Saturday 24 March 2018

Book Review – The Mammoth Book of Kaiju

Book Review – The Mammoth Book of Kaiju

Review by Casey Douglass

The Mammoth Book of Kaiju

Kaiju are back in focus once again, due in no small part to the Pacific Rim sequel hitting cinema screens around the country. If you are in the mood for yet more monster-created destruction, The Mammoth Book of Kaiju is a fairly hefty tome (580ish pages) that manages to squeeze in twenty seven tales featuring all kinds of leviathan-based shenanigans.

Blurb: Now, for the first time, a definitive anthology that gathers a wide range of larger-than-life short fiction with creatures that run a gargantuan gamut: the stealthy gabbleduck of Neal Asher's Polity universe; Gary McMahon's huge sea-born terror; An Owomoyela's incredibly tall alien invaders; Frank Wu's city-razing, eighty-foot-high, fire-breathing lizard; Lavie Tidhar's titanic ship-devouring monstrosity; a really big Midwest US smack-down related by Jeremiah Tolbert . . . and many more mega-monster stories to feed your need for killer kaiju!
I did dabble with the idea of giving a short opinion on each story, but with twenty seven to do, I think I`’ll just mention the ones that really grabbed me.

The Lighthouse Keeper of Kurohaka Island, by Kane Gilmour creates a world in which only first-born teenagers can see the world as it really is. That tropical storm devastating an island is actually a kaiju fighting with another creature, but the adults just can’t see it, save a select few who never lost their ability. I really liked this tale as the idea of people not being able to see creatures of this size was something that I hadn’t encountered before.

Postcards From Monster Island, by Emily Devenport is a tale with a different tone. An ill person finds themselves trapped in a city being “ravaged” by strange creatures. The difference with this tale is that they are not as hostile as they first seem. A refreshing change from the usual murderous tone of kaiju actions.

Seven Dates That Were Ruined by Giant Monsters, by Adam Ford. This tale is exactly as it sounds, following a truly luckless individual as they try to find love, but are thwarted each time by bloody monsters kicking off and ruining things. There is a comical element to this story and I quite enjoyed the way the existence of monsters is normalized. A little like opening the fridge and finding a baby kraken in the bottled water. Instead of screaming, it’s a case of “Oh bloody hell, not again!”

Running by Martin Livings. We live in a world were people love to do extreme things, like running ultra-marathons across deserts or parachuting from space. This story sees a group of runners that want to get in on the earth-rippling ground-shaking opportunity a walking kaiju presents. Again, a very novel tale that made me think about something that had never occurred to me before.

The Kansas Jayhawk vs. The Midwest Monster Squad, by Jeremiah Tolbert. This story is set in a world in which kaijus are created as part of the daikaiju economic stimulus plan, a plan for a post-scarcity economy in which there is a surplus of human labour. These kaiju roam particular areas and fight their neighbours, the damage they cause creating jobs and industry as they go. This tale follows a group of friends who want to get as close as possible to the action, but I must admit that I found the backdrop to the tale a little more interesting than the relationships between the humans.

The Mammoth Book of Kaiju is an eclectic read. Many tales feature stronger sci-fi elements, others are set in more traditional fantasy worlds. What unites them all is a love of the massive, the powerful, and the way that humans react when their status is reduced to that of a flea on a dog’s back. A few of the tales were a little too “weird” for me to really connect with, but I still valued reading them none the less. The Mammoth Book of Kaiju probably has at least a few tales that anyone would enjoy, and I would say that I thoroughly enjoyed at least twenty of the twenty seven tales. If you like large monsters, you should definitely check it out.

I bought this book with my own money.

Book Title: The Mammoth Book of Kaiju
Author: Various
Publisher: Robinson
ISBN: 978-1-4721-3564-3

Wednesday 21 March 2018

Game Review - Surviving Mars

If you enjoy films like The Martian, and also happen to be partial to some strategy/city-building gaming goodness, you might like to check out my review of Surviving Mars over on Geek Syndicate at this link.

Tuesday 20 March 2018

Dark Music Review – Miles to Midnight

Dark Music Review – Miles to Midnight

Review Written By Casey Douglass

Miles to Midnight

Miles to Midnight is a Dark Jazz Ambient album with a Lynchian Noir feel: A hotel trapped between two worlds and a detective with a traumatized past. God Body Disconnect's live jazz drums and cinematic wall-of-sound builds the foundation of the mysterious hotel. Cities Last Broadcast brings ghostly tape loops and melodies stuck in time. Atrium Carceri dusts off his old pianos and shatters reality with low bass rumbles and brings you into the other side of the hotel. For lovers of smokey soundtracks to unwritten movies.

The first line of the description above does an excellent job of summing up Miles to Midnight’s tone and aesthetic. I’m not a big fan of jazz, but I do like me some weird. Miles to Midnight is an album that creates images of long, art-deco styled corridors, with green lampshades and brass figurines holding them. It almost causes you to taste the dust in the ruby red carpet that has lost its lustre, and it brings about an unnerving feeling that the shadows in the corners of the room are, somehow, a little darker than they have any right to be.

The jazz drum element is a tremendous fit for the dark imagery the soundscapes create, its relaxed rhythm and brushed beats nestling very comfortably amongst the more eerie vocal effects and bassy rumbles. A Thousand Empty Rooms is a prime example of this. After a delicate start of a few plucked notes hanging in the soundscape, a slow beat begins, joined by piano notes that seem to fill out the high spaces in the composition. When they tinkle into the rafters, a birdsong like flurry joins them, creating a quirky space that seems to have a life of its own. For me, this track brought to mind the image of an extravagant chandelier hanging in an empty room, a sole candle flickering nearby, its flame reflecting in the chandelier’s myriad crystals. Relaxing and a little melancholy.

A few of the tracks are like this, but others are more threatening or strange. The Other Lobby is a prime example of this. It begins with the sound of voices and some kind of bustling activity. There are dings, and the impression of muzak, before undulating electro-bee vocals and a strange alarm like sound create a further feeling of whimsy. The track brought to mind someone watching an old episode of The Outer Limits on a black and white bunny-ear bearing TV, the soundtrack of the show crackling its way into the room just behind the lightness and darkness of the images on the screen. Or, looked at another way, it felt like finding the Museum of Curiosities at the fun fair when you were just looking for the toilet.

Yet other tracks are more threatening, such as Sorry Sir, You Are In The Wrong Room. A deep, bassy space full of rumbling, crackling, darting notes and muted piano. It creates a hanging atmosphere of menace. If The Other Lobby was mistakenly finding your way into the Museum of Curiosities, this track was more like stumbling into a room containing shadowy people planning their next crime.

Miles to Midnight is an incredible slice of dark music, its rhythms and soundscapes lulling and threatening, heavy and yet sometimes light at the same time. I know from the description that it is based on a strange noir hotel, but I also got the impression that it could be an excellent depiction of an insomniac getting through the night. The isolated and spectral locations just seemed to create that general feeling of being alone, which could be transposed into any number of settings. If any of what I’ve said intrigues you, check out Miles to Midnight via the stuff below, and if you do buy it, pop it on just as the last light of the sun vanishes over the horizon one evening.

Visit the Miles toMidnight page on Bandcamp here for more information, and be sure to check out A Thousand Empty Rooms below:

I was given a free copy of this album to review.

Album Title: Miles to Midnight
Artists: Atrium Carceri, Cities Last Broadcast, God Body Disconnect
Label: Cryo Chamber
Released: Jan 09, 2018

Monday 12 March 2018

Book Review – The Courage to be Disliked

Book Review – The Courage to be Disliked - How to free yourself, change your life and achieve real happiness

Review by Casey Douglass

The Courage to be Disliked

I must admit that the title of The Courage to be Disliked certainly jumped out at me as I was browsing in my local Waterstones. Nestled amongst all the books purporting to tell me how to get people to like me, was one seemingly turning the issue on its head. That’s not to say that it’s a manual for how to be an effective internet troll or professional gobshite, it’s a book that looks at how chasing certain things, such as being liked, takes away our freedom.

The Courage to be Disliked draws heavily on the theories of psychologist Alfred Adler, one of the three big names of twentieth century psychology, alongside Freud and Jung. The form of the book is one in which there are conversations between a philosopher and his pupil. These take place over a number of nights and use the conversational manner as a way to impart ideas, much like the Greek philosophers of old. I’ve selected a few things that jumped out at me and written some thoughts about them below. The book itself does a good job of threading things together and going into the pros and cons of certain viewpoints with a bit more finesse than I can, and it also weaves in other notions and ideas that aid the reader in their understanding.

Early on, the philosopher talks about the difference between aetiology and teleology. The first is the usual link between cause and effect. X happened in my past so I am Y now. Teleology turns things on their head and looks at the potential purpose of a given state or affliction. I am Y now because I don’t want to face X. Or, more simply, I might want to get rid of my shyness so that I can talk to the pretty woman across the cafe, but the shyness might be there because it gives me an excuse not to talk to the pretty woman. I must admit that for some situations and circumstances, I can see how the teleological viewpoint makes sense, but for others it seems hard to find out what the purpose might really be.

The philosopher explains the differences between feeling inferior (which can be a good thing if it creates a drive for growth) and an inferiority complex, a state in which a complicated group of emotions feeds into this inferiority, and it all starts to become an excuse for things being the way that they are. In this latter case, what Alfred Adler refers to as “apparent cause and effect” comes into play. For example, some people say that they can’t easily get married because their parents got divorced when they were younger. While the aetiological view would see this as traumatic, and cause and effect playing out, the teleological “what is the purpose” type view, would basically call bullshit on that.

The sections about the desire for recognition, and on freedom, were probably the most interesting for me. They go into the idea of “the separation of tasks”, how these can relate to a person’s interpersonal relationships, and how all problems are interpersonal relationship problems. Basically, the separation of tasks comes down to working out who’s life task a particular “thing” is. The example given is a child who needs to study. No matter what the parents do, it is ultimately the child that has to do the learning, the parents can’t study for the child. So in this case, studying is the child’s task. Learning to separate your tasks from other people’s is key to finding a bit of freedom, and living a little more true to yourself.

Relating this to “being liked”, what other people think of you is their task, something that you can’t do anything about. Sure, you can live in a way in which you might hope people will like you, as no-one really wants to be disliked, but living your life in the hope of recognition and being liked will only lead to living your life for others, and discarding a lot of your own tasks and goals. Only you can live your live, that’s your task.

Another useful topic is of how feeling that you have something to contribute to the community (and community can be a vast thing in Adler’s terms) is what can cause you to feel happiness. The issue of life as a journey vs life as a dance also appears in the final section, the power of living the “now” as best you can, and viewing life as a series of moments rather than a linear straight line.

The last section also touches on having the courage to be normal, which is something I hadn’t really read much about before. Soo many books are about being special, by way of your actions and achievements, but The Courage to be Disliked has no qualms about looking more closely at this drive. It asks “Why is it necessary to be special? Probably because one cannot accept one’s normal self.” It then goes on to say that when people fail at becoming specially good, they are quite likely to switch to being specially bad, and I’m sure we can all think of people who go for that kind of recognition. It also states that being normal doesn’t equate to being incapable, which is something a lot of the more bombastic self-help literature would do well to reflect on, in my opinion.

I enjoyed reading The Courage to be Disliked. Alfred Adler’s ideas are some that I’ve only fleetingly come across in the past, but this book reminded me that I would like to learn more about what he said. Some of the concepts are very intriguing, even if some don’t really ring true for me. This is a simple yet densely packed book, the kind of book that needs a couple of readings, with space in-between to digest things. On my first journey through it, I came away feeling largely happy with what I’d learned, and even the things I was familiar with, I heard about in a fresh way that brought about new insights for me. If you fancy reading something that avoids the furrows ploughed by the usual self-help fare, you might want to take a look at this book.

Book Title: The Courage to be Disliked
Authors: Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
ISBN: 9781760630492

Saturday 3 March 2018

Six Years On...

Six Years On...

This time last year I was posting about the quiet year that had just passed for my website and my writing. Another year has passed, and little has changed in that respect.

On a purely financial level, if the few jobs I had, once worked out per hour, met what I’d get for even the lowliest UK minimum wage job, that would represent my income per hour doubling. With my crummy health and only having an hour or two per day, tops, to write, and to deal with other work related stuff... it’s nothing but a source of stress and frustration for me, no matter how I reframe it or try to look at it.

On a creative level, I have the odd moment where I might find some enjoyment in doing something, but mostly, that enjoyment is far removed and distant, like watching other people have fun on TV, while you find yourself too weak to get up from your bed. Much of the time, I see little point in even starting anything, as the stuff that I do create only ends up serving the purpose of making the time between waking up and going to bed pass a little more quickly.

I’ve seemingly had all the help available for my health issues, so it seems all I can do now is to mark the time until I die. I feel disconnected from the world, numb and cold, and despite years of doing my best to challenge that feeling, it seems I have to accept that I will never have an independent life and will never really amount to anything. All I can do is look on and watch the clock.