Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Theaker's Quarterly Fiction #61: now out!

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Issue sixty-one of Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction is out now! It contains two stories from old friends – Allen Ashley (“Bound for Glory”) and Douglas Thompson (“Yttrium: Part 2”) – plus four stories from first-time contributors – S.J. Hosking (“The Guidance Counsellor”), A. Katherine Black (“Tether”), Tim Major (“To Ashes, Dust”) and Libby Heily (“Regression”) – plus “Frakking Toasters”, a non-fiction article on the language of Battlestar Galactica from Jessy Randall.

Then there are nine reviews from the usual team of Douglas J. Ogurek, Rafe McGregor, Jacob Edwards and Stephen Theaker: the BBC Radio John Wyndham Collection, Pawn by Timothy Zahn, Annabelle: Creation, Blade Runner 2049, Geostorm, It, Justice League, Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Thor: Ragnarok. The wraparound cover artwork is by the marvellous Howard Watts, completing a run of thirty-one consecutive covers!

Sorry it’s so much later than planned. But we always get there in the end! We're ten issues ahead of my heroes at McSweeney's now, you know, and we gave them a ten-issue head start…



Here are the splendid and soulful contributors to this issue:

A. Katherine Black is an audiologist on some days and a writer on others. Her fiction has appeared in Farther Stars Than These, Seven by Twenty, Abstract Jam and others, and is forthcoming in Flash Fiction Magazine. She lives in Maryland with her family, their cats and her coffee machine. Website: www.flywithpigs.com.

Allen Ashley works as a creative writing tutor with six groups running across north London, including the advanced science fiction and fantasy group Clockhouse London Writers. He is the judge for the annual British Fantasy Society Short Story Competition and is currently working on an editing project on behalf of the BFS.

Douglas J. Ogurek’s work has appeared in the BFS Journal, The Literary Review, Morpheus Tales, Gone Lawn, and several anthologies. Douglas’s website can be found at www.douglasjogurek.weebly.com and his Twitter account is at www.twitter.com/unsplatter
.
Douglas Thompson won the Herald/Grolsch Question of Style Award in 1989, second prize in the Neil Gunn Writing Competition in 2007, and the Faith/Unbelief Poetry Prize in 2016. His short stories and poems have appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies, including Ambit, New Writing Scotland and Albedo One. His first book, Ultrameta, published by Eibonvale Press in August 2009, was followed by eight subsequent novels and short story collections: Sylvow (Eibonvale Press, 2010), Apoidea (The Exaggerated Press, 2011), Mechagnosis (Dog Horn Publishing, 2012), Entanglement (Elsewhen Press, 2012), The Rhymer (Elsewhen Press, 2014), The Brahan Seer (Acair Books, 2014), Volwys (Dog Horn Publishing, 2014), and The Sleep Corporation (The Exaggerated Press, 2015). A new combined collection of short stories and poems The Fallen West will be published by Snuggly Books in early 2018. His first poetry collection Eternity’s Windfall will be published by Red Squirrel in early 2018. A retrospective collection of his earlier poetry, Soured Utopias, will be published by Dog Horn in late 2018. “Yttrium: Part 2” is taken from his novel Barking Circus, forthcoming in 2018 from Eibonvale. “Yttrium: Part 1” appeared in TQF60.

Jacob Edwards also writes 42-word reviews for Derelict Space Sheep. His website is at www.jacobedwards.id.au, his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/JacobEdwardsWriter, and his Twitter account is at www.twitter.com/ToastyVogon.

Jessy Randall’s stories, poems, and other things have appeared in Asimov’s, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, McSweeney’s and Theaker’s (most recently in April 2017). She is a librarian at Colorado College and her website is bit.ly/JessyRandall. “Frakking Toasters” was originally written for the wonderful and now-defunct Verbatim: The Language Quarterly.

Libby Heily’s short stories have been published in The Write Room, Mixer Publishing, Bookends Review, The Dirty Pool, Kaaterskill Basin Literary Journal and Twisted Sister Literary Magazine. Her plays have received multiple staged readings around the country and have been produced at Longwood University, Davis and Elkins College, Sonorous Road Theater and by the Cary Playwrights Forum. Her Young Adult novel, Welcome to Sortilege Falls, was published in 2016 by Fire and Ice YA Publishing. The sequel, Wrong Side of the Rift, was published in November 2017.

Rafe McGregor is the author of The Value of Literature, The Architect of Murder, five collections of short fiction, and over one hundred articles and essays. He lectures at the University of York and can be found online at www.twitter.com/rafemcgregor.

S.J. Hosking enjoys a wide variety of literary genres, and historical fiction, horror, fantasy, science fiction, and gothic are amongst his favourites. His literary influences include, but are not limited to, Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, Robert Harris, C.J. Sansom, and Stephen King. S.J. has had one story published so far, “The Princess and the Tower”, in Aphotic Realm magazine (Apparitions, June/July 2017). Aside from short stories, S.J. also writes poetry and flash fiction, and has had a sestina published online. He is currently working on his first novel. When not writing, S.J. enjoys running, walking, swimming and tennis.

Stephen Theaker is the co-editor of Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction. His reviews, interviews and articles have appeared in Interzone, Black Static, Prism and the BFS Journal.

Tim Major is a freelance editor and co-editor of the British Fantasy Society’s fiction journal, BFS Horizons. His first novel, You Don’t Belong Here, was published by Snowbooks. He has also released two novellas: Blighters (Abaddon) and Carus & Mitch (Omnium Gatherum). In 2018 ChiZine will publish his first YA novel, Luna Press will publish his first short story collection and Electric Dreamhouse Press will publish his non-fiction book about the silent crime film, Les Vampires. Tim’s short stories have appeared in Interzone, Not One of Us and numerous anthologies. Find out more at www.cosycatastrophes.wordpress.com.



As ever, all back issues of Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction are available for free download.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Douglas J. Ogurek’s top five mass market science fiction/fantasy/horror films of 2017


Once again, sci-fi/fantasy/horror (SF/F/H) films dominated the U.S. box office. Star Wars and superheroes reigned as the top grossing films in 2017. The latest Star Wars installment (The Last Jedi) came in at number one ($583 million at the time of this writing), while five superhero films ranked within the top ten. Others included a fantasy/musical (Beauty and the Beast), an animated action/adventure (Despicable Me 3), a fantasy/action/adventure (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle) and, thanks to an enchantingly creepy clown, a horror (It).

All ten were either remakes or part of a series. This shows how much the filmgoing public leans toward the familiar and the predictable.

Nevertheless, following are my selections for the best mass market SF/F/H films in 2017. Though numbers three through five rank within the top ten grossing movies, the top two spots do not. What sets these two apart is their concept originality, depth of character, and the complex themes that they explore. They give the viewer something to think about, and they don’t rely too heavily on special effects.

#5: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
Four very different high school students get pulled into a video game world that leads them to challenge their beliefs about themselves and each other. The viewer escapes into a consistently funny, sometimes touching story highlighted by the Dwayne Johnson/Kevin Hart duo’s boyish charm and Jack Black’s portrayal of a self-centered teen female stuck in a middle-aged male’s body. The tropical setting (filmed in Hawaii) and underdeveloped, goon-like secondary characters add to the film’s lighthearted mood. Full review.



#4: Wonder Woman
Marvel gracefully inducts a full-fledged female champion into the pantheon of big budget contemporary superhero films. Gal Gadot’s Diana/Wonder Woman quickly wins over the viewer – she leaves her idyllic, women-only island and arrives in World War I London with a mix of wonder (“A baby!”) and shock at that society’s misogynistic and sometimes callous tendencies. And from an action perspective? Wonder Woman lives up to her name with the lethal combination of agility and power that she displays during fight scenes. Some action sequences – watch for the one in which Wonder Woman rallies the Allies – are breathtaking, even if you know what the filmmakers are doing is way over the top. Full review.



#3: Thor: Ragnarok
The only thing that’s heavy about the god of thunder’s latest adventure is his hammer Mjölnir… and that’s what makes this film such a pleasure to watch. Director Taika Waititi takes the viewer on a mind-blowing interplanetary romp rich in humor, otherworldly settings, and characters that range from temperamental to odd. Thor has his work cut out for him – he faces off against a gigantic beast, a presumed ally, an eccentric dictator, and a powerful sister/goddess intent on revenge. This is dumbed down entertainment at its best. Full review.



#2: Get Out
Fortified by humour and suspense, Get Out gives the cliché-saturated horror genre a much-needed shot in the heart. It tells the story of budding photographer Chris Washington, an African American who visits his white girlfriend’s wealthy parents’ estate. Something is off with the African American hired help – they behave strangely. Oddity builds upon oddity until Chris discovers the shocking secret behind this world of white privilege. Jordan Peele’s directorial debut, with its novel ideas and implications about race, deserves the critical acclaim that it received. Full review.



#1: Split
Explosions, weapons, superheroes, and special effects dominate the contemporary moviegoing experience. Thus, the SF/F/H film that manages to entertain while, for the most part, avoiding these elements achieves something special. Most of M. Night Shyamalan’s films accomplish this feat. He takes the road less traveled by exploring original ideas that stem from a simple question – what if?

Split examines victimization and questions the extent to which a man who suffers from dissociative identity disorder (DID) can, through his shattered mind, alter his body’s chemistry. Like other Shyamalan films, Split serves up a potent mix of subtext, technique, and atmosphere, plus it leaves the viewer with something to ponder. The protagonists have no superhuman abilities; rather, they are three teenage girls trapped in their captor’s lair. Anya Taylor-Joy delivers a strong performance as Casey, a quiet girl who is wise beyond her years (common in Shyamalan films). The snippets from Casey’s past that are gradually unveiled add to the film’s foreboding ambiance and support a climax that is much more than a physical confrontation.

The film’s greatest strength is James McAvoy’s gripping portrayal of Kevin Wendell, who suffers from DID. The personalities that emerge from this consummate performance range from that of a little boy to a British matriarch. Not since Heath Ledger’s the Joker have I seen an SF/F/H character who evokes so much curiosity about what he will say or do next. Full review.



See Douglas’s top five SF/F/H picks from 2016 and 2015.

Friday, 5 January 2018

If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor, by Bruce Campbell (Aurum) | review by Stephen Theaker

One of the first things we learn about Bruce Campbell in this partially updated autobiography is that he was quite an awful young man. He shoots a girl, peeps on women, and deliberately directs fireworks at a neighbour’s house, almost hitting her. At least that makes it easier to laugh later on when we read about Sam Raimi putting him through hell while filming The Evil Dead, the film that put them both on the map – though not necessarily in the pink. One of the big surprises of the book is that even though Bruce Campbell was regarded by fans as a star, he wasn’t always financially comfortable. “People often wonder why some actors fall off the face of the Earth for no apparent reason,” he writes. “I’ve got news for you – there is always a reason, and frustration with the business is a huge factor.” Makes you glad he had such a long run on Burn Notice, even if it never felt like we got the full Bruce on that show. We do now, in buckets (of blood), on Ash Vs Evil Dead, and this book shows us how that all began, in lots of detail, from the early films they made to show their friends, to raising the money to make the film, something in which Campbell was much more involved than you might have expected an actor to be. If raising the money was hard, filming it was a frozen nightmare, and that it turned out so well is a testament to the ingenuity, imagination and endurance of all involved. The book goes on to cover the rest of Campbell’s career, in greater or lesser detail depending on whether he has a good anecdote to tell. The day he spent on the set of The Quick and the Dead turned up trumps in that regard, and it was also very funny to read about his work on the film version of McHale’s Navy, where he launched Operation Screentime with French Stewart, an attempt to beef up the roles of their underused characters. It’s a book of short chapters, that’s fun and easy to read. It’s the first time I’ve read a book typeset entirely in a sans serif font, but there are pictures on almost every page so you can understand why the UK publisher probably didn’t want to retypeset it. ***

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Everyone can now suggest items for the British Fantasy Awards 2018

Having totally forgotten last month to put forward any items for the British Science Fiction Association awards, I was ready to go when rival organisation the British Fantasy Society opened the door yesterday to suggestions for its own awards, my very favourite awards, the British Fantasy Awards. I spent a good long time last night converting last year's ebook purchases to rtfs so that I could check the word count and put the books in the right category. As I said on Twitter, that's my idea of a party!

If you want to suggest items yourself, the form is here.

The suggestions list that produces is here.

And for easy reference, here's a table with the items sorted into alphabetical order.

It is well worth submitting your work published in 2017, and other work you found interesting. In previous years the suggestions list has had a big effect on voting (increasing it, and focusing it), and it has an effect later on too, with BFA juries often looking at the suggestions list for ideas in the course of deciding whether to add two extra items (known as egregious omissions) to the shortlist.

Like it says on the suggestions form, it "doesn't matter if you're a member or convention goer, or if it's your own work, or anything like that – the idea is to produce a useful, comprehensive eligibility list".  I had added dozens of items to the list before remembering to add the most important of all…!


Don't be embarrassed to add your own stuff – it's part of the reason the eligibility list was created in the first place, and it's generally a big help to the awards admin.

For one thing, as a writer you can easily look up the proper word counts of your work, so you know whether to put a piece in short stories (0 to 14,999), novellas (15K to 39,999) or novels (over 40K). You don't want to miss out on a nomination because your readers have voted for it in the wrong category. And you don't want to miss out on an award because your novel was voted onto the horror shortlist when despite the spooky cover it's really much more fantasy.

What's more, you'll also provide the correct title, spell your own name properly, be able to provide the publisher, and know whether it was first published in 2017 or not.

Following a vote at the 2017 BFS AGM, these already expansive and generous awards have added a new category: audio. This has been defined in the awards constitution very widely, which I think is brilliant:

"An audio work performed by one or more participants and published for the first time in the English language in any part of the world in any audio format during the relevant year."

So that would include fantasy-related podcasts, radio programmes, audiobooks, music, audio plays and even, one imagines, Alexa skills (anyone really, really into Ambient Sounds: Space Deck?), if first published during 2017. I think it's great that so many additional types of fantasy have been brought into the purview of the BFAs, and I think it could be an absolutely fascinating category.

Updated 5/1/18: Oddly, it looks like the awards constitution was rewritten today to provide different eligibility requirements (new bits in bold):

"A spoken word audio work (e.g. audio book, radio drama, podcast) performed by one or more participants and published for the first time in the English language in any part of the world in any audio format during the relevant year."
Presumably what happened was that someone saw music being added to the awards suggestions list and didn't like it, and so the constitution was rewritten to render music ineligible. This is rather strange, since the BFA constitution explicitly says it cannot be changed except by a vote of the AGM, and a "committee vote may not be used to reverse a decision of the AGM".

Maybe this is seen as a correction, i.e. that the original wording didn't reflect the proposal that was made. Unfortunately, members of the society weren't told about the original proposal beforehand, and haven't been provided with the text of it, and haven't seen minutes of the meeting either, so we don't know. If the AGM voted on a proposal that contained the first wording, that's what should be in the constitution.

Either way, this is why it's a good idea for people making an awards proposal to set out exactly the words they wish to appear in the revised document, and to tell members about the planned change in advance, so that they can discuss the ramifications in more depth than is possible when a surprise proposal is dropped on an AGM with a relatively small number of attendees.

Similarly, this is why it's a good idea, as soon as possible after an AGM, for the minutes to be released, and for the awards administrator to explain to members what changes have happened, and how they will be implemented in the awards constitution, so that any issues can be worked out before the new constitution goes live and the ball gets rolling on the next awards cycle.

It's also why we previously had the rule (bafflingly removed at the 2016 AGM after a proposal from the society's chair) that awards proposals should be supplied in writing to the awards administrator before the AGM, so that the awards administrator could ensure everything was ship-shape and explain to the proposer what the likely and often unexpected consequences of their proposal would be.

Anyway, what a shame to narrow the category so much. It's hard to see what is gained from excluding music from the awards (except I suppose to make it more likely that the eventual winner will be in the room at the awards ceremony). And what a blinking waste of my time it was looking for suitable items to add to the list in that category!

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle | review by Douglas J. Ogurek

The Breakfast Club meets Indiana Jones in absorbing comedy-adventure with a message.

The Breakfast Club (1985) made an impact that still resonates today. Its strategy involved forcing together dissimilar teens and having them discover things about each other and themselves. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, directed by Jake Kasdan, uses this same technique in a tropical adventure that is consistently funny, endearing, and, at times, moving. The film takes four of The Breakfast Club’s character tropes (the nerd, the socially awkward girl, the star athlete, and the self-absorbed pretty girl) and places them in detention (another carryover from the ’80s masterpiece). However, the action quickly strays from the reality-based path of The Breakfast Club when the newer film’s characters get sucked into the world of ’90s video game Jumanji (unlike the original Jumanji [1995], where the board game world comes to them).

Each player occupies an avatar who is, in many ways, his or her physical opposite. Nerdy Spencer becomes archeologist/explorer Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson). Bravestone, endowed with muscles, brains, and a “smoldering intensity”, has no weaknesses (according to his character profile). Fridge, star football player and estranged best friend of Spencer, downsizes to zoologist Franklin “Mouse” Finbar (Kevin Hart). Spencer’s budding love interest Martha inherits “killer of men” Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan), a martial arts expert whose repertoire includes “dance fighting”. In the biggest physical reversal, egotistical beauty Bethany becomes Dr. Sheldon (Shelly) Oberon (Jack Black), a middle-aged male cartographer.

The film goes on to offer a lot of what one would expect in an Indiana Jones movie: a concrete goal (i.e. return the “Jaguar’s Eye” jewel to the tall jaguar stone statue deep within the jungle), a one-dimensional villain (Bobby Cannavale), and lots of action. However, unlike Jones, the characters in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle make more significant personal journeys and discoveries.

The video game setting feels authentic. For instance, each character gets three lives, and peripheral characters often repeat themselves in their attempts to guide players’ decisions. In one action sequence, Spencer/Bravestone calls out his moves and makes contact noises in the vein of the late-’60s Batman series as he plows through bad guys.

Teaming up for the second time—the first was Central Intelligence (2016)—Johnson and Hart prove an effective comic duo. What works so well for Johnson is that while we’re used to seeing him in heroic roles, many of his actions in this film are decidedly unheroic: he runs from trouble, kisses awkwardly, and makes high-pitched declarations of surprise. Hart delivers his typical high-energy, highly physical performance. Black shows he is at ease playing any role—it truly feels as if he is a female teen trapped in a middle-aged man’s body. One of the most engagingly awkward developments is Bethany/Oberon falling for one of Jumanji’s male inhabitants.

Most, though not all, of this film is predictable, and that is okay. The humour and original concept carry it through. Its teenage characters, who live in a world that values appearance and physical feats, get an opportunity to do some much-needed introspection—those lacking confidence get more physically advanced avatars, while those who thrive on appearance and physicality get taken down a notch physically… and they all learn something. – Douglas J. Ogurek *****

Monday, 1 January 2018

Extreme Horror Writers: Two Months Left to Submit to UNSPLATTERPUNK! 2 Anthology

Contribute to an emerging subgenre and become a humanitarian in monsters’ clothing.

Many fiction anthologies, journals, and zines have a similar attitude when it comes to “excessive gore” or “shock value”—they don’t want it. We do… for the forthcoming sequel to Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction’s controversial UNSPLATTERPUNK! anthology.

Unsplatterpunk has all the grotesqueness and transgressive subject matter of splatterpunk, plus it contains a positive message—that’s where the “un” fits in.

We encourage emerging and established writers to “take a stab” at this subgenre and submit a story to UNSPLATTERPUNK! 2. Here’s the official call for submissions.

Unsplatterpunk is the villain that helps the needy, the pool of vomit that nourishes. So if you have some diabolical idea brewing, spew it out and send it to us. You have two months.