Friday 30 December 2011

Theaker's Quarterly Fiction #39 – now available for free download!

Merry Christmas and a happy new year! In this issue we have six more stories of Thornton Excelsior from the magnificent Rhys Hughes, mutant ultraviolence from Mike Sauve, and a science fiction tale from our dear friend Douglas Thompson. Ben Ludlam illustrates a Thornton adventure, and there are lots of reviews, from Jacob Edwards, Douglas Ogurek and me. Also, a mention for two people without whom I would have struggled to keep the magazine going these last two years: Howard Watts, who with his wonderful cover art has saved me from the quarterly hell of trying to create covers myself (TQF21’s awful, awful artwork still makes me shudder), and my co-editor John Greenwood, who has read virtually all the submissions this year.

Wednesday 28 December 2011

Past contributors, new projects!

Some of our contributors have new projects out!

D. Harlan Wilson ("Houseguest", TQF33) and Douglas J. Ogurek ("NON", TQF33, and many, many reviews in recent issues) both appear in WTF?! from Pink Narcissus Press, which features "corrective surgery gone wrong, punk rockers abducted by aliens, zombie sharks, dead matadors, exploding ice cream factories, and dwarfs obsessed with pomegranates".

Alison Littlewood ("The Eagle and Child", DH53; "Day of the Bromeliads", TQF31; "Sarkless Kitty", DH55; "Off and On Again", TQF38) has a novel from Jo Fletcher Books about to hit the shelves, A Cold Seasonabout a young widow who takes her son back to the town she grew up in. I've read it, and let me tell you, that book is enough to give any freelancer nightmares for weeks. Especially if they're also a parent!

David Tallerman ("Imaginary Prisons", TQF29; "Friendly", TQF31; "Glass Houses", TQF34; "Devilry at the Hanging Tree Inn", TQF37) has a novel out from Angry Robot, Giant Thief, on February 2. I hope it's about someone who steals giants. That would be awesome. He'd have to take them to a giant fence, or possibly a giant launderer.

A reminder to any contributors to Theaker's Quarterly Fiction (or to Dark Horizons 53 to 57): we're always happy to run free adverts for you in the magazine, so do get in touch if you have a new project out.

(Thanks to ISFDB and its capable indexers for assistance in putting this blog post together!)

Monday 26 December 2011

Atomic Robo, Vol. 2: The Dogs of War – reviewed by Stephen Theaker

Created by Nikola Tesla, Atomic Robo is a stout robot with big, expressive eyes who seems to have spent the twentieth century fighting evil and having adventures. There are similarities with Hellboy – his dry sass, the art style, his strength and toughness – and in some ways the comic does for science and adventure stories what the Hellboy comic does for supernatural tales and the weird. Unlike Hellboy, Atomic Robo wears trousers and shirts, which may seem a silly thing to note, but there’s no doubt that it’s part of the character’s appeal: it is visually intriguing to see a robot wearing clothes.

Friday 23 December 2011

Kalin: The Dumarest Saga Book 4, by E.C. Tubb - reviewed by Stephen Theaker

The format of the Dumarest books is perhaps ideal for a long-running series. Earl Dumarest is searching for Earth, travelling from one planet to another, sometimes in time-dilated luxury, the next in frozen popsicle coach. On each world he has two goals: to find clues to Earth’s location, and to raise enough money to buy a ticket for the next hop. Each planet has its own cast of characters, its own particular challenges. That means you can pick up any in the series without struggling to follow continuity: any of the four books I’ve read in the series could have stood as the first.

Monday 19 December 2011

Game of Thrones, Season 1 – reviewed by Stephen Theaker

To quote Andrew Collins, where did it all go right? Heroic fantasy on television should look shoddy and embarrassing, not as sumptuous as Liz Taylor’s Cleopatra. The dialogue should be stilted and silly, not as sharp, wise or venomous as the very best on television. The cast should be self-consciously slumming, not delivering – as Sean Bean does – what might be the best performances of their careers. If fantasy on television can be this brilliant, why were we so happy to have Hercules: the Legendary Journeys? And it’s from HBO, a channel whose dramas I traditionally enjoy for one or two episodes before drifting away. Cinematic television is a lovely idea, and I watched the first episode of Boardwalk Empire as if it were a movie, but was never quite in the mood for the sequel. Game of Thrones, however, is the most watchable, thrilling HBO drama since Band of Brothers, a million miles away from the elegant tedium of a Carnivale. Perhaps most astonishing yet is that for all the talk of how expensive it was, the budget of these ten incredible hours of television was reportedly less than half that of a film like Knight and Day.

Friday 16 December 2011

Warhammer 40,000: Kill Team – reviewed by Stephen Theaker

This twin stick shooter acts as an aperitif for the full price Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine, but works in isolation. There are only five levels, all part of an assault upon an ork Kroozer, but each takes forty minutes or so to complete, and the different talents of the grunts provide a good deal of replayability. As a Sternguard Veteran the player mows the orks down the minute they pop out of their cauldrons; the melee weapons of the Librarian give them time to unholster their weapons, requiring more tactical play.

Monday 12 December 2011

The Walking Dead, Season 1 - reviewed by Stephen Theaker

Post-apocalyptic programmes don't tend to do very well. Jericho, Jeremiah, The Survivors (both versions), The Tripods, Three Moons Over Milford, etc – not many have made it past or even reached a third series. After all, just how miserable do you want to make yourself just before bedtime? But The Walking Dead is good enough that it might just buck the trend. The six-episode first season certainly looks great. Occasional shots of massed CG zombies are used sparingly, physical make-up being more frequent. The story follows young police officer Rick Grimes as he emerges from hospital and makes contact with other survivors. This Life’s Andrew Lincoln makes an excellent lead and the rest of the cast is just as good. In Frank Darabont, director of The Shawshank Redemption and The Mist, the programme has a showrunner to die (and then return from the grave) for.

Friday 9 December 2011

Dick Barton and the Paris Adventure – reviewed by Stephen Theaker

In a series of fifteen-minute episodes, Dick Barton and his chums work their way into the gang of black marketeer Spider Kennedy, who has a nasty habit of blowing up trains. Rather than the originals transmitted between 1946 and 1951, these are re-recordings produced for overseas transmission in 1949. Occasional line fluffs are not a problem, but do suggest these were recorded very quickly. Though there’s buzzing in places, the sound is good for such an old recording – particularly when it comes to the blood-curdling death screams.

Wednesday 7 December 2011

Theaker’s Fab Five #2: Radiohead, M83, New Order, Broken Social Scene

I bet you’re excited, aren’t you? I’m going to talk about the CDs I’ve been listening to again! If this were a school it would be Excitement High! The numbers don't indicate an order of preference, but rather their slots in my five-CD stereo.

1. Radiohead - TKOL RMX 1234567 - CD1

I never quite noticed that I was becoming a fan of Radiohead, but I’ve bought three albums in a row now, and listened to them all an awful lot. This remix album continues the odd funkiness of the previous two, and has barely left the CD player since I got it. A good remix album can be perfect for listening to while working, since the words are usually broken up enough to stop you paying too much attention. I still have a soft spot for The Cure’s Mixed Up, and I used to love, inexplicably, The Beloved’s Blissed Out. My favourite remix album of all is probably Mogwai’s Kicking a Dead Pig. It was a track off there, R U Still In 2 It? (DJ Q Remix) which led me to them in the first place, after it was featured in a demo for Actua Ice Hockey 2. Apparently the full game featured two of the band as unlockable characters.

2. M83 - Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming - CD1

Still a bit on the fence about this one. I love Midnight City, in a Magnetic Fields disco kind of way, but not convinced by a lot of the rest just yet. Reunion sounds like Simple Minds or U2 or something equally abominable, but I almost like it. Since seeing the video for Midnight City (see below), which features a bunch of superpowered kids escaping from a facility, I’ve been looking out for clues that John Byrne’s Next Men was an influence on this album: at the beginning of their story the Next Men are dreaming…

3. New Order - Movement - Collector’s Edition CD2

The Radiohead remix album – specifically Nathan Fake’s remix of Morning Mr Magpie and the Mark Pritchard remixes of Bloom – has sent me back to early New Order in a big way. In the space of a couple of weeks I’ve bought Singles, the collector’s edition of Movement, Taras Schevchenko and Control on DVD, and even a Movement t-shirt. (Plus New Order’s last album, Waiting for the Siren’s Call, and Bad Lieutenant’s Never Cry Another Tear, which to a brief listen sounded a lot like The Cure at their cuddliest.) This CD has some of my very favourite New Order tracks: In a Lonely Place, Procession, Cries and Whispers, Hurt and Mesh. Wish they’d revisited that style a bit more in later years.

4. Broken Social Scene - Forgiveness Rock Record

A bit quieter and easier to take in than the eponymous album, which sounded like ten bands in a blender – but I miss the little rapping bits. I like a bit of rapping in a song. Some may think this heresy, but I thought Dizzee Rascal’s bits in the Feed the World remake were the best thing about it. This album has a nice cosy sound. But Texico Bitches uses the second word of its title way too much for me to be able to have this album on in the house very often. This may well find itself tucked away with the work of potty-mouths like the Wu-Tang Clan before I get a chance to develop any real affection for it.

5. New Order - Movement

One of my favourite albums since my school days. If I had any musical talent, I’d be making albums that sound pretty much exactly like this.

And on the iPlayer I’ve been enjoying Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, the Now Show, Richard Herring’s Objective, and Kermode and Mayo’s film programme.

I’m so lucky to work at home... Here's that M83 video.

Monday 5 December 2011

Doctor Who: Castrovalva, by Christopher H. Bidmead, read by Peter Davison – reviewed by Stephen Theaker

In the fifth Doctor’s first full adventure, he’s accompanied by Tegan and Nyssa; Adric is in the clutches of the rejuvenated Master. The Doctor’s fourth regeneration has not gone at all well, and he needs to rest. The recuperative properties of the zero room lost to a brush with the big bang, the Tardis heads for peculiar Castrovalva – which ultimately proves to be another of the Master’s traps.

Like Bidmead’s previous story, Logopolis, Castrovalva plays with lots of clever ideas: the zero room, recursion, Escher’s artwork and entropy. The original broadcast of the television version was, for a child, quite mind-blowing (and, years later, helped me get my head around first year philosophy). Freed from budgetary constrictions, the audio version achieves moments of real grandeur. Freed from acting constrictions, Adric, Tegan and Nyssa become almost three-dimensional.

Saturday 3 December 2011

A few thoughts about the William Morrow letter

I started to write a blog post about the William Morrow letter (the problem with which, in short, is that it says “thank you for reviewing books for us” rather than “thank you for reviewing our books”), but I think these two articles from Larry at The OF Blog sum it up pretty well: I Ain't Gonna Work on Maggie's Farm No More: William Morrow and Blogger Reviewers and Follow-up on yesterday's rant.

It’s easy to see why a publisher might want to ask people to request print copies rather than sending them out willy-nilly, because they can be expensive, and William Morrow aren't the first publishers to cut back. Angry Robot are extremely generous with eARCs, but for print ARCs bloggers must guarantee a review. PS Publishing have dropped print ARCs altogether.

Friday 2 December 2011

Warlord of Mars, Vol. 1, by Arvid Nelson, Stephen Sadowksi and Lui Antonio – reviewed by Stephen Theaker

It’s a story most of you will already know. John Carter, Confederate soldier and immortal, falls comatose in a cave and wakes on Mars, called Barsoom by its inhabitants. He falls in love with Dejah Thoris, princess of Helium, fights four-armed green men, two-armed red men, great white apes and anything else that gets in his way. Once that’s all sorted out, the two of them settle down to raise a nice egg.

This volume collects issues 1 to 9 of the ongoing series, adapting the first of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ books, A Princess of Mars. Though my memories of that book are distant and foggy - it must have been twenty-five years ago that I read it - my impression is that this is a faithful adaptation. Despite the pin-up covers, it’s a surprisingly solid read, and I couldn’t help getting caught up in the story all over again.

Thursday 1 December 2011

Writing Raw: Amazon clamp down on paid-for reviews

I was immensely cheered today to read in Writing Raw that Amazon are clamping down on paid-for book reviews provided by author promotion organisations. Ironically, the article was penned by someone who runs one such website, Shirley A. Roe, of Allbooks Review.

Writing Raw is an online magazine that grew out of Raw Edge, a nice Arts Council-funded literary magazine that was handed out for free at libraries here in the Midlands. (I always picked one up, and our own Michael Thomas reviewed books for them.) The current issue is here, but apologies to future readers: from the look of it, old content on the site is scrubbed when a new issue is added, so I can't permalink to the issue, and I can't directly link to the articles I'm talking about.

Shirley Roe's article, "David vs. Goliath or Allbooks Review Int. vs.", can be found about two-thirds down the left-hand column on this page. It begins:
"Allbooks Review started in 2000 and has reviewed thousands of books, encouraging and supporting new and established authors for more than eleven years"
According to the Publishers' Area on the Allbooks website, the cost of a review is currently $45. Quite a bit of money for an author, although if you wanted to pay someone by the hour to read and review a book of any length it wouldn't come close to minimum wage. The FAQs reassure authors that "98% of our reviews are positive". Their Goodreads account is still up, and all books get either four or five stars, including, naturally, five stars for Shirley Roe's books.

Amazon have removed all of those reviews from their website, because:
"We found your reviews to be in violation of our guidelines and have removed them. Because of this violation, we've removed your reviewing privileges from your account."
Looking at Amazon's review guidelines, I would guess that this is the part of the guidelines that the company is said to be violating:
"Reviews written for any form of compensation other than a free copy of the product. This includes reviews that are a part of a paid publicity package"
Seems perfectly clear and sensible to me. Free books sent out to reviewers are fine, but reviews for which you have been paid are not. Another relevant part (and it's something that I will have to be careful to do in future) is that:
"If you received a free product in exchange for your review, please clearly and conspicuously disclose that that you received the product free of charge."
At the conclusion of the article, Shirley speaks of becoming the "Michael Moore of the book industry". Erm, no. The Michael Moore in this situation would be whoever noticed the thousands of paid-for book reviews that were potentially misleading consumers and got Amazon to do something about them. Ideally by way of a comical prank.

So, in short, good for Amazon.

To open the issue out a bit more generally, indie and self-published authors and their friends should really understand that in many regards a range of reviews is better than nothing but five-star reviews. A range of reviews looks honest. Think of your favourite book of all time, and look at it on Amazon: I bet it's got a handful of one and two star reviews (often from complete idiots, or relating to particularly bad editions, but you get my point).

By all means encourage your friends and family to read your books, and to review them on Amazon. But encourage them also to be honest and to disclose their relationship with the author. Do all you can to discourage them from harassing less enthusiastic reviewers. Someone doing this kind of thing is not doing you any favours. (That commenter is also responsible for the silliest, unfairest review I've ever read.) Even if they didn't like your book, those are your actual readers, and if your friends and family post harassing comments, mark their reviews as unhelpful, and so on, that's going to put them off ever trying and reviewing your work again.

If you want the wider world to treat you like a proper, professional writer, ask your friends and family to treat you like one as well.

The other article that caught my eye in this issue of Writing Raw was a guide to "How Book Awards Can Boost Your Marketing Campaign" by Mary Greenwood. (It's the first article in the left-hand column here.) She's not talking about serious awards, but rather about paying to enter your books in things like the ForeWord Book of the Year, which I think are called awards mills (though apologies if I have the terminology wrong). Note that like Allbooks Review, ForeWord provides a paid-for review service.

Though the content of the article is not untrue or misleading, I would suggest that a magazine like Writing Raw shouldn't really be encouraging its readers to pay "$50.00 to $150.00" to enter such awards. You may well be able to tag it onto your bio and make a few people think your book is a worthy award-winner, and it might even help sales, but – and this is a big but – these awards are there to exploit writers, to take your money. Even if you might get something out of it, should you encourage and participate in such exploitation? To readers who don't know what it is, a ForeWord Book of the Year award has no more weight than an award you made up yourself; to people who do know what it is, it is arguably worse than no award at all.

If you want my advice, instead of paying $45 on an Allbooks review or $150 on the ForeWord awards, set up a Goodreads giveaway. For that money you could send ten or twenty copies of your book out to real-life, independent, interested readers, all of whom have friends, online and offline, who trust their opinions and reviews.

Wednesday 30 November 2011

TQF: interviews and the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction

A round-up of TQF-related bits and bobs you may have been lucky enough to miss...

In this interview from 2009 on the blog of Gareth D. Jones I talk a bit – or rather, at extraordinary length! – about TQF, what kind of fiction we're looking for, and why I don't think we'll go semi-pro in the near future.

In December 2010 I was interviewed by Justin Bostian, who included it in this market report for students at Columbia College Chicago. (Link is to a pdf.)

In September 2011 I was slightly less loquacious answering a few questions from Duotrope.

We got a nice write-up in the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, 3rd edition – "its real purpose is the publication of absurdist fiction which uses all of the images, tropes and concepts of science fiction and mutates them into indescribable forms" – as did one of the contributors to our most recent issue, Rhys Hughes.

I spent hours as a youngster reading the first and second editions of the Encyclopedia in the university library, so you can imagine how thrilled I was that we got a mention…

A Chômu Press happening: Thursday night in London

The ever-interesting Chômu Press have organised a unique book launch for Jeremy Reed’s novel Here Comes the Nice, with two bands playing: The Ginger Light, fronted by the author, and Lord Magpie and the Prince of Cats.

Admission is five pounds, which will be refunded upon purchase of a copy of the book (as long as stocks last).

So that's at 8.00pm till 11.00pm on Thursday, November 31, at Jamboree, 566 Cable Street, London, E1W 3HB.

Sounds to me like an event well worth supporting. Really: if I went to something like that I'd feel like I were in a film. But then that's how I feel whenever I'm in London!

More information about the book here.

I’d also like to draw readers’ attention to Peter Tennant’s lengthy and fascinating interview with Quentin S. Crisp, one of the prime movers behind the press, over on the Black Static blog: Chomu Press in Focus. I love that they have a secret aesthetic, and that somehow Quentin manages to seem both idealistic and practical.

One last point. Perhaps some of you think I’m too fusty to use a word like “happening” and get away with it? Well, I’ll have you know that as I type this I’m wearing a necklace of huge pink beads. Thank you, daughters! I’m with it!

Monday 28 November 2011

Doctor Who: The Wreck of the Titan, by Barnaby Edwards – reviewed by Stephen Theaker

Every so often an item refuses to be reviewed, fights me at every turn, or like Lucius Shepherd’s Viator Plus is simply beyond the limits of my barely nascent critical faculties. I’ve struggled to review this sixth Doctor adventure. At first I used MP3 Merger to turn it into one long audio file and put it on the Kindle to listen to, but the way it begins with a preview of the next story, the long stretch of incidental music at the end of episode two (during which I invariably fell asleep), and a big chunk of episode three going missing during the merge process all conspired with a story of timeslips and shifting locations to leave me as confused as Jamie and the Doctor are in this story. Trying to listen to it on the iPod or iPad didn’t go any better – I kept losing my place. The PC then? No, Windows Media Player got muddled up by the metadata.

Sunday 27 November 2011

British Fantasy Awards: why I'd reluctantly suggest that BFS members vote against the proposed changes

The BFS has announced its proposals for the British Fantasy Awards, and, to be frank, I think they’re a bit of a mess. The previous procedure had a leak or two, but the new proposals chop up the boat and build a rickety raft that I reckon will sink the first time it hits a storm. Even the new awards administrator says she has a lot of questions about how they are supposed to work, and no one involved in proposing them has come forward to explain.

It's a procedure that's been put together in a rush – albeit with good intentions – and it shows. Basic issues are unaddressed, such as how the administrator should decide between ties. When you have a hundred or so people recommending a hundred different books for four slots, you’re going to get a lot of ties. I can't imagine that there’s a fair way to decide between ten books that all got three votes, and putting them all onto the shortlist would be ridiculous (and isn’t countenanced by the new rules). Rolling a D10 is great when it comes to dodging a goblin's sword thrust, but it's not how the BFA shortlist should be decided!

Friday 25 November 2011

Holy Terror, by Frank Miller – reviewed by Stephen Theaker

The names have been changed to protect the innocent intellectual properties, but it’s basically Batman and Catwoman snogging away when a sexy exchange student suicide bomber blows up the club on which they're snogging. They get to their feet, swing around the block, and take the fight to the oldest mosque in Empire City, beneath which they find a secret underground Al-Qaeda base.

I’ve loved or at least enjoyed everything I've read that Frank Miller’s been involved in: Daredevil, Ronin, The Dark Knight Returns, Martha Washington, Sin City, 300; I even enjoyed his film The Spirit – so not liking this should have been an uphill struggle. It really wasn’t. The story is thin, the artwork feels like a cut and paste of Miller’s earlier work, and, to be blunt, it’s completely bonkers.

Monday 21 November 2011

Doctor Who: The Whispering Forest - reviewed by Stephen Theaker

Following the events of Cobwebs, the fifth Doctor asks the Tardis to listen out for trouble. She takes them to Chodor, a planet on which the listener has already encountered human colonists. Besieged by Takers who snatch them from their beds and the whispering ghosts that flock in their wake, they rub their skin raw to keep themselves clean and cut their hair short. The humans have lost their leader, and the Doctor and friends, with their dangerously long hair and baby soft skin (“Er, thanks...” says Tegan), become pawns in a power struggle, between Sesha, progressive daughter of lost Anulf, and Mertil, his righteously murderous widow.

Friday 18 November 2011

Melancholia – reviewed by Jacob Edwards

Bats in the belfry, beans in the bell jar.

As the rogue planet Melancholia performs a crazy, slingshotting trapeze across the galaxy, privileged sisters Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) live out their final days in dismal, otherworldly isolation and country estate gloom, a state of existence that is induced only in part by the prospect of planetary dancing partners Melancholia and Earth spinning and twirling their way to doomsday.

Monday 14 November 2011

Paranormal Activity 3 – reviewed by Douglas J. Ogurek

With each instalment in a series spawned by a groundbreaking horror film, the risk for failure increases. Many things can go wrong: the once effective scare tactics grow tired; acting talent diminishes; humour scenes fizzle. In a worst case scenario, the film flounders as a hastily assembled disaster that pales in comparison to its namesake. Paranormal Activity 3, like its predecessor, manages to avoid this fate.

This prequel reveals the haunted childhood of sisters Katie (PA 1 protagonist) and Kristi (PA 2 protagonist). In 1988, Dennis, the girls’ somewhat bumbling yet loving stepfather, discovers on a home video something odd enough to impel him to pursue it further (and therefore resume the raw footage technique that fuels the PA dynasty).

Thursday 10 November 2011

Sword Man on a one-star Goodreads rampage!

Returning to the blog for a minute – and no, my novel isn't going well at all, thanks for asking! – to note that Goodreads has got itself an amusing new anonymous member, going by the moniker of Sword Man, who has been handing out one star reviews like he or she bought a big box of them at a fire sale.

See if you can spot a connection between the people whose books are getting slammed:

  • The Taken, Sarah Pinborough
  • Torchwood: Into the Silence, Sarah Pinborough
  • A Matter of Blood, Sarah Pinborough ("Really badly written")
  • Zombie Apocalypse, Stephen Jones (ed.)
  • Mammoth Book of Zombies, Stephen Jones (ed.)
  • Mammoth Book of Vampires, Stephen Jones (ed.)
  • Shadows Over Innsmouth, Stephen Jones (ed.)
  • The Art of Coraline, Stephen Jones 
  • Department Nineteen, Will Hill
  • The Deluge, Mark Morris ("Weak")
  • The Silent Land, Graham Joyce ("Dull Characters and an unoriginal setting")
  • TQF36, Stephen Theaker [and John Greenwood] (eds.)
  • TQF Year OneStephen Theaker (ed.)
  • TQF Year TwoStephen Theaker [and John Greenwood] (eds.)
  • TQF Year ThreeStephen Theaker [and John Greenwood] (eds.)
  • TQF Year FourStephen Theaker [and John Greenwood] (eds.)

Most of the reviews were posted on October 16, with a few more added today after I started following his/her reviews. S/he has also voted two of Sarah Pinborough's books onto the Worst Books of All Time list.

But you'll be glad to hear Sword Man is not all negative!

Sword Man has, just in case you haven't made the connection to the BFS awards brouhaha yet, given five star reviews to Sam Stone ("She calls hersle the New Queen of Vampire Ficion on her website and I'm inclined to agree"), Raven Dane ("Well written and a golly good read") and Rules of Duel from Telos.

The highlight for me is the one-star review of Theaker's Quarterly Fiction: Year Two, which states:

"This man really has no clue at all when it comes to reviews and reviewing. It seems to me that Theaker enjoys writing self-indulgent twaddle - nasty gibes - and spends most of his time writing negative, not informative reviews. I haven't seen one he's written that I would say I agreed with."

The funny thing is that there are no reviews in that book. None whatsoever!

Sword Man strikes – and fails!

The irony is that this is exactly the kind of behaviour that seems to have got the BFS and its awards into hot water into the first place. So while Sword Man may feel like s/he is hitting back, s/he is really just confirming that people were right to suggest that there might be a bit of a problem.

Monday 7 November 2011

The Gift of Joy, by Ian Whates – reviewed by Stephen Theaker

Though Ian Whates, chair of the BSFA and organiser of Northampton’s Newcon convention, has gone on to (presumably) greater things with novels for Solaris and Angry Robot, this self-published collection of short stories is an inauspicious beginning, one that never strains to reach beyond the closest language to hand, and rarely reaches beyond the most obvious ideas. The best of the stories are perhaps “Darkchild”, in which psychics are caught in an alien trap found in the asteroid belt – the ending was surprising – and “The Gift of Joy”, in which a former deep cover spy uses his talents for mimicry to work as a gigolo. “Hanging on Her Every Word”, horror rather than sf, has an old plot but a painful conclusion.

Tuesday 1 November 2011

Abandoning my post!

Upon reflection, to give myself the best possible chance of completing a novel this month (as mentioned here), I'm going to abandon the blog, along with, as previously mentioned, Facebook, the forums and Twitter, until I'm done with the novel – or until November is done with me!

We're open to short story submissions for the magazine as usual. Guidelines here. I've preloaded a few reviews, so the blog won't go completely dead. See you on the other side!

Monday 31 October 2011

NaNoWriMo 2011

I've got a brilliant idea for a short story. And we could publish half a dozen ebooks this month with a little work! I'm dying to get stuck into my next batch of reviews. I'd just love to spend an entire day reading a single novel. Wouldn't it be nice to take the kids out for a walk in the park? Or take Mrs Theaker out to a fancy restaurant? Look at all those unread books on the shelf! All those unwatched DVDs! All those unplayed games! I must play Fallout 3 right now! RIGHT NOW!

And why are all these things barking at my attention? Because tomorrow is the beginning of NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, and I'm going to have another go at it! Which of course makes everything else in my life seem twice as shiny as it did yesterday.

Borderlands: Game of the Year Edition – reviewed by Stephen Theaker

Originally released in 2009 to good but not stellar reviews, Borderlands has been the very definition of a slow-burning hit, going on to sell over three million copies. This two-disc edition, containing the original game plus four add-on packs, seems set to keep sales simmering. It opens with the player in a run-down bus, being dropped off on the East Coast of Pandora, a rusting, abandoned junkyard world of lunatics, treasure hunters and savage alien wildlife. In theory you’re there to find the Vault, a fabled source of treasure, power and sex appeal, but you quickly get sidelined, in true RPG style, into a series of smaller quests, such as retrieving T.K. Baha’s stolen food from the dog-like Skags, collecting incriminating recordings made by insane scientist Tannis and her unfaithful Echo device, and fighting your way through hordes of bandits to remove obscene graffiti about Mad Moxxi.

Sunday 30 October 2011

Quartet & Triptych on Kindle – for free!

Readers with Kindles (or Kindle apps) may be interested to know that Matthew Hughes' very fine novella Quartet & Triptych is in the current issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Take them up on a 14-day trial subscription and you can read one of my very favourite novellas of the last couple of years for free.

My review is here ("I loved every word of it, and if this is typical of Hughes' work I expect I'll read every novel he ever writes"), and you can get the trial subscription here.

The original hardback from PS Publishing (pictured) has sold out, but a signed edition is still available.

I was also really pleased to see that his Henghis Hapthorn novels have just been published to Kindle too, because I've been looking forward to reading them: The Spiral Labyrinth, Hespira and Majestrum. At eight quid they're a little pricey for ebooks, but the previews are extensive, so you can have a good read of them before deciding whether to buy.

Saturday 29 October 2011

The British Fantasy Awards kerfuffle: a view from a former awards admin

My post from September 2010 on Withdrawing TQF from the British Fantasy Awards now seems unfortunately prophetic, given the doorway the BFS and its awards walked into at FantasyCon a year later. Among other things I said (emphasis added in bold):

"The BFS is now taking recommendations for next year's awards, and I've decided to withdraw Theaker's Quarterly Fiction from the Best Magazine/Periodical award for as long as I'm the awards administrator, or as long as I'm the editor of the magazine – whichever tenure comes to an end first. …

That's partly because I'd have been profoundly embarrassed to win the award over a shortlist that included for example Black Static and Interzone, magazines to whom, for all our good qualities, we can't hold a candle. But also because a win for us in that category would have cast not just my integrity into doubt, but the integrity of the entire awards."

Friday 28 October 2011

The Sixth Gun, Book 1: Cold Dead Fingers, by Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt - reviewed by Stephen Theaker

Collecting the first six issues of an ongoing series, this book takes us to the wild west, a generation or so after the American Civil War, during which vicious Confederate warlord General Oliander Bedford Hume acquired six unholy weapons. He kept one for himself, gave four to his best/worst men and one to his wife. Defeated, killed, chained and buried in a monastery, he didn't give up for all that, and all that can stop him from re-unleashing hell is a girl who only picked up her stepfather's gun to fight the men who shot him. It's the Sixth Gun, the one that gives its owner a glimpse of the future, and the general needs it back.

Thursday 27 October 2011

The Black Abyss is sealed…

Colin Leslie, who reviews books over at The Black Abyss, has announced he’s calling it a day, at least for now. He’s got through a heck of lot of books in the last three years, but he’s basically just got sick of reading books for the purpose of writing reviews. He writes:

“I want to be able to choose what I read and when. I don’t want the pressure of having to read in a certain sequence to ensure reviews are posted in anything like the timescale publishers might want. I don’t want to persist with an average book in order to review it when a thousand great books lie in wait. In short I want to go back to reading for pleasure.”

Wednesday 26 October 2011

Murky Depths sinks beneath the waves…

Sad to read that the last issue of Murky Depths has been published, as announced here by the editor, Terry Martin. Previous entries on the blog had tended to paint a pretty bleak and sometimes angry picture, so it doesn’t come as much of a shock, but it’s still a shame.

It was an interesting attempt to merge comics and fiction, one of its most attractive features being double page art spreads to introduce stories. We had quite a few contributors in common with them, including David Tallerman, Alison Littlewood, Zachary Jernigan and Jeff Crook.

Monday 24 October 2011

Major Bummer Super Slacktacular! by John Arcudi and Doug Mahnke – reviewed by Stephen Theaker

Lou Martin (he doesn’t actually call himself Major Bummer, sadly) got his super-strength, invulnerability and super-smarts thanks to a mailing mix-up, and he doesn’t really appreciate the effect they’re having on his life, especially since they came bundled with a magnetic attraction for similarly blessed/cursed individuals. That brings him friends he doesn’t want, like a time-travelling pensioner, the wall-climbing Gecko, a theatrical sonic screamer and a flying girl with a crush on him and a handy viewing panel in her costume’s midriff. Worse, it brings him enemies like an English guy with an inflated skull and an intelligent [spoiler!], Nazi dinosaur Tyrannosaurus Reich, and a bunch of gang-members too dumb to do anything interesting with their powers. The aliens who handed out the powers have parked their invisible spaceship in a nearby junkyard, and provide a plot prod every issue or two.

Friday 21 October 2011

Reality 36, by Guy Haley - reviewed by Stephen Theaker

In 2067 the Greenlandic ice sheet tipped, leading to calamitous environmental and social change; 2104 saw the creation of class five artificial intelligences, most of whom promptly went insane; by 2129, the year of this novel’s events, the population of Earth has fallen to five billion. In this novel Otto Klein, a retired cyborg soldier with a dodgy shoulder, and Richards, his friend and colleague, a class five AI with an odd sense of humour, investigate the many deaths of Zhang Qifang, a leading sentient rights campaigner. The investigation leads to Reality 36, one of a series of virtual worlds from which humans were expelled back in 2114, when their AI inhabitants were granted full rights. Harvesting orcs for XP is a lot less fun when it sees you tried in The Hague for genocide! A parallel thread sees Qifang’s assistant Veronique Valdaire following her own leads on Qifang’s deaths, illegally entering Reality 36 while plugged into an amateur life-support system. There she meets its defenders, Sir Jagadith Veyadeep and his talking steed Tarquinius. Someone is using Reality 36 to set themselves up as a god, and the knight is on a quest to bring them down.

Monday 17 October 2011

Girl Genius, Omnibus Edition, Vol. 1, by Phil and Kaja Foglio - reviewed by Stephen Theaker

Fun bit of Final Fantasy-esque steampunk about Agatha Clay, who has been wearing a brooch that inhibited her natural spark - a kind of magic science-sense. When Moloch von Zinzer and his brother steal the brooch her powers begin to surface, at first by way of all-night engineering sessions in her long underwear, of which she wakes with no memory. After the robotic product of one such night causes havoc searching the town for her parents she attracts the attention of Baron Wulfenbach, autocratic ruler of the land, who whisks her off to his flying airship fortress. There she becomes assistant to the Baron's son Gilgamesh - or is it vice versa? - and meets other people with powers like hers, collected from all over the world to keep their families in check.

Friday 14 October 2011

Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon - reviewed by Stephen Theaker

The long awaited sequel to one of my favourite games, Earth Defence Force 2017. Once again aliens are attacking Earth with augmented insects and giant robots. Graphics are slightly improved, and there isn't quite as much slowdown, perhaps because the number of attacking insects has been reduced. A wide selection of novel weapons is once again available, while four character types allow for slightly more variety in play. Jet armour can scoot up and around the play area, while tactical armour has a handy turret; previously turrets took up one of your two weapon slots. Voice work and dialogue is again very funny: an intelligence officer asked for help on dealing with a new type of cybernetic ant suggests you shoot them with your guns, while avoiding their attacks - good advice! It's a little easier than the previous game in that allies are able to revive you; only when all three of you are dead is it game over. One gameplay flaw is that the active reload, borrowed from Gears of War, is far too finicky; too much early play is spent running in circles while botched reloads complete.

Monday 10 October 2011

The British Fantasy Society

The British Fantasy Society is going through a rough patch at the moment, which has prompted me to get out this piece I wrote for the FantasyCon 2010 souvenir booklet; perhaps it might encourage people to get involved with the society. The publications and people have changed, as has my own level of involvement, but my feelings about the society haven't. 

Thanks for coming to FantasyCon, the annual convention of the British Fantasy Society. If you’re not a member of the Society, no worries, you’re more than welcome – like Radio 4, we judge ourselves by our reach as much as our ratings! But if this weekend you enjoy the camaraderie of FantasyCon, note that being a member of the Society means you get that happy feeling all year round – or at least in four quarterly mailings.

We’re a really ambitious little society. For our size we really try to do a little too much at times: ten or so publications a year, fourteen awards, a three-day annual conference, a short story competition that’s doubled in size two years running, and other events through the year and around the country, not to mention a website and forum. This past year we’ve been stretched quite thin, but I hope you’ll agree that this convention was worth a few hiccups in other areas.

For our promotional postcard for the World Horror Convention this year I picked out a quote from Stephen Jones, from our anniversary book, The British Fantasy Society: a Celebration. “Whenever a fledgling horror or fantasy writer comes up to me, at a convention or somewhere else,” he wrote, “and asks me how they can get their work published, I invariably advise them that their first step should be to join the British Fantasy Society.”

Joining the BFS isn’t enough on its own to make you a great writer, of course (at least it hasn’t worked for me!), or to get you published, but that isn’t what he means. What it will do is give you the opportunity to talk (or at least listen, which is perhaps the better option at first) to experienced writers, editors, publishers and artists, and learn from them. People like Jo Fletcher, Peter Crowther, Les Edwards, and our glorious President-for-Life Ramsey Campbell.

And those are the professionals: the BFS is also rich with people doing all the same things for fun in their spare time. You couldn’t spill a pint of beer at FantasyCon or a BFS Open Night without drenching someone who’s up to something creative! Writers, actors, jewellers, sculptors: the BFS is a social network – a creative network – that began to bring interesting people together thirty years before Facebook opened for business.

One other great thing about the BFS: it’s a really easy society to get involved with. I’d been a member for just a year before being offered the editorship of Dark Horizons in March 2008, and a member less than three years when I became chair (albeit temporarily), after Guy Adams stepped down to concentrate on this year’s convention. It’s a cliché that working on a committee like this is thankless, but that’s not been my experience at all: there’s the odd complaint here and there, many of them perfectly justified, but I’ve had bucketfuls of gratitude as well.

(And when the complaints you get are from people like Robert Silverberg (he was chasing up a book), bring them on! Though perhaps that’s a bad example: he could have been emailing to insult my children and I’d still have been delighted.)

And if all of that sounds far too much like hard work, just sit back and appreciate the results of our hard work: we’ll send you a bundle of varied reading materials every three months. Prism contains dozens of reviews every issue, often of unusual books and films that don’t attract the attention of other magazines. Dark Horizons and New Horizons leapfrog through the year, the former bringing poetry, fiction, articles and art across all the fantastic genres, the latter focusing on slipstream, new writers and new approaches. And once or twice a year we produce special publications to stop things getting too routine. Recent years have brought chapbooks, calendars, literary criticism, original fiction, and all sorts of unusual, collectable items.

But that’s what we do, rather than what we’re about. Ours is a society built very much on love. Stop laughing. It is. It may seem like we argue quite a lot for people in love (though as Brian Keene recently observed, we argue very politely!) but that’s because we’re all in love with slightly different things, and have very strong ideas about them. Science fantasy like Moorcock and Vance, weird fantasy like Machen or Lovecraft, heroic or high fantasy like Howard or Tolkien: this is a society that was founded to celebrate all of them. Even more, it’s here to help people discover new books and new writers in a similar vein.

In the age of the internet, is there a need for a fantasy society – can we not just congregate on websites? Well, we can, and we do, but a society feels so much grander! Once upon a time, Conan and Cthulhu appeared in the same magazine, Weird Tales. As bookshops and publishers push us apart, slotting authors and books into ever-narrower, more easily marketable categories, the BFS is needed more than ever, to bring us back together again, to celebrate the fantastic genres as a whole, and, sometimes, to celebrate those writers who don’t fit neatly into boxes.

Stephen Theaker
September 2010

Booster Gold, Vol. 2: Blue and Gold, by Geoff Johns and friends – reviewed by Stephen Theaker

I'm very fond of Blue Beetle and Booster Gold. I think the first time I heard of them was when they got beaten up in The Death of Superman trade paperback, but it wasn't long after that I read their adventures in Justice League (International). Later I read Ted Kord's original series, and more recently Booster's too, collected in Showcase Presents Booster Gold, both of which were solid but not spectacular. It was brilliant to see them teamed up again in Formerly Known as the Justice League and I Can't Believe It's Not the Justice League, but immensely disappointing to see what happened to Blue Beetle during one of the innumerable crises to beset the DC universe.

Friday 7 October 2011

Angel Omnibus, by Christopher Golden, Christian Zanier and friends – reviewed by Stephen Theaker

Having recently left Buffy, Sunnydale and the Hellmouth to star in his own TV series – and comic, of which all but two issues are here collected – Angel now lives in Los Angeles. Interesting characters like (dark) Wesley, Fred and the Host are far off in his future; most of these stories are set in the period before they showed up. Cordelia was working at Angel Investigations from the beginning, but Irish half-demon Doyle is the one with the visions – for a while, at least – and hard-knock detective Kate Lockley turns up more often than anyone would have hoped.

Monday 3 October 2011

Memories of the Future, Vol. 1, by Wil Wheaton - reviewed by Stephen Theaker

When Star Trek: the Next Generation began, I was a schoolboy watching it at home; by the time it finished (on UK television, at least) I had been to university, met my future wife and spent a year living in France. And yet that was nothing compared to the changes in Wil Wheaton's life during that period. In this book he discusses the first half of the first season of TNG, both as a viewer, watching the episodes for the first time in a decade, and as a cast member, revealing the behind-the-scenes difficulties of the production as a whole and of him in particular.

Sunday 2 October 2011

British Fantasy Awards 2011: Winners

The winners of the British Fantasy Awards 2011 have just been announced. (Thanks to Maura McHugh for live tweeting them.)

BEST ANTHOLOGY: Back from the Dead: The Legacy of the Pan Book of Horror Stories, Johnny Mains (ed.) (Noose & Gibbet)

BEST COLLECTION: Full Dark, No Stars, Stephen King (Hodder & Stoughton)

BEST ARTIST: Vincent Chong

BEST COMIC/GRAPHIC NOVEL: At the Mountains of Madness: a Graphic Novel, Ian Culbard (Selfmadehero)

BEST MAGAZINE/PERIODICAL: Black Static, Andy Cox (ed.) (TTA Press)

BEST NON-FICTION: Altered Visions: The Art of Vincent Chong (Telos)

BEST SMALL PRESS: Telos Publishing

BEST SHORT STORY: "Fool’s Gold", Sam Stone, from The Bitten Word, ed. Ian Whates (NewCon Press)

BEST NOVELLA: Humpty’s Bones, Simon Clark (Telos)

BEST NOVEL (THE AUGUST DERLETH AWARD): Demon Dance, Sam Stone (House of Murky Depths)

BEST FILM: Inception



SYDNEY J. BOUNDS AWARD FOR BEST NEWCOMER: Robert Jackson Bennet, for Mr Shivers (Orbit)

Wowser. Five awards for stuff published by the BFS chair and his partner… You can read the very best fantasy short story of 2010 here. And which dummies voted for Sherlock..?

Can't help thinking this may lead to renewed calls for the awards system to be revamped, although I don't know what system would be better. Perhaps a panel to read the shortlisted works?

Glad to see Black Static winning. Well deserved! But bear in mind that TQF is eligible again for 2012, so its reign may be short-lived!

Videos of the awards are now available on YouTube. Thanks to Vincent Holland-Keen for letting those of us who didn't make it to the event share the embarrassment…

Theaker's Quarterly Fiction #38 – now available for free download!

Wow! I love the artwork for this issue of TQF! Once again it's by Howard Watts, although fans of Rhys Hughes won't be surprised to learn that it doesn't actually reflect the contents of “The Lives and Spacetimes of Thornton Excelsior”! That's because I decided on the artwork before I had the story!

The issue features four other magnificent stories. “The Daylight Witch” is by Jim Steel, one of my very favourite contributors to Dark Horizons, each of his stories being completely unique.

And they were all wearing eyepatches!

What a fantastic episode of Doctor Who that was last night! And the question that mustn't be answered? Quite proud of myself for guessing it right ages ago (the evidence is on a Facebook comment thread somewhere!). My guesses are usually way off.

It's taken a little while for it to sink in that we saw the Doctor get m*****d! Imagine if that had happened in the TV movie on Fox! The writers have inched us into a place where it was what we expected, and now there it is. It happened, and we didn't flinch. Wow.

And my four-year-old daughter pointed out this morning that a certain young lady now has a stepmum.

Saturday 1 October 2011

A few thoughts on BFS Journal #4

The new issue of the BFS Journal arrived in the post this week, looking very handsome in its Clive Barker cover art. I haven’t read any of the fiction yet (it generally takes me ages to get around to reading it all), so I won't review it properly, but here are my thoughts so far...

I’ve enjoyed David Riley’s seven Prisms (although I’m very pleased that his replacement will be Lou Morgan). For one thing, he’s published an awful lot of my writing! This issue’s Prism section, his last, has a solid seven pages by me (pages 57 to 63), all written at speed over a weekend thanks to a last minute deadline change.

On missing FantasyCon 2011...

I'm trying to convince myself that missing FantasyCon - going on this weekend in Brighton - is a good thing. You know, even though pretty much everyone I know in the writing world will be there. Mrs Theaker didn't want to go this time, and didn't fancy me going away for up to four days, and in a moment of "niceness" earlier in the year I said I wouldn't go. I don't know what I was thinking! So here's what I'm telling myself:

  • By staying at home, there's no chance of me getting drunk and acting silly. I'm still cringing about asking horror impressario Johnny Mains to high five me last year! I don't even enjoy drinking; I only drink at FantasyCon to get over my nervousness. 
  • There's no chance of me going to the Annual General Meeting, at which there would be a danger of (a) getting into an argument (the BFS AGM can be very frisky) or (b) signing up for the time-consuming drudgery of a BFS committee post.
  • I can spend the weekend finishing off Theaker's 38. It's going to be a good one!
  • I won't catch any con crud. Or rather, since I'm already a bit poorly, I won't pass it on. 
  • There's no chance of me being caught on camera rolling my eyes if a British Fantasy Award goes to a less than deserving winner!
  • I would have felt a bit out of it this year; at last year's convention I was right at the centre of things, doing admin for the event and umpteen BFS committee jobs, including chair. Maybe having a year's break is good because I can go back as a fan.
  • Mrs Theaker really owes me one and has to be really nice to me all weekend. Unfortunately she has the same poorliness as me, only worse, so it's not as if she's going to be heading to the bakery for doughnuts or anything. I'll be lucky to get a cup of tea out of her...
  • If I had been going, I would probably have had to cancel anyway, because of Mrs Theaker's poorliness, so I guess this way I've kept my hotel deposit.
  • I get to watch the last episode of Doctor Who with an audience of appreciative fans (i.e. Mrs Theaker and the little Theakers) rather than those guys who spend every Sunday morning moaning about it on Facebook!

That last one is actually pretty convincing!

I hope everyone at the convention is having a super time. I'm watching enviously on Twitter. The line-up is brilliant - Brian Aldiss, for crying out loud! - and it all seems to be very well organised. Really wish I was going. Next year it's going to be much closer to home, so I'll be able to nip over on Saturday morning, come back on Sunday evening. Already looking forward to it - hope to see you there!

Friday 30 September 2011

Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name, by Vendela Vida – reviewed by Stephen Theaker

After the death of Clarissa's father she finds her birth certificate in his desk, and reads it for the first time. Realising her father wasn't the man she thought he was, and as a byblow finding out her fiance hasn’t been entirely honest either, she travels to northern Finland, and then other parts of Lapland, in one hundred and thirty short, fraught and careful chapters.

In reminiscence we learn about her emotionally distant mother, who disappeared without a word fourteen years before, and see a child desperate for her mother's love. Grown up, she's behaving the way her mother did: leaving her devoted fiance Pankaj without a word.

Wednesday 28 September 2011

Kindle Fire - but not in the UK

Bit disappointed that the new Kindle Fire isn't launching in the UK yet - although I imagine Amazon's recent investment in LoveFilm (and hence getting its hands on LoveFilm's streaming deals) means it'll be out here eventually.

Although I love my iPad, it mainly gets used for reading, listening to music and the radio, idle browsing and playing the odd game. The only serious work I do on it is proofreading. I do all my writing on our Samsung Chromebook nowadays: it has a proper keyboard, for one thing, and doesn't get annoyed when I try to use Google Docs.

The Kindle Fire looks to me like it can do almost everything I still use the iPad for, but is much, much cheaper. If it was available here, I'd have pre-ordered one already for Mrs Theaker's birthday. (Last year I got her a third generation Kindle, and she's used it pretty much every day since.)

Theaker's Kindle