Doctor Who: Timewyrm: Exodus by Terrance Dicks

When Doctor Who was cancelled on television, it came back in the form of a series of novels, the first four of which made up the Timewyrm series. What’s quite exciting about this one is that it was written by Terrance Dicks, who is one of the best known and highly regarded of the writers who worked on the show during it’s original run (and beyond.)

I do think that the series was off to a good start with the previous book Timewyrm: Geneysis, but this book really managed to blow it out of the water. The first book had a lot of sex and violence, things which I am not necessarily opposed to being used in Doctor Who but which were handled in a somewhat immature manner and in a way that didn’t feel quite true to the show.

Nothing in Timewyrm: Exodus felt as if it wasn’t true to the show. Having said that, I also wouldn’t like to say it was just like something that could have happened in the series. The book does contain some very adult themes, but they’re mixed perfectly with the Doctor Who ethos, creating an impressive ambience between the two.

So what’s the storyline? Well, the Doctor and Ace arrive in London in 1951, but small things alert them to the fact that something is not right. They soon realise that history has now been changed so that the Nazis won World War 2 and conquered the UK. The Doctor then starts to investigate where exactly the timeline diverged and then set about trying to get it back on track – using time travel, of course.

Something that I appreciated was the attention to historical detail. All of the references to real life happenings (and the ways that they were changed in the new timeline) were really interesting. Alternative History is a genre I’m very fond of and though “What if the Nazis won the Second World War?” is a commonly asked question, the answer that this book provides is very enjoyable and thought-provoking.

What makes the book even better (for big fans of the show) is that it has strong ties to some of the earlier mythos of the show. I’d hate to say what happens, because I was very pleasantly surprised when I came across it naturally and I’d not want to rob anyone of that experience, but it was very cool. Although it might be lost on more casual fans of the show.

Overall, I kind of feel that Timewyrm: Exodus should have been the first book in the series, because it’s a really interesting and exciting story. I found myself reading multiple chapters at a time because it was, as they say, hard to put down. Even if you’ve not read the first book, the connections to it are relatively small, so you might want to give this a read. I’d say that it is one of the best Doctor Who novels I’ve ever read, fans should definitely give it a try, if they can find a copy.

Rating: 9.2/10

Buy it here.

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Feeding Creativity with Emotional Energy

I remember when I wrote as a teenager, it was usually something I did when I was feeling sad. The negative energy fed into my creativity and provided me with a nice escape from whatever it was that made me unhappy. It was good, in a way, because it meant that if I was feeling unhappy, the upside was that I’d be productive with my writing. I guess the downside was that it meant that I was more inclined to write stories with unhappy endings or a darker tone.

At some point (I’m not sure when) there was a shift within me. Rather than drawing creative energy from negative emotions, I started drawing it from positive emotions. I think it might have coincided with writing becoming a communal activity for me, as opposed to a solitary one.

When I started university, most stories that I wrote were going to be read but a lot of people. There were close friends in particular who I always enjoyed sharing things with too. Often I was driven by my desire to share my work with others and I’d look forward to seeing their reactions to my work. It was around that same time that I also started keeping this blog, which further helped to make my writing more of a communal activity.

I think that my writing turns out better when it’s driven by positive emotions, but that does also mean that I need to be in a good mood in order to get some writing done. It’s also possible that it isn’t the shift in my mood that’s created the increase in quality, but rather the fact that I’ve learned more about writing in those years.

Nonetheless, I do think that my writing has benefited from approaching it with a more positive mind-frame. If you’re a writer, I think it’s definitely worth taking this into consideration to see how much it affects the quality of your own work.

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Not Wanting to Be Friends

There was a time when I had completely run out of friends to spend time with. It was quite an unhappy time, because spending time with my friends is my favourite thing to do. Naturally, my solution to this problem was to try and make new friends. Not having much money to spare, I signed up to a website which is designed for people who want to make friends.

Someone added me who was similar in age, lived in the nearby area and had several common interests. That sounds ideal, right? So we chatted for a while online and then agreed to meet up for lunch a little later. I was quite excited and then, when we finally met, I found that they were easy to talk to and that they were perfectly pleasant.

The problem was, that I just didn’t care. It was quite an anomalous thing for me, but I actually had no interest in developing a friendship and cultivating a bond with this person. The whole time I wished I was at home reading or playing games. Even though I had no one else to meet up with and the addition of this one friend would have been a huge addition to my social life, meeting with them did nothing for me. I never communicated with them again and they never communicated with me either. I wouldn’t be surprised if they came away with a similar feeling of disinterestedness.

It was an unusual experience. At fist I thought that, perhaps, I’d just lost my ability to properly bond and socialise with others. This was a concerning thought. Then I thought that I might have been a little too depressed at the time to become enthusiastic about making new friends. Then I concluded, that some people just don’t have the right chemistry. You can like and be respectful of just about anyone, but to form a meaningful friendship, that chemistry needs to be there.

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Halo: Combat Evolved

To be quite honest, I don’t play very many first person shooter games. I guess it’s just not a genre which appeals to me in the same way that RPGs, platformers, life sims and other genres too. In fact, Halo: Combat Evolved might be the first FPS game I’ve ever reviewed on here. But since this was such a popular game and supposed to be one of the very best in its genre, I wanted to give it a try.

So what did I think? Well, actually, I was quite impressed. The game has you playing as a character called Master Chief as he fights in an inter-planetary war. Things do take quite an unexpected turn and though the story is a little too complicated, it does a good job of setting up for some high quality gameplay.

Master Chief (with the help of his AI companion, Cortana) has to fight his way through a race known as the Covenant (and later, “the Flood”) and this battle takes him through lots of different locations. You’ll find yourself fighting your way through space ships that are under attack. Sneaking around snowy wilderness. Having shoot outs in dark jungles and abandoned military bases.

Some of the area in the game are actually quite creepy and I appreciated how atmospheric it could be. In fact, the Halo games drew a lot of inspiration from fellow sci-fi franchise Alien. There are a lot of little references to the first Alien film and scenes which mirror moments from it – if you’re an Alien fan, you’re likely to like this game even more.

In terms of gameplay, I felt like the controls worked really well. I didn’t have any issue with the general combat. The vehicles, perhaps, took a little bit of getting used to, but they weren’t too bad. Generally though, I can’t fault it and that does a lot to contribute to my overall appreciation of the game.

The game has two major flaws, in my opinion. The first is that some of the research centre and space station levels are extremely monotonous. It felt like some rooms were just copy and pasted but with no enemy locations. Not only did they lack variety, but they also were far too long. I usually don’t like really long levels that are really interesting, let alone really long levels that are not.

But, still, most of the game’s levels were good fun and the game, on the whole, provided a solid experience for me. There’s also a multiplayer mode for people who enjoy having death matches with their friends.

Rating: 8.3/10

Buy it here.

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Healthy Diets

Last week, I had dinner from a take away fast food restaurant twice. I wasn’t very happy about that, but I didn’t really have much choice. My work day, while only five hours long, ran from 2:30pm to 7:30pm with my bus home at 8:40pm. I’d get home at 9pm or perhaps a little after. When was I supposed to make dinner?

It’s mostly these low level, minimum wage sort of jobs that have these late, erratic hours and if somebody’s working in this kind of position long term, their diet is going to have quite an impact on their health. Imagine, for example, a parent who finishes work at 7:30pm and then has several children who will need to be fed. Are they going to make a healthy dinner, which they’ll then all eat at 10pm or later (and which will effect their sleep) or are they going to pop into a take away and pick up some chips? It’s the latter.

When you think of it like this, working late suddenly seems even worse than it did previously. After all, there’s already the fact that most people are free in the evenings (and not the morning/afternoon), which mean that late shifts essentially eliminate social lives. Having had to work late recently helps me to realise that the people “at the bottom” (or at least, near the bottom) who have to work late shifts at their job, are having their health impacted quite a lot by being pushed towards unhealthier food-options and its quite frustrating.

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Being Offended

One argument I see quite often is the “Just because you’re offended, it doesn’t mean that you’re right!” Which is a true and fair point. Having said that, it should equally be remembered that just because you’re offensive, it doesn’t mean you’re right either. There’s a common attitude that “the truth hurts” and in some cases, yes, it does, but that doesn’t mean that the person who is presenting the most hurtful argument is the person who is right and nor does it mean that the person with the least hurtful argument is being too idealistic.

It’s just something that I have wanted to articulate for a while, because I see “just because you’re offended, doesn’t mean you’re right” come up so often and, really, it’s quite a worthless statement. It has about as much depth as “just because your hair is brown, doesn’t mean you’re right” or, in fact, perhaps it has even less depth than that. In a debate on any subject between two people, I think it’s quite fair to say that the person who’s wrong is more likely to have an argument that’s offensive. A level of offensiveness is a sort of warning sign that what they’re saying might be wrong.

Don’t get me wrong, sometimes people do become self-righteous and believe that their being offended means that they’ve got the moral high ground. For example “Seeing gay people on the television is offensive to my religious beliefs, so they should not be allowed on television” is a clear example of the person feeling offense being in the wrong. Equally, however, somebody might say “Gay marriage shouldn’t be legal, because homosexual relationships are just based on sex and there’s no real love behind it, like there is with heterosexual couples” and a lot of people would be, rightly, offended by that – the offense stemming from something that’s completely wrong.

It’s always important to assess why somebody is offended by something. If they’re offended because they (or another group of people) are being unfairly dehumanised, then their feelings of offense are absolutely justified. If they’re offended because they personally aren’t comfortable with certain hard facts about life, then they are not justified. Some people seem to think that if a person becomes emotional in a debate, then they need to be dismissed – but often offense, and other emotions, are bound to run high and (when it comes to certain subject matter) you’d have to be very detached for your emotions not to be affected.

(Don’t miss today’s Finger Puppet Show!)

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Assassination Classroom, Volume 4 by Yusei Matsui

Having loved the first three volumes, there was no doubt that I would buy volume 4 of Assassination Classroom. This review may well contain spoilers for all of the volumes up until this point, so make sure you’re up to date before reading. Here is a link to my review of volume 3, if you need it.

In this volume we’re introduced to two interesting new characters: Mr. Lovro and Etona. Mr. Lovro is the mentor of Ms. Jelavitch and I quite like seeing his response to the Koro-sensei situation as well as his relationship with Ms. Jelavitch. Etona is even more interesting in that he is supposedly the brother of Koro-sensei and he also wants him dead (like everybody else.) As Etona isn’t also a giant smiley face octopus monster and is in fact, a (mostly) regular kid, it brings up more questions about who Koro-sensei is. Being drip fed these pieces of information about his past helps to further strengthen the mystique around him.

Other than Etona, I felt like this volume was a little lacking in more dramatic events.¬† There’s a chapter near the end which is about the students getting involved in a baseball game. While I can still enjoy reading it, I found it to be one of the least interesting chapters so far. But, on the other hand, the series doesn’t need drama to be endearing – there’s quite a nice chapter where Koro-sensei, Nagisa and Karma travel to Hawaii in order to watch a movie and I quite enjoy getting the chance to these characters doing something relatively normal. It helps everything feel more real.

Towards the start of the volume, Ms. Jelavitch needs to prove herself in order to remain a part of the school. I liked that she took the focus for a little bit and it gave her some nice development. I especially enjoy interactions between her and Karasuma. Meanwhile Koro-sensei is as charming as ever and it becomes even harder to believe that he would genuinely blow of the earth… yet the threat looms.

Personally, I felt like the story lost just a little bit of momentum with this instalment, but that by no means means that it was bad. I think you’d struggle to find any ongoing manga series where the quality remained consistently high with every volume. Overall I enjoyed it and would recommend it to anybody who has enjoyed the story so far.

Rating: 8.5/10

Buy it here.

(Don’t miss today’s Finger Puppet Show!)

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NaNoWriMo Attempt 2

Back in 2010, I took part in NaNoWriMo and completed it successfully (I’ve mentioned this before.) I wrote a story about a man who fell in love with a woman and how he kept meeting her as he reincarnated through different lives. It was a good idea for NaNoWriMo, because I had a set starting point and a set ending point and an infinite number of possibilities to go inbetween. Completing NaNoWriMo felt very good and I remember actually looking forward to doing a bit more writing each day.

I’ve decided that this year I’m going to try and do NaNoWriMo again. In 2010, I used the opportunity to work on one, single, new project – my plan for this year is to work on lots of smaller projects and I feel it could be even more rewarding to get it done.

But will I be able to do it again? Well, I hope so. In part, I’m writing about it publicly to give myself the extra push towards actually doing it. In 2010, I was doing a lot more writing than I do these days – it may have been because I was happy and excited to be in sixth form where I saw my friends every day and studied subjects that interested me. Seven years later, will I be able to find that same motivation while working in a call centre? I hope so.

The goal of NaNoWriMo is to write 50,000 words in a month. Last year (at this time) I was writing 10,000 words worth of freelance writing a day. Having done that, NaNoWriMo doesn’t seem quite the mammoth task it did back in 2010. Having said that, there’s a definite difference between writing piece for money, based on briefs and writing pieces based on your own ideas for no money. I’m interested to see how I do.

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Fragmented Memories

I remember one evening, back in October 2011, when I went shopping with a friend of mine at the big Sainsbury’s in Bath. I bought two things: a particularly large jacket potato and an angel delight. It was quite cold for early winter and we had quite a walk back to the bus stop, where we got the bus back to my friend’s home. My friend had significantly more shopping than me.

We eventually got back and popped the two jacket potatoes into the microwave. We did them for 15 minutes, I believe, which I thought was quite a long time. Afterwards, we sprinkled some grated cheese on top and started to try and eat them. Alas, they¬† were still very hard and not really edible. I forced myself to finish mine, but my friend threw hers out. The Inbetweeners was on the television and it was the first time I’d ever seen it.

I know that that’s quite a boring story, but I wanted to use it to illustrate a point about memory. I remember that evening because I felt happy. I remember hundreds of other evenings like that with lots of other people. I can always remember the year and month that something happened, based on the context.

Often people say that I have a good memory, but I think it only applies to memories which are connected to emotions. Memories like these are things that can make me feel happy if I look back on them – so I do do that, for that very reason. I may not remember lots of the little things, but I remember the main events and the interactions with others that were involved. These framented memories drift through my head every day and are some of the most valuable things I have as they enhance things throughout each day. For example, I’ll always gain just a little extra enjoyment of The Inbetweeners because of its connection to this memory.

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Though he has definitely fallen somewhat into obscurity, as I was growing up, I always thought of Bomberman as one of the icons of gaming. He was loveable and the gameplay of his games was simple and enjoyable. This was the game that started off his video game career.

Even in this very first game, you’ve got the classic Bomberman formula pretty much exactly as it would remain. You walk around in mazes full of enemies and drop bombs which explode in four directions. You have to plant them carefully so that you won’t get caught in the path of the explosion, but your enemies will. Along the way, there’ll be several destructible blocks and blowing them up can sometimes reveal power ups – these include additional bombs, increases to the size of the explosions, increased mobility and more. Once you beat all of the enemies, you have to find the exit (under a block) and leave.

It’s pretty fun. Catching the particularly speedy enemies can be very rewarding and you’ll find that you have to use different strategies for different types of enemy. It’s one of those games that actually gets easier as you progress, because the more power ups you have, the easier the game is, no matter how many powerful enemies you’re facing. Every time you die, you lose all your power ups, so you’ll find yourself being extra careful as you go on, because death carries great significance!

However, while the general concept behind this game is very good, it does have its shortcomings. Every level, for example, looks exactly the same and every level uses the exact same piece of music. Yes, it’s a nice little piece of music, but it starts to get repetitive after fifty levels! Another thing worth mentioning is that the Bomberman series is well known for it’s multiplayer, but this first game is an entirely single player experience.

Overall, it’s a nice game and quite fun. I was also very fond of its bizarre ending. But I do have to say, that it’s very simple and doesn’t offer very much in the way of variety.

Rating: 6.3/10

Buy it here for Game Boy Advance.

(Don’t miss today’s Finger Puppet Show!)

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