Overclocked On Caffeine v.1.1 2009-10-23 07:15:00

Hideaki Sena – Parasite Eve

320 pages

I want to be your parasite god, so I can show you what you really are

Okay, time to make everyone really paranoid for a second. In an average day, out of all the actions you take, how many can you say for certain are actually yours? That sudden urge to get something to eat, to go into a shop, to call someone. Are you entirely sure it’s all you? Can you say with absolute certainty that everything you say and do is all your own decision? Or is there something urging you to take certain decisions on occasion? A little voice, a tug, an instinct making you think that this idea would be better?

Are you sure that you are really you?

If you’re familiar with Parasite Eve, it’ll more than likely be with the PS1 game series. Released in 1998, it was described as the first ‘survival horror RPG’, and while fun, it was a seriously flawed game. I’ve actually been playing it myself recently, and finding myself getting frustrated with the awkward pre-rendered environments, a kink that would be worked out in its spiritual successor, Vagrant Story. But this is a review of the original book, not the games, so let’s forget about them for a moment.

If you’ve played the first game, you’ll already have some idea of how it all begins. The story focusses on Toshiaki Nagashima, a scientist working in the field of biological research. After his wife is rendered braindead in a car accident, Toshiaki arranges for her organs to be donated. However, he feels compelled to harvest some of her liver cells for experimentation. However, it’s soon revealed that the accident was no accident, and what caused it is looking to expand its empire.

Okay, I’ll be the first to admit that the central concept is a goofy one – “Oh noes, my cells are evil and have turned against me” is, at first glance, kinda dumb. But think about it: an unseen enemy, forcing you to do its bidding and you won’t be aware of it until it’s too late? terrifying if done right. And here, a few translation flubs aside, it’s done remarkably so. The first half is very dry. The writer, Hideaki Sena, has a background in medicine, and it shows, large swathes of text being used to discuss medical procedures or experiments in mind-numbing detail. It’s medical porn, plain and simple. More than once you’ll find your eyes sliding down the page as the steps of an experiment are run through in depth. It’s authentic, sure, but doesn’t make for the most exciting reading. Once the primary villain makes Her presence felt, things start getting much better, with the final third being a desperate race to stop Eve, as she has now named herself, from evolving to the next stage. Again, there’s a tendency to go indepth into the the genetics and biology, when you want the writer to concentrate on the big gloopy superbeing that can set people on fire, but when it does, it’s worth it.

If you’re a fan of the games, you’ll probably be wondering where all the hideously mutated monsters are. Well, bad news is, there aren’t any. This is closer to the Ring/u school of horror – slowly building up til it drops everything on the reader in one big clusterfuck of fire and mutilation. It’s hard going at times, and the translation has a number of glaring flaws – upon hearing his wife has been in an accident, Toshiaki groans like he’s been asked to do the dishes, for example, and the onomatopoeia chosen for Eve’s movements is the none-more-chilling sound ‘flap’. Know fear and despair. But still, it’s well worth a read, especially if you’re familiar with the games. Finding out exactly what that ‘incident’ in Japan was all about adds a few things to the original, even if it does introduce a plothole to the narrative. Apparently the second printings of the bookfix a lot of the errors, so a first edition, while a nice thing to have, may not be the best thing to get. Either way, worth a look for the curious and the fans.

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Overclocked On Caffeine v.1.1 2009-08-10 13:37:00

Robert Rankin – Raiders of the Lost Car Park

350 pages

What is this I don’t even

Writing a review is, despite what some of you might think, bloody hard work. Yes, it’s mostly ‘this is why X sucks/does not suck’ when you get down to it, but it’s also about making sense of what you’ve seen/read/played in your own head. Hard enough at the best of times, and that’s when the thing actually makes sense to begin with. Take Raiders of the Lost Car Park, for example. It’s the second in the Corenlius Murphy trilogy, but don’t let that put you off, it’s not like it’ll make the book any easier to understand. In the last book, he discovered that mankind is actually being secretly oppressed by the Hidden King of the World, that the world itself is a hell of a lot bigger than any of us have been lead to believe, and that his father is actually the legendary Hugo Rune, a guru of Absolute Wisdom, a ladies man enough to put Errol Flynn to shame, and the arch nemesis of Bud Abbot. Involved in this adventure were a clan of mad Scotsmen, an electric blue Cadillac Eldorado, his loyal circus midget friend, Tuppe, and a train named after a Greek god that went ‘Yabba Dabba Doo’ instead of more conventional train sounds.

Cant say you weren’t warned.

Your enjoyment factor for this book will directly proportional to your tolerance for the absurd. It’s fair to say that if you have no time for pointless asides, running jokes or meandering stories that may or may not have anything to do with the plot, you’re going to hate it. The plot, such as it is, is little more than a framework to hang said jokes and stories on. It involves a quest to open the Forbidden Zones, where the hidden wealth of the world is kept, with a reinvented ocarina, Prince Charles, Santa Claus and a gigantic rock concert held in Brentford.

Again: you can’t say you weren’t warned.

Like I said, it’s hard to state definitively whether this is a good book or not. I mean, I enjoyed it, it’s a good quick read, the funny bits are actually funny and there’s a fair number of references that brought a knowing smile to my face. But this is definitely not a book everyone will enjoy. The reliance on asides and running gags in lieu of actual plot borders on the self-indulgent at times, and there’s a definite feeling of ‘repetition = funniness, right?’ more often than I’d like. This is easily the most love it/hate it thing I’ve encountered in quite some time. Definitely give it a try, especially if you want something different, just…

…oh bollocks, it’s become a running joke, hasn’t it.

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Overclocked On Caffeine v.1.1 2009-07-20 10:33:00

Clive Barker – Cabal

268 Pages

He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man

Clive Barker’s had some terrible luck when it comes to movie adaptations. Sure, he’s got Hellraiser 1&2 under his belt, two of the finest horror movies of all time, and Candyman was fairly decent, but aside from that, by and large, he’s gotten the shaft each and every time. The Hellraiser sequels have ranged from ‘surprisingly good’ to ‘oh sweet lord, no’, Lord of Illusions was either hilarious or pitiful, depending on who you asked, and the most recent adaptation, Midnight Meat Train, was, in a word, abysmal, being related to the original short story in name and basic concept alone. Which would’ve been perfectly acceptable if the movie hadn’t committed the cardinal sin of being terrible. Of all the adaptations, however, Nightbreed holds a special place for many. Helraiser aside, it demonstrates arguably the greatest breadth of Barker’s vision, the freaks and monsters that populate his mind. The quality of the film itself is debatable, but for sheer visual impact, it’s definitely a keeper.

Cabal is the book it was based on, and with a few deviations, the two are remarkably close to each other. Our main character is Boone, a man with some serious mental issues, to put it mildly. While being treated by his doctor, Deckard, he comes to realise that he may be a serial killer, responsible for the deaths of dozens. One unsuccessful suicide attempt later, he has a purpose: he heads to Midian, a necropolis of the lost and damned, where monsters like him can find respite and absolution. But upon arrival, he’s attacked and told that, despite his beliefs, he’s actually innocent. Running from his assailants, he’s discovered by the police and shot down on the spot.

Of course, the story doesn’t end there.

Cabal is arguably Clive Barker by numbers. All his typical themes and obsessions are here: transformation, both overt and otherwise, the sacred and the profane, the thin line between the mundane and the magical and, of course, his obsession with the flesh. Midian is filled with the Nightbreed, monsters of all shapes and sizes that have banded together for mutual protection. The breed are a true phantasmagoria of the weird, grotesque and bizarre, from the dog-headed painter to the man made of a flock of birds. Most of them are just mentioned in passing, but it gives a fascinating view of the larger world.

Less impressive is the main central theme. So let me get this straight: the Breed are the ones who look all scary and weird, but the ignorant hicks that want to stomp them out immediately upon discovery are the real monsters here, you don’t say, do go on. It’s a tired, hackneyed theme and, unfortunately, it’s not one that’s particularly dealt with well. The only character from the town that comes across as having any real decency is the priest, held over a barrel by the arrogant sherrif for being a transvestite, and even he’s unfairly treated throughout the story, his only real role being to show how not everyone is a complete bastard while simultaniously having the literal and metaphorical crap kicked out of him. He also seems to be setting up a plot hook for a sequel, which would explain a lot more, but it’s been over 20 years and we’ve not seen much more since, so who knows.

Worse are the two sex scenes which… well, Barker came out as being gay some years after this book was published, and in retrospect, it’s not entirely surprising. You ever seen that episode of South Park where Mr. Garrison tries to write a book, and everything ends up having a fixation with wangs? It’s like that. Each scene basically boils down to “Penis penis penis, penis is awesome, penis penis, did I put enough detail into describing the penis? Alsonakedgirlmasturbatingonabed, okay, back to the freaks!” Without that knowledge, it seems a little suspect, and with, comes across as outright hilarious. More so especially if that South Park episode happens to pop in your head at the time.

If you’re looking to get into some Clive Barker, this, along with the Books of Blood collections, is a great place to start. Yes, as I said, it’s somewhat formulaic, but it covers everything you’d probably want to know about the man’s work, and it’s easier to get into than something like, say, Weaveworld or Imajica. It’s short, reasonably to the point and filled wth some nice moments of action and horror, with some occasional moments and lines that shine wonderfully. Consider it the literary equivilent of a ‘Best Of’ album and be done with it.

The story of the Nightbreed was continued in a series of comics, published in the early 90s by Marvel’s Epic Comics imprint, alongside a Hellraiser anthology. The comics primarily take the canon of the film with elements of the book added to fill out the gaps. The Hellraiser comics have been reprinted recently, so there’s every chance the Breed will rise again. For now, we, like the characters at the end of the tale, will need to wait and see.

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Overclocked On Caffeine v.1.1 2009-06-22 04:56:00

Simon Clark – Blood Crazy

397 pages

I’ve always had a fascination for the end of the world. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to see the world destroyed – it’s where I keep all my stuff – but the images, the iconography, all of it captivates me in a way nothing else does. I first read Blood Crazy at exactly the right time. The hero, Nick Aten (“Rhymes with Satan” as he likes to inform us) is 17, the exact same age I was at the time. He awakens one Sunday morning to find that the whole world has gone mad. Well, half of it at least: the adult half. Overnight, the adult population has somehow managed to convince itself that everyone 18 and under needs to die, painfully if at all possible. Nick swiftly finds himself in a community that, at its heart, has good intentions, but when things start to go wrong, they go wrong badly, and he finds himself having to cross the country to try and save everyone there from the oncoming horde of adults, and each other.

When I first read Blood Crazy, it was the best book in the world ever. I wouldn’t credit it with kickstarting my interest in armageddon (which would be the best publishing blurb ever if it were true) but it was, most likely, one of the first. The problem is, my horizons have expanded since then. I’ve seen and read and even played more and more, raising the bar appropriately, and going back to revisit the book feels like just that – a step backwards. Right at the beginning, we find out that the book is being written by the main character, who promises right there and then that there will be no flowery language or purple prose. Then mentions casually how it’s snowing like someone’s torn a hole in the sky. Hmm. The book falls into the usual trap of Teenagers-Don’t-Talk-Like-Thatism, but that’s nothing unusual. The dialogue that never quite gels and prose that hits the wrong side of purple, on the other hand, could’ve been done a hell of a lot better.

The single worst fault in the book, however, is the exposition/explanation moment. Throughout the book, everyone has their own theories on why all the adults went mad, from EM radiation, to a biological attack from an enemy state to aliens to God smiting the wicked. In fairness, no theory is ever truly discounted as being completely lunatic, and some of the wilder ones are actually given a degree of credence, leaving you to come to your own conclusions. Then, towards the end, we’re given something like a 50-60 page infodump that, despite an lack of actual, 100% honest-to-God explanations as to what happened, immediately becomes the most authoritative conclusion on how it all happened. Nothing wrong with that, though I preferred the idea of leaving it all up to you to decide the truth, it’s how it’s presented. For one thing, it takes too damn long to actually play out, for another, it’s literally two people sitting in a room talking to each other over the course of a couple of days. Not the most thrilling of setups, by any standards. As for the big revelation itself? Go crack open a couple of books giving you in introduction to Carl Jung. That’s pretty much got you covered. ‘Underwhelming’ is not the word, though considering what happens after ‘deus ex machina’ certainly applies.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s some excellent moments and scenes in the book – the causeway made of people, the attack on the convoy, motorway full of the crucified – but the book is damned by nostalgia. Revisiting it, I’m sad to say it’s really not as good as I remembered – not a bad book, not by any stretch, just that, in the years since, I’ve read and seen so much better, a revisit would never have stood a chance.

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