Monday 27 May 2024

Stray Pilot, by Douglas Thompson (Elsewhen Press) | review by Stephen Theaker

After World War II, American pilot Thomas Tellman decided to stay in Scotland. He joined RAF Squadron 576, married a Scottish woman, and had a daughter and son with her. They lived in a prefabricated house just outside of Kinburgh, a little place that was hardly much more than a village, up until 1948, when he pursued a UFO high above the clouds and never came back. His seven-year-old daughter, Mary, grew up, had children of her own, and grew old and infirm. His wife died, his son died.

And then, eighty years after he disappeared, he returns, only a year older than when he left. His 87-year-old daughter has dementia. Kinburgh is now a town. Pollution has changed the air, sea and land. All the other prefab houses have long since been demolished, but his daughter still lives in theirs, and when he returns she is delighted. She barely remembers the last half-century anyway, so she’s not asking why he’s so young, she’s wondering why she’s so old.

Friday 24 May 2024

The Arrest by Jonathan Lethem (Ecco) | review by Stephen Theaker

This review originally appeared in Interzone #289 (November–December 2020).

Journeyman used to be a screenwriter, though none of his films ever got made. His name back then was Alexander Duplessis. He spent a long time working with producer Peter Todbaum, a Harvey Weinstein-like friend from college, on a pet science fiction project, Yet Another World. Now he lives in Tinderwick, a small town on an isolated peninsula in what used to be New England, wiping up the blood left by the butcher and delivering the meat.

Wednesday 22 May 2024

The Night Parade by Ronald Malfi (Kensington) | review by Douglas J. Ogurek

Plague story infected by lack of action and conflict.

The Night Parade, yet another outbreak story, introduces Wanderer’s Folly, a disease that enrages people, makes them lose their minds and eventually kills them. Moreover, the birds have disappeared, and insects are getting larger. 

English professor David Arlen and his eight-year-old daughter Ellie, holding a shoebox with unhatched bird eggs, hit the road after wife/mother Kathy dies in hospital. David is convinced that Kathy was immune to the disease and that the medical establishment tested her to death. Now, those same individuals want to get their hands on Ellie, who has a blossoming special power. 

David, who may or may not be infected with Wanderer’s Folly, disguises Ellie as a boy, and they drive around aimlessly until David decides he wants to go to a relative’s house. Like many fictional children, Ellie displays unrealistic intelligence and wisdom beyond her years. 

Although there are tense passages and the ending ratchets up the action, the novel suffers from stagnation and meaningless scenes and dialogue. The main characters wander around and converse about uninspiring topics. Their psychological underpinnings are weak, and most goals are short-lived. The Night Parade also includes superfluous backstory about the early days of Wanderer’s Folly and Kathy’s death. Moreover, the novel gets bogged down in details that do not support the plot. We do not need, for instance, a step-by-step explanation of David dyeing his hair black. 

When the characters finally get to a potential conflict, Malfi effectively keeps the reader guessing whether strangers’ hospitality is genuine or feigned for some nefarious purpose. Additionally, some characters’ physical characteristics – droopy eyes or lanky bodies, for instance – add to the realism of scenes. Another creepy detail: when face masks run short, some people resort to cheap plastic Halloween masks, while others wear paper plates with eye holes cut out. 

The Night Parade is just as much about a father’s willingness to accept his daughter’s point of view as it is about a rampant disease. Unfortunately, the novel’s wavering nature detracts from the story. Douglas J. Ogurek **

Monday 20 May 2024

IF | review by Stephen Theaker

After being so excellent in later seasons of The Walking Dead as Judith, the equally capable daughter of Rick Grimes, Cailey Fleming now takes the lead in possibly the worst-titled film of the year, IF – short for Imaginary Friend, and a nod to the infinite possibilities of the imagination. Fleming plays Bea, a twelve-year-old girl who, after losing her mother to illness, could now lose her father too (John Krasinski). While he’s on a long stay in hospital, being prepped for what he assures her will be a routine heart operation, she stays in a cosy apartment with her lovely but (if you ask me!) nigh-on criminally negligent grandma (Fiona Shaw).

Friday 17 May 2024

How to Mars by David Ebenbach (Tachyon Publications) | review by Stephen Theaker

This review previously appeared in Interzone #290-291 (March-June 2021).

Two years ago, a small colony was established on Mars, funded by a reality show, Destination Mars! Unfortunately, the show was cancelled once life on Mars turned out to be extremely boring. Even the Martian water was dull, with not a microbe nor a minibeast in sight. Fortunately, the production company continued to send supply rockets, so life goes on.

Friday 10 May 2024

Machine by Elizabeth Bear (Saga Press) | review by Stephen Theaker

This review originally appeared in Interzone #289 (November–December 2020).

Dr Brookllyn Jens (Llyn for short) is the rescue co-ordination specialist on the Core General-affiliated medical vessel I Race to Seek the Living. The current mission: Big Rock Candy Mountain, a very old generation ship, has been found hurtling through space at high speed in the wrong location and the wrong direction. Its crew was placed in rickety frozen hibernation by an insane captain and a buxom AI named Helen Alloy (a pun, apparently, on Helen of Troy). Helen has spent the subsequent lonely years upcycling the ship into new components for an intelligent machine, one that looks as if it is made of Tinkertoys (a colourful, wooden, American equivalent of Meccano). But that might not be the machine of the title: the police-issue exosuit that makes it possible for pain-ridden Llyn to live life as she does is just as important to the plot.

Tuesday 7 May 2024

Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas (Swoon Reads) | review by Douglas J. Ogurek

Young adult novel muddies message of acceptance with lackluster writing.

Sixteen-year-old Yadriel, a trans gay boy (born female, identifies as male, attracted to males) and member of a Latinx family, wants more than anything for his East Los Angeles brujx (a gender-nonconforming variant of the Spanish bruja/o, meaning “witch” or “sorcerer”) community to accept him as a brujo (a male who finds lost spirits and sends them to the afterlife). He plans to do this by summoning the ghost of his murdered cousin Miguel, then guiding him to the afterworld. Alas, Yadriel’s father holds firm to tradition, which prohibits people born female from becoming brujos — they must develop into brujas. The only two who seem to wholeheartedly embrace Yadriel’s identity are his cousin and friend Maritza and his uncle.

Thus, Cemetery Boys is a young adult novel about transitioning, from the spirit world to the afterlife, from female to male, and from one mindset to another.

The trouble begins when Yadriel, accompanied by Maritza, inadvertently summons the ghost of high school classmate and reputed gang member Julian Diaz. Yadriel wants to use his special knife to cut the magical thread that binds Julian’s spirit to Earth and therefore send him to the afterlife. But Julian begs for Yadriel to hold off so he can make sure his friends are okay. Yadriel relents, flaunts the brujx rules, and takes the “reckless and beautiful” Julian through various obstacles while attempting to avoid detection by most people (who can’t see Julian) and Yadriel’s magical kin (who can). 

Yadriel and Julian get to know each other and their shared inner struggles. Clearly, Yadriel is attracted to Julian, who, despite his immaturity, unconditionally accepts Yadriel as a boy. But it seems the feelings aren’t necessarily mutual. Author Aiden Thomas adds tension by setting a deadline: if Yadriel doesn’t send Julian over by Día de Muertos (the Day of the Dead) in just a few days, Julian’s spirit might turn maligno.

The message that this book attempts to convey is a good one. The story, however, falters. It suffers from several repeating elements that become grating. Examples include physical gestures (lip biting, arm crossing, hand raising) intended solely to punctuate dialogue, an obsession with Julian’s dark eyes, meaningless chatter, and frequent mentions of Yadriel’s binder to remind the reader he was born female. Thomas’s excursions into the rituals and foods of Día de Muertos also cause the story to drag, and melodramatic speeches worsen an ending that stretches out too long. Douglas J. Ogurek ** 

Friday 3 May 2024

These Lifeless Things by Premee Mohamed (Solaris) | review by Stephen Theaker

This review previously appeared in Interzone #290–291 (March-June 2021).

These Lifeless Things is a novella published as part of the new Solaris Satellites series.

Fifty years ago, ninety-nine per cent of our species died during "the Setback". It lasted three years, and yet no one is sure what it was, even those who survived. Or at least no one believes what they have to say. Until a student on a field trip to an abandoned Ukrainian city discovers an old poetry book that might change everything: Eva, a woman who survived the initial disaster, kept a journal in its generous margins.

Tuesday 30 April 2024

Theaker's Quarterly Fiction #76: now out!

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

Welcome to Theaker's Quarterly Fiction #76, edited by Stephen Theaker and John Greenwood!

Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction #76 features four short stories, a non-fiction article, and fifteen reviews. In “The White Body” by Harris Coverley, shipwrecked sailors encounter a dread being on the open seas. Scottish master of surrealism Douglas Thompson provides “The Apparatus of Yearning” and “Cupid and Psyche”. “Controlling the Lights from Above” by Charles Wilkinson is a tale concerning the long-term consequences of workplace bullying. In “Cultures of Climate Change, Changes of Climate Cultures”, Rafe McGregor considers fiction’s role in the face of ecological disaster. Then Stephen Theaker and Douglas Ogurek review books by Adam Cesare, Grady Hendrix, Kazuo Ishiguro, Rumaan Alam and C.J. Cooke, plus the films Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, The Creator, Dream Scenario, Godzilla Minus One, No One Will Save You and Office Invasion, and the television shows Ahsoka, Doctor Who, Invasion and Monarch: Legacy of Monsters.

The cover art for this issue was generated using Wombo Dream.

Here are the contumacious contributors to this issue.

Charles Wilkinson’s publications include The Pain Tree and Other Stories (London Magazine Editions, 2000). His stories have appeared in Best Short Stories 1990 (Heinemann), Best English Short Stories 2 (W.W. Norton, USA), Best British Short Stories 2015 (Salt), Confingo, London Magazine and in genre magazines/ anthologies such as Black Static, Interzone, The Dark Lane Anthology, Supernatural Tales, Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction, Phantom Drift (USA), Bourbon Penn (USA), Shadows & Tall Trees (Canada), Nightscript (USA) and Best Weird Fiction 2015 (Undertow Books, Canada). His collections of strange tales and weird fiction, A Twist in the Eye (2016), Splendid in Ash (2018), Mills of Silence (2021) and The Harmony of the Stares (2022), appeared from Egaeus Press. Eibonvale Press published his chapbook of weird stories, The January Estate, in 2022. He lives in Wales. His work previously appeared in TQF41 (“Notes on the Bone”), TQF44 (“A Lesson from the Undergrowth”), TQF46 (“Petrol-Saved”), TQF48 (“A Thousand Eyes See All I Do”), TQF54 (“Septs”), TQF56 (“Mr Kitchell Says Thank You”), TQF59 (“The Constant Providers”), TQF60 (“Evening at the Aubergine Café”), TQF64 (“September Gathering”), TQF70 (“July Job Offer”) and TQF73 (“The Arrival of an Acquaintance”).

Douglas J. Ogurek is the pseudonymous and sophomoric founder of the unsplatterpunk subgenre, which uses splatterpunk conventions (transgressive/gory/gross/violent subject matter) to deliver a positive message. 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. Ogurek also guest-edits the wildly unpopular UNSPLATTERPUNK! “smearies”, published by Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction. These anthologies are unavailable at your library and despised by your mother. Ogurek reviews films and fiction for that same magazine.

Douglas Thompson has published more than twenty short story and poetry collections and novels from various publishers in the UK, Europe and the Americas, including The Brahan Seer from Acair Books (2014) and most recently Stray Pilot from Elsewhen Press (2022). He won the Herald/Grolsch Question Of Style Award in 1989, 2nd prize in the Neil Gunn Writing Competition 2007, and the Faith/Unbelief Poetry Prize in 2016. His work previously appeared in TQF28 (“Anatomy of a Wounded House”), TQF29 (“Madame Mortadore & the Clouds”), TQF37 (“Apoidroids”), TQF39 (“Escaladore”), TQF41 (“DogBot™”), TQF43 (“Quasar Rise”), TQF44 (“Black Sun”), TQF60 and TQF61 (“Yttrium”). See for more details.

Harris Coverley has had more than a hundred short stories published in Penumbra, Crimeucopia, JOURN-E, and The Black Beacon Book of Horror (Black Beacon Books), amongst many others. A former Rhysling nominee, he has also had over two hundred poems published in journals around the world. He lives in Manchester, England. He previously appeared in TQF70 (“See How They Run! See How They Run!”); TQF72 (“Father Figure”); TQF73 (“The Scorpion”); TQF74 (“Kung Fu Sue: Origins”) and TQF75 (“Kleptobiblia”).

Rafe McGregor is a critical theorist publishing on culture, climate justice, and policing. He is the author of thirteen books, including Literary Theory and Criminology (2023), Narrative Justice (2018), and The Adventures of Roderick Langham (2017). He can be found online @rafemcgregor.

Stephen Theaker’s reviews, interviews and articles have appeared in Interzone, Black Static, Prism, Dark Horizons and the BFS Journal. His story “The Reader-Queens of Tranck” appeared in the BFS anthology Emerging Horizons, edited by Allen Ashley. He has written many novels, none of them well-regarded. The full range of his enthusiastic literary endeavours may be viewed on his ISFDB summary bibliography:

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

Monday 29 April 2024

Boy Kills World | review by Stephen Theaker

Tortured by the memory of his mother and sister’s public execution by their city’s totalitarian rulers during the annual Culling, a boy (known only as Boy) vows revenge. He trains hard in the jungle for years with the mysterious Shaman, who tests him physically, mentally and pharmacologically, and since his mentor is played by Yayan Ruhian, so spectacular in The Raid 2 and John Wick: Chapter 3, the kid picks up some amazing moves. Grown up and now played by It star Bill Skarsgård, he is on a rare trip into town for supplies when a new Culling begins. He can’t hold back, and the ultra-violent action begins.

Friday 26 April 2024

The Four Profound Weaves by R.B. Lemberg (Tachyon Publications) | review by Stephen Theaker

This review originally appeared in Interzone #288, September–October 2020).

Uiziya e Lali and the nameless man known as nen-sasaïr live in a world where magic is real and one can change one’s sex. A cloth of transformation, woven from the wind, summons sand-birds of bright fire. They cocoon the summoner, who burns without burning before emerging as the desired sex. They attribute this ability to the goddess Bird – who gives the series of stories of which this novella is a part its overall name, the Birdverse – but from what we see in this book it might well be a symbiotic biological process that has evolved on this world.

Monday 22 April 2024

Stitches, by Hirokatsu Kihara and Junji Ito (VIZ Media) | review by Stephen Theaker

This short, quick read collects nine short horror stories (the "stitches”), prose rather than comics, albeit with a bonus manga story. Originally published in Japan in 2010, the major appeal to English-speaking readers in 2024 is likely to be the ghastly illustrations by Junij Ito, famed for his critically-adored horror comics, such as Uzumaki, adapted into a highly memorable film at the peak of the J-Horror boom. (His cat comics, though possibly of less interest to our readers, are also much adored.) The bonus manga story is "Summer Graduation Trip", a fairly spooky and supposedly true story of two young women who go to a spa and find themselves in a spook-filled sauna.

Friday 19 April 2024

Under the Skin | review by Jacob Edwards

This review originally appeared in TQF65 (December 2019).

Out from under but still only skin-deep.

Under the Skin features Scarlett Johansson as a vulnerable yet predatory alien whose dark incomprehension of the world sets up a contrast by which director (and co-writer) Jonathan Glazer sets out to capture something of the human condition. Whether Glazer achieves this is debatable. Assuredly his film encapsulates the best and worst of the arthouse experience.

Tuesday 16 April 2024

47 by Walter Mosley (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers) | review by Douglas J. Ogurek

An alien among the alienated: young adult novel puts sci-fi twist on slave story to comment on freedom and equality.

In Walter Mosley’s young adult novel 47, a slave story collides (or intertwines) with colourful little people, ghouls, lasers shot out of eyes, and magic devices. 

The tale begins with 170-year-old first-person narrator 47 revealing that he’s going to reflect on his experiences as a slave in 1832. This framing device strengthens the author/reader connection, reinforces the authenticity of the tale, and lends the novel a genuine “Let me tell you a story” feel.

Monday 15 April 2024

Geethanjali Malli Vachindi | review by Stephen Theaker

A much more stylish sequel to the 2014 Telugu film Geethanjali, this 15-rated horror comedy from first-time director Shiva Thurlapati introduces us to an unattractive, middle-aged street food vendor hoping to persuade the military father of his very young girlfriend that he’s a catch worthy of her, even though he obviously isn’t. To this end, he proudly declares that within a year he will be respected by everyone, that they’ll all be calling him “sir”: he is about to star in a film! Unfortunately, the purported director – played by Srinivasa Reddy, returning from the first film – has no film in the works, and has in fact been bilking the vendor to support himself and his two writers.

Sunday 14 April 2024

Civil War | review by Stephen Theaker

Kirsten Dunst plays Lee, a celebrated and determined photojournalist who hopes to get one last photograph of the US president before his inevitable execution by rebels from the Western Alliance, who are closing in on Washington. Texas and California fight together in the alliance, the traditionally Republican and Democrat states setting their differences aside to depose what the director has called in interviews a fascist president. I don’t think that’s spelt out as clearly on-screen, though I saw it in 4DX and it’s easy to miss dialogue when the fans are blasting away. We do learn that he disbanded the FBI and ordered airstrikes on US citizens, and that something called the antifa massacre happened. Florida has also seceded, and the Portland Maoists are among those taking their guns to the White House. The president is in it so briefly and yet played so perfectly by Nick Offerman that Ned Beatty’s record could be under threat.

Friday 12 April 2024

Firewalkers by Adrian Tchaikovsky (Solaris) | review by Stephen Theaker

This review originally appeared in Interzone #288, September–October 2020).

Another short book exploring the effects of global warming. In this possible future, the equatorial region of Africa might be the centre of a ever-expanding desert, but it was still the most convenient place to build Ankara Achouka, an anchor for the space elevator to the Grand Celeste, a colony ship up in orbit.

Monday 8 April 2024

Twisted Metal, Series 1 | reviewed by Stephen Theaker

A Peacock original in the United States, PlayStation adaptation Twisted Metal took quite a long time to reach the UK, where, ironically, it joined Xbox adaptation Halo on Paramount+. Personally, I’ve been Xbox-exclusive ever since my PlayStation 3 got the yellow light of death, but I have a soft spot for Twisted Metal, from the original PlayStation. It wasn’t a complicated game: you chose a themed, armoured, battle-ready car, entered an arena, and fought against several other cars until one emerged the winner. Twisted Metal Black: Online was one of the first console games I ever played online, as part of a beta testing programme. The series petered out in 2012, presumably because its ideas were so easily merged into other car games. For such an old, dormant series to be adapted for television might seem a bit surprising, but books much older than that are adapted every year. I take it as a sign that this wasn’t produced simply for the sake of corporate synergy, but because people looked at the game and its concepts and thought it would make a good tv show. I think they were right. It’s a lot of fun!

Friday 5 April 2024

Every Day, by Jesse Andrews (Orion Pictures et al.) | review by Stephen Theaker

This review originally appeared in TQF65 (December 2019).

“A” is a being of unknown origin who wakes up in a different human body every day, one that’s about the same age as A. When asked if he or she is a boy or a girl, later in the film, A says, “Yes.” I suppose it doesn’t make sense to talk about being male or female if you don’t have a body. Or, to put it another way, in a male body A is male, and in a female body A is female, rather like Doctor Who.

Monday 1 April 2024

Femlandia, by Christina Dalcher (HQ) | review by Stephen Theaker

In the very near future, the American economy collapses and society follows suit. Trying to keep her 16-year-old daughter Emma safe from marauding men, Miranda, a formerly well-off woman, heads for Femlandia, the all-female radfem colony co-founded by her mother, Jennifer Jones. That might sound like the set-up for a feminist book, and it certainly has feminist elements (and a feminist author), but ironically I think anti-feminists might enjoy it more.