New Blog Under Development

Thank you all for your patience. It is still under development, but I have reformatted and transferred quite a few articles over to my new blog. There are even a couple of new book reviews I have just recently put up as well. My new site still hosts all my book reviews and interviews, but there will also be more journal-type entries that converge my other blog on mental health, while also creating journal-entries on my writing endeavors.

So check out my new site and let me know what you think.

An Interview with Charles Phipps

33971268I have recently read Phipps’ latest novel, The Tower of Zhaal (you can read my review for that here) and was intrigued by the originality of the Lovecraftian Post Apocalyptic world. As Such I felt inspired to ask the man a few questions about the book.

1) Your bibliography is filled with detective stories and science fiction, so exploring Lovecraftian horror is quite a departure. What inspired you to take on the Elder Gods?

I’ve always been a fan of post-apocalypse stories, Fallout and The Walking Dead especially, but zombie stories felt played out. I decided that the coming apocalypse was a constant theme in the works of H.P. Lovecraft but the monsters never actually succeeded. It seemed a natural fit to examine what the world would be like after they rose from their epoch-long sleep. I also drew from Stephen King’s Dark Tower and The Stand while thinking up how I wanted the world to be.

2) I am not an expert when it comes to Lovecraft, but I recognized a large majority of creatures and references. How much effort did it take to craft a universe with so many connections while maintaining continuity?

Lovecraft never really meant for there to be a coherent narrative to his universe and probably would think codifying his universe missed the point. However, I was a lifelong gamer long before I read his stories so it wasn’t that hard to start mentally classifying them and how they all fit together. I could have also drawn from other Lovecraft scholars like the good folks behind  Call of Cthulhu: The Roleplaying Game but decided to go my own way.

3) Of the creatures I didn’t recognize, were they original creations of yours, or did you dig deep into the Cthulhu mythos?

I created a few new creatures in the story as I figure if I’m going to delve into Lovecraft’s works as deeply as I was, it wouldn’t be fair not to add some of my own spin. In my sequel, The Tower of Zhaal, I create my own Great Old One in the Undying Horror as well as his servants in the Faceless Ones. The Cthulhu Mythos, or Arkham Cycle as Lovecraft called it, is really a grab bag he intended everyone to be able to dip into.

4) I recognized many location names and some of the background characters also seemed familiar. It was hard to place a clear setting in my mind. Where did you imagine this story took place?

Well, the apocalypse has occurred so the environments of the Earth have radically shifted. Despite taking place in New England around the Massachusetts area, the land has become a large radioactive desert with ancient ruins brought up from primordial epochs. It’s the Wild East, if you will, with a supernatural touch. Really, the world is so strange and unusual now, it’s arguable not even entirely Earth anymore. That’s what you get when you expose a mortal planet to the Old One’s dreams.

The latest volume in Charles Phipps’ successful Supervillainy Saga.

5) You have thrown everything in this book except the kitchen sink (or was that in there too?) Were you worried about over-saturating the book with ideas and diluting the impact of the cosmic horrors?

As mentioned, Stephen King’s The Dark Tower was an influence as well as Lovecraft’s own Dream Cycle. I felt this was very much a road trip where they got to see just how terrifying and unusual the world Post-Rising was. I did try to do my best to make sure the supernatural was never “mundane” despite this being a weird post-apocalypse society, though. Encountering even the least of the monsters wandering the world should be a terrifying experience even if humanity is more jaded than the driven-to-madness by rats in the walls heroes of some of HPL’s stories.

6) You have recently left Ragnarok Publications and joined with Amber Cove and Crossroad Press. Most authors sign exclusively or self-publish. What has led you down the road you have taken?

In fact, I wrote for three years trying to get published by Permuted Press which gave me a somewhat substantial backlog of stories to publish. Some of the stories fit with some publishers while others fit with others. I’ve since terminated my relationship with Ragnarok Publications and am moving my books with them to the other two you mentioned but I’m pleased to say they have a good working relationship. Jim Bernheimer (Amber Cove) actually introduced me to David Wilson (Crossroad Press). Also, my frequent audiobook narrator, Jeffrey Kafer, does work for both.

7) When did you discover Lovecraft’s writings? What did you think of them when you first read them?

I was a teenager and a regular gamer so I knew of HPL from the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game as well as Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth. I decided my love of horror necessitated me to read his short stories and bought a few anthologies that introduced me to most of them. Honestly, I felt the prose was a bit purple even back then but the stories had a way of sticking with you well beyond works I thought were better.

Like the parasite in Alien, they wrapped themselves around your face and laid eggs in you until you had ideas burst out. I can’t say what my favorite of HPL’s work is but I know every detail of The Shadow Over Innsmouth, The Dunwich Horror, and The Colour from Space. I’m also very fond of some pastiche authors like Brian Lumley’s Titus Crow novels and the Laundry Files by Charles Stross.

8) What is your favorite eldritch being? I am a fan of the Dark Young of Shub-Niggurath, and also Nyarlathotep. It’s fun to say, and “Black Goat of the Woods” and “Crawling Chaos” are such brutally evocative names.

I have to say Cthulhu himself as he remains an iconic monster for good reason. I admit, though, I actually have the crazy theory that Lovecraft created Cthulhu as Squid-Dragon Jesus. Think about it, he’s a dead god who will rise from the grave to end the world and is worshiped by people across the world from every walk of life. People who are eager for his return and believe (rightly or wrongly) they’ll be saved from his wrath. I’m also a huge fan of ghouls and think of them as a much better creature than the Deep Ones.

9) How would you survive the Cthulhu apocalypse?

I wouldn’t but if I was able to find a Silver Key somewhere, I’d journey to Ulthar and hunker down there in the Dreamlands. Seriously, screw Earth, that place is full of monsters and things which go bump in the night. The Dreamlands might not be much better but it has a few safe places if you know not to hurt a cat.


Once again, I thank Charles Phipps for taking the time to answer these questions. The Tower of Zhaal is available now on Amazon. For more information on Charles Phipps or any of his books, visit his site on WordPress today. Visit here to read my review of The Tower of Zhaal.


The Tower of Zhaal by Charles Phipps

33971268Phipps’ sequel to Cthulhu Armageddon, The Tower of Zhaal is a dark and forlorn tale; a hybrid of cosmic horror and weird-west. For those unacquainted with cosmic horror, it is a sub genre, also known as Lovecraftian horror, inspired by the works of Late Victorian-era author H. P. Lovecraft. Known for it’s philosophy called cosmicism, this style of writing focuses on philosophically intense horror based on the occult or the unknown, almost always with the dominant themes of helplessness or hopelessness.

The Tower of Zhaal does not shy away from it’s nihilistic roots. Henry Booth, our protagonist, is slowly transforming into a monster. When cultists from the University approach Booth and his lover Mercury, they offer to save him in return for one task; they must hunt down a rogue cultist who is determined to release the last Great Old One, an ancient cosmic deity that exists outside of time and space.

In the tradition of weird-west epics such as Stephen King’s The Dark Tower, Charles Phipp’s The Tower of Zhaal is a milieu adventure filled with as many creatures and concepts from Lovecraft’s works as you could imagine. A dark world that your imagination paints with roiling black clouds across apocalyptic orange skies, rusted and corroded buildings, dead trees and wastelands in every direction.

Not bogged down by plot, it is a strong character-driven tale. The new threat to an already desecrated world doesn’t motivate the heroes; they are literally only concerned about Booth’s transformation. His character arc is the driving force behind the entire book – without his growing disability he would never venture forth, nor have been contracted to save the world (or have been capable of the deed.)

Phipps’ previous novel: Cthulhu Armageddon

I found that the book’s main weakness was it’s assumption that the reader was familiar with the first book. Many elements felt rushed: characters, locations and events cropping up from the previous tale and being mentioned only in passing. As a first-time reader of Phipps’ work I feel I would have enjoyed the book more if he had slowed down and spent some time reminiscing for the reader’s sake. Also, the book reached a point where, instead of feeling dread or anxiousness for what was going to happen next, I became tired with the introduction of more, and more, and more creatures. Sometimes less is more, and I think this book could have used less villainous creatures and given the remaining ones more impact.

But these aside, the book was very enjoyable. There have been many high profile authors try their hand at Lovecraftian horror – the most notable being Stephen King or Ramsey Campbell. The difference being, most writers try to craft an intense story set in our world, facing the threat of cosmic horrors… Phipps has challenged himself to make the heroes of those books fail, to allow the darkness to swell over the Earth and corrupt it. As the past decade’s obsession with zombies and Y/A dystopias starts to wane, it is a treat to read a more unusual version of the end of the world.

Recommended for those who enjoyed Stephen King’s The Dark Tower, David Gemmell’s The Jerusalem Man, or Robert McCammon’s Swan Song. You can read my interview with Charles Phipps about this book here.

C3-PO Mandella Effect.

Does C3-PO have a silver leg?

Due in part to the relatively tight budget George Lucas had for the first Star Wars movie, ‘A New Hope,’ the C-3PO outfit worn by Anthony Daniels was far from perfect. On the very first day of filming the costume kept falling apart every few minutes, a situation that made working in the deserts of Tunisia an especially grueling task.

This situation was made worse when a section of the left leg shattered and forced itself straight through the plastic covering and into Daniels’ foot. Fortunately the injury was minor, but the problems with the costume were never really fixed for the duration of the shoot. Consequently there are numerous sequences where only the top half of C-3PO is in view because Anthony Daniels is not wearing the bottom section of the costume.

The Chive

Many people have queried if, perhaps, the silver leg was one of Lucas’ digital alterations. After all, Lucas made the ‘special edition’ original trilogy as the ‘definitive versions’ and, until recently as a bonus disc with Blue Ray, the unaltered original copies have not been available. The following images are from publications before the digital alterations.

Images like this may have helped to cement an “all gold” image in people’s minds.

In the following image he looks gold, until you look closely at his leg and realize that it is, indeed, a different shade. In this picture, Lucas’ is correct in saying the sand reflected off his silver, making it appear golden in most scenes.

Look closely. These legs are different.

But then there are images of merchandise, such as the following model claiming: “designed from the actual android,” in which we see, clearly, two golden legs. So the silver-leg was overlooked by merchandisers, and the lack of continuity has raised many questions and much incredulity among the Mandela Effect community.

Authentic model kit sold in 1977.

This article here discusses the Kenner line of toys, specifically the droids. In the pictures it’s hard to tell if he’s golden or silver – the colours reflect themselves and each other – the sheen on the gold looks silvery, just as the sheen on the silver movie C3PO looks gold, reflecting the rest of the droids body. The article discusses how the toy was painted with a full gold finish. It’s simply easier and cheaper to mass manufacture a toy and paint it entirely one colour, then manufacture a different coloured piece.

At Wookieepedia, the entry on C3PO says this: “C-3PO was built from spare parts by Anakin Skywalker, a human slave who lived in Mos Espa, a city on the Outer Rim world of Tatooine. C-3PO’s memory was erased, though R2-D2’s memory was not. C-3PO and R2-D2 were assigned to the Alderaan cruiser Tantive IV, where they served senator Bail Organa for nineteen years. At some point during this time, 3PO’s right leg was fitted with a mismatched droid plating.” This corroborates George Lucas’ story about the reason why they didn’t paint the new leg plating (mentioned earlier in this article.)

It also goes on to mention that C3PO’s components were originally manufactured off world on Affa, about a century before the Naboo invasion. “At some point, however, C-3PO fell into disrepair, and his vital components ended up in a junk pile on Tatooine. Anakin Skywalker, a slave boy from the Tatooinian city of Mos Espa, collected scrap parts and started rebuilding C-3PO so the droid would help his mother.[19] Although protocol droids were normally designed for light duty in luxurious environments, Skywalker specially modified C-3PO so he could withstand Tatooine’s sand and heat.[20] C-3PO served Anakin and his mother Shmi by performing household chores. During his time with Skywalker and Shmi, C-3PO’s wiring was left exposed since Skywalker was unable to outfit him with an outer covering.” Later, in Attack of The Clones, when C3PO goes with Anakin’s mother to live with the Lars family on the moisture farm, C-3PO is given silver plating to shield him from Tatooine’s sandy environment.

In the animated series, The Clone Wars, C3PO’s legs get blown off on Cymoon 1, and in Attack of The Clones his head is easily detached and reattached onto a battle droid (and vice versa), and in The Empire Strikes Back, he is completely disassembled by imperial troopers on Cloud City. In The Force Awakens we see he has a new arm for some reason. There is ample evidence to show us how poorly designed Threepio is, that he breaks so easily (perhaps this backstory and later inclusions were inspired by the issues they had with the first costume while filming A New Hope.) It would make sense that the shin plating on his leg would need to be replaced at some point before Episode IV takes place in Lucas’ “used universe.”

On the website, there is technical details about the manufacture of the costume and numerous numerous photos. It is surprising how often the gold looks silver, even in Episode 3 which is the only film C3PO is actually all gold.

The main problem, I believe, with the whole C-3PO Mandela Effect theory is illustrated by the following image:

Once you see it – you can’t unsee it, as the saying goes. The leg is the same – it was always there, an unimportant and small detail we weren’t aware of, and then it was one day brought to our attention and the whole thing has been blown out of proportion.

Interview with Anthony Daniels

The Berenstein/Berenstain Bears

I’m not going to go into the Mandela Effect. If you are unfamiliar with it, then you won’t understand what this article is about. If you are familiar with it, then hopefully this article can raise or answer questions for you, depending on what your beliefs and experiences are. I will try to look at this subject from both sides of the argument and will try to keep my bias out of it. Personally, I find this whole thing fascinating – whether it is proof of Quantum Pollution or simply mass delusion or cognitive dissonance.


Section One: Typo’s or Remnants?

  1. Norwell Public Library. On the Norwell Public Library site is a listing of education children’s books. On this list is the following: The Berenstein Bears and the Drug Free Zone” by Stan Berenstain. Brother and Sister Bear try to solve the mystery of how illegal drugs are getting into their school. J BERENSTEIN. 

Opinion: Mistakes and printing errors can occur, but I do find it odd that a Librarian would spell the Author and the book title wrong on the library website.

See for yourself on the Norwell Public Library website.

2) In the archives of the internet is a website that collated information on 80’s cartoons. The Berenstein Bears was one such cartoon. On the 5th of February and the 5th of April in 2001, the entries on this site are Berenstein. On the first two entries, all links and references to books and films are also spelled Berenstein. However, from 5th August 2001 the show becomes Berenstain, as do all links, references and facts. Credit goes to Ya OughtaLearn  who posted a video posted on where I learned about this.

Opinion: It seems strange that, even if typos were made and then discovered, that the web author didn’t correct the first two entries and the relevant links and facts. The web author may not have even noticed their mistake, or perhaps was simply too lazy to correct their previous work.

Checkout 80’s Cartoons for yourself or view the original video on Daikhlo.

3) The Berenstein Bears Camping Adventure video game. On the Bears’ Wikipedia article it lists all the video game and software titles, and is accordingly spelled with an A. However, on YouTube there is game play footage where the opening title clearly spells Berenstein. There is also another video of game play spelled BerenSTAIN. On website Sega Retro, there is archived information about both the Genesis and the Game Gear versions – the scanned packaging and cartridges both clearly with an A.

Opinion: Perhaps, riding on the popularity of ME somebody has edited this footage to fake proof of ME. These old games are hard to come by, so it would be tough to prove or disprove the argument. According to the Retro Sega website there were never alternative spellings for the games, they were always published as Berenstain Bears.

View the Retro Sega archive here, or you can watch game play footage from BerenSTEIN Bears on youtube is here, and game play footage of the BerenSTAIN Bears on youtube here.

4) Practitioner Teacher Inquiry and ResearchPractitioner Teacher Inquiry and Research explores the concept and importance of the teacher practitioner, and prepares students in teacher education courses and programs to conduct research in the classroom. Author Carolyn Babione has extensive experience in undergraduate- and graduate-level teacher training and teacher inquiry coursework. In the book, Babione guides students through the background, theory, and strategy required to successfully conduct classroom research. The first part of the book tackles the “how-to” and “why” of teacher inquiry, while the second part provides students with real-life practitioner inquiry research projects across a range of school settings, content areas, and teaching strategies.

CAROLYN BABIONE, PHD, a former classroom teacher, is professor emerita of education at Indiana University Southeast, a regional campus of Indiana University. PTIR was published December 2014 by Josse-Bass. ISBN 978-1-118-58873-4.

While searching on Google Books I found that the index of this book lists references to BerenSTEIN (both the books and authors are spelled this way), but when you click on the page links everything actually written in the book is BerenSTAIN. How did this kind of error get to print?

Here is a listing for Practitioner Teacher Inquiry and Research on And here is a link to the scanned index, found on Google Books (page 301.)

5) YouTube links.

Robby Santiago was sent a photo of a VHS from a friend, titled: Berenstein Bears and the Disappearing Honey Pot. Unfortunately this could also have been photo shopped or edited some other way. It would be interesting to find other copies of this title for comparison.


6) The following is a list of books and magazines, with links, found on google books that aren’t able to be read online. I am supplying these as I would love proof from scanned hardcopies. If you search google books you will, literally, find thousands of entries for Berenstein Bears – so I have just provided a selection to show that it is more than a typo in low-budget publications.

Language, Literacy and the Child. In the Second Edition of this popular textbook, Galda, Cullinan, and Strickland continue to show new teachers how to use children’s literature to support English language arts teaching and learning in kindergarten through eighth-grade classrooms. LANGUAGE, LITERACY, AND THE CHILD presents current theories and research alongside practical classroom applications. With this organization, the authors provide theoretically sound, literature-based practices and teaching ideas to help students as they begin to teach. As with the previous book, the index lists STEIN but a further search of the text shows that in the book itself it is only spelled STAIN.

Drum: A Magazine of Africa for Africa. This magazine shows in their TV listings a slotted episode of Berenstein Bears. Unfortunately, I can not find an archived copy of this to further investigate.

Media Information Australia, Issues 75-76Published by Australian Film and TV School, North Ryde, 1995. This is another example of a publication that you would expect to be able to spell the name of the media it discusses correctly. And again, it is one that cannot be read on google books.

Companies And Their Brands, issue 9, volume 2. Surely this publication would get the name of the brand spelled correctly? But you guessed it. Berenstein again.

Billboard magazine, in a full title search on google books, spells it STEIN from 1996 to 2001.

New York Magazine has, on two occasions in 1984, spelled it Berenstein Bears for their tv/movie listings.

In conclusion, it is clear that assumptions and errors have been made. We have to be ready to admit that mistakes happen. Encyclopedias and dictionaries have had errors in them, but this does not make them definitive or true. And it’s when these alternative sources of information are referenced that these contradictory ideas can arise.

Please feel free to comment if you liked this article or have any information/experiences you would like to share on this topic.

The Heart of Stone by Ben Galley


The Heart of Stone is Galley’s eighth novel, and is my introduction to his writing. Task, a four hundred year old stone golem, has been killing on the field of battle for centuries. It was what he was built to do, and he does it well. But he is also an intelligent and empathetic being, and the years of war have chiseled away at him, eroding his humanity.

Task’s personal story is one of redemption, but the overarching theme of the book is about free will. Task must learn to break his magic bonds and do what is right. Lesky must learn to break the bonds of fear and rank and follow her own path. And the armies and generals must learn that, sometimes, you might just be the bad guy without knowing it and you have to choose not to obey your own orders.

This is also a book about faith. Not religious or spiritual faith, but a deeper, more personal faith in ones self and in those around you. Task must learn to trust people – people he has been systematically programmed to kill – and the people around him must learn to trust him – despite their fear of what he could do. Lesky and Task both have to rely on their instincts and rely on their hearts to make the hard, but correct choices – they must have faith, that when all around them say they are wrong, that they are right.

When he isn’t writing award winning Dark Fantasy novels, Ben also runs a highly successful self publishing consultancy.

It was the protagonists that made this book work for me. I loved Task’s little rebellious moments where he was able to push his boundaries and display some resentment. I genuinely rooted for the character. Despite being a Dark Fantasy novel, and one set in the midst of a raging war, the highlights for me were the more subdued moments. Those were where Galley shined the brightest. The moments when Task made friends in the camp, joining in their card games, or his developing friendship with Lesky, a girl who tends the stables. In fact, if anything, the book would have been better if it had focused almost solely on Task and the girl – their relationship was the best part of the novel.

One area that the book could have used more work on, I felt, was setting up the overarching conflict of the book. The antagonists fell flat, especially with the Countess. Her motivation wasn’t clear which I found distracting the first few times she was talking to the ‘enemy’, unsure of how she got there. The first time she killed someone, it was so out of the blue, and ritualistic, that I was seriously confused. Not shocked or surprised, but just confused. The military general, a typical Bully-in-charge type character, didn’t feel enough of a real threat to me, and in fact, the main villain of the story wasn’t particularly clear until much later in the novel. Instead of being a sudden reveal, it felt more like a random change in direction. If there had been foreshadowing leading up to this reveal it may have had more impact and even amplified the tone of the world.

Speaking of world… though he has a well crafted fantasy world, he missed opportunities to let us, the reader, share this knowledge. Fantasy animal names were used without once describing them, and I found this both frustrating and distracting. It took me out of the moment when I had to stop and decipher from the context what sort of creature was being mentioned. And it wasn’t just the animal names I found distracting. Nomenclature, in general, does not seem to be Galley’s strongest asset. The names of characters and places felt a little too quickly put together, and though some of these names do get an explanation, it isn’t until towards the end of the book.

But these issues are minor details. The most important aspects of any book are the protagonists and the writing itself. With the main character being a literal stone war machine, I was impressed that Galley was able to avoid turning the book into a splatterpunk farce – though the gore was visceral and dripping, it was used sparingly and spread throughout the book… just like Task’s victims. The rationed violence, and the fact that Task was a complicated and reluctant destroyer, gave weight and depth to the fight scenes that many novels lack.

Despite having flaws, they were not significantly detrimental to the story or to my enjoyment of it. Ben Galley created complex characters that faced real problems, inside and out, and the dialogue was well-written. I was carried along with Task, right to the end of his journey, and I enjoyed the trip. A very good book, and an excellent addition to any Dark Fantasy lover’s bookshelf.

You can purchase The Heart of Stone on March 30th 2017, or you can pre-order it now. For more information visit Ben’s website.

The Eye of The World: Robert Jordan.

l9780312850098The Wheel of Time series is one of the biggest selling fantasy franchises, with over 80 million books in the series sold, and published in over 20 languages. Jordan (real name James Oliver Rigney) is considered one of the masters of epic fantasy, and along with R. R. Martin, ranked as one of the nearest rivals to Tolkien. But despite this acclaim, there is a very polarized community; The Eye of The World seems to be a book people either thoroughly loved or thoroughly disliked.

The prologue opens with a scene from the past, showing a mighty battle between two wizards. Despite the aesthetically exciting scene, it felt flat and lacked the emotion or context to grab my attention or to make me care about either side. The characters spoke a lot of hackneyed “Epic English” which I found was more distracting than engaging. Though it was a valiant attempt to hook the reader with action and sorcery, it felt overdone, and I found myself uninvested. But, to it’s credit, it also lets the reader know that there is something more going on in this story than just the typical Good vs Evil battle; we see a glimpse of Jordan’s magic system and we know, right off the bat, that we can expect something different from the standard Fantasy tropes in this book.

The first chapter is juxtaposed nicely against this introduction; we are transported to the countryside, and straight into what feels like a homage to The Fellowship of The Ring. As I kept reading I found there were parallels, not just in the dynamic use of mythic structure or the heroes journey, but direct parallels between locations and characters and plot. Jordan once said in an interview that the start of the book was supposed to mirror The Shire, and that the parallels to The Lord of The Rings were a conscious choice, to give the reader a feeling of familiarity.

The Lord of the Rings is a milestone in the genre and in a sense laid the groundwork for what we currently call fantasy. The first 100 pages of The Eye of the World are quite similar to it. In it, you’ll find the idyllic, pristine world as in the world of Tolkien. But from that moment on, the story takes a completely different turn.” [Robert Jordan, Dromen and Demonen Interview, April 2001]

Well, he certainly achieved his goal, but unfortunately, he forgot to stop at The Shire, and his watered-down versions of Tolkien’s archetypal characters continue their journey through towns and hills and mountains that all bear glaringly similar names and functions as Middle Earth. By the time Jordan’s story diverges from his fan fiction and his characters finally begin to take shape, becoming more than just cardboard cut-outs of Tolkien’s creations, it is too late. So far are we into the novel before getting to actually know our protagonists, that it is hard to care for their plight, or share their concerns. And this is what made it so hard for me to invest in this journey; the ‘familiarity’ Jordan sought through intentionally imitating Tolkien merely distracted me. I found myself, not feeling nostalgic or comfortable, but bored and disinterested. I was unable to be taken by his characters or his world. And that is a shame, for his world is impressive. Despite the long journey through Jordan’s Middle Earth, there are a few unique aspects to this world that I enjoyed, such as The Blight. It is a vast area around a source of evil magic where, as the heroes venture deeper into the forest, it becomes more decrepit; rot and ooze and decay and fungus everywhere. It is a scene that evokes some excellent imagery and I would have enjoyed a longer visit to this dying and corrupted land.


Also, there is an organic, believable relationship between the people and the culture and the geography of the world. The philosophy and magic takes it’s roots from, not just European mythology, but Eastern and Oriental as well. Jordan is probably one of the earlier mainstream writers to incorporate Eastern mysticism into his fantasy novels, and while not being just an aesthetic or relegated to being some gimmick, it gives the world a truly exotic feel. A keystone of epic fantasy is not just the magic, but how it is represented, and how it works on a practical scale. Jordan provides us with a new and original take that is refreshing. There is no argument here: his world building skills are unquestionably high; up with Tolkien or Martin or McCaffrey.

I would recommend this book, if for no other reason, so you can say you gave it a go. Ultimately, everyone has a different opinion; subjective to ones own experiences and expectations. For me, I was expecting this book to be able to entertain me and make me want to read more, and that expectation was not met. It has been argued by many fans, that to fully appreciate The Eye of The World, you need to read the whole series, and that this was Jordan’s book for laying the groundwork for his Wheel of Time saga.

Unfortunately, most other competent authors have proven that it is easy to provide the groundwork in the first novel of their own series, whilst still delivering an exciting narrative filled with complex and multifaceted characters, and while challenging the reader through the subversion of common tropes, and the inclusion of original and exciting ideas. This book worked on many levels, but sadly, failed on so many more. Jordan is enormously popular and is a highly competent writer; unfortunately this book is not the vessel in which he demonstrates this.

Doctor Who: The Mind of Evil by Terrance Dicks

doctor_who_the_mind_of_evilThe Third Doctor and his companion, Jo, visit Stangmoor prison where a Professor Kettering is using a device on criminals that, it is claimed, drains all evil and negative impulses from their minds. The machine is used on a prisoner named Barnham who, to the Doctor’s horror, is successfully pacified by being turned into a drooling imbecile. But as the Professor tests the machine a string of mysterious and impossible deaths occur in the prison, and when The Doctor approaches the machine he is psychically assaulted with manifestations of his greatest fear – all consuming fire. Nearby the first World Peace Conference is taking place where one of the delegates is acting strange and suspicious. It is revealed that she is being manipulated by The Master, Dr Who’s archnemesis, who it also turns out is the man who invented the machine.

At the prison a riot breaks out as a prisoner who was destined to be next for the machine takes over the prison, capturing Jo and eventually The Doctor. Upon hearing of this, The Master meets with this man and supplies him with weapons and attacks The Doctor with the machine, weakening him. He reveals that it actually contains a dangerous alien Mind Parasite that feeds off mental energies. But the parasite is growing too powerful for The Master to control and he must enlist the Doctor’s help to contain it.

The Master then enlists the prisoners as his army and uses them to capture a nerve gas missile that is being transported nearby – his plan, to launch the missile at the Peace Conference and start WWIII unless The Doctor gives him the component to his TARDIS back. It is discovered that Barnham, having no negative energies left in him, is now immune to the parasite. The Doctor uses Barnham to unleash the alien on The Master while The Doctor sets the missile to self-detonate, destroying the parasite at the same time. Unfortunately, amidst the anarchy and chaos that follows, The Master gets his component back and is able to escape, killing Barnham in the process.

This book is the novelization of six episodes from season eight, aired in 1971. The scripts were written by Terrance Dicks, who also wrote this novelization. This has allowed him to expand on the nature of the relationship between The Master and The Doctor more than what was able to be shown in the show. Unfortunately, because it is six episodes compacted into one short novel, some scenes transpire so rapidly that, what would have been an engaging serial on TV, turns into a rushed mess that jumps all over the place. That aside, it is a very enjoyable book. Having never seen any of the classic series of Dr Who I was intrigued by the concept of Dr Who being exiled to Earth as punishment, working as a Sherlock Holmes type character in a subtle role, as opposed to the hyper-intelligent superhero he has come to be known as in modern serials. An acceptable political drama, but mostly a very decent sci-fi thriller. The twists were predictable, but there were also some ploys in the book that caught me completely off guard, which is always satisfying to be outsmarted by an author. A strong Dr Who story that any fan or layman will surely enjoy.

The Day of The Triffids by John Wyndham


When the carnivorous bio-engineered plants that can walk and communicate to each other, known as Triffids, are accidentally released into the wild they quickly begin breeding and spreading around the world, their spores born in the wind. They are farmed and harvested en masse for their valuable extracts, but when a mysterious meteor shower renders those who witness it blind, the Triffids are free to escape and breed more prolifically.

Bill Marsden is a biologist who specializes in Triffids. He is attacked by a Triffid while working and gets venom in his eyes. Exposure to immature venom in his youth have given him a resistance to the venom’s usual fatality and he is rushed to hospital. This is where the story begins. Bill wakes up in hospital, bandages over his eyes, and notices that the world is silent. He wanders through a crippled and chaotic London and learns that most of the world is blind; people are huddled in terror or crawling everywhere, calling out for their families. He quickly learns that it is dangerous to let people know he can see as the blind swarm him like drowning men scrabbling on a life-raft. He also quickly learns the harsh reality that he is unable to help anyone and that to survive he must leave everyone else to their fate. Bill befriends and becomes infatuated with a young woman, Josella, who can also see, and the two follow a beacon light on a hill and discover a small group of survivors who intend on setting up a colony in the countryside.

Like most apocalyptic fiction, this book is pretty standard fare – groups of gangs and raiders, slavers and militant types. Modern post apocalyptic fiction is considered to have first been published in 1826 by Mary Shelly in her novel The Last Man, in which a group of people struggle to survive in a plague-infected world. H. G. Wells re-invigorated the concept in the late 1800’s, but the genre rose to prominence after World War II, with the focus being on nuclear or bio-engineered cataclysms. Where Wyndham stands out is in the constant ominous overtones and the almost biblical images of the blind crawling, and eventually, rotting in the streets. The book does not take place after the apocalypse, it watches it painfully unfold and literally decay. Thematically, the major focus is in man’s meddling with nature and how ultimately nature will reclaim from humans. Gardens and countryside grow wild, streets are ruptured with weeds and shrubs and buildings crumble as plants rip through them.

And then, there are the Triffids. They almost come as a surprise – the book focuses so heavily on the destruction of civilization and on the journey of the protagonist, that you forget about these amazing creations. Until Bill sees Triffids Stalking him in the bushes. Attacking people in the streets. Eating their flesh. As their numbers increase the Triffids become a more and more significant threat. Similar to how in The Walking Dead the zombies are attracted to other groups of zombies, Triffids communicate and attract more Triffids. Soon the protagonists find themselves trapped in their countryside retreat, fighting at the walls and fences in a futile battle against a threat that is constantly and literally growing.

The Day of The Triffids is a complex apocalypse story set in an uncertain era of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, the dawn of The Space Age, the beginnings of a truly global market and burgeoning genetic sciences. All of these things have influences in the book, and most have a direct impact upon the story itself. Though aesthetically it is a science fiction survival story, at it’s heart it is a snapshot of post-war Britain; a social commentary of the concerns and fears of a generation that had just survived the greatest and most horrific war in the history of mankind. The war had shaken people’s faith in the world and the notion of peace and security, and these fears play out in the book on a global, tribal and personal level.

A thrilling and suspenseful survival story garnished with some truly creepy and terrifying moments. A classic novel that I highly recommend, and that truly deserves the title given it by Arthur C. Clarke of “an immortal story.”

StarTroopers: The Final Episode by Ged Maybury

A children’s adventure tale with surprisingly complex characters and plot. Gripping to the end.

Spencer Sockitt is a huge fan of the science fiction franchise, StarTroopers, and is ecstatic to get to interview the author – Arthur Thorsen – for his school magazine. However, the author is not what he was expecting: he is a strange man who claims that, rather than writing fiction, he has visions of battles in far off space, and he is merely a vessel that writes these down. But Spencer uncovers a conspiracy: the evil Blitzoids are here on Earth and are manipulating Thorsen. They believe that he doesn’t have visions, but is in fact a legendary Imaginor – his words and thoughts and beliefs shape reality around him. The stories he writes become real, and the Blitzoids are dictating his latest novel in their favour. Spencer and his friend Rebecca find themselves embroiled in a galactic battle as the powerful Star Troopers try to overcome the evil Warlord Kruel and his Blitzoid army. But things are never black and white; the lines between good and bad become blurred. In war, good is always merely a point of view…

Those who are familiar with Maybury will know that he is a quirky and outlandish character, and this book fully encapsulates those ecclectic qualities of his. What starts off as typical children’s book fare, with over-the-top names and language to pander to the younger readers and quirky mannerisms to define characters, quickly descends into quite a thoughtful and action packed tale. It is a deeper tale than you realise, as the plot is developed and the story explored from both sides. Maybury presents children with a complex story; the main antagonist has a deep and complicated background and the protagonists are flawed, biased and must overcome their cultural and social conditioning to draw their own conclusions. Ultimately, the book reveals that there is no bad guy, or rather, when it comes to violence and war that there is no real good guy. The growing sense of ominousness comes to a full, complex and satisfying conclusion through investigation and politics. Maybury teaches children that violence and conflict only propagate more violence, and that the only true solution is through understanding and diplomacy. A message that most adults still have yet to learn.

Maybury is a New Zealand writer. New Zealand, being a British colony like so many other nations, has a past that is speckled with racial and cultural injustices. And even though New Zealand has been a nation to quickly embrace equality with women and the indigenous Maori having full voting rights by 1893 (irrespective of status). Despite this, there is still colourful debate and controversy surrounding the initial land purchases made of the Maori people by the British Government in the 1800’s. This can be a divisive issue for modern New Zealanders.

This history would seem to serve as inspiration for the villains backstory, and Maybury approaches the topic from a neutral point of view. He doesn’t favour any one side and presents both sides as being wrong (a bold and contrary stance to make on an important issue that affects the cultural heritage of both Maori and Europeans.)

The language is colourful and infused with plenty of sci-fi technobabble that will surely entertain and impress the younger reader. For the older reader it can be over-cooked and often unnecessary, but it is also used very deliberately as a colouring method for the universe he has created and gives it a depth and an age found in franchises like Star Wars, and this helps to ground and normalize the more fantastic elements that are introduced.

I was apprehensive about reading a children’s book featuring an alien race called ‘Blitzoids’, and also based on the artwork of the cover. Childrens fiction tends to pander too much to children, or it ignores them completely and forgets they are the target demographic. Maybury has successfully written a tale that treats the young readers with a bit more respect; he isn’t afraid to throw in large confusing words or complicated concepts: StarTroopers is both colourful entertainment and also an intellectual challenge for children. This is exactly how it should be. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and for lovers of children’s science fiction, or New Zealand fiction, I highly recommend StarTroopers.