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Inflation is rising rapidly, plunging working people into poverty. A huge strike wave spreads from one sector to another. A major economy has pulled out of Europe, adding to the economic chaos, and a new disease spreads around the continent. The British government neglects these crises, and instead pursues a culture war. This bleak description fits the UK in the summer of 2022, but it is also the backdrop to John Brunner’s 1973 novel The Stone That Never Came Down. This episode takes a look at this prescient novel of a declining, crisis-stricken UK.For more SF reviews, visit andyjohnson.xyz Support the show
This latest instalment of my monthly series on the games I’ve played has four entries. It kicks off with Strange Brigade and Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair, two very different games which are united by their unmistakable Britishness, sense of humour, and love of alliteration. Next up I have a few words about the fairly obscure action RPG Of Orcs and Men, made across the Channel in France. If you’ve enjoyed the fantasy stealth games in the Styx series, then you may enjoy the game that first introduced that gregarious goblin. Finally for July, I revisited an indie masterpiece which has just been given a free and impressive overhaul. Tactics classic Into the Breach has been picked up by Netflix, who are making it available to their subscribers. To celebrate, Subset Games have upgraded all versions of the game to the even more excellent Advanced Edition. This gratis update adds a ton of new features, and makes one of the best indie games ever somehow even more perfect. Support the show
Normal human lives are in short supply in The Time Dweller. Originally published in 1969, this collection is one of the earliest efforts to gather together some of Michael Moorcock’s shorter stories. Of the nine entries in this volume, seven were originally published in New Worlds, one of the leading British SF magazines. It might not have been too difficult to get them published, because at the time the editor was one... Michael Moorcock. Support the show
Today, developers Bungie are known for the blockbuster Halo series and more recently, for the Destiny games. And while the studio changed first-person shooters forever, first on the Mac and then on consoles, none of their later successes would have been possible without their earlier work in a different genre altogether. It was the success of pioneering real-time tactics game Myth: The Fallen Lords which, in part, prompted Microsoft to purchase Bungie and to help propel Halo to industry-shaking success in 2001.Myth was ahead of its time. Its 3D environments were some of the first in the genre and Bungie’s work helped to forge a new style of gameplay. They cut away the base building, resource management, and large unit counts that defined Command & Conquer (1995) and Total Annihilation (1997). Myth isn’t a strategy title at all - but part of the first wave of real-time tactics games. It does more than make players think; it makes them feel. Thanks a unique union of writing and gameplay, each of Myth’s missions inspires feelings of desperation, terror, relief and - hopefully - triumph. 25 years later, it’s the emotional impact of Myth which makes it special to this day. Support the show
There’s not much need for preamble this month - I had a busy June, but still managed to play quite a few games. They were mostly on the older side; in fact the only 2022 release I played during June was a demo, and I rarely play those.I revisited two classics from my youth which still stand up remarkably well, in the form of gloomy tactics game Myth: The Fallen Lords (1997) and the forgotten Indiana Jones and the Emperor’s Tomb (2003). I continued my increasingly familiar ramble through the Halo series with the fairly tiresome spinoff Halo 3: ODST (2009), and that demo I mentioned was for the upcoming Agent 64: Spies Never Die. The real standout for me, though, was definitely Dragon’s Dogma. Inspired by the long-awaited announcement of a sequel, I finally picked up Hideaki Itsuno’s cult favourite action RPG and have been revelling in its idiosyncratic charms. Support the show
Frederik Pohl (1919 - 2013) had an incredibly long career in science fiction. He wrote, edited and worked as an agent for over 70 years, from the early 1940s right through to the end of his long life. Gateway is a key work in the second wave of his writing career, which began in 1969 after a long spell helping others to get their stories published. Originally serialised in Galaxy magazine, Gateway was a major success which won both the Locus and Nebula Awards for best novel, and the John W. Campbell award.This episode is a short review of the novel, which features abandoned alien starships, sexual hang-ups, AI-assisted psychotherapy, and space-prospectors gambling with their lives at faster-than-light speeds. Support the show
This special books episode covers three classic novels:The million-selling horror The Rats  (1974) by James HerbertThe aerial thriller Flight into Fear (1972) by Duncan KyleThe lunar science fiction suspense of A Fall of Moondust (1961) by Arthur C. Clarke Support the show
May’s instalment of “what I played” is a relatively brief one, simply because - well, I didn’t play that many games during the month. What I did unexpectedly get the chance to do is to review the excellent Sniper Elite 5, which is easily one of my favourite games of 2022 so far. I can admit to a surge of local pride, as developers Rebellion are based just down the road from me in Oxford. My full thoughts on the game are available for your reading pleasure at Entertainium.I of course also found a bit of time to tackle some older games. Thanks to the generous folks at Epic, I was able to play hyper-fast futuristic racer Redout (2016). I took a bloody trip into the distant past with Raven’s badly dated shooter Soldier of Fortune (2000). Finally, I have a few thoughts on the remaster of the end-of-the-world action-adventure Darksiders (2010). Support the show
The second standalone novel in Alan Dean Foster's sprawling "Humanx Commonwealth" series, Cachalot is an intriguing sci-fi mystery story set on an ocean planet and starring three scientists, a cop, and two friendly killer whales. Support the show
One is a Lonely Number (1952) by Bruce Elliott is a real obscurity, a dark and nihilistic escaped-convict story set mostly in Ohio. Black Wings Has My Angel (1953) by Elliott Chaze is one of the most praised crime noir books of its era, and for many years was a very desirable rarity in paperback.These are both excellent books, terse and powerful and as lively today as they were in the early ‘50s. If you like the sound of them, then I can recommend Paperback Warrior and Stark House Press, who I’m sure will guide you and I alike to many more engaging reads from back in the glory days of paperback fiction. Support the show
For me, April was another bumper month of games. In this month’s instalment of “What I played”, I cover seven games including two brand new ones which I’ve reviewed, and even one unreleased one, all of which I covered for Entertainium. In boomer shooter Forgive Me Father I confronted eldritch abominations, cosmic horrors and a sometimes severe lack of ammunition. B.I.O.T.A., meanwhile, is a very entertaining 8-bit style side-scroller set on an asteroid plagued by ravenous mutants. Both of these games have largely flown under the radar, but I do recommend them.The four older games I tackled in April were the impressive remake Black Mesa (2020), underrated open-world shooter Rage 2 (2019), baffling Japanese adventure Yakuza 0 (2015) and the excellent sequel Rise of the Tomb Raider (2015).  Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/andyjohnson)
Alan Dean Foster has a very extensive catalogue of SF works under his belt, most notably in his “Humanx Commonwealth” universe, which centres on an alliance between humans and the intelligent insectoid species the Thranx. Midworld, published in 1975, is a superb standalone novel in this setting - albeit one which doesn’t feature the Thranx. Instead, it is set on a nameless, verdant, and hostile jungle planet which is home to the descendants of humans left stranded by a starship crash many decades earlier. In the book, Foster tells an enthralling story within a brilliantly realised and convincing setting - and very likely inspired Avatar. Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/andyjohnson)
On release, Rage 2 got the dreaded “mixed reviews”. It got a lot of 7 out of 10 scores, which in the demented world of video game scoring is generally taken to mean “this game sucks”. Three years on, though, I’ve played Rage 2 for the first time and have been very pleasantly surprised. In fact, there’s a plausible case to be made that this broadly unwanted and unloved sequel is one of the more worthy shooters of recent years. It may have hilariously convoluted upgrade menus, and a thin story, but its core features are very entertaining indeed and it really gets a lot right. This, then, is my case in support of Rage 2 in six easy steps. Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/andyjohnson)
Appropriately enough given the state of the world, I start this month's games roundup with the post-apocalyptic tactics game Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden (2018). Later in March I tapped into the cultural zeitgeist - as I always do! - by going full goblin mode in the excellent stealth game Styx: Master of Shadows (2014). Strap in, because this month's roundup is, happily, a particularly long one. There are a total of seven games to cover, even if one is technically "just" a DLC. On Entertainium duties, I also got the chance to cover a new game I'd been looking forward to. Sadly, Weird West didn't live up to my personal expectations, but I'm aware that I'm in the minority on that front.  Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/andyjohnson)
Of all the asteroid disaster novels, one of the most notable is the book The Hammer of God, written by Arthur C. Clarke and published in 1993. Taking into account the latest science of the time, the book was the second-to-last novel that Clarke wrote alone and the last one he wrote alone outside of the Odyssey series. Incorporating elements and styles from his better known earlier books, The Hammer of God partly inspired Deep Impact and could be a good entry point for newcomers to Clarke’s body of work. Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/andyjohnson)
The Telling is a fairly short novel which revisits several of the themes which Le Guin had previously explored in the earlier Hainish books. In this sense, it makes for a fitting conclusion to the loose series. Opinions are divided on where to start with the Hainish stories, but I would certainly caution against starting with The Telling; while its setting and characters are entirely new, it leans heavily on previous depictions of the Hainish people and of the Ekumen. While this is generally felt to be one of the more minor entries in the series, The Telling has all the deep engagement with ideas that Le Guin fans will expect by this point. Support the show
Another month, and another step in the world seemingly disintegrating in front of our eyes. February was another tough four weeks of 2022, as our stupid, cruel and cowardly leaders continued to throw ordinary people under the bus. At least, as ever, there were games to play. In recent weeks I tackled two huge older games which I hadn’t previously played. One was the $6 billion juggernaut of Grand Theft Auto V (2013), and one was the triumphant return of the Slayer, Doom Eternal (2020).Excitingly, I also got the chance to play two brand new games in the form of martial arts brawler Sifu and the shooter sequel Shadow Warrior 3. These two Asian-themed action games were both on my list of the games I’ve been most looking forward to this year, and they both lived up to my expectations - albeit in somewhat surprising ways. A quick overview of all of these games will follow, but for my in-depth thoughts on the newcomers check out my full-length reviews published on Entertainium.  Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/andyjohnson)
In a few short years, Taylor Sheridan has been transformed from a bit-part actor on Sons of Anarchy into a major power player. Today’s screenwriters are almost anonymous, but Sheridan has some of the same name recognition and kudos once reserved for guys like Shane Black. He’s achieved all of this while bucking trends - in a far cry from the ceaseless deluge of superhero sequels we’ve been in for fifteen years, his movies are unambiguously written for grown-ups. Each of his five best films have been a key step in that transformation, which is why it’s worth recommending them each in turn. Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/andyjohnson)
Next month marks the second anniversary of Doom Eternal, which arrived just as the COVID-19 pandemic struck. The two have in some ways have followed a similar course since then, regularly introducing new variants to keep us on our toes. Late last year I revisited Doom (2016) in anticipation, and this month I finally caught up with id Software’s frenetic shooter sequel.It’s one of those games which obviously cost a vast sum to develop, and every cent is seen on screen and felt in the slickness and addictiveness of the gameplay. It’s also exhausting, with combat so intense and fast-paced that I only ever tackled one level per day. It’s too late for anything so grandiose as a review, and arguably too early for a retrospective so what follows is merely some scattered, personal reflections on my experience with the game. The short version is that I loved Doom Eternal, albeit with some significant caveats.  Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/andyjohnson)
Vast stretches of radioactive desert; rampaging biker gangs; vehicles and towns built out of scavenged parts; crumbling ruins populated by cannibals or mutants. The post-nuclear wasteland is one of the standard settings for genre fiction today, popularised by films like Mad Max (1979), video games like Fallout (1997), and their various sequels and derivatives. Written by major science fiction and fantasy author Roger Zelazny, Damnation Alley is a classic novel which not only helped to define that setting, but also features a perfect example of the modern antihero. Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/andyjohnson)
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