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

How Kevin Keller inspired me to come out of the closet... as an Archie fan!

I have an admission to make. I’ve been keeping a secret.

Over the last month or so, on the iPad, I've been reading a lot of Archie comics.

There, I’ve said it!

Reading an issue of Archie at bedtime is a great way to clear my head of whatever horrors populate the latest book I’ve been reading. Plus, they’re cheap, back issues are plentiful, and they look fantastic on there. My favourite character is Jughead. He’s hilarious. The way he eats. The way he talks with his eyes closed. His daft cut-up fedora. The way he alone is aware that they are comic book characters.

Monday 26 September 2011

Doctor Who: The Edge of Destruction, by Nigel Robinson – reviewed by Stephen Theaker

This audiobook begins with an explanation of how a history teacher and a science teacher came to be travelling through time and space with a grumpy old scientist and his fifteen-year-old granddaughter. Once listeners are up to date, we join the travellers as one by one they wake from unconsciousness, memories jumbled and lost, inside their time/space ship. Doors open and close, clocks melt, control panels give electric shocks. Before the mysteries can be solved the quartet must surmount their mutual distrust, but that won’t be easy. Ian and Barbara, the teachers, have been tricked by the Doctor before, on the planet Skaro, while young Susan explains that the Doctor too has been betrayed by friends in the past.

Friday 23 September 2011

Shock Labyrinth 3D, directed by Takashi Shimizu – reviewed by Stephen Theaker

Five small children enter a deserted haunted house, but only four emerge. Years later, a grown up Yuki, the one they left behind, turns up at the door of blind Rin, and the friends gather to take her to hospital. The hospital is deserted, time stands still, and they are back in the shock labyrinth – a huge ghost house – to be haunted by their guilty secrets.

Scary for them, less so for the viewer; the film achieves its most alarming moments by putting young children in danger as the timelines (apparently) cross. Kids in trouble aside, it’s mainly four young adults wandering round a haunted house without much going on. The film tries to conceal this with flashbacks and flashforwards, but the core of the film is not terribly interesting.

The 3D aspect does it no favours – the 3D version is a red-green mess, while the 2D version is full of embarrassing would-be 3D set-ups that puncture the film’s seriousness. Not a film I can recommend. Lordi’s Dark Floors, previously reviewed in these pages, is remarkably similar but much more fun. Coming from the director of The Grudge, this was a huge disappointment.

Shock Labyrinth 3D, Takashi Shimizu (dir.). Chelsea Films. Amazon UK. This review originally appeared in BFS Journal #3.

Wednesday 21 September 2011

Theaker’s Fab Five #1

The return of a beloved feature from our old website! I like listening to music while I work, but have tended to find PC music players too distracting (too much temptation to skip to a favourite track, or to another album, or to read their built-in music encyclopaedias...), so I rely on a five-CD changer stereo which I load up and leave to play. And every so often on our old website I used to run through the CDs that were currently at home in there.

I’d like to review more music on the blog; one reason I don’t is because it’s so hard to choose the right moment in my relationship with an album. I considered many of my favourite albums washouts after the first time I heard them: Mogwai’s Go On Die Young, Tricky’s Maxinquaye, M83’s Dead Cities, Red Seas and Lost Ghosts, and so on. Having a regular round-up prompts me to write a bit about music without worrying about that too much.

Monday 19 September 2011

Altitude, directed by Kaare Andrews – reviewed by Stephen Theaker

In this Twilight Zonish thriller from first-time director Kaare Andrews a quintet of attractive young Canadians take a small plane up for a short hop to a campsite. Mechanical malfunctions and what's-your-malfunctions accumulate until they find themselves stuck on an upward trajectory, at each other's throats and pursued through a black storm by a tentacled monstrosity.

Much like Pontypool, this movie does a lot with very little. Dialogue-driven, but not afraid to give us a really good look at the monster before it's all over, it's a very satisfying movie. Andrews is a comic artist, and has an artist's eye for the faces of his actors, holding firm in his study of them - even when there is snot dribbling out of their noses, unfortunately! Despite that, a really nice little movie.

Altitude, Kaare Andrews (dir.). Amazon UK. Amazon US. This review originally appeared in BFS Journal #3.

Sunday 18 September 2011

SF Gateway republishing the complete Dumarest saga – and lots more besides

Although my collection of books is pretty big, there are gaps, even when it comes to my very favourite authors. Not for much longer! The SF Gateway plans to have 5,000 backlist titles back on sale as ebooks by the end of 2014 (press release here), and wherever possible they will be republishing the complete backlists of authors. Complete backlists!

This isn't new news, but the significance of it is only just starting to strike me. For example, a few weeks back I discovered a bunch of John Brunner books in the Kindle store I hadn't read before (e.g. The Super Barbarians, Manshape), and pre-ordered them – incidentally, the first Brunner books I've ever bought new instead of secondhand – and today I noticed that they're also reissuing all the Dumarest books (they're listed here on Amazon UK).

Fantastic news, especially since there are lots of gaps between the dozen or so in the series I bought on eBay a couple of years ago, after hearing of the series for the first time in a Craig Herbertson article for Dark Horizons. If they're all as good as the one I've read, I think they'll do very well on Kindle. They're ideally suited to the format.

I suspect other publishers may see the SF Gateway as a huge and rather worrying landgrab, but as a reader I love them for doing it. And so must the writers. I loved collecting secondhand books, but none of the money I spent on them ever went to the authors. I seem to remember reading that when John Brunner died, all his books were out of print. That shouldn't ever happen again to an author of that calibre.

Saturday 17 September 2011

My top 100 most unread authors!

Following my previous post analysing the list of books I’ve read, for some daft reason I thought it made sense to go on to look at those that I own, but haven’t read. My Goodreads list produces 1326 unread and unfinished books, not including those listed as to-read-for-review.

Those books are by 628 different authors and editors, from A. Susan Williams (editor of The Penguin Book of Modern Fantasy by Women) to Zenna Henderson (author of The Anything Box).

So, allowing again for the list being built only on the first-named author in the Goodreads database, here’s my list of top unread authors:

1. Brian W. Aldiss (32 books)
2. Harry Harrison (19)
3. Robert Silverberg (19)
4. Patrick O'Brian (17)
5. Clifford D. Simak (15)
= Michael Moorcock (15)
7. Poul Anderson (14)
8. Dave Eggers (13)
= E.C. Tubb (13)
10. Arthur C. Clarke (12)

That Aldiss and Moorcock can show up in both my most read and most unread lists shows how amazingly productive they have been. You have to marvel at writers who can produce so much, of such consistently high quality. Patrick O’Brian is on there because I went nuts in a 3 for 2 sale and bought the complete Aubrey-Maturin, despite having read not a word of his fiction. Aside from The Wild Things, the Dave Eggers ones are all back issues of McSweeney’s. E.C. Tubb's presence is down to a bundle of Dumarest books on eBay a couple of years ago, although it turns out I still haven’t got around to reading Space 1999: Breakaway either.

So what are all the Aldiss books I haven't read? Glad you asked! Here’s a full list (some of them overlap a bit):

The Airs of Earth, A Rude Awakening, This World and Nearer Ones, The Year's Best SF 9, The Year's Best Science Fiction 1, Best Science Fiction Stories, Supertoys Last All Summer Long & Other Stories of Future Time, Perilous Planets, Life in the West, Cryptozoic!, The Primal Urge, Space, Time and Nathaniel, Last Orders and Other Stories, Intangibles Inc. and Other Stories, Cracken at Critical, Forgotten Life, The Dark Light Years , The Canopy of Time, Nebula Award Stories 2, The Year's Best Science Fiction 8, Comic Inferno, The Year's Best Science Fiction 7, A Soldier Erect, Starswarm, The Saliva Tree and Other Strange Growths, Galaxies Like Grains of Sand, The Malacia Tapestry, Hothouse, Helliconia Summer, Helliconia Winter, Non-Stop and Helliconia Spring.

Must get stuck into those!

If you haven’t yet lost the will to live, the rest of my top 100 unread and unfinished authors are below the jump break!

Friday 16 September 2011

Justice Society of America: Thy Kingdom Come, Vol. 2, by Geoff Johns and friends - reviewed by Stephen Theaker

The brilliant thing about the JSA is that there always seems to be progression and continuity; this volume acts as a sequel and sort of a prequel to Kingdom Come. The Kingdom Come Superman has fled his world, the remaining superheroes having been killed in a nuclear blast, and is keen to prevent the events of Kingdom Come from happening in the current DC universe. (An incidental pleasure of the story is seeing an older Superman with the JSA again.) He knows that Gog was the progenitor of Magog, the anti-hero who caused so many problems in his reality, but the story has more twists than he expected.

Thursday 15 September 2011

Moorcock, Dicks, women - and statistics! A thrilling look through my Goodreads list.

One thing I love about using Goodreads is that you can download your list of books as a spreadsheet. (Yes, this is going to get excitingly dull!) I’ve tried to make my Goodreads list as complete as possible; every so often I’ll turn up a few forgotten books, or notice some odd anomaly, but in general it gives a good picture of my reading. It includes fiction, non-fiction and books of comics (i.e. trade paperbacks and graphic novels), but not individual comic books.

Anyway, I downloaded a copy of my booklist and had a play around with it... I seem to have read about 2439 books so far, so my average has been about 64 a year since birth. I own 1261 that I haven’t read, I’ve left 100 unfinished (mostly anthologies and omnibuses), and I’m currently reading 6.

Monday 12 September 2011

Doctor Who: The Paradise of Death, by Barry Letts – reviewed

It’s odd to hear the Doctor talking about capitalism, TV addicts, unemployment and the dole, but then the third Doctor, star of this five-part story, always stood out from the rest. He’s joined here by the Brigadier and Sarah Jane Smith, and given that we lost both actors so recently it was lovely to hear Nicholas Courtney and Elisabeth Sladen performing with Jon Pertwee in what was to me a brand new adventure (it was originally broadcast on Radio 5 in 1993). The Doctor and UNIT, soon after the affair of the dinosaur invasion, investigate a new tourist attraction, Space World, which features alien animals and ER – not just virtual reality, but experienced reality (think the tapes in Strange Days). The action soon follows space stowaway Sarah Jane to Parakon, a world where hoity-toity types live the high life thanks to the miracle plant rapine. A kindly President (played by Maurice Denham!) is being manipulated, revolution is brewing, and of course the Doctor and his friends get stuck in.

Friday 9 September 2011

Juliet McKenna: "Everyone can promote equality in genre writing"

Juliet McKenna has blogged (here) for SFX - the gender balance of whose reviews she's been tracking on her blog (e.g. here) - about the disparity between the proportion of genre books written by women and the proportion of books reviewed that are written by women. She suggests:

"Every reviewer can check their personal choices of books, to make sure there’s balance. Each reviews editor can do the same; monthly, quarterly, annually. If balance is lacking, we can ask why without necessarily accusing anyone of sexism."

I couldn't agree more. A month or two ago I started tracking the gender balance of books we were receiving - if it's working there should be a pie chart here to show where we currently stand:

At the time of writing (9 September 2011) the figure stands at 20.5%, so in theory at least 20.5% of my reviews would be of books by female writers and editors. I want to do a bit better than that, not least, as I've mentioned previously, because I'm unhappy with how few female writers have been appearing in the pages of our magazine.

So far the Even Stephens approach I've adopted - alternating my reviews between books by men, books by women (excluding comics for now) - seems to be working well. Apart from anything else, it makes choosing my next book that little bit easier.

It's interesting to note how it works against publishers who haven't published any books by women at all, and there are a few out there (for example...) - they're not in the running for half of my review slots.

Obverse Quarterly 1: Bite-Sized Horror, ed. by Johnny Mains – reviewed by Stephen Theaker

The title of this book might lead you to expect a collection of flash fiction or vampire stories, but it's neither, simply a collection of six short stories of average length. The introduction explains that there is no intentional theme, but there is perhaps an accidental one: the stories all seem to feature children, or parent-child relationships, in prominent roles; Pint-Sized Horror, you might say.

The two best stories bookend the collection, smartly ensuring that the book gives a good first impression, and sends the reader away happy. They were also, for me, the two stories in which one sensed most strongly a character to the writing; one could almost imagine the rest being written by a single author, but not these.

Monday 5 September 2011

Doctor Who: The Perpetual Bond, by Simon Guerrier – reviewed by Stephen Theaker

Having lost many friends in the battle to foil the daleks’ master plan, the first Doctor and Steven are rather pleased to find the Tardis has taken them to 1960s London. Plans to look up Ian and Barbara are interrupted by the sight of a mushroom-headed alien walking down the street. The trail leads to the City, where humans and disguised aliens are trading in a truly shocking commodity.

Friday 2 September 2011

The book I never wrote - on sale for $321.73!

Anyone who has had a book out knows that Amazon throws up interesting oddities - copies on sale in Japan for thousands of pounds, that kind of thing.

Today, I was pleasantly surprised to see a paperback copy of Professor Challenger in Space, a book I self-published years ago, going for $321.73 here on Amazon! How pleasing for my vanity that someone thought it was worth that much, even if they were, sadly, quite mistaken.

But what's this? The third in that series, Rolnikov, Mad Knight of Uttar Pradesh, also on sale, from the same vendor, for the same price! To say that was a surprise would be an understatement, given that I never actually wrote the book - it is a bibliographic ghost, registered with the ISBN Agency, but never published.

So two things are clear. I need to write that book, else it'll haunt me for the rest of my life. Secondly, Mygrandmasgoodies is listing books for sale that he or she doesn't actually possess.

I confess, I was half-tempted to order it. I bet it would have been by far the best of my novels.

By the way, Professor Challenger in Space is available on Kindle for much less than $321.73 - $1.39 in the US, and 86p in the UK. Still overpriced, though!

Ventriloquism by Catherynne M. Valente, reviewed by Stephen Theaker

Envying your children doesn’t look good on a parent. My daughter has given five-star ratings to 37 books so far this year, while I've only done it once, with The Art of McSweeney's. I’ve slightly begrudged her the thrill of finding something new and wonderful in almost every single book she reads. At one point I began to wonder, was I losing the ability to be impressed to that extent by a book? Thank goodness for Ventriloquism, which makes it clear that if I want to be impressed, I’ve been reading the wrong books! All thirty-two of the stories in this collection surprised and challenged me with language, allusion and form, and gave me the unmistakable pleasure that comes from reading something I had never read before.