Sunday, 24 May 2020

Questions and Answers, 24 May 2020

Here are my answers to the less important questions that the world has been asking this week. Feel free to give your own answers in the comments!

Who's the first comic-book creator (writer, artist, inker, colorist, letterer, editor) you've ever met, and how did it go?Paul Renaud

I took my kids to an art event in our local park and John McCrea was there helping out. I was awestruck. He was very nice and gave my daughter some excellent advice.

Describe your favorite film in three words.The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

Ramona's evil exes.

What’s YOUR favorite film from your least favorite genre?James Gunn

There are quite a few movie genres I don't really like, such as musicals, romance, CGI kids films, family drama, courtroom drama, melodrama, etc, but I would struggle to pick a favourite film from most of those. So I'll go for Westerns and The Hateful Eight. No, wait! I forgot evangelical movies, and the original Left Behind. Unlike the tedious remake, the original was great fun. And it tickles me that worshippers of a god would think a film where he kills a ton of children would be a useful recruiting tool.

Sunday, 17 May 2020

Questions and Answers, 17 May 2020

Here are my answers to the questions that the world has been asking this week. Feel free to add your own answers in the comments!

We all have odd quirks what's some of yours?GingerNuts of Horror

I can't go to sleep in between books. If I've finished my book I have to choose a new one and I've stayed up two hours doing that before now.

Anyone else have family who doesn't read your books?Deborah Maroulis

My wife read my first novel but none since then. I don't blame her.

What's your best cinema memory?Danny Morgan

I couldn't choose between between three of them. During Django Unchained, a chap at the front of the cinema stood up when Jay-Z's rap came on and performed it for us in time with the film. He was escorted out shortly afterwards. Fast and Furious 6: The build-up to Jason Statham's appearance. Those who had seen Tokyo Drift were slack-jawed because we knew what was coming, while for the other half it all came as a complete shock. And Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor. The twelfth Doctor's eyebrows! I have never heard an audience react like that. It was like white noise. The sound of three hundred geeks exploding with happiness.

Your Twitter handle is now your job. What do you get paid to do?Carlos

First time I needed an internet handle I used the name of a character from a script I entered in a BBC screenwriting contest: Rolnikov. So I guess now my job is to travel from planet to planet having adventures that aren't quite funny enough to win comedy screenwriting competitions.

If band names were literal, what would be the scariest band to fight?Ian Karmel

Have you ever been in a darkened room? Nothing could be scarier than The Shadows. They wouldn't even kill you. They would just keep scaring you, over and over. You wouldn't be able to sleep. They'd always be at the corner of your eye. They'd follow you everywhere. Brrr.

If you could get ONE movie made, what would it be?@Dene71

Tom Hanks in an adaptation of Clifford Simak's novel Way Station. I've always thought that would be brilliant.

I want to know what you think is the best single episode of any television show ever and why.Ian Browne

As far as science fiction goes, I would lean towards "Kiksuya" in season two of Westworld. It's a wonderful example of conceptual breakthrough, as Akecheta slowly realises what he is, and discovers what his world is, and it's heartbreaking.

Sunday, 10 May 2020

Questions and Answers, 10 May 2020

Here are my answers to the questions that the world has been asking this week. I wrote my answers over the course of the week so there may be contradictions (e.g. when it comes to the most recent tv show I watched). Feel free to supply your own answers in the comments below.

You are now the main character from the last TV show you watched. Who are you?Tor.com

Dolores from Westworld season three. Which is great because now I can divide my to-do list between five copies of myself, like she does.

Which sci-fi show's prediction of the future do you wish was true?Big Finish

Struggling to think of one that doesn't feature a cataclysm in the 21st century. So I'll go for Parks and Recreation, which skips into the future towards the end. Their future seems pretty nice. Who wouldn't take Leslie Knope or Ben Wyatt as president right now?

What was the first James Bond movie you saw on the big screen?Scott Mantz

Didn't see one in the cinema till Goldeneye. And since then just Die Another Day and Spectre. Mrs Theaker's not a fan. But she gets me them for Christmas and watches them with me on Boxing Day, so I can't complain.

What's a blurb word that makes you NOT want to read a book?Claire Dederer

Epic. Just means it's too long.

The last TV show you watched is now getting a crossover with the last videogame you played. What is the unholy abomination that has just been created?Alethea Kontis

Far Cry Into the Night. I can see that working.

Can men be feminists?la scapigliata

Maybe men can be feminists, theoretically, but in practice I think we have an insuperable conflict of interest. I used to think that saying I was a feminist was a useful thing to say to other men. But I came to think that, as far as saying it to women went, it was like saying I'm not racist to someone from an ethnic minority, i.e. for them to decide, not me. When I saw the way some self-proclaimed male feminists treat female feminists, that feeling hardened and I started to feel that it could be quite the red flag. So I gave away my John Scalzi-inspired "Hell yes I'm a feminist" t-shirt, which was a shame because it was very comfortable. I would say instead that I'm anti-sexism. And all too often the sexism that I need to be anti- is my own!

Friday, 8 May 2020

Fantastic Orgy by Carlton Mellick III | Review by Douglas J. Ogurek

Originality, succinctness and clarity reign in masterful short story collection 

One of the most common drawbacks of the contemporary short story, especially in genre fiction, is sameness. Carlton Mellick III’s Fantastic Orgy, like many of this bizarro author’s works, stands out as a refreshing exception. With his utterly original content and tight writing style, Mellick introduces a smorgasbord of characters, situations and ideas that the reader has likely never encountered. Whether Mellick is writing about a lollipop-headed musclebound stud sampling cheese, an inadvertent transvestite using her hair to combat berserk enemies, or a “fat lazy half-assed drummer” who’s constantly drunk, he keeps the reader engaged with stories that are humorous, fast-moving and at times poignant.

In some stories, Mellick’s protagonists have a clear goal (e.g. to obtain an STD, to score a “laydaaay”). In others, the characters don’t exactly know what they want, but they do achieve some realization. In either case, the reader will be transfixed by the story’s contents.

The collection opens with “Candy Coated”, in which a muscular young man who has a Tropical Sensation-flavored lollipop for a head goes to a cheesery, where he hopes to hook up with a woman. He just has to watch out for the many bearded truckers who are intent on licking his head. The story comments on the airiness of one-dimensional males looking to “score”.

In “Ear Cat”, more than ninety percent of the population suffers from agoraphobia. Anxiety-ridden protagonist Irene finds comfort in her collections of lamps, “curly horns” (as in the instrument), and expired Gen-cats. Then the Kitty of the Month club delivers ear cat, who has a human-like face and yes, a body covered in ears. After spending time with ear cat, along with a couple other intriguing Kitty of the Month deliveries, Irene starts to discover some things are not as important as she thought.

The titular story, a tour de force of creativity, humour and all-around wackiness, introduces a world where sexually transmitted diseases are desirable. Main character Tim, who has contracted “Dick Talk”, heads to Share Your STD Night at the Demon Seed Society. His goal is to obtain an STD called “Vibrator”. Even without the plot, Mellick’s STD inventions and cast of eccentric characters would be enough to keep the reader riveted.

A punk band with a hit song called “Glass Sandwiches” is the focus of “City Hobgoblins”, where dangerous creatures lurk outside. Things reach a crescendo when a strange object crashes through a window and the bass player narrator falls in love with a shark woman. The band’s discussions and fuck it all attitude are what make this selection particularly funny. Favourite characters include Ass Fort, a constantly inebriated drummer, and Lenny, an artist who insists on preserving all life.

“Porno in August” drops pornographic actors in the middle of the ocean for a film they expect to make, but the crew isn’t there and the characters’ memories are sketchy. Time becomes warped and they gradually discover something startling about themselves. Although the author’s notes playfully argue that he wasn’t trying to make a statement (e.g. commenting on the emptiness of the pornography industry), one has to wonder. Or maybe that’s just me trying to impose a meaning on this profoundly prolific author’s work.

If you’ve ever wondered what the winners of the Golden Ticket felt like when they entered Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, pick up Fantastic Orgy – it’s as close as you’ll get.—Douglas J. Ogurek *****

Monday, 4 May 2020

Lone Wolf 25: Trail of the Wolf | review by Rafe McGregor

Lone Wolf 25: Trail of the Wolf (Collector’s Edition) by Joe Dever
Holmgard Press, hardback, £16.99, April 2020, ISBN 9781916268012

With the release of Trail of the Wolf to schedule, I must confess that my cautious optimism about Holmgard Press has matured into quiet confidence… to the extent that I’d be very surprised if the late Joe Dever’s whole Lone Wolf cycle (books 1 to 32) hasn’t been published by this time the year after next.  As I mentioned in my review of Lone Wolf 24: Rune War, I have never played books 25 and 26 so I was particularly pleased when this arrived very promptly in the post (from Holmgard Press’s website, at: www.magnamund.com).  Trail of the Wolf is the sequel to Rune War and although I provided a brief summary of the New Order series (books 20 to 32) in my review of Lone Wolf 22: The Buccaneers of Shadaki, it is worth drawing attention to the way in which the cycle has been constructed.  The Kai (books 1 to 5) and Magnakai (books 6 to 12) constitute a single quest (or “campaign”, in role-playing game terminology) with a single protagonist (“player character”), Lone Wolf. The Grand Master series (books 11 to 20) consists of ten standalone adventures, in which Lone Wolf plays the part of troubleshooter for the good gods Ishir and Kai, foiling the evil god Naar’s plots to extent his influence in Magnamund (the fantasy world in which all the gamebooks are set). The New Order series focuses on a new protagonist (whose name is randomly-generated, leaving me with “True Friend” for mine) and combines campaign and standalone adventures.  The standalone adventures are Lone Wolf 23: Mydnight’s Hero (reviewed here) and Lone Wolf 26: The Fall of Blood Mountain.  There are four separate campaigns: books 21 (reviewed here) and 22; books 24 and 25; books 27 and 28; and the final four books, beginning with Lone Wolf 29: The Storms of Chai (29 and 30 are reviewed here and here; 31 and 32 have yet to be published).

In consequence, I don’t recommend playing Trail of the Wolf without playing Rune War first, although, such is the skill with which Dever created the series, that they can actually all be played as standalone adventures. Rune War saw the New Order of the Kai (the warrior elite of Sommerlund) pitted against Lord Vandyan of Eldenora.  Driven by his hubris, guided by Naar, fuelled by the power of the Runes of Agarash, and with an innumerable horde of Vorka (spawn of Agarash the Damned) at his disposal, Vandyan was in the process of conquering central Magnamund.  While Lone Wolf led the conventional crusade against Vandyan’s army, True Friend slipped inside Skull-Tor special forces style and destroyed the Runes, guaranteeing victory.  Naar managed to snatch his own victory from the jaws of defeat, however, sending Zorkaan the Soultaker, a powerful entity from the Plane of Darkness, to live up to his name and snatch Lone Wolf.  The destruction of the Runes appears to have trapped Zorkaan on Magnamund and Naar took advantage of the situation to place him under the control of the necromancer Xaol (a recurring villain in the New Order series).  Xaol is holding Lone Wolf prisoner in Gazad Helkona, a former Darklord fortress city (the Darklords were defeated by Lone Wolf in the initial campaign of the cycle, books 1 to 12), and True Friend’s mission is to rescue him. The plan is to deploy to the Shezar Hills in Guildmaster Banedon’s flying ship, yomp fifty miles across-country, infiltrate the city, locate Lone Wolf, and await a hot extraction atop one of the citadel’s towers… what could possibly go wrong?  As such, the game can be divided into four parts: a wilderness adventure in the Shezar Hills and the Dead Forest of Helkona; an urban infiltration into the fortress; and then two dungeon crawls, the first to find Lone Wolf and in the citadel and the second to escape to Darklord Chlanzor’s observatory dome and survive until Banedon arrives.

Regarding the mechanics of gameplay, the narrative is quite short, very deadly, and heavily reliant on luck (at the Random Number Table, the game’s equivalent of a decahedral die).  I found the adventure by far the toughest of the New Order series so far (i.e. books 21 to 24) with True Friend being killed three times, once by fall and then by Xaol and an Urgaroh (a reptilian humanoid I could do without) in two combats.  It doesn’t help that when you do find Lone Wolf, he is in no fit state to lend a sword-arm.  The following can all make the game a little less deadly and a less reliant on luck:
  1. Selecting either Spawnspite or Valiance as your Kai weapon.  
  2. Selecting Kai-screen as one of your Kai Grand Master Disciplines.  
  3. Not picking up a Black Amulet if you find one.  
  4. Selecting one of the following Kai Grand Master Disciplines: Grand Weaponmastery (while carrying a bow), Kai-alchemy, or Magi-magic.
As I’ve come to expect from Holmgard Press by now (this is their fifth publication), the production values of the gamebook are excellent.  I did, however, spot three minor typos: the illustration labelled ‘1’ is in fact of section 2; the illustration labelled ‘106’ is of section 105; and there is an unnecessary ‘=’ in the page number 100-101.

In keeping with all of the other Collector’s Editions (with the exception of Lone Wolf 1: Flight from the Dark), there is a bonus adventure, “Dire in the Dark”, which is written by August Hahn.  I usually play these and include brief comments in my review, but I'm writing this under the COVID-19 lockdown and probably won’t get the opportunity for some time. The player character is a Dire, a dead soldier who is now one of the Lifeless, denied death and doomed to walk Magnamund.  This is the fourth instalment of the character’s adventures, which are all authored by Hahn, began in the bonus adventure of Lone Wolf 14: The Captives of Kaag, and continued in Lone Wolf 16: The Legacy of Vashna and Lone Wolf 19: Wolf’s Bane.  My Lone Wolf library is eclectic with regard to editions and of these three I only have Wolf’s Bane in the Collector’s Edition, but I think I’ll play “Dire Straights” before I return to “Dire in the Dark”.  In summary, Trail of the Wolf is a great gamebook, well-worth the price, excellent on its own, but even better if played as part of the cycle.

Saturday, 2 May 2020

Zombie Apocalypse: Acapulcalypse Now by Alison Littlewood | review by Stephen Theaker

Despite the painfully punning title, Zombie Apocalypse: Acapulcalypse Now (Robinson) is not a spoof, in fact it’s quite the gorefest, almost a paperback nasty. It takes place in the shared world created by editor Stephen Jones and his collaborators in the typographically inventive anthology or mosaic novel Zombie Apocalypse. Happily this one doesn’t have any difficult-to-read handwritten passages, though it does have lots of italics, for emphasising words, for thoughts, for Spanish phrases. The Monumento que Canta, an ancient ruin, has been plucked from its original location and placed on the top of an ersatz pyramid near Acapulco: a theme resort, the Hotel Baktun. As new staff and the first guests arrive, it’s not long before reports come in of serious problems back in London, of plague pits discovered under cemetaries and “members of the public reportedly biting and scratching each other”.

This isn’t a novel that messes about: by chapter nine of sixty-four the apocalypse is in full swing and by chapter fourteen death has reached the hotel, by way of the sea. First a swimmer disappears from the ocean and then a wonderfully-described man appears at the pool: “Ethan thought at once of fish, delicately nibbling, and he shifted his gaze to the man’s eyes. Undercooked eggs, he thought. The jelly of them.” This first zombie to arrive gets hold of a girl, and when he falls to the floor, “a shred of fabric came away with him. Then Ethan realised it wasn’t fabric but flesh, pale on one side, bloody on the other.” The poor lad then goes through the agony of being unable to persuade his mother to run from his infected father: a scenario typical of what this ruthless book puts its poor characters through.

It feels very much like the tie-in that it is, reminding me of the tight, fast-moving Doctor Who novels people like Mark Morris, Paul Cornell and Kate Orman would write. There’s nothing wrong with that – many authors made a name for themselves with those books, and a series like this could perform a similar role for new horror writers, as well as providing a playground for more experienced hands, a chance (as here) to step out of their usual territory. The difference in this tie-in is that no time traveller is coming to save anyone. They must rely on each other, and the book pushes them gleefully into ever more dangerous situations. As with other tie-ins, fans of the series will get the most out of it, but other horror readers should find it entertaining and efficient, whipping through the story like it has somewhere important to be and delivering plenty of shocks along the way.***

This review originally appeared in Black Static #60.