Friday 25 December 2015

Book notes: Star Wars Legacy and more

Star Wars Tales, Vol. 6 (Dark Horse Comics) by Jeremy Barlow. Last and weakest of the series. Too glum, too serious, and too little of the major characters, so that it could try to stay in continuity more. A lot less fun than any of the previous books. ***

Star Wars: Crimson Empire III: Empire Lost (Dark Horse Comics) by Mike Richardson, Randy Stradley, Paul Gulacy, Michael Bartolo and Dave Dorman. The third adventure of Kir Kanos, former guard to Emperor Palpatine, is the first to include Luke, Leia and Han (who seem rather tetchy), but it’s the usual story of imperial remnants fighting the new republic and each other. Often hard to tell what’s happening in action scenes. ***

Star Wars: Legacy, Vol. 10: Extremes (Dark Horse Comics) by John Ostrander, Jan Duursema, Brad Anderson and Sean Cooke. Takes the series up to its cancellation with issue 50, though volume 11 continues the story by collecting a mini-series. All the plotlines that have been running keep on running. Cade Skywalker continues to draw on the power of the dark side to fight his enemies and help his friends, while the Sith, former emperors and the remnants of the alliance jockey for galactic power. Readable without being all that exciting. ***

Star Wars: Legacy, Vol. 11: War (Dark Horse Comics) by John Ostrander, Jan Duursema and Dan Parsons. Burdened with much recapping in its early pages, the miniseries collected in this volume still does a surprisingly good job of roosting all the pigeons that flapped around in books one to ten. Cade Skywalker confronts the dark side of the force, the new alliance goes for broke, and the Sith reveal their terrible new weapon. I never grew to love this series, but I read one volume after another, and that tells its own story. It’s essentially a thousand-page Star Wars graphic novel. How could I not enjoy it, at least a bit? ***

Star Wars: Legacy, Vol. 5: The Hidden Temple (Dark Horse Comics) by John Ostrander, Jan Duursema and Dan Parsons. The story steps up a gear, but Cade is still an unpleasant protagonist with terrible hair and Darth Krayt seems more like a He-Man villain than something from Star Wars. I’ll keep reading, but only because I bought the whole series in one go. ***

Star Wars: Legacy, Vol. 7: Storms (Dark Horse Comics) by John Ostrander, Omar Fancia, Jan Duursema, Dan Parsons and Brad Anderson. More adventures in the post-Luke future of Star Wars. An imperial knight helps the Mon Calamari fight back against the Sith, underwater, and Cade Skywalker continues his aimless, charmless meanderings around the galaxy. ***

Star Wars: Legacy, Vol. 8: Tatooine (Dark Horse Comics) by John Ostrander, Jan Duursema, Dan Parsons and Brad Anderson. The most obnoxious brat in comics turns to ripping off pirates but they get wise to his force tricks and his stay on Tatooine ends up being longer than planned. Elsewhere in the galaxy far, far away we see how a Mandalorian (like Boba Fett) came to join Rogue Squadron, and what happens when his vengeful ex-wife finds him there. ***

Star Wars: Vector, Vol. 2 (Dark Horse Comics) by Rob Williams, John Ostrander, Dustin Weaver, Jan Duursema and Dan Parsons. The second half of a crossover between four ongoing Star Wars titles. This contains one story with Luke Skywalker set during the rebellion, and one set over a century later with Cade Skywalker. The connection is a long-lived former Jedi, Celeste Morne, who is bonded with the Muur talisman and the Sith consciousness within it. As well as volume two of Vector, this also stands as volume four of Rebellion and volume six of Legacy, a bizarre set-up that left me searching fruitlessly for the latter after having bought the other ten volumes in a sale. In this book Cade teams up with a trio of Imperial Knights and Celeste Morne to make an assassination attempt on Darth Krayt. It’s okay. ***

Merry Christmas everybody!

Tuesday 22 December 2015

Krampus | review by Douglas J. Ogurek

Killjoys beware: this holiday horror surprises with positive message, tender moments.

A colleague expressed reservations about Krampus. How could I, he wondered, want to see a horror movie that ostensibly spits in the face of the Christmas holiday spirit?

As it turns out, this individual is way off the mark. Yes, Krampus is billed as a horror film. Yes, the demonic title character is, if you’ll pardon the expression, the polar opposite of Santa Claus. At first glance, Krampus seems little more than sprinkling some red and green on the typical B/slasher film in which a savvy monster gradually picks off unlikable or shallow characters.

Friday 18 December 2015

Book notes: Nexus, JLA, Orbital and more

JLA, Vol. 5 (DC Comics) by Mark Waidand Bryan Hitch. A disappointment. I love the JLA, and Mark Waid has written some terrific comics, but this just doesn’t work. The stories lack decent villains, and the heroes have lost all the sharpness of the Grant Morrison run. I don’t know what went wrong here. **

Nexus Omnibus 4 (Dark Horse Comics) by Mike Baron, Steve Rude and chums. Much more fun than previous volumes. Nexus himself is far less tortured and conflicted, and heads back to the bowl-shaped world to find a god who might be able to prevent the collapse of Gravity Well, an unstable power station built on a black hole that could destroy the solar system. A band of youngsters from Ylum become huge rock stars, jockeying begins for the presidential elections, and the three girls who pledged vengeance after Nexus executed their father continue their search for enough power to kill him. The backup stories are now all about Judah the Hammer, a huge improvement. The artwork and design is as ambitious and colourful as the stories. My favourite Nexus book yet. ****

Nexus Omnibus 5 (Dark Horse Comics) by Mike Baron and chums. Horatio Hellpop has had enough of being Nexus, and leaves Ylum to find himself. So the insane alien Merk grants his power to other candidates, including three vengeful sisters and a musclebound professor. Les Dorscheid’s colouring maintains a consistent look despite a succession of guest artists, but with Steve Rude largely absent this book isn’t as stylish or distinctive as earlier collections. ****

Nexus Omnibus 6 (Dark Horse Comics) by Mike Baron, Hugh Haynes and chums. Alien taskmaster the Merk made Stanislaus Korivitsky the new Nexus, but it’s a poor choice: he likes the killing way too much, and when the Merk’s power runs out Stan will team up with the Bad Brains! Original Nexus Horatio Hellpop will have to come out of his retirement to take him down. The art on this one has some very shaky moments, but once Hugh Haynes becomes the regular penciller it settles down a bit. Reading these six omnibuses has been a terrific experience, watching Ylum develop into a full-blown society, inching its way forward, making mistakes, trying to balance the varied demands of a growing population. A great science fiction adventure. ****

Orbital, Vol. 1: Scars (Cinebook) by Sylvain Runberg and Serge Pellé. A pair of novice special space agents are despatched to Senestam, a moon of Upsall, to resolve the conflict between human colonists and the aliens of Upsall, who would quite like their moon back now that valuable minerals have been found there. Excellent art, and an interesting story, but it is bafflingly split across two slim volumes and the matte printing is unattractive. ***

Orbital, Vol. 2: Ruptures (Cinebook) by Sylvain Runbergand Serge Pellé. The story concludes. £7.99 seems like quite a lot for a 56pp comic. ***

Queen and Country: The Definitive Edition, Vol. 2 (Oni Press) by Greg Rucka, Jason Alexander and Carla Speed McNeil. Collects three excellent stories about spy Tara Chace and her fellow Minders in the SIS. Like the MI:6 equivalent of Spooks. *****

Friday 11 December 2015

Book notes: Empowered, Alien Legion, All You Need Is Kill, and more

Alien Legion Omnibus, Vol. 2 (Dark Horse Comics) by Alan Zelenetz, Larry Stroman, Frank Cirocco and chums. An okay book of science fiction war stories, with an admirable tendency to kill off its cast and explore the effect that has on the others, but… high heels on the new female recruit’s battle armour? What were they thinking? And some of the poses she appears in are ludicrous. ***

All You Need Is Kill (Haikasoru) by Hiroshi Sakurazaka. An sf take on Groundhog Day, it’s neat and thrilling without making tons of sense. Filmed as Edge of Tomorrow, where Tom Cruise plays a journalist who appears for just a second in the book. Here, it’s a soldier who keeps dying and waking up again, and gets better and better at fighting. ***

Black Hat Jack (Subterranean Press) by Joe R. Lansdale. Western adventure. ****

Elvenquest, Series 3 (BBC Audio) by Anil Gupta and Richard Pinto. An Audible collection of the Radio 4 series. The questers continue to search for the fabled sword of Aznagar, and come pretty close to it a couple of times. Along the way they’ll meet a wizard who seems rather a lot like Tony Blair, meet the father of Dean the dwarf, and fight Lord Darkness in single combat to decide the fate of the realms (or at least one of them will, and not necessarily the best equipped for the job). Always very funny. ****

Empowered, Vol. 5 (Dark Horse Comics) by Adam Warren. Bondage-prone superhero Emp learns more about mysterious Mind—, who stays up in the D10 orbital station to avoid living with everyone’s thoughts. Still a very saucy comic, and of course that’s much of the appeal, but the superhero stuff gets better and better. ****

Empowered, Vol. 6 (Dark Horse Comics) by Adam Warren. Emp grows into her role as a superhero, getting used to her new clinging abilities and even showing some leadership potential after she learns the secret of what happens to dead heroes and their powers. Villain Deathmonger is gathering and enslaving their remnants. Very funny, except when it means to be serious, and it keeps improving. The caged Demonwolf who sits on Emp’s coffee table is my favourite tamed baddie since Baytor (“I am Baytor!”) in The Demon. ****

Empowered, Vol. 7 (Dark Horse Comics) by Adam Warren. Ninjette has to deal with a team of bounty-hunting ninjas who want to take her back to the clan she fled with good reason. The book skips about in time to show us the fight, and her training with Emp, and a bathtub conversation with the caged Demonwolf, who for once stops talking like an angry Stan Lee to tell her how he really feels. There is also karaoke. The ongoing storylines progress at a snail’s pace, but it’s still a great book. The friendship between Emp and Ninjette is as sincere and meaningful as any I’ve seen in superhero comics. ****

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2 | review by Douglas J. Ogurek

Inspirational series closes with a fizzle.

In Mockingjay – Part 2, the fourth and final installment of the hitherto superb The Hunger Games series, something slips. The viewer feels disconnected from the characters. Their dialogue sounds contrived and melodramatic. The emotional investment in the fate of Panem seems tempered. When characters flee from life-threatening dangers, they appear to jog rather than sprint.

Monday 30 November 2015

Lagoon (Hodder & Stoughton) by Nnedi Okorafor | review

Lagos was lazily named by Portuguese explorers in 1472, we are told: lagos means lagoon. Five hundred and thirty-eight years later, just after 11.55 pm on 8 January 2010, a huge alien craft plummets into the same lagoon. The ship has a transformative effect on the Nigerian ocean, “now so clean that a cup of its salty-sweet goodness will heal the worst human illnesses and cause a hundred more illnesses not yet known to humankind”. The swordfish we meet in the prologue triples in size, acquires retractable spines and golden armoured skin.

Friday 27 November 2015

The Young Dictator (Pillar International Publishing) by Rhys Hughes | mini-review

Jenny Khan is a young English girl who decides to stand for MP of her town, and with the help of her nefarious gran rises to become dictator of Britain, then the galaxy, and even hell itself. It’s a book packed with the usual Rhys Hughes goofiness, invention and humour. To pick one non-spoilery example, the glossary at the end explains that the astronauts who landed on the moon discovered it has no atmosphere, “because they forgot to take beer and cakes and music”. Fun for all ages. The ebook lets the novel down a bit, though: there is a line space between each paragraph, the chapters aren’t set up properly, and there’s a stingy limit on the number of devices you can read it on. Stephen Theaker ***

Monday 23 November 2015

The Rabbit Back Literature Society (Pushkin Press) by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen, trans. Lola M. Rogers | review

Rabbit Back is a small town in Finland. Its biggest celebrity is Laura White, the famous author of children’s fiction. Where Tove Jansson wrote about the Snork Maiden, Little My and Stinky, Laura White writes about Mother Snow, the Odd Critter and Dampish, who live in fear of the Emperor Rat. Decades ago, she formed the Rabbit Back Literature Society, to which she recruited local children with, in her opinion, the potential to be great writers. She was right. An isolated elite in childhood, they are now successful but unhappy adults, and, thanks to a particularly fine short story which caught White’s eye in the town newspaper, substitute teacher Ella Amanda Milana is about to join their ranks.

Friday 20 November 2015

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying (Ebury Digital) by Marie Kondo | review

I’ve mentioned before in TQF that I barely read prose books in print any more, and when I do they are generally review copies. And yet my house is full beyond full with them. Before I bought this terribly helpful book the piles of books on the coffee table in my office were almost a metre high. Kondo offers some excellent advice: hold the item in your hand, and see if it sparks any joy in you. That has made it much easier to triage my collection, and I’ve been throwing books out by the dozen ever since. I’d like to say the point is almost in sight where I can fit all of my remaining books on our bookcases, but I’m nowhere near. (Anyone who has read Kondo’s book will know that means I haven’t been following her advice to the letter – she says to do it all in one go.) But it has been nice to see the rubbishy books begin to disappear from my shelves to be replaced by books I truly treasure. There were at least a dozen historical fiction novels in my collection that I had rescued from the discard pile at our school library and carried around with me for a quarter of a century, with no real intention of ever reading them. Now gone! And it did make me sad. But I took photos of them, and if I ever develop the desire to read any of them I’m sure I’ll be able to track a new copy down. Stephen Theaker ****

Monday 16 November 2015

The Unquiet House (Jo Fletcher Books) by Alison Littlewood | review

The Unquiet House (Jo Fletcher Books, pb, 304pp) is the third published novel by Alison Littlewood, and is at first reminiscent of the others: a modern setting, an unhappy woman who becomes isolated, a bit too much italicisation, short chapters, an accessible style of writing, and a sense from the off that things aren’t quite right and the protagonist is in danger. However, the middle of this book takes us into the past, and for me that’s where Littlewood’s writing really shines, her terrors perfectly suited to a world without the internet, mobile phones and cheap transport away from a dangerous situation – there’s no need to contrive their absence, she can just get on with scaring the life out of us.

Friday 13 November 2015

Doctor Who: Solitaire (Big Finish) by John Dorney | mini-review

India Fisher plays Charley Pollard once again, for a story set during her time as companion to the eighth Doctor. He’s been turned into a puppet, and she doesn’t remember who he is anyway, or why she came into this toy shop in the first place. The owner, a toymaker, is creepy as heck, and a loud voice keeps shouting “PLAAAAY!” This is the twelfth story from series four of the Companion Chronicles, and is a play for two actors rather than the usual monologue by one (with other actors chipping in with their lines). David Bailie is marvellously ripe as the Celestial Toymaker, still smarting from previous defeats at the Doctor’s hands. Stephen Theaker ***

Monday 9 November 2015

The Violent Century (Hodder & Stoughton) by Lavie Tidhar | review

It’s a shame Patrick Stewart played Karla rather than Smiley in the BBC adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, because it deprives us of the perfect one-man illustration of The Violent Century: what if George Smiley and Professor Charles Xavier were one and the same man? In the Old Man’s world, Stanley Leiber (who adds another excellent cameo to his already impressive list), Jerry Siegel and Joseph Shuster are renowned experts on the superheroes, rather than their creators.

Goosebumps | review by Douglas J. Ogurek

Classic Black over-the-top performance saves otherwise ho hum “house next door has a secret” film.

In the 2002 film Orange County, Jack Black plays the drug-addled Lance Brumder who, clad only in his briefs, wanders his wealthy parents’ home. The role epitomizes the take-it-as-it-comes, let-it-all-hang-out California attitude that Black injects into his characters. The strategy has resulted in everything from chummy teachers that appeal to families (School of Rock (2003)) to hell-bent rocker scumbags that appeal to young adults (Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny [2006]).

Friday 6 November 2015

Doctor Who: Old Soldiers (Big Finish) by James Swallow | mini-review

The third story from series two of the Companion Chronicles is an hour-long adventure with Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (played by Nicholas Courtney), who recalls an adventure that took place shortly after his decision to kill the Silurians, and perhaps explains his slightly less warlike approach in later stories. A UNIT base in Kriegeskind castle is plagued by the ghosts of ancient soldiers, who still have the power to kill. The Brigadier calls in the third Doctor, who parachutes into the place to help out. A bit reminiscent of The Ghosts of N-Space, but much better. Stephen Theaker ***

Thursday 5 November 2015

Interzone #261: coming soon!

Interzone #261 will be out soon, and it features my review of If Then by Matthew De Abaitua, plus lots, lots more that you can read about here.

I've also been putting together BFS Horizons #2, which features among many other things a cover from our own Howard Watts. The only way to be sure of getting a print copy of that is to join the society before the issue goes to press, but, if you can't join right now, ebook versions will be available in the society's archive.

Monday 2 November 2015

Child of a Hidden Sea (Tor) by A.M. Dellamonica | review

Sophie Hansa wants to know why her birth parents put her up for adoption as a baby, twenty-four years ago. She wants to establish a relationship with them. She has a lovely home life, and she adores her adoptive parents and her super smart brother Bram, and maybe it wouldn’t seem so urgent right now if she wasn’t trying to avoid defending her PhD thesis, but she’s got her heart set on it and that’s going to get her, and everyone else, into a lot of trouble.

Sunday 1 November 2015

Gone till (the end of) November

As ever, I'll be even quieter than usual on here and on social media for the next month while I work on my new epic novel (working title: Holding Hands Among the Stars). But I've scheduled five of my reviews from back issues of Black Static and Interzone on the Mondays, so you can look forward to those!

I'll also apologise now for Theaker's Quarterly Fiction #53 not being out yet. I haven't even replied to submissions, which is shocking. Once again I've been helping out the British Fantasy Society after their publishing schedule ran into trouble, but I'll try to have the issue finished by the end of this month, and I'll be replying to all submissions this week.

By the way, we're going to put back the deadline for the themed issue back to the end of the year, and the stories from that will go into issue 55 instead of issue 54.

Finally, good luck to any of you who are taking part in Nanowrimo this year! I'm sure your novels won't be as brilliant as mine, but don't let that stop you trying! I don't have any additional words of wisdom this year, but click here for previous articles.

Friday 30 October 2015

Doctor Who: Mother Russia (Big Finish) by Marc Platt | mini-review

The first story in season two of the Companion Chronicles. Peter Purves returns to the role of Steven, space pilot companion to the first Doctor. In this adventure the two of them and Dodo land in Russia, just as Napoleon prepares to invade, and a rogue alien complicates affairs. The plot requires Steven to be a bit dopey, but the Russia of 1812 is a fascinating setting and overall this really does have the feel of an authentic story from the Hartnell period. Stephen Theaker ****

Friday 23 October 2015

Doctor Who: Helicon Prime (Big Finish) by Jake Elliott | review

Story two in the second series of Companion Chronicles. Frazer Hines plays Jamie McCrimmon, who shouldn’t remember anything of his adventures with the second Doctor, but for some reason he does, and he’s telling someone all about one of them. While Victoria is off studying graphology, the Doctor and Jamie land by accident on Helicon Prime, a luxury resort, booked up decades in advance and parked in a bit of space that keeps everyone unnaturally nice and peaceful. (It was moved there after visiting couples had shown a tendency, once they had a chance to relax and really think about things, to realise their mutual loathing and murder each other.) But someone must be immune, because there is a mysterious death, and then another, and now the Doctor’s got a real job on his hands. This story had some lovely incidental music that combined with the aliens and ambassadors to remind me quite a bit of Mass Effect. We get to hear how Jamie feels when the Doctor keeps him in the dark, and how he decides what to do in those situations. One dialogue exchange is as good as anything from the television series: “What are you thinking?” asks Jamie. “I don’t know, Jamie,” says the Doctor, “I haven’t finished thinking it yet.” Stephen Theaker ****

Friday 16 October 2015

Doctor Who: The Catalyst (Big Finish) by Nigel Fairs | review

Louise Jameson returns to the role of Leela, the fourth Doctor’s second female companion. They visit Lord Douglas, who turns out to have travelled with a previous incarnation of the Doctor for several years and now has a secret trophy room full of mementos. His reasons for leaving the Tardis play an important role in the story. After initial frostiness, Leela warms up to Lord Douglas’s daughter, Jessica, who likes Rudyard Kipling and speaks with admiring horror of the suffragettes, and they discover that there is yet another secret within the trophy room, a secret with golden hair and wide, glistening eyes… The Doctor has taught Leela not to judge by appearances, but it’s a lesson Jessica may not get the chance to learn. This is the fourth story of the second series of the Companion Chronicles, and after listening to several of these in a row it’s hard not to feel the contrivance behind the various interviews and interrogations each companion must undergo. We’re grown-ups, could we not just agree to accept that Leela is telling us a story without a framing device? It’s also odd to hear a companion doing impressions. Sometimes it works well, but, as Louise Jameson acknowledges in an interview postscript to the story, her approximation of Tom Baker doesn’t quite work, sounding a bit like William Hague with a sore throat. Her Leela, though, is still fantastic, and the story gives her some full-blooded villains to chew on. Stephen Theaker ***

Friday 9 October 2015

Doctor Who: The Blue Tooth (Big Finish) by Nigel Fairs | mini-review

Third in the Companion Chronicles, from back in 2007. Liz Shaw (played by Caroline John, as on television) recounts an adventure that took place during her brief spell with UNIT. A chum is late for a meeting so Liz pops round to her house: the friend is missing and her cat is dead. There is a befuddled cyberman on the loose, and it’ll take Liz and the third Doctor four short episodes to sort it out. Stephen Theaker ***

Wednesday 7 October 2015

The Green Inferno | review by Douglas J. Ogurek

Eli Roth devises perfect film for family movie night or corporate team building event… if your house or office happens to be in hell.

It was literary giant Anton Chekhov, I believe, who said, “If you show in the first act images of female genital mutilation (FGM) during a university lecture, in the second or third act you absolutely must move toward the cutting.” Or was that guns he was talking about?

Friday 2 October 2015

Doctor Who: The Beautiful People (Big Finish) by Jonathan Morris | mini-review

The fourth story from the first series of the Companion Chronicles is an hour-long adventure for the fourth Doctor, K9 and the second Romana, recounted in character by Lalla Ward. The three of them arrive in a beauty spa where the treatments are somewhat extreme. The story ends up offering a positive message towards those of us tipping the scales in the wrong direction, but there’s a fair bit of fat description before we get there, and it sounds a bit odd coming from Romana. Stephen Theaker **

Friday 25 September 2015

The Brenda and Effie Mysteries: Bat Out of Hull (Bafflegab) by Paul Magrs | mini-review

Brenda, the former bride of Frankenstein, continues her new life in Whitby, getting tangled up in mysteries with new friend and neighbour Effie. In this second story the entanglement is literal, as Tolstoy, a ventriloquist’s felt bat puppet with the uncanny ability to fly on its own, gets stuck in her famous beehive during a performance at the Christmas Hotel. The weirdness with the bat may be connected to the discovery of a toyshop, supposedly established in 1818, though Effie’s never heard of it. The music is perfect, the performances excellent, the story a good one. Never mind Radio 4, this would make perfect Sunday night television. Stephen Theaker ****

Monday 21 September 2015

The Visit | review by Douglas J. Ogurek

Pop Pop and Nana go gaga as Shyamalan adds another gem to his trove.

Don’t cast teens as protagonists. Stay away from twists. Don’t try to weave in a message. And please, for the love of all things cinematic, do not use the found footage technique. Such is the advice a critic might bestow upon the director of a contemporary horror film.

Friday 18 September 2015

The Adventure Zone: Murder on the Rockport Limited (Maximum Fun Network) by the McElroys | mini-review

An excellent podcast where three brothers play Dungeons & Dragons with their dad. In this campaign their three daft adventurers are on a non-stop train to Neverwinter, and must pull off a heist and find a murderer before they get there. Their in-character interactions with NPCs like Angus the boy detective (“That’s a really good goof, guys!”) are what really make it for me. When I was a teenager playing Warhammer or Paranoia or whatever with my fellow school librarians, I used to laugh so much I couldn’t speak. This takes me back to that happy place. Stephen Theaker *****

Friday 11 September 2015

Holy Cow by David Duchovny | review by Stephen Theaker

Holy Cow (Macmillan Audio; Audible edition) by David Duchovny. Subtitled a modern-day dairy tale, Holy Cow is the story of Elsie, a cow who discovers the grim fate awaiting her kind in the slaughterhouse. With Shalom the pig and Tom the turkey she makes a break for it. Animals can talk to each other through grunts, whistles, barks and squeals, “a kind of universal beastly Esperanto”, which will come in handy as they travel the world. Elsie hopes to reach India, where cows are revered. Shalom dreams of Israel, where no one eats pork, and he’s already using Yiddish words and phrases and planning his circumcision. Tom is heading for Turkey, but his real dream is to fly.

Friday 4 September 2015

Memory Lane | review by Jacob Edwards

Just when is it safe to go back in the water?

Returning to his home town, troubled young Afghan war veteran Nick Boxer (Michael Guy Allen) finds solace in the love of the inscrutable Kayla M (Meg Braden), a girl with whom he feels an immediate, palpable connection. When Kayla commits suicide, Nick tries to do the same by electrocuting himself, but in the seconds between dying and being revived finds himself re-experiencing moments of their relationship and picking up details he missed when he was alive. Convinced there is more to Kayla’s death than first appears, Nick, with the help of close friends Elliot (Julian Curi) and Ben (Zac Snyder), sets out to kill himself again, zapping his consciousness down memory lane as he tries first to understand, then to alter, the past.

Wednesday 2 September 2015

Calling all contributors! Issue 54!

We are now closed to submissions for issue 53, but as one window closes another opens up, and we are now open to submissions for issue 54.

This is going to be our first themed issue in a long, long while. We are looking for stories inspired by this art by Howard Watts, which will be the cover art for issue 54, guest edited by Howard! Here are his guidelines for this themed issue:

"What’s going on with these three characters? Their fate lies in your hands! TQF is looking for short stories based on this image, to appear in issue 54, guest edited by me, Howard Watts. Normal TQF guidelines will apply, but I’m looking for strong character, conflict and ultimately plot – a completely developed idea, with a resolution."

As a bonus, an online poll will then ask the readership to decide the most popular story addressing the theme, and the author of that story will receive a year’s subscription to TQF (or a cash equivalent if outside the UK), plus a large jpeg version of the art, with a white border with their story title beneath it – suitable for framing by one of the many high street photographic shops or online art sites, such as Snapfish.

Submissions to: howardsw@sky.com
Deadline: 31 October 2015

Friday 28 August 2015

The Dark Defiles by Richard K. Morgan | review by Jacob Edwards

The blood wells, the ink heralds.

Richard Morgan seemed to spend most of The Steel Remains, the first book of his A Land Fit For Heroes trilogy, coming to terms with his own dark take on the fantasy genre. The ending was abrupt (almost like walking off a cliff), and it took him much of the second book, The Cold Commands, to prod and coerce his protagonists back into the story. These characters, however, were always the key, and having made his name writing holistic and gritty science fiction, Morgan, from the moment he embarked upon his disquieting march across genre boundaries, clearly wasn’t going to start faffing about with bog-standard wizards and warriors, chalices and chosen ones; nor, for that matter, join-the-dot quest narratives, rainbow character arcs or pre-industrial paradises threatened by long-dormant evil forces now risen. The setting would be, as the umbrella title suggested, one calling out for heroes, but those heroes in turn would be the tarnished product of their environment. By nature of his approach, Morgan implicitly promised (then explicitly delivered) the sort of unsettling realism that sees shires ransacked and Hobbits crushed dead underfoot. The result is urgent, forceful, unromantic, unforgettable – including graphic, present tense flashbacks to defining acts in the protagonists’ lives, some of them sexual and uncensored, brazenly confronting – yet, by spurning escapism and the lazy warm glow of the happily ever after, could Morgan, for all his exertions and for all that his titles play coy with noun/verb ambiguity, ever have thought to leave us with fantasy sutras as satisfying as they are compelling? The answer, of course, lies in the trilogy’s concluding book, The Dark Defiles (Gollancz, 549pp).

Friday 14 August 2015

Theaker's Quarterly Fiction #52: now available for free download!

free epub | free mobi | free pdf | print UK | print USA | Kindle UK | Kindle US

Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction #52 is a little shorter than usual, but still features four great stories: Rocking Horse Traffic by Yarrow Paisley, Quest for Lost Beauty by Howard Phillips, Zom-Boyz Have All the Luck by Len Saculla, and “Surprise Thee Ranging With Thy Peers”, the latest Two Husbands episode from Walt Brunston. The Quarterly Review from Douglas J. Ogurek, Stephen Theaker and Jacob Edwards includes reviews of It Follows, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Insurgent, Memory Lane, Jurassic World, Holy Cow by David Duchovny, The Dark Defiles by Richard Morgan, The Glorkian Warrior Eats Adventure Pie by James Kochalka, and many others.



  • Rocking Horse Traffic, Yarrow Paisley
  • Quest for Lost Beauty, Howard Phillips
  • Zom-Boyz Have All the Luck, Len Saculla
  • “Surprise Thee Ranging With Thy Peers”, Walt Brunston
  • The Quarterly Review
  • Also Read
  • Also Reviewed
  • Forthcoming Attractions



Here are the kindly contributors to this issue:

Douglas J. Ogurek’s 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 pit bull Phlegmpus Bilesnot. Douglas’s website can be found at: http://www.douglasjogurek.weebly.com.

Howard Phillips is a dissolute poet whose previous contribution to this zine received such bad reviews that he wept for three days, burned seventeen unpublished novels, and wrote a series of angry blog posts accusing various parties of disparaging his genius. We asked him why he had taken it so badly, and he replied, “If you need to ask, you’ll never know.”

Howard Watts is a writer, artist and composer living in Seaford who provides the cover art for this issue. His artwork can be seen in its native resolution on his deviantart page: http://hswatts.deviantart.com. His novel The Master of Clouds is now available on Kindle.

Jacob Edwards flies with Australia’s speculative fiction flagship Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, but meets us in the pub between runs. This writer, poet and recovering lexiphanicist’s website is at http://www.jacobedwards.id.au. He also has a Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/JacobEdwardsWriter, where he posts poems and the occasional oddity. Like him and follow him!

Len Saculla has had stories and poems published in venues such as the BFS publication Dark Horizons, Terry Grimwood’s Wordland and Ian Hunter’s Unspoken Water. He has also had a couple of stories turned into podcasts from Joanna Sterling’s “Tube Flash at the Casket” (http://www.thecasket.com).

Stephen Theaker’s reviews have appeared in Black Static, Interzone, Prism and the BFS Journal, as well as clogging up our pages. He shares his home with three slightly smaller Theakers, runs the British Fantasy Awards, and works in legal and medical publishing.

Walt Brunston’s adaptation of the classic television story, Space University Trent: Hyperparasite, is now available on Kindle.

Yarrow Paisley lives in the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts, USA. His fiction has appeared in Shimmer, Strange Tales V (Tartarus Press), Sein und Werden, and Dadaoism: An Anthology (Chômu Press), among others.



As ever, all back issues of Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction are available for free download.

Wednesday 12 August 2015

Pork pies in the gardens: my FantasyCon 2014

FantasyCon 2015 is coming up soon. Not sure yet if I'll be there this year, but if you're on the fence about going and wondering what it's like, here's my report on last year's event, originally written in November 2014 for the BFS Journal #13.

Eating a pork pie in the lovely grounds
of the Royal York Hotel.
Friday

I wasn’t in a great mood heading off for this year’s FantasyCon, which took place from September 5 to September 7. The plan had been to go with Mrs Theaker and both children, but a school entrance exam on Saturday torpedoed that plan, and so I made my way to York alone. The hotel (a charming Premier Inn five minutes from the convention hotel) already had the children’s beds ready, so that made me rather glum.

But the 75% reduction in Theakers at the convention had some benefits: I saved a good deal of money, and I didn’t have to wait till the kids were back from school to set off. So I arrived at the hotel in good time for the opening ceremony. It was overshadowed by the absence of Graham Joyce, obviously not a good sign given what we already knew of his health. FantasyCon chair Lee Harris filled in, and introduced us to Kate Elliott, Toby Whithouse, Charlaine Harris and Larry Rostant, each of them taking a turn to make a few comments.

The first panel I attended was the end of Doctor Who: Space Messiah, where Guy Adams, Mark Morris, Juliet E. McKenna, Caroline Symcox and Joanne Harris were being moderated by Jonathan Oliver. I wasn’t there long enough to hear much, but what I heard was interesting.

Paul Cornell and Caroline Symcox hosted a FantasyCon edition of Pointless, which was very good fun. Lots of audience participation, good-natured hosts, challenging questions – even the crying of a hungry baby couldn’t spoil things. It was nice to see an event at which regular attendees (as the contestants) were the main focus of attention.

I didn't spend much time in the dealers' room, not having much money free to spend or anywhere in the house to keep any books I might buy, but I was surprised to see one blogger selling off pristine, unread review copies and ARCs for a pound each. Selling ARCs is frowned upon at the best of times, never mind doing it in direct competition with booksellers and publishers in the same hall.

In the evening I was on my first panel since 2010 (panels not being something I ever volunteer for), my first ever as an actual panellist, on “Awards and their value. What are they good for? Which are the important ones? Who really benefits?” The moderator was Glen Mehn, who did a brilliant job of bringing everyone into the conversation. The other panellists were publisher Simon Spanton, agent Juliet Mushens, and author Charlaine Harris (who talks exactly like Sookie in True Blood), which meant there was a wide range of views on the panel. Apologies if I spoke too loud – I didn’t realise there were microphones!

What I learnt then about preparing for a panel is to focus on your own position and perspective; that’s why you’re there. The publisher, author and agent talked about how awards affected them, so all my notes covering those angles were useless. I should have concentrated on what awards mean to me as a reader, a fan and an awards administrator.

There wasn’t much programming at this convention for later in the evenings, certainly none of the entertainingly blotto midnight panels I’ve attended in the past. I spent a bit of time in the Joel Lane bar, where a karaoke began. Many attendees proved to be skilled in the art of making tuneful noises come out of their mouths, not least the FantasyCon chair himself.

Once it got to the point that most of the singers taking part were young women, I felt any further interest I showed in the event might be open to misinterpretation, and headed up to the main bar to send some maudlin texts to Mrs Theaker and make notes for the AGM. I got a delicious pizza from the bar, and had a good chat with the BFS’s new events organiser Richard Webb, who seems like a very sensible chap, as well as some other nice people whose names I failed to note.

Saturday

“The Pen vs the Sword” (“Writers who also happen to be swordfighters discuss the myths and realities of the sword in fiction – and demonstrate their skills with the blade!”) featured Marc Aplin as moderator, with Fran Terminiello, Juliet E. McKenna, Adrian Tchaikovsky and Clifford Beale on the panel. The discussion was fascinating, and extremely useful for anyone whose fiction features people fighting with melee weapons. (So pretty much everyone at FantasyCon!)

Fran Terminiello and Juliet E. McKenna
show us how to fight.
The only problem was that they left it a bit too late to get onto the meat of the practical demonstration, and took it into the adjoining room, which tempted away much of the potential audience for guest of honour Charlaine Harris’s conversation, and it made quite a racket until the doors were solidly closed.

Adele Wearing soldiered on, and did a great job of interviewing Harris, who cheerfully laid out the failures that led to her current success. It was good as well to hear that her political differences with Alan Ball, and the direction in which he had taken True Blood, hadn’t affected her respect for him as a writer.

I left the panel “Surprise!” (“Why do some shock twists leave an audience in awe and others make them feel cheated?”) as soon as a panellist said “I’m sure everyone knows the ending of…” because it was clearly going to be a spoiler-heavy hour, and I’m the kind of person who doesn’t read the Radio Times listings till after I’ve seen Doctor Who. My own silly fault: what was I expecting?

Charlaine Harris and Adele Wearing
in conversation.
“Beyond Grimdark” (“Is the trend for mud, misery and moral bankruptcy on the wane in SFF, and if so, what’s next?”) featured a certain amount of eyerolling on the panel as one panellist explained why his novel really did need a rape scene, because it was an integral part of his female character’s story.

“She Ain’t Heavy, She’s My Sister” was I think my least favourite event of the convention, with the moderator Roz Kaveney and one panellist talking at length between themselves, even to the point of leaning back to literally talk behind the back of the panellist sitting in the middle. It didn’t feel well-prepared, the moderator not having many questions, and the panellists unable to offer many examples of female friendships in fantasy and seeming to assume they don’t exist.

All seemed a bit odd to me, given that my television had been tuned by the children to the “female friendships in fantasy” channel for the whole of the school holidays: Winx Club, Monster High, Ever After High, the Tinker Bell movies, The Wizards of Waverley Place, Aquamarine, H20: Mako Mermaids, Rainbow Magic, Every Witch Way, etc.

I haven’t read any books by guest of honour Kate Elliott yet, but listening to her in conversation was enough to make me want to change that. (The forthcoming Very Best of… looks like a good place to start.)

I left the panel “Who’s Missing?”, a discussion about authors you should be reading, fairly soon after it began, because my stomach was threatening to drown out the panellists. After eating, I arrived late for “Tea and Jeopardy” with Toby Whithouse, and entrance was denied (or at least discouraged) because it was so full. A shame for me, but good that the event was so popular. I suppose if you asked the three hundred or so people at FantasyCon for their favourite writers, you’d get hundreds of different replies, but podcasts are more like television and films, in that they are not so numerous and there’s more commonality.

Latimer, the butler from Tea and Jeopardy, stayed on to be scoremaster for my favourite part of FantasyCon, “Just a Minute”, hosted by Paul Cornell. The guests were Kate Elliott, Stephen Gallagher, Gillian Redfearn and Frances Hardinge, and what made it so enjoyable is that this year they played it for real, with challenges flying thick and fast. Stephen Gallagher’s win was well-deserved.

If my fellow Theakers had been there, the FantasyCon Disco (sponsored by Gollancz) might have been another highlight of the convention. As it was, I looked on with a frown for a few seconds and scarpered upstairs.

That took me to the Super Relaxed Fantasy Club, a long, free-form event at which I felt rather like an intruder. At the beginning, everyone sat in a circle and took turns to say who they were, receiving a round of applause in return. It felt a bit culty, a bit happy-clappy, but it was a good event to have at FantasyCon, because it got lot of people talking and gave anyone (like me) who didn’t fancy the bar scene a chilled-out, friendly place to go. The interview with Gollancz’s Simon Spanton was fascinating, with readings from Laura Lam and Edward Cox being warmly received. The latter talked about how his novel had been completely rewritten to make it more commercial.

By the second break in SRFC I was pretty worn out and approaching a certain level of grumpiness, and I had the AGM in the morning, so I headed back to the hotel and watched Solomon Kane on TV. (Not a great movie, but better than expected.)

Sunday

Sunday morning we had a short meeting of the BFS committee in the bar, and it was good to meet the people I’ve been working with for the last year. The AGM (on a bit later this year, at 11 a.m.) was rather less fun, because I refused to change one of my proposals to suit everyone else, leading one attendee to yell, “They’re not your awards, Stephen!” No, but it was my proposal and I’m glad I didn’t change it, even if that meant it failed! I’d rather have the proposal I wanted fail than have a proposal I didn’t want go through in my name.

The awards ceremony was in the afternoon, after the banquet. I missed the beginning of the banquet, because I was gluing the names of the award-winners onto the awards – which were still a bit sticky. Next year we’ll know to get them unpacked sooner so that they have time to dry. But I soon caught up and the food was the best I’ve had at a FantasyCon banquet. The ceremony itself went a bit haywire at first, with the PowerPoint setup getting muddled up – at one point thumbnails of all the slides appeared on screen at once. But host Paul Cornell handled it all with grace and aplomb.

I had to go on stage to accept the prize for best comic or graphic novel, on behalf of Becky Cloonan for Demeter. Slight panic in that Paul, when reading out the nominees, did not say the name Demeter in the way I’ve said it all my life. What to do? Say it his way or mine? I assumed he was right and said it his way, but felt my inner nine-year-old scowling at my capitulation. He knows I’m always right, even when I’m wrong.

So that was my FantasyCon. I’m not really a convention person, I think. I’m not a pub person either, and the social side of a convention feels like a big pub to me. But there were lots of interesting panels to attend, lots of interesting panels I didn’t have time to attend, and a very pleasant, welcoming atmosphere. It was good to see so many new faces on the panels. Elsewhere, I was constantly amazed at how generous people were with their time (and how often talking to people would garner choice nuggets of gossip!). It’s not really my thing, socially, but approached as a work convention for my publishing hobby I found it very useful.

I was right about one thing, the Very Best of Kate Elliott was a very good place to start – I recommend it highly! FantasyCon 2015 will take place 23–25 October 2015, at the East Midlands Conference Centre and Orchard Hotel, Nottingham, UK. FantasyCon is one of the cheapest conventions around, especially for BFS members, and even more so if you book early. Even now, tickets are only £55 for BFS members. Join the convention here.

Tuesday 11 August 2015

The Future Fire fundraiser!

Our similarly-abbreviated chums over at The Future Fire are planning a special anniversary anthology, The Future Fire 10 (TFFX for short), to celebrate the tenth year since they began publishing. It will feature reprints of some of their best material to date and new material to match, plus illustrations of a similar standard.

Because they have the funny idea that it's nice to pay contributors rather than extracting their publishing rights in late-night games of Cluedo or keeping them shackled in the dungeons until their writing hands have wilted, they are running a crowdfunding project at http://igg.me/at/tffx.

The stretch goals include increased pay for their forthcoming horror anthology, Fae Visions of the Mediterranean, and increased pay for magazine contributors for twelve months. (They'll give the small press a good name if they aren't careful.)

You can pre-order the anthology, or pick up ebook or paperback copies of their previous and forthcoming books, plus other perks like story critiques, custom art, and personalised knitted undead dolls. For just $12 you can get the ebooks of TFFX and The Lowest Heaven (from Jurassic London), which is a definite bargain.

Here's the link again. Click it!

Monday 10 August 2015

Pixels | review by Douglas J. Ogurek

Alien invasion comedy resurrects classic video games in all their pixelated glory

Centipede. Donkey Kong. Asteroids. Pac-Man. Most of us who grew up in the eighties did battle with these icons. The video games, with their graphic primitiveness and single screen action, reflect a simpler time . . . a time of striped socks pulled up to the knees, big hair bands with mind-numbing lyrics, and backyard or field-down-the-road sports.

Pixels, directed by Chris Columbus, brings the ultimate eighties intellect (i.e., Adam Sandler) to the screen with a straightforward objective (i.e., save the world), a plot as simple as a yellow circle munching dots, and an outcome as predictable as the first level in a classic video game. It has a middle school mentality, and it’s a blast!

Sunday 9 August 2015

Apologies for neglecting you, dear readers!

Sorry that it has been so quiet on here of late, and that Theaker’s 52 is so tardy. It’ll finally be out this Friday – honestly, it will, the blog post is written and the files are all with Amazon for approval! – though I’m afraid you’ll have to wait till issue 53 for the next instalments from Mitch Edgeworth and Antonella Coriander’s science fiction sagas, both bumped with great regret from this issue because I ran out of time to proofread them. They’ll be worth the wait, I promise.

The main reason I’ve been so pressed for time has been that my freelance work has been going remarkably well (and my co-editor John has been even busier than me with work), though late night sessions of the lovably reprehensible Saints Row IV: Re-Elected have played a tiny part too, and the end of the summer term meant a whirlwind of end-of-year shows and awards nights and governors’ meetings. (Our oldest daughter even appeared in a play at The Rep, playing Angry Teacher No. 2!) I spoke successfully in favour of a school planning permission application at the city council, which was a fascinating experience – and will lead to the local children getting a brilliant new sports hall. I’ve also been running the British Fantasy Awards, which are currently in a busy phase. The nominees have been announced and I’ve been arranging for the jurors to be supplied with reading copies.

Friday 7 August 2015

Book notes #12

Notes and ratings from TQF50 and TQF51 for books I didn’t review for TQF. Credits from Goodreads; apologies to anyone miscredited or missing.

Transit (Image Comics) by Ted McKeever. Street punks, down-and-outs, religious and political fatcats, and assassins. Spud is in a subway station when a murder happens. Quite challenging. Archetypically eighties in style and subject matter. ***

Umbrella Academy, Vol.1: The Apocalypse Suite (Dark Horse Books) by Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba. A bunch of former child heroes reunite as jaded adults. I would not have expected a comic by the singer in a rock band (even one who invited Grant Morrison into his videos) to be as good as this. Reminiscent of Doom Patrol with friendlier art. ****

Usagi Yojimbo, Vol. 13: Grey Shadows (Dark Horse Books) by Stan Sakai. The rabbit ronin travels to collect the bounty for Hosoku the Bandit on behalf of a friend, and while waiting for the money helps Inspector Ishida to investigate murders and corruption in a series of connected short stories. Great stories, and the artwork is clear, detailed and full of character. ****

Valérian et Laureline l’Intégrale, Vol. 2 (Dargaud) by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières. Volume two of the complete Valérian and Laureline, which collects Le Pays sans Étoile, Bienvenue sur Alflolol and Les Oiseaux du Maitre. They’re a pair of space agents who get embroiled in a different adventure on each planet. Can’t pretend I understood every word, but that didn’t stop me enjoying them. I like how Laureline does exactly what she wants, however irksome that may be for Valérian. ****

Werewolves of Montpellier (Fantagraphics), by Jason. A thief who dresses as a werewolf on the job attracts the attention of the real thing. ****

Willful Child (Tor Books), by Steven Erikson. Star Trek in the style of Archer. Reviewed for Interzone #256. ***

Winter Well: Speculative Novellas About Older Women (Crossed Genres), by Kay T. Holt (ed.). A decent book collecting four novellas, including “Copper” by Minerva Zimmerman, “The Other World” by Anna Caro, and “To the Edges” by M. Fenn, which begins with an older woman being fired from her job on the day of a terrorist atrocity. “The Second Wife” by Marissa James was for me the best story here. It’s a fantasy or science fantasy story about a second wife whose husband is killed by a conqueror who marries her for her magic. Before he can really set her to work, visitors come from the south, one of whom burns brightly in her mystical visions. Reminiscent in some ways of the Darkover series, but much better. The story has a mature approach to transgender issues. ***

X-Men: The Complete Age of Apocalypse Epic, Book 1 (Marvel), by Scott Lobdell, John Francis Moore, Howard Mackie, Brian K. Vaughan, Ralph Macchio, Terry Kavanagh and Judd Winick. A barely readable muddle set in an alternative X-Men universe. **

Yuki vs Panda, Vol. 1: Revenge. Lust. Karaoke (Duskleaf Media), by Graham Misiurak, Nick Dunec and A.L. Jones. Short and not very good graphic novel about a girl whose nemesis is a panda. **

Wednesday 5 August 2015

Balancing chakras on your backside (or, your right to review stuff that isn't in your wheelhouse)

Dawn Cano's post, "Delicate Sensibilities, an Author’s Responsibility, and Common Sense", on the Ginger Nuts of Horror blog, talks about people saying in reviews of horror books that they were too gory, or sweary, or obscene, etc. For example the blog post says things like:
"If you buy a horror novel, especially one with a trigger warning written on the cover, and take offence to it, you absolutely forfeit your right to complain…"
Do you really? Surely one of the fundamental rights of the reader (even if Daniel Pennac forgot to include it in his list) is to talk about our own reactions to a book, to read the book as ourselves. Also:
"What absolutely needs to change is people leaving bad reviews based on content. When a reader gets his feelings hurt by a book, then slams it in a review, it’s not helpful to anyone, especially the author."
And:
"don’t ruin an author’s livelihood and reputation or spoil the book for other readers just because you have delicate sensibilities."
I don't really agree with very much of the post, but especially these bits. The comments the blog is concerned with aren't calls to have books banned or anything like that, but consumer reviews on places like Amazon.

Reviews help other readers to know if they'll like a book or not, and a review that says a book was too violent for their liking will be helpful to other readers that would find it too violent as well – while alerting readers who do like violence that it might be the right book for them. The effect on the writer's career doesn't come into it. You put a book out there, it's going to get reviewed and rated by fans, casual readers and people who read it because they ran out of books on holiday.

The overall argument in the blog post comes pretty close to saying that you should only review the kind of books that you know you'll like, but I don't think that's true, and I don't think authors should be told to expect that. Fans of a genre may well find reviews from other fans of that genre more useful, and uninformed reviews can be amusing, but people can review whatever they want to.

I gave Crystals R For Kids (or Crystlas R For Kids as the spine would have it) one star on Goodreads recently. It's supposedly factual balderdash for children about using crystals to enhance their magical psychic powers. (It came into the house as a freebie with some gems one of the children wanted to buy.) The picture above is an illustration from the book, showing a boy balancing his chakras by balancing a crystal on his backside! And if you think that's stupid you should read the rest of the book.

This post suggests I was wrong to rate it because I knew in advance that I wouldn't like it. That doesn't make any sense to me. If we all did that, no one would ever read books that don't fit neatly into genre slots, and those slots would get ever smaller. As a reader and a reviewer, you have to sometimes take chances on things you might not like, and report back to other readers on what you find.

But also, in the case of Crystals R For Kids, I think I'm probably the best person to review it because fans of that nonsense will give it undeservedly high scores, despite the utter nonsense it aims to plant in children's heads. Reviews coming at a book from outside our favourite genre can defamiliarise that genre's conventions, make us think about them again.

We can chuckle at uninformed or naive reviews, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't be written, and while fans may prefer to read reviews from other fans, outsider perspectives can be valuable. Mark Kermode hated the Entourage movie, and he got a lot of flak from fans of the television show saying that he shouldn't have reviewed it, but as a fan of the show myself I welcomed his perspective, as a reminder of how objectionable I might have found some elements if I hadn't got so used to them after eight years of watching it.

Friday 31 July 2015

Book notes #11

Notes and ratings from TQF50 and TQF51 for books I didn’t review for TQF. Credits from Goodreads; apologies to anyone miscredited or missing.

The Goon, Vol. 0: Rough Stuff (Dark Horse Comics), by Eric Powell. A mob enforcer is secretly also the mob boss, and his main rival is the leader of a zombie gang. These collect very early issues, from before Eric Powell was really happy with it, but it seemed pretty good to me. ***

The Goon, Vol. 1: Nothin’ But Misery (Dark Horse Comics), by Eric Powell and Robin Powell. More adventures of the Goon. It’s like a cartoonish, supernatural version of Sin City. ***

The Kosher Guide to Imaginary Animals (Cheeky Frawg Books), by Ann VanderMeer and Jeff VanderMeer. Brief but amusing book exploring whether various imaginary animals would be considered kosher or not, and how one might cook them. ***

The Last Demon (Penguin Books) by Isaac Bashevis Singer. Three excellent stories in a Penguin Mini Modern, two of them fantasy. “The Last Demon” is about a demon who relates his frustrating attempt to persuade a rabbi in the town of Tishevitz to sin. “Yentl the Yeshiva Boy” is about a girl who wants to study the Torah rather than get married and darn socks, and the trouble into which that leads her. “The Cafeteria” is about a troubled woman who survived the Holocaust but now sees Hitler alive on the streets of New York. *****

The Last Rakosh (self-published) by F. Paul Wilson. Jack, an experienced monster hunter, spots a dangerous creature at the circus: a rakosh, a cross between a gorilla and a shark. This one is weak, because it’s being kept in an iron cage and isn’t being fed properly. One hearty human supper later it becomes a real problem. I’d heard good things about the Repairman Jack series, but this story didn’t quite sell it to me. We don’t see what makes him or the series special. He seems to be a typical tough guy, and the story is told in a straightforward way. ***

The Many Adventures of Miranda Mercury: Time Runs Out (Archaia), by Brandon Thomas and Lee Ferguson. Space adventure. Enjoyable, but falls a bit short of its very high ambitions. ***

The Portent: Ashes (Dark Horse Books) by Peter Bergting. Warrior wood nymph Lin returns from the spirit realm to find much time has passed. Her wood has been razed to the ground, and the land is divided between three warring parties, two of whom she has a history with: her former mentors, a warrior wizard and a witch. Lovely art. ***

The Unquiet House (Jo Fletcher Books), by Alison Littlewood. A woman moves to a haunted house, and we travel back in time to find out who haunts it and why. Several terrifying scenes. Reviewed for Black Static #43. ***

The Very Best of Kate Elliott (Tachyon Publications) by Kate Elliott. Reviewed for Interzone #257; I enjoyed it a lot. I think it might be her complete short fiction rather than a selection of the best, but I wouldn’t have guessed from how good it all was. ****

Friday 24 July 2015

Book notes #10

Notes and ratings from TQF50 and TQF51 for books I didn’t review for TQF. Credits from Goodreads; apologies to anyone miscredited or missing.

The Beauty (Unsung Stories), by Aliya Whiteley. A very good novella. In a world without women, men embrace mushrooms. Reviewed for Interzone #254. ****

The Boys, Vol. 11: Over the Hill with the Swords of a Thousand Men (Dynamite Entertainment) by Garth Ennis and Russ Braun. Everything kicks off. Vought American take control of the White House. The Homelander makes his play. Black Noir is unmasked. And Butcher wades in with a crowbar. Very good fun. ****

The Boys, Vol. 12: The Bloody Doors Off (Dynamite Entertainment) by Garth Ennis, Russ Braun and Darick Robertson. After the climactic events of volume eleven Butcher gives the Boys a three-month holiday, but Wee Hughie figures that something is up. The end of another terrifically entertaining comic from Garth Ennis. Each book has been a treat. ***

The Change: Orbital (Endeavour Press) by Guy Adams. A novella by my former BFS boss about a young Howard Phillips (!) struggling to survive after a cosmic rip brings weirdness to the world. The main monster is great, a horrible mixture of man and machine. Looks like the book’s been pulled from sale now – the series is being relaunched with a new publisher. ***

The Darkness: Accursed, Vol. 2 (Top Cow Productions), by Phil Hester and friends. A colossal improvement on the original run, but disappointing compared to some of the things Phil Hester has been involved in before. (I adored his run as an artist on Swamp Thing.) ***

The Darkness: Accursed, Vol. 3 (Top Cow Productions), by Phil Hester and friends. More murky shenanigans. ***

The Darkness: Accursed, Vol. 4 (Top Cow Productions), by Phil Hester and friends. I should have read a Darkness book before buying so many in a sale. ***

The Death-Ray (Drawn and Quarterly) by Daniel Clowes. A short indie comics album, republishing a story that originally appeared in Eightball. After smoking his first cigarette a boy discovers that they give him super-strength; this turns out to have been the work of his father. He also comes into possession of a death-ray gun. Unfortunately his best friend is a very bad influence. ****

The Delicate Prey (Penguin Books), by Paul Bowles. One of the scariest books I read all year. One creepy story (“The Circular Valley”, about a haunted monastery) and two that are terrifying (“The Delicate Prey” and “A Distant Episode”, about desert travellers and a foolish professor). ****

The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll Through the Hidden Connections of the English Language (Icon Books), by Mark Forsyth. Fascinating wander through the nooks and crannies of English. Constantly amazing, which is why I liked reading it in bursts. You can only do so many double-takes a day before your neck gets tired. *****

The Gifts of War (Penguin Books), by Margaret Drabble. Two excellent stories by Margaret Drabble, editor of the equally excellent Oxford Companion to English Literature. The first is “The Gifts of War”, about a downtrodden mum who has been saving up to buy her child a special present, and a young anti-war protester who doesn’t think toyshops should sell a particular kind of toy. Each has their own half of the story, but it’s holding each in your mind at once that renders the story so devastating. The second story is “Hassan’s Tower”, about newlyweds having a terrible honeymoon in a hot country who climb the stairs of a random building. Like The Delicate Prey, the book is a Penguin Mini Modern. I’m grateful for how many wonderful writers that series has induced me to try for the first time. I bought the box set of them for myself as an expensive birthday present, and it was some of the best money I’ve ever spent. *****

Friday 17 July 2015

The Gallows | review by Douglas J. Ogurek

Funny. Tense. Amped up. Still the critics scoff. 

Recent critical response to mass market horror films (It Follows (2014) being the exception) has been abysmal. Last year, critics erred in bashing the thoroughly entertaining As Above, So Below. Once again, they’ve lambasted an engaging found footage film with a young adult cast. This time, it’s The Gallows, and once again, they got it wrong.

Michael Wyndham Thomas on the shortlist of the Novella Award 2015!

Exciting news: Michael Wyndham Thomas has made the Novella Award Shortlist 2015! It's not for the two novels we published by him (The Mercury Annual and Pilgrims at the White Horizon), but for a work that is as yet unpublished. Here is the full shortlist:

  • The Harlequin by Nina Allan
  • Motherland by Alix Christie
  • The Year of the Horse by Zoë Ranson
  • Mistakes by the Lake by Brian Petkash
  • When It Was Raining by Kevin Parry
  • Esp by Michael Wyndham Thomas
  • In Wolf Village by Penny Simpson

I bet the Nina Allan novella is good too, but all our luck must go to Michael!

The award is a partnership between the Screen School of Liverpool John Moores University and Manchester Metropolitan University’s Department of Contemporary Arts, who originally established The Novella Award. Sandstone Press, Time to Read, and NAWE are all partners of the award and work alongside it to encourage the publication of new writing.

The winner receives a £1,000 cash prize and their novella is published by Sandstone Press.

More details here.