Sunday, 26 March 2023

Pieces of Hate by Ray Garton (Crossroad Press) | Review by Douglas J. Ogurek

Horror collection shows gorging on hatred has stomach- and mind-churning consequences 

Most of the stories within this horror collection feature characters who hate something: cats, homosexuals, bullies, heavy metal, themselves. There’s even a guy who’s not sure why he’s so full of hatred. And most of the time, the hatred does not pay off. 

Garton has a talent for transforming a seemingly inane situation – a talk show interview or hospital room interaction, for instance – into an attack of ancient Roman barbarity. Some stories have all the subtlety of a hook through the cheek, while others go out on (or detach) a limb to show the repercussions of abuse, moral rigidity, and herd mentality. 

In “Bait,” one of my favourite splatterpunk (and extremely controversial) stories, a nine-year-old boy and his younger sister living in a seaside town discover what’s been happening to the missing children seen on milk cartons (yes, that used to be a thing). The short but terrifying read shows mankind’s potential for cruelty. It also slips in an ecological message, as well as a warning about taking the focus off our children.

The heavy metal musician protagonist of “The Devil’s Music” dies and meets Satan but refuses to believe it’s him. The story, reversing the common belief that the devil likes heavy metal, takes a shot at censorship and politicians who take a moral high ground. 

“A Gift From Above” starts like a Hallmark Channel film and warps into a bloodbath worthy of early Stephen King. Margaret, once spurned by her classmates and living in her sister Lynda’s shadow, has reinvented herself as an attractive and successful advertising agent. Then she receives a supernatural gift of healing but is warned it could “sour” her. The story offers a supernatural take on the ramifications of holding on to grudges. 

In “Cat Hater,” a feline version of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, Clive Allen Trumbles (note the initials) has always hated cats. He thinks them conniving, snobby, and even intent on taking women’s attention away from him. When he accidentally kills one, he starts to believe the cats in his neighbourhood are conspiring against him. 

“Ophilia Raphaeldo” – the name is a clever mixture of once-popular talk show hosts – takes a jab at exploitative talk shows. Four women watch a show hosted by the titular character. An interview with a novelist devolves into an indictment against him for not calling a woman back after a first date and an attack on his chauvinistic writing. Though the author’s explanations seem perfectly rational, Raphaeldo fans the flames growing within her female audience. The story comments on how groupthink can cause one to abandon one’s beliefs and even rationality. 

The lead character in “Choices” embraces capital punishment, rails against abortion, and shames those who think differently from him. A severe electrical storm projects him into a bleak future, where he discovers his way of thinking may have consequences. 

In “Pieces,” Garton substitutes the typical psychological impact of sexual abuse with a physical one. The resulting short tale achieves a surprisingly moving outcome. 

“God’s Work” is a story that every Christian (or anyone who aspires to be a good person) should read at least once a year. Paster Gill Freeman – that surname is no coincidence – is new to his congregation, whose members like to cast judgment on others who clash with their ideals. The story, flipping between Freeman’s sermon about acceptance and the congregation’s protest of a horror author doing a signing at a bookstore, offers a rare Christian argument for free speech. 

Though neither victim nor perpetrator is likely to escape unfazed in Garton’s tales, the reader will likely emerge with more to chew on than flesh – that’s something that doesn’t always happen in horror.—Douglas J. Ogurek*****

Saturday, 11 March 2023

The World-Ecology of Climate Change Cinema – Rafe McGregor

Climate Fiction

‘Cli-fi’ is an abbreviation of ‘climate fiction’, which was popularised in the last decade and refers to a category of genre or literary fiction that takes global warming or climate change as its subject. The prototype is probably Jules Verne’s Sans dessus dessous (1889, translated as The Purchase of the North Pole), an uncannily prescient novel involving a conspiracy to change the Earth’s climate to make more fossil fuel available to a corporation. Cli-fi includes novels, novellas and short stories featuring natural as well as anthropogenic climate change and J.G. Ballard’s early contribution, a quartet in which human civilisation was destroyed by all four of the classic elements, deployed both causes: The Wind from Nowhere (1961, air), The Drowned World (1962, water), The Burning World (1964, fire, later published as The Drought), and The Crystal World (1966, earth). Richard Fleischer’s Soylent Green (1973) is an early example of cinematic cli-fi and although it was a commercial and critical failure at the time of its release, it was regarded with greater respect in the year in which it is set – 2022 – in consequence of its critique of the capitalist mode of production. Ballard’s quartet provides a convenient heuristic for selecting a characteristic sample of the cinematic genre as it emerged at the end of the 20th century: Kevin Reynolds’ Waterworld (1995, water), Roland Emmerich’s The Day After Tomorrow (2004, air), George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road (2015, fire), and Adam McKay’s Don’t Look Up (2021, earth). Climate change is anthropogenic in all four cases, although the cause is implied in Waterworld and complicated in Don’t Look Up.

Cinematic World-Ecologies

Sociologist Jason Moore opens his magnum opus, Capitalism in the Web of Life: Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital (2015), by defining capitalism as a way of organising nature rather than an economic or social system. He warns against the separation of capitalism or modernity from nature or ecology because the two have been inextricably linked in a relation of life-making since the long sixteenth century. As such, Moore adopts a world-system approach he refers to as capitalist world-ecology. Capitalist world-ecology is not an interaction of world-economy and world-ecology: world-economies just are world-ecologies. He regards human exceptionalism, the view that human beings are independent of the spatiotemporal web of interspecies dependencies, as deeply misguided because human agency has always been a part of nature and his inquiry begins with the co-production of human and nonhuman animal life and the environments that maintain them. Capitalist world-ecology has been converting energy into capital in increasingly innovative and expansive ways since the coincidence of the Dutch agricultural revolution, Central European mining revolution, and Madeiran sugar-slave nexus in 1450. This year marks the beginning of the ‘Capitalocene’ (Age of Capital), in contrast with and in opposition to the ‘Anthropocene’ (Age of Man). The Anthropocene is used to describe the geological epoch during which humanity has had a significant impact on the Earth’s ecosystems and climate and is usually dated to either the Industrial Revolution (1760-1840) or the First Agricultural Revolution (10000 BCE). In Moore’s assessment, the current epoch is characterised by the impact of capitalist civilisation, which was inaugurated between the two revolutions, rather than by the impact of humanity as a species.

My elemental quartet of climate change cinema are the product of either the Hollywood film industry or Netflix’s streaming service and, as such, inextricably bound up with capitalist world-ecology, both constituting and mediating a market reliant on cheap labour and free nature to hundreds of millions of consumers across the globe. In each of the films, the narrative moves from an unstable inaugural condition to a retrospectively inevitable condition and the transition from inaugural to closural order both represents and evaluates an imagined world-ecology. The quartet and its genre can be subdivided on the basis of whether climate catastrophe is part of the story’s setting (Waterworld and Fury Road), exploring themes of adaptation and recovery, or a diegetic event (The Day After Tomorrow and Don’t Look Up), exploring themes of anticipation and mitigation.

Narrating Climate Change

Both Waterworld and Fury Road establish their respective postapocalyptic settings very quickly and very concisely, the former as a world with nothing but water and the latter as a world where everyday life has become a hunt for water. At exactly a minute into the opening sequence of Waterworld, the Universal Pictures logo disappears and the camera moves to a position above the north pole of the rotating Earth. As it zooms in, the ice cap melts, the sea levels rise, and a brief voiceover explains what the audience is seeing. The whole exposition takes less than forty seconds. The voiceover in Fury Road begins at eighteen seconds into the opening sequence, with Max (played by Tom Hardy) introducing himself and providing all the audience need to know about his world as consisting entirely of ‘fire and blood’. His voiceover, which is interrupted by the contributions of anonymous others, continues for another forty seconds, during which a great deal is explained quickly: the apocalypse was anthropic in cause, the Earth can no longer sustain human life, and the global ecological collapse is mirrored on the personal level by Max’s psychological breakdown.

In contrast, The Day After Tomorrow and Don’t Look Up open in a world that seems almost identical to our own. This signals that the catastrophic event has not yet happened and that either it or its threat will be one of the sequence of events that constitute the plot of the narratives. Both films begin with scientific teams, one on the Larsen B Ice Shelf in Antarctica and the other at an observatory at Michigan State University. In The Day After Tomorrow, the ice shelf cracks and breaks away, the significance of which is explained in the following scene when protagonist Professor Jack Hall (played by Dennis Quaid) tells the United Nations Conference on Global Warming in New Delhi that another Ice Age may be imminent. In Don’t Look Up, postgraduate student Kate Dibiasky (played by Jennifer Lawrence) discovers a new comet and she and her supervisor, Professor Randall Mindy (played by Leonardo DiCaprio), determine that it will strike the Earth in six months. This immediately sets the plot in motion as the two scientists try to communicate their discovery to those in a position to take action.

The plot of each of the four films moves through the unstable inaugural condition to a closural order that is unforeseeable but retrospectively inevitable. Each closural order represents a world-ecology that is politically, morally and aesthetically ‘right’ because it is consequent on the responses of the protagonists, antagonists and other characters to the inaugural condition. Don’t Look Up closes with the destruction of the Earth by the comet, which is an inevitable consequence of the power elite’s decision to abort a perfectly feasible plan to destroy the comet in favour of an incredibly high-risk plan to exploit its mineral resources for profit. Fury Road closes with the literal ascension of Imperator Furiosa (played by Charlize Theron) to power, following the overthrow of a male supremacist hierarchy by a revolution with a firm basis in economics – the communal distribution of the Citadel’s currency, water. The Day After Tomorrow closes with an inversion of power relations that reverses the polarity between the Global North and Global South, establishing a more just (but not obviously more sustainable) world-ecology. Waterworld closes with the Mariner (played by Kevin Costner) delivering a small group of people to Dryland, a Garden of Eden in which humanity can flourish and create a new world-ecology.

The world-ecology represented in the closural order is either represented as desirable (Waterworld, The Day After Tomorrow, and Fury Road) or undesirable (Don’t Look Up) and the audience’s desire is enlisted by a complex and manifold combination of narrative form, cinematic style, and thematic content. The desire that drives Waterworld is stimulated relatively late in the narrative as it is only after Helen (played by Jeanne Tripplehorn) makes a deal with the Mariner that the audience’s ambition becomes focused on the three of them reaching Dryland. The quest for Dryland is both reflected and complicated in Fury Road, where it takes a circular shape. The audience’s desire is for Max to assist Furiosa to achieve her goals, which change from taking the Five Wives to the Green Place to turning the tables on their pursuers, attacking the Citadel, and transforming its sexist and elitist political economy. The desire that drives The Day After Tomorrow is also stimulated relatively late, at the halfway point when Hall sets off to New York to rescue his son from the climate catastrophe in progress. From the very beginning of Don’t Look Up, the audience desire that the imminent catastrophe Dibiasky and Mindy have discovered be averted, which requires first that the scientists communicate their discovery to the authorities, then that the authorities believe the prediction they have made, and finally that the authorities take preventative action.

Shaping Desire

As already mentioned, Hollywood and Netflix are part of capitalist world-ecology, exploiting both labour and nature to make massive profits with their films, in spite of paying grotesque salaries to selected stars. All four of my quartet sustain this world-ecology by means of their contribution to the global world-system and promote that global world-system by providing audiences of millions of people with distraction, diversion, and dissipation. What I mean is that time spent watching the films is time spent not doing anything about climate catastrophe and perhaps – given how enjoyable they are all – taking a perverse pleasure in the greatest (more accurately, ultimate) mass harm humanity has ever inflicted on itself. The quartet can, once again, be subdivided, into those that are complicit in capitalist world-ecology (Waterworld and The Day After Tomorrow) and those that are both complicit in and resistant to capitalist world-ecology (Fury Road and Don’t Look Up).

Waterworld’s driving desire is simply for the status quo, finding that last remaining piece of Earth – Dryland – that has not yet been exploited to ruin and can sustain what is left of humanity (before we inevitably destroy it too). The Day After Tomorrow subsumes the desire for a world-ecology that is not devastated by climate catastrophe into a personal quest – Hall’s rescue of his son (and his son’s rescue of his love interest) – prioritising the individual and the family above the collective and failing to integrate the private with the public. The same two criticisms can be made of Ballard’s original quartet, with The Wind from Nowhere aspiring to the status quo and The Drowned World, The Burning World, and The Crystal World subsuming the political under the psychological. Fury Road is more successful, establishing a convincing link between more equitable modes of production and more just social structures and Max’s intervention succeeds where the Mariner’s fails – in transforming the existing world-ecology into something better. Don’t Look Up is even more successful, achieving its impact in a different way, with a downbeat rather than uplifting ending. While the Earth is destroyed, it is destroyed by human greed rather than the deus ex machina of the comet.

Changing world-ecology requires a reconstruction of the global economy and indeed Moore predicts that capitalist world-ecology is reaching its own closural order, although he is not optimistic about what the replacement will be. A reconstruction of the global economy will not, however, be achieved by top-down measures alone – if it all. One only needs to recall the very recent memory of resistance to relatively minor impositions like social distancing, mask-wearing and lockdowns to see how reluctant human beings are to give up any freedoms whatsoever, even when there is overwhelming scientific evidence in its favour. If world-ecology is to be changed completely, it must be from the bottom-up, which will require a reconfiguration of human consciousness to desire different things, such as sustainability over consumption. Culture shapes desire and cinematic narratives are a sizeable and significant part of our culture. Climate change cinema thus has an important role to play and films like Don’t Look Up and Fury Road have demonstrated the shape that role might take.—Rafe McGregor

Published online ahead of its appearance in Theaker's Quarterly Fiction #76, due in June 2023.

Thursday, 9 March 2023

Survivor Song by Paul Tremblay (William Morrow) | Review by Douglas J. Ogurek

Plague novel explores the power of friendship amid the delicate dance between life and death

A rabies-like outbreak has invaded the world of Natalie Larsen and Dr. Ramola “Rams” Sherman. After a deranged man bites Natalie, who is eight months pregnant, the longtime friends go on a short but harrowing journey to find her the appropriate care. 

Author Paul Tremblay tones down the ambiguity for which he is known, opting instead to keep the reader wondering whether Natalie received her vaccination in time to prevent major complications. Are her symptoms merely attributable to late pregnancy? Or will she succumb to the infection that has reduced so many to slavering, enraged wanderers?

Natalie comes across as self-centred and irritating. Rarely does she reflect on the fate of her recently deceased husband, and throughout her journey, she uses her phone to record voice messages for her unborn child. Though likely meant to sound spontaneous, these rambling passages fringe on the annoying talky fiction in which a first-person narrator spews colloquialisms and reveals little that contributes to the plot. 

These criticisms are not to suggest that Survivor Song fails as a novel. Once again, Tremblay proves he’s a horror author to be reckoned with. He kicks off the action quickly by killing off a key character named Paul – interesting name choice – perhaps signalling that the author will deviate from his typical path.

Ramola, the more intelligent and less abrasive half of the duo, is a paediatrician who has never wanted a child of her own. Still, she exemplifies resilience and heroism by doing everything in her power to help her annoying friend and her unborn child. 

The book also introduces adolescent buddies Luis and Josh. Their boyish banter – they call each other “guy” – and the juxtaposition between their love of apocalyptic movies and the reality of what is happening prove both humorous and charming. Romala must repeatedly remind the boys that they are not warriors fighting against zombies.

Though there is nothing groundbreaking about this story, Tremblay’s storytelling skills shine through, particularly in his depictions of the infected: their ferocity, their unpredictability, their jibber jabber, their awkward gait, and even their attempts to return to humanity. An early scene involving the observation of a figure and the sound of its feet on gravel illustrates the author’s knack for stretching out an approaching threat. 

Survivor Song, published in the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic, also echoes many of the polarizing issues that emerged at that time. 

More than once, the author states that this story is not a fairy tale but rather a song. If this is the case, then there are several skippable parts, but there are also goosebump-inducing passages like the greatest songs have. These scenes involve non-traditional “dances” in which healthy individuals attempt to help those in the throes of the disease while trying to avoid getting hurt.—Douglas J. Ogurek***

Sunday, 19 February 2023

Just to See Hell by Chandler Morrison (Independently Published) | Review by Douglas J. Ogurek

People suck, and evil wins the day: collection mixes up a nihilistic cocktail of addiction, depression, and violence.

One character in Just to See Hell watches a gull repeatedly plunge into water and come out empty-beaked. The image reinforces the sense of futility and hopelessness permeating this short story collection that merges the horrors of everyday life with supernatural horror. Author Chandler Morrison takes the symbol one step further, commenting that humans, prone toward laziness, would not have the gull’s perseverance. 

Morrison’s protagonists run the gamut from disillusioned and suicidal to delusional and homicidal. Among the subjects readers will encounter are the torture of revered religious figures, theatrical suicide, and even infanticide. 

Flowing throughout these stories is alcohol… alcohol blocking emotions, alcohol distorting thoughts, alcohol ruining relationships. Moreover, the volume is not going to get a thumbs-up from the local Catholic church book club – mixed in with the alcohol is the idea that the world is awful, and God is to blame. Too bad such a pessimistic perspective shadows an otherwise well-written and thought-provoking collection of stories. Some stories are more on the subtle side, while others elicit an “I can’t believe I’m reading this” response, which is always impressive. 

Desperation and a desire to hurt themselves or others unite Morrison’s characters. An alcoholic man gets sent to space, finds “the answers,” and returns home to discover misery. A severely alcoholic woman’s addiction manifests a sometimes glamorous and sometimes hideous doppelganger. A psychologist who wants to wash off “the grime” unravels. A serial killer boy plunges his hands into a deer’s innards and unleashes a string of vulgarities.

From a genre standpoint, Just to See Hell straddles the line between splatterpunk and literary fiction. Rarely does the same collection cover an alcoholic’s struggle to accept his role in a problematic relationship and an individual rubbing a cheese grater on his face. Despite the extreme violence, Morrison’s mostly first-person narrators are deeply contemplative, judgmental, and conflicted. They’re hard to pin down, and that’s a good thing. Yes, many stories have outrageous premises and there’s a bit too much stream of consciousness, but Morrison knows how to write tersely and keep his stories moving.—Douglas J. Ogurek****

Friday, 27 January 2023

The Rack and Cue by David Owain Hughes (Plumfukt Press) | Review by Douglas J. Ogurek

Motorcycle gangs, bounty hunters, and sadomasochistic killers: nobody’s safe at The Rack and Cue. 

Full disclosure: Plumfukt Press has published my work. Therefore, I will not give this novel a star rating. If I did, however, it would be many. 

Get ready for shattered bones, broken teeth, torn skin, and mashed genitals. Oh, and there are billiards. David Owain Hughes’s The Rack and Cue contains two longer works loosely connected by one character and the titular pub located in the wilds of northern England.

In the first story, lashing rain drives various commuters to the pub, where its ostensibly gregarious proprietor Porky encourages them to participate in a single-elimination billiards tournament. If the winner defeats Porky’s son the Champ (nowhere to be seen), that individual walks away with two thousand pounds of prize money. Supposedly. 

Competitors glimpse hints of maliciousness within Porky’s avuncular exterior for good reason — what they don’t know is that two of his deranged relatives lurk within the bowels of the pub and wait to brutalize their unsuspecting victims. Doc enjoys dismantling bodies for a Sweeney Todd-inspired motive that Hughes makes no secret of. More imposing is Baby, whose name belies her “beastly” appearance and sadomasochistic yearnings. Like the classic cinematic monster, Baby, covered in a skin-tight dominatrix outfit, kills indiscriminately. She resembles a Rob Zombie character, minus the indulgent, trying-too-hard-to-be-weird-and-threatening dialogue — Baby speaks through her merciless actions. Hughes’s visceral descriptions of the violence she enacts are sure to elicit teeth clenching and leg crossing among readers. 

This first story is not solely a barrage of brutality; Hughes also proves himself a master of tension. Beyond the ever-thickening dramatic irony stemming from the competitors’ obliviousness to imminent danger, there’s also the conflict amid competitors, especially between a gruff trucking duo, a motorcycle gang called the Boas, and an undercover cop. Diesel, a top-ranking Boa, intends to walk away with the cash prize, regardless of whether one of his underlings wins. 

The second tale slightly reins in the slaughter but maintains the tension by detailing an impending confrontation at The Rack and Cue. A legendary Boa named Venom, his girlfriend Toni, and one character from the first tale hunker down at the pub and prepare to do battle with an approaching enemy. Venom and Toni possess a gift; it won’t take the reader long to discern what that gift is. 

The jailed head honcho of the Huns (the Boas’ arch enemies) hires soldier of fortune Johnson and equips him with an army of thugs to take down Venom. The action alternates between the two parties, neither of which has a single candidate for humanitarian of the year. Johnson and his goons will do anything to claim their prize. In one particularly vicious scene, Hughes assaults the reader with the sights, sounds, and even smells of a torture-fuelled interrogation. 

Hughes also makes The Rack and Cue itself a character, endowing it with a Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde appearance that heightens its occupants’ uncertainty. The pub’s rundown exterior – one character calls it “the Munster’s weekend cottage” – and chimneys pumping out black smoke contrast with its warm, clean interior atmosphere. 

The characters who occupy The Rack and Cue are not the most insightful, nor are their actions the wisest. Rather, these are hard-drinking brawlers and unhinged tormentors, and when they collide, it isn’t just billiard balls that will get racked and broken.—Douglas J. Ogurek

Saturday, 21 January 2023

The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay (William Morrow) | Review by Douglas J. Ogurek


Ambiguity infiltration: a home invasion story unlike any you’ve encountered.

The typical home invasion story involves a group of malicious individuals who physically and psychologically torment their victims. The motivation might be economic, or it could be simply to have fun. In Paul Tremblay’s The Cabin at the End of the World, however, the intruders and their purpose are much more complicated… and elusive. 

The opening scene in which seven-year-old Wen, the adopted daughter of Eric and Andrew, collects grasshoppers in a jar foreshadows what Tremblay does with his seven characters (and the reader): he stuffs them into a remote cabin in New Hampshire. It’s appropriate that the girl’s name is Wen because we as readers wonder when? When will this come to a head? When will the truth behind what’s happening be revealed?

The leader of the invading foursome is 24-year-old Leonard, whose calm and rational approach makes the barbarity of his request that much more perplexing. The fear he provokes comes not from righteous indignation or anger – he has neither – but rather from the strength of his conviction. Leonard models a new kind of villainous leader… if a villain is what he is. 

The trespassers, and especially Leonard, frequently checking his watch and the news, want this family to do something unspeakable for a reason that seems senseless. Just as they hold the family captive, Tremblay holds the reader bound to a question: is what Leonard and his cohorts want pure insanity, or is it legitimate? 

The differences between Eric’s and Andrew’s shifting perspectives compound the ambiguity. While one constantly considers ways of escape, the other, absorbing the extremity of the situation, starts to lose touch with reality. Or maybe not. The backstory, which provides some explanation of the two men and their motivations, may or may not involve one of the invaders. Even the intruders’ strange implements, long wooden poles with sharp objects at the end, lead one to wonder whether they are tools or weapons.

The point of view shifts between that of Eric, Andrew, and Wen. At one point, a jarring, though no doubt purposeful shift into first-person collective point of view (i.e., “we,” “us”) underscores a united understanding between key characters. 

Tremblay has a talent for stretching out scenes to maximize tension. The porch showdown early on, for instance, becomes a master lesson in tension. The visitors withhold their motives, which makes the situation even more alarming. 

The protagonists in the distorted love story that is The Cabin at the End of the World confront a question that all of us will encounter at some point in our lives: when it feels as if the world is crashing down, will we give in, or will we keep fighting?—Douglas J. Ogurek*****

Saturday, 31 December 2022

Texas Chainsaw Massacre | review by Douglas J. Ogurek

Idealism impaled: latest instalment in Texas Chainsaw Massacre die-nasty is a gore extravaganza populated by cardboard characters.

If you find millennials and Texans getting their brains bashed in entertaining, then you’ll enjoy Texas Chainsaw Massacre directed by David Blue Garcia. Though this is far from the worst of the many films spawned by The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), it further proves the impossibility of achieving the shocking rawness and brutality of the original. The latest iteration of Leatherface, whether he’s strapping on a human skin mask, bludgeoning someone with a sledgehammer, or doing his maniacal chainsaw dance, can only exist as a distilled version of his inaugural performance. 

In this Netflix-produced version, four idealistic teens from the progressive city of Austin, Texas decide to invest in the all-but-abandoned town of Harlow, also in the Lone Star State. Chefs Dante and Melody want to open a restaurant, Dante’s fiancé Ruth dreams of launching an art gallery, and Lila (Melody’s sister) is consumed by a troubled past. The quartet plans to host a party for young urbanites who are presumably considering making an investment in the town. When something happens to the caregiver of a large, mentally unstable man—guess who—he does what any sane mourner does: goes on a killing spree. 

An element of absurdity rips through this film. Leatherface’s chainsaw cleaves bodies as if they were butter. He can easily elevate his victims over his head or snap limbs like twigs. And most perplexing, his young and ostensibly fit victims allow him to annihilate them without fighting back. 

The film does have a few things going for it. First, it clocks in at just 81 minutes and quickly gets to the meat of the matter. It’s clear from the beginning that Harlow locals aren’t thrilled about these young city people invading their town. 

Another of the film’s strengths (for the gore aficionado) is that it holds nothing back. You’ll see torn-open faces, protruding bones, and limbs doing things they shouldn’t. And the ending holds up as an exhilaratingly theatrical tribute to slasher brazenness. You want subtlety? This is not the film for you.

The continuing popularity of the slasher subgenre suggests there must be something satisfying about watching dumb young adults get killed. In earlier decades, victims mostly focused on scoring and getting high. Here they seem more ambitious, but don’t be fooled – they’re still dumb. Case in point: Ruth, as she walks through a ghost town that seems more amenable to a poncho-wearing Clint Eastwood character, considers where she might locate her art gallery.   

This film also pulls a common horror movie stunt by bringing back The Texas Chain Saw Massacre final girl Sally Hardesty, now a world-weary older woman who’s been hunting Leatherface her whole life. With her cowboy boots and denim, Sally is the silly Texas version of Sarah Connor. 

Texas Chainsaw Massacre, with its characters hiding in the typical places and succumbing to the typical violations, offers nothing new. It does, however, stay true to the brand.–Douglas J. Ogurek***

Sunday, 11 December 2022

A Cosmology of Monsters by Shaun Hamill (Vintage) | Review by Douglas J. Ogurek

Small-town kid confronts cape-wearing wolf and traverses the dark corridors of mental illness.

A Cosmology of Monsters tackles many elements of the typical dysfunctional family story: sexuality hurdles, financial struggles, unrequited love, adultery, parent/child quarrels, and suicide. Oh, and it has one more thing: a relationship between the narrator boy Noah Turner and a wolf-like creature, which may or may not be the only one of its kind.

The connection between Noah and the monster – it initially communicates by writing terse messages in chalk – becomes more complex (and even weird) as Noah ages. The creature becomes a comfort to Noah as he deals with his own conflicts and those between his mother and his two sisters. Considering Noah’s family’s history of mental illness, is this monster, with its orange eyes and red cape, really visiting Noah? Is it a hallucination? Is it a physical manifestation of a mental illness? 

Author Shaun Hamill indulges in a fair amount of narrative sleight of hand. Noah narrates, for instance, how in 1968 his father Harry (whom he never knew) meets and courts Noah’s mother Margaret. Noah reflects on her decision to choose his father over a safer, more financially stable prospect. Harry, a local with a passion for paperbacks, pulp magazines, and comic books, particularly horror and Lovecraftian fiction, admits he lives with his mother, who is contending with paranoid schizophrenia. Moreover, what a jarring experience when Noah details Margaret contemplating the abortion of a child that turned out to be him. 

Much of the story revolves around The Wandering Dark, a haunted house the Turners build in their Texas town. Noah, assuming the role of a wolf – now there’s something to think about – learns how to move through the facility’s secret corridors to achieve the maximum scare. 

The book also details Noah’s interactions with his family members. Most compelling is the relationship with his sister Eunice, who serves as a second mother while battling her own demons. 

The Wandering Dark, reconstructed based on Harry’s old drawings, is a haunted house, but it is also a symbol of the life that Noah, existing in the shadow cast by mental illness, must navigate. Though the novel resorts to dream/nightmare sequences that I found abrasive, Hamill redeems himself with some impressive world-building.—Douglas J. Ogurek ***

Sunday, 27 November 2022

Bad Candy | review by Douglas J. Ogurek

Unsavoury horror anthology mostly lives up to its name

Chilly Billy (Corey Taylor of Slipknot fame) and his sidekick Paul (Zach Galligan) host a Halloween-themed radio show at 666 on the dial. Clever. People call in and ask Billy to spin horror tales, which are portrayed in the short films that make up Bad Candy, directed by Scott B. Hansen and others. 

The lack of cohesion, clichéd content, subpar CGI and poorly drawn characters give one the impression that these pieces were cooked up by high school boys. Among the one-dimensional scumbags who populate the film like so many rotting confections are a beer-guzzling deadbeat dad, a creepy old man who taints candy, a drug dealer, a would-be rapist and a sexy, acid-dropping mortician who finds herself attracted to one of her male specimens. Through each of the stories wanders Bad Candy, a creepy clown who enjoys showing his long fingers and mindlessly killing bad people.

The best tale in the batch involves three military vets who play a yearly Halloween game involving rabbits and pumpkins. This one has humour, intriguing dialogue and some impressive makeup. It also offers a unique take on the close-up shot of the man inside the mask, a filming technique made famous in the Iron Man series. 

Another of the film’s shortcomings are the unrealistic and lifeless representations of children. A young boy, looking forward to trick-or-treating, says, “This is going to be awesome” as if reading out of a book. A little girl trips and looks up to see Bad Candy looming over her. Rather than going into conniptions as one would, she unhurriedly jogs off without making a sound. Don’t be like that little girl – run away from Bad Candy as quickly as you can.–Douglas J. Ogurek*   

Saturday, 12 November 2022

Blood Red Sky | review by Douglas J. Ogurek

Hm. They already did a plane with venomous snakes on the loose. So how about… vampires?

This vampire version of Snakes on a Plane (2006) gets a bit silly with all the hissing and thrashing and baring of fangs, though it does create tension by confining two threats (vampires and hijackers) in one inescapable place.

Blood Red Sky, with its intriguing German/English language hybrid, asks the question that consistently turns up in vampire flicks: can a person who is inherently good resist the evil that vampirism draws them toward once they are infected? A less typical question that the film asks is whether desperate people can join forces with a would-be enemy to take on an even greater enemy. As expected, some people will act completely out of self-interest, while others will emerge as heroes. Then there’s the more obvious question: how are these people going to get out of this?

Director Peter Thorwarth creates a partnership with the viewer by opening the film with an awkward emergency landing in Scotland. Snipers train their rifles on the plane. Hostage negotiators attempt to assess the situation. Elias (Carl Anton Koch), the film’s boy protagonist, climbs out of the plane. We know, therefore, that the plane has landed and the boy is safe – what we don’t know is what’s happening inside. Everything else in the film will build to this moment. 

Peri Baumeister effectively portrays Elias’s mother Nadja. Before boarding and as the flight begins, the skittish and sickly Nadja struggles to keep something at bay. During the flight, the film offers a series of flashbacks, some of them a bit on the sappy side, to tell the story of how she acquired her affliction. 

The most entertaining of the characters is maniacal hijacker Eightball (Alexander Scheer), who revels in bloodshed. As Eightball bullies and threatens the passengers – he’s not afraid to target the weakest and youngest – his co-conspirators repeatedly refer to him as a “psycho” and suggest that he’s taking things too far. But those who take things too far often make the best villains. 

Does this film do enough to separate it from the mountain of other vampire movies out there? Yes, to an extent. It does lead one to wonder… what’s the next threat filmmakers are going to put on a plane? – Douglas J. Ogurek***

Sunday, 9 October 2022

Dirty Rotten Hippies and Other Stories by Bryan Smith (Grindhouse Press) | Review by Douglas J. Ogurek

Blue-collar horror at its best: a beer-, rock ’n’ roll- and chainsaw-fuelled romp starring lazy losers

Within Dirty Rotten Hippies and Other Stories, Bryan Smith’s second collection of short horror fiction, there is no hidden agenda, no profound commentary on the state of humanity, no literary acrobatics. Instead, the collection enables the reader to simply bask in engaging stories that, at their best, echo the clear and concise prose of Richard Laymon. Though these works are mostly populated by doomed, domestic beer-guzzling, blue-collar types who like rock ’n’ roll and lack ambition, make no mistake – Bryan Smith knows how to write. 

Among the characters one encounters in this collection are hippie-torturing hillbillies, chainsaw-toting satanic cheerleaders, a serial killer aiming for work-life balance, and a crass, sexually aggressive date who is volatile to the extreme. Many of the storylines are ridiculous, but Smith’s clean, no-frills writing style escalates the entertainment quotient. Some characters awaken to find something strange inserted into their body or sitting on their lawn. Others get chased by or stumble upon predators.

Despite its too-long first scene with too much character indecisiveness, the opening novella “Dirty Rotten Hippies” rapidly shapes up to become a humour-infused apocalyptic nightmare in which a drug called Delight turns concertgoers into malodorous, purple-skinned zombies who go on a rampage. The story takes on more than zombies: a former LGBTQ activist and her gang of murderous hillbillies, a rock critic, and an older heavy metal singer named Kyle Bile who doesn’t even know his sixth wife’s name! Particularly inventive is the hippie trap the hillbillies use to lure an unsuspecting concertgoer into their hideaway. 

“Some Crazy Fucking Shit That Happened One Day” is impressive for a story the author claims to have completed within twenty-four hours. Its loser protagonist gets into a pickle with a serial killer, Nazi zombies, and a bus full of chainsaw-wielding lesbian satanic cheerleaders. One such cheerleader even slaps him when he says the Lord’s name. 

In “The Restless Corpse,” we quickly discover that the common man narrator – he refers to erectile dysfunction drugs as “boner pills” – has just inadvertently killed his wife and is concerned her corpse might become reanimated. Though the outcome isn’t surprising, following the narrator’s train of thought is humorous at times. 

“Chainsaw Sex Maniacs from Mars” offers exactly what the cover promises. A woman decides to use an outhouse at a country bumpkin party. What happens from there unsubtly and comically merges the sci-fi and slasher subgenres.

“The Thing in the Woods” introduces four teenage hoodlums getting smashed on Budweiser and debating Van Halen’s latest album in a house under construction. When the cops chase the boys into the woods, the protagonist encounters something unexpected. 

The protagonist in “A Slasher’s Dilemma” is a serial killer who’s been in the game for twenty years. As he waits in a bedroom closet for what could be his last hurrah (i.e., torturing and killing a babysitter and her boyfriend), the pressures of family responsibilities weigh on him. 

In “Pilgrimage,” Jason, George, and Karla (on whom Jason has a crush) get off a Las Vegas tour bus when it stops in a parking lot in which punk rock legend Johnny Killgore of the Sick Motherfuckers killed himself. Things get trippy and nightmarish when the drunken guy on the back of the bus gets off the bus with them. Be prepared to travel back to a legendary concert and meet some infamous characters. 

The couple in “We Are 138 Golden Elm,” one of my favourites, plans on doing something nefarious to another couple anticipating a kinky couples’ night. The would-be predators’ evening, however, takes a turn for the worse when they step into the eerily silent house. 

“The Barrel” resembles a Black Mirror story. An alcoholic whose wife left him wakes to discover a barrel in his yard. The concept has intrigue built into it – we all want to know what’s in the barrel. The guy’s dog goes crazy while he delivers a series of crass DMs with someone on Twitter who claims the barrel is a gift. But all gifts come with a price, don’t they? Initially, I was concerned Smith was going to stretch the concept too much, but he reeled it in. This concept has been done before, but Smith proves it can be done again and done well. 

In “Take a Walk,” a man who’s fed up with failed relationships, entertainment options, and life in general takes a walk at one in the morning. After a harrowing experience, he ends up with a new vocation, though not necessarily a good one. 

The average Joe in “Date Night” is hoping for a good time (and maybe a little action) with an attractive woman he met at a cosplay convention. When he takes her to an Avengers movie, she turns out to be much more than he bargained for.   

They say you’re not supposed to start a story with a character waking up, but in the case of “The Implant,” it works. The protagonist, who has had several DUIs, wakes up with something embedded in his neck. Must be aliens … or maybe not. 

“Highway Stop” introduces a family on the way back from a vacation where everything went wrong. When the abusive husband goes into a gas station, his wife receives a frightful visitor while her children sleep in the backseat. The ensuing conversation reveals more about the husband. The wife’s lack of terror despite her visitor escalates the humour of the piece.

In “The Doll,” an overweight security guard freaks out when he discovers a doll on his table. By the end of the story, you will discover why the doll terrifies him.  

“Bloodsucking Nuns for Satan” is about a man who decides to walk the long (and wrong) way home. Hint: if you’re walking down roads with names like Impaler Avenue, you might want to be vigilant. When the man investigates the female moaning coming from a nearby church, he finds something both arousing and threatening. 

“South County Madman” involves a Vietnam veteran falsely accused of being the South County Madman and getting into a row with his accusers.  

True to ’80s culture and B horror films, Smith keeps his stories light and his mostly male characters, who may not necessarily be good, dumb. They get into trouble and either die or come close to it. Even if Smith is sometimes covering topics that have been done a thousand times before, he finds a way to make them fresh and undeniably entertaining.—Douglas J. Ogurek****

Wednesday, 28 September 2022

The Flame and the Flood, by Shona Kinsella (Fox Spirit Books) | review by Stephen Theaker

Talis and Almoris are a bonded pair of mid-level drones, spouses, who run a boarding house for factory and dock workers. Both are secretly wielders, which means they can magically control the elements: water for Talis, fire for Almoris. Unfortunately, in the colony where they live, wielders must keep their powers secret, else risk being accused of trumped-up crimes and enslaved in the factories. They use their powers to help runaway slaves escape to more enlightened colonies. In this story, one such slave reaches them, a wood-wielder, and gets them into a lot of trouble.

The narrator uses ze/hir pronouns for all characters but doesn’t explain why, so the reader has no idea whether this is a species that only features one sex, or whether it is a species that prefers not to refer to sex, or whether it is just the narrator who prefers not to refer to sex. Functionally, it has exactly the same effect that redacting all the pronouns would have in any other book. It’s interesting in that the reader has to fight back stereotypical assumptions that a character doing certain actions is either male or female, but mostly it’s an irritation. A fictional text is a document telling us to imagine something, and withholding such basic information gets in the way of that.

On the other hand, this is quite a basic tale of oppressed superpowers, with very little actually happening, and it is lent a little bit of novelty by its unusual degree of narrative withholding. As well as not being told the sex of any of the characters, we aren’t told directly what type of species they are, just given clues here and there. We learn early on that that they have antennae and four arms. A slaver and some drones have wings. But we don’t find out until page 70 of 91 that as well as the skin mentioned throughout the book, Talis also has a partial shell, and not till page 76 do we find out that Almoris has two legs.

Some reviewers have taken them to be insects, given their antennae, thoraxes and the colonies they live in, and that the narrator talks about eggs and larvae. But unlike insects they have skulls, spines, noses, tongues, necks, stomachs, guts, chins, teeth, hearts, chests, torsos, waists, skin, hair on their heads, and knuckles that lose their colour when tightened. Also, they drink whisky, eat cheese, keep chickens and goats, use tables and chairs, tie their shoelaces, run small businesses and in all other respects behave very much like us.

In a science fiction book, this would all feel like a half-hearted failure to imagine an alien civilisation. (Compare it, for example, with the insect novels of Lorinda J. Taylor, interviewed in TQF66, who didn’t just imagine insect civilisations, but also their languages.) Little has changed other than that they have four arms and blue hair, and there’s no sense at all that their biological differences from us have affected their society, other than that their buildings are hexagonal. But in what I took to be a fantasy book, it felt quite novel. And I did enjoy the absurdity of all the characters in a serious, humourless book randomly having four arms.

There are a handful of typos, none of which would normally be worthy of comment, but it’s not often you read an award-nominated book that gets may/might, their/they’re and complimented/complemented mixed up. (It was up for best novella in the British Fantasy Awards.) And as often seems to happen with neopronouns, perhaps because authors and editors haven’t got used to them yet, there are places where an overabundance of the same pronouns make it difficult to know who is doing what, e.g. “Fire flowed over hir scalp just before ze was pulled off hir feet. Ze fell onto hir behind and caught hir tongue between hir teeth.”

Overall, not great, not terrible, and in some respects an interesting experiment. ***

Sunday, 25 September 2022

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman (HarperCollins) | Review by Douglas J. Ogurek

Strange passageways and treacherous crossings: seminal work of urban fantasy throws an ordinary life into tumult, gives “mind the gap” a new meaning 

Neverwhere, Neil Gaiman’s novelisation of the 1996 miniseries of the same name (also written by him and others), tells the story of Richard Mayhew, an ordinary fellow with a controlling girlfriend. When Mayhew decides to help a young woman named Door evade some pursuers, he gets thrust into London Below, a world of secret passages, talking rats, strange markets, light-emitting wine, and life and death challenges. Examples of the latter range from a wooden plank a thousand feet above rocky ground to an underground river that you do not want to fall into. London Below is a place where climbing out of a sewer will put you on the side of a building or walking through a home’s entry will lead you to a street. 

To navigate this strange world, unlikely hero Mayhew aligns himself with Door, so named for her ability to unlock any kind of door. They join forces with the eccentric Marquis de Carabas and an incredibly skilled female fighter called Hunter. During their quest to find an angel, the quartet will encounter a colourful cast of characters and challenges aplenty… all while dodging assassins Croup and Vandemar. These sadists, who’ve made their home in the cellar of a Victorian hospital, stand out as some of the more eccentric villains in contemporary fantasy. Croup, the brains of the operation, likes to destroy beautiful things, whether they be an ancient piece of art or a person. His righthand man Vandemar, a goon to the highest degree, has a fondness for breaking bones and eating live animals. 

Gaiman’s London Below has some of the elements of the London we know, but it also diverges in many ways. The market that the heroes visit, for instance, resembles the iconic Harrods, but it’s a “bizarre bazaar” with people selling all kinds of weird products. 

One of the more enchanting characters is the Earl of Earl’s Court. He and his court operate on a train car that appears dark from the outside but is full of life within. The Earl’s elderly guards hit up vending machines for candy bars and Cokes that they drink from expensive chalices. 

Gaiman deserves praise not just for his world-building skills, but also for his ability to create three-dimensional characters – especially his underdog protagonist – that change when confronted with extreme challenges. One of the book’s tensest scenes involves the Black Friars’ three tests: one physical challenge, one riddle and one ordeal. Among the themes that emerge as the Neverwhere characters undergo their tribulations within this strange domain are revenge, betrayal, sacrifice and especially self-respect.—Douglas J. Ogurek****

Wednesday, 21 September 2022

The Caduca, by Elaine Graham-Leigh (The Conrad Press) | review by Stephen Theaker

A disclaimer first: we’ve published three stories by Elaine Graham-Leigh in TQF, so do bear in mind that I may be biased in her favour. But I suppose it wouldn’t be a surprise that after liking her stories enough to publish them I liked this a great deal too, and for a similar reason: she puts the reader in the middle of the crisis and makes us care about it.

This serious science fiction novel returns us to the universe seen in “A Gift for the Young” (TQF67). Ar’Quila, an ambassador from the Office of Interplanetary Protocols, is sent to bring peace to Benan Ty. The civil war has been going on since she was still at school, and like many students she idolized the rebel leader, Mara Karne, daughter of a deposed, murdered president. But Mara is long dead and the rebels have turned to ever more extreme violence, locked in a death struggle with an oppressive government that sends its soldiers to destroy entire towns in retaliation.

Quila’s job is a very difficult one. Few think there is any chance of success. And if she fails to arrange successful talks, she knows that United Planets troops will follow, to bring peace (in theory) by eliminating the combatants.

It’s a political and thoughtful novel, that clearly draws upon a rich understanding of similar conflicts on our own world, such as in the Middle East and South America. Quila is not our only point of view character. For example, we spend time also with the president, with government soldiers, and with Terise, a member of the rebellion on Benan Ty, and learn what her motives are for continuing to fight, even though she knows they’ve gone too far. Our time with each character shows us another link in the chains of violence that keep people trapped in these conflicts.

That might make it sound a bit miserable, but it’s not, it’s a thriller, with shoot-outs, assassination attempts and incognito cross-country trips, and, about two-thirds of the way in, a murder mystery element (or attempted murder, at least) is introduced that leaves the reader genuinely curious as to the assailant and their motives. It’s an entertaining and exciting book about a serious subject.

Plus, we spend much of our time with Quila, whose optimism gives us everything to root for, even while showing us what it’s like to a be a person of good intent in a powerful organisation of somewhat different intent. And it’s a book full of the small kindnesses that people do for each other, even in the most rotten of situations: a bottle of beer shared, or a few minutes spent listening to someone who has no one else to talk to. I think our readers will enjoy it as much as I did. ****

Wednesday, 14 September 2022

She-Hulk by Dan Slott: The Complete Collection, Vol. 1, by Dan Slott and chums (Marvel) | review by Stephen Theaker

A marvellously chunky 413pp collection from Marvel gathers together a complete twelve-issue She-Hulk series from 2004 and the first five issues of a slightly inferior 2005 follow-up. Most of it is fairly light-hearted, though a serious storyline going on in the Avengers – where she was apparently sent berserk and smashed up an entire town – has ramifications here.

The story sees Jennifer Walters, after the She-Hulk has been thrown out of the Avengers Mansion for her dissolute ways, take up a role at a new law firm, one that specialises in superhuman law. This premise is used to springboard her into lots of bizarre stories, from miniaturised supervillains trying to escape prison on her arms, to fighting the champion of the universe to settle the rulership of a planet in a boxing ring of law.

A running theme is Jen’s difficulty in controlling her powers. Her power levels fluctuate, and she sometimes has trouble switching between Jen and She-Hulk and vice versa. The book retcons some past storylines in explaining why this happens. At one point she makes a new discovery about how to increase her strength as She-Hulk, a clever character twist that made perfect sense.

John Byrne’s popular runs on She-Hulk were notable for her ability to break the fourth wall, long before Deadpool and Gwenpool began to make a habit of it. She doesn’t do that here, but metatextuality remains present and intact thanks to the lawyers often referring back to the Marvel comics produced within the Marvel universe to find relevant rulings and precedents.

Though many artists contribute, especially to the celebratory issue 100, regular artist Juan Bobillo’s artwork is particularly good – he’s adept at capturing the weirdness of She-Hulk’s world, and while he draws both She-Hulk and Jennifer to be appealingly attractive, it’s not in a way that feels grotty. (In contrast to, say, the way occasional cover artist Greg Land turns the lower half of her costume into a thong.)

Overall, a very entertaining book, even for someone like me, who isn’t a die-hard Marvel fan. ****

Monday, 12 September 2022

Controversy Meets Positivity: UNSPLATTERPUNK! 6 Submissions Open

More “icks” for part six: submissions open for sixth instalment in UNSPLATTERPUNK! “smearies” of audaciously vile stories with a positive message. 

Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction, purportedly the UK’s second longest-running science fiction and fantasy zine, is seeking fiction submissions for UNSPLATTERPUNK! 6, slated for release in summer 2023. Authors may submit stories of up to 10,000 words until 31 January 2023.

Unsplatterpunk stories unite splatterpunk fare (e.g. over-the-top violence, excessive gore, deviant subject matter) with a positive message. Thus, we’re challenging writers to teach us a moral lesson while shocking us with jaw-droppingly disgusting stories.

Once again, editorial duties go to Douglas J. Ogurek, author of the recently released unsplatterpunk collection I Will Change the World… One Intestine at a Time, published by Plumfukt Press. Texas-based horror raconteur Edward “Eddie V” Villanova returns to design the cover art for this issue. 

The UNSPLATTERPUNK! canon smothers readers with bursting bodies, hacked-off limbs, torn skin, and objects both chewy and pointy getting shoved into uncomfortable places. And slathered over all of it is a gleaming layer of viscera, blood, vomit, and excrement. Thematic elements range from helping the underprivileged to healing the ailing environment. It’s all disgusting… and it’s all enlightening. Dig into the first five anthologies:

Tips for Writers

Unsplatterpunk submissions get rejected for two key reasons:

  • Not controversial/visceral enough – You’ve just written a story full of decapitations, amputations, and eviscerations? We can get that by turning on the TV. How will you take it to the next level?
  • No positive message – You’ve completed a subversive piece that will shock and disgust even the most dedicated splatterpunk enthusiast? Great, but if it doesn’t have some positive message, we’re not interested.

Other nuggets:

  • Make your story as attention-getting as a pool of vomit at a buffet entrance. 
  • Make the content so revolting that readers think to themselves, Why am I reading this? 
  • Imagine a man with a violin standing next to you as you write. Each time your writing gets dramatic, he starts playing. Don’t let him play! In other words, don’t impress us with your language – impress us with your story. 
  • Steer clear of revenge stories. Exacting vengeance on somebody who did something awful is not a positive message. 
  • Our thoughts on classic creatures: Vampires brooding around a castle? Cliché. Zombies wandering through woods? Dumb. Werewolves at a sexual harassment training seminar? You have our attention. 
  • Read previous anthologies in the series. Why not? They’re free. UNSPLATTERPUNK!, UNSPLATTERPUNK! 2, UNSPLATTERPUNK! 3, UNSPLATTERPUNK! 4, UNSPLATTERPUNK! 5 
  • Read every splatterpunk story that you can get your hands on, then write about something that’s never been written about. 
  • Please, for the love of all that is holy, don’t write your story in a chatty style full of colloquialisms. You’re writing to your reader, not your BFF.  
  • Know how those writing guides and instructors talk about subtlety? Fuck that. 

No Pay, No Play?

Contributors will not receive a monetary payment. However, contributors (and everyone) will get free pdf and ebook versions of the anthology, which will also be available for hardcopy purchase at Amazon.

Before you pound your fist on your desk because we’re not taking your future as a bestselling author seriously, consider this: in our experience, many publishers with paying anthologies select contributors from a small pool of friends and acquaintances. Moreover, those same publishers often offer zero feedback on submissions. 

We take a different approach here. First, our sole criterion for acceptance is a good story that follows the parameters. Thus, everyone who submits has an equal chance of getting a story selected. Second, we read every submission from beginning to end. If we reject it, we tell you why. If we find promise in a story, we work closely with the contributor to make it as illuminating and nauseating as possible. 

The Gory Details

Send stories (no poetry, please) to Put “UNSPLATTERPUNK! 6 submission” in the subject line. In your cover letter, include a bio and tell us about the positive message your story conveys.

  • Deadline: 31 January 2023
  • Max word count: 10,000
  • Reprints: No
  • Multiple submissions: Yes
  • Simultaneous submissions: No. We’ll get back to you within a couple weeks.
  • File type: .doc (preferred) or .docx files only
  • Payment: This is a non-paying zine. However, free epub and pdf files will be available to everyone.

After publication, you are free to reprint your story elsewhere, but please credit Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction for original publication. See the TQF standard guidelines for additional information on rights and legal matters. 

Have the Guts to Take a Stand

What’s wrong with the world? Environmental degradation? Poverty? Speciesism? Intolerance? This is your chance to combat that problem using the tool of stomach-churning fiction.  

Join the ranks of Hugh Alsin, Garvin Giltinan, Joe Koch, Eric Raglin, Triffooper Saxelbax, Drew Tapley, and many others who’ve earned the unsplatterpunk badge.

Teach us a lesson, and while you’re at it, make us sick. 

Ready. Set. Gross!

Lead photo: Pavel Danilyuk

Wednesday, 7 September 2022

The Death of Captain America, by Ed Brubaker and chums (Marvel) | review by Stephen Theaker

This lengthy omnibus collects a twenty-four issue spell of Captain America’s comic following the end of the Marvel comic universe’s Civil War, and, since those events (as the title of this book rather gives away) left Steve Rogers out of action, these issues focus on his friends, like Bucky Barnes (aka the Winter Soldier), Agent 13, the Falcon, the Black Widow and Tony Stark, now head of SHIELD.

Usually, with a very long graphic novel like this, I’ll read an issue or two at a time, then switch to other books and read a few issues of those, but this was so gripping, the issues flowing one into the other so swiftly, that I read it start to finish in a few days. That meant I didn’t get to savour the cliffhangers properly, but on the other hand I did get the satisfaction of reading the entire saga all at once.

There is an overlap of a few issues with the previous book I read in the series, the hardcover Captain America by Ed Brubaker Omnibus, though I was glad of the recap. The Death of Captain America continues the serious, dramatic tone of the earlier issues, both in storytelling and art, and it’s no surprise that this series inspired some of the best films Marvel have to offer.

The major antagonist appears at first to be the Red Skull, who you’ll be delighted to hear has given up on fascism, though unfortunately not on world domination. Many other villains make appearances, such as Arnim Zola, Doctor Faustus, Crossbones, Doctor Doom and the Red Skull’s daughter, but all are woven into an ongoing storyline rather than popping up for one issue as the villain of the month.

It reflects on such matters as the role of violence in a superhero’s life, the limits of freedom and self-determination, and the way that even after losing a friend we never stop wanting to live up to their expectations. I found it to be a terrifically satisfying read. It was thrilling, thoughtful, full of intrigue, and right up there with some of my favourite modern Marvel comics. It wasn’t funny, but then I never wanted it to be. ****

Sunday, 28 August 2022

Theaker's Quarterly Fiction #72 is now out in paperback and ebook!

The cover of TQF72, showing a robot army.
free epub | free pdf | print UK | print USA | Kindle UK | Kindle US

Welcome to Theaker's Quarterly Fiction #72, edited by Stephen Theaker and John Greenwood!

This issue includes six short stories:

  • “Spending the Government’s 28” by Ross Gresham
  • “The Ninth Mandala” by Zachary Toombs
  • “Father Figure” by Harris Coverley
  • “Don’t Be Afraid of Orange Juice” by Ralph Robert Moore
  • “Tartan” by Julie Travis
  • “Cretaceous” by Ashley Stokes

Plus reviews by Stephen Theaker and Douglas J. Ogurek of Anchor’s Heart by Cavan Scott, Monsters: a Field Guide to Blood-Thirsty Beasts by Dave Elliott et al, The Death of Captain America by Ed Brubaker et al, and She-Hulk by Dan Slott. The cover is by Steve Upham.

Our thanks to the contributors for their patience: it took Stephen far too long to finish off this issue. But we think you will find it is worth the wait. It might well be our best issue ever. We always say that, but we always mean it!

It is, as ever, available to download for free from the links above, and to buy on Kindle and in print at a remarkably low price.

Here are the tremendous contributors to this issue.

Ross Gresham teaches at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, CO. “Spending the Government’s 28” originally appeared in M-Brane SF Quarterly #3, while other stories in this series appeared in TQF34 (“Name the Planet”), TQF41 (“Milo Doesn't Count Coup”), TQF44 (“Milo on Fire”), TQF46 (“Wild Seed”) and TQF49 (“Ut in Fumum!”). Milo and Marmite also made an authorised guest appearance in TQF55 (“The Stone Gods of Superspace” by Howard Phillips).

Zachary Toombs is a writer and artist currently situated in Central Florida. Check out his publications in Fine Lines, Mad Swirl, Freedom Fiction and Against the Grain Magazine as well as his website,

Harris Coverley has had short fiction in Curiosities, Hypnos, The Periodical, Forlorn and Rivanna Review, amongst many others. A former Rhysling nominee, he also has had verse in Polu Texni, Star*Line, Spectral Realms, Scifaikuest, Tales from the Moonlit Path, Novel Noctule, Corvus Review, View From Atlantis, Yellow Mama and elsewhere. He lives in Manchester, England.

Ralph Robert Moore’s fiction has appeared in America, Canada, England, Ireland, France, India and Australia in a wide variety of genre and literary magazines and anthologies, including TQR, Reed Magazine, Black Static, Cemetery Dance, Shadows & Tall Trees, Nightscript, Midnight Street, ChiZine and others. He has been nominated twice for Best Story of the Year by the British Fantasy Society, once in 2013, and again in 2016. His books include the novels Father Figure, As Dead As Me, Ghosters and The Angry Red Planet, and the story collections Remove the Eyes, I Smell Blood, You Can Never Spit It All Out, Behind You, Breathing Through My Nose, Our Elaborate Plans and The Sex Act. His website is here.

Julie Travis is originally from London but now lives in the far west of Cornwall. She has had many short stories published in the British, North American and French independent press since the early 1990s, has two collections published by Wapshott Press and was nominated for a British Fantasy Award in 2020 for her novelette Tomorrow, When I Was Young (Eibonvale Press). Should you want more information, please see her blog/website:

Ashley Stokes is the author of Gigantic (Unsung Stories, 2021), The Syllabus of Errors (Unthank Books, 2013) and Voice (TLC Press, 2019), and editor of the Unthology series and The End: Fifteen Endings to Fifteen Paintings (Unthank Books, 2016). His recent short fiction includes “Subtemple” in Black Static; “Fields and Scatter” in Weird Horror; “The Validations” in Nightscript; “Black Slab” in The Ghastling; “Replacement Bus Service” in Out of the Darkness (edited by Dan Coxon, Unsung Stories), and “Fade to Black” in This Is Not a Horror Story (edited by J.D. Keown, Night Terror Novels). Other stories have appeared in Tales from the Shadow Booth Vol. 4, BFS Horizons, Bare Fiction, The Lonely Crowd, the Warwick Review, Storgy and more. He lives in the East of England where he’s a ghost and ghostwriter.

Douglas J. Ogurek is the pseudonym for a writer living somewhere on Earth. Though banned on Mars, his fiction appears in more than fifty Earth publications. Douglas’s website can be found at and his Twitter account is at

Stephen Theaker’s reviews, interviews and articles have also appeared in Interzone, Black Static, Prism, Dark Horizons and the BFS Journal.

Steve Upham provides the cover art for this issue. He previously published some smashing books as the proprietor of Screaming Dreams, and some great stories as the editor of the Estronomicon ezine.

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

Monday, 8 August 2022

Theaker's Quarterly Fiction #71: Unsplatterpunk! 5 – now out!

free epub | free pdf | print UK | print USA | Kindle UK | Kindle US

Welcome to Theaker's Quarterly Fiction #71: UNSPLATTERPUNK! 5, edited by Douglas J. Ogurek!

A driver’s killing spree reveals the repercussions of laws built on racism. A netherworld imp’s attempt to win the praise of his demonic superiors indicts the profit-hungry orchestrators of factory farming. Middle-class naivety meets working-class outrage in a profanity- and carnage-ridden satire that shoves down readers’ throats what it means to be a good neighbour. The onslaught of agony delivered by a scarred dominatrix becomes a lesson on the transformative power of stoicism.

Welcome to the fifth instalment in Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction’s UNSPLATTERPUNK! series. It’s all the blood and guts of splatterpunk plus a positive message.

As you wade through the pierced skin, rotting innards, and soiled undergarments, just remember: there’s more, much more, beneath the blood and viscera. Invest in this volume and maximize your gross profits.

The cover artist is Steven Brite.

Here are the gore-spattered contributors to this issue.

J.N. Cameron has had horror and science fiction stories published in various small presses. He Door Dashes for money and writes for the love of it.

David F. Shultz writes from Toronto, Canada, where he is lead editor at Speculative North magazine. His 80+ published works are featured through publishers such as Augur and Diabolical Plots. Author webpage:

Jessie Stang lives in a mystical land of abundant pleasure and everlasting sunshine where they turn decades of emotional pain into stories that combine erotic elements with dark dreams. Even so, they haven’t given up hope for the good in people and keep searching for it, often finding it in unexpected places.

Hugh Alsin’s story “Convention Hitler!” appeared in Unsplatterpunk! 2 (TQF63). “A Knock at the Fucking Door” is his second published story. It may well contain more swear words than all 70 previous issues of Theaker's Quarterly Fiction put together.

Douglas J. Ogurek is the pseudonymous and sophomoric founder of the unsplatterpunk subgenre. He edits this book and supplies all of its reviews. His short story collection I Will Change the World… One Intestine at a Time (Plumfukt Press), a juvenile stew of horror and bizarro, aims to make readers lose their lunch while learning a lesson. Publications have rejected Ogurek’s work nearly 2,000 times. However, some of the world’s leading literary journals thanked him for submitting manuscripts in (form) letters. One highly respected publication even said, “We want to thank you for your kindness in letting us see your work.” Thus, Ogurek is a kind author. More at Twitter: @unsplatter

Steven Brite, the creator of the anthology’s cover art, is a graphic artist, painter, illustrator, and writer. Inspired by a short story idea developed during the COVID lockdown, the artist explored his addiction to social media and discovered visually how extreme the dependency had become. “The internet would not go away,” he said, “so I had to lose a piece of myself to be free. Fortunately, I escaped quickly, and I don’t miss the app(endage)s.” Steven recently finished the first draft of his first novel and is discovering the pains and joys of editing.

Note that we haven't supplied a mobi version for this issue, since they can't be emailed to Kindles any more. But if you still need that format for other devices let us know and we'll put one up.

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