Incredible painting by Arnold Bocklin,a Swiss painter. The title was not actually given to the piece by Bocklin who simply refered to it by the original request, for an 'image to dream by' There are actually five variations on the original composition. All have the same boat and tall figure heading towards or away from an imposing desolate isle. Also the title of an obscure science fiction story by Roger Zelazny. The main character is a terraformer who shapes worlds. One of his worlds is in part inspired by the painting.

The Isle of the Dead is a science fiction novel with strong fantasy elements and themes, written by Roger Zelazny and published by Ace in 1969.

The novel is set in a far future, with interstellar travel, alien races: the whole kaboodle, but it's, by far, not your average science fiction novel. Then again, nothing by Roger Zelazny is average.

Zelazny's literary skill knew no bounds. This book, as well as most of his others, deserves merit not only for the fantastic, imaginitive ideas but for the pure excellence of the writing itself. The prose is extremely diverse, shifting from stark to florid, from chaotic and utterly abstract to concise clarity.

The protagonist, Francis Sandow, is one of 100 richest people in the galaxy, possessed of the power to shape the very fabric of worlds. He is the only human ever to unlock this hidden potential which the Pei'ans, an alien race, have utilized for millennia.

Zelazny had a love for mystery and this novel is no different. When Francis begins receiving pictures from an unknown source, pictures of dead friends and enemies who should be long forgotten to anyone but himself, accompanied by portentious messages, he decides to seek answers...

Tokyo Bay, on any given day, is likely to wash anything ashore.
A symphonic work by Sergey Rakhmaninov (1873-1943), based upon a painting of the same name by the Swiss painter Arnold Böcklin.

The piece was composed in early 1909, although its genesis began a few years earlier, when the composer saw a black and white reproduction of Böcklin's painting. It was an interesting time, musically speaking. Romanticism was breathing its last breaths, Impressionism was making the rounds, Modernism was just taking root (think Rite of Spring, 1913). What a time for a young, sensitive, Russian pianist, composer, and conductor to be living!

Rakhmaninov was never one to be interested in Zeitgeist, though. Throughout his career, he would stick to a highly Romantic style, with lush orchestration and expansive forms. The Isle of the Dead is itself a symphonic poem in the tradition of Franz Liszt, as opposed to Richard Strauss, in that it depicts a general mood or impression, as opposed to a narrative.

The work is generally considered to be one of the composer's finest, even earning a few performances by Arturo Toscanini, who wasn't a great fan of Rakhmaninov's compositions. While it certainly doesn't beat some of Rakhmaninov's works for piano, it certainly ranks highly in terms of his purely orchestral work.

Interestingly, that Rakhmaninov first encountered a reproduction of Böcklin's work is significant. He comments later on, in a 1927 interview:

'The massive architecture and the mystic message of the painting made a marked impression on me, and the tone poem was the outcome ... If I had seen the original first, I might not have composed the work.'
The painting depicts Charon rowing a recently departed soul to the "Isle of the Dead." The Isle looms large and close, the soul bright but insignificant in comparison. The waters are calm, and there is a sense of submission to inevitability as the boat nears the Isle, which seems ready to swallow it whole.

Rakhmaninov depicts the soul's yearning for life once more in a rising string motive, which works up intensity before reaching a climax, after which the soul seems to accept eternal repose. The meter is an assymmetrical 5/8, depicting the steady rhythm of Charon's oars. You also hear, in the low pizzicato notes that outline the meter, the inevitability of death. But the inevitability here isn't one of anguish or torture, but rather of calm, of finding peace with the way things are. So even while the soul struggles against death, we always know, deep down, that death is certain and in its own way, calming.

Besides the original material Rakhmaninov uses, he also makes use of the Dies Irae plainchant from the Requiem Mass. It isn't Rakhmaninov's first use of the plainchant, and won't be the last. Thus, we have a clear, musical connection to the theme of death, thus not requiring us to know the painting in order to understand the piece.

It's also one of the worst FPS games ever to slither down the spike. I had the misfortune to play it back in the day (1994, when it was released) when it appeared on the cover of a magazine as a freebie. I still have that magazine. I remember well the tone they adopted when trying to explain why they'd stuffed it onto their cover CD, trying, desperately, and valiantly, to make people eschew the demos of Worms and Heretic and Mortal Kombat in favour of... this.

Still, you have to admire their balls.

Released for PC only, and produced by a bunch of folks called "Rainmaker Software," who were some sort of fly-by-night affair from the Western US who bolted it together on a budget of $30,000.00 (by way of comparison, other games even back in the mid 1990s had million-dollar budgets), it's something like this - you were happily flying a plane, which crashed on an uninhabited island, or so you thought, and you're the only survivor.

Little do you know that the island is in fact inhabited by a Mad Scientist who's creating an army of zombies and has kidnapped the obligatorily tasty daughter of the local native chief and who is going to take over the world!

Needless to say, you've got to stop him, rescue the babe, and escape the plague of zombies who, naturally, all want to eat your brains.

Well, it's a solid enough FPS plot. What could possibly go wrong?

Wanna list?!

Well, firstly, the graphics. Despite coming out the same time as Doom, and similar, it had nastier graphics than Wolfenstein 3D. You know, that game where you shot Nazis in a secret Fuehrer bunker with walls all at exactly 90 degree angles. Actually, scratch that. It's uglier than Catacomb Abyss which was an FPS that pre-dated Wolfenstein, and was in 16 colour EGA legovision. They'd simply thrown together some generic rock and tree textures into a maze made up of 90-degree cells, and then thought, that'll do. The first bit of the game is on the beach of the titular (emphasis on tit) Isle of the Dead and they've assigned brown and navy blue block colours to the ceiling and floor textures and used a suspiciously dense jungle as the walls on one side and an animated GIF of badly drawn waves as the other wall texture. The result means that if you get close enough to the shoreline you can see bits of floor in the distance where the wall texture doesn't quite fill the wall.

Then there's the enemies. They're all cartoon zombies, so, you've got the zombie kid, the zombie woman, the zombie with his eye falling out, and the surfer zombie that goes "BUMMER DUDE!" when you blow his head off with a shotgun. This gets annoying fast. The zombies AI consists of shuffling towards you and doing you damage when they get close enough. There is no indication which side you're under attack from. The enemies have one animation cycle and that's for walking towards you. This would be acceptable considering they're, like, zombies, which aren't known for their intellect or tactical nous, but then again every other enemy (the creepy nurses, wolves, bats, and the mad scientist) do the exact same thing.

On the plus side, when you die, you do get to see a nicely drawn death scene with plenty of cartoon gorno, be it from being debrained by the surfer zombie ("BUMMER DUDE!") or being eaten by wolves, being electrocuted on the fence, or similar. When you die, though, and you will, you get to see the Mad Scientist cackling at your demise, even before you've encountered him in the actual game or even know of his existence. This becomes rapidly annoying.

In an unusual display of creativity, there's also some pointy-clicky-adventure like bits and inventory manipulation but no explanation of what you're supposed to do in these areas. In the bit where you get the rifle, for instance, you have to click to cut a 1-pixel wide tripwire or you set off a bomb and die, and then if you try to fire the rifle once you've got it, it blows up in your face and you die unless you oiled it first. There is no indication or clue any of these things will happen. There's also no clue what you're supposed to be doing at all so you end up just wandering round the island through sections of jungle and clearing and beach that ALL LOOK THE SAME getting increasingly annoyed and frustrated. There's a map but it only shows the individual section you're in right now making it totally useless. I think the surfer zombie put it best when he said, "BUMMER DUDE!"

Weapons? Well, you get a machete, a rifle, and a shotgun. Later on you get an Uzi from a native altar (don't ask) but that's about it. Yawn.

The most annoying thing, though, is that not only does everywhere look the same, but when you go into each segment of jungle, all the enemies respawn but the ammo and pickups do not. This means if you get lost you can conceivably find yourself with insufficient supplies to beat the rest of the game. I find it very hard to believe that the zombies are being created quite THAT fast, now, come on. You've just spent all your ammo and half your health fending off a squadron of surfer zombies and exit the area to find - it's a dead end! Can you say, "BUMMER DUDE!" at all?

Worse still, just to throw yet more gently decomposing shite on the heap, the box is slightly guilty of false advertising in that there's a tasty bikini-clad girlie on it, who I will now refer to as "Lady Not Appearing In This Game" because, well, she doesn't appear in it. And she's clearly not the chieftain's daughter either. I checked. "BUMMER DUDE!" Still, now we know where Evony got the idea from. Zombies approaching, my Lord! Free Forever! And even that's too much to pay for this hopeless mess. Christ. People bought this?

I think I'll leave it there before I mention the crippled bastarding controls, annoying sound effects, and godawful music. Also when you quit you see a comic animation of your character eating his gun and are sneered at for taking the "coward's way out." Which just added insult to injury.

As for my rating? Well, could it be anything other than a resounding chorus of, "BUMMER DUDE!"

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