Friday, 30 August 2013

Theaker’s Fab Five #4: soundtracks

Been over a year since I did one of these, and that’s because I’ve gone through one of those periods where I don’t use my stereo much, other than to output meekly the sound from other devices. First I went through a phase of recording lots of radio on the TiVo, and running it through a long audio lead into my office. Then I realised how many good BBC and NPR podcasts there are now, and had a brilliant time listening to those. I signed up to an Audible monthly plan again and listened to lots of audiobooks. And I’ve pretty much stopped buying CDs, because I don’t have anywhere left to put them. Amazon MP3s are very convenient, downloading automatically or available in the cloud wherever I need them, and they’re often very cheap, so I’ve taken to them in a way I never did with iTunes.

But this week I was in the mood to stick in CDs and leave them to play, and so we have a new Fab Five filling the five slots of my five-CD stereo. Let’s hope it never dies.

1. The Definitive Horror Collection, CD3: 1983–1977

The newest CD here, one I bought out of sadness that there was never a science fiction follow-up to the three volumes of Silva Screen’s Space and Beyond (see below); this was the closest thing I could find. The four CDs work their way back into the history of horror, this one starting in 1983 with Mark Ayres’ version of the Nightmare on Elm Street theme and ending in 1984 with Ghostbusters. Haven’t had much of a chance to get into it yet, but I was a little disappointed that some of the tracks seem to be repeats from the Space and Beyond series (Ghostbusters, Aliens), and a noisy instrumental version of “Bad to the Bone” from Christine drags on a bit too long. On the other hand: The Thing! Halloween! The Fog!

2. Alien Invasion: Space and Beyond II, CD1

One of my favourite CDs of all time, with suites from The Day the Earth Stood Still, Dune, Star Trek: The Motion Picture (how could music as vibrant as Jerry Goldsmith’s “Klingon Attack” emerge from such a ponderous film?), When Worlds Collide, The Thing from Another World and the original Battlestar Galactica. I’ve been enjoying it so much I bought The Definitive Horror Collection, above, and sought out a CD copy of the original Space and Beyond (featuring Lifeforce, Capricorn One, The Black Hole, Enemy Mine and lots of Star Trek), to replace one of the very few cassette albums we hadn’t yet thrown away.

3. Final Fantasy S Generation, Official Best Collection

Strange listening to this again. I know these tracks, composed by Nobuo Uematsu and selected from the first three Final Fantasy games on the Sony PlayStation (hence S Generation, as opposed to the companion album’s N (for Nintendo) Generation), used to mean something to me, but now they just remind me that I used to feel something when I heard them, rather than making me feel anything again. Instead, listening to this makes me reflect sadly on how little I enjoy most Japanese games these days, with their frustratingly jobsworthian approach to game saves, cut scenes and grinding. (“These days” in this context meaning: since we had children.) I haven’t finished a game in this series since Final Fantasy VIII. Having said that, “Liberi Fatali” and “One-Winged Angel” still give me a bit of a shiver, just on their own merits.

4. Space 3: Beyond the Final Frontier, CD1

Aliens, It Came from Outer Space, Robocop – I love the music on here. The recordings are so clear, use stereo so well, and sound so brilliant played quiet or loud. There are a few reviews of these albums on Amazon that go on about them not being the original versions. Pshaw! That’s what I like about them. The original versions are usually out there if you want them, in crackly mono in stop-start sequences that make little sense in isolation and feature a handful of refrains repeated ad nauseum. This is something different, with the highlights of the soundtracks made into short, elegant suites, played by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, and mastered to perfection. A Space and Beyond IV pulling together some of the best science fiction and fantasy themes of the last decade would be brilliant.

5. Doctor Who at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Vol. 2: New Beginnings, 1970–1980

I barely remember listening to this before, which makes me think it must have been a Christmas or birthday gift, quickly overlooked in the rush of new toys! It includes “music, effects, atmospheres and ambiences” from four Doctor Who stories from the Pertwee years, “Inferno”, “The Mind of Evil”, “The Claws of Axos” and “The Sea Devils”, compiled, produced and remastered by Mark Ayres, who was also involved with the three Silva Screen albums mentioned above. The Pertwee era isn’t my favourite period of the show (although oddly I loved the Target adaptations, perhaps because the overlong stories made for fast-paced books), but this works well as an album, spoilt only by featuring five too many variations on the theme music.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Theakerly thoughts #2: Netflix, broads with swords

Thought 1. I am loving the new My List option on Netflix UK. I can see why Netflix were against its introduction at first, on the grounds that if you are adding films to it to watch later, that means you don’t actually want to watch them now, and quite possibly never will, especially after you get tired of seeing them in your list every day. Books that have just arrived are always more exciting than those already on your shelf. So I won’t add any films to it, but it’s brilliant for television shows, creating what we’ve always dreamed of: your own custom channel.

Thought 2. In yesterday’s Theakerly thoughts I mentioned a con that had decided against having an official policy on sexual harassment, and it turns out they’ve been just as unimpressed by the idea of panel parity, and responded rather bluntly to a writer who asked if it might be applied to the panel onto which he had been invited. And today we hear they’ve invited a feminist writer to appear on a panel called “Broads with Swords”. Gah!

Some parts of the UK scene do seem to have a mediumly old-fashioned view on these things, i.e. they’ll agree of course that sexism is a bad thing, but disagree with the idea that any action is required. The problem for those parts of the UK scene is that the internet is bringing them into regular contact with more progressive elements, whose use of social media tends to be rather more adept.

After John and I attended a convention panel last year on sexism, he noted wryly that the eminent writer who pooh-poohed the idea that anything should be done had kept a microphone to himself for the entire panel, leaving three women – including the panel moderator – and one right-on fellow to share two between them, meaning he could break in at any time (and did), while the women on the panel had to negotiate before speaking.

Thought 3. Don’t think from the above that I’d consider myself a good feminist. My wife would assure you that I have a long, long way to go. But dudes, we should at least try. Or at least try to look like we’re trying.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Theakerly thoughts #1: games for kids, cons, French Kindle

I don’t know whether this will be a new regular feature on the blog or a one-off embarrassment, but a tip of the hat to Peter Tennant’s “Thoughts for a …” posts at Trumpetville for the format I’m copying. The appeal is that it gives me somewhere to write down these thoughts, things I can’t put to any practical use elsewhere, but I’d like them out of my system so I can think about other things! Let’s clear my cache.

Thought 1. It’s funny how many games whose content makes them totally unsuitable for children feature mechanics that make them utterly perfect for children. Saints Row the Third features obscenity and violence by the bucketload, but it also lets you create a totally customised player character of either gender, dress them in a variety of wacky clothes, choose from dozens of fun hairstyles, and then pick four cool friends to run around with. And there’s a kitten car! Tekken 6 is all about smashing each other in the face, but give it to a toddler and they’ll soon discover that every single button on the controller makes something unique and interesting happen on the television screen. Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare does feature zombies, swearing and lots of unpleasantness, but you can also have a really nice long ride on a selection of horses. In Borderlands 2 you regularly meet mutants who are keen to cut you up and eat your entrails, but the jump-in, jump-out co-operative split-screen mode works perfectly, death brings instant resurrection and missions don’t reset when you die. There was justified controversy when the mechromancer character was described as having a “girlfriend mode”, but the idea of a character specifically aimed at less confident gamers is long overdue and very well implemented (you customize your robot and it does most of the fighting for you). And yet when you play games specifically aimed at children they are nearly always (the very best Lego games being the exception), unpleasant, unresponsive, counterintuitive, maddening and just plain awkward to play. No wonder kids want to play our games! The creators of children’s games need to look harder at adult games and see why they work for children. And the creators of adult games should consider creating cut-down cleaned-up kids versions. In the meantime, I’ll keep letting our children have a supervised go, with the sound turned down, on selected portions of the above games.

Thought 2. John Scalzi’s pledge regarding sexual harassment at conventions was a typically clever and principled move. Over a thousand people then co-signed his pledge, but how many of them meant it (which Scalzi clearly did), and how many signed because they want to be seen as one of the good guys? It’ll be interesting over the next year or so to see how many people will stick to the pledge if conventions refuse to post (and be prepared to enforce) sexual harassment policies. Hopefully that won’t be an issue, because most conventions will see the sense in the request, but at least one convention has declined to post a policy on its website, and though it may well be probably completely unrelated, one prominent publisher, a co-signer of the pledge listed as an attending member on the con’s website, has recently said they won’t be there after all.

Thought 3. Matt Hughes, one of my very favourite writers at the moment, has temporarily reduced the price of 9 Tales of Henghis Hapthorn to next to nothing. I reviewed it here, but at that price you should really just buy it!

Thought 4. Because I like games, I’ve always liked gamifying my work. Earlier this month I used a dusty copy of Lord of the Rings: Risk to set up a battlefield in my office. The idea is to focus on whether jobs are on my desk, or off my desk. A figure is assigned to each job, and stuck with blu-tack to a card with that job’s name. Figures representing the jobs on my desk are placed threateningly in Eriador (near The Shire), figures for the hobby jobs (BFS, TQF, TTA reviews) on my desk get as far as Arnor (Bree, Rivendell), while the figures representing jobs I’ve got off my desk lurk in Rhûn (the lands beyond Mirkwood). Needless to say this has provoked much ridicule from my family, but I’ve found it jolly useful.

Thought 5. I wonder if there would have been such a fuss about “former child” Miley Cyrus’s performance at the VMAs if she hadn’t looked like she was having such a laugh! The outfit and the routine were kind of tacky, but it was meant to be. I remember taking one daughter to see Miley’s Hannah Montana concert film in 3D, and being appalled by a scene where Miley states flatly after an accident that she won’t do a dangerous lift again, only for her mother to say, yes, you will. I don’t think she would put up with that now.

Thought 6. I read a blog post a month or two ago by a writer who had been writing and working for free for various big companies – contributing to blogs, reviewing, slush reading, I guess – and in the post he talked about how upset he was that none of them had given him paying work. I felt sorry for him, but it seems to me that if someone’s already working for free, giving them a job would mean you don’t get that free work any more. You might as well hire someone whose skills you can only get by paying for them. I don’t mind writing for free – it’s my hobby, and it’s good to have an outlet. But I won’t write for free for a company that is making money out of it.

Thought 7. Not sure when they appeared, but I’ve only just noticed all the new French books in the UK Kindle store, and I’m a bit giddy about it. It looks like all the big French publishers are on there now (Folio, Gallimard, etc), and what’s more my Kindle has at some point acquired a French language dictionary (much better than a French-English dictionary, since it encourages you to think in that language rather than waste time mentally translating). I’m currently reading La Vallée Infernale in Tout Bob Morane 1 on a Kindle Paperwhite and it’s been brilliant to tap on difficult words and get instant definitions. Shame to hear modern language learning is in decline in the UK, because there’s never been an easier time to do it. When I was first learning French at school, the first book I remember being given to read was a Sartre play! Much as I loved it, I’ll never understand why they didn’t start us on the equivalent of a Ladybird book and let us work our way up.

Thought 8. Ben Affleck as Batman! No one saw that coming! Except all those articles a while back that said he was in talks to star in and direct a JLA movie. He’ll be brilliant. Batman being in Man of Steel 2 suggests the thing I was most troubled by in Man of Steel (you know, the bit towards the end) wasn’t a poor film-making decision, but rather the set-up for a fascinating second film, an event with consequences, like the destruction of [spoiler] and [spoiler] in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek. If anyone could send Superman to the naughty step, it’s Batman.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction #44: now out!

Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction #44 is now out! It features five stories, arranged roughly in the chronological order of their settings: “A Lesson from the Undergrowth” by Charles Wilkinson, “Snow Crime” by Allen Ashley, “The Return of the Terrible Darkness” by Howard Phillips, “Black Sun” by Douglas Thompson, and “Milo on Fire” by Ross Gresham.

You’re going to love them. (Except the Howard Phillips one.)

The review section isn’t quite as long as last issue’s, but it still features five books (Dodger, A Game of Groans, Martian Sands, Señor 105 and the Elements of Danger and Star Wars: Scoundrels), three films (The Host, Star Trek Into Darkness and World War Z), and two television programmes (Astronauts and Doctor Who: Shada).

The editorial explains why I’m not retiring the magazine just yet, and the cover is once again by Howard Watts.


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


Allen Ashley is currently editing Astrologica: Stories of the Zodiac for The Alchemy Press, and has stories due in the next BFS Journal and the Eibonvale Press anthology Rustblind and Silverbright. (Four contributors to this issue appear in that book: Allen Ashley, Charles Wilkinson, Douglas Thompson and John Greenwood.)

Charles Wilkinson’s short stories have appeared in Best Short Stories 1990, Best English Short Stories 2, Midwinter Mysteries and London Magazine. A collection, The Pain Tree and Other Stories, was published by London Magazine Editions.

Douglas J. Ogurek’s work has 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:

Douglas Thompson is a Theaker’s Quarterly 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. See: for more information about his activities – plus poetry!

Howard Phillips is one of this magazine’s most prolific contributors, though he has been absent from its pages for far too long, or, those of you who have read his work might say, not long enough. Poet, musician, philosopher: he does it all, though none of it well. In this issue’s instalment of his memoirs he must face his own sexism.

Howard Watts is a writer, artist and composer living in Seaford who provides the cover to this issue. (I spent much of June and July reading his unpublished but fascinating novel, The Master of Clouds. I hope a publisher picks it up soon, because it irks me no end to have read a book that cannot be included on my Goodreads list.)

Jacob Edwards supplies us with several in-depth reviews this issue: Dodger, Star Wars: Scoundrels, Star Trek Into Darkness and Astronauts and Doctor Who: Shada. However, he 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:

John Greenwood performs his usual co-editorial duties on this issue, and his own fiction has appeared recently in Rustblind and Silverblight, Bourbon Penn and The Ironic Fantastic (forthcoming), receiving such good notices that Stephen now regrets disabusing people of the notion that John is merely a pseudonym adopted for his more scathing reviews.

Ross Gresham teaches at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. Other instalments of the Milo/Marmite saga have appeared in TQF34 (“Name the Planet”), TQF41 (“Milo Don’t Count Coup”) and M-Brane SF (“Spending the Government’s 28”).

Stephen Theaker is the eponymous co-editor of Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction, and supplies fewer reviews than usual to this issue, unless he writes more in the gap between putting this section together and sending this issue to press. His reviews have also appeared in Interzone, Black Static, Prism and the BFS Journal. He has two lovely children and an indulgent, supportive wife.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Arctic Rising by Tobias S. Buckell, reviewed by Stephen Theaker

Arctic Rising by Tobias S. Buckell (Del Rey, pb, 340pp) is set the day after tomorrow, in a world much changed by the melting of the ice caps. Our protagonist is Anika Duncan, who enters the book with a season three feel; this might be her first book, but it isn’t her first adventure. She’s in the middle of an exciting life, and would have had plenty to tell us about even if the book’s main plot didn’t kick in, from a past as a mercenary to her budding relationship with an almost-legal drug dealer. But none of that is why she’s in trouble: it’s because of her conscientious approach to her work.

Floating in an airship over the Arctic for the United Nations Polar Guard, keeping an eye out for the illegal dumping of radioactive waste, she barely has time to back up the readings of her neutron scatter camera on a chip before the crew of a dodgy-looking vessel pull out their rocket launchers and blast her ship out of the sky – before turning their boat around to run her over for good measure! Her co-pilot doesn’t make it out of the hospital, and from that point Anika is on the run, pursued – as lovers of action thrillers would expect – by the bad guys and her own employers too.

Tobias Buckell is a writer I know from his (very sensible and well-reasoned) blog rather than his books, which often seems to be the case these days. The book’s cover quotes John Scalzi as saying that “Tobias Buckell is stretching the horizons of science fiction”. He’s probably talking about other work; here, if anything, he’s stretching the horizons of the action thriller. It’s exciting, fun and smooth, competent and confident, and a bit of a trojan horse, taking environmental issues to an audience who might not otherwise be receptive to them. The big speech on the environment is cleverly left to a villain, meaning those types who blow a gasket over “left-wing” politics (is the environment still considered a left-wing issue anywhere but the US?) in their action can take it or leave it.

What the book does extremely well is consider how rising sea levels could produce a very different world, geopolitically, with newly fertile Canada in the ascendant. Its most interesting point is that once a new status quo is in place, even one that seems disastrous from our present point of view, there will be people happy with it, making money from it, who will actively fight to prevent things being put right. And in the character of Roo we get a keen sense, without being clubbed over the head with it, of what it is to live in a world where the circumstances of your life are decided by more powerful countries: his island home drowned in the rising ocean levels, and now he is a freelance spy working for nations that can’t afford their own intelligence networks.

Del Rey books seem to give me that old-time library feel. Their books have illustrative artwork on their covers, have good hooks, and are not so voluminous that a three-week loan would not be long enough to read them. They might not always be the kind of books I’d buy myself, but they’re the kind that I’d pick up and read on holiday if I saw a copy unattended. In some ways this feels like a book ideal for reluctant readers. The type is nice and big, the chapters short and punchy, action following action with rest and recovery times kept to a minimum. Don’t read the back cover text past the first paragraph: it gives away all of the book’s major twists, even those that only come in its final chapters!—Reviewed by Stephen Theaker

Friday, 2 August 2013

Saga, Vol. 2, reviewed by Stephen Theaker

Saga, Vol. 2 (Image Comics, tpb, 152pp) continues a comic that has been outstanding from the very first issue. Writer Brian K. Vaughn and artist Fiona Staples are producing a science fantasy space opera that, for this reader at least, felt like Star Wars for adults – and this volume is very adult indeed, including towards the end the fellatio and ejaculations that caused such consternation at the Comixology offices! They are displayed on the television screen face of Prince Robot IV, one of many pursuing Marko (from the moon of Wreath) and Alana (from the planet Landfall), starcrossed lovers with a brand new baby (who narrates the series), across the galaxy. Bounty hunters are on the way too, once they’ve wrapped up their own storylines, but first to catch up with the couple in this book are the paternal grandparents, horns and all. They’re under the impression that their son has been kidnapped – because why else would he go on the run with one of the “evil fucks with the wings”? – and so they sold the house to buy themselves teleportation devices.

I thought this was fantastic. It’s a bit saltier in places (double meaning intended) than I really enjoyed (just out of a general embarrassment over the sweaty stuff), and a storyline about child prostitution was so horrible that it threatened to overwhelm the rest of the comic. But the art is spectacular, the story always fascinating, the relationships significant and often touching, even when they involve bad people like bounty hunter The Will and his Lying Cat. In this volume we see how the romance causing all the trouble began, which features a surprising twist on the meet-cute. We see how peppy Alana was before she became part of the galaxy’s most wanted couple, and see how their relationship grew out of sharing books. That’s a good place to start: Mrs Theaker and I got together after sharing a copy of Discourse on the Method, both being broke in our first days at university. And yesterday I was sharing Saga with her, downloading the first few issues to her Kindle Fire, because I reckon she’ll love the series as much as I do.—Reviewed by Stephen Theaker