Monday 28 May 2012

Roger Waters: The Wall Live – reviewed by Jacob Edwards

Roger Waters: The Wall Live, Brisbane Entertainment Centre, 2 February 2012. “I’ve got a big black pig with my poems on.”

Few lovers of speculative fiction would hold anything but affection for progressive rock band Pink Floyd (or, as they were billed in their psychedelic early days, The Pink Floyd). From Syd Barrett’s typically edgy brainchild “Astronomy Domine” through warp-driven and ethereal juggernauts “Interstellar Overdrive” and “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun”, the Floyd were like a hippie’s conception of spaceflight.

(Mind you, one doesn’t have to be stoned to hear echoes of Ron Grainer’s Doctor Who theme materialising in and out across the background of “One of These Days”. Just listen closely. It’s particularly evident in the Delicate Sound of Thunder live recording.)

Friday 25 May 2012

Supernatural, Season 6 – reviewed by Stephen Theaker

It took Sky Living a long time to get around to showing Supernatural, Season 6, and once they had it took me a little while to get around to watching it. The conclusion to season five felt like such a natural place to end the programme—series creator Eric Kripke left at that point, after tying up many long-running storylines—that I wasn’t in a hurry to see it start up again. But this season hasn’t been the pale imitation I expected, nor has it unpicked old storylines to rehash them, it’s done what almost every season of Supernatural so far has done, providing a significant new chapter in its heroes’ lives, while never letting the story arc get in the way of a good scare or a funny joke.

Monday 21 May 2012

Chronicle – reviewed by Douglas J. Ogurek

Chronicle, Josh Trank (dir.). Suppressed rage + newly acquired super powers = compelling story.

The found footage technique has emerged as a highly effective strategy for genre films. The Blair Witch Project (1999) and Paranormal Activity (2007) were masterpieces of minimalism that broke new ground in horror. Cloverfield (2008) brought the technique to science fiction by creating a disturbingly realistic alien invasion. Chronicle continues the found footage winning streak as a psychologically rich and culturally relevant urban fantasy.

Friday 18 May 2012

Falling Skies, Season 1 – reviewed by Stephen Theaker

In my review of the Falling Skies graphic novel I said I didn’t plan to watch the programme, but the summer television drought left me high and dry, and reading my review after publication, I thought it seemed a bit unfair. A programme about the aftermath of an alien invasion, and I wasn’t going to watch a single episode? I could hear my ten-year-old self screaming at me from the wastelands of eighties television. (Dunno what he was complaining about—I let him watch a series and a half of the new V.) Ultimately, I didn’t love Falling Skies, Season 1, but I did enjoy it much more than expected. I’d have been very disappointed if a second season hadn’t been forthcoming.

Unofficial list of material that's eligible for fantasy awards in 2013

If anyone would like to contribute to a completely and utterly unofficial list of 2012 material that might be eligible for fantasy awards in 2013, here you go:

Fill in the form

And it'll appear on the list.

Doesn't matter if you're a member of any particular society or a convention goer, or if it's your own work, or something you published, or anything like that. Do try to suggest things that you think are good, though!

Note that this is completely unofficial and not even slightly endorsed by any particular organisation.

If you spot a mistake or a miscategorisation on the list, point it out using the "Correct something" option on the form.

I hope this'll end up producing quite a useful list of relevant 2012 releases, but if not it'll at least be handy for me. Already had a few contributions to the list, and been spurred to think of a few myself.

Wednesday 16 May 2012

Bricks by Leon Jenner – reviewed by John Greenwood

How to review a book that is categorised by its publisher as fiction ("All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental") but which refutes its own fictitiousness?
I hope you listen and do not see them [the words in the book] as entertainment. They are true. This is not fiction, even if they make me sell it as such.
To confuse matters further, the only two named characters in the book are historical persons, Julius Caesar and Paulinus, although the accounts of their struggles against the Celts of Britain are indeed highly fictionalised. Moreover, the novel, if it is such, contains two lengthy appendices full of historical source material and philosophical discussion. The reader will find very little descriptive narrative here, apart from a few chapters in the middle which rewrite the Roman invasions of Britain as a triumphant victory for the indigenous people.

Monday 14 May 2012

The Bippolo Seed and Other Lost Stories, by Dr Seuss – reviewed by Jacob Edwards

The Bippolo Seed and Other Lost Stories, by Dr Seuss (HarperCollins, hb, 72pp). Left foot, left foot, left foot, right, feet in mourning, feat in spite. Few people who have grown up to read (or write) speculative fiction will have done so without a childhood encounter or two with author/illustrator Theodor Geisel—alias Theo LeSieg or, more famously, Dr Seuss. In fact, so iconic are Geisel’s surrealist drawings and rhyming verse that ever since his death in 1991 the children’s book industry seems to have placed an indefinite moratorium on any work even remotely imitative. It’s as if some publishing god (or perhaps just the Geisel Estate lawyers, who reputedly are as hard-lined as the Yooks and the Zooks of Seuss’s Butter Battle Book) sent out a rhyming memo—something to the effect of:

Friday 11 May 2012

Rhysop’s Fables by Rhys Hughes – reviewed (sort of) by Stephen Theaker

Having just finished reading Rhysop’s Fables by Rhys Hughes (Gloomy Seahorse Press, ebook, 2593ll), a squirrel decided to visit his friend the blue whale. He rode on a train, jumped a few fences, and climbed a few trees, and in the time it takes to say as much he was looking his immense friend in the face.

“Good morning,” said the whale.

“Good morning,” said the squirrel.

“Good morning,” said the hundreds of thousands of krill that were trying without success to escape the whale’s baleen plates.

The whale shook his head sadly. (The squirrel gripped the sides of his little sailing nut as it was buffeted by the resulting waves.) “I’m so tired of krill, so tired of water sloshing around my mouth all day. I envy you, squirrel, with your diet of nice dry nuts, I really do.”

“Come stay with me a while then,” said the squirrel. “I’ve plenty of nuts stored away.”

“That sounds wonderful,” said the whale. “A change would be as good as a vest.”

“A vest? Don’t you mean a rest?”

“Have you been in the ocean lately? A good set of thermals is what I really need, but since they aren’t available in my size, a change will have to do.”

The squirrel nodded, and the two of them climbed a few trees, jumped a few fences, and rode on a train. In the time it takes to say as much they were sitting on a branch outside the squirrel’s hole.

The branch immediately broke. The whale fell to the ground and bruised his tail. The squirrel, however, managed to grab onto another branch and saved himself.

¶ The high life isn’t for everyone, especially not blue whales!

The squirrel placed a cold compress upon his friend’s tail.

“You wait here,” he said, “and I’ll go and get the key to my nutty cupboard.”

He scampered up to his little hole, went to his little bed, and slipped a golden key out from under his fluffy little pillow. He carried it down the tree and unlocked the little red door to his nutty cupboard.

The blue whale gasped in amazement. Inside there were one hundred and fifty gorgeous, golden nuts. Some were tiny, some were medium-sized, but all looked blinking delicious.

“Nice, eh?” said the squirrel. “Would you like to try one?”

“Would I?” said the whale. “Of course! Just poke a hole in my baleen and push it in!”

It was the most delicious thing the whale had ever tasted. The squirrel had one too, and then closed and locked the little red door.

For the rest of the day the two of them chatted as old friends will, their conversation covering such topics as politics, the environment, gossip about their mutual friends and enemies, films they had seen and books they had read.

The blue whale liked the sound of Rhysop’s Fables and decided to buy himself a copy, but, that aside, his mind was on just one thing: to eat more of those nuts.

Before long his friend went to bed, and once the whale could hear happy little snores drifting down from the tree top he climbed the tree himself, squeezed into the squirrel’s hole, sneaked over to the squirrel’s little bed, and slipped his hand under the squirrel’s fluffy little pillow.

The golden key! He had it!

When the squirrel awoke he climbed down the tree to see the red door to his nuts wide open, the store obviously depleted, and his friend the whale gingerly holding his tummy. The squirrel was sad.

“I’m sorry,” said the whale. “I ate seventy-four of your nuts, one after the other. I just couldn’t stop pushing your nuts into my mouth. Consuming each one made me want another just like it, and now here we are, our friendship betrayed by my whale-sized greed. I’m so sorry. Will you still be my friend?”

“All you had to do was ask,” said the squirrel. “I should have realised that while one nut was enough for me, it couldn’t possibly be enough for a big fellow like you. As long as you enjoyed them all, that’s the main thing.”

“I did, I did,” said the whale. “Although after fifty or sixty the fun went out of it. It began to feel rather mechanical. Maybe the nuts toward the back of your store aren’t as tasty as those at the front.”

The squirrel took one of the remaining nuts and tried it. “No,” he said. “As lovely as the rest. You just let your palate get jaded, and forgot to take the time to enjoy each individual nut. Having said that, I’ve never eaten so many in one go, and now I’m wondering what it would be like.”

And with that the squirrel and the whale ate the remaining seventy-three nuts, and thoroughly enjoyed them. When the store was empty the whale thrashed his tail a bit, causing eight large nuts to fall from the trees. They enjoyed these as much as the others, but took their time with them.

¶ If you squirrel everything away, you’ll never have a whale of a time. And though nuts, like jokes, wisdom and fables, can be most effective when taken in small quantities, let yourself have the pleasure of gorging on them once in a while.

Your morning cup of what the heck…?

Just received an email from someone offering to write for us:

"The good news is that I'd be able to offer my services at no charge; the only thing I would ask in return is that I'm able to include a link to a company within the article. Nothing adult or in bad taste, just one of the professional businesses for which I freelance."

She was kind enough to provide links to her work, letting us see who took her up on the offer, some of them even publishing the work under their own names (assuming that she's telling the truth).

See if you can spot the paid links…

What a world…!

Tuesday 8 May 2012

A few comments on the shortlist of the British Fantasy Awards 2012

The British Fantasy Award shortlist for 2012 has been announced. It's the product of BFS/FantasyCon members making up to three recommendations in each category (two sets of three in best novel), the top four in each category going through, and the juries then adding up to two "egregious omissions". Here are the nominees and a few of my thoughts. I have to admit I didn't recommend much this year, not having read much contemporary fiction in 2011.

Note that I'm just using that picture to the right because this lot are nominees, not us: we missed out this year!


Two awards will be made out of this one category, one for horror and one for fantasy. As many people have commented on Twitter, it’s an odd set-up, but that’s what most BFS members voted for. The explanation given before the vote was this, and I think the way the new BFS awards admin who inherited the new rules has handled it makes sense. Although the voting was divided into fantasy and horror, all those votes were counted together at the end. So four of these were the books that got the most votes, regardless of genre. Half the novel votes being ringfenced that way for fantasy does seem to have led to a more varied shortlist. The judges added two titles to this category – the books by George R.R. Martin and Jo Walton, I'd guess. I didn't read many novels from 2011 during 2011, but I went for Revenants by Daniel Mills. Though it didn't get in here, I hope it might still have a shot at best newcomer.

  • The Heroes, Joe Abercrombie
  • 11.22.63, Stephen King
  • Cyber Circus, Kim Lakin-Smith
  • A Dance with Dragons, George R.R. Martin
  • The Ritual, Adam Nevill
  • Among Others, Jo Walton


Four nominations from one book! The jury added two titles to this category. I'd guess at Elizabeth Hand and Lavie Tidhar, but I could be completely wrong. I'm reading Gorel now, and it's very good, but haven't read any of the others.

  • Terra Damnata, James Cooper
  • Ghosts with Teeth, Peter Crowther (from A Book of Horrors)
  • Alice Through the Plastic Sheet, Robert Shearman (from A Book of Horrors)
  • Near Zennor, Elizabeth Hand (from A Book of Horrors)
  • The Music of Bengt Karlsson, Murderer, John Ajvide Lindqvist (from A Book of Horrors)
  • Gorel and the Pot Bellied God, Lavie Tidhar


Another two nominations for A Book of Horrors; launching at FantasyCon always stands you in good stead for the BFAs. The jury added one title to this shortlist, but I couldn't guess which. I was expecting at least one story, maybe more, from last year's winner in this category, so I was pleasantly surprised by that. (And, okay, a little disappointed, because I don't like being wrong.)

  • Dermot, Simon Bestwick (from Black Static)
  • King Death, Paul Finch 
  • Sad, Dark Thing, Michael Marshall Smith (from A Book of Horrors)
  • Florrie, Adam Nevill (House of Fear)
  • The Coffin-Maker’s Daughter, Angela Slatter (from A Book of Horrors)


I have to admit, Ranjna and I recommended The Weird – a very, very lengthy book – at least partly out of devilry. But glad to see it’s on there. I haven't read the others.

  • A Book of Horrors, ed. Stephen Jones
  • House of Fear, ed. Jonathan Oliver
  • The Weird, eds Jeff and Ann Vandermeer
  • Gutshot, ed. Conrad Williams


I thought Zombies in New York and Other Bloody Jottings was a definite for this category, so that shows how little I know! I'm disappointed that Cat Valente's Ventriloquism didn't make the list, but I hadn't heard any other BFS members talking about it, so it was a bit of a long shot.

  • Rumours of the Marvellous, Peter Atkins
  • Mrs Midnight, Reggie Oliver
  • Everyone’s Just So So Special, Robert Shearman
  • A Glass of Shadow, Liz Williams


This category has five titles listed because there was a tie on number of votes and first place choices. I'm utterly amazed that no Doctor Who episodes made the shortlist: I thought "The Doctor's Wife", especially, a dead cert, given that Neil Gaiman wrote it and how much he is loved by BFS members. In fact I thought we’d have an all- or near-all Who shortlist. There were fourteen episodes of Who on last year, so maybe the vote got split. We’ll have a better idea when the BFS releases its complete list of everything that was recommended. I’m delighted to see Midnight in Paris on there (which was my pick), and Attack the Block too. I haven’t seen the others yet. Kill List doesn’t look like a fantasy film; but I'm afraid to ask about it in case finding out about the fantasy element turns out to be a spoiler!

  • Midnight in Paris by Woody Allen
  • Attack the Block by Joe Cornish
  • The Awakening by Stephen Volk and Nick Murphy
  • Melancholia by Lars Von Trier
  • Kill List by Ben Wheatley and Amy Jump


That last one is cruel - T, H, E - wait, what, where’s the A-K-E-R?!! Obviously I'm biased here towards the two magazines I've written for (albeit not during 2011), Interzone and Black Static, and hope that one of them wins. I have to admit I know Jeani Rector best from her battles with Dave Byron, but the zine looks to have some decent contributors. I used to love SFX – I bought the first issue the day finals began, and have the first hundred or so in binders. I stopped subscribing after they stopped putting any text on the subscriber covers. Sounds like a little thing, but it made them look so boring. Plus, I could never resist ripping open the spoiler section. In a member vote this would have gone to Black Static, no doubt, but a jury could go any way.


This category has five titles listed because there was a tie on number of votes and first place choices. The Walking Dead was my vote here, but I was kicking myself for not recommending Clint, which had a great year, and Kirby Genesis, which I just love. I've enjoyed what I've read of Locke and Key and the new Animal Man.

  • Animal Man, Jeff Lemire and Travel Foreman
  • Batwoman, J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman
  • Locke and Key, Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
  • The Unwritten, Mike Carey and Peter Gross
  • The Walking Dead, Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard


It still seems completely inappropriate to me that the BFS decided to let the sponsors of this category pick the entire jury, but I have to admit they've picked good people. No disrespect to the other contenders, who have all produced interesting stuff, but it’s hard to see anyone but Chômu winning this award, given the quality and quantity of their books.


Nothing to say about this one – all super artists.


This category has five titles listed because there was a tie on number of votes and  first place choices. Generally a very quiet category for recommendations; last year I think the longlist was shorter than the shortlist, though I might be misremembering! Good job no one went for the SF Encyclopedia – I was kicking myself the day after voting for not recommending it – or the jury would have had an awful lot to read. It’s funny how I’m more surprised by the things that I didn’t vote for that didn’t get in, than I am by the things I did vote for that didn’t get in. This looks like a very readable shortlist to me.

  • Lest You Should Suffer Nightmares: A biography of Herbert Van Thal, Johnny Mains
  • Supergods: Our World in the Age of the Superhero, Grant Morrison
  • Nightmare Movies: Horror on Screen since the 1960s, Kim Newman
  • Studies in Terror: Landmarks of Horror Cinema, Jonathan Rigby
  • Case Notes, Peter Tennant (from Black Static)

More general thoughts....

Well, it’s a typically BFS shortlist! The focus hasn't broadened that much from previous years - most nominations have still gone to writers and/or publishers who are FantasyCon regulars, to horror, and to men. I don't think those things will change without taking BFS members out of the equation, and we wouldn't want to do that. But it does look like the juries might have been using their powers to balance those things out, which is brilliant.

The absence of much of the small pressier stuff – which led one writer to declare "Order is restored"! – is probably down to there only being four nominees from the membership, instead of five. All those nominations for stories from one book, that was launched at FantasyCon by three BFS stalwarts, look just as cliquey as anything that happened last year. The difference being, I'd imagine, that this book is much better.

Looking at the numbers, the shortlist was produced by 952 recommendations from BFS members across 14 categories (fantasy and horror were listed separately on the recs form), with each person able to give I think up to 38 recs (three in twelve categories, one in each of the two special awards). So 952 recommendations is the equivalent of about 25 people using all their recs in each category.

It's odd to compare that with 2010, where we had 999 votes across twelve categories in the final round, or 2011, where 1248 votes were cast – and in both those cases people could only cast one vote per category, not three.

Membership has apparently soared since then. More members, allowed to cast three times the votes, but actually casting fewer in total – why would that be?

The difference can be explained, I think, by there being a big difference between proffering a recommendation, and voting for something off a list. Most people wouldn’t generally think to recommend something they hadn’t read, but asked to choose from a checklist they’ll draw on whatever knowledge they have about the books to make the best decision they can.

Anyway.... good to know that it comes down now to people actually reading the books. I was always really disappointed in previous years to see BFS members saying they had cast their votes the second the shortlist was announced. If I get time I'd love to work my way through some of the nominees as usual, even if this year it won't make any difference to the results.

Monday 7 May 2012

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – reviewed by Howard Watts

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. I enter cautiously, and with some apprehension. The place is a mess. Plates, saucepans, goblets are strewn everywhere—the place looks as though it hasn’t been cleaned for hundreds of years. Cobwebs adorn the corners of the rooms, adding softness. Dirt and dust has gathered in dunes along the edges of the walls, sculpted by the shuffling footfalls of the cursed occupants.

Not a description of one of the many hundreds of locations I’ve found playing Skyrim, unfortunately an embarrassing snapshot of my neglected home, Skyrim having seized my attention like no other game I’ve played before. I’d like to make one thing clear from the beginning of this review: I’m not a huge fan of fantasy games. I prefer a blaster or BFG in my hands as I explore the perfect angular starship passageways of the many SF first/third person shooter games—I even traded Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion following a few minutes of play when I bought my first (now sadly deceased) PS3, due to its low graphic quality. Thankfully (I may regret using that word), Skyrim is a different beast altogether. It’s not as pretty as say the Uncharted or Call of Duty series of games, its colour palette somewhat lacking across the spectrum in comparison, but what Skyrim achieves perfectly is playability, and from that point of view it is unsurpassed—the game is quite simply astonishing.

Friday 4 May 2012

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury – reviewed by Stephen Theaker

Reading The Island of Doctor Moreau a year or two ago I was struck by how it wasn’t about what I had thought it was about: the animals are made humanoid by way of plastic surgery, rather than forced mutation or cross-breeding. Because these books are so famous, because we encounter references to them at every turn, we feel we understand them without reading them, and that often isn’t the case.

I’d always thought Fahrenheit 451 (The Folio Society, hb, 176pp) by Ray Bradbury to be a novel about censorship, and to some extent it is. The firemen who burn the books do work for the government. But to a greater extent it’s a novel about dumbing down, the numbing effect of mass entertainment, and—this came as a real surprise—political correctness gone mad.