Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Theaker's Quarterly Fiction #43 – now out!

Theaker's Quarterly Fiction #43 is now out! It's available as ever for free download, and in response to popular demand with this issue we've made it available once again in epub and pdf format. That means you'll have to pay to get it in the Kindle store, I'm afraid, but we have a free mobi version available here too.

This issue features five science fiction stories: "Diving Bird" by Madeleine Beresford, "Through the Ages" by Gary Budgen, "Quasar Rise" by Douglas Thompson, "Dodge Sidestep’s Dastardly Plan" by Howard Watts, and "Flight" by Mitchell Edgeworth, plus my accidentally topical editorial about leaving Facebook and two dozen reviews from Jacob Edwards, Douglas J. Ogurek, Howard Watts, John Greenwood, Harsh Grewal and me.

The cover is by Howard Watts, illustrating his own melodious, murderous fiction confection.

Reviews in this issue: Counter-Measures, Series 1, Adam Robots, Celebrant, A Coming of Age, A Conspiracy of Alchemists, Doctor Who: Remembrance of the Daleks, The Dog Stars, Moscow But Dreaming, 9 Tales of Henghis Hapthorn / The Gist Hunter, Randalls Round, A Red Sun Also Rises, A Town Called Pandemonium, Batman: Knightfall, Vol. 2: Knightquest, Doctor Who: The Crimson Hand, Dreadstar Omnibus, Vol. 1, Aliens: Colonial Marines, Borderlands 2, Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome, Cloud Atlas, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Rise of the Guardians / Hotel Transylvania, Twilight: Breaking Dawn, Part 2 and Warm Bodies.


Paperback edition: Amazon UK / Amazon US
Epub version (free)
Mobi version (free)
PDF version (free)
Kindle Store: Amazon.co.uk / Amazon.com


Douglas Thompson is by now a TQF veteran, several of his stories having appeared in these pages. He is the author of seven books: Ultrameta (Eibonvale, 2009), Sylvow (Eibonvale, 2010), Apoidea (The Exaggerated Press, 2011), Mechagnosis (Dog Horn, 2012), Entanglement (Elsewhen, 2012), with Freasdal and Volwys & Other Stories due in late 2013 from Acair and Dog Horn Publishing respectively. “Quasar Rise” will appear in the latter. For more information on Douglas see: http://douglasthompson.wordpress.com.

Douglas J. Ogurek reviews Breaking Dawn, Part 2, Warm Bodies and The Hobbit for this issue. His work has also appeared in such publications as the BFS Journal, Dark Things V, Daughters of Icarus, The Literary Review, Morpheus Tales and WTF?! He lives in Gurnee, Illinois with the woman whose husband he is and their five pets. His website: www.douglasjogurek.weebly.com.

Harsh Grewal reviews Randalls Round in this issue. His work hasn't previously appeared in TQF, but he contributed to our previous magazine New Words in the nineties.

Howard Watts is a writer, artist and composer living in Seaford who provides not just the cover to this issue, but also the story it illustrates and a pair of reviews! One review is of Borderlands 2, a game so good that when I finished it and sent it back to Lovefilm, after hanging on to it for three months, I bought a copy of my own.

Gary Budgen grew up and lives in London. He has had about twenty or so stories published in magazines and short story anthologies including Interzone, Dark Horizons and the Where Are We Going? anthology from Eibonvale Press. He can be found online at http://garybudgen.wordpress.com.

Jacob Edwards supplies us with many excellent reviews this issue, but remains indentured to Australia’s speculative fiction flagship Andromeda Spaceways, editing #45 and #55 of their Inflight Magazine. The website of this writer, poet and recovering lexiphanicist: www.jacobedwards.id.au.

John Greenwood reviews Adam Robots and The Dog Stars in this issue, in addition to his wide-ranging co-editorial duties.

Madeleine Beresford is a writer of speculative fiction, SF and fantasy. She lives in North London and is a member of London Clockhouse Writers. Four of her six-word stories appeared in the most recent BFS Journal.

Mitchell Edgeworth is a young writer living in the western suburbs of Melbourne, Australia. His fiction has been published in The Battered Suitcase and SQ Mag. He tweets as @mitchedgeworth and keeps a blog at www.grubstreethack.wordpress.com.

Stephen Theaker is the eponymous co-editor of Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction, and supplies many reviews to this issue. His (my) reviews have also appeared in Interzone, Black Static, Prism and the BFS Journal.

Hope you enjoy it – let us know if you don't!

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Expiry of silveragebooks.com: email and web addresses affected

Hi folks. Just a note to let you know that we're not going to bother renewing our silveragebooks.com domain name this year, since we aren't publishing under that name any more and tend nowadays to point people directly to the blog instead.

So if you have this blog bookmarked under www.silveragebooks.com, change over to http://theakersquarterly.blogspot.com, and if you have our email address down as theakers@silveragebooks.com, switch over to using theakersquarterlyfiction@gmail.com.

Our original, wonderfully yellow website is still available at www.silveragebooks.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk.

Your co-operation has been noted!

Friday, 19 April 2013

Doctor Who: Remembrance of the Daleks by Ben Aaronovitch – reviewed by Stephen Theaker

Doctor Who: Remembrance of the Daleks by Ben Aaronovitch (50th Anniversary Edition, BBC Books, ebook, 2778ll). The plot, in brief, for Whonewbies among you: the seventh Doctor, accompanied by teenage explosives enthusiast Ace, draws the Daleks to Earth – in particular to the area around Totter’s Yard and Coal Hill School, where the programme first began – to acquire the Hand of Omega, a stellar manipulator, which for mysterious reasons of his own he wants them to have. But things get rather out of control when not one but two Dalek factions turn up, both burning with hatred for the Doctor, both with special weapons at their disposal, and both desperate to get their plungers on the Hand.

I shouldn’t really be surprised that the novelisation of a television story I’ve seen a fair few times didn’t have many surprises, but you can’t explain away feelings with logic, as many a Dalek has found to their cost. That aside, this was as efficient and fast-moving as Who novelisations tend to be (it’s why they’ve always appealed to me), tidying up the storyline nicely and adding much more depth, especially to the Dalek battles that end the story – for example setting up the black Dalek’s demise by showing the damage done to his psyche by networking his mind with that of a human child. (Though that does have the side-effect of making the Doctor, who thinks he’s literally talking the Dalek to death, look a bit silly.) Some of the dialogue (almost everything Ace says) lands with the same thuds that accompanied it on television, while other lines (almost everything the Doctor says) are among the very best the series has ever produced. (“Unimaginable power, unlimited rice-pudding”!)

It was interesting to read this after enjoying the recent Counter-Measures audio series from Big Finish, which picks up the story of the soldiers and scientists who help the Doctor help the Daleks help themselves to the Hand of Omega. On that subject, despite the added detail in this book, you are still left wondering why the Doctor sees a moral difference between using the Hand himself to destroy Skaro (which would have avoided putting Earth in any danger whatsoever), and tricking the Daleks into setting it off themselves. It’s not as if the Daleks were using the Hand itself to attack anyone, so it’s hardly an appropriate come-uppance for their actions. (Their actions in this story, at least.) Maybe the Hand wouldn’t have been able to reach Skaro’s solar system without the Daleks giving it a pass through their defences, though that in turn raises the question of why the Daleks, having their first bash at solar manipulation, would use their own sun!

This fiftieth anniversary edition is pleasantly packaged, with a superbly designed cover matching the other ten reissues (they look wonderful lined up on the Kindle Fire carousel) and a new introduction from the author. I’ve been put off reading many of my older Doctor Who books by the typesetting – the policy of the old BBC range was to shrink fonts down to fit a set number of pages rather than allowing books to run long, and the Virgin New Adventures were all over the place – and so it’s great to read these reissues on Kindle. A handful of scanning errors have cropped up over the three books I’ve opened so far, but nothing to put anyone off buying them. I went straight on to the sixth Doctor’s book in the series after this (Players, by Terrance Dicks), and after that on to the fourth Doctor’s (Festival of Death, by Jonathan Morris), all in the space of a week, which shows how much I’m enjoying them.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Fringe, Season 5 – reviewed by Stephen Theaker

Fringe, Season 5 (Sky 1/Fox). Now that it’s over, like sister show Alias just five years into its run, Fringe (in which a special division of the FBI investigates crimes, deaths and other incidents with a weird science element) must be seen as a decent programme that despite many fine moments never quite caught fire, never blossomed into more than the sum of its parts, never became the programme you wait all week to watch. Part of the problem was that the romance between its lead characters never quite convinced. Much as you wanted them to be happy, it was never clear why they wanted to be happy together. It wasn’t down to the actors (Anna Torv and Joshua Jackson): Peter Bishop’s relationship with the alternate, naughty, smiling Olivia Dunham from another dimension had all the spark the usual couple lacked.

In reviewing the first few episodes of the programme I noted how much it resembled a modern-day take on William Hartnell’s period of Doctor Who, with irascible, addled genius Walter Bishop (John Noble) as the Doctor, Peter and Olivia as Ian and Barbara, and Astrid (Jasika Nicole) as Susan. The resemblance between the programmes grew as season three’s plot drew Age of Ghosts/Doomsday out to twenty-two episodes, and season five in its turn bears distinct echoes of Last of the Time Lords and A Good Man Goes to War, with Earth under a paradoxical invasion from the future, and the companions acquiring an adult daughter. If a sixth series had followed it would presumably have been about a new group of Observers stealing Earth from our solar system and a new Walter being cloned from the bits of his brain he usually keeps in a jar.

And one could easily imagine a sixth season, that being part of the reason this fifth season disappoints. With this planned as a final, short series you might have expected it to be packed with plot, betting everything on a final roll of the dice, but that’s not how it feels. The ongoing storylines about Olivia’s peculiar powers, Peter’s parentage, Walter and Belly’s science secrets and the war with the alternate universe were all more or less resolved in previous years. That leaves the Observer storyline: who are the strange, hairless men who turn up to watch at times of crisis, and what are their goals?

In season four we had a brief glimpse of a future ruled by them, and season five picks up that story, our heroes freed from amber and joining the resistance. Unfortunately, under prolonged examination this future is barely distinguishable from the world of The Adjustment Bureau, and the heroes spend the entire season on a drawn-out treasure hunt prompted by video cassettes carved out one by one from Walter’s ambered laboratory. The season’s arc is basically that Walter has forgotten the plan. At first I saw this as a quirky reflection on his character, but as it went on and on it seemed ever more contrived, especially when the amber itself presented a much more obvious way of achieving their goals (I won’t explain more to avoid spoilers).

The modular nature of Bad Robot television like Alias, Lost and Fringe, with each season establishing a new status quo, does much to keep them fresh, and I like that about them, but Fringe could as easily have finished after any of its other seasons, and another season could easily have followed this one. That seems unsatisfying. It was always impeccably produced, the special effects always gorgeous, the actors perfectly cast. I enjoyed watching it. If it had ended after season one I doubt we would have found anything better to watch instead (we would probably have settled for Warehouse 13). I will miss it, and even now I think it had the potential to be one of the greats. If it didn’t quite get there, at least it never stopped trying.

Monday, 8 April 2013

A Conspiracy of Alchemists by Liesel Schwarz – reviewed by Stephen Theaker

A Conspiracy of Alchemists by Liesel Schwarz (Del Rey, hb, 384pp) is essentially teenage urban fantasy with a light drizzle of steampunk. The heroine’s father has been kidnapped by scoundrels, seemingly in connection with a courier job of hers that went south. She is Miss Elle Chance, a nerveless but youthful airship pilot in an altered, magical 1903, and the story wastes no time in throwing her into the arms of Marsh, a warlock also known as Lord Greychester, for a jaunt across Europe. They are searching for her father, of course, and also hope to thwart the ambitions of a gaggle of uppity alchemists looking to upset the balance between the worlds of shadow and light, but that all amounts to little more than background colour: the trip’s narrative purpose is to accelerate the relationship of Marsh and Elle, keeping them in close company, forced to endure each other through trains, hotels and restaurants until the rose of romance blossoms among the thorns of mutual dislike.

It’s fair to acknowledge that the book seems to be written for a readership half or perhaps even (unwelcome as it is to admit) a third the age of this reviewer, though this isn’t apparent from its packaging. Its moves are predictable, but worn-out as I am, I’m not yet entirely tired of watching people fall in love, and at the book’s best it comes close to the breathless charm it pursues. That our sparky girl pilot will fall for the sexist who purses his lips in such a beautiful way is never in doubt. At first she’s all, “I’d rather eat my own foot than marry a man like you”, but even before the conversation is over his “animalistic, almost predatory” ways are making “little tremors sift through her”. Later she does “her best to ignore the strange quickening she felt in her chest when he smiled at her” and his look sends “a ripple of apprehension through her, right to the tips of her fingers”.

It’s all intended to be very romantic, and it would be a lie to say my heart was not at times stirred, but he’s not the kind of guy you’d want your daughter to show an interest in, with his rather rapey tendency to declare that “I can’t be held responsible for what I might do next”, his eyes “dark with desire”, if she doesn’t leave him to his brooding. There’s an irony in Elle’s rather ageist and selfish response to meeting one of his former lovers: “The old crone was jealous, Elle realised. It was very creepy to behold.” It isn’t half as creepy to behold as her own romance with this long-lived Lord Darcy wannabe, and comments like that give the book a slightly unexamined, naive feel.

Certainly don’t buy this book for its science fiction or steampunk elements. The goggles on the cover are not misleading – there is a gyrocopter ride, albeit one revealed later to be less than entirely steam-driven – but they highlight a minor aspect of quite a conventional romantic novel. Like Twilight (the film, at least; I haven’t read the book), it’s essentially a series of long, soulful conversations between star-crossed lovers, and at times – usually when there was a bit of action and fighting, and before the verbal sparring went on a little too long – I quite enjoyed it. But it was a book I read to the end because I don’t like to leave books unfinished, not because I thought anything unmissable was going to happen.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Batman: Knightfall, Vol. 2: Knightquest – reviewed by Stephen Theaker

Batman: Knightfall, Vol. 2: Knightquest (DC Comics, tpb, 656pp) picks up the story from, naturally, Knightfall Volume 1, though many readers may (like me) have read those same stories in the older Knightfall collections Broken Bat and Who Rules the Night. They left Bruce Wayne nursing a very bad back and Robin wondering whether he can trust the new guy in the batsuit (well, a batsuit, one that only ever looks good when it’s in full shadow): Jean Paul Valley, former knight of Saint Dumas and vanquisher of Bane. He’s a brutal fighter rather than a detective, violent, unpleasant and at times repulsive (his inner monologue when meeting Catwoman is stomach-churning), and has little time for Robin or Wayne Manor, bricking up the entrances to the Batcave. Not a fan of the Batmobile, he prefers the cool but impractical subway Bat-rocket.

Unlike the roughly contemporaneous introductions of Kyle Rayner as Green Lantern and Connor Hawke as Green Arrow, there was clearly never any intention of Jean Paul Valley being Batman for anything more than a short period, and so these stories see talented writers and artists (including Chuck Dixon, Alan Grant, Jo Duffy and Barry Kitson) marking time until the real Batman returns. Typically silly multi-issue stories feature a punk rock Three Stooges and a film producer funding the Joker’s directorial debut: a film about killing Batman. We don’t get to see the miraculous healing of Bruce’s back, surely the most significant event of this period, nor do we ever really see why Valley would want to be Batman; he doesn’t like the costume, the methods, the city or the colleagues that come with the job.

The entire book feels like an extended raspberry to the comics fans of that period: you wanted Batman to be tougher on criminals, to wear more armour, to be more in line with other nineties characters? Well, here you go, and it’s crap, isn’t it? They don’t even have the guts to let the bad Batman be really bad. Assuming no one ever gets seriously hurt in all the car crashes he causes, his worst crime is (while in the midst of a pseudo-schizophrenic episode – he’s plagued by hilarious visions of his dad and Saint Dumas) to not save Abattoir, a mass murderer, from falling to his death, which also results in the death of a man Abattoir had kidnapped and hidden away in a death-trap.

Bruce Wayne doesn’t see any of this happen, but it motivates him into coming back angrily to reclaim his cape (which he manages in book three, before immediately giving it away again!). He seems to be perfectly happy in retirement up until then. This book doesn’t give us a heroically broken Bruce Wayne, but instead a feckless idiot who handed over his Batcave to a maniac, with the kind of due diligence you’d expect from his public playboy persona. In fairness to Bruce, this view of him may be unfairly shaded by this collection skipping over his adventures in Knightquest: The Search, a storyline which ran in Justice League Task Force, Shadow of the Bat and Legends of the Dark Knight.

The book’s a disappointment from start to finish. Its final ignominy comes in the introduction to Volume 3, whose writer gets important details wrong: they clearly couldn’t be bothered to read this. The format is a good one, though: hundreds of pages, well-bound, bright printing, a nice open spine. The Essentials and Showcases were brilliant in their day (I must have fifty or more of them), but the lack of colour hangs heavy upon them now that we can buy digital comics in colour just as cheaply. I hope this becomes the default format for archive material in paperback; I’m sure it will be used to reprint better material than this.

Comparing this collection to Grant Morrison’s Batman and Robin shows just how poorly this book exploits the storytelling potential of a new Batman. Comparing it (and its two companion volumes) to Christopher Nolan’s magnificent, blistering The Dark Knight Rises serves as the best possible illustration of the adage that bad books make great films.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Ten reviews that didn't sprout

Not all acorns grow into oak trees, and some notes never resolve themselves into proper reviews. Sometimes it might be a lack of time, sometimes a lack of anything interesting to say, and sometimes it's just that by the time I come to write the review I've forgotten most of what happened!

So: I've taken ten of those bits mouldering at the back of my reviews closet and put them up on Goodreads. Don't expect much and you won't be disappointed!

NB: none of these books and comics were submitted to us for review – these were all things I bought. Once we've read something submitted for review, it gets a proper review, even if it takes us years and we do have to read the whole blinkin' thing again!