting and style of the film. Yet, I imagine that it would have been significantly more disturbing to watch during the 1980s.

Stories and films about old fears are absolutely fascinating for a number of reasons. The first is, of course, that they’re oddly reassuring. After all, reading stories and watching films about feared events that never came to pass (or at least didn’t come to pass in the way that was predicted) makes us feel better about the fears of today. It makes us think that, in the future, we’ll be able to sit back and laugh at the present day too. And, in the age of Brexit and Trump, we need all the reassurance we can get!

The second reason why this genre is so fascinating is because it’s a subversion of the “alternate history” genre. After all, whilst things that fall into this category might currently be seen as “alternate history” stories – they were, of course, about alternate futures when they were written. So, like with old science fiction, these stories give us an insight into how people used to think about the future.

The third reason why this genre is so fascinating is because it reminds us that people have always been paranoid about something. In this way, these types of stories are strangely timeless. They remind us that our modern fears about things like Brexit, Trump, terrorism etc.. aren’t unprecedented, they’re just the modern incarnation of a tradition that has existed for most of human history.

Finally, this genre is fascinating because it is designed to be attention-grabbing. It is designed to shock and horrify. It is designed to keep people reading or watching out of morbid fascination. This lends these types of stories a timelessly vivid and energetic quality which – for example – can make a novel from 1894 read like a modern thriller novel or “mockumentary” film.

So, yes, stories about old fears are, paradoxically, very much products of their time and yet surprisingly timeless at the same time. They’re both reassuring and disturbing, and they give us an insight into how people used to think about the world.


Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

The Joy Of… Shorter Stories


A day or two before writing this article, I ended up reading two short comedy novels from the 19th century online. This wasn’t something that I’d planned to do, but after reading something online which pointed out that John Kendrick Bangs’ “The Pursuit Of The House-Boat” featured the ghost of Sherlock Holmes trying to catch a gang of pirates, I just had to read it. Since it’s out of copyright, it was very easy to find online.

And, despite the fact I don’t usually read e-books and the fact that I’d only planned to read the first part, I ended up reading the whole thing within the space of a single evening. Then I ended up reading the short novel that was written before it, mostly because I’d realised that – although I’m interested in the concept of “Bangsian Fantasy” – I’ve never actually read all of “A House-Boat On The Styx” before. Surprisingly, I actually preferred “Pursuit Of The House-Boat” though, because the humour was better, the narrative was more focused and it featured Sherlock Holmes too.

But, even though I could spend a while talking about the ways that these books were ahead of their time (and the ways they weren’t), one thing that really delighted me about both books was their length. They’re more like novellas than full-length novels. And, best of all, it doesn’t feel like there’s any unnecessary padding whatsoever. They’re short, sweet and they leave you wanting to read more.

Despite the 19th century’s reputation for “Doorstopper” novels, it was also the heyday of the short story, the segmented story and the novella too. Back then, short stories were the “television series” of the day. Whether it was monthly Sherlock Holmes stories in the Strand Magazine, or longer continuous stories released in thrillingly short instalments via Penny Dreadfuls, people back then understood the importance of shorter stories.

Shorter stories were designed to be entertaining, in the way that TV shows are designed to be entertaining these days. Despite their age, a lot of shorter stories from the 19th century and early 20th century are still very “readable” today for the simple reason that they were either designed to be compelling (with lots of drama, horror, action, comedy etc..) or because they didn’t have room for lots of bloated descriptions, extensive character histories, long irrelevant tangents etc…

Back then, literature was the main form of popular entertainment. TV, computers, the internet and videogames didn’t exist. So, shorter stories had to fill that role. They also had to fulfil the most basic purpose of literature, which is to entertain. Yes, literature (and even graphic novels too) can teach us more about humanity, they can make us think deeply etc…. But, above all, they can only truly do this if they’re entertaining enough for people to want to start reading them and keep reading them.

Shorter stories are the kind of thing that can be read “on impulse” because they promise an interesting story without too much time investment. Likewise, the shorter format also means that the narratives have to be more focused, which makes them more compelling. Plus, the experience of reading a short story collection is a lot like watching a DVD boxset.

When I was seventeen, and had first discovered “Sherlock Holmes”, I actually had to ration myself to just three or four stories a day. On reflection, this wasn’t too different to what I do when I’m watching a DVD boxset of a really good TV show these days. Yet, all or most of these Sherlock Holmes stories were written before television was invented!

If prose fiction is ever to become a truly popular thing again, then length should be the first thing to change. Looking at a related subject, there’s been a lot of controversy online about the length of modern computer and video games. One of the main arguments I’ve heard in favour of shorter modern games is that people don’t have the time to play games that they used to. Well, the same is true for fiction too. But, fiction has so many advantages that games don’t.

You don’t need to spend hundeds of pounds upgrading your computer or buying an expensive games console to read a piece of modern fiction from this year. Likewise, traditional books are the original form of portable entertainment. Even modern e-book readers are very portable (not to mention that e-books can be read on smartphones, tablets etc.. too) . Books are also significantly cheaper than computer/video games are too (both new and second-hand).

If we lived in a world where novellas and short story collections sat alongside novels on the “bestsellers” shelves, then prose fiction would probably be a lot more popular than it is now. I mean, we live in a world where films and TV shows co-exist in roughly equal numbers and with an equal amount of prestige. So, why should this be any different for longer and shorter pieces of fiction?


Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂