Friday 29 April 2011

Insidious, directed by James Wan – reviewed by Douglas J. Ogurek

A true horror film has only one requirement: scare the viewer. In this, Insidious excels. Forget plot. Forget character. Forget dialogue. From its eerie opening image dragged from a child’s nightmare until its twisted ending, the film keeps the viewer on edge. To obtain evidence of the film’s scare factor, one need only visit the many online discussions in which people talk about nearly losing control of their bodily functions while watching it. In this film, director James Wan hacks off, if you’ll pardon the expression, the gore and violence that he used in 2004 to make a name for himself in Saw.

Strange things are happening in Renai’s and Josh’s new house. After their eldest son Dalton slips into an inexplicable coma, they move to a more modest home, but the oddities persist. Elise, an odd spiritual medium, explains that it’s not their house that’s haunted; it’s their son. She claims Dalton is stuck in a hellish place she calls “the further”, and that he must be returned to his body before another malignant force claims it.

Monday 25 April 2011

Doctor Who: Hornets’ Nest 3 – The Circus of Doom, by Paul Magrs – reviewed by Stephen Theaker

The fourth Doctor continues his adventures in the Hornets’ Nest saga. This time Mike Yates is stuck in the cellar, listening as the Doctor spins a tale of a trip to June 1832, and an evil circus which spirits people away from their families. One such is trapeze artist Francesca, the sister of Dr Adam Farrow (Michael Moloney). “Are you saying your sister ran away with the circus?” asks the Doctor. “How wonderful! I always imagined doing that when I was a boy. We didn’t get many circuses visiting, though.” But the ringmaster of this circus is the willing possession of a race of intelligent alien insects, and an even greater obstacle is the Doctor’s own knowledge of a tragedy that must surely come to pass. Even as he begins to take the measure of his new enemies, he starts to feel that he is falling a step or two behind.

Friday 22 April 2011

Weirdtongue by D.F. Lewis – reviewed by John Greenwood

Weirdtongue is never going to be an easy read, even for the most adventurous. That in itself shouldn't imply any criticism. Watching performance art isn't the same thing as going to the cinema to watch a Hollywood blockbuster. Some books are necessarily challenging and disturbing. The question that recurs while reading Weirdtongue is whether it will be worth the effort. The novella is only 122 pages long, but reading it still requires a certain amount of endurance. To give an example, about halfway through this novella, the author's voice pops up, not for the first or last time:

"As the writer of Weirdtongue, I cannot help having a thrill of anticipation in following through the various characters as they either develop or decay, grow fat or thin, famous or infamous, tragic or comic, humble or proud. The fact that they are beyond my control, beyond the control of anyone, makes the prospect of the passions, the sadnesses, the joys, the neutralities, the crazinesses of those pink-parcels-with-motive-force (not just pink, but beige, brown, grey or black) far more possible to set me crying for real than the traditional approach to fiction characters and their fate which the writer's or reader's inevitable knowledge of artful control behind those characters causes to be so bland and unpithy, however skilfully written or read."

Monday 18 April 2011

Doctor Who: Hornets’ Nest 1 – The Stuff of Nightmares, by Paul Magrs – reviewed

Here the BBC manage what Big Finish never quite could: persuading Tom Baker back to the role of the Doctor [or at least they hadn't when this review was originally published in Prismwell done Big Finish!]. This is a post-Fendahl Doctor who apparently looks just like he did in the seventies (which could well mean he looks like Jon Pertwee, depending where you stand on UNIT dating).

Considering this teams Paul Magrs and Tom Baker, known respectively for their eccentric novels and performances, this feels awfully old-fashioned, almost reined in. If anyone was going to provide Baker with the talking cabbages he craved, you’d have put money on Magrs, but not this time. We do get the Doctor as hermit, though, another Baker suggestion rejected by the TV production team. He’s keeping watch on a cottage filled with stuffed animals that occasionally attack him. Why? That’s the story he begins to tell Mike Yates.

Thursday 14 April 2011

Outpost by Adam Baker – reviewed

When the skeleton crew of a derelict oil rig in the Arctic Ocean begin to see TV news footage of food riots and carnage in cities across Europe, they begin to suspect that the relief ship scheduled to bring them home is not coming after all. Things quickly worsen, and soon the rig is cut off from all outside contact with the long night of Arctic winter closing in.

Adam Baker's taut, stripped-down writing style resembles a film-script more than it does a novel, although for thriller writers this is now the dominant mode. Many of his paragraphs will start with a terse, "C Deck. Dark, frozen passageways" or "The powerhouse. A steady hum from Generator Three" as though this were actually a part-novelised film script rather than a continuous piece of prose. Still, it keeps up the pace, and one cannot deny that Baker has a very disciplined, lean style. There's a relentless, cinematic focus on the action, switching efficiently between different characters as they grapple with various engineering problems aboard the rig and on the ice. Just now and then the author feels the need to state the obvious by putting into one of the characters' mouths the question that should really have been implied, and which any astute reader would be asking themselves already.

Monday 11 April 2011

One for the Road, by Stephen King – reviewed

My third short book by Stephen King in recent months is another reminder that by not reading his work more regularly I’m really missing out. His Kindle novella UR was good, if a little goofy, and certainly much better than you’d expect an extended advert to be. The Colorado Kid was unusual too, very nearly an essay in fictional form; an investigation into the process and purposes of storytelling. Both left me keen to read more.

The book under review here is a collector’s edition of a short story previously collected in Night Shift in 1978, published this time as a neat little landscape hardback with sixteen captioned illustrations by James Hannah on every other page. This arrangement of text and art causes a problem in that the pictures quickly race ahead of the text in order to capture all of the money shots, giving away the entire plot, but it’s fair to say that most people willing to pay £75 for a twenty page story (£175 for copies signed by the artist) will be big fans of Stephen King, and hence likely to have read the story before, making that less of an issue than it would be for a brand new story or longer book.

Saturday 9 April 2011

We hate it when our friends become successful...

...especially when they are at least a dozen years younger and so very much better looking!

Bitter, crippling jealousy aside, we're really, really chuffed for Theaker's Quarterly Fiction (and Dark Horizons) contributor David Tallerman, who has just been snapped up by up-and-comers Angry Robot – and an agent too. Here's the info about the first book:
"The notorious Easie Damasco is a rogue and a thief and a scoundrel, who somehow always lives to see another day. In the first of his outlandish adventures, Giant Thief, Damasco manages to steal the wrong treasure and ends up with an entire army on his tail. Riotous swashbuckling adventure in the popular tradition of recent fantasy successes Scott Lynch and Joe Abercrombie, the Easie Damasco adventures will run to at least three books."
More details here and here. Congratulations to David – and to Angry Robot!

Monday 4 April 2011

Spectral Press #1: What They Hear in the Dark, by Gary McMahon – reviewed

Becky and Rob have moved into a creepy new home following a family tragedy, one gradually revealed to the reader. The space between them, of things that can’t be said, is mirrored by the space beneath their stairs, a place where nothing can be said. There, Becky feels the presence of someone they both love and miss; Rob feels something more malicious.

This is the first in a series of chapbooks from Spectral Press, sold on a subscription basis, and given that Gary McMahon seems to be an author with a bright future – a bright future of spreading misery and darkness! – this is a very collectable little item.