Saturday 1 October 2005

Theaker's Quarterly Fiction #8

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This is the eighth issue of my magazine, and just like every issue so far, it is the best yet. But it is slightly unusual, in that it contains no less than four distinct tales, by four entirely different authors, whereas in the past I have been more likely to present my readers with one or two long pieces. It is very interesting, I feel, that I launched this magazine mainly in order to encourage myself to sit down to write at least four times a year, only to be eventually pushed out of it by the submissions of other people. I would vow to ruin them all for stymieing my plans were it not for their stories being so much better than anything I would have been likely to write.

If there is a theme to this issue, it is probably highlighted best by “The Hidden Game”, intended by the author, John Greenwood, the editor of our sister journal, November Spawned, to be the first in a series – Newton Braddell And His Inconclusive Researches Into the Unknown. Planned to be of indefinite length, John has promised, if it is within his writerly power, to send an instalment for several issues to come. Let’s hope that he does not waver in that resolution after seeing that, in my guise as illustrator, I decided to clothe his character in a costume rather similar to that of Elvis in his Vegas years. I have no explanation – I am only a beginner when it comes to art, so I am as yet at the mercy of my muse.

Anyway, back to the theme I mentioned. The key word in John’s story, so far as this issue is concerned, is Inconclusive. None of this issue’s items reaches a conclusion. I hope that nevertheless the issue will stand alone, as a good read in itself, but it is worth alerting the reader to the fact before he or she plunges in.

As already mentioned, Newton Braddell's adventures are intended to be an ongoing series. The story submitted by my sometime friend Howard Phillips is the beginning of an autobiographical epic, in which he will, step-by-step, take us through the assembly of what some claim to be the greatest rock band of all time, Howard Phillips and the Saturation Point. This is the beginning of The Saturation Point Saga – mark this moment well! This first, introductory, story deals with the fate of his former band, The Sound of Howard Phillips (who he discussed at some length in last issue’s editorial), and with this published, he then plans to assault us with a series of novels and stories, each of which will report how he recruited one or another of the band. Now, longtime Silver Age readers will be fully aware of the number of projects Howard has undertaken but not completed, but he seems very enthusiastic, so I will not be the one to discourage him. He has all the makings of a multi-media triple threat, at the very least, so if I am nice now maybe he will tip his hat to the SAB at some opportune time in the future.

Steven Gilligan has blessed us with the first half (or less, depending on how the rest of the story plays out) of "Excelsior", the heartwarming tale of a young man and his giant robot. The eponymous metal star can be seen on the cover of this issue, as interpreted by your hard-working editor. He ended up looking quite a bit like Jet Jaguar, but was that in Steven’s descriptions of the robot, or was that just how I interpreted his words? Resolve this conundrum by reading it now! Steven also created the hilarious cartoon that graces the back cover.

The fourth piece in this issue is the fascinating prologue to Valiant Razalia, the first science fiction novel by Michael Wyndham Thomas, better known as a poet and historical novelist. I have never read anything quite like it. In all honesty, from someone writing their first science fiction novel, I expected a certain amount of reinventing the wheel, being hit over the head with the hoariest of old tropes (that’s the role my fiction plays in this magazine!), and a story that struggled to breathe through the condescension to genre, but that is not what we have here. This is a unique piece of writing – dense and atmospheric, yet wilful, whimsical and playful. Initially perhaps somewhat forbidding in its tumult of adjectives and similes, to the careful reader it reveals a rich bounty of laughter and mystery. It might take you a few paragraphs or pages to settle into its rhythms, but take the time, make the effort, and at the end ask yourself when the rest of the novel will be available to read. The author has said he may submit further instalments to this journal, but I can only hope to be so lucky.

Observant readers may notice that the format of the publication has had a revamp this issue. It was not by choice – all our files were lost in a hard drive failure, and so, starting again, we decided to make a few changes. I hope you like them. – SWT


The Issue With No Resolution

Stephen William Theaker

The Saturation Point Saga: MY RISE AND FALL

Howard Phillips

A Dream ~ The Sound and the Saturation ~ My Career Takes Off ~ Meditation and Self-Medication

Newton Braddell And His Inconclusive Researches Into the Unknown

The Hidden Game

John Greenwood

Valiant Razalia


Michael Wyndham Thomas


Steven Gilligan

Prisoner ~ Visitor

Friday 12 August 2005

Theaker's Quarterly Fiction #7

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It falls once more to me, Howard Phillips, to introduce the reader to Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction, since the Editor likes to avoid writing about his own work, where possible. It is not a happy day for me, so I will not go out of my way to make it a happy day for you. This seems to be a penance I have to serve. I am, they say, indentured to the magazine, or at least obligated to its editor.

True, he found me stumbling along beside the canal in Birmingham’s city centre, desperately begging for money for alcohol from passers-by, drinking the dregs from abandoned glasses, and generally making a fool of myself, but I had had a difficult few years. My writing had not progressed in the direction which I would have wished, my poetry had stalled, and my plays had fallen into the ditch, unperformed.

True, he allowed me to write once more for his family of publications. He gave me another chance, knowing that in doing so he was taking one himself.

But it isn’t for any of those things that I owe the editor of this magazine. The thing for which I truly owe him is that he showed me music. He lent me an old Yamaha keyboard, told me to download Audacity for the PC, and put a microphone in my hands. In a matter of days I had formed a band, and that band was called The Sound of Howard Phillips. You might have heard of us, listened to one of our songs, or dreamed of going to one of our gigs, but have you been introduced to the band yet?

I, Howard Phillips, sing. You may know me as a letter-writer to New Words, a writer of unfinished novels, and a poetry of not enough repute, but till you have heard my falsetto, we have not properly met.

On the keyboard is Jack “The Space” Tom. They call him The Space because the gaps between notes are as meaningful as the notes themselves. Perfectly suited to the Sound, Jack “The Space” Tom rarely comes to the studio, preferring to conceptualise the music at home. He says he cannot concentrate on music unless his grey cat, Harry, is there with him, and unfortunately I detest cats. We have been able to work around Jack’s absence from the studio by jerry-rigging a fax machine to receive his incoming jams.

On guitar we have Quids McCall, a genius who was all set for stardom in the 1970s till he broke up his band, The Crazy Quids. He does attend the studio, so I have tried to ask, now and again, what happened, why did he throw it all away?

He simply shrugs and says, “Howard, if you are ever in the same position, and with these amazing songs you might well be one day, then you will have to make a decision too. You might make the same decision I made, or you might not. You might change your life, or you might not. I can’t tell you what to do, Howard, and I can’t tell you what I did.”

He says that every time. I am trying to persuade him to dig some of the old Crazy Quids songs out of the attic, but he won’t hear of it.

“If The Sound of Howard Phillips ever does cover versions,” he always says, “then before you get to my stuff, there’s a whole world of classics to do first.”

He is remarkably self-effacing, as you can tell.

On drums, and other percussion as needed, we have the amazing Lumley Clark. There is nothing I can tell you about him that will still be true by the time I have finished writing this editorial. He is the ultimate chameleon of fashion, leading the pack by day, chasing it back to the kennel at night. He drums like the wind, and plays the tambourine like he was born with one stitched to his hand.

That just leaves our bassist, saved till last because I cannot remember his name, but he is very good.

So, till we meet again, perhaps I in the stage, and you in the audience, stay true!

Howard Phillips
Editorialist and Edutainer

Monday 30 May 2005

Theaker's Quarterly Fiction #6

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I am sure most readers will join me in commiserating that this issue is devoted to the feeble-minded fool of a writer who has placed his name in the title of this magazine. More to the point, next issue will follow suit, featuring the second half of his addle-brained semi-fascistic power fantasy, The Fear Man. He has tried and failed to earn himself such an appellation among the staff at the Silver Age offices, resulting only in lowering their opinion of him to such levels that astound even such a confirmed enemy of Theaker as I.

Should I make allowances for him having published my transcript of a motion picture dream in issue four? I think not – look at the way he chose to introduce it! "Stink has not faded", indeed! And here, in The Fear Man, while choosing to quote large passages of one of my unfinished novels, First the Eyes, Then the Brains, he describes me as a hack, and my novel as one that a reader of the future would be ashamed to be seen reading!

Were that not enough to earn the squat-faced ninnyhammer my opprobrium, consider his editorial to the previous issue, where he talks of "the maggot-ridden corpse of verse" in such disparaging terms. I thank the reader who took umbrage at this appalling display of ignorance on the part of Theaker.

This gentleman wrote as follows:

"Dear Sir,

Thank you for informing me of the appearance of the latest issue of Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction. However, I must take issue with the editorial comments contained therein, particularly as regards the negative comments directed at the field of poetry and the practitioners thereof. Only if one is to take, for example, the so-called ‘science-fiction poetry’ of Howard Philips as representative of the form, can the editor's scorn of verse be justified.

I remain,

A Reader."

Perhaps I should have read that letter to the end before committing it to paper! Never mind, this typewriter goes only forward, ever on, and obstacles of that kind will be met with the crushing force of intelligence they deserve. And if my intelligence fails me, I shall find the writer of that letter and confront him, bottle in one hand and an epee in the other, and we shall see whose scorn is justified.

Thank goodness, then, that we can leave that matter to one side for the moment, to look forward to the final piece to appear in this issue. You must wade through page after tedious page of Theaker to get there, but at the end of this issue you will find a wonderful short story by the hand of John Greenwood, "The Loper". Should we call it Lovecraftian? It is in many ways, and the story’s "halls of academia" opening may seem distressingly similar in tone to that of The Fear Man, but persist and you will be rewarded.

And so my stewardship of this column comes to a perhaps temporary end. In three months time, given the chance, I will return, to help build your strength in preparation for another thirty pages of Theaker. If it becomes too much, retreat to last issue, where you were graced by Gilligan’s pure adventure, or the issue before that, where you were able to step into my nightmares.

If I may, I will end with a short poem:

"Ending come / And we are done / Finished in the eyes of June

But stay a while / Remember to smile / And we will meet again soon."

Regards and friendship, always ours to share, Howard Phillips

Saturday 9 April 2005

Theaker's Quarterly Fiction #5

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In many ways, I believe this issue of Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction to be our finest yet. Entirely new, it features a single long story from Steven Gilligan, author of Elsewhere (published by Silver Age Books). This story, "Sabaku", is the opening salvo of his novel-in-progress, The Indigo Skies of Home. Having read "Sabaku", I can only hope that said progress becomes more actual than metaphorical, as I’m keen to discover what befalls these fascinating characters in the future.

It seems I need some more to fill out this page, and so I will drift in one of my ever more frequent reveries. The sun shines upon all the readers of Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction, and we have that in common. What else do we have in common? A love of story, an adoration of tall tales, a softness for genre, and a pleasure in poetry. Not, of course, the kind of poetry that rhymes and rambles in equal measure, not the maggot-ridden corpse of verse, but the poetry of prose, the poetry that comes from a simple soul expressing itself through the tropes of spaceships, laser guns, planets, stars and time travel. What other kind of literature can hope to compete? So let’s not stamp upon verse, as might normally be our (entirely natural) inclination, but instead let us all hie from here to try a little Tennyson, borrow some Byron, or sample a little Swinburne. And talking of Swinburne, here is Steven Gilligan’s latest story, which begins upon a ship of that name…

Monday 7 February 2005

Theaker's Quarterly Fiction #4

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This is the fourth issue of this marvellous magazine, and I have yet to meet a single person who has disliked it. That I have yet to meet a single person who has read it is entirely beside the point – the potential is there!

As mentioned in previous editorials, this is our first non-reprint issue, and so you may be surprised by what is on offer. Did you think our writers had stagnated during the long hibernation of the super S.A.B.? More fool you! They are back and firing on all the cylinders they have! Would that they had more, but beggars cannot be choosers, and since I prefer to remain a chooser I chose the stories within, rather than submitting to the humiliation of begging real writers to submit something worthwhile!

I joke, but it is at my own expense – it costs me nothing save dignity, and that is a reasonable price for the entertainment of my readers – since the second story to feature in this issue is my own tale of the Terrible Trio, a set of youthful adventurers whose exuberance, inventiveness and refusal to give up take them from one exciting incident to the next as if they were careering through a child’s waking dreams. Originally intended as an early instalment in a biography of the great hero Rolnikov, Mad Knight of Uttar Pradesh, these tales overspill with such innocent vim and vigour that the rest of his life may well have to wait its turn. Readers are allowed their own opinions, of course, but remember whose name stands guard at the front of the magazine, all too ready to bar entry to those looking to make trouble for my creations! All are welcome within, but doff your hats and scrape your forelocks on the floor.

Our first story is something of a bizarre experiment by Howard Phillips, a man slowly feeling his way back to the light. It is a transcript of a film he made while sleeping. Some may find its unusual style off-putting, but try to make some allowance for the poor man’s state of mind. Once a promising young poet, he has spent more than one year since in the embrace of old father booze, and the stink has not yet faded. With this publication we hope to give him a little encouragement, and if you do not feel he has earned it, remember the times when good turns were done for you, and take pity on a man who can get so much from so little.

Lots of love,

The Editor!