Wednesday 29 June 2011

Minefield, what minefield?

I'm basically a buffoon when it comes to gender issues, but here's a suggestion for publishers, editors and awards organisers...

Next time someone asks a  "drearily predictable" question about the slightly male-skewed gender balance in your publications or list of nominations, try saying "I know, I'm unhappy about it", instead of "it's not my fault and I'm sick of people complaining about this stuff".

By the way, we've got no contributions from female writers in TQF37, and I'm unhappy about it.

See how easy it is?

Tuesday 28 June 2011

Runners and Riders: the British Fantasy Awards!

The British Fantasy Society has announced the shortlist for this year’s British Fantasy Awards. I’m not running it this year, which on one hand has made me terribly sad, because I utterly adored the job, but on the other has left me blessedly free of spreadsheets.

Another benefit is that I no longer have to be neutral, not that I was ever very good at that. So here are this year's nominees, with a few of my inclinations and predictions.

Black StaticBest Magazine/Periodical

Black Static
Cemetery Dance
Murky Depths
Shadows and Tall Trees
Strange Horizons

My vote: probably Black Static. It's an exquisite magazine. Fiction, columns, reviews: all are superb. It's so good that whenever I hear the post my first thought is whether it's a new issue.
Will win: I’m guessing Murky Depths, but Interzone missed out on a nomination this year, which means Black Static gets the TTA Press vote all to itself. This category tends to attract very high voting levels, I think because people feel they can vote for a magazine they like without having read every word of every issue. (We withdrew TQF from this category of the awards this year, but it will be eligible again next time. Not that we expect to get nominated again!)

Twisthorn BellowBest Small Press

Atomic Fez
Gray Friar Press
Pendragon Press
Telos Publishing
TTA Press

My vote: not sure yet. No slight on those who were nominated, but I would have loved to have seen either Chômu or Eibonvale in this category. Both publish the kind of books I love to see published. So I'm leaning instead towards Atomic Fez, for books like Twisthorn Bellow and for their progressive approach to publishing.
Will win: probably Telos.

Grandville Mon Amour HCBest Comic/Graphic Novel

Grandville Mon Amour
The Mountains Of Madness
Unwritten Vols 1 and 2

My vote: Clint is quickly becoming my favourite comic, thanks to strips like Turf, Superior and Kick-Ass 2, but I’ll read as many of the others as I can. I loved the first volume of Grandville.
Will win: Grandville Mon Amour would be my guess.

The End of the Line: An Anthology of Underground HorrorBest Short Story

The Beautiful Room – R.B. Russell
Fool’s Gold – Sam Stone
The Lure – Nicholas Royle
Otterburn – Jan Edwards
Something For Nothing – Joe Essid

My vote: I’ve got hold of all five stories; I'll read them all before voting.
Will win: some of the nominations are a bit surprising (is this really one of the five best fantasy short stories written in English in 2010?), so the results could well be surprising too.

Cinema Futura: Essays on Favourite Science Fiction MoviesBest Non-Fiction

Altered Visions: The Art Of Vincent Chong
Cinema Futura – Mark Morris (ed.)
Fantastic TV: 50 Years Of Cult Fantasy And Science Fiction – Steven Savile
M P Shiel: The Middle Years 1897-1923 – Harold Billings
The Shrieking Sixties – Darrel Buxton

My vote: I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read of Cinema Futura.
Will win: my guess is a close race between Mark Morris and Vincent Chong.

Last Exit for the LostBest Collection

Full Dark, No Stars – Stephen King
The Gravedigger’s Tale: Fables of Fear – Simon Clark
Last Exit For The Lost – Tim Lebbon
One Monster Is Not Enough – Paul Finch
Walkers In The Dark – Paul Finch

My vote: I'd really hoped Scott Edelman’s excellent What Will Come After might make the shortlist. I haven’t read any of these, but will try to at least read Kindle previews before voting.
Will win: no idea. All seem to be strong contenders.

Zombie Apocalypse!. Created by Stephen Jones with Peter Atkins ... [Et Al.] (Mammoth Books)Best Anthology

Back From The Dead: The Legacy Of The Pan Book Of Horror Stories – Johnny Mains (ed.)
The End of the Line – Jonathan Oliver (ed.)
Mammoth Book of Best New Horror Volume 21, The – Stephen Jones (ed.)
Never Again – Allyson Bird and Joel Lane (eds)
Zombie Apocalypse! – Stephen Jones (ed.)

My vote: I own four of the five, but haven’t read them yet. Surprising to see that none of the Postscripts anthologies made it this year.
Will win: my guess is that Zombie Apocalypse will edge it, but perhaps the two Jones books will split his vote and let one of the others sneak through.

Ponthe OldenguineBest Novella

1922 – Stephen King
Humpty’s Bones – Simon Clark
Ponthe Oldenguine – Andrew Hook
Sparrowhawk – Paul Finch
The Thief Of Broken Toys – Tim Lebbon

My vote: haven't read any of these.
Will win: no idea!

The Seventh Black Book of HorrorBest Artist

Ben Baldwin
Daniele Serra
Les Edwards
Paul Mudie
Vincent Chong

My vote: I'll have to look at the particular covers each artist produced during 2010. All are very talented.
Will win: Vincent Chong’s on a run of BFA victories, but Daniele Serra has produced some terrific work of late, and, crucially, some of it has appeared on books by BFS members.

The Silent Land: A novelBest Novel

Apartment 16 – Adam Nevill
Demon Dance – Sam Stone
The Leaping – Tom Fletcher
Pretty Little Dead Things – Gary McMahon
The Silent Land – Graham Joyce

My vote: I haven't read any of these. I'll be leaning on Kindle previews to help me decide, but in 2009 I read them all before voting and I'd love to do that again.
Will win: my guess is that Graham Joyce will romp home in this category, but there’s been an ongoing hubbub of excitement about Adam Nevill’s book. And if the “literary” vote is split four ways, anything could happen.

Sherlock: Season OneBest Television

A History Of Horror With Mark Gatiss – Mark Gatiss
Being Human – Toby Whithouse
Doctor Who – Steven Moffat
Sherlock – Steven Moffat/Mark Gatiss
True Blood – Alan Ball

My vote: Doctor Who.
Will win: Doctor Who, I reckon.

Best Film

Alice In Wonderland
Scott Pilgrim vs The World

My vote: I’ll be voting for Scott Pilgrim vs The World. It's one of my favourite films of all time.
Will win: I’m guessing it’ll be Inception, but I was completely surprised by last year’s result, so you never know.

Monday 27 June 2011

Michael Wyndham Thomas on Radio Wildfire

Something to look forward to: Michael Wyndham Thomas is currently working on the follow-up to The Mercury Annual, to be published by us later this year.

If you can't wait that long, he can currently be heard reading an extract from it on Radio Wildfire's The Loop.

Theaker's Quarterly Fiction #37 - not yet ready!

This is what I get for being forward-thinking – and more than a little useless! A pre-loaded blog post popped up on here today to announce that the new issue of TQF was out today, but in fact I haven't quite finished my work on it yet.

I'd like to put the delay down to paid work taking a priority, and that is a part of it, but those of you on my Xbox friends list might well note in response how many achievements I've acquired in Borderlands over the last couple of weeks…

Fingers are crossed for next Monday. I just have to finish dealing with these mutant midget shotgunners!

Monday 20 June 2011

Blood: the Last Vampire, directed by Chris Nahon – reviewed

Tokyo, 1970: army brat Alice McKee (Allison Miller) is attacked in the school gym by two demonic classmates, but she’s rescued by new girl Saya (Gianna), who’s athletic, handy with a sword and wearing a cute schoolgirl outfit. She’s also an ageless vampire searching for Onigen, the demon who killed her dad four hundred years ago. As the battle moves from army base to city warrens to the wide open spaces of the country, can Saya keep Alice alive and complete her mission, or must she choose between them?

This English-language remake of the 2000 anime makes the most of its budget, and there are many nice shots and good special effects, especially during the final confrontation with Onigen, but the colour filters are overdone (the section on the military base is tinted a sickly yellow) and the showers of CGI blood look silly and obviously fake; I’d guess they took that approach so it could be removed for sensitive regions, but the film suffers for it.

This felt unmistakably at times like the work of a director separated by language from his actors; I’d guessed director Chris Nahon wasn’t English long before looking him up on IMDB. (He’s French, but cameos as a thickly-accented US Army Officer.) Liam Cunningham as Saya’s watcher seems to be in physical pain, though Colin Salmon makes the most of a quick turn.

There’s a curious lack of confidence in the quick cutting and tight-in filming of many action scenes; curious since they are staged by Cory Yuen. The best sequence is a flashback to a Touch of Zen-style forest battle, notably the one part of the film not weighed down by our American POV character.

Before seeing the credits, I’d noted the subtle, ominious score as the film’s stand-out feature: nice then to find Clint Mansell was responsible. He previously scored Pi, Murder by Numbers and Requiem for a Dream, but you may know him best for singing “Alan Moore, knows the score” with Pop Will Eat Itself.

Like the second Underworld film, which it often resembles, this is better than you’d expect; it looks good and moves well, and I wouldn’t mind watching another one, but that’s about it.

Blood: the Last Vampire, Chris Nahon (dir.), 20th Century Fox, HK/JP/FR, 1hr31. Amazon UK. Amazon US. This review originally appeared in the March 2010 issue of Prism, the newsletter of the British Fantasy Society.

Friday 17 June 2011

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season Eight: No Future for You – reviewed by Stephen Theaker

The first volume of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight (reviewed here) could have featured the gang eating jam on scones for a hundred pages and I would still have rhapsodized about it, so glad I was to be back in their company. This second book, collecting issues six to ten, can’t rely on nostalgia to see it through, but then neither did the first, which progressed the story of these characters in a way that distinguished it from the great mass of licensed comics and books.

“No Future for You” by Brian K. Vaughan and Georges Jeanty, a four-issue story, focuses on Faith, a character I’d have liked much more in the series if she hadn’t pushed Buffy into such a serious place - something Buffy herself resented. Here Giles calls on Faith to perform the kind of job he couldn’t ask Buffy to do: eliminate an untrained English slayer, a bad seed from the right side of the tracks. The first stage of Faith’s mission is to bond with the baddie and gain her trust; it goes all too well.

“Anywhere But Here”, a single-issue story by Joss Whedon and Cliff Richards, sees Buffy and Willow on a day trip to see the Sephrilian, a member of the demon elite who walks between walls and buckles reality. As readers might hope, they run into trouble and Buffy gets a chance to kick ass, but above all it’s a chance for the two best friends to reconnect. Much as I loved the final season of Buffy, the poor girl did get very isolated, and it’s good to see her smiling in a panel or two.

It’s a short book, but a terribly enjoyable one. I can’t pretend to have any critical distance from it, any more than I could offer an unbiased review of an hour spent with my family, but it’s hard to imagine anyone who enjoyed the television series not enjoying this too. It’s quite possibly better than a televised season eight could have been. A comic can give us Buffy and Willow flying over the mountains, or a giant-sized Dawn, and so much else that would have been difficult to achieve on a television budget.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season Eight, Vol. 2: No Future for You, by Brian K. Vaughan, Georges Jeanty, Joss Whedon and Cliff Richards. Dark Horse, tpb, 136pp. Amazon US. Amazon UK. Reviewed from pdf.

Monday 13 June 2011

Doctor Who and the Dalek Invasion of Earth, by Terrance Dicks – reviewed

The first Doctor and his original companions, Barbara, Ian and Susan, land in a strangely quiet bit of London. Susan quickly gets the Tardis buried under rubble and twists her ankle, and forced to search for help they find Robomen, resistance fighters, bravery and love in a world that has been systematically dismantled by the Daleks.

In a moment of over-enthusiasm, I once described Terrance Dicks as “the English Hemingway”. I always felt his Doctor Who novels were storytelling boiled down to its barest, most direct essentials, lacking the frills and lace of other novels – descriptions, for example! Of course that’s because he wrote them very quickly from scripts, but, still, for many of us his books were an essential stepping stone to the grown-up section of the library.

This is one of his best adaptations, and it’s one of the best Doctor Who stories: a classic, archetypal tale of alien invasion by Terry Nation that deserved much better than 44th in the DWM reader poll – and it’s read by one of my very favourite actors from the show, William Russell, so there was little chance of me giving it a bad review!

The music’s a bit loud in parts, but that’s my only criticism. With Russell in his eighties now, at first it sounded odd when he affected an older voice for the Doctor’s lines, but before long I was loving his interpretation. His reading of the novel is wonderful throughout, and as ever Nicholas Briggs excels; you can almost hear his glee at the thought of performing similar duties on other Dalek classics.

This was four hours of sheer pleasure. It did something no other CD had managed for two years: kept Portishead’s magnificent Third out of my stereo for more than a couple of days!

Doctor Who and the Dalek Invasion of Earth, by Terrance Dicks, read by William Russell with Nicholas Briggs. BBC Audio, 4xCD, 4hr10. Amazon UK. Amazon US. This review originally appeared in the March 2010 issue of Prism, the newsletter of the British Fantasy Society.

Friday 10 June 2011

Death Race 2 – reviewed by Stephen Theaker

Luke Goss makes a habit of showy roles in sequels that arguably better the originals, having impressed in Blade II and Hellboy II: The Golden Army. Improving on a classic like Death Race was always going to be tough, especially with Jason Statham busy elsewhere – but if this prequel doesn't quite make it, it's still a very creditable entry in the series.

As Carl Lucas, Goss is a strange, intense and frankly homoerotic presence. Unusually for this kind of film, his character is not unjustly accused; he's a bad man getting his just desserts. That gives him a calm centre; he has nothing to lose, little to win. He also has a lean, tight fighting style that convinces the viewer he could take down men twice his size. The cast is action royalty: Sean Bean, Danny Trejo and Ving Rhames (as Weyland – is this part of the Aliens universe?), plus a brace of actors returning from the first film, including Robin Shou as 14K.

After opening with a bank robbery and car chase that are much too good for a film this cheap, the film keeps us waiting for its car battles; frustrating upon first viewing, but we get to watch Death Race evolve from earlier gladiatorial events. When the races begin, it could easily be footage recycled from the first film, in true Corman style, but it's apparently new, the original cars having been bought back from collectors. As with film one, there's a physical pleasure in seeing real cars tear around a course.

Fans know Lucas is heading for a terrible accident, and the film teases by putting him up against flamethrowers in the arena. When he burns, the make-up is suitably horrifying, the moment feels significant. Curiously, we see here the origin of Frankenstein, and Death Race began with his death, but we've yet to see him in his pomp (other than in Corman's original). It's a lacuna one feels is sure to be filled; I'd like to see what this director would do with a serious budget.

There's more casual racism and sexism than I felt necessary, and not quite enough gore. Nor is it the cross-country sequel we really wanted, but with several exciting action sequences and a cast that plays it straight Death Race 2 sets a new high for direct-to-DVD sequels.

Death Race 2, Roel Reine (dir), DVD/Blu-Ray, 1hr50mins. This review originally appeared in BFS Journal #2.

Tuesday 7 June 2011

Joel Lane launch in Birmingham

Nine Arches Press will be launching their short story chapbook line with an event on Thursday, 16 June, at 7.30pm. It's at The Priory Rooms, Bull Street, Birmingham, B4 6AF. Entry is free.

The first title is Do Not Pass Go, by Joel Lane, a set of five crime stories set here in Birmingham. There will be readings from Joel Lane and Alan Beard.

I won't be able to make this one for reasons related to the little people who live in my house, but the Priory Rooms are an utterly superb and grand place to hold readings, and Joel's an excellent writer (my review of his novella, The Witnesses Are Gone, is here).

More information on the book on the Nine Arches website.

Monday 6 June 2011

Baltimore, Volume 1: The Plague Ships, by Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden and Ben Stenbeck – reviewed by Stephen Theaker

The First World War ended in February 1916. Those soldiers not killed by the plague deserted to be with their families, and there was no one left to fight. No one, that is, except Lord Henry Baltimore, determined to hunt the plague to its supposed source, Haigus, a vampire whose right eye he put out with a bayonet in a French ditch. A German bullet cost Baltimore his leg, but that insult lost him so much more, and thus his quest began, a quest which will “cost the lives and souls of everyone he loves”.

I haven’t read the illustrated novel version of this story, so I cannot compare them, but this superb volume, written by Hellboy creator Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden, with moody, clear, dynamic art from Ben Stenbeck, stands alone without trouble. It begins in Villefranche, where Baltimore makes an ally of Vanessa Kalderos, granddaughter of a powerful witch, and ends on Furiani, the island base of the German underwater fleet.

It’s a story of great scale, full of surprises and fine detail. I was particularly taken with the design of the submarine troops that appear later in the story, and especially struck by the look of fear upon Baltimore’s face as he faced almost insurmountable odds. He’s willing to put himself in danger’s way, but when fighting he’s almost the automaton suggested by his wooden leg, a killing machine with the soul of an ordinary, terrified but very brave man.

I’ll look forward to any future volumes in the series with great eagerness.

Baltimore, Volume 1: The Plague Ships, written by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden, art by Ben Stenbeck. Dark Horse, tpb, 144pp. Amazon US. Amazon UK.

Friday 3 June 2011

The Art of McSweeney's — reviewed

An absolutely splendid book chronicling the lives and loves of my favourite periodical and the books and other magazines that have sprung from its fruity loins. Comments from production and editorial staff, writers, artists and even the printers accompany sumptuous and detailed artwork, design sketches, unused ideas, alternative covers and anything else they were able to squeeze in, including a price guide to show that even the fanciest book is not beyond the means of ordinary publishers: it's just a matter of finding the right printers and working carefully with them.

Of course, not many publishers would be able to send people to Iceland to supervise a print job, and not many journals print in quantities large enough to make printers keen to take such fiddly projects, but one thing this book shows is that the success of McSweeney's was not guaranteed. It was earned with a great deal of hard work, often unpaid, from everyone involved. The book's title has a double meaning: as well as the sculptures, paintings, drawings, prints, postcards — the imagery — it's about the art of production. As with The Art of the Matrix, a similar book in many ways, I've come away from this with an even greater appreciation, if it was possible, for the talent and dedication that people put into my entertainment.

Utterly inspiring, especially for anyone who works in publishing.

The Art of McSweeney's, by the editors of McSweeney's, Tate Publishing, hb, 266pp. Amazon US. Amazon UK.

Wednesday 1 June 2011

"Three in 10 households do not contain a book"? Nonsense, nonsense, nonsense!

An article on The Bookseller's website is doing the rounds today, bearing the provocative headline, "Three in 10 households do not contain a book", which would be pretty bad – if it were at all true.

The figure in the headline doesn't even slightly match the findings in the Literacy Trust's report, which I think can be found here: Book ownership and its relation to reading enjoyment, attitudes, behaviour and attainment.

The first thing you'll notice is that the report is based on a questionnaire sent out to schools, and so it has nothing to say at all about all the households in which there are no children. (You might well speculate that people without children in the house get more time to read than those of us who do have the little dears around!)

The three in ten figure comes from page 8, "Who has books of their own? Some background information". Three in ten children don't own books of their own. That's not good, of course, but you might guess that lots of those are little brothers and sisters.

On page 11, you can see Figure 5, which gives the information about whether there are books in the home. (The report at this stage does warn you, by the way, that "the accuracy of these figures should be taken with a pinch of salt".)

Here we learn that of those 30% of children surveyed who didn't own books themselves, only 9.4% live in houses without any books at all. That is, I think, only 2.82% of all kids.

We also learn, weirdly, that of the 70% of children surveyed who did own books themselves, 0.06% lived in houses where there were no books at all (they must keep their books at Grandma's!). That makes another 0.04% of all children, I think.

I'm not terribly good with stats, but I make that a total of only 2.86% of all children living in households without books. About 1 in 35 households, rather than 3 in 10.

2.86% is bad enough, of course, but not quite as chilling as the 30% suggested by the Bookseller's careless article…