When is horror not horror?

Billy's Monsters by Vincent Holland-Keen

 

In the run up to the release of Billy’s Monsters here is Vincent Holland-Keen answering the very question I had when reading this book. Was it a horror book? Did my warped little mind make it scarier than it was for other readers? Enough of my prattling. On to the good stuff from.

‘Are your books scary in any way as there seems to be a lot of talk about monsters?’

Someone asked me this not so long ago after I explained I was a writer and that my next book was called ‘Billy’s Monsters’. It’s a fair question. The answer should be simple, but horror isn’t as black, white and bloody as genre labels like to suggest. Before I elaborate on that idea, I need to confess a few things:

  • I’ve never read anything by Stephen King.
  • I’ve never seen The Exorcist.
  • I’ve never suffered a drug-induced, hallucinogenic nightmare featuring flesh-eating toilet paper and urinals resembling various right-wing politicians spewing pus-laden piss over blood-stained tiles while ranting about immigrants, wind-farms and Miley Cyrus’s fashion choices. Seriously, it’s true. I don’t even drink coffee.

So, I’m not a horror aficionado. When I was very young, the only recurring nightmare I had involved volcanoes. Then I saw a TV show where a team of disaster troubleshooters faced down an impending eruption thanks to fire-proof asbestos suits. My next volcano-themed dream ended with a quaint stall that might have been selling mobile phone cases in another context, but here was selling the aforementioned asbestos suits. After making the necessary purchase, I walked off into the red fog pervading the scene and haven’t had a nightmare since.

Though there was that one time I dreamed a guy broke into my flat and almost gutted my stomach with a knife, but I handled it, so I don’t think it counts.

My worries came before I went to sleep. I did worry there might be monsters under the bed. I did worry the little people from the original ‘Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark’ might be living in the cupboard in our hallway. But mostly I just worried about getting to sleep, because of course trying to get to sleep never works; insomnia being the subconscious mind’s not-so-subtle reminder that it’s the one really calling the shots.

And anyway, I figured if there were monsters lurking in wait, that meant you could talk to them. Telling the vampire in the airing cupboard that the little people in the hallway had been making fun of him again robbed both parties of their power to scare, just like seeing the monster in a horror film diminishes its menace, regardless of how gruesome it may be. As Veronica says in my novel ‘The Office of Lost and Found’ when shown a picture of the monster that’s been terrorising a young Billy: “He’d be scarier with more spikes on his face and chainsaws for fingernails.”

The unknown can be anything; the known could always be worse.

But there’s a paradox here. Existential dread only gets you so far. A vague, unspecific threat is not nearly as dramatic as an immediate and specific one. A monster that may or may not be lurking in the shadows is a wholly different proposition to a monster seen in broad daylight with dagger-like teeth a moment away from chomping off your most intimate of articles.

At this point, the line begins to blur between horror and suspense. Dangling the threat of terrible consequences creates suspense, which in turn can drive characters to action. Those terrible consequences could be a wife discovering her husband’s affair, or a man having his face eaten off by a demon. Both could be deemed horrific by the characters in question, but typically only the latter gets classed as horror.

I just searched Google for ‘Jurassic Park genre’. It came back with the words: fantasy, thriller, action film, science fiction and adventure film. But the movie is laced with sequences that would be considered out and out horror if this wasn’t nominally a ‘Steven Spielberg family movie’. Perhaps the first appearance of the T-Rex qualifies solely as thrilling because a dinosaur eating a lawyer off a toilet is comic rather than horrific.

To cite another Spielberg film: Indiana Jones and The Raiders of the Lost Ark. It ends with gratuitous shots of melting faces, but most people don’t consider that a horror either.

That’s why I said at the start that horror isn’t as black, white and bloody as genre labels like to suggest. But I lied about the answer to the question.

‘Are your books scary in any way as there seems to be a lot of talk about monsters?’

The answer is simple, because the question leaves so little room for manoeuvre. Yes, there are ways in which my books could be considered scary in the same way that Indiana Jones or Jurassic Park could be considered scary. Or Alien or Hellraiser or Evil Dead 2.

Billy’s Monsters does contain bona fide monsters, murders and psychological torment. But it also has thrills, spills and a fair few jokes. I don’t know whether it’s a horror, a thriller or even a very peculiar romance. You might read it and cower behind the sofa, laugh uproariously or toss the book aside with a contemptuous snort, because that’s the truly horrifying thing about stories; what you take away from them is often more about those whispering voices in your head than the silent words on the page.

I’ve hit lvl 20 in Destiny and have no idea what to do

Hezen Chest Piece

Getting to level twenty is the easy part of playing Destiny. There are clear goals and a path to follow. Then it stops. You’re alone. WTF?

I’m not going to go through everything step by step but hopefully I will give you enough information to use a search engine or your favourite video sharing site to move forward.

I’m going to start off with Ascendant Energy and Ascendant shards. They seem so unimportant when you hit level twenty but that soon changes as you upgrade weapons and armour.Once you have advanced a bit there are a lot of thee to be gained from doing the raid. Before then there are two ways to ensure getting some. The quickest and easiest is to do public events. If I want to do one of these and don’t have much time I’ll head to Earth on a patrol mission and zip over to The Divide or Mothyards. How do I know when to head to the right one? Destiny Public Events (http://destinypublicevents.com/) is an amazingly useful and accurate site. I find that the events normally start withing 5mins either side of the stated time. The first event you complete on any given day will result in a present from the postmaster. This is repeatable on different characters. You don’t need to be particularly high level to do that. I have two characters that I do this with regularly and it results in fourteen materials a week. On average that is one weapon and armour upgrade a week. Not too shabby. The other method is to do the Daily story challenge on the left side of your destination screen and raise the difficulty to lvl 24. Do that once a day with each character and you get another fourteen a week (double that if you bump it up to maximum difficulty.

Materials are all well and good but how do you get that shiny Legendary equipment you so desire? There are lots of methods. Raising your Vanguard or Crucible rank to level two is the most guaranteed way. I’ll start with the Crucible as that is simple. Pick up crucible bounties head to orbit and jump in to a crucible match. You will get reputation whether you win or lose the match (more if you win) and also crucible marks. Reputation opens up the vendors to you but marks are the currency. There is a 200 mark cap on both vanguard and crucible marks so try to spend them before you hit the cap. Winning four crucible matches is roughly equivilent to the average bounty reputation gain. This can take a while so don’t bother doing it unless that is the part of the game you really enjoy (like me). You will get blue crucible armour and weapons at the end of matches which makes it a good thing to do when you first get to level twenty. There is one more type of bounty. Exotic bounties. I’ve seen it written that there is a 2% chance of them popping when you hand in any other bounty. For me they’ve always appeared when handing in at least four at a time (yes I know it is more likely). These can be really frustrating especially when you need void kills in the crucible and everybody knows you’re only using your shotgun but they are generally good fun and a welcome break from routine.

Vanguard reputation is a different beast. You get this from the grey bounties but also from doing activities like strikes, missions and patrols. My personal favourite bounty involves punching thirty monsters to death without dying. Always fun. This brings me on to the strike playlist. You will get engrams for completing these strikes. Don’t worry if you don’t have mates to help you the strikes playlist will matchmake some help for you (and them).

There is no match-making facility for the weekly and weekly nightfall strikes. You either need friends or to be very cunning in how you do it solo. There are not many people that can do a nightfall solo and I wouldn’t recommend it unless you know the strikes very well. What if you don’t have friends? Why is there no clan or guild facility in Destiny? There is. This is where you need to access http://www.bungie.net. If you are logged in to your Playstation account in your browser you can use that sign-in to authenticate with. There is a clan section where you can join a clan and use the forums to arrange meeting up with people to get things done. It pains me to be social but it is useful and you get to interact with new and fun people. I will talk about the Strange Coins from the weekly strikes below. Nightfall rewards reflect the difficulty. Rewards that I’ve seen include ELEVEN Ascendant Shards, exotic armour and weapons and some very nice Legendary weapons.

Xur. The weekend vendor that swaps exotics for Strange Coins and exotic engrams for motes of light (you can get these in multiple ways but most reliably as you gain xp on a lvl twenty character). A weekly strike on lvl 28 will net you nine coins. Manage the level 24 on an alternative character and that adds another six to get you an exotic every week if you want. There are plenty of options but my recommendation is to get an exotic helmet rather than any other armour slot. This is because to reach level thirty you need thirty light in each slot and that can only come from exotic or raid gear. As you can only have one piece of exotic armour equipped at once I recommend the head slot because the raid helmets only drop on the hard level raid (everything is level thirty). The raid on hard is the only thing I’m yet to try and I’ll hopefully give it a go soon.

The raid. It is great fun and really intense but worth every minute. If you’re lucky enough to get in a group with experienced players you can almost walk through it. Somehow though being in a group of raid virgins working it out together is more fun. Until you hit the tiredness wall and have to stop before you face-plant the floor. It does save the raid at key checkpoints and the leader of the firegroup can get the group together to try again later in the week. Don’t forget that this like most things resets on a Tuesday. The weapons and armour you get make repeating the raid slightly easier and that is something to beware of when watching videos online. That person with full raid armour and weapons will damage Praetorians and oracle a lot more than you will even with fully upgraded exotics with the right damage type. Try it as soon as you can. Even if you only get as far as killing the Gatekeeper you have the potential of getting raid gear.

These are the things I’ve done and are by no means exhaustive or definitive. Play how you enjoy but have some targets and ways to get there too. Most importantly, have fun.

Billy’s Monsters by Vincent Holland-Keen

Billy's Monsters by Vincent Holland-Keen

This cover is from an advance copy and it may look a little different in production. I hope it doesn’t. I’d really like to see it as clean and beautiful as this in the flesh. When I first looked at the cover if was bright and had pretty patterns. Now I’ve read the book there are shapes and the suggestions of nasty things lurking just outside of my vision. This would make a great bus stop poster.

I am a fan of Holland-Keen’s work. I can remember sending him a tweet asking when the follow-up to The Office Of Lost And Found (well worth a read) was going to be released. It was nice to see references to TOOLAF in this book. There is something about this book that makes me think of Dirk Gently but I can’t quite work out why.  This book is all about the spaces in-between. On one level it was about the gaps between worlds but on another it was about the readers imagination filling in the shape and scale of the monsters. This was an important point for me. The fear in this book came from what I carried in my head and that was directly reflected in the story. Simple yet clever.

Boy meets girl, dresses like an idiot and spouts some cheesy cliches and then wanders off to save the world. That pretty much explains the entire book but does it no justice at all. The humour throughout this story works really well and prevents it from becoming too sombre. Although suitable for young adults there will be a lot of grown-ups like me (stop laughing) that enjoy this book and I can see this book being passed around within families.

Destiny & The Things You Need To Do Today For A Brighter Tomorrow

Mida Multi-tool

Mida Multi-tool

One of the great things about Destiny is the flexiblity in play styles. You can do what you want pretty much whenever and with whomever you want. Beware though. Rushing around like a loon without any focus will cause you to do some annoying stuff later.

The first and foremost of these things is resource collecting. You might not think that Spinmetal you’ve seen lying around the Cosodrome is worth picking up right now but when you realize you need up to eighty of them to get your post level twenty weapon upgraded. How many weapons do you use? I personally have four in common use. The same goes for all the locations. There is always a local resource that you WILL need at some point for upgrades. Get them whilst you are exploring and you save time in the long run. More importantly it gives you time to savour the environment rather than just sprinting from one mission to the next. I must stop doing that.

There is another point to this. Reputation. Below level twenty you can only gain Vanguard and Crucible reputation. By far the most efficient way to increase your reputation with a faction is to complete bounty missions. Each bounty has a clear requirement. Something like collect 200 sensor mites from the Cosmodrome. That means kill stuff in that zone and when you are done we’ll give you some experience points and some Vanguard reputation. The Crucible ones are often something like kill twenty five hunters in the Crucible.

Why bother with reputation though? Drop rates for legendary equipment are deliberately low. Often when they do drop they are not for a weapon you like using. That can get frustrating fast. Once you reach level two in a faction you will be able to buy legendary armour and at level three some weapons. Believe me this has been very handy. As I still haven’t had enough drops to load my character out completely. The icing on the cake though is that there is a tiny chance of getting a yellow bounty. These are a little more involved, a lot more fun to get and result in an exotic item.

I haven’t mentioned Vanguard and Crucible marks yet. Where glimmer is the currency for most vendors for reputation based vendors you need to spend marks. I’ll use Crucible marks as an example because I’ve made more use of them. I love playing Crucible matches but early on realized I could get extra benefit from completing bounties as I did them. I am currently level three and have bought two pieces of armour and a shotgun using the Crucible marks I gain every time I complete a match. You can only gain one hundred marks per server week (Tuesday is the reset day I think). This prevents players from farming these marks all the time and leads to a more balanced play style.

All of the information above will only really pay dividends once you reach level twenty but it will really be worth it. That isn’t the end though. What do you do when your Crucible reputation hits level three and there is little point raising it anymore? You buy a class item from the Dead Orbit, Future War Cult or New Monarchy faction vendor of course. With this equipped all your Vanguard and Crucible reputation goes to the specific faction. These factions can only be joined at level twenty and are a great way to get up to level two in a faction fairly quickly using both PvE and PvP bounties. These vendors have their own legendary equipment for you to purchase with Crucible marks.

The final point I’ll mention is that raising a faction level to three produced a legendary engram reward for me.

Have fun!

 

The Accidental Apprentice by Anika Arrington

The Accidental Apprentice by Anika Arrington

Although not obviously a young adult book this was a book that I could read with my children. It made a nice change for me to read a fantasy story that was more interested in court intrigue and petty back-biting than expansive battles and an obvious good versus evil. Even the villains in this story had heart and character. One of them was clearly unhinged but rather than being evil for evil sake there was a sense that his life and choices built up rage and resentment towards his brother to the point where he snapped. I liked that.

Every chapter changes the point of view and this could have been confusing. The author put the name of the character at the start of the chapter to make it clear and easy. IN fact everything about this story works to make it easy to read. I flew through this book a lot faster than I thought I would. The descriptions of how wizards learn the laws of physics and then tweak them to create magic really worked for me. Changing the nature of things rather than creating or destroying them fits a lot better with my mindset than an abstracted view that magic just is.

My favourite character was the cat. A wizard’s familiar. Except he wasn’t just a cat he was a shape-shifting demon. It was the small things that made this book really work. From the lovable minor characters to the use of language this fantasy story provided me with entertainment throughout. It was more Philipa Gregory than George R.R. Martin and with less executions than either.

Destiny The End Game

Destiny on PS4

The title of this post is not really true. Yes I have finished the campaign by making it through The Black Garden but that is by no means the end of the game. I still haven’t found a legendary special weapon and the legendary and exotic equipment I do have has not been leveled up. I haven’t felt brave enough to attempt the raid yet. I want to raise my reputation with several factions about the embarrassing level they are at now. I also have other characters I want to level in different ways and focus on different things. Most importantly I am still enjoying the game.

What did I think of The Black Garden? In general I thought there could have been more plot in the second half of the campaign. All of this was wiped away as I entered The Black Garden though. The entrance was an exercise in perfection. As I walked through the vista that awaited me was astounding. Me and a friend just stood there for a minute admiring the view. That is where the level was clever. It made sure the players got to enjoy that moment of calm and clarity before the final onslaught.

I see this game a a hybrid shooter and Massive Multiplayer Online(MMO) game. One of the things I’ve always found frustrating in MMO games is that once you are a few levels above the monsters they cannot harm you at all. In Destiny they can still hurt you. Especially the more powerful creatures. If you want to raise the challenge the players can raise the level difficulty. This all means that even if a player has spent a while doing other things and is doing a level twenty mission with level twenty five characters the challenge was still there. Like most levels and particularly the boss encounters the players could not just run in and go toe-to-toe with all the nasty monsters. Teamwork, smart positioning and communication were vital to stay alive. I nearly died a couple of times in the final encounter because I thought it was finished. Several waves of baddies with a big nasty provide a pretty still challenge but I found some of the other levels more difficult.

The ending of this phase of the story was a little like Return Of The Jedi and I was expecting a little more. There was a missed opportunity to hook me further in towards buying the big update (DLC). One thing I’d really like to have seen was a subtly different story arc for each class. This would have added something extra for people leveling up a second character.

So what’s next for me in Destiny? I will be leveling up the other classes. I want to look at different factions as I’m hoping that later on there will be content that is only available for people with the correct faction. I’m still enjoying the PvP aspects and am looking forward to getting utterly destroyed in the new form coming this week. Equipment and skill choices will have much more impact and reward the people clever enough to tailor their equipment selections in the most efficient manner. I still haven’t plucked up the courage to try a Raid yet – my fear of causing us all to get wiped out is too great.

In summary I’ve played Destiny for over thirty hours and can see another thirty before the first DLC is released. For me that will be a key point. I probably would have bought it already if there were more details about what is included.

Locke & Key Volume 2: Head Games by Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodriguez

Locke & Key Volume 2: Head Games by Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodriguez

I have been as guilty as others in the past of not giving enough credit to the artists  involved in Graphic Novels. That is almost impossible in this series. Gabriel Rodriguez has done such an amazing job of visualizing the story that it was impossible to picture things in any other way. I loved the embossed cover and the great use of colour that really made the key pop. If anything though the quality of the art got better when I looked inside. When I read a book like this I tend to do it twice. Once looking at every picture and word in every frame. Once I’ve finished that I sit back a bit and just look at the flow of the pictures and the narrative they represent. That was where this book really stood out for me. The little extras at the back of the book showing the stages of a cell being layered were fascinating.

This is the second in the Locke & Key series. The first book left a huge amount open questions that I couldn’t wait to be expanded on. Not many of them were answered and I now have a longer list of questions. Somehow this manages not to irritate me as I thought it would. Although I was aware of the larger story arc there was an abundance of quality writing to keep me thoroughly engaged and wanting more.

This book focused on Dodge and all the nastiness he represented. There were very few positives in this book. It was really dark and brooding. By the end of this part of the story it was very hard to imagine how anybody involved could survive Dodge’s machinations. The bounds of reality were stretched back upon themselves in this book and I certainly will not be putting any keys near the back of my head. I’ve already bought the third book and will be reading it very soon.