Saturday, 30 November 2013

Review: The Descent

The Descent
The Descent by Jeff Long

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I gave this 5 stars not because it was perfect, but because it did what any good book should do - it made me want to keep reading. One night I read it until 3.30am, I just couldn't stop. Other times I would find time to read a chapter rather than do something else. Only a minority of books have this effect on me, so it deserves the highest praise.

The opening chapter is the best one in the book. Mystery, twists, economical writing, and a descent into tension and then really convincing horror. This is a high mark - it obviously can't be this good for the whole book, but the novel goes on to take you in directions you didn't expect, and you still want to read on. If anything, the horror element fades out slightly: the more we learn about the Hadals, the less scary they become, and in comparison the humans seem more and more to be the monsters. It's a nice twist, but switches the novel from horror to thriller. Still compelling, but less likely to give you nightmares.

As other reviewers have noted, the novel is full of themes and subjects, an ambitious amount that few authors would try to incorporate into a single work. And, generally, it works well. It is part of the unexpected nature of the novel, with the twists and abrupt changes almost representing the twisting and broken tunnels beneath the earth.


Friday, 29 November 2013

Special offer on Lulu

I just found out that there's free delivery on any Lulu items (books or calendars) ordered before 4th December, even a single book. Normally their postage can be quite high for low volume orders, so this is a good offer - you just enter the code FREESHIP at checkout.

You can get print copies of my books from Lulu.

Update - if that offer is over, here's another code you can use up until midnight on Thursday, December 5th 2013:
(30% discount, valid on up to 14 books.)

Monday, 25 November 2013

Bring me to life

About a month ago one of my stories was adapted as an online audio version. And I did rejoice and eat cake and dance a merry jig round yonder berry bush.

They say lightning doesn't strike twice. Well, we'll find out about that in my next horror novel, Full Charge. But in the meantime a different group of creepy story fans has got together and made an audio version of another one of my stories! And I did eat cake once more, and dance the jig while making merry, for 'twas brillig. Without any more ado, I hereby promote Midnight Marinara to be a defender of the realm of creepiness. Now turn out the lights and listen to their interpretation of Just Telling Stories! You can listen to it on:


Saturday, 16 November 2013

Last bits of DRM ranting for a while

I had a big rant about DRM last time, and an example of an issue it caused. I thought I'd round off with a few other examples of DRM issues I have experienced in the past. Get all the rants out of my system, before I move on to a post about more positive matters - the new cover for Turner!

My last post was about a computer game. Games with online activation are always problematic. See this recent example from Rock, Paper, Shotgun. Or their previous coverage of SimCity, or Diablo 3, or Anno 2070. Or the Ubisoft single-player games that stop working when they upgrade servers (which can then break other games). DRM leads to a cruddy, unstable, frustrating experience. Many of the important arguments against online DRM in games can be found here.

Even with physical discs, DRM reared its ugly head. Back in November 2010 I took an afternoon off work to play a newly bought game: Shellshock 2 on DVD. The game used Securom DRM, though I didn't know that at the time, since it wasn't mentioned in the item description when I bought it. The Securom DRM refused to install the game, saying it detected 'Emulation Software'. Yet there was nothing else running on my PC. After a lot of time I decided it must have browsed my hard drive without my permission and refused to let me play the game if I had (fully legal!) software installed that Securom didn't like. So I uninstalled Daemon Tools (used for my music software), but the game still wouldn't install. The Securom website was no help. I tried the Eidos website but that wouldn't even let you email them unless you created an account first. I spent over four hours trying to sort it out (with lots of back and forth emails and phonecalls to Securom). And it still wouldn't run, since the Securom DRM then claimed there was no disc inserted, even though it was. By then I'd had enough. I downloaded a pirated version, scanned it for malware, then installed and started playing that, because the DRM in the version I'd bought made the game unplayable. A month later I had exactly the same issues when I tried to play the game Jericho on DVD. In the end I tracked down a cracked .exe that disabled Securom - I could then play the game I had bought.
Nowadays, if a game has DRM then the amount I’ll pay drops by about 90%, depending on how severe it is.


Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Why I hate DRM - I want to play Ghostbusters!

This post isn't directly about writing. But it is about a technology used by many industries, and the book industry is one of those that embraces it. The topic is DRM, a technology designed to give the creator the power to prevent you from accessing books, films, games, software or music. The things you buy can disappear when the company folds, or they just stop supporting the item anymore, or the flaws in the DRM break other systems, or because you have used the thing you've paid for too many times, or for many other stupid reasons. As a consumer and producer it is a topic which I think about a lot. I hate the fact that you can buy something and have it taken away from you. Books you've bought disappear from your account; DRM turns purchases into a strange mixture of renting and gambling. And it's no wonder that DRM encourages piracy. Okay, let's get cracking on my most recent experience.

I love playing games. Board games with friends, and computer games on my own. Ever since I got an Atari 2600 as a child I was amazed at how computer games can tell stories in which you play a part through your actions and imagination. I moved on through the years: Atari 600XL, C64, various Amigas, then various PCs, my first being a 486DX. I worked during the summer to buy that PC, so that I could play Doom and UFO Enemy Unknown. I take my games seriously, thinking about the worlds and the characters, what their motivations are, what things are like just outside of the frame of the game, how I would improve things if I was able to modify the game. Basically the same mental processes that take place when I'm reading or writing.

I buy PC games in advance, as I do with books: when I see something that sparks my interest, or when something comes out where I want to support the creator, or if something good comes up in a sale. I own more games than I could play, but I see it as a personal selection which I can pick from as the mood takes me, as with any library. Dark nights, alone in the house? Check what creepy games are in the collection. Feel like stretching my brain? Check what strategy games I own.

But when DRM is involved your options are reduced.


Friday, 1 November 2013

The Lancashire witch-craze of 1612

I don't think I've ever had a guest post before, so please welcome Barry Durham with the inaugural offering. Halloween may have passed but it is still visible over my shoulder, creeping along to retreat into the shadows, so a blog post about witches is entirely appropriate. Take it away Barry!

Witches, victims or pawns? The Lancashire witch-craze of 1612

When the teenage Alizon Device swore at the pedlar John Law for refusing to give her pins on a bright March morning in 1612 she set in motion a chain of events that were to lead to the deaths of 12 people and have far-reaching consequences on both sides of the Atlantic.