Friday, 20 September 2019

Doctor Sleep - Book Review




The Shining was the first Stephen King book that I read, and probably one of the first film adaptation of his work that I saw (I'm not including the time I saw IT when I was way too young and ran out of the room the first time Pennywise killed a kid). I found the tale of the magic boy at the mercy of evil spirits to be both terrifying and gripping, and read through the book really fast. As such, I was hugely excited when it was announced that a sequel story was coming out. I began reading Doctor Sleep when it first came out, but never finished it thanks to life issues interrupting.

It wasn't until I went to see IT Chapter Two in the cinema last week that I even remembered the book existed, reminded thanks to an awesome trailer for the film adaptation. Having found the trailer to be really good, and knowing that I'd probably see it I thought that it was well past time that I gave the book another try. This time I found the book drew me in, and I read through it in a couple of days.

Doctor Sleep is something of a bold sequel, casting aside a lot of what made-up the original and doing its own thing. This isn't a story about ghosts, or of Danny Torrance being a victim. Instead, it focuses on the nature of the powers that Danny had in the first book, and showed readers that not only were there others that had these abilities, but they could do things that even Danny couldn't.

The book is spread out over a number of years, close to two decades, and shows the affect that the events of The Shining had on Danny. We discover that not only did the events leave him somewhat traumatised, understandably, but that the ghosts of the Overlook Hotel continued to haunt him even after the destruction of the hotel itself. Despite learning how to deal with these spirits Danny falls into a spiral of depression thanks to his abilities, and uses spirits of another kind to block out his visions.

Danny becoming an alcoholic was something of a shock to me, but it made some degree of sense. Not only did it help him to deal with his powers and to stop his nightmares, but it connected him more with his father Jack, who was an alcoholic too. Thankfully, over the course of the early stages of the book Danny hits his rock bottom and comes across people that are willing to help him, and we get to see him put his life back together, eventually becoming an upstanding member of the community and beloved citizen.

This alone would have made for an interesting narrative, as I enjoyed seeing how Danny dealt with the horrors of the Overlook and how he put his life back together, but King had other plans in mind, and introduces a whole new mythology. We learn that Danny is far from the only person with abilities, and learn that not only are there people all over the US with varying degrees of the shining, but a group that are preying upon them.

This group, the True Knot, are people that have the shining, but have transformed themselves into things that are no longer human. Using their abilities, they locate and kidnap children with the shine, before torturing and killing them in order to harvest their life essence. This essence, or steam as they call it, keeps them young and allows them to live for centuries. When Danny is contacted by a little girl with a powerful shine, Abra, he gets drawn into a fight to save her from the True Knot and defeat the killers.

The True Knot make for an interesting group of adversaries for the heroes of the book, and leads to a number of confrontations. The book is good at building them up, and by the time Danny and his friends come up against them you're aware of how formidable they are. Whilst some early wins show that they're not unbeatable, there's still a huge amount of tension for the final conflict on the site of the old Overlook Hotel.

The fact that the book doesn't just use The Shining to establish its universe, but revisits it really helps Doctor Sleep. The book easily stands on its own, but the inclusion of these elements helps it to feel like a bigger world. I know that it already is, as many Stephen King books exist in the same universe, and The Shining has already been established in the same universe as Misery and IT, but getting to go back to the Overlook, and seeing some of those same ghosts again adds a whole lot more.

Doctor Sleep left me pleasantly surprised, and I think it might be one of the Stephen King books that I enjoyed the most. Hopefully the new adaptation will be able to capture a lot of this magic and will also prove to be a good sequel.


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Thursday, 19 September 2019

Alien Isolation - Book Review




I have a little confession to make, I've never been able to finish playing Alien Isolation. I've had it since it was released in 2014, and have tried finishing it at least once a year since, but it's just way too scary for me. As such, when it was announced that Titan were releasing a novelisation I was over the moon, as I'd finally get to find out how the story of Amanda Ripley would end.

Whilst this is an adaptation of the game, Keith R.A. Decandido adds a lot more to the story, exploring Amanda's past and filling in a lot of the gaps to her story. Not only do we get to see her having to face off against the killer alien, but we see how the loss of her mother affected her life growing up.

Ripley having a daughter was a major character beat that was cut out of Aliens, and it was a shame as it gave a lot more context to her relationship with Newt. Since the release of the special edition fans have been wanting to know more about Ripley and her daughter, and this novelisation gives us the most insight to date.

We get to see Ripley and Amanda before the events of the original movie, where she's a mother trying her best to support her daughter despite her long distance job that takes her away from home for months at a time. We discover that despite the rocky relationship with Amanda's step-father, Ripley always tries to do the best she can by her daughter, and loves her deeply.

Once Ripley and the Nostromo disappear we learn the affect this had on Amanda. We discover that her whole adolescence was shaped by this disaster, and that the pain of her loss never left her. Whilst this is included to a small degree in the game here it becomes a focal point. It's not just the motivation for Amanda travelling to Sevastopol station, but something that shaped her entire life.

Amanda was left in a less than ideal home situation, living with an alcoholic step-father who can't get his shit together. This leads to her being unable to finish her education and becoming a full engineer, which limited her employment options and effectively left her poor her entire life. Ripley's disappearance began a cascade of events that led Amanda to coming face to face with the same creatures that took her mother away from her.

Decandido doesn't just build this new backstory, but has the difficult job of condensing down the whole game-play scenario into a story that wont leave readers bored. Whilst walking through countless corridors for hours on end worked for the game, thanks in large part to the massive levels of tension the game built, it wasn't going to make an entertaining read. Thankfully, the books narrative is able to capture a lot of this atmosphere, and hits all of the major beats of the game.

This doesn't just include the big story moments, which of course would be included, but little things like the scrawled graffiti players find on the walls, Amanda making smoke-bombs out of scrap materials, and having to collect tools to progress through the station. Sometimes game adaptations can feel like poor novels as the writers work hard to include as much of the game-play experience as they can. I found this to be true in the Resident Evil novel series, where the game adaptations were not quite as good as the stories that the writer was able to craft themselves. Thankfully, this kind of thing didn't happen here, largely thanks to the inclusion of all of the backstory segments.

Whether you're like me, and haven't been able to complete the game, or someone who has experienced the whole thing there's something for everyone in this adaptation. The book takes the source material and doesn't just adapt it, but expands upon it to give an even bigger experience. An ideal read for Alien fans and those that enjoy horror.


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Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Trans Woman Attacked In Portland




Atlas Marshall, a trans woman from Portland, USA, has reported being attacked last week. Three people, including Atlas, were attacked by a group of people in what is being described as a 'bias crime'.

At around 2:30 a.m. on Thursday September 12th, Atlas and her friends were returning home following a meal when they were approached by a group. They described the group as singling them out and abusing them based on Atlas being transgender.

'He saw me, visibly could tell I was trans, I was queer, and he started throwing homophobic and transphobic slurs at me.' Atlas told NBC reporters.

'Very quickly you could tell that he had noticed that I am trans. He started calling me all kind of slurs and homophobic and transphobic things. He just got more and more escalated and continued to say more and more things that were very much like hate speech. Then he started to approach me. Then he and his friend attacked me.'

Atlas said that she tried to defend herself, but was held down by two of the attackers and beaten. One of her friends, Austin Schuchard, tried to stop them, but had his nose broken. Atlas suffered from wounds to her knees and the side of her head.

The attackers fled before police could arrive at the scene. However, as two of the victims are members of the LGBTQ+ community police identified the incident as a potential bias crime and are requesting any information that could help them to identify the culprits.

Both Atlas and Austin have reported that the police involved in the investigation have made the case their primary focus. Police are asking any witnesses or anyone with video evidence of the attack to come forward to help with the investigation.

This is the second time in just a month that members of the LGBTQ+ community have reported experiencing a hate crime.


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Marvel Action: Spider-Man #8 – Comic Review



Originally published on Set The Tape

Marvel Action: Spider-Man #8 continues the tale of the spider-heroes having to face off against the cat burglar Black Cat, as her luck-based powers begin to bring the heroes a whole host of bad luck in their private lives.

Still reeling from the disastrous fight in the last issue, Peter, Miles, and Gwen are struggling to figure out their places within the team. None of them feel like things are working well. Peter feels that he should be in a position of leadership and teaching, where he can use his experience as a hero to help the others. Gwen is struggling to work with the guys as she feels like they’re both holding her back and preventing her from achieving her best. And Miles feels like the odd one out: a second Spider-Man who isn’t sure how to handle things.

Whilst these feelings and issues are definitely real, they’ve been exacerbated thanks to Black Cat, and their bad luck is feeding into their feelings that they’re not working well as a team. Unfortunately, this bad luck is also preventing them from being a team in more ways than one. Miles accidentally breaks his best friend’s arm and spends the night taking him to hospital, whilst Gwen almost burns down her apartment and is grounded by her father, meaning that Peter has to go it alone when Black Cat releases a group of leopards in the zoo.

Watching Peter have to deal with these furry troublemakers is actually a lot of fun. At first he’s falling foul of the bad luck, but once he figures out that he can’t take on the animals physically because of this he just starts treating them like actual cats, which is actually really cute. The panels of the leopards playing with their tails, or chasing balls of webbing are really fun, and the panel where Spidey is trying to shove one back into its enclosure is instantly recognisable to any cat owner who has tried to get their cat into a pet carrier.

Fico Ossio’s artwork is brilliant in the scenes in the zoo, and they’re able to bring a lot of character and energy to the animals. Even though not much really happens in that scene it might be one of my favourites in the series so far, thanks to the energy and humour that’s brought to it.

By the end of the issue the team are able to figure out that they’re falling foul of bad luck and not just sucking as a team, and are able to track down Black Cat’s location thanks to some investigating. This sets the stage for what is sure to be an interesting conclusion as the three of them are going to have to take down the bad guy without everything going wrong around them. It’s a confrontation that I’m certainly looking forward to seeing.


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Tuesday, 17 September 2019

The Silver Wind – Book Review



Originally published on Set The Tape

The Silver Wind is a difficult book to begin to review. The narrative presented here by Nina Allan isn’t the usual kind of story. The book doesn’t have a beginning, middle, and end, one flowing narrative that reaches a conclusion in the final chapters. Instead, The Silver Wind presents readers with a number of stories, each of which stands on its own, yet come together to create a larger narrative.

The book is primarily concerned with time, as the cover makes clear with its various cogs and gears. Each of the stories features watches and clocks in some way, and often the characters will refer to the devices as being ‘time machines’. On first glance you can take this phrase simply as being that watches are machines designed to measure time, but it soon becomes clear that it means more than this. You see, The Silver Wind is about time travel, and alternate timelines.

There are characters, places, and ideas that appear in all of the stories, although changed in some ways to fit the different places and periods the stories are set in. The book seems to be telling stories that are from alternate worlds, where characters are changed in some ways by the differences of these timelines, yet still remain somewhat similar. There’s Owen, who in each timeline is connected to watch making; Martin and Dora, who are lovers in most timelines, even when they are brother and sister, yet broken apart by tragedy.

Some of the timelines presented in the book are very familiar, and it takes a while to begin to spot the ways in which they differ from our own. There’s one that’s set during the 1920s, and I was so engrossed in this setting that I actually had to go back and double check the date the book said when nuclear power was mentioned. The first hints that there is indeed the manipulation of time, of technology from the future making its way back to the past and altering things, happens so suddenly it took me by surprise.

There’s one story that shows that it’s possible to not only manipulate these individual timelines, but move from one to the other. There’s a world where fascism and hate have overrun the country, where England is a grim land filled with armed troops and concentration camps, yet the Martin of that timeline is transported to a very similar world, but one where the people in power that brought about that hate lost their elections. This version of Martin even goes on to meet people that he knew in his own timeline, yet have no memory of him.

Time is presented as somewhat malleable in The Silver Wind, yet so many of the timelines follow similar paths, the people true to their character despite huge differences. It’s almost like Nina Allan is trying to present the idea that the true essence of a person, their passions and hopes, will be the same no matter where or when they are. It’s almost like she’s saying that even in worlds where things are awful and dark you will still be you, that it’s not the world that shapes you into who you are, but your essence instead.

In a lot of ways The Silver Wind reminded me of Cloud Atlas, one of my favourite books, but sometimes the stories here felt too separate from each other, and there was no connected narrative that really bound them all together. You can read the book as one novel, but it does often feel more like separate short stories that happen to share similarities. However you choose to read the book, there is a lot here to enjoy. Some of the stories are more engaging than others, and there are a few that I wish were longer as they ended too soon for me. An interesting collection of narratives that pose questions about the nature of time, and the human soul.


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