Tuesday 31 December 2013

Hey, Theaker's Quarterly Fiction #46 is out now! Free ebook, cheap paperback!

Amazing fiction! Insightful reviews! A self-indulgent editorial! Yes, it’s Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction #46! This issue features alphabetically-ordered stories by Gary Budgen, Mitchell Edgeworth, Josie Gowler, Stephen Palmer, Jessy Randall, Charles Wilkinson and Ross Gresham, plus eighteen reviews from Stephen Theaker, Jacob Edwards and Douglas J. Ogurek. Our spacechristmassy cover art is by Howard Watts.

Our print format changes a bit with this issue, shaving an inch off in each direction. Not sure if we'll stick with the new size until we see how the printing goes, but as ever the goal is to make the publication easier to produce and easier to read. I hope you'll like it.


Paperback edition: on Amazon.co.uk / on Amazon.com / on CreateSpace
Epub version (free)
Mobi version (free)
PDF version (free)
Kindle edition: on Amazon.co.uk / on Amazon.com
The ebook is also available on Feedbooks and Lulu (both free)

All 45 back issues are also available for free download, in various formats.


Charles Wilkinson’s short stories have appeared in Best Short Stories 1990, Best English Short Stories 2, Midwinter Mysteries and London Magazine. A collection, The Pain Tree and Other Stories, was published by London Magazine Editions. Ag & Au, a pamphlet of his poems, recently appeared from Flarestack Poets, Birmingham. Previously in Theaker’s: “Notes on the Bone” (#41) and “Notes from the Undergrowth” (#44). This issue: “Petrol-Saved”.

Douglas J. Ogurek reviews The Hunger Games: Catching Fire for us this time. His work has appeared in the BFS Journal, The Literary Review, Morpheus Tales, Gone Lawn, and several anthologies. He lives in a Chicago suburb with the woman whose husband he is and their five pets. His website: www.douglasjogurek.weebly.com.

Gary Budgen’s fiction has been published in a number of magazines and anthologies including Interzone, Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction (“Through the Ages”, #43) and Morpheus Tales. Recently he has had stories in the anthologies Where Are We Going? and Urban Green Man. He is a member of London Clockhouse Writers. Read more at http://garybudgen.wordpress.com. In this issue: “Black Ribbon”.

Howard Watts is a writer, artist and composer living in Seaford who provides the fantastic cover art for this issue. In fact, he provided it over a year ago, for the issue originally intended for Christmas 2012! Check out his Deviantart page.

Jacob Edwards reviews About Time, Computing with Quantum Cats, The Day of the Doctor and Gravity in this issue. His heart belongs to Australia’s speculative fiction flagship Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, but we’re happy to be his holiday romance. This writer, poet and recovering lexiphanicist’s site: www.jacobedwards.id.au.

Jessy Randall’s stories, poems, and other things have appeared in Asimov’s, Flurb, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, LQQK, McSweeney’s, and Star*Line. Her website is personalwebs.coloradocollege.edu/~jrandall/. Her story in this issue: “The Night of Red Butterflies”.

Josie Gowler specialises in writing weird tales set in the English East Anglian Fens, and science fiction and fantasy short stories; she has most fun when these all overlap. She’s been published in 365 Tomorrows, Lorelei Signal, Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction (“Soldier”, all the way back in #28) and Bewildering Tales. She is a Napoleonic re-enactor and is currently working on a trashy coming-of-age space opera. Her story in this issue is “The Lazarus Loophole”.

Mitchell Edgeworth lives in Melbourne, Australia, and his fiction has been published in The Battered Suitcase and SQ Mag, as well as here. He keeps a blog at www.grubstreethack.wordpress.com and tweets as @mitchedgeworth. “Customs” is the fourth in his Black Swan series to appear in these pages. Like everything we publish, it can be read quite happily in isolation, but if you want to find out how the Black Swan got off the ground, see his stories in #40 (“Homecoming”), #42 (“Drydock”) and #43 (“Flight”).

Ross Gresham teaches at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. His stories have previously appeared in #34 (“Name the Planet”), #41 (“Milo Don’t Count Coup”) and #44 (“Milo on Fire”). His story in this issue is “Wild Seed”.

Stephen Palmer is the author of seven published novels, including Memory Seed and Glass (Orbit), Muezzinland, and Urbis Morpheos (PS Publishing). His short fiction has been published by NewCon Press, Wildside Press, SF Spectrum, Rocket Science, Eibonvale Press, Unspoken Water, Infinity Plus and Solaris, plus two more currently unmentionable. Ebooks of all his novels have recently been published by Infinity Plus Ebooks, who will also be publishing his forthcoming novel Hairy London. He lives and works in Shropshire, UK. His story in this issue: “The Mines of Sorrow”.

Stephen Theaker reviews all sorts of things in this issue. He even liked some of them. Further to last issue’s editorial, he got up to 107 consecutive days of writing at least 250 words a day (getting up to an average of 837), before post-Nanowrimo fatigue kicked in and brought the run to a halt on December 5. His work has also appeared in Black Static, Interzone, Prism, the BFS Journal, and the letters page of the NME. (He wrote to defend the authenticity of the Manic Street Preachers, comparing them favourably in that regard with bands like Curve. Time has – as usual! – proven him quite right.)

Monday 30 December 2013

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, reviewed by Douglas J. Ogurek

Smaug may desolate, but Legolas steals the show in a superb epic fantasy adventure

Ostensibly, The Hobbit film series is about its namesake character: Bilbo Baggins. The first film, An Unexpected Journey (2012), focuses on Bilbo, who undertakes an expedition both physical and mental. However, in this second installment, The Desolation of Smaug (2013), returning director Peter Jackson (who also directed the Lord of the Rings (LOTR) trilogy) moves further back, assuming a wider view on a group of unlikely and in some cases likely heroes. Those coming to see Desolation aren’t just coming to see Bilbo; they’re coming to see a collection of beloved characters. Moreover, true to the contemporary western culture that spawned such blockbusters as The Avengers (2012), Desolation has minimized those pesky internal struggles, and taken external challenges and battlefield bravura to the next level.    

Wednesday 25 December 2013

Twenty artists by whom I’ve only ever bought one album

Twenty artists by whom I’ve only ever bought one album (for myself, at least), and in brackets what the album was:

  1. Vampire Weekend (Modern Vampires of the City)
  2. The Streets (Original Pirate Material)
  3. The Magnetic Fields (69 Love Songs)
  4. S’Express (Original Soundtrack)
  5. The Prodigy (Their Law)
  6. Korn (Follow the Leader)
  7. Mouse on Mars (Rost Pocks)
  8. Los Campesinos! (Hold on Now, Youngster...)
  9. T'Pau (Bridge of Spies)
  10. The Hold Steady (Boys and Girls in America)
  11. Yo La Tengo (Summer Sun)
  12. Bomb the Bass (Enter the Dragon)
  13. Big Fun (Paradise)
  14. Liza Minelli (Results)
  15. The Bloodhound Gang (Hooray for Boobies*)
  16. The Cooper Temple Clause (See This Through and Leave)
  17. Oasis (What’s the Story, Morning Glory)
  18. The Art of Noise (In Visible Silence)
  19. Editors (The Back Room)
  20. Klaxons (Myths of the Near Future)

How about you?

And by the way, Merry Christmas! With any luck this will be the only new article on the internet today and our hits will go through the roof.

Wednesday is list day. This is list #16.

* I’m so, so sorry.

Monday 23 December 2013

Doctor Who and the Pescatons by Victor Pemberton, reviewed by Stephen Theaker

It has been quite a while since I last dipped into the six-story collection Doctor Who: The BBC Radio Episodes. I began with the Jon Pertwee story The Paradise of Death, reviewed in these pages many years ago, and it wasn’t too bad. A bit later I listened to The Ghosts of N-Space, which was so painfully awful I couldn’t bring myself to review it, especially since that was shortly after the deaths of Elisabeth Sladen and Nicholas Courtney and it wasn’t the right time to give their work a slating, however richly deserved. If you haven’t heard that story and you’re curious what was so bad about it, as an example let’s just say I never needed to hear the third Doctor explain the meaning of “sodomite” to Sarah Jane Smith.

Monday 16 December 2013

Diablo III, reviewed by Stephen Theaker

Diablo III (Blizzard Entertainment, Xbox 360; Amazon purchase) is the first of the series I’ve played, and since I don’t play games on the PC, the Xbox 360 version is a new game to me. It’s an isometric dungeon crawler, an action RPG where your heroes run around semi-randomly generated environments bashing hordes of creatures, fulfilling simple fetch-quests. Players can choose from wizard, demon hunter, barbarian, witch doctor and monk, and from male and female versions of each. The setting is pretty much indistinguishable from other fantasy games, with your regulation ghosts, zombies, skeletons etc to fight. Sometimes you get a funny feeling you’re just playing Dragon Age: Origins or Oblivion from a different point of view, though some laser-like magical powers would be more at home in Halo.

Friday 13 December 2013

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, reviewed by Douglas J. Ogurek

Rarely does a movie outshine the book that inspired it. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire blazes as an exception.

Catching Fire, the middle installment in Suzanne Collins’s hugely popular Hunger Games trilogy, divides into two stories that could stand alone. The second and far better half details the Hunger Games’ 75th anniversary “Quarter Quell”. District 12 tributes (i.e., competitors) and winners of the last game, Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark, square off in a fight-to-the-death match against past victors from the nation of Panem’s other eleven districts. Collins writes about this battle royal with skill, and the film follows suit.

Wednesday 11 December 2013

Ten things which I learned of from Steven Gilligan

Ten things I had no experience and/or knowledge of until I was introduced to them by our much-missed friend Steven Gilligan:
  1. Buffalo Tom
  2. John Constantine, Hellblazer
  3. J-Pop
  4. My Bloody Valentine
  5. A Song of Ice and Fire
  6. Using a small amount of water to wash out the inside of a ketchup bottle
  7. Vic Reeves’ Big Night Out
  8. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
  9. Wim Wenders
  10. Funerals
I'm grateful for some more than others. My life has not been improved by the addition of Mini Moni songs to my inner playlist. Not one bit. On the other hand, the first time Steven showed me an episode of Vic Reeves, I laughed so hard and so suddenly that tea shot out of my nose.

Wednesday is list day. This is list #14.

Monday 9 December 2013

Nexus Omnibus, Vol. 2 by Mike Baron and Steve Rude, reviewed by Stephen Theaker

Nexus Omnibus, Vol. 2 (Dark Horse, ebook, 423pp; Dark Horse app purchase), written by Mike Baron with most artwork by Steve Rude, collects issues 12 to 25 of the original series from First Comics. They continue the comic’s odd mix of high seriousness and low humour. The former: the punishment of genocidal maniacs, as super-powered Nexus puts to death the mass murderers of whom he mysteriously dreams. An example of the latter: the ongoing adventures of Clonezone the Hilariator, a terrible Catskills-style comedian who travels the galaxy from one crummy gig to another, always in hope of making it big.

Saturday 7 December 2013

British Fantasy Awards 2014: add your favourites to the eligibility list!

I'm running the British Fantasy Awards again next year. I plan for voting to begin on 1 January 2014, so now is the time to add your favourite works of 2013 to the BFS's eligibility list:

Submit your items here: http://tinyurl.com/suggestions2014

They will appear on the list here: http://tinyurl.com/list2014

You do not have to be a member to contribute to the list.

The list is especially short on newcomers, magazines, films/tv, comics and artists, so get racking your brains. Last year I could tell that a lot of voters were using the list – the text of many votes had been copied and pasted from it.

And check the list for your own work. Let me know about any mistakes, typos, misattributions, etc you spot so that I can correct them. Last year a mention of "Subterannean Press" made it all the way to an actual awards envelope before I finally noticed it. Some proofreader I am!

Unfortunately this great magazine of ours, all the marvellous stories and non-fiction and artwork we publish, and any books we put out are all ineligible, because of my involvement. I know, it sucks, we'd be sure to win otherwise. But anything fantastical you've published elsewhere during 2013 is eligible.

Wednesday 4 December 2013

Ten signs you have an unhealthy relationship with the internet

Ten signs you (okay, I) have an unhealthy relationship with the internet:

  1. You don’t get any work done at all when the internet is on.
  2. Your children have had to password protect their Kindles to stop you using them to go online.
  3. You would rather spend all day refreshing Digital Spy for new items than doing anything else.
  4. You really miss reading Ceefax from 100 to 999.
  5. You can’t put your cursor in Chrome’s box without autotyping the first two letters of your favourite url.
  6. You actually use the internet browser on your Xbox 360 or PS3.
  7. You spend more time reading Guardian comment threads than reading to your children.
  8. You’re happy when people start arguing on Twitter.
  9. You spend more time looking at the websites of wallies than the websites of people you respect.
  10. You read listicles right to the end.

What are your worst (PG-rated) internet habits?

Wednesday is list day. This is list #13.

Tuesday 3 December 2013

Thirteen things I learned (or was reminded of) during Nanowrimo this year

1. I have my best writing sessions with the PC off. In previous years it was writing on the Alphasmart that saved my bacon. This year it was Daedalus Touch on the iPad, and then Pages. Small screens for the win.

2. Backing up daily is essential, because things always go wrong.

3. Updating writing apps during November is a bad idea. I updated Daedalus Touch five or six days from the end, and it completely stopped working. Luckily I’d been emailing the chapters to my PC to go into Scrivener every day. I had to switch over to Pages, which crashed a fair few times itself.

4. Sixteen picture playing cards laid out face down in a four by four grid make a nice series of treats for finishing each hundred words, and provide a useful visual representation of your progress. (I’ve got Judge Dredd, Doctor Who, James Bond and NME packs of cards, which all took a turn this month.) Micro-encouragements like that work well for me.

5. Being behind from the beginning (thanks to an early morning trip to Brighton on the first weekend) can be rather helpful, much as I hated it. At no point was I thinking, 49,500 words to go. I was chasing a target that was always just a few thousand words ahead.

6. I think best with my fingers. Thinking about my writing too much doesn’t sem to suit me very well, because it leads me to prevaricate. I can never get all the thinking done. What worked well this year was setting my timer going and starting to write my way in. Sometimes that meant circling back to the first paragraph to add extra details, but that just added to the word count.

7. It’s not a good idea to start your Nanowrimo novel with all your characters flying through a featureless landscape with no way to talk to each other. Makes it so much harder than it has to be!

8. Nanowrimo novels get much easier towards the end. You know who your characters are, and they have a lot more to talk about.

9. A frequent change of setting makes Nanowrimo easier. There’s only so many ways to describe the same rooms, and that’s not your friend if you’re writing at speed. If your characters are in a different location every chapter, it’s easier to find a little something to say about each one.

10. I find myself really funny. I’ve been in stitches reading some of the stuff I wrote this month.

11. How clever other writers are. Writing my silly, pulp, nonsensical and very short novel was a great deal of fun, but it was still hard work. I’m in awe of the novelists who write books that are actually good.

12. There’s no excuse for how long I’ve taken to finish off some old writing projects. I just need to set my timer going and get on with writing them.

13. Nanowrimo is quite a forgiving challenge. 1667 words isn’t that much – a couple of hours’ work. So even if you miss three days, there’s a chance of catching up if you put all of the fourth day into it. I only wrote on 23 of the 30 days last month, and only reached the regulation daily 1667 words on 14 of those days.

Twelve things I didn’t like about doing Nanowrimo this year

1. I couldn’t make it to any of our local events, which was a shame because I used to regularly produce four or five thousand words at write-ins. I had to keep an eye on the children while they watched Netflix marathons of Winx Club and Jesse.

2. The word “but”. I incessantly seem to think in a way that argues against myself. In reviews I try to keep myself down to one “but” construction, but often fail. (There it is again!) When my six-year-old daughter looked at a passage I was writing she said, “You use ‘but’ too much. You should use other words like ‘however’.” My speed went down by about 25% after that.

3. Having to keep quiet on Twitter. I know Nanowrimo tweets can drive people mad – normal word count tweets are annoying enough, but during November there are thousands more of them! – so I didn’t want to tweet about it. Since it was all I thought about during November (at least in my leisure time) that left little else to tweet about.

4. Being behind. Doing the final set-up bits for the British Fantasy Awards and travelling down to Brighton for the British Fantasy Society AGM got me off to a pretty bad start, and I didn’t catch up until the very last day.

5. The “rebels”, or “hangers-on”. There have always been a bunch of people who sign up for Nanowrimo who don’t want to write a novel from start to finish, think doing so would be a waste of effort, and often don’t like novels at all – or even know what they are! It’s got much worse in recent years because the organisers introduced the idea of “rebellion”. So people who aren’t taking part in the challenge but want to sip from the same cup can designate themselves rebels, converse in their own forum, buy their own special hoody, and hang around without taking part, all the while discouraging other people from the job (and joy) of writing a novel. Whenever a question is asked about the rules of the challenge, someone always pipes up to say, “But you don’t have to! You can be a rebel, like me!” It’s baffling that the organisers positively encourage people to not take part in their own event, until you realise that “rebels” are encouraged to donate money. The rebels’ presence gives the impression that raising money is more important than keeping the event focused.

6. Which leads on to: the fundraising. When I stopped being an ML for Birmingham there were a few reasons – one was that our venue for write-ins had given us the boot! But another was that the MLs were being asked to actively fundraise for the event – an event for which we were already doing a great deal of volunteer work. I’ve always been happy to buy a t-shirt or two, and donating $10 to cover the costs of running the forums seems reasonable. But this year the fundraising got out of hand, with a day being set aside for marathon sessions, promoted with guff like “Write for two hours? You should donate $100!” – as if our hard work on our own novels would mean we owed the organisation money. In the end, you don’t need that organisation to write a 50,000 novel in November. They had a good idea, and run good, very useful forums full of excellent advice and support, but if their company were to collapse the event would go on.

7. Being miserable most of the day until I got my 1667 words done.

8. Having to be extra grumpy with my kids to get them out of my study.

9. The embarrassment of seeing the appalling novels other wrimos are writing. It’s depressing to read a novel synopsis composed entirely of broken sentences – beside a word count of 150,000!

10. The disappointment at seeing the brilliant novels other wrimos are writing – that they never publish!

11. The number of people advising participants to stop trying. “You can write any time, not just in November!” “Real writers write all year round!” “It’s just a silly pointless competition!” But writing as part of Nanowrimo is special. It gives you permission to neglect everything else for a month, to burn the candle at both ends for a while, to push yourself harder than there’s ever normally a reason to. Without the deadline to aim for, I’d never have spent last Saturday writing eight thousand words. I’d have been expected to help the children with their homework in the morning, make a decent lunch for them, do the dishes, order the pizza, watch a film in the evening, and so on. I have a new novel in my hands, and if I’d listened to the numbskulls saying not to bother, that novel wouldn't exist.

12. That it’s over for another year.

Twelve things I liked about doing Nanowrimo this year

1. The incredible feeling you get when you’ve done your 1666 words for the day and you keep writing. Whether you’re catching up or ploughing ahead, it feels brilliant.

2. Slowing down the passage of time. Each time I’ve written a novel is a huge landmark in my life. The children we had five minutes ago are growing far too quickly, but by this time next year it will feel like I wrote this novel a million years ago.

3. It made me take a break from the Xbox 360. Always a good thing. Mrs Theaker pin-protected my Xbox Live account, which helped.

4. Ending up with a new Stephen Theaker novel to read. I appreciate that others may be less enthused by this than me! I’m not a very good novelist, but there are few writers whose novels I like better than my own. I leave out all the stuff I find boring in books, and include all the things I love. Why else would you write a novel, if not to create the kind of book you want to read?

5. It got me listening to Radio 3. Never really done that before, and it turns out I quite like it. Not that I’ve become a fan of classical music, exactly. It’s more that it can so easily be ignored when writing or working, while still providing a buffer against the distracting sounds of everyday life.

6. It reinforced my sense of how brilliant my other half is. If I stayed up late writing, she dealt with the children in the morning and let me sleep in. She took an extra turn at the dishes. She put up with my grumpiness. (As did the children, who were exceptionally understanding and encouraging.) She was brilliant.

7. Getting ideas from the children. Whenever I talked to them about my novel, they were full of excellent suggestions, nearly all of which I incorporated. Of course, I take all blame for the inferior quality of the final product. You can’t spin lead into gold, but the reverse is quite possible.

8. There’s a cruel, malicious pleasure in knowing that however bad my novel ends up being, there are people writing seriously, taking years and sweating blood over their work, who won’t ever write anything half as entertaining as the book I just wrote in a month. I know, that pleasure makes me a bad person, but to get a novel written in a month requires the strength of all aspects of your character, not just the nice, fluffy bits.

9. This was the first novel I’ve written (it’s the seventh I’ve finished, after Professor Challenger in Space, Quiet, the Tin Can Brains Are Hunting!, The Fear Man, His Nerves Extruded, The Doom That Came to Sea Base Delta, and The Day the Moon Wept Blood) that I would be happy for my daughters to read. The others have all been from the point of view of men, most of them rather sexist, lecherous men. I think this is the first of those seven novels that would pass the Bechdel Test.

10. Attempts to justify not writing led me to reorganise my home office, and get rid of all the junk that had been clogging it up. There’s twice the floor space in here now, and half as many televisions.

11. Commercial writers suddenly becoming terribly precious about their writing. “Sixteen hundred words a day? The thought is simply dreadful! If I wrote more than two hundred words of Thoognoth the Unthoughtable: Assistant Lord Chancellor of the Middle Under-Realms XIII: The Jewels of Yesterday’s Tomorrow, Part II in a day my muse would desert me! Each word must be dragged screaming from my soul by hours of meditation and intense personal reflection! Oh, what’s that, you want me to write an email of encouragement to Nanowrimo participants? And there are how many of them? You don’t say! And I’ll be able to mention that Thoognath XII is now out in paperback? Well, I would be delighted! As I have always said, what a marvellous event this is!”

12. That it’s over for another year.

Monday 2 December 2013

The Unsettled Dust and Other Stories by Robert Aickman, read by Reece Shearsmith, reviewed by Stephen Theaker

As far as I know, The Unsettled Dust and Other Stories by Robert Aickman (Audible, digital audiobook, 8 hrs 37 mins; supplied by publisher) has been my first taste of this writer’s work. He is of course very well regarded in horror circles, and has long been on my to-read-at-some-point list. I wasn’t disappointed.

The narrator of this edition, published by Audible themselves, is Reece Shearsmith of The League of Gentlemen. The recording is very clear. There are no sound effects or music, but their absence feels appropriate. His reading is splendid, aside from a couple of tiny fluffs.