23 of the Most Influential Books I’ve Read So Far circa 2023.

I’ve been meaning to create this list for a while now, so without further ado, let’s get stuck into it. Since I self-identify so much as a bookworm, then you can definitely decipher what kind of reader I am from this list. Note, these are not listed in any particular order, but Kafka on the Shore remains the most life-altering book I’ve ever read.

Casino Royale (1953) – Ian Fleming

The book that started it all ….

Reading Casino Royale gave me an introduction to the world of Bond, the movies could never give me. It was in this book, I truly fell for the world of Bond and how Ian Fleming perceived it. This was a gritty, dark and oddly philosophical look into the world of espionage as I have ever read and it wasn’t difficult to see why these book turned into the beloved film series they are now.

It was Casino Royale though, that cemented my belief that the film version in 2006 was my favourite Bond movie, because of the way how they adapted the story and the faithfulness the film stuck to the tone of the book. Reading Casino gives you a taste of the high life that Bond enjoys, the cold attraction he has for women, the paranoid cynicism in which he views the world and how he is struggling to navigate the dark world of the Cold War. It is an incredible snapshot into how men like Fleming viewed the world back then, and how people thought.

Yes, it is controversial by today’s standards, but it has remained a valuable insight to me, on how far we have come since the release of the book. I love reading Casino, because it is a wonderfully paced story, short, concise and well-written. Every character is wonderfully alive, and I love the character arc of Bond at the end of the book.

Casino Royale effectively tells its story and ends of a bittersweet note. It doesn’t overstay its welcome, nor does it veer too much into the fantastical like the other Bond stories. But most importantly, it created and established a winning formula …. sex, danger and a touch of philosophy that makes the Bond series so great.

Fleming’s style is wonderfully descriptive and concise. He truly has the ability to truly transport you into the early Cold War era and show you just how espionage, philosophy and elitism all clashed together to create something truly memorable.

Kafka on the Shore (2002) – Haruki Murakami

The most important book in my life.

I was first recommended Kafka on the Shore by my oldest and closest friend. He described it as something surreal and dream-like.

The first time I tried to read this book, I couldn’t. I didn’t know what to make of it. I couldn’t get into the style, because it was so unique and haunting. Every sentence had this echo like effect, where it seemed like you had to read it again, to fully grasp what was going on.

But what truly gripped me, being the lonely, quiet guy, I was when I first read it, was the casual depiction of sex in the book. There was something matter of fact about how sex was treated and in the strangest of contexts. It should have been vaguely taboo, but in Murakami’s world, there is an earnestness to sex that is unlike anything I’ve ever read in any other book. Sex is something beautiful, primal and necessary. It isn’t something extraordinary, sacred or forbidden, it just is.

And that was exactly the key I needed to truly enjoy the book. In Kafka on the Shore, resistance to the novel means that you will never enjoy it. You just have to accept the story as it is. It will give you passages about fish falling from the sky, haunted Japanese WWII soldiers in a forest, a librarian who does not have a gender … all of these things are just woven beautifully into the dream-like experience that is Kafka on the Shore. And just like a dream, it is futile to question why things happen, except that they do, and you simply are along for the ride.

Kafka on the Shore reads, behaves and acts like a dream that you cannot control, nor wish to end. There is a tranquility and nostalgia to Murakami’s style of writing that is addictive and compelling. To read Kafka is to be in the mood to be completely and utterly transported into another realm of his creation. So many passages didn’t link together for me in my mind, but the experience of reading page after page was too good to stop and truly ponder what it mean in relation to the previous chapter. This meant that the book became this experience that was looked at as a whole, instead of favourite chapters that I liked.

Allowing words to come and go in my consciousness was such an incredible experience, that it redefined how I could read books forever. Kafka on the Shore changed my life, because it changed how I could read a book. That is how revolutionary it was for me at the time and still is. Even now, re-reading scenes from the book, I am struck by how much of the book stuck with me, how I can recall how I felt reading certain passages and sentences, and how oddly timeless the story is, because like most dreams you do remember, they retain their vividness in your recall.

To read Murakami is to experience dreams woven onto paper. The book is so important to me, that it would be the only thing I rescue, if my room went up in flames.

Ratcatcher (2006) – James McGee

A crime thriller set during the Napoleonic Era.

Reading Ratcatcher proved to me that an author needs to be a meticulous researcher to create atmosphere and believability. James McGee’s talent lies not only in his ability to create a fun murder mystery/conspiracy but also the way how he weaves his research into the atmosphere of the story.

There is an almost tangible way how McGee recreates Napoleonic era England that makes it such arresting historical fiction. By combining his historical research with a much more modern fast paced narrative, Ratcatcher stands out from similar series like the Richard Sharpe series made famous by Bernard Cornwell. This is a modern style story set in the 19th century and for that reason, I enjoy reading it more.

In many ways, Ratcatcher is responsible for my love of that era. I became obsessed with that period of history, from the technology, the clothes, the slang and even the events that happened. It was such a fascinating period of history, where the rights of men were truly being defined for centuries moving forward and warfare also featured my favourite mixture of weapons, swords and guns, being used in conjunction. The idea of a Rennaissance Man was truly encouraged in the Officer class of the military, on both sides of the conflict.

After all, to become an Officer, meant that men had to be skilled with blades and flintlocks, able to ride horses, command men, hold themselves to a higher degree of courage, honour and ability than the common enlisted man. They lead the way from the front, charging head-first into rifle fire, and were expected to duel another man to the death for honour.

Ratcatcher opened my eyes to an era of history that is only rivalled by my love for all things Roman. Tall ships-of-the-line dominated the horizon as far as the eye could see, cannon fire ruptured the eardrums of all those unfortunate to be close enough to witness the carnage of 19th century warfare, horses still roamed the streets and the forests, their hooves clattering on the ground, the bond between men and animals still strong and high class men and women and poor labourers could pass by each other on the street and be prey to the highwaymen with the deep voice, the dark cloak and the large pistol brandished in the shadows.

This is one of the most interesting eras in human history and Ratcatcher is one of those books that proved to me that it is worthy of recognition. If you want to read a fast-paced murder/mystery that has a dark, sexy and fascinating protagonist, Ratcatcher is an excellent read that will make you reach for the history books to find out more about Napoleon and how he changed the world.

American Gods (2001) – Neil Gaiman

Who doesn’t love fresh, new takes on old stories?

As my first Neil Gaiman book, American Gods blew me away with how Gaiman’s style is simultaneously economical, yet descriptive. Reading his books is like hearing an old-grizzed veteran tell an old story to you. The story doesn’t have any fat, but it is perfectly brief in its description where it needs to be, to prove a point.

Take for example, the very first lines in the book.

Shadow had done three years in prison. He was big enough and looked don’t-fuck-with-me enough that his biggest problem was killing time. So he kept himself in shape, and taught himself coin tricks, and thought a lot about how much he loved his wife.

With just three sentences, you can instantly tell what sort of character Shadow is. He’s tough, cool and sentimental. The archetypal thug with a heart of gold. But the way how Gaiman described him is incredibly evocative. In many ways, the whole reason I fell in love with the book, is because I fell in love with Shadow Moon. He is the character I’ve always wanted to be.

But what truly arrested me was the phenomenal way how Gaiman turned classic Gods and myths into this overarching tapestry set against the landscape of America. As a relatively new country, founded on principals that are still incredibly timeless to this day, America lacks a mythology that can be found in Greece, England or Norway.

So instead, they create a whole new one for themselves, much like Christianity did when it first came onto the scene. They took every single myth and creation story and made it their own. Gaiman’s extensive research on America and its’ fascinating history of creating its own mythology (Memphis, Tennessee for example is taken from the ancient Egyptian capital and was named for its relation to the Mississippi River) formed the basis for his magnum opus.

Thematically following that revisionist route, Gaiman created this fascinating world between Old and New Gods, fighting for relevancy in today’s age. Like most people who are familiar with old mythology, reading American Gods was a huge breath of fresh air, that combined the reverence for the old stories whilst twisting them in today’s context.

It’s an incredibly novel and unique spin on old stories and I loved seeing how Shadow Moon navigated this world, like the fish out of water he was. The whole story was very much like a huge historical acid trip, that gave you memories of how people perceived these old Gods, but played with them, in unique and sometimes horrific ways that taps into the primal fear that we all hold for Gods and the power of religion.

American Gods is one of those stories, that sold me on the magic and style of Neil Gaiman and why he is one of the most influential writers in modern history. He truly is the old wizard who is cranky to tell you stories, but the moment he starts, he will weave magic with his words.

The English Assassin (2002) – Daniel Silva

Classical music in written form

Daniel Silva is one of the most influential writers in my mind, because he has redefined what class means to me. Not class in sense of “social structures” that people always harp on about, but class in the “elegant, posh and chic” sense.

His style is as I described above, classic music in a written form. There is an elegance and almost musical sense in the way how Daniel Silva writes. Unlike so many of the other thrillers I’ve read, Silva weaves his story in an almost operatic sense and scale. There is a clear crescendo to his stories that rival the high notes that a soprano must reach in Mozart’s Magic Flute aria.

I chose this story amongst all the Gabriel Allon stories, because of the duality of the characters within. The titular English Assassin is a classically deadly anti-hero, carving a small, professional niche for himself. He doesn’t allow himself to get attached, emotionally or logically. He merely conducts contract kills with all the lethal efficiency of a machine.

This contrasts with the more tragic, tortured and romantic Gabriel Allon, whose tortured past catches up with him, in the form of his ever demanding mentor. Tasked with looking after a talented violinist during an investigation which involves stolen art during WWII in Switzerland, Gabriel must contend with the English Assassin and a wider conspiracy to keep ill-gotten art in the hands of the Swiss elite.

There is a beauty in which Silva interweaves the two men’s stories and similarities and I remember reading the first chapter and instantly falling in love with Allon, Silva’s style and exhaustive research into the plight of the Jews during WWII.

In many ways, Silva’s work is a testament to the enduring impact of the Holocaust and through his style and stories, I’ve learned far more about the Shoah than I had ever imagined. In addition, I’ve also grown a deep appreciation for classical pieces of art, whether it is my current love for Puccini operas, or Old Masters artwork, reading the Allon thrillers have made me a much more classically learned scholar than I anticipated.

In so many ways, the English Assassin is a throwback to the early glamour days of Europe, where it was still the heart of intrigue, danger and beauty, where even small islands like Corsica held a magic to them that could not be found anywhere else in the world. Reading the Allon thrillers, made me nostalgic for an old Europe, where beauty and espionage came together in harmony that cannot be replicated.

If you love sweeping conspiracies, a melancholy yet romantic anti-hero and all things classical, the English Assassin has to be your introduction to Silva’s Gabriel Allon series.

No Front Line (2017) – Chris Masters

Investigative Journalism done right.

Growing up, I was enamored with one particular unit: The Regiment. The infamous 22nd Special Air Service Regiment (SAS) of His Majesty’s Armed Forces. It was these hard-hitting men that inspired me to enlist early on in my life (I didn’t make it in). The moment I wanted to join the Army, all I dreamed about was joining the hallowed ranks of the SASR.

Reading this book, which has respect but not reverence for the famed unit in the Australian Defence Force, allowed me to see the unit more objectively and better understand their capabilities. They are not superhuman, nor the myth that I idolised as a kid, but real men and women who have undergone the most intense training and are forged under the most intense pressure.

More importantly, No Front Line truly allowed me to appreciate what fighting a contemporary war is like, something that is so different to the romanticised version in my mind.

Chris Masters’ style throughout is blunt, journalistic and factual He is a journalist, following the lives of extraordinary soldiers in some of the most dangerous operations a unit can face in the military. Yet, he never allows himself to get carried away by politics, judgement or awe. He is an objective outsider, looking in, and critically examining every aspect of what makes these men and women the elite spear in the ADF’s arsenal.

For me, reading this book, allowed some of the wool to fall from my eyes, when it came to idolising the SASR and its members. Because I came to realise that to become a member of the Regiment, meant that I had to possess something extraordinary within to be selected. Reading the book and the trials these men went through, made me realise that I do not have that special ingredient to make become a Blade.

It also made me more aware of just how dysfunctional and unwieldly the Army is, as an organisation, and as an institution. From rivalries with the 1st Commando Regiment, to additional rules and conventions that must be abided by in combat, modern warfare is as much about checks and balances as it is shooting straight and calling in airstrikes.

No Front Lines gave me that holistic look at Australia’s most elite military unit and their history in Afghanistan, and how that war marked these modern warfighters in ways that still being discussed to this day. From their war crimes, looser discipline in comparison to the rest of the Army, their courage under fire and their tenacious spirit under fire, No Front Line is one of the best investigative pieces of journalism I’ve read, that truly explores the good, the bad and the ugly about being a modern soldier and all the complexities that come with being the best.

House to House (2008) – David Bellavia

War has never felt so visceral and no book has captured brotherhood quite like this.

When I was in high school, every Friday, my family used to take my brother and I to Borders, a multi-level bookstore in Chadstone that was more like a library than a proper store, because the amount of people that loved to stay there and read was obscene.

My brother and I’s favourite section was the military history genre. It offered a view over the surrounding houses, wasn’t too hot when the sun was setting and rarely anyone stayed there.

One day, my brother picked out House to House and couldn’t put it down. I was curious about what was so good about this book, and upon reading the first page, I was hooked. This was as raw an account of warfare, as spoken from the perspective of a simple grunt in the war machine that is the U.S. Army marching around in Iraq.

It’s difficult to really express how gripping the book is, but all the people within are what truly sells the book. David Bellavia has a talent of bringing to life these “characters” in his squad that make them real and unique.

He remembers and honours their bravery, courage and steadfastness by highlighting what makes them stand-out in his account, from an Army Engineer who preferred to use a guitar instead of an M4A1, and did his best to not kill anyone, despite using the biggest explosives in the Army’s arsenal, to a quick flashback to his platoon commander providing covering fire using a basic M16A4 with nothing more than a pair of iron sights, whilst his own carbine was dripping with attachments and smiling over at Bellavia, saying it was just another day in paradise.

It was these moments that struck Bellavia and in doing so, stick with the reader. House to House is a book I’ve re-read multiple times and still get a thrill out of reading, because the memories that Bellavia recount, are written so well, they almost fool me into thinking I was part of the squad that rolled in Fallujah, clearing house by house for weeks on end.

Unlike so many other military autobiographies, there is a humble element to House to House that lends perspective to the fact that despite Bellavia’s bravery and intense actions that earned him a Medal of Honor on that fateful night against 4 insurgents, he was merely just one firefight amongst the thousands that happened across the town of Fallujah, that featured the most urban combat since Hue City in Vietnam.

House to House is an emotionally charged read, that allows you to really understand the mindset and desperation that a regular soldier feels when engaged in combat. This isn’t a story that cares about the training, the weapons or gear. This is a tale about a man and his brothers being thrust into an endless hell of kicking down doors, not knowing what lies beyond and doing their best to survive, through the power of their fear and brotherhood. It is why the members of Bellavia’s squad leap off the pages, because he knows that this is his only way of paying tribute to them and their immense courage and the impact they had on him.

House to House isn’t just an epic story about how these fighting men fought and died in Fallujah, it’s a tribute to the average infantryman who often gets slept on for their own courage and prowess, when all the current media does is glamourise special forces units and cast regular soldiers aside.

No Hero (2014) – Mark Owen

The U.S. Navy S.E.A.L autobiography that inspired me to apply military discipline to my event work

Perhaps one of my biggest gripes with American Special Forces Units, in particular, the U.S. Navy SEALs, are their perchance to blow their own horn a bit too much. There is no unit more glorified and over-hyped than the SEAL teams and their supposed expertise at everything, despite …. coming from a Navy background.

Yes, Navy.

Not Army, but Navy.

When you go out there, you don’t see many films, books or podcasts featuring Pararescue, Rangers, MARSOC, Green Berets or Delta, but look at any catalogue of popular movies or books out there and they will invariably feature frogmen.

This is not to say that I have no respect for SEALs, but I do wish there was less saturation from them when it comes to dictating the story of Special Forces unit in contemporary warfare.

So, what made me pick up this one then?

It was the fact that it was written by one of the guys on the team that conducted the UBL raid. And it’s difficult to not at least open up to the first page, when you hear about one of the most famous raids in human history.

What I ended up getting though, wasn’t really an account on the raid itself, but more on how a boy from Alaska, became obsessed with the military after reading several books and watched films and struggled his way into a SEAL Team. It also gave me incredible insight into the processes of how a typical military raid is conducted, how it has evolved and the type of work that is done before and after the doors have been kicked in.

I finished the book, more appreciative of just how applicable military processes and techniques can be applied to the civilian world. Things such as reconnaissance, after-action reviews, simple mantras, can all be adjusted to my event work.

For example, reconnaissance in the event field, can be done with regards to traffic management, peak hours, the layout of the ground for temporary infrastructure, sight lines that offer the best views for instagram photos, etc.

After-Action-Reviews (AAR) were conducted by SEAL Teams after the completed a mission, an exhaustive and ego-free debrief that ensure future missions could be conducted even smoother, a key learning tool that I have applied in my own event work.

No Hero isn’t an ordinary autobiography of a remarkable SEAL, it is a tutorial on how military knowledge, procedures and discipline can be applied to the civilian world and a sobering reminder to me, that in many ways, all of our best practices and standard operating procedures come from warfare.

Neuromancer (1984) – William Gibson

If paranoia and cocaine wrote a book together.

Neuromancer has the privilege of being one of those books that I didn’t quite understand fully, but the writing, tone, style and complete immersion factor was so damn addicting that I completed it in one sitting.

Known as the original progenitor of the theme of cyberpunk, Neuromancer is as compelling and strange a read as they come. Gibson’s skill in creating and bringing to life the unique world of Sprawl is incredible. Reading the story, you are absorbed by the depiction of a world that is wholly unique, fascinating and laced with intriguing fictionalised slang, computer terms and edgy characters.

After all, how many stories do you know has their protagonist an drug-addicted anti-hero hacker, whose emaciated body is laced with poison and lives only in the shadows of a metropolis called Chiba City?

I picked up the book on a whim and was not prepared for the sheer nervous, paranoid energy that infected the story from the first sentence to the last. In many ways, Neuromancer reminded me of how good a story can be when an author is gripped by the same feverish, manic energy from start to finish. You don’t care too much about the alien jargon, the slightly confusing style or even the plot in a sense, you are just locked in this ride and you cannot get off, until the crazy stops.

And this book is crazed. The epic scope, the dark conspiracies, and technical nature of the plot, reads like a crazed man’s fever dream, but written in a way that is entirely believable in the world of the Sprawl. I love how it truly adds a strong punk factor into the world. This isn’t your typical sci-fi novel, where there are clean space-ships, glossy robots and cool laser guns. Neuromancer has a strong grunge aesthetic to everything, a looseness that only comes from cowboy attitudes or rock & roll mentalities.

Everything that is described in Neuromancer has this degeneracy to it that makes it compelling and unique amongst most sci-fi worlds and is why it has spawned the entire sub-culture of cyberpunk. The characters dress in leather, and are replete with tattoos, piercings and cybernetic enhancements that make them grotesque but in a bizarrely attractive way. Punk-rock and rap rule the airwaves, and the overall aesthetic of the world is one of perpetual night, shadows that are only lit by neon and a city that never sleeps.

Neuromancer is one of those books that is completely unique in how it unfolds and I loved every single, frenzied, paranoid and frenetic moment of it.

The Ninja (1980) – Eric Van Lustbader

Sex, violence and a bit more sex and violence. With a dash of martial arts wisdom.

The Ninja is your titular 80s action novel. It’s a snap-shot of what was all the rage in America’s most debauched decade. In the case of the Ninja though, you get a fascinating story of a hero torn between East and West and how he tries to marry both cultures in his mind. It is your classic English hero, growing up in Japan, being raised by Anglo-Chinese parents and learning some of the deadliest martial arts in the East before migrating to America and trying to start afresh.

Whilst this sounds like is your typical 80s B-movie shlock protagonist, the Ninja differentiates itself by diving deeper into the mythology and psychology of a man who truly is torn between two cultural identities. Lustbader’s extensive research into martial arts and his graphic depictions of just how deadly they can be in the right hands, creates an incredible action novel that is philosophical and insightful into the mindset of Eastern philosophies.

Then, you cannot ignore the graphic depictions of sex scenes that, for an aspiring writer such as myself, taught me a lot about how to write them. Lustbader’s style takes an almost sensual violence to his sex scenes. They are hot, heavy, graphic and fast paced yet never seem lewd or crass. That is a skill in of itself, as I find that so many other sex scenes are either too light on descriptions or oddly un-erotic because of how grotesque they read.

In many ways, the Ninja was one of the first books I re-read multiple times, because so many of the scenes were so compelling. I loved the flow of the book, the mixture of sex and violence, with cursory philosophical insights that really elevated what would have been a much more standard thriller. I learned so much from reading the Ninja, from how to write more graphic sex scenes, to understand intriguing martial arts techniques that actually serve me today.

The Ninja is an incredible read from start to finish and if you still long for the days of martial arts movies that would invariably combine Japanese mysticism and American landscapes, you have to get a copy.

Strike Back (2007) – Chris Ryan

I read the book cos I loved the cover of a man in a balaclava, combat fatigues and holding an MP5SD.

Chris Ryan’s Strike Back is a lean, mean, violent read that is instantly fun to read, because it skips any frills and fluff and gets right into the action. The combat sequences are terse, fast reads that speaks to the authenticity of the author’s famous pedigree and experience. There is something old-school about the way how Ryan writes his books.

This is a man whose genuine real-life experience as a former SAS soldier during the early 90s and 00s informs the story and gives it a hard edge.

What I found fascinating about this story though, was the cockney element that gave the main character, John Porter a much more believable feel. He swears, uses simple language like “sod it”, “bloody” and “mate” and is constantly at odds with his environment in a fun but understandable way. He knows that he stands out in the Middle East, that he is the last person anyone expects to lead a rescue mission, but he owns that fact and gets on with the mission anyway.

It is that element that made the character so much fun to read, despite the violence, action and general insanity of the plot. After all, this is a story is about an ex-SAS soldier turned homeless bum, whose past mission catches up to him, when the child-soldier he spared, ends up threatening a renowned journalist in the Middle East. And through that one connection, comes a chance for him to redeem himself.

But that zany plot and Porter’s general likeability are also the main reasons why I think Strike Back remains one of Ryan’s best-selling novels and why Cinemax ending up making a very fun action/military series based on the book.

In a lot of ways, Strike Back glorifies the ability of a single SAS Blade and his ability to even the odds, regardless of how stacked they are against him. It’s the sort of fun, informed escapism that is the perfect sustenance for a boy who dreamed of joining the military.

Enough to inform him about all the cool, dangerous missions that he might get involved in, but not realistic enough to bore him about the drudgery that happens in the military or just how hard it is to become a SAS soldier.

Strike Back fuels the appetite for many aspiring soldiers out there, and not many people do it better than Chris Ryan, in fuelling the mythology behind the 22nd Special Air Service Regiment.

Seven Ancient Wonders (2007) – Matthew Reilly

As epic a modern treasure hunt can get with an SASR protagonist to boot.

Seven Ancient Wonders is arguably one of my favourite premises to a story I have ever read. It is also the first Matthew Reilly book I’ve ever read and ever since that fateful day, where I accidentally stumbled across the author himself, at a random book signing, he has made his mark on my life ever since.

Matthew Reilly novels are to books, like Michael Bay’s excessiveness is to film. There is no limit to the insane creativeness of his imagination.

Allow me to introduce you to the plot of this book.

Seven Ancient Wonders is an epic adventure of a small coalition force fighting against the might of the U.S. Military and the European Catholic faction to find all 7 pieces of the Golden Capstone that once existed atop the Great Pyramid of Khufu, and were hidden across the iconic 7 Ancient Wonders. By assembling the Golden Capstone atop the Pyramid, you not only prevent a solar sunspot from heating up the planet of Earth, but you can also performance a ritual of power, spoken in an ancient language, that will grant your homeland infinite power.


Needless to say, from the moment I started reading, I was hooked. It was everything I ever wanted in a story. A classic underdog hero, facing up against a terrifying villain, in a modern setting, with ancient booby traps and inventive, crazy action set-pieces.

Nothing could be better, until of course, Reilly created a huge series out of the premise and kept the crazy ride going all the way through 7 books.

But it was the original that captured my heart; from the unique premise, to the creative takes on booby traps and ancient history and the cast of characters that were hard not to fall in love with. In particular, I loved the fact that they were such a diverse team and acted like a family. One of the key driving elements of the story, was Lily, a little girl whose ability to read the Word of Thoth, an ancient language, made her critical in the race to assemble the Golden Capstone.

She was the adoptive daughter of the main character, Jack West Jr., a tough, taciturn Australian, whose service in the SASR and the U.S. Military complex, made him the leader of the small coalition. The way how Jack and Lily grow together, as well as the multicultural team around them, is easily one of the best parts of the story and really creates a more compelling drama, amidst such an action-packed treasure hunt, that spans the globe.

There are truly not enough words to describe how much I loved this book as a teenager and how Matthew Reilly shaped the way how I read action novels. His imagination and insane break-neck pace is what got my entire group of friends at school in reading more books, an achievement that I recall being praised for by my English teacher who was struggling to get more students to read.

It was Reilly that catapulted by drive to read as much as I could, learn all kinds of guns and really expand my imagination on what is possible whilst keeping things semi-realistic. So, I have to give major props to Seven Ancient Wonders for starting that journey and being such a huge impact on my active imagination.

I cannot recommend this book enough, if you are even a tiny bit interested in any of these buzz words: action, ancient history, military, guns, fast and furious and Michael Bay on paper. This is just one of those books where I can proudly say an Australian wrote this and he did an incredible job.

Atlantis Found (1999) – Clive Cussler

As swashbuckling a story you can get, with a splash of Neo-Nazis to make it even more fun reading.

This was my first Dirk Pitt novel and let me just tell you, it was a doozy.

As you can tell by now, I have a fervent love for adventure novels, and Clive Cussler is one of those titans in the industry that has never let me down. His books are just so damn fun and classic. They are epic in scope, without losing sight of the fun chemistry between Pitt and Al Giordino and how their friendship can stack up against insurmountable odds.

It’s the classic story of an invincible protagonist who is never rattled by the situation and outwits his opponents with style and aplomb. I can’t help but love the character of Dirk Pitt, his witty one-liners, his resourcefulness and charisma is almost unmatched in fiction. I mean, there is something to be said about Pitt, that he stands tall against so many crazy villains that Cussler has invented throughout the course of the series.

In Atlantis Found, the villains are a novel take on Neo-Nazis in 1999 and it’s incredibly fun to see Pitt go up against them, especially with just how insane Cussler went with how evil they are; from using U-Boats against ice-breakers, cloning perfect versions of themselves and of course escaping to Argentina and creating massive arks that will enable them to survive an incoming cataclysm so that they can mold the world as they see fit.

An insane plot to be sure, and somehow Cussler tucks in a fasincating take on Atlantean lore to boot.

When you read Cussler books, you know you are just in for a good yarn. I use the word “yarn” for a reason, because it is distinctively American in how it plays out, and yet all the better for it. There is no pretense in how much Cussler love his characters and his imagination truly allows them to shine in the craziest situations. It is a unique voice in adventure fiction, because Pitt is an self-insert character for Cussler’s dream.

A tall, rugged, man with a deep love for the ocean and its adventure, and a perchance for collecting classic automobiles and artefacts.

It was Cussler that convinced me that a lovingly restore old car, will always grab my attention far more than the latest trend in automobile design. Something about their curves will always arrest me on the spot and while I didn’t quite develop the same fascination for the open seas, I still believe in the old adage that the ocean’s vastness is comparable to that of space and share the same amount of danger, intrigue and mystique.

Dirk Pitt novels are just your classic swashbuckling yarns and I am still saddened that Cussler is not around anymore to push out more novels.

River God (1993) – Wilbur Smith

THE definitive historical fiction on Ancient Egypt. No other story comes close to matching Smith’s magnum opus.

There are certain books that I believe are modern classics. River God is one of those. Along with James Clavell’s Shogun, these historical fiction epics are in the same vein as heroic poems of old. They cover so much time and detail in such rich authenticity that you are unable to stop reading and take every single facet of the story as truth.

That is the power of historical fiction. The author’s painstaking research, adherence to the rules and customs of the time period, combined with their imagination, create a totally believable slice of alternate history. It is the perfect way to experience history and become immersed in a world that you know once existed.

After all, that question about “if you had a time machine, where would you go?” is answered in a way, with historical epics.

River God follows the slave and eunuch, Taita, on his journey to serve his mistress, Lostris, whose beauty enables her to rise from teenager to Queen, amidst the invasion of Egypt by a foreign army known as the Hyksos. It’s difficult to fully articulate the sheer scope and ambition of Smith’s narrative in this book, because it covers so many events.

The first half of the book is centered around Taita guiding Lostris’ marriage to the Pharaoh and his desperate attempt to hide her relationship with a charismatic general, Tanus. Then the book pivots and throws in the technologically superior Hyksos army who drives Lostris, her newborn son Tanus and the greater Egyptian army into exile.

All of this, and Smith has the talent to tell the story in the first person and cement the epic’s emotional core with the achingly lonely love story Taita has for Lostris, but is unable to do anything about, due to his status as a slave and eunuch.

There isn’t much else I can espouse about this book, beyond just how original and creative it is. It truly feels like Smith tapped into a vein of ancient history that we all have long held a fascination with. The way how he explores all facets of ancient Egyptian history, from the poor neighbourhoods, the politics surrounding the position of Pharoah, the military tactics, the religious overtones everything had and even some casual Egyptian slang, all from the eyes of a very talented and ingenious slave is simply a delight to read.

If you want to read an ancient Egyptian historical epic, there is simply none better than River God. It will transport you into the world that you’ve only imagined when staring at the Great Pyramids.

Killing Floor (1997) – Lee Child

Economical, addicting and charismatic … just like Jack Reacher himself.

It is said that a Jack Reacher book is sold every 9 seconds around the world.

There is no denying the enduring appeal that Jack Reacher has on the greater population of crime readers. I should know, because I have bought all 26 of them, since ripping through Killing Floor.

I was late to the party, but I definitely made up for lost time, by buying the entire series within a year.

So, what is the goddamn appeal behind these books?

I would like to pinpoint that it is the character. But in all honesty, it’s the premise and what it represents. Jack Reacher is the hero that everyone is familiar with. The loner who walks into town and promptly removes the plague that has afflicted the town. The plague could be a widespread corruption, a sinister corporation, a classless crime gang or a deadly, wealthy family.

In the case of Killing Floor, it is a wealthy family whose grip on the small town of Margrave enables them to get away with a massive counterfeiting scheme. Reacher, whose sole reason for stopping by this tiny dot in the middle of Georgia due to a rumour about Blind Blake’s death, soon finds himself embroiled in the Kilner’s family crimes, after he is accused of murder.

Written in the first person, Killing Floor is an incredible insight into a character, that later in the series, is often seen as taciturn and stoic with a dry sense of humour. As the series has progressed, Child has preferred to write the Reacher book in the third person, which leaves his earlier works as the purest insight the mind of his titular protagonist.

Killing Floor is as much a blueprint for the success of the series, as it is a solid crime thriller, which unravels and unpacks the mysteries at a very slow, methodical pace. You’ll see exactly how a younger Reacher tackles the situation in front of him and why he is such a brilliant character and unlike the later books, you’ll see exactly how he processes every single situation in front of him.

I cannot recommend Child’s work enough. He’s the perfect description of economical writing and how you can truly be brief and precise, yet descriptive enough to sell a story. I’ve taken away heaps of lessons on how to write more tersely thanks to the Jack Reacher series. The books are also a wonderful way of viewing America in a different light, to the usual glamour of Hollywood. After all, Lee Child is British and it is his unique perspective, of a foreigner looking into a country, that lends his books so much credibility.

Stormbreaker (2000) – Anthony Horowitz

A teenage James Bond … the perfect gateway drug for a teenage me.

I adore the Alex Rider series. It’s campy, fun, over the top and written by a author whose work has spanned many genres. Horowitz has dabbled in horror, detective novels and even published two official Bond novels after Fleming’s death. It was the Alex Rider series that really started my love for espionage genre and I devoured them hungrily throughout my high school days.

I wanted nothing more than to be recruited by MI6 and be turned into a lethal weapon at the tender age of 14. Despite how campy the books were though, there was a real love for the original source material of James Bond. I could tell that through Horowitz’s style and strict adherence to classic Bond film tropes …. a silly, fun henchman, a campy, ridiculous villain, fun gadgets, a sassy quartermaster and an fun, exotic location.

It was also a darkly humorous and serious book, so much so, that I ended up falling in love with the quote on the cover of the book … you are never too young to die. This dark line has stuck with me ever since, a warning against the idea that we are some invincible character, because we consider ourselves the protagonist in our own story. Instead, it was a sobering reminder that death can come in many different forms, and sometimes we are truly powerless against such fate.

Beyond that dark life lesson though, Stormbreaker served as a strange tool that get all my fellow friends into reading. After all, this was a highly relatable hero, our age and going on exciting missions that we could only dream of. The style was edgy, quick and witty. Alex was the perfect foil for our young minds, cool enough to want to impersonate, yet close enough in attitude to relate to. It didn’t help either, that Horowitz knew exactly what sort of innocuous toys could be used as gadgets, such as Gameboys, cool BMX bikes and even pimple cream.

Alex Rider taught me a lot of things, but chief amongst them, was the fact that if your uncle taught you multiple languages, enrolled you in self-defence classes, took you snowboarding, BMX biking, rifle shooting and different cultures … chances were, he was grooming you to be a teenage spy.

Honestly … fatherhood goals right there.

Shogun (1975) – James Clavell

I learned everything about Japan through this book. No other story comes close to capturing what makes Japan, Japan.

Shogun is one of those magnum opus that the more time you invest in it, the more it rewards you. I had no real concept of Japan and its’ unique culture until I read this incredible novel by James Clavell.

Set during the early years of feudal Japan, Shogun is told through the eyes of an Englishman, the first ever to set foot on Japanese soil and how he becomes an invaluable tool for an upcoming daimyo to seize power and become a Shogun. It is through this unique fish out of water lens, that Clavell unleashes his incredible research and study into Japanese culture.

For those who know nothing about Japan, I would argue that reading Shogun will give you a critical understanding of what Japanese culture is all about and how the tenets of their warrior code, bushido is interwoven into every aspect of a Japanese person’s life. Key concepts like karma, wa, and bushido are all brilliantly explained by Clavell’s use of characters, their arcs and place within the grander story.

This was one of the rare novels that my father recommended me to read, during my late high school days, and it took me weeks to finish, because of how long and dense the novel was. But what a world I was transported to, every time I reopened the book and found myself embroiled in feudal Japanese politics, mind games and memorable characters.

To this day, I can vividly recall how my mind would create castles that these characters would fight in, the way how Blackthorne slowly becomes more Japanese as he assimilates himself into their culture, and how I found myself enraptured by so many adult themes, of politics, sex, sinister motivations and forced politeness due to saving face.

Shogun left an undeniable mark on me as a person, because it opened my eyes to the unique world, aesthetic and common logic of Japan and provided me with fascinating lessons into Asian culture and just how different it is to Western ideology. It was Shogun that allowed me to learn about what it means to be Asian, and all of this was explained richly by a man who has done an incredible amount of research and invested so much of his passion into creating this unique story.

In many ways, Shogun was my first real taste of an epic novel, something that spans years in its scope and is so unfathomably big in how ambitious the story wants to be. It is why, the more you read it, the more you found yourself unable to tear yourself away.

I learned so much about Asian culture through this book and I bear no ill will, that it took an British writer to teach me. Sometimes, just like in the case of the Jack Reacher book, you learn more from an outsider’s perspective than the view from inside the bubble.

Memorial Day (2004) – Vince Flynn

A post 9/11 power fantasy about a CIA assassin, done right. Why? Because it’s House of Cards but with guns.

Mitch Rapp is one of the most ridiculous and fun anti-heroes ever created.

Allow me to sell you his resume.

He is a former All-American lacrosse player and Iron Man Triathlon winner, whose high-school sweetheart is killed in terrorist plane hijacking.

Seeking revenge, he becomes a member of the CIA and over the years, becomes an elite assassin that works alongside Tier One special operations units, whilst being given complete autonomy over his actions, that include kidnapping, enhanced interrogation, assassination, blackmail and even downright cold blooded executions.

This is an aggressively American power fantasy. A creation that, if it wasn’t for the political aspect, would have disappeared amongst thousands of other Tom Clancy clones. However, Vince Flynn injects incredible political commentary and knowledge that gives these big military/espionage stories a whole new layer of depth. For in the Mitch Rapp series, it isn’t the fact that American troops are inept, it is their political system that hinders them.

Rapp is constantly fighting against procedures, red tape and political ego-stroking to prevent terrorist attacks abroad and on home soil. His fight isn’t just against the enemy, it is also with those in Washington who wish to use him to climb the political ladder.

It is this extra layer that really makes the tension in the Rapp series. Rapp can see his target, reach out and end the man before he does any harm. But he cannot do so, without permission from the higher ups, who are concerned about the political fallout of such an action.

Memorial Day was one of the first Mitch Rapp books I’ve ever read and the Special Forces raid on a small village in Pakistan will go down in my memory as one of the most impressive things I’ve ever read, combining all the complex nuances of a huge military raid, involving helicopters, different squads, and even a quick section from the terrorist perspective. This was such a huge influence on me that I have used it as a blueprint for all future military style stories I have written since.

What made the series and this book so compelling though, was the fact that I got to view my military obsession in a different light. It wasn’t all about kicking down doors, throwing flashbangs and slotting terrorists with two shots to the head. Nor was it just about intelligence gathering and using satellites to find wanted people. These books were an insight into just how unwieldy, complicated and slow things can be in the political landscape, and how that can affect soldiers in real time.

Knowing these elements, is why sometimes, when I look at the POTUS in the Situation Room on the news, I know just how serious and critical a decision can be made in that moment. Lives can be lost, people can get away with heinous crimes, people can be forever altered and all of that hinges on a single man’s decision, after weighing up a thousand different consequences, actions and intelligence.

It is like playing God. The Rapp series gave me that appreciation for not only all the sacrifices military members must make, but also just how much the stakes are raised, simply because a man all the way in Washington D.C. is pausing for 7 seconds to make a life-altering decision.

Rogue Element (2003) – David A Rollins

The first proper thriller I’ve ever read, and fun fact … the first sex scene I’ve ever read too.

This was one of those books that I picked off my father’s bookshelf and was pleasantly surprised by for a number of reasons. Firstly, because it is written by an Australian author, for an Australian audience. Secondly, it showcases aspects of the Australian intelligence and military that is often overlooked. Thirdly, the book has an incredible premise regarding Indonesian aggression towards Australia after the East Timor fight for independence. And finally, the book itself is an incredibly tight and smartly written thriller, bouncing between multiple perspectives and views over a disaster, the worst type, a downed passenger 747 in Indonesian forest.

Rogue Element is memorable to me, because it is the first book I ever read that really showcased the capabilities of the SASR, the premier elite fighting force in the Australian Defence Force. I was enamored by the way how I understood the casual Australian slang and the way how these men in the novel carried themselves. But beyond that aspect, I also loved the jungle survival element that the survivors of the crash had to endure in the story. There was an intensity to their scenes, whilst being hunted, that really captured me and forever put the question in my mind, what I would do if placed in such an harrowing experience.

After all, you cannot read a book about a passenger plane being shot down, without wondering what you would do in such a situation.

Where Rogue Element shines though, is how Rollins never loses the important threads that work into an investigation of this magnitude. The book is crystal clear in how it navigates such a huge scope. You never lose sight of the survivor’s desperation, nor the larger government and political ramifications surrounding this disaster. Everything flows from one perspective to another and it is a very immersive and fast-paced read. Everything is paced beautifully and clues and pieces fall into place very neatly one after another.

As my first ever proper thriller that wasn’t written by Matthew Reilly and incidentally one of the first ever sex scenes I’ve ever read, this is an excellent showcase on how being worldly is a crucial tool for any writer.

You cannot write a book about Indonesian aggression towards Australia, without understanding both international governments, and every single key piece that the two global players will use against each other …. intelligence agencies, international treaties, special forces units … having a good solid grasp of all of these and pairing them with a realistic imagination will create a fun thriller like Rogue Element.

Scruples (1978) – Judith Krantz

My first ever venture into the genre known as “sex and shopping” and I’ve not been the same man since.

I have never read a book that featured as many sex scenes as Scruples, nor have I read any like that since. If I am honest, Scruples reads like a book written by a woman who wishes to enjoy the ultimate American success fantasy …

So please read this quick recap. The protagonist Wilhelmina Hunnewell Winthrop (I know, as upper class American a name can be), known as “Billy” grows up poor and ugly, but is lucky enough to recieve 10G from an estranged aunt who tells her to spend it foolishly. Moving to Paris, she undergoes the classic ugly duckling transformation and blossoms into a curvaceous and elegant woman.

Upon her return to America, she moves to New York, where she essentially becomes addicted to sex, thanks to her roommate and gets a job where she meets and sleeps with the CEO of a big Enterprise. The experience is so whirlwind and heavy, that the CEO divorces his wife, marries Billy where they spend the next couple of years living lavishly.

However the CEO suffers a stroke, and whilst he is in a coma, Billy develops a compulsion for shopping in Beverly Hills and after her husband’s death, decides to do something an open a luxury boutique store called … Scruples. The business is a huge success because it offers a whole new retail experience never seen before in the area, as well as cutting edge fashion trends from Paris, and eventually leads Billy into the arms of a film producer, who she falls heads over heels for.

The story ends at the Oscar, where the film her new lover is producing is about the win, Billy’s store is making a killing and essentially it is a happy ending for all.

Throw in a major romantic subplot revolving around a hot fashion photographer called Spider who is described as a “devout heterosexual” (a term I have shameless plagarised on multiple occasions) and a fiery French stylist called Valentine and more insight into the rich and powerful world of American elite and you got yourself Scruples, my first ever “bonkbuster.”

If you found yourself enjoying just how ridiculous the plot unfurls, then I highly suggest a read. I’ve never read since, that was as half entertaining, ridiculous, hilarious and completely alien to my world view since. This was akin to opening the curtain to a brothel and not realising just how intoxicating the world can be when you are greeted with such a view.

Scruples is scandalous, fun, and written at a breakneck pace. It’s a glamorous read that almost makes you think such a lifestyle is possible, if luck was truly on your side all the way through your life and you were hot and smart enough to capitalise on all the right opportunities.

The main lesson this novel taught me, is that if a woman is blessed with curves, a forward sexual confidence, can embody classy elegance and is given enough money, she can and will conquer any obstacle in her way.

And I can’t help but feel faintly jealous of that superpower.

Lorna Doone (1869) – R.D. Blackmore

My favourite romance novel, because it’s a romance but it’s also a sweeping adventure story.

I first read Lorna Doone as a children’s abridged edition. It featured classic style art that really sparked my imagination of what it was like to live and breathe during the 17th Century, amongst the moors of Exmoor. I was also entranced by this epic love story that spanned several years, and against a violent backdrop that was the Doone clan and their endless robbery across the land.

It is difficult to describe the epic scope of this story, but at the end of the day, it is a romance novel. The love John Ridd has Lorna Doone is beautifully pure and expressed in classic English fashion. The way how John talks about Lorna is beautifully sweet and aching, and in many ways, it is an excellent read for both genders, because of the way the romance is told, earnest and honest.

Yet, there is plenty more beyond the incredible romance. There are action scenes, slow sprawling passages that really build up the atmosphere of the era and dozens of obstacles that need to be faced before Lorna can meet John at the altar. Even then, Lorna has a mysterious past that connects her to the Doone clan and there are many real historical events, such as the Battle of Sedgemoor, and the death of King Charles II that help immerse the reader more in the story.

In many ways, Lorna Doone’s style and narration really helps you immerse yourself in what people loved to read in the past. This is a novel that really lets you inhabit the era that it was written in and is all the more beautiful because of it.

It is an underrated classic and easily one of those novels that absolutely defined how I saw and treat romance in my mind. As sappy as it sounds, I truly hope that my partner will be the Lorna that I always wanted to have in my life.

Digital Fortress (1998) – Dan Brown

Cryptography …. this book taught me all about it and more importantly, how to use Caesar’s Cipher

Just like so many others were, I was enthralled by Dan Brown’s thriller, the Da Vinci Code when it came out. If it taught me anything, sometimes a competent writer can get away with creating a bestseller, simply by premise alone. Who wouldn’t want to read a book about the Holy bloodline that has been carried down by Jesus and the way how the legendary Renaissance man, Leonardo Da Vinci created this sprawling treasure hunt to find the descendants of the most holy man in history?

But I never really re-read it again, because it wasn’t that good. The same though, could not be said for Digital Fortress. The premise itself isn’t that great but it was the learning that really got me. I learned about supercomputers, cryptography, ciphers, mathematical equations, languages, the NSA and code-breaking all in a enthralling novel.

Previously, all I knew about the NSA was that they supposedly had a Third Echelon, which employed “Splinter Cells” agents with trident night vision goggles. But it was Digital Fortress that really opened my eyes to the power of computers used in surveillance gathering.

To me, it makes almost ludicrous sense that an organisation like the National Security Agency exist and has the power to literally tap into any communication device around the world. It houses petabytes of data that has been gathered all around the world and in constantly monitoring “foreign agencies” for more intelligence.

So upon reading learning about the NSA’s capabilities in Digital Fortress, I realised that the phone, computer and any other random electronic device I have ever interacted with, was probably already tapped and used as an open source of data on me.

I just had to make peace with that. There was also the bizarre realisation that, this has been my approach to a lot of conspiracy theories like this. I wasn’t really bothered by the fact that the NSA or ASIS could tap into my phone and discover all sort of data about me, because in the end, I knew I wasn’t important enough to warrant such intrusion.

However, the main reason why Digital Fortress remains my favourite out of all the Dan Brown thrillers, is the surprisingly sweet love-story that permeates throughout the book. I’m not sure why it resonated me with so much, but something about the lead characters chemistry got me.

But I know that it is because so much of the plot is quite convoluted with lots of false leads and dead-ends, hence I had to hang onto something whilst navigating Brown’s maze.

Make no mistake though, Brown’s maze is incredibly well researched and tightly written. It even came to a point where this novel almost convinced me that I could pursue a career in intelligence, because I became obsessed with codes after. But I shall be the first to admit though, that I am not that good at them, but am always enthralled when I can finally crack one.

There is always something amazing about seeing a whole bunch of gibberish turn to something understandable once you’ve cracked the cipher’s key.

It is thanks to Digital Fortress that I even learned about the magic of cryptography and that is something extremely niche that I have a passion for ever since.

Berlin Noir (1993) – Philip Kerr

The perfect noire book, set in the most fascinating place and time in history …. Nazi Berlin.

Technically three novels in one, this is one of the best omnibus ever created. Easily one of my favourite series ever made, the Bernie Gunther novels are simply incredible for a multitude of reasons.

They are beautifully written with a self deprecating sense of humour and the perfect amount of cynicism that lends Bernie the air of your classic noire detective. In addition, the setting of Nazi Germany is just so inherently rich in its appeal. The simple fact that you are reading a story of a man who opposes Nazi Germany, yet must navigate and even work with the feared SS and Gestapo is such a rich juxtaposition that it is automatically arresting.

Throw in classic noire tropes, and a style that is evocative, descriptive and exhaustively researched and you get a powerful crime thriller that cannot be topped for its originality, atmosphere and sheer readability.

No other crime book I’ve read, except for Chandler himself, has so perfectly encapsulated the cynicism, dark humour and sad romance of a noire detective than Kerr’s creation in Bernie Gunther.

Reading Berlin Noir, is a lot like stepping into the past, but a heightened one, and one that you have never quite seen because who has the gall to really dive deeper into Nazi subculture?

Philip Kerr not only dives headfirst with his immaculate research but colours every single notable historical character, such as Reinhard Heydrich with enough psychopathy and humanity to make him realistic to the real historical figure. This approach, is beautifully layered and careful, enough to make you see the human beneath the myth of the monster, whilst never losing sight that he is a Nazi.

In many ways, Kerr took a massive risk with the setting, but he was secured by his creation of Gunther, whose cynicism and dark humour serve as effective foils to the Nazi regime. He is scathing in his criticism of the government, yet understand he is nothing but a pawn in the larger picture and one wrong move, will result in permanent removal off the board.

However that doesn’t stop him from making flippant remarks and letting his big mouth run where it shouldn’t.

It is this wit from Bernie that makes him so endearing, as he navigates his way through murders, missing persons, femme fatales and dark conspiracies that often result in the villain getting away and Bernie ruefully wondering what this whole escapade was for.

And mark my words, the conspiracies that Kerr creates for Bernie are dark and twisted, which only adds to the atmosphere and world he has created.

Berlin Noir is one of those volumes that I feel any avid crime reader needs to read. It is gripping, wonderfully intricate in how the plot unravels and an incredible insight in a world that is often overlooked and rarely explored.

If you love the noire genre, find a copy and open up the page to the first novel, March Violets and find yourself immersed in the shady shadows of Berlin in 1930s Nazi Germany.

Author’s Note:

So there you have it, 23 of the most influential books I’ve read in my years on this planet for 2023. I hope you’ve enjoyed this nostalgic journey with me and gotten something of an insight in my favourite books, genres and tropes.

I might repeat this again sometime in the future, but for now, I am happy with how much I’ve wrote about each other, even though I could talk about them for much, much longer.

Till the next one!

~ Damocles.

John Wick: Chapter 4 (2023) – Cinema Review

Y/N? Yes

Stars: Keanu Reeves, Donnie Yen, Bill Skarsgard, Laurene Fishburne, Ian McShane, Hiroyuki Sanada, Rina Sawayama, Clancy Brown & Scott Adkins.

Director: Chad Stahelski

Review by Damocles.

This finale is too much of a good thing, which is why I left the cinema tired.

The John Wick franchise is arguably one of the greatest action series ever committed to film. It’s stylish, classy, beautifully shot and the action set pieces and stunt work is on a level that is technically difficult to beat.

But to me, the series has always been a technical showpiece for stunt work and excellent choreography. To me, the first film was the peak of the franchise, because it had the most emotional heart in its story. The subsequent sequels lack this emotional hook that made me invested in the actual protagonist.

The series relies a bit too heavily on Keanu’s inherent goodness, to make you care about the actual character. Yes, his expressions and sad eyes do a lot to convey hidden pain, but more is needed to justify a character who has seemingly deserved 4 movies made about him and his mythology.

The problem with John Wick is that he lacks meaningful dialogue, nor are there enough flashback scenes to Wick and his wife actually spending time together and his actions, beyond shooting, kicking, throwing and punching … do little else to describe his character.

Combine all of this and, whilst you get to witness an extremely deadly and competent assassin go to work over hundreds of killers, you really don’t get a sense of his motivations nor why he continues down his destructive path.

John Wick Chapter 4 doesn’t really address these problems. But the formula has worked for the past 3 films, so it makes little sense to change it now. That being said, it is a very unique film in its structure though, split across 3 diverse locations that emphasizes the long action sequences to follow. It is a film that let the action sequences shine, and for my own personal taste, shine a bit too long.

Chapter 4’s main strength and weaknesses are its action set pieces. They are undeniably cool, frantic, adrenaline inducing and cinematic. The backdrops that John kills his way through are some of the best set designs I’ve seen in a film, in a very long time. Osaka, Berlin and Paris. All these three locations are given huge amount of character.

Osaka features stunning designs that perfect encapsulates why Japan is a country that has both feet in the past and the future. Thematically, Osaka is perfectly represented in the Osaka Continental hotel. The use of reds, cherry blossoms, dark sleek materials and slick Japanese presentation was a feast on the eyes and highlights why the Japanese unique aesthetic is so arresting no matter the way it is shown.

Berlin, with its grimy, grunge aesthetic is another brilliant example of set design done right. The nightclub is a brilliant ode to Berlin’s rich history of indulging in dark, weird fetishes, and its birthplace for electronic music. The water effects, lighting, bizarre industrial design and overall atmosphere is brilliant touch, a necessity, as it injects some energy in the second act of the film.

The final location, Paris, is all class and all dirt. The way how the film plays with how romantic yet rundown Paris is, is also another credit to the location scout. The use of the radio DJ, along with the general look of all the killers trying to take down John Wick, shows how grimy Paris has always been, but it is undeniably propped up by its’ marketing potential as the City of Lights. The juxtaposition between the wealth of the villain, the Marquis Vincent de Gramont and the dirty grubbiness of the city is just a perfect way to highlight Paris as a city. Grubby yes, but still holding onto her old school romantic ways.

In many ways, Chad Stahelski’s most underrated aspect as a director, is his homage to old Bond films, in the context of location. He always let the city shine, whenever Wick visits a new location. He sets them up, to be glamorous and exotic locales, filmed in a way that actually makes you want to visit the cities. This was one of the best part about the old Bond films, allowing audiences to acquaint themselves with the location the character is in and feel a bit of wanderlust.

That was easily my favourite part about this film, seeing Wick traverse through the cities he found himself in and really getting a feel for the locations.

Moving on from the sets though, from an action standpoint, Chapter 4 easily has the most painful, extravagant and bombastic action sequences in the franchise. From nunchucks, Dragon’s Breath shotguns, Pit Vipers with 20 round magazines, classic samurai duels, and even the classic K9 unit dog, a Belgian Malinois, Chapter 4 brings every conceivable new and fun way to kill people that haven’t been seen in the franchise previously.

It also expands on the in-universe lore, about bulletproof suits, the fascinating criminal underworld with regards to the High Table and the families that move within those shadows.

Every single action set piece is filmed beautifully steadily. They are your classic Hong Kong wide shots that allow the actors and stunt performers to really sell every single hit, every single bullet and every single injury. Keanu, despite pushing 58, still moves admirably well throughout the film, and there were many moments, especially concerning cars and high falls, where I noticeably winced at some of the hard hits that Keanu or his stunt team took for the movie.

However, it is Donnie Yen, as the blind assassin, Caine, that truly steals the show with his incredible speed and performance. His presence in the film is a wonderful touch that adds some much-needed flair and charisma in a predominantly dark and serious world and Caine proves to be every bit as deadly, skilled and fun to watch on-screen as John Wick, no small feat, considering how quickly he is introduced and injected in the world of assassins.

Other standout points include Hiroyuki Sanada whose gravitas and old-school nature as a Samurai elevates the Osaka sequence, the scene stealing performance from Scott Adkins, in an almost unrecognisable state as Killa Harkan, whose card tricks are only matched by Adkins’ trademarked kicks, Marko Zaror as Chidi, the lead henchman whose screen presence was actually beautifully sinister and the villain himself, Bill Skarsgard whose wardrobe was enviable, attitude was questionable and whose comeuppance was richly deserved.

Visually, John Wick 4 stands even taller than the previous three entries. The use of light, camera sweeps and wide angles, means that from a cinematography perspective, it is rich, stylish and arresting. Every single city gets its highlight moment and the decision to marry Chad Stahleski’s already cool ideas for the John Wick universe with long time Del Toro collaborater, Dan Laustsen, means that the world is heightened even further on the lens. It seems that Laustsen really hit his groove with this final movie, as his work in the previous two films, 2 and 3 respectively whilst good, lacked the sheer visual panache of 4.

To add to this visual treat, long time composer duo for the franchise, Tyler Bates and Joel J. Richards, bring back the usual motifs and theme that have been with the series since the first film. Their work is as solid as ever, but I must praise Le Castle Vania for bringing new iconic EDM tracks. I missed his work in the third film, and was extremely happy to hear his compositions again, against the backdrop of John Wick’s gunfire ballet. His EP, Himmel und Holle, has four incredible tracks that really prove why John Wick is so addicting when it comes to action scenes. The thumping rhythms and pulsing beats are literally the perfect marriage for the gun-fu shenanigans.

Overall, John Wick Chapter 4 is a fitting end for the beloved Baba Yaga and an action spectacle. The cinematography is stellar, the fights and stunts intense and insane and hopefully the success of this franchise will put an end to the shaky-cam aesthetic (or lack thereof) in future action films. Keanu Reeves has set the new precedent for action heroes …. put in the work, do your best to replace the stunt-man where you can and the audience will reward you.

Go see this movie, but definitely expect to come out a little bit exhausted, because it does overstay its welcome.

A scene to recall: The cinematographer really loved Japan. The combination of set design, camera moves and aesthetics …. meant that Osaka stood out for its sheer visual arrestment and beauty.

The Super Mario Bros. Movie (2023) – Cinema Review

Y/N? Yes.

Director: Aaron Horvath, Michael Jelenic & Pierre Leduc

Stars: Chris Pratt, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Day, Jack Black & Keegan-Michael Key

Review by Damocles.


There is no denying that I have a particular bias towards Nintendo properties.

After all, my very first experience with video games, was the Nintendo 64 and the famous MarioKart 64. Ever since then, I’ve been obsessed with racing, winning and more contextually to this review, buying every single Nintendo console and playing MarioKart on all of them.

So, to see a Marios Bros movie, I was definitely eager to see whether they had done justice to what is one of the most iconic video game franchises and characters in history.

To put it simply, this is a children’s film that is light on the themes, quick on the action, faster on the plot and is almost too efficient at establishing plot beats, character motivations and set pieces.

Whilst this isn’t a bad thing, there were many moments where I wished they slowed down the movie’s pace just to dwell on some of the Easter Eggs or iconic worlds that have been bought to life. Perhaps that is my nostalgia talking though, but I felt the movie needed a tiny bit more in its runtime to really let the story breathe.

That being said, the plot of the film is as simple as it gets. Mario and Luigi end up discovering a portal to a whole new world and must stop the machinations of Bowser by aiding Princess Peach in her fight against a horrific wedding to said villain.

Yes, it’s basic, but it’s also fun to watch and sometimes, with these sort of movies, what else do you really need? It’s a classic story.

Along the way, Mario gets to explore all the diverse kingdoms that truly brings the sense of adventure that all Mario games capture so well. From the Mushroom Kingdom to the Jungle Kingdom, the movie’s animation style and dedication to the video game’s vibrant colour aesthetic and wacky design meant that at no point did the movie ever suffer from looking dull or ugly.

Praise must be given to the animation style of the film. Despite Illumination’s history with “Minions”, the studio truly captures the magic of the iconic video game aesthetic and animations. Mario’s movements are synonymous with how he plays in the game, as is Luigi, Peach, Donkey Kong, etc. It’s an incredibly pleasing movie to look at visually, for both non-gamers and gamers alike.

From an audio perspective, the early controversy over some of the casting choices were an non-issue. Every single actor bought a fun level of energy to their roles. Pratt’s voice as Mario is fine, as is Day and Taylor-Joy. However, as is evident by the amount of memes generated over his performance, it is Jack Black’s show.

He absolutely nails his performance as Bowser and the now iconic Peaches song is undeniably hilarious in the film. He brings an amazing amount of energy, menace and love-cringe into Bowser and it is stupid fun watching him steal every single scene he is in.

Credit must also be given to Brian Tyler for doing what he does best, adapting to any movie or task he is given. His versatility as a composer is always underrated and he did an amazing job in just adapting already iconic Nintendo music to the movie. I wished there were more of his compositions, as my only true gripe about the music was the bizarre use of licensed music, which I found incredibly distracting.

There is a huge library of iconic themes from the Mario franchise and I truly wished there were more of them in the movie.

In many ways, the Super Mario Bros movie is a celebration of the joy Nintendo has bought to so many gamers over the years. I kept smiling at all the references I understood and nothing could quite compare to the scene where I saw the characters make their kart. It is those little touches that made the film a joy to watch, and also makes complete sense in the context of the world.

Seamless integration of those references is a big part of why I think that video-game movies should be animated moving forward.

The success of this movie will definitely contribute to dispelling the myth surrounding the entire concept of “video-game” movies being awful, because in all honesty, this was a fun movie, it was good, it was visually appealing and there is nothing inherently wrong with it.

But back to my original point …. I cannot help but think that animation should be the standard for video-game movies moving forward, simply because cutscenes in the actual games themselves are already incredibly well made animated films. Motion capture, cinematography, acting cues, dynamic lighting, VFX use … all the essential tenets of film-making are visible in the video-game worlds, especially with their campaigns.

By creating more animated films that copy the original style, aesthetic and world of the video games, it creates a more cohesive franchise as a whole. A good example of this are the Resident Evil animated films, that still copy the games in their style.

It also allows the film-makers to not be constrained by reality, as video-games traditionally have always been a heightened version of reality. Physics, slow-motion, certain fighting moves …. all of these have always been tweaked for a gamer’s entertainment and the only place where all of those things can physically be translated well, is in animation.

This is why the Super Marios Bros. movie works, because all of the heightened reality elements, from the power-ups, to the costumes, to the movements … they all work within the world of Mario, not in a live-action sense.

But I am ranting on about something else here.

Long story short, this was a fun movie. It tickled all the right nostalgia beats for me as a life-long Nintendo fan and it didn’t overstay its welcome. So, thanks again Mario, for sparking joy in a cynic like me, because sometimes I just need to hear the iconic It’s a me! Mario! to smile after experiencing a lame day.

A scene to recall:  Every time the movie gave us the classic video-game view and we got to witness Mario doing what he does best … using Power-Ups, jumping on things and progressing his way through the level.

Creed III (2023) – Cinema Review

Y/N? No

Stars: Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson, Jonathan Majors & Wood Harris

Director: Michael B. Jordan

Review by Damocles.

Sometimes, it’s hard to see past the star & director’s huge ego.

When the first Creed movie came out, continuing the legacy of the Rocky’s boxing franchise, I was pleasantly surprised by the heart and commitment of the new cast and generation to the DNA of the series.

After all, Rocky has always been a story about the underdog, the classic story of a man with a heart of gold who just never quits. The boxing choreography isn’t really there to sell an excellent fight scene, it’s to tell the story of a man who puts everything on the line to hopefully triumph at the very end.

If you want to see a good fight, boxing isn’t really the sport to sell it. There are plenty of better martial arts films, to gawk at the choreography.

Which means the onus of a good boxing film, like any good sports flick, is have a likeable main character who has to triumph in the end over something deep and personal, regardless of the result of the match itself.

After all, the first Rocky movie famously ends in a loss, but it doesn’t matter, because Rocky did the impossible … he stood toe to toe with the champion and survived all 15 rounds.

The issue with Creed III, is that at no point does Adonis truly feels like he is the underdog. Too much of the narrative around him is flimsy and the challenges appear and are resolved almost immediately.

The family drama is easily rectified, the tension between Adonis and Dame is compelling but it’s also not deep enough to truly make you root for Adonis and so many of his problems come from the standpoint that he has it all, but at no point is in any danger of losing it all.

Adonis Creed, as a character in this time of his life, isn’t interesting and therein lies the main problem I have with Creed III. A lot of this story feels superfluous, and in many ways, ruins the goodwill I had with this character after the ending of Creed II.

To follow someone who has everything, but for the entire runtime of the movie, doesn’t really risk his castle being torn down, makes for a very dull character.

There are so many alternatives that the writers could have played with his character, from potentially losing his home and family due to his shady past, to inverting the training montage, letting Dame enjoy the fruits of his success and Adonis searching the streets for strength.

Alas, the movie did not go deeper into the story, because I suspect that Jordan’s ego and protectiveness over his own alter ego/character meant that he refused to let Adonis sink to the depths that the story probably needed to make him more compelling. You can tell that Adonis means a lot to Jordan, to the point where I am not even sure if the male lead is even acting anymore.

Thankfully there is more separation with the rest of the cast, as limited as they are. Tessa Thompson continues to bring a warmth and sweetness to Bianca, her chemistry with Jordan still as strong as ever. Wood Harris has a greater role here, doing his best to fill the void that was left by Sylvester Stallone’s absence (which is quite noticeable).

But this film is all about Johnathan Majors’ acting ability. He is threatening, dangerous, coiled and ready to tango at any given time and it is a testament to his skill that he makes Dame half the compelling villain he is. Even though he definitely hams it up in the second half of the film.

From a sheer narrative perspective, Creed III just seems like an unnecessary story that was padded out for the sake of a sequel. The old tale of a ghost rising from the dead in the main character’s past is so contrived and is at odds with Adonis’ whole character arc, who has now entered the mentor phase. This is why, the story lacked any depth, because Jordan has dictated that his character gets to have his cake and eat it …. be a mentor and a returning champion.

Beyond the mishmash plot that tried to create more depth with Adonis, from a directing and cinematography standpoint, Creed III does tries for more ambitious story-telling techniques that are quite reminiscent of anime-style framing and emphasis, from the slow-motion to the close-ups. Most of it though, ended up being more immersion breaking than engaging and I found myself missing the more traditional style of shooting a boxing match.

There is a clear desire from Jordan to include more anime-like shots in his fight scenes, but they ultimately took the drama out of the fight, because it became too melodramatic and in a way, the fight choreography no longer told a story because it was superseded by the bizarre choices in the finale.

In addition to this, the score this time was much weaker, Jordan Shirley’s work nowhere near capturing the heights of Ludwig Goransson’s tribute to the previous Rocky films. This can be heard by the usage of more hip-hop in the score, which again proves to be more distracting than it is immersive.

In many ways, Creed III breaks away from the Rocky formula, from film techniques, score, character motivations and the classic use of contrasting the protagonist and antagonist, much to its detriment. Too much of the plot is unnecessary to the character of Adonis, that wasn’t already covered in the two previous films and the fights in the film aren’t noteworthy enough when compared to better martial arts films.

To sum up this “fight” … if you are a fan of Rocky, Creed III lets you down with how much it strays from the classic films, and if you are a fan of sports films, Creed III lets you down with how little you care about what makes this fight worth watching.

A scene to recall: The training montage, but in particular the scene where Adonis flashes back to when he ran and the shadows looked incredible on the streets and in the dark lighting.

The Trust in the Barber

The power to ruin your day … month even, in the palm of a stranger’s hand and scissors.

As I sat there, trapped in a chair cloth, and staring at my own reflection, I realised just how much power a barber wields over my short-term experiences going forward.

As always, I flashback to the moment when I decided to roll the dice and get a haircut at a local shopping centre unisex hairdresser.

My request for an undercut went … horribly wrong.

I remember looking at the mirror with an increasing amount of concern as the hairdresser continued to fuck up cut after cut, until the sight of my awful haircut was now too far removed what I imagined it should look like that I stopped her and said that was enough.

But the damage was already too much and there was no denying just how amateurish the whole style on my head was.

Aghast at the result, I tried to go to my usual barber whose instant feedback told me all I needed to know ….

What fucking pelican did this to you mate?

He did his best but couldn’t save it.

The timing of course, could not be worse. I was applying for a new job within the next 3 days and I looked like I had just left prison and had most of my hair shaven off.

My new manager was astonished at how bad it was, but fortunately during my trial shift, I worked so hard, that I impressed her enough to grant me the job.

But the lasting memory here is, just how much power there is, to ruin or improve your fortunes for the next few weeks, in the hands of a stranger.

And it is not only an aesthetic thing either … one mishap, they could cut your ear, burst a pimple or even draw blood across your throat with a close-shave.

Your life literally lies in their hands.

It’s fascinating how much trust we place in our hairdressers. Their entire profession is built around trust. We always go back to the same barbershop or salon and request the exact person who did our hair the last time. Some customers are so particular, that they will skip another free barber, just to wait for the guy who did their hair last time, extending their wait time by another whole half hour.

The importance of getting a good haircut is paramount.

For someone of my “aesthetic” shall we say, it can mean the difference between people considering me attractive or just plain average.

Knowing that fact, and realising when a haircut is done right, to my specifications and aesthetic, it is a huge relief to walk away happy, after parting with a considerable amount of money for a few snips.

And this is coming from a male perspective … and a lazy one at that.

I don’t put any products in my hair, whether it be dye or gel, nor do I style in a particularly extravagant way. It’s been the same for the past 6 years …. ever since I fell in love with Cillian Murphy’s style in the iconic Peaky Blinders.

A skin-fade on the side and just cut it short on top. Thank you.

15 words and then I fall silent and watch the barber go to work, shaping my head anew.

It’s a lazy, attractive style that suits me the best. I don’t need to do anything to it in the morning. Shampoo, conditioner and voila …. hair maintenance is performed during the shower. It also shows off my head shape the best too, and I have noticed the glances at me from the public are more frequent once I get a fresh cut.

But most importantly, it is functional in a fight, with nothing for people to grab if we get into a scrap.

During the COVID lockdown, my hair was the longest it had ever been since high school and I even took the drastic measure of buying a razor and cutting it off myself. The difference in weight and appearance was remarkable.

But in all honesty, it still looked shit and there was absolutely nothing I could do about that.

If you think that this is a strange topic to discuss, I can’t help but point out the history of hairdressing and its importance to us as vain human beings.

Ever since the ancient times, hair mattered a lot. Ancient Greece stressed the importance of the job in society. African people consider it a way of talking to the divine, because it was the closest part of your body to the heavens.

And if you look at it functionally, we don’t have much hair anywhere else, and it is an essential factor when judging the attractiveness of a person’s facial features. How we style it, like I’ve mentioned before, can be the crucial difference between a date and a quiet night. After all, there is only some much styling one can do with the pubic and chest hair … and those aren’t even seen on a regular basis.

If you look at the history of hairstyles too, you can see an incredible evolution of what has come and what is in current style. Men and women have gone from the 80s big hair style to the freedom to essentially wearing whatever retro or vogue style one wants. Dye is now more popular than ever, and there is an almost androgynous element to many styles that is popularised by the influx of Asian pop music in the mainstream.

Even going bald, and accepting that gracefully is almost the norm now.

To hammer in the importance of hairdressing in today’s society, I want to stress that in order to become one here, in Australia, you need 18 months of full-time study before you can become one.

18 months … to wield a pair of scissors and a comb.

I used to think that it was a simple job, after all, I cut my own hair during the lockdown, but the skill gap between my shabby effort and that of a professional is painfully obvious. The moment the lockdown ended, I walked out and into a barbershop and have never touched the razor again.

I never used to consider getting a haircut a priority, but nowadays, I can’t help but feel better about my own appearance, by scheduling in a monthly appointment. My hair grows relatively quickly and I actually detest how messy it can get up there.

Even when wearing hats, I notice that I look better with less hair. It is incredible the boost of confidence I get when I get a fresh fade. It just makes me feel lighter, better and more ready to tackle the world.

Hence I don’t mind the monthly maintenance cost.

So, think of this post in the vein of a PSA …

Show some more respect to your hairdresser and remember that they have the power to ruin you for a whole month. Or improve your standing in society for a solid 2 weeks.

So, you better tip them well.

~ Damocles.

Wrong House …. [DON’T SLEEP]

She was shivering next to me.

Her brown eyes were wide, her pale skin chalky from fear. She didn’t know what to do in this situation.

But I did.

It was just the three of us at home. My father, my girlfriend and I. Only a week ago, some guy had laid hands on her, and didn’t take her rejection well at a festival. The creep did his research well. He knew who I was, he knew who she was. Only hours earlier, he had sent me a text.


She was petrified but not to the extent it would freeze her. There was a toughness behind her eyes that belied the fear. My father and I readied ourselves the best we could. He was wearing my plate carrier, with the home’s only firearm, a loud shotgun. I wanted him to be as protected as possible. He was older, not as mobile and I loved my father just as much as my girlfriend.

He chose to cover the front door and living room. I was crouched next to him, ready to move into the adjoining kitchen and rear door. We both ignored the other end of the house where there was a long corridor with bedrooms that lined it, left, right and centre.

They turned up at the witching hour. 0100 HRS

It was pitch black, but their use of shitty phone lights gave them away. They had fake Federation Square uniforms, that they had somehow pilfered somewhere. It featured the old logo and bought a shiver down my spine. The creep, Michael, had truly done his research. He knew where I worked. He knew where I lived. He was ready to kill me for her.

He knew a lot about me. He had prepared extensively for this moment. Michael was ready to play. But there was one thing he didn’t know.

He didn’t know my capacity for savagery.

I counted 15 of his cronies entering the front yard, through the living room window. They split up into two groups, with Michael staying with the bigger group that crept slowly up the stairs to my front door.

The other group circled back to the rear, all 7 of them, holding pistols, bats and knives. I grabbed my girlfriend and placed her at the base of the kitchen, where she couldn’t been seen or hit by gunfire. Whispering to her that if I told her to move, she was to hang onto my belt, I waited for her to nod and squeeze my arm before letting go.

I had two weapons on hand. A large tactical axe that I was going to use to carve a hole in the wall that would let me escort my girlfriend away, into the neighbours if things went truly south. This axe, I left beside my girlfriend. The other was in my hand.

The large knife in my palm was my favourite. An all black CRKT M16-14LEK with a tanto blade. It was the only fighting knife in my arsenal and gripping it, I felt cold, hard and sharp like the blade.

I counted two men and winced when I saw one of them jam his crowbar into the door and wrench it open.

The first man came through the door, as quietly as he could, pistol first.

His breathing was loud. Mine, crouched at the connecting door to the kitchen was shallow and silent.

He took another half step. I stepped towards him, my masked face right up to his, my eyes burning with anger, as my hand grabbed the barrel of the pistol and turned it towards him, whilst the knife blurred with speed and went straight under his jaw.

He gagged.

I twisted the knife twice.

Blood rushed out.

The guy behind him went to scream, but I kicked the dying pointman into him and grabbed the pistol simultaneously.

Thud. Thud.


Thud. Thud.

I executed both of them without hesitation. One shot to the pointman’s head, another quickly into the chest of the guy behind him, who tumbled down the tiny flight of stairs of the back door, gasping for air. As he looked up in horror, my last two shots entered his eyes. The rest of the 5 men stared at their dead buddy before looking up at the kitchen.

They bought their guns to bear.

Just as my father’s shotgun roared to life and I heard the windows of our living room shatter to hell, as 3 men went down at the front door and the rest ducked for cover and began firing up at the house in earnest.

This froze the rear door men just long enough for me to scatter back and disappear into the darkness of the house.

Two of the men ran past the rear door, deciding to make entry at the end of the corridor. The last three paused, unsure of what to do, when one of them motioned at the window that could see into the living room, through the kitchen. One of them nodded and got out his bat, hitting the window in earnest.

The other two went for the rear door, but just as they climbed the tiny flight of stairs and paused, I stood up from behind the cover of the kitchen and pulled the trigger as fast as I could.

The two heads disappeared in a cloud of blood and brains.

Spinning around, I kicked myself back just as the guy with the bat came through the window with a loud bang. He swung his weapon lustily at me, knocking the pistol away. I scrambled back, dodging his swings, before my girlfriend came up from behind him and grabbed his bat arm.

Before he could grab her, my knife entered his brain the same way the point man died.

Pushing his dying body to the ground, I looked over at her and pushed her down again, before grabbing the pistol and reloading it with spares from the dead men. Grabbing another pistol, I tossed it to my dad in the living room, who nodded seriously at me.

I gave him an open palm, my fingers splayed out and then creating an X with my arms.

5 dead.

My father returned the signal. 4 on his side.

He motioned for me to check the rest of the house, before standing up tall and firing off 3 rounds from the shotgun in quick succession before ducking down again.

I wanted to convey my gratitude to my father for protecting us, but he already knew how I felt and the best thing I could do for him and my girlfriend was to keep killing.

Moving through the kitchen, and towards the rear of the house, I looked down the dark corridor and saw shadows move.

My pistol barked again, defensive and angry. Two more men went down, this time their screams of pain was enough to silence the gunfight outside, which allowed my father to send 3 more to hell, but at a cost, as he took a round to the vest and went down hard.

Michael lowered his pistol with a savage smile and rushed the door to press his advantage. Every single member of his team was now dead, except him. But he didn’t care. He also didn’t know that the men at the back had died. All he wanted his prize. He craved the girl. He demanded subjugation and blood.

I wasn’t going to let him have anything.

Michael pre-fired through the front door before charging into the living room, eager to finish the mysterious man with a shotgun. But he didn’t check his corners. I was waiting for him, my tactical axe in hand.

I wanted this man to pay. He couldn’t take rejection. He wouldn’t keep his hands to himself. He had raised arms against me.

I was going to take them as repayment.

Michael walked through the door, pistol leveled at my father.

I swung the axe.

Hand and gun fell to the ground.

Michael looked down in shock. He couldn’t believe it.

One moment, his hand was there, the next …. it was on the floor, and now a bloody stump was all that was left at the end of his arm.

I allowed him to stare. Then he looked up at me.

Our eyes met.

Then his went wide, as the axe’s blade buried itself between them.

It was then, I woke up.

Author’s Note:

Another DON’T SLEEP. But this time, the nightmare was a direct result of a very jealous subconscious.

This was a very dark, power fantasy that I genuinely dislike. The violence is too graphic and disturbing for me to fully condone and I thought it was so twisted that I had such a dark nightmare just because I got jealous of a situation where a random guy I’ve never met or heard of, got handsy once with a girl.

I honestly dislike this side of me so much. I should be so much more mature and learn to let things go better, but I suppose in a way this is my maturity coming out. I can’t help these feelings, but I can help how I deal with them and make sure they don’t poison things in the future.

In a lot of ways, it’s been a very long time since something this dark happened and I guess I should be grateful about this reminder, because I know there is something twisted inside me and it pays to be cautious and vigilant against that part of me.

I’m not happy that I had this dream but it was necessary to have it. But, at least I know that I won’t let it poison things inside of me, because it is out, it is explored and it is now dealt with properly, through writing and self analysis.

The darkness is always within, but these writing exercises and honesty with those I care about, is what keeps it in check.

~ Damocles.

Top Gun: Maverick (2022) – Cinema Review

Y/N? Yes.

Director: Joseph Kosinski

Stars: Tom Cruise, Val Kilmer, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, Jon Hamm, Glen Powell, Lewis Pullman and Monica Barbaro.

Review by Damocles.

I feel the need … the need for speed.

Top Gun: Maverick is truly an unforgettable experience.

Easily one of the best action films to come out of 2022, Top Gun: Maverick is a master-class in proving that sometimes, just putting a camera in place for real scenes is enough to get your blood pumping.

But that has been the major selling point of Tom Cruise’s career. He is one of the truly last movie stars left on the planet in a world where characters are more iconic than the actor playing them.

The name Tom Cruise is alone to guarantee a certain number of seats in the cinema and the star knows it. Which is why he pushed for the delay of this movie to the big screen. He believes in his product, his star power and more importantly himself.

And the numbers follow that belief. Top Gun: Maverick is one of the highest grossing movies of all time, that doesn’t involve spandex or large universes. This is a sequel to a film that came out 36 years ago … and it doesn’t miss the landing at all.

This is a throwback to old-school film-making where all the action is happening for real. The high G-forces that stretch the skin of the actors, the speed in which the ground rushes by, the way how air rushes past the wingtips …. right from the get-go there is an authenticity to the film that makes it instantly gripping.

And it’s all captured right there for us the audience to marvel at. You can’t help but be engrossed in the action the moment you see those fighter jets do their aerial maneuvers.

Because this film is offering you an unprecedented look into what it is like to fly one of the most lethal and quickest birds in aviation history.

And in Joseph Kosinski, we have a seasoned director who is used to creating drama in the sky, with his more underrated films such as Oblivion (2013) and Tron Legacy (2010). Both featured incredible aerial sequences that served him well when crafting the action sequences in Top Gun Maverick.

His clean, measured and calculative style is on full display here, right from the opening montage which pays homage to the original, to his near beat perfect cutting between the pilots’ reaction and plane movement. His earlier work also featured highly realistic CGI work, that was almost seamless in how they blended with physical actors, Tron Legacy being a particular standout.

Top Gun Maverick is no exception. The rare moments that need to be augmented with CGI are seamless with the rest of the movie, a testament to the work of the visual effects artists and Kosinki’s eye.

The plot is simplistic and serviceable. It is almost elegant in how it hits every emotional story beat and the cast understands their role, to be memorable and fun, but not overshadow the true star of the film, Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell.

In many ways, this film is so reminscent of the original, only this time Maverick does not go through a typical character arc, instead proving his worth in a world that is modernising against him and his rebellious ways.

All the performances are solid, but props has to be raised for the clear analogy to Maverick’s early days, Glen Powell’s Hangman is a stand-out performance, as the supremely confident, all American pilot whose ability is never diminished throughout the film, a surprising twist on an old story-beat regarding arrogant people.

Cinematography wise, it goes without saying that this is a beautiful film to behold, with all the aerial footage being a thrill ride from start to finish. It somehow never gets old, seeing the actors twist and gasp their way through tight high-G turns and a part of me is excited to see how Kosiniki can bring this level of immersion and intensity to the cockpit of car-racing.

With the romance of seeing planes soaring into the sunset, and the vast horizons that beckon, the score needs to be equally fun. In many ways, the standalone songs that were made for the film are the true highlights of the score. Lady Gaga, Kenny Loggins and OneRepublic all bring back that fun Top Gun flavour that made the original so fun. The actual original score though, is more equally bland Zimmer music that never really rises to the occasion of being memorable.

It was disappointing to discover that, considering they brought back Harold Faltermeyer, but never used any of his iconic synth style for the film.

Overall, Top Gun: Maverick is the truest summer blockbuster movie that doesn’t rely on flashy CGI to tell its story. Instead, it grips you firmly in the reality of naval aviation and the crazy risks and skill these pilots wield when in the air.

Adrenaline pumping, realistic and fun, Top Gun: Maverick is one of those films you have to see, to understand just why movies can truly transport you elsewhere for a solid 2 hours and never leave you bored.

So, thank you Tom Cruise for being as committed to your craft as you are, because this film will definitely inspire a future generation of filmmakers to depend less on CGI and achieve the impossible in reality.

A scene to recall: The moment Maverick showed the brass and his class how and why he is the Top Gun. TOT: 2 Minutes and 15 Seconds.

Plans and the Unplanned.

There comes a time when you look at yourself and think … why do I even bother making plans.

But without planning ahead, you’re just living life without purpose. And if you don’t have a purpose, then why live?

2022 was a year of startling purpose. It was a year of spite, perseverance, and ultimately a whole lot of luck was deployed and taken away at the same time.

There are many important lessons I learned throughout the year. The meaning of equilibrium. The approach I need for relationships. The depth of desperation. The cruelty behind good intentions. The cost of luck.

But the most critical teaching of them all, was the radical nature of change.

Beyond a shadow of doubt, 2022 was a formative year for me.

So allow me to break down why 2022 was such a dramatic year by the lessons I’ve listed.

The meaning of equilibrium.

I was born lucky. That’s an objective truth. From the moment I took breath and was delivered into a healthy, middle-class nuclear family, there was no mistaking I was lucky. My parents are attractive people, which in turn meant I have turned out decent. They don’t fight often, and are surprisingly affectionate and loving towards each other and me. They support me in everything I do and have instilled in me a sense of duty, sensibility and relatively quick intelligence.

Throw in the fact that I seem pretty lucky at cards, am graced with incredible friends, live in Australia, am surrounded by a city with the most sophistication in the nation and a whole lot of other countless elements, it is unequivocal that I am lucky.

My entire life, I’ve coasted along with this luck. Even in the pandemic years of 2020 to 2021, I was still lucky. I was promoted to retail sales manager just before COVID struck, which meant I could keep my job and still head out to work, whilst so many others were confined to their home. There were ample parks near me I could use to exercise … my mother is an excellent cook … the point is, despite the entire world current suffering, luck was still on my side.

So, you can imagine my rude surprise when I finally learned what it felt like to be marked by luck. To actually understand that there is a cost to everything and I had to pay for it, like everyone else.

I named this phenomena … equilibrium because 2022 truly proved Newtonian laws to me.

It became such a common theme, that it almost transformed into a disease in my mind. Whenever I was experiencing some good luck, I immediately braced myself for the inevitable bad luck that would sour whatever fortune I had.

Equilibrium for me ranged from the minor to the major. On my final day in the retail industry, a customer came back after I closed up shop and annoyed me for an exchange. There were payslip issues on my final week. During the course of a game, I would get my player out onto the board, only to be instantly removed.

But nothing compared to the biggest emotional whiplash of them all, when I had 4 of the greatest days of my life, at the Formula 1 2022 Grand Prix, only to be raided by the police the literal day after, turning my excited buzz into one of instant mortification.

Over the course of several years, as a military enthusiast, I had started a large collection of gel blasters. From my pride and joy, an all-metal HK 416 assault rifle, to a lovely Lee-Enfield No. 4, these guns were a passion project that was technically illegal in my state of Victoria, but perfectly fine in Queensland.

I knew the risks of collecting these, and in all honesty, felt no ill-will towards the officers who came in to claim them. After all, I had been mentally bracing myself for this moment, ever since I bought my first one.

But it didn’t lessen the sting of losing them all.

That was the true moment, the lesson of equilibrium struck me with all its force. Everything good came at a price. I was no longer exempt from this rule. The cliche: freedom isn’t free has never quite rung more true to me, than it does now.

The seriousness of my crime, of owning 18 “imitation firearms” was not lost on me. I was to be called in to court, face the Magistrate and explain myself. The possible sentence ranged from a diversion all the way to proper jail time.

When the officers left my home, guns in tow, I knew I was finally marked by bad luck and that 2022 was going to be the year, where I had to re-evaluate my relationship with Lady Luck herself.

Which brings me to my next lesson that I learned.

The cost of luck.

Lady Luck’s problem with me, was that I had taken her for granted. 27 years of life on this planet, and now, she decided she has had enough with my lack of gratitude.

So, she marked me and forced me to re-evaluate my relationship with her. Lesson after lesson of equilibrium came barrelling in and my thick head did not understand the intent behind them.

I was bitter, confused and puzzled. I had such a privileged quarter life, that it didn’t even occur to me that some gratitude was in order, that Lady Luck truly was blessing me with her presence for such an extended period of time, when she ignored so many others.

It wasn’t until the final months of 2022, I finally understood her. The goddess I had chosen to worship wasn’t some genie I could command at whim. She was fleeting, like a soft wind. When she was there, you appreciated her and took advantage of everything the lucky wind had to offer.

The soft chill, the gentle rustle, the quiet whisper.

But she was temporary.

Lady Luck is not some permanent fixture in your life. She had other places to be, other people to visit, more crucial things to do. But when you felt her close, it was time to bet big.

In my case, it was $2750 large. That was the cost of my lawyer fees and the fine I had to pay to earn my freedom back and essentially walk away scot-free from my crime. I was granted my diversion, due to the fact that I was cooperative with the police during the raid and my character references vouched for me.

Freedom isn’t free.

What I’ve noticed though, is that right after this massive stroke of luck, my relationship with Lady Luck has now been repaired. I am now just sincerely grateful for when she comes by my side, and no longer demanding.

This improvement in attitude is what has redefined every single friendship I’ve made.

The approach I need for relationships.

Extroversion comes at a price. You only have a finite amount of energy in a day.

Best to chose wisely who you want to spend that energy with.

2022 wasn’t just the year where I started to hang out with my friends more, it was also the year where I prioritised who I wanted to hang out with more. I started to develop a better social calendar, plan catch-ups, and view friendships in different ways.

I became more selective of the vibe I wanted from people. Those who had my back, those who didn’t.

I’ve always been pretty picky about who I let into my inner circle of trust. But, because I started to go out with people more, I decided to widened it.

It was a bold risk, that paid off for some, and cost me dearly in others. In the grand scheme of things though, I would say that the circle growing ever so slightly has been a good thing. It’s nice to know that I can talk to more of my friends, to bring some much needed estrogen energy to balance out all the testosterone that I surround myself with.

In fact, it has been all the women in my life that have helped me the most in difficult times. Without their strong support, I’m not sure where I would be right now.

Their sensible advice on how to navigate matters of the heart have been invaluable and touching.

It’s also allowed me to understand them more and appreciate how unique they all are to each other. Some give me advice that is personal to them and others, opt for more conventional rules.

This identification of unique qualities in them, has also lead to be redefine some of my male friends. I can now positively identify what benefit each friend brings to me and how they can enrich me with their presence.

So many friendships over the years have been lost, simply because I wasn’t paying them due diligence and actually positively identifying why I was friends with them to start with.

To relate back to the theme of purpose, this was the year where I really examined everyone I knew and their purpose in my life. What I was willing to let slide, what I was willing to confront them over, and most importantly, what they meant to me.

By deconstructing my friendships, my personal relationship and how I interacted with people, I’ve truly learnt a lot about myself and the people I surround myself with.

Which brings me to the next big moment …. my personal relationship.

The cruelty behind good intentions

Saying goodbye to a partner of 6 years was unimaginably tough. Beyond the severance, there was the awful acknowledgement that there would no longer be any more shared memories between us.

But that was the biggest fallout of my critical reexamination of everyone in my life and what they meant to me. It costed me my girlfriend. A part of me couldn’t love her anymore, once I critically looked at her and that inner voice couldn’t be silenced.

So I had to let her go. I didn’t want to waste her time any longer, nor did I want to drag anything out further, especially if it was going to just cost us even more.

Saying the last goodbye to her, was the moment where I learned just how tough and relentless you had to be, to stay strong on your course. No matter how good my intentions were, the process was still cruel.

I’ve likened it to a stabbing, only I had to keep twisting the knife.

It was awful. The tears, the pleas, the broken heart … all of it tore away at me, and I still cannot believe how I held onto the knife and kept stabbing away.

The quote the road to hell is paved with good intentions have never rung more true to me, than when I broke my partner’s heart.

It still frightens me, just how harsh I became in that moment and how much it cost me to do the right thing.

I knew, deep down, that this was the humane thing to do, that prolonging anything, any further was the truly callous act, because she deserved a partner who loved her from top to bottom. She deserved better than what I was giving.

But it didn’t make it any more right, when I said goodbye to her for the final time.

The guilt may never fade away from this scar.

But that is the price I have to pay for making such a horrible call for both of us, and in a way, its why I have to make all these changes, worth that sacrifice.

Speaking of expenditure …

The depths of desperation

Whilst I might have been lucky during COVID-19 lockdowns, I was still robbed of 2 years, just like everyone else.

Which meant my actual life plans were now postponed by two years and to say that I was furious, was an understatement.

My once wishy-washy nature regarding my career, was now one of an unhinged desperado. From the very beginning of the year, I made a vow to get out of retail as soon as possible.

This meant that I committed to an insane 6 day work week regularly, and countless hours to build up my connection to the event industry, where I wanted to transition to.

Because my full time retail job wasn’t that taxing, I was able to relax at work, before charging into an event on the weekend or sometimes right after the store shut for the day.

Work became my life, because it was all I could focus on. The rewards were also triggering my mind, associating happiness with work, because I would receive such a dopamine rush whenever I could grind at an event.

This vow to grind away in events, started in March, with the very first event I found through a Facebook network. The first ever gig with the Untitled Group, For the Love. My first taste working for an event company and I was hooked ever since.

Events is where I belong.

After working the For the Love gate entry shift, I threw myself in with an reckless abandon that made me almost appreciate the slower pace of retail.

But that near-appreciation didn’t last long, because I was soon racking up so much experience that it was impossible for me retain that job any longer.

August was my final shift for Miniso, and I was never happier to leave such a dreary industry and enter a much brighter one.

It goes without saying that if I wasn’t so desperate to get out, I wouldn’t have been so motivated to push myself so hard through over-working.

There was a strange sense of despair to my desperation that made me put aside my physical health, mental and even self-reflection to get out.

The freedom that I’ve earned now as an event operator, only occurred because I pushed myself out of fear from becoming the very thing I despised … a guy who hates his job, but won’t move on from it.

That is not the prison I aspire to nor will ever want to be trapped in again.

It was that disconsolate drive to get out of a shitty job that powered me through almost everything.

From 24 days of straight work, to an incredibly busy social calendar where I barely saw my own home, my life transformed dramatically from lazy retail work to overworking in events.

Which meant that I also changed a lot.

The final lesson: the radical nature of change.

To identify the current Damocles is to acknowledge that 2022 improved him in almost every single facet. He is currently fitter, tanner, stronger and more driven than any version of him in the past.

He is also incredibly confident, but relaxed about his own self-worth and knows exactly just how valuable and useful he is to his friends, his employer and to himself.

This is such a radical departure from the earlier version of him, because in all honesty, the desperation, drive and purpose in which he decided to completely revamp his life would not have existed without the pandemic.

COVID-19 had a lot of far-reaching consequences, but for me, it completely changed the way how I viewed my life. 2022 wasn’t just about exiting the pandemic and trying to reassemble what once was.

It was about seizing an opportunity to completely change the way how I lived. Events were now coming back and they had just lost a lot of workers.

It was the perfect storm for a guy like me to come in and make my mark. So I seized it with both hands and then some.

I wouldn’t be working for Federation Square and Melbourne Showgrounds, if I didn’t take job interviews on my lunch breaks in a shopping centre.

I wouldn’t be the person I am today, if I didn’t have the drive to push forwards, despite the heavy workload and long hours.

I wouldn’t have the events experience I do now, if I didn’t take a chance on multiple companies and start to seriously build my work portfolio.

The Damocles that stand before the world today, is a direct result of hard work, grit and insane luck that happened throughout the year

I’ve become a radically different person. More extroverted, less prone to repeating mistakes, highly driven and still ambitious. If I can achieve this much change in a year, what can I do more in 2023?

That is the question that will need to be answered by the end. It’s a vague plan, but those are the ones that can truly tackle the unknown. Anything more specific and I’ll be unlikely to see it through.

I learned a lot of lessons in 2022 and all of them have been harsh and life-altering. But at the end of the day, they’ve improved me far more than I could have hoped for.

If I can survive that much development, then I am eager to see how much I can push this year.

As a 22nd squadron once proclaimed proudly …

Who Dares Win.

And I’m ready to defy the odds again.

~ Damocles.


Midgard ….

Perhaps without ever realising it, I’ve always been long fascinated by religion.

In a world where so much is explainable by science, there is little regard for the wonderful stories that used to be humanity’s science to explaining how the world work.

Lighting … associated with Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir. The passage of the sun across the sky explained as Ra’s journey into the underworld. Dreamtime as a creation myth.

When you start studying so many different myths as I have, you start to notice that there are quite a few similarities between them all. Almost all of them mention some type of “Great Flood”, which is a curious coincidence. In addition, the idea of a “giant serpent” whether is Quetzalcoatl, Jormungandr or the Rainbow Serpent, is quite prevalent.

But really it is the story-telling that grips me. These were some of the earliest stories ever told and shared amongst many people. The story-tellers have not survived, but these myths have and continue to grip me with their morals, twists and strange lessons.

In particular, I am partial to Norse, Greek and Egyptian mythology. There is so much to unpack in many others, such as Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Aztec, Mayan or even Russian folklore, but the three most famous ones are my own favourites.

What I’ve always found fascinating was at what point does a religion become a myth and is there really any difference? Is there any more power in praying to God, when he resembles Zeus? Does the sanctity of the Temple Mount hold any more real sway over that of Stonehenge? Is all the bloodshed sacrificed in the name of God, any more real than those of human sacrifices made in honour of Mayan Gods on their step-pyramids?

As a child, I was quite religious. When you have attended Church as much as I have, and read the Bible for fun, it’s difficult not to believe in a higher power. Throw in a father who was on his way to becoming a Jesuit, and a mother who was born in a strictly Catholic family, it was inevitable that I become a religious son.

This actually transitioned all the way into my teenage years, when I bought a much more teen-oriented Bible which had useful annotations that “dumbed” down the story and added amusing and slightly edgy interpretations of famous stories, such as the Prodigal Son or Abraham’s sacrifice.

Perhaps it was a sign of concern though, that I was only fixated on the earlier stories of the Bible, in particular the Torah. The stories of battles, blood, vengeance held a lot of appeal to my imagination and all the stories in the New Testament just never quite held my interest as much.

Ironic really, considering how Christianity was formed around the teachings of the New Testament. Even then though, I was confused by the wildly contrasting tones the two Testaments had to each other. After all, if God is so infallible and perfect, why did he undergo such a huge character transformation between the two time periods?

From a vengeful, spiteful God who loved to destroy other ethnicities than his own chosen people (which begs the question why did he create other ethnicities to begin with …) to a much more loving God who was apparently willing to forgive certain acts, but only in certain circumstances, which if not met, would doom you to Hell anyway.

At the end of the day, religions are created by humans, who are contradictory, complicated and inconsistent. It only makes sense that religions, which originated from stories that have been passed down mouth to mouth, reflect humanity’s nature.

It eventually took a conversation with one of my best friends (more like an argument) for me to really allow the scales of religion to fall from my eyes though. After that fateful argument, I became an atheist.

It’s hard not to be one, when you learn about all the horrifically horrible things that have occurred in the name of a deity that shows little signs of existence. As a keen student of history, it’s hard to fathom just how much blood has been spilled in the name of Gods.

The scale of sacrifices made in the name of Gods and other spirits, only increased the moment religions became a power of their own. Suddenly, a Pope became an Emperor over hundreds of worshipping souls, a Caliph could and would move armies across Europe to gain more territory and an Inquisition willingly suppressed learning and teachings.

In many ways, religions were the original mega-corporations, with a hierarchical structure, a CEO that oversaw the entire company and wielded huge amount of influence and power. They even started marketing as a concept.

If you thought the Inquisition was an old, outdated concept that was most famous in 1478 Spain, then you’ll be surprised to know it exist today as the Diecastery for the Doctrine of the Faith … the first and last line of defence against heresy towards Roman Catholicism.

It’s always fascinated me how blind some people are to their religion though. For so many believers, they only see the local image and refuse to acknowledge the larger picture. The people beside you, the community outreach programs, the youth services. Never the larger corporation that runs them, the shady deals made by bishops or priests with their local population, the grey existence in which laws can and cannot touch religion.

To study your religion beyond what the priest, rabbi, monk or imam tells you, is a dangerous experiment, as the history of the religion proves time and time again, it makes a mockery of what it preaches to you.

But as I stated above, religions are made by humans. If they didn’t contradict themselves, it would actually imply that a religion was made by something not human.

Despite all my research though, I suppose I am still quite spiritual, despite not practicing any one religion. I am scientifically inclined, although I quite like the idea that in studying science, we are studying how God(s) creates and form life.

Which is why I always revert to the stories that I loved as a child. Because these stories helped me understand the world better and its rules. If knowing we are carbon-based life-forms help me understand my own place on Earth, these myths do the same with strange occurrences that have happened to me.

After all, why would I create 4 Goddesses in my mind that I speak to regularly? Eris the Goddess of Discord, Melbourne the Lady of my home-town, Athena who guides my wisdom and Lady Luck who bestows upon me all manner of fortune.

We all secretly believe in some mystical power. Reading your horoscope is a sign of that belief, as is engaging in superstitious practices before Lunar New Year or doing a tarot reading.

But for me, the reason why I collected so many books about folk tales, myths and legends is because they are incredible stories that have survived through the ages. There is a wonderful timelessness to them, regardless of culture, background or era.

The story of Thor disguising himself as Freya to get Mjolnir back is hilarious. The symbology behind the lucky number 7 still makes me believe in it. The epic behind Zeus’ overthrowing his father Cronos is a fable about prophecy and how fate is determined for us.

The destruction of the world through Ragnarok showcases how sometimes the world needs to be destroyed to be made anew. The fable of Momotarou, the Peach Boy who went on an epic journey to defeat a demon and bring riches back to his adopted family is just an incredible adventure story. The story of Osiris and Isis is a touching love story about how a woman fights to get her beloved husband back.

The tale of Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves told in the context of One Thousand and One Nights, is the first example of a cliffhangers done right. The strange surrealist nature behind Puss in Boots, speaks to the odd nature between man and domesticated pets. The Monkey King is a fascinating story about redemption.

There are so many folk stories and myths that have continued to fascinate me today. Bluebeard, The Bunyip, Dracula, the Golem, Scrooge, Princess Mononoke, Rowan of Rin …. these names have been burned into my mind, because of their fascinating and dark stories.

In particular, I love the twisted ones, and am all too conscious about them when certain moments in my life made me question what would happen if I didn’t have such a good moral compass?

A great example is the Pied Piper of Hamelin. Despite my serious demeanour, I seem to have a natural affinity that draws children to me. They quiet down in the midst of crying when they see me, they smile broadly when I wave … in short, they just look happy whenever I acknowledge them.

Could I repeat the Pied Piper’s skill and lead children away to disappear entirely?

Of course not. But that is the strange moral lesson that echoes in my mind whenever I notice how easily children are won over by me.

It is that echo of a lesson that speaks to the enduring legacy of these stories.

It also explains why I love Neil Gaiman’s take on so many of these stories and how revisionist folklore has grabbed me just as much as historical fiction books have.

The Shrek franchise, Gaiman’s American Gods, my own current experience with the God of War games … I love how they have twisted and made fresh these stories that I am familiar with. New interpretations, new meaning, new ways of looking at these old tales … that is why these stories have persisted and are common knowledge.

These stories are always in a constant state of flux. Their meaning may be the same, but the way how they are told are always different. We all put our own flavour and meaning into them when we hear them for the first time and the repeat them to others for the last time.

That is the beauty behind myths. At its core, they are the same, but everything else … is subject to change.

Which just makes it all the more disappointing when you meet an overzealous religious believer who insists on an “official” version of a famous tale.

Because the story loses its lustre, it loses the unique flavour that could be imparted on it, and more importantly, the human element, the story-teller themselves is missing from the tale.

You can learn so much about a person from the way how they tell a story. It is the oldest, common and special ability humanity has … to tell a story to another.

Which is why I love myths but even more so, I love how people tell them.

~ Damocles.

The Journey to Letting Go.

Sitting alone on the beach at night, with a note in my hand, I took out my lighter and watched it slowly burn away in the cold wind.

The song that has defined 2022 for me, No Time to Die by Billie Eilish instantly floated into my mind. The whispered lyrics rang out in my mind as clearly if Eilish herself was next to me.

I should’ve known
I’d leave alone
Just goes to show
That the blood you bleed
Is just the blood you owe

We were a pair
But I saw you there
Too much to bear
You were my life
But life is far away from fair

Was I stupid to love you?
Was I reckless to help?
Was it obvious to everybody else

That I’d fallen for a lie?
You were never on my side
Fool me once, fool me twice
Are you death or paradise?
Now you’ll never see me cry
There’s just no time to die

I felt like crying, but no tears came running down my cheeks.

I was dried out. But that’s OK, because I was still grieving though, in my own way.

Tears have never truly been my outlet. To me, the big emotional waves that manifest itself physically though heaving sobs and tears, have never truly been big enough to threaten such a reaction from me. I genuinely do not know if I am capable of crying any more. I have regulated my emotional responses so much over the years, that it is difficult to tell if I can actually experience such extremes.

Which is why I’ve noted that whenever I am suffering from distress, I resort to the one thing that has sustained me for the entirety of my life.


Anger has always been a defining element to my personality. I’ve learned to tap into that source of energy a very long time ago, when I realised that anger can be used in a healthy manner.

Being angry all the time, meant that I could channel a certain amount of aggression into everything I did.

But it also taught me how I could sustain it, hold onto that anger and really power through obstacles that would stump others. And if I did it right …. that anger could keep me going through the toughest of shifts, the hardest of work, the most menial of tasks.

There is no end to anger’s utility and usefulness. I can take so much, because of how angry I can become.

So, in this case, my anger was turned against me. I used it on myself. I couldn’t cry, couldn’t break down … so instead I got furious at myself. I shouldered most of the blame, understood that I was the architect of all the pain I’ve caused to others and myself and squarely deserved to feel shit.

There was no redeeming this, no apology big enough for the hurt I’ve caused, the time I’ve wasted and the grief I’ve designed.

No escape from the immense guilt I feel.

This is what it means, to hurt someone and I can’t really forgive myself either.

However, just because I can’t forgive myself, doesn’t mean that I will let this poison me.

My anger won’t allow it.

For you see, I was furious at myself for being so selfish, so unbearably cruel, but then I realised that I will never truly get over myself for this and that this awful feeling was now going to be a part of my life forever.

I had chosen to accept this guilty cross as part of luggage that I will carry till the day I died. That was the consequence for hurting someone else, in return for me being unbearably selfish and being freed from a healthy relationship that wasn’t quite enough.

I didn’t know that, of course at the time, that the burden of this guilt was initially far too heavy for me to carry, let alone walk.

But that is where my anger comes in. Because it forces me to shoulder the load, to learn to accept the load for what it is and find a way to make it feel lighter.

I was now angry at myself for throwing too long of a pity party.

I needed to get over myself and really start the process of healing.

I made my decision, faced the consequences and now it was time to move on.

To delve too deeply into this pain, meant that I couldn’t do anything. It was time to go back up for air. I was sick of drowning.

It’s why I wrote a note to her. Because no words, no essays, no speeches would be enough to convey how terrible I felt.

On that note, were two words that I knew would never come true. Forgiveness is an element that is beyond my own control. To be forgiven, needs to the blessing of another.

I am never going to get that blessing. But that is the curse I chose when I broke things off with her.

Even now, nearly 2 months later, I am still reeling from the effects of what I’ve done. A casual joke can sour my mood instantly and cause me to relapse into a fugue of sadness, guilt and regret. It opens an internal floodgate where feelings I’ve thought I put to bed, come rushing back and threaten to overwhelm me.

In many ways, this experience has taught me how impossible it is to truly hold onto happiness when you are threatened constantly by negative emotions. They will sour every moment, poison your thinking and threaten your sanity.

But that has only galvanised me to work harder to fight against the wave of sadness. I now hold onto my happy moments even stronger; I force myself to shoo away those negative thoughts and I am actively striving to ensure reflective moments are more positive than negative.

It’s the only way for me to hold onto sanity and really allow myself to move past. It takes a conscious effort to ensure I am not constantly threatened by sadness, whenever my friends want to discuss my former relationship or there is a light joke made about a break-up. But it’s something I have to do, because anything else isn’t healthy nor rational.

Being able to let things go to me, isn’t so much about forgetting nor ignoring the past. It’s very much an acknowledgement of the past and ensuring that I don’t look back on it with malice, regret or anger.

Letting go, means I need to leave behind my anger, my pain and my guilt. It’s a slow process, and in many ways, with no destination at the end. All that matters, is the journey itself and whether those negative feelings truly abate with toxicity over time.

Much like nuclear waste half-lives, this is an infinitely slow process, but it is the only way to rid myself of these feelings properly. Without forgiveness to lighten the load, this is something I have to come to terms with slowly, carefully and with proper examination.

It won’t take another relationship, nor some fancy mental trick. Nor will meeting her again solve anything.

This is a cross that needs to be taken apart piece by piece, splinter by splinter, nail by nail, over many, many hours of reflection and examination.

This is the only way I can look back at my actions, my relationship and my choices without feeling an overwhelming amount of pain and guilt. Those feelings will forever remain, but I will be able to look at myself in the mirror and be at peace with what I see.

Writing that note and burning it alone at a beach, is just one tiny step in that journey to letting go.

It may take months, years, a decade even … but in many ways, when it comes to self forgiveness, there isn’t really any other way of dealing with it.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t be happy, nor carefree. I can still enjoy the moment, embrace the present and get excited by the thrill of a new journey.

It’s important for me to remember that, and truly acknowledge it.

I’m not beholden to my past, my choices and the consequences that came with it.

As long as I learn from them, and never repeat such an error again, I know that I can shorten the journey a bit.

Life is a marathon but there is no real clock timing you.

All it takes is some careful application of will, self-belief and a desire to be better and eventually I’ll cross the line.

In a lot of ways, I don’t regret anything. Everything that has happened has made me stronger and that is really all I can ask for, when I am on such a long journey.

~ Damocles.