Monday 30 May 2011

The Captain Jack Sparrow Handbook, by Jason Heller – reviewed by Stephen Theaker

I’m probably not the best person to review this book: the first Pirates of the Caribbean bored me senseless (I think we only finished the DVD at the third attempt), and it did the same once more when I rewatched it in preparation for this review. And the best I can say for the next two films is that they weren’t quite as dull as the first. I’d rather hoped to hand the review of this book over to my children, who love the films (the eldest reviewed Dead Man’s Chest back in TQF#12, at the age of three) and have been playing the demo of Lego Pirates of the Caribbean to death in recent weeks, but although they liked the look and feel of the book, and especially the pictures – this being a fully licensed title, there are lots of stills – the amount of text led them to turn me down.

Friday 27 May 2011

Doctor Who: The Sentinels of the New Dawn – reviewed by Stephen Theaker

After leaving U.N.I.T. Liz Shaw returned to her work at Cambridge University, but the third Doctor didn’t leave her life completely. In this audio adventure we hear about the time she called him in to advise on a friend’s special project: a time dilator. Of course he’s unable to resist tinkering, and then giving it a whirl, and before you know it they’re waking up in 2014 and being greeted by Richard Beauregard, a posh young post-grad with a “hard, confident smile” who is soon revealed to be a member of the New Dawn. They’re a dodgy bunch with big plans for Britain and a big flying biomechanical beast, the Helidromus, to make sure those plans don’t meet with any opposition.

Monday 23 May 2011

Vampire Warlords, by Andy Remic – reviewed by Stephen Theaker

The events of a previous book freed the three Vampire Warlords from captivity. While Kell (basically Druss the Legend with a Stormbringer axe) goes on the run to find allies, the ferocious warlords make themselves at home in Jalder, Vor and Gollothrim, eating babies, siring vampire minions, and building ships to spread their curse across the world. Kell's quest will take him to a mountain prison and then the stronghold of his bitterest enemies, accompanied by womanising popinjay and new-made clockwork vampire (and yes, that does seem as silly in the book as you might think – cogs fall out of them when they get injured!) Saark, Kell's granddaughter Nienna, and Myriam, another clockwork vampire.

Saturday 21 May 2011

BFS Journal #3 – coming soon

I'm not as involved with the BFS as I used to be – I went from doing eight or nine jobs for them to none in the space of six months (and by gum that made Mrs Theaker happy!) – but I'm still very excited about each new mailing.

The third issue of the BFS Journal has just been announced as coming out in late June. The line up, if you can't quite make it out on the cover, is as follows:

  • Chairman’s Chat by David J Howe
  • BFS News


  • Editorial by David A. Riley
  • Ramsey’s Rant by Ramsey Campbell
  • Book Reviews edited by Jan Edwards and Craig Lockley
  • Graphicky Quality edited by Jay Eales
  • Media Reviews edited by Mathew F. Riley
  • The Mark of Fear by Mark Morris
  • Profondo Probert Column 5 by John Llewellyn Probert
  • Mary Danby Interviewed


  • In The House of Answers by Allen Ashley
  • Grey Magic For Cat Lovers by Jan Edwards
  • The Sound Down By The Shore by Douglas J. Ogurek
  • Beached by Eric Boman
  • The Hawthorne Effect by Adrian Stumpp


  • Heaven & Helvetica by Gavin B. Nash
  • Late in the Day by Adam Walter
  • Mostly in Shadow: Lesser-known Writers of Weird Fiction, Part 2 by Mike Barrett
  • Ten Things We’re Going to Have to Live Without After the Apocalypse by Allen Ashley
  • The Pet Peeve by Rick Kleffel
  • Cellar by J.R. Salling
  • ‘Don’t Let the Bedbugs Bite’ by Clint Smith
  • A Guttering of Flickers by Michael Kelly
  • The Secret in the Village of Dragonsbreath by Annie Neugebauer
  • The Last Dance of Humphrey Bear by James Brogden

I'm very glad to see the return of the Chairman's Chat and BFS News to the journal – I do think it's good to have something in the mailing that makes us feel like members of a society rather than just subscribers to a magazine. (Although I remember struggling to find the time to write the three Chats of my brief but glorious reign!)

I'm a big fan of all the columns, especially The Mark of Fear, and I'm really happy to see a story from TQF contributor Douglas Ogurek in there. Mike Barrett's articles are never anything less than fascinating.

I only had one review ready in time for issue two of the journal (a scintillating piece on cine-classic Death Race 2), but I sent in seven for this issue:

  • Doctor Who: The Paradise of Death (AudioGo)
  • Doctor Who: The Perpetual Bond (Big Finish)
  • Doctor Who: The Edge of Destruction (AudioGo)
  • Doctor Who: Cobwebs (Big Finish)
  • Altitude (film)
  • Shock Labyrinth 3D (film)
  • The Gift of Joy, Ian Whates (NewCon)

Not sure how many of them will have made it in – the current BFS chair is a big fan of Doctor Who (and a very distinguished one!) but other members might find their patience tested by so many reviews of Doctor Who audio adventures!

As ever, if you want to get hold of this issue, there's only one way: join the BFS!

Friday 20 May 2011

The Damned Busters, by Matthew Hughes – reviewed by Stephen Theaker

The universe of The Damned Busters (I haven’t quite figured out that title, to be honest) is one familiar from the quirkier sf of the fifties, one where there is an order to the cosmos, but it’s an order that reflects the muddled way things are done here on Earth. There’s a heaven and a hell, but both sides talk and act rather like lawyers, and the crafty hero can always find a loophole. It's a crazy universe, but one with rules that can be learnt, mastered and circumvented. And so, a fifth of the way in, having been caught in the crux of an infernal union dispute, introverted Chesney Arnstruther wangles himself a career as buffed-up superhero The Actionary (the name a clever play on the mild-mannered alter-ego’s work as an actuary), and gains Xaphan, a weasel-headed sidekick with a Jimmy Cagney patter and powers that are near-infinite – so long as Chesney’s requests stay within the terms of the deal that he’s made.

Monday 16 May 2011

Spectral Press #2: The Abolisher of Roses, by Gary Fry – reviewed by Stephen Theaker

Like so many of us, Peter encourages his wife’s hobbies only up to the point that they begin to encroach upon his own free time. As a hard-working self-made carpet mogul with a frisky mistress down in Sheffield, he has much better things to do than accompany Patricia to the opening of a new project, a woodland art trail. But his copy of the route map takes him to an exhibit created uniquely for his edification. He’s been scornful of art, denied its power to change a man. He’s about to learn how wrong he was.

This second chapbook from Spectral Press lives up to the standard set by the first, What They Hear in the Dark by Gary McMahon. Its flaw is that the characters don’t talk like real people; as in Gary Fry’s first novel, The House of Canted Steps, the protagonist talks and thinks rather more like a psychologist than the regular fellow he’s intended to be, and for such a douchebag lets his wife talk at him for an awfully long time without interrupting her.

Friday 13 May 2011

Books received: March, April and May!

We have been receiving an awful lot of things for review lately, lucky boys that we are! Here is a little round-up... First up, Black Coat Press have supplied another couple of intriguing blasts from the past:

The Superhumans

The Superhumans, Han Ryner (Black Coat, pb, 292pp). According to the back cover, Han Ryner was once voted "the Prince of Storytellers". There's a title to be proud of!

The Green Gods

The Green Gods, Nathalie Henneberg (Black Coat, pb, 268pp). Translated from the French by C.J. Cherryh, this features a short novel, four stories and a bibliography. See here for our earlier reviews of titles from Black Coat Press.

Angry Robot are ahead of the game, being one of the very few publishers to supply books for review in epub format. Reviews of both of these will appear on the blog in the next few weeks:

Damned Busters: To Hell and Back, Book 1 (Hell to Pay)

The Damned Busters, Matthew Hughes (Angry Robot, 416pp). A slightly nervous fellow suddenly becomes the most important man twixt heaven and hell.

Vampire Warlords: The Clockwork Vampire Chronicles, Book 3

Vampire Warlords, Andy Remic (Angry Robot, 432pp). Third in the Clockwork Vampires series.

Chômu are one of our current favourites (they picked up one of my votes for best small press in the British Fantasy Awards), and they're publishing one of my favourite writers:

Link Arms with Toads!

Link Arms with Toads, Rhys Hughes (Chômu Press, 286pp). But I tell you what, I'm sick of calling up Character Map every time I need to write their name! Must remember: it's Alt + 0244!

Rhys Hughes also has this saucy volume out from Gray Friar Press: The Brothel Creeper.

PS Publishing continue to be far more generous with their review copies than we deserve, and their latest titles include:

What Wolves Know, by Kit Reed (PS Publishing, 236pp – here).
Home Fires, by Gene Wolfe (PS Publishing, 284pp).

The Alice Encounter, by John Gribbin (PS Publishing, 174pp – here).

Junction, by Jack Dann (PS Publishing, 204pp – here).

Insinuations: an Autobiography, by Jack Dann (PS Publishing, 94pp – here).

The Render of the Veils, by Ramsey Campbell (PS Publishing, 26pp).

We also have two titles from NewCon Press:

Fables from the Fountain

Fables from the Fountain, edited by Ian Whates (NewCon Press, 256pp). This one includes a story by Neil Gaiman.

Further Conflicts

Further Conflicts, edited by Ian Whates (NewCon Press, 240pp).

And also two more books from the very productive people at Eibonvale:

Automatic Safe Dog

Automatic Safe Dog, Jet McDonald (Eibonvale, 270pp).

Bloody War

Bloody War, Terry Grimwood (Eibonvale, 272pp).

Obverse Quarterly 1 - Bite Sized Horror, selected by Johnny Mains (Obverse Books, 90pp). Obverse Books are always interesting, and this one features stories by Reggie Oliver, Paul Kane, David A. Riley, Marie O'Regan, Johnny Mains and Conrad Williams. Future issues of the Obverse quarterly include: 1.2 Senor 105 and the Elements of Danger, 1.3 The Diamond Lens and Other Stories, and very interestingly 1.4 Zenith Lives! (Zenith was one of the inspirations for Elric.)

We've had two more issues in of Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine #49 and #50. One day we hope to actually read one! We spend so much of our time reading submissions to TQF that reading short fiction magazines, let alone reviewing them, feels like a busman's holiday.

Untreed Reads have sent a nice bunch of stuff, but we haven't got stuck into them yet. I seem to remember Immortality Inc. being a fantastic little book, though. It's been way too long since I read any Robert Sheckley.

Seeker (The Garden)

Seeker by Andy Frankham-Allen (ebook, Untreed Reads)
Eric and Derik: Two Clones Searching for Love by Garry McNulty (ebook, Untreed Reads)
Into Thin Air by Nigel Bird (ebook, Untreed Reads)
Because I Could by David B. Silva (ebook, Untreed Reads)
The Ghost Hunter by P.A. Bees (ebook, Untreed Reads)
Motor City Wolf by David Perlmutter (ebook, Untreed Reads)
Immortality Inc by Robert Sheckley (Kindle, Untreed Reads)
Illusions by Victor J. Banis (Untreed Reads, epub)
A Vampire in Whitechapel by Scarlet Blackwell (Untreed Reads, epub)
Keep Your Friends Close by K.G. McAbee (Untreed Reads, epub)
Reflection by Andy Frankham-Allen (Untreed Reads, epub)
Postmodern Medicine, Trevor Price (Untreed Reads, epub)

And onto other books we've received lately…

Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat

Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat, by Andrez Bergen (Another Sky Press, 230pp) (excellent title!)

Living After Midnight: Hard and Heavy Stories

Living After Midnight: Hard and Heavy Stories, ed. David T. Wilbanks and Craig Clarke (Acid Grave Press, c.218pp).

Tales of the Pahleen: Blue Fire Burning, by Hobb Whittons (Authorhouse, 496pp).
The Ballad of the Damned, Charles Senescall (self-published, epub, 13K).
The Abolisher of Roses, Gary Fry (Spectral Press, chapbook, 20pp) (a review will appear on the blog next week).
The Dead Shall Feed, Jason Whittle (Panic Press, 258pp)

The Ghost Story Megapack: 25 Classic Tales by Masters

The Ghost Story Megapack: 25 Classic Ghost Stories (Wildside Press, epub, 514pp)


Touchless, Russell Davis (Wildside Press, epub, 164pp)
Hungry For You, Anna Harte (1889 Labs, 27K words)

Quite a few titles from Big Finish have come in. As usual reviews of these will turn up either in TQF or the BFS Journal, depending whose deadline is coming up next. You can read our earlier reviews of Big Finish productions here.

It may seem odd, since I'm known for being quite keen on digital formats, but I've struggled at times with these audio downloads – listening to audiobooks on the iPod or the iPad I always seem to lose my place. I haven't yet listened to any of the Audible books I bought during an accidental six-month subscription – I have a tendency to fall asleep.

With these ones I've now got into the habit of (a) burning each story to a CD, or (b) using MP3 Merger to make an MP3 of each episode, which I can listen to easily on the Kindle. The Kindle is lovely for listening to audiobooks, thanks to its built-in speakers.

Anyway... I've really been enjoying the two-episode format of the Companion Chronicles:

Echoes of Grey (Dr Who Big Finish)

Companion Chronicles 5.2: Echoes of Grey (Big Finish, 1xCD).

Find and Replace (Dr Who Big Finish)

Companion Chronicles 5.3: Find and Replace (Big Finish, 1xCD).

Invasion of E-Space (Dr Who Big Finish Companion)

Companion Chronicles 5.4: The Invasion of E-Space (Big Finish, 1xCD).

Town Called Fortune (Dr Who Companion Chronicles)

Companion Chronicles 5.5: A Town Called Fortune (Big Finish, 1xCD).

Companion Chronicles 5.6: Quinnis (Big Finish, 1xCD)
Companion Chronicles 5.7: Peri and the Piscon Paradox (Big Finish, 1xCD)
Companion Chronicles 5.8: The Perpetual Bond (Big Finish, 1xCD). (A review of this one will probably appear in the next BFS Journal.)
Companion Chronicles 5.9: The Forbidden Time (Big Finish, 1xCD). Polly remembers getting stuck sideways in time with the second Doctor. This is the current inhabitant of my CD player!
Companion Chronicles 5.10: The Sentinels of the New Dawn (Big Finish, 1xCD). Liz Shaw tells the story of an adventure that never happened! A review of this one should appear on the blog soon.

While the ongoing series has reunited Tegan with the fifth Doctor!

Whispering Forest (Dr Who Big Finish)

Doctor Who 137: The Whispering Forest (Big Finish, 2xCD). (A review of this one will probably appear in the next BFS Journal.)

Cradle of the Snake (Dr Who Big Finish)

Doctor Who 138: The Cradle of the Snake (Big Finish, 2xCD).

Project: Destiny (Dr Who Big Finish)

Doctor Who 139: Project: Destiny (Big Finish, 2xCD).
Doctor Who 140: A Death in the Family (Big Finish, 2xCD).
Doctor Who 141: Lurkers at Sunlight's Edge (Big Finish, 2xCD).

Dr Who Demons of Red Lodge/Other Stories (Dr Who Big Finish)

Doctor Who 142: The Demons of Red Lodge (Big Finish, 2xCD).
Doctor Who 143: The Crimes of Thomas Brewster (Big Finish, 2xCD).
Doctor Who 144: The Feast of Axos (Big Finish, 2xCD).

Big Finish have also produced some interesting one-offs:

Doctor Who: Lepidoptery for Beginners (Big Finish).
Doctor Who: The Four Doctors (Big Finish).
Doctor Who: The Little Drummer Boy (Big Finish).
Doctor Who: The Switching (Big Finish).

We also received a fantastic box of stuff from AudioGo (previously known as BBC Audio). Not all of it is fantasy, but we're not complaining! –

Dick Barton and the Cabatolin Diamonds: A BBC Full-Cast Radio Drama (Radio Collection)

Dick Barton and the Cabatolin Diamonds, by Geoffrey Webb (AudioGo, 4xCD, 4hrs). Not the original version, but a re-recording for overseas markets. This looks fantastic: look at those knife-wielding chimpanzees on the cover.

Dick Barton and the Paris Adventure: A Full-Cast BBC Radio Drama (Radio Collection)

Dick Barton and the Paris Adventure, by Geoffrey Webb (AudioGo, 4xCD, 4hrs). Again, a re-recording for overseas markets.

Doctor Who: The BBC Radio Collection: Four Full-Cast BBC Radio Dramas Plus Bonus Material

Doctor Who: The BBC Radio Episodes (AudioGo, 9xCD, 9hrs10). This fantastic box set includes Doctor Who and the Pescations, The Paradise of Death, The Ghosts of N-Space, Slipback, Exploration Earth, and Whatever Happened to... Susan? There will probably be a review of The Paradise of Death in the next BFS Journal.

Doctor Who: Inferno: An Unabridged Doctor Who Novel

Doctor Who: Inferno, by Terrance Dicks, read by Caroline John (AudioGo, 4xCD, 4hrs5). Not my favourite television story, but I always found the longer stories made really good books. I can't remember who suggested that the Doctor might be the dictator of the alternate universe, but I like the idea.

Paul Temple and the Margo Mystery (Radio Collection)

Paul Temple and the Margo Mystery, by Francis Durbridge, read by Toby Stephens (AudioGo, 6xCD, 6hrs). This one comes in a really cool CD case.

A King's Speech: The BBC Radio Play (BBC Radio 4)

A King's Speech, by Mark Burgess (AudioGo, 1xCD, 45mins).

The American Civil War: Extracts from BBC Radio's America: Empire of Liberty (BBC Radio 4 History)

The American Civil War, by David Reynolds (AudioGo, 2xCD, 2hrs10). This seems to be a spin-off from Doctor Who: The Runaway Train.

The Jungle Book: Mowgli Stories (BBC Audio)

The Jungle Book: Mowgli Stories, by Rudyard Kipling, read by Peter Jeffrey (AudioGo, 2xCD, 2hrs15).


Altitude, dir. Kaare Andrews (86 mins). I haven't requested many films for review lately, because I find reviewing them quite tricky. With my little family it's hard to book the TV time to watch them once, let alone two or three times. But I did like this one - a review will probably appear in the next BFS Journal, and we'll reprint it here on the blog a month or so later.

If you have anything you'd like us to look at, there's some information here. Thanks to everyone who has sent us stuff for review, and apologies once more for the fact that we won't get through everything!