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!