Friday 4 April 2008

Triangulation: End of Time, ed. Pete Butler

It’s often said that there are no new ideas left for science fiction writers to explore. It’s a problem raised by D.K. Latta in his story “Conversation in an English Pub”. The solution he offers is oddly brutal: travel back in time and murder pioneers like Wells and Shelley so that later aspiring authors can discover time travel and reanimated corpses for themselves.

Certainly the time travel concept is a well-trodden path for speculative writers, but that has not stopped the authors of the anthology Triangulation: End of Time from setting out along its muddied ruts in search of original conceits.

Beneath a slightly over-cooked cover (it resembles the inelegant design of a scientific textbook – from a distance you might mistake it for a exam revision guide aimed at students enrolled on a BSc in Time Travel), we find repeated attempts to wring some original speculative thrills from the well-squeezed notion of time travel.

A man conducts an affair with his wife when she was a younger, more attractive woman. There are extravagant, baffling worlds where jumping backwards and forwards in time has become as convenient as setting your iPod to shuffle, and which are in danger of collapsing under the weight of their own time-paradoxes. The contradictions inherent in the notion of time-travelling are dealt with lightly or exuberantly dismissed.

Not all the stories plump for time-travel. The stated theme is “End of Time”, so there are millenarian stories too, with apocalypses to suit all tastes, the most memorable being “America is Coming!”, in which the entire continent of North America breaks loose from its moorings and careers around the globe, destroying all in its path. Two Italian chancers attempt to hitch a ride on the errant landmass, only to discover that the US population have entered suspended animation for reasons that are never made clear.

If this is a metaphor for US Foreign Policy disasters (a blindly destructive nation populated by the somnolent), it’s a weak one, but perhaps I’m reading too much into this. What really makes the story stand out is the genuine sense of drama in the protagonists’ struggle to ground their boat on a moving shoreline. I’d be very surprised if author Dario Ciriello had not navigated some rough seas himself. What surprises me more is that I found the account genuinely gripping: I usually abhor tales of seafaring derring-do. For some reason the moment an author mentions jibs and yardarms, my eyelids grow heavy. Patrick O’Brian will never find a place on my bookshelf. Is that such a terrible shame? Possibly.

Then again, nor can I ever normally bring myself to read novels by authors who are still alive, or abridged versions, or books with movie tie-in covers, or books with notes scrawled in the margins, although books with the names of previous owners written inside the front cover are good. Once I found an invitation to a cocktail party in a second-hand copy of Colin Wilson’s The Outsider. The party had taken place in Brighton in 1965. I think that if I could go back in time, I would attend that cocktail party, and find out whose book that was, and what they thought of it. I wonder what they would say if I told them that in the future, the same Colin Wilson would pen a series of novels about giant spiders taking over the world. Perhaps that would make a good short story.

Triangulation: End of Time, ed. Pete Butler, PARSEC Ink, pb, 155pp, ISBN 978-0-6151-5280-6.

Theaker's Quarterly Fiction #22

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Ten Years of Silver Age Books!

Looking back through the news archives on our website last month, and sprucing them up a bit, I realised that I had let the tenth anniversary of Silver Age Books pass without comment last issue, so let’s put that right!

Back in 1997, after years of writing nothing and feeling pretty bad about it, I spent a couple of weeks writing Professor Challenger in Space, a short and silly novel about everyone’s favourite character called Professor Challenger. It had been fun to write but obviously no one would be interested in publishing it (if it was even legal to do so).

In 1998 I went into a copy shop (Alphagraphics, who much, much later would print the first dozen or so issues of TQF) and found that it wouldn’t be terribly expensive to photocopy a few sets of the book for my friends. I was a bit stuck on how to bind them, so I bought some A5 folders and a hole punch, and thus was born the folderback edition! I tried to make it look like a real book (despite putting it together without access to a computer), so it needed a publisher. The name Silver Age Books was inspired by my love of comics. I wanted to publish books with a similar ethos to the wonderful, wild and silly comics of the Silver Age (roughly the late 1950s to the late 1960s): Superman and Kandor, the Fantastic Four and the Negative Zone, Green Lantern and the Guardians.

I called it Silver Age Books #1 so that it would qualify for a listing in SFX’s fanzine section, and it was nice to see it listed there, even if nobody was interested in buying a copy!

The slogan of this new company, noted on the copyright page, was “Publishing novels retrofitted for the new millenium”. Readers were advised to look out for two forthcoming releases: Mad Rolnikov and the Space Warriors (due spring/summer 1998) and Don Coyote’s Spacesuit (due autumn/winter 1998). Sadly neither of these were published.

In 2000, a couple of years later, I was working for a publisher, and noted with interest the invoices for book printing passing over my desk – the prices weren’t as expensive as I had expected. Before long I was quite an experienced typesetter, and a few lunchtimes was all it took to prepare Professor Challenger in Space for paperback publication. I gave many of the copies away as Christmas presents, sent some others to libraries, and even sold a couple of dozen.

Round about August of the same year I bought myself a Rocket eBook, something that seemed rather cool and futuristic at the time (reading about Amazon’s Kindle e-reader this year has given me a strong dose of deja vu). The most excellent thing about it was that you could download software for creating your own ebooks, and there was a website, the Rocket Library, to which you could upload them. So I uploaded a version of Professor Challenger in Space, and was heartened by the healthy download numbers. In December I made plans to write a book a month for the Rocket Library for the next year…

Well, I finished one of them, at least. That was Quiet, the Tin Can Brains Are Hunting! and if I remember correctly it was online within an hour or so of being written, on 22 January 2001.

It must have been around this time that the ever-magnificent Silver Age Books website first appeared. (Of which one recent correspondent wrote, “I was disappointed that when I clicked the link to check out the actual Silver Age Books website, my eyes started bleeding.”)

Disaster struck only two months later: in March 2001 the Rocket Library was shut down, due to corporate changes and the utter disregard of many users for copyright law. (I think Professor Challenger was out of copyright by that point…) It was a real shame, because it was a pretty cool place.

In December of that year, Silver Age Books published Quiet, the Tin Can Brains Are Hunting! as a paperback (with a black and white cover to make the printing as cheap as possible) and then 2002 was the high point to date of our book publishing, as further books followed: Elephant by Harsh Grewal (May 2002), Elsewhere by Steven Gilligan (round about June 2002), and, finally, printed in secret as a surprise present for the author, There Are Now a Billion Flowers, by John Greenwood (June 2002).

We got a bit carried away at this point, because many further titles were quickly announced, none of which ever saw publication: Aardvark Attack (volumes one to three!), by Alec Abernathy, Rolnikov, Mad Knight of Uttar Pradesh, by me, and, by Steven Gilligan, not to mention multiple unwritten titles by Howard Phillips that never got beyond the point of having a proposal and a page on the website.

Stung by our abject failure, nothing much happened with Silver Age Books for a while then. We published nothing, and wrote less. The cost of printing (this was pre-Lulu) was prohibitively high anyway, even if we had actually written any new books.  There was very little chance of making money, and every likelihood of losing quite a lot! So 2003 and the beginning of 2004 were very quiet, very sad times for us.

Then at the end of 2004 we wrote some new novels, launched Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction to put them in, and three and a bit years later here we are, on top of the world!

And that’s the history of Silver Age Books. No imaginary publishing house has done so much or sailed so high!

But why be so proud of a history of such mediocrity and failure? Well, I’m not proud so much as happy to have had the fun of doing it.

Also, the purpose of Silver Age Books has always been to indulge myself – and everyone will agree that in that regard it’s been a raging success!

One other bit of business: last year I began to feel it was about time Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction had a new look. Our last revamp was back in TQF#11. I liked the old look, but just had a feeling that there was a little too much white space on the page. So for this issue we’ve made the text a bit smaller, switched to three columns, and cut back on the funky fonts. It’s quite a formal look. We’ll see if it sticks!

The cover of this issue uses the brilliant Battlelines font from Blambot. – SWT


Mike Schultheiss contributes “Darwin’s Corridor” to this issue, bringing adventure, ecology, colonialism, evolution and religion together in one steaming teapot of a tale. Though we have published many, many wonderful contributions over the last year of TQF, this kind of intelligent adventure is so exactly what we’re after that we are tempted to post it in full on our submission guidelines page. And it comes with a scientific note. How wicked is that? Notably, the story contains the word erectus 91 times. If you laugh, it’s only because you’re immature. (Like me.) It is also notable for being one of two stories from American friends this issue with curious connections to our home city of Birmingham: Buffalo Bill, mentioned in the story, once brought his travelling show here. Mike lives in Davis, California, and attends the university of the same name. He is currently awaiting his graduation from this same university in June of this year with great anticipation. He plans to pursue a career as a high school teacher of Social Studies and English through the UC Davis credentialing program in the fall. Having grown up in the foothills of California’s Sierra Nevadas, Mike is a long-time nature and animal enthusiast and is particularly fond of reptiles. He is currently at work on a novel-length version of “Darwin’s Corridor” as well as a vampire novel, Blood Moon Queen. You can befriend (or just secretly spy on) him at

Richard K Lyon is a semi-retired research scientist/inventor whose hobbies include collecting pulp SF magazines and writing. He has also published numerous short stories and novelettes. A collection of the latter, Tales From The Lyonheart, is available from Barnes and Noble, etc. In collaboration with Andrew J Offutt, famed author of My Lord Barbarian, he wrote the Tiana trilogy (Demon in the Mirror, The Eyes of Sarsis and Web of the Spider), Rails Across the Galaxy for Analog, and “The Iron Mercenary”, a tale of Tiana which appeared in TQF#19. To this issue they have  contributed “Arachnis”, an adventure of Tiana’s youth.

Sam Leng lives in Yorkshire, England. She has had fiction published in various print and online magazines, including Skive, Delivered and Steelcaves. A previous story by Sam – “When the Sun and the Moon Did Not Shine” – appeared in TQF#19.  This issue’s tale, “A Matter of Taste”, is short, sweet and impossible to discuss without spoiling it entirely. She produces her own webzine: see

Robert Laughlin lives in Chico, California, in a Craftsman bungalow destined for restoration by some well-heeled future owner. Mr. Laughlin’s short stories have appeared in several American magazines since mid-2006; “The Spirits of ’26”, is his first publication in a British magazine. It’s in our science fiction section, but to explain why that isn’t really an accurate categorisation (none of them ever are!) would spoil some of its surprises. He offers a note to put this issue’s story in context: “I conceived this story in its present form approximately five years before events of September 11, 2001. I decided against writing it at that time out of the belief no one would consider it the least bit germane.” As well as sharing the interest of “Darwin’s Corridor” in the issues surrounding colonialism, this is the second of our American stories with a Birmingham connection. Avoiding spoilers, I’ll just say that the story mentions Birmingham bricks at one point, which made the acquisition of an illustration no more difficult than stepping outside to photograph our crumbling garden wall. (If only we'd had a spooky castle, an evil mutant hound and a buxom lady available to photograph when producing the cover of TQF#21...) Mr Laughlin’s story, “In the Evening Made”, published in Atomjack Magazine, was voted a Notable Story of 2006 by the judging panel of the story South Million Writers Award. He is the creator and administrator of the Micro Award, an award for previously published short fiction not over 1,000 words in length.

John Greenwood has made contributions to most issues of TQF following his return from a round-the-world trip, and was eventually made co-editor in recognition of his efforts. To his camera we owe the photography that accompanies “Darwin’s Corridor” in this issue. To his pen we owe the ongoing genius of Newton Braddell’s inconclusive researches into the unknown. This issue sees no improvement in Newton’s situation. I would feel sorry for him if his travails weren’t so entertaining! Six months have passed since the appearance of our last Newton Braddell episode, six of the longest months of my life!

Steven Gilligan was a mercurial, interesting and funny person to be around. Unfortunately he produced just twelve episodes of Helen and Her Magic Cat, the last of which appears on the back cover of this issue. Most of his unpublished work was destroyed before his death, an action which left some tantalising hints in the recent files list on his laptop, but a few bits survived. So I do still have a few unpublished fragments of his writing. We’ll do something with them at some point, so it’s not quite the end of his contribution to the magazine. Still, it’s a bummer to have reached the last Helen. What can or should we read into its strange conclusion? Did Steven just lose interest in producing the comic, or was it his intention for it to end so oddly?

Stephen Theaker is the eponymous editor of Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction, and the cack-handed publisher behind Silver Age Books. He has written six novels to date, but spent no more than thirty days on any, and much less on most. He recently became the editor of Dark Horizons, the journal of the British Fantasy Society, a publication launched in 1971.

This issue features reviews of the following titles: Triangulation: End of Time, The Game, Spider-Girl Presents: The Buzz and Darkdevil, Deep Secret, John Constantine: Hellblazer, Reasons to be Cheerful and The Gift. Our review section has traditionally been a bit weedy – it was rather embarrassing in particular to realise that until this issue I had never reviewed a book for TQF that I had actually read – but starting a Goodreads account has unlocked my inner reviewer!