Friday 29 July 2016

Patchwerk, by David Tallerman ( | review by Stephen Theaker

Scientist Dran Florrian has sneaked on to the TransContinental, in the cargo hold of which is his great invention, Palimpsest. The result of five years of work and a lifetime of thought, it is too powerful to be in the hands of a ruthless weapons man like Harlan Dorric, who is waiting for him in the hold. Also there, two hired guns, a technician who blocks Florrian’s neural connection to his clever machine, and Karen, the wife he lost while buried in work. Hang on, no, that’s not right. He’s D’ren Florein, on a queenship, an intelligent insect trying to counter the Nachtswarm, entomological engineering gone mad, and Halann D’rik is the one trying to take control of Palimpsest. No, wait, that’s not right either… This is a good novella that could easily have sprung from one of the Baen collections of classic science fiction by Poul Anderson or Murray Leinster, but instead it’s from David Tallerman, one of our own past contributors. He thinks up lots of neat tricks for the protagonist, whatever his name at any given time, to play with the Palimpsest, weaving a sharp little thriller through the middle of it. So far, the line of ebook novellas is living up to expectations, and my expectations were high. ***

Monday 25 July 2016

Saints Row IV: Re-Elected, by Volition Software (Deep Silver) | review

An Xbox One re-release of the lovably reprehensible Xbox 360 game, including two expansions, Enter the Dominatrix and How the Saints Saved Christmas, this picks up in gameplay terms from where the Saints Row: The Third expansions went: superpowers. Jumping over (small) buildings in a single bound, almost as fast as a speeding bullet, and throwing blasts of ice and fire like Spider-Man’s amazing friends. When the game begins you are president of the United States of America, and Keith David is vice-president. Luckily the tedium of governing the nation is broken by an alien invasion, who abduct you and your staff and at least some of the human race before blowing up the planet and sticking you all in a computer simulation of your home town. Yes, this series may have begun as a cheap knock-off of Grand Theft Auto but it’s carved out territory of its very own in the places other grown-up games don’t go: the ludicrous, the unrealistic, the absurd, the capricious. It’s post-modern, metatextual, and constantly self-referential. The Enter the Dominatrix expansion, for example, is presented as a series of deleted scenes from the main game, with the characters from the game commenting on their portrayal in the scenes and their performances, and climactic sequences shown as pre-vis rather than expensive cut-scenes. There are aspects I don’t much like: search for the game on Google Images and you’re likely to see unflattering snapshots of strippers, bondage gear and giant dildo bats. However, the option to customise your main character means that this can be (and was for me) a game about the amazing brown-skinned female president who saved humanity. While wearing nifty costumes, like a pirate suit or a superhero costume or pretty much anything else you can think of, up to and including a giant Barack Obama head. And then she makes friends with a race of dinosaurs! This may not ever be a series of games that I’ll buy on release day, but when the DLC is bundled in and you can get it for a good price it becomes an essential purchase. There is a deep well of nonsensical fun and intelligent idiocy here that other games would do well to draw on. The item I’d like to take from this game into others: the Christmas dubstep gun, that makes everyone bounce around to a Yuletide jingle. Stephen Theaker ****

Friday 22 July 2016

The Sign in the Moonlight and Other Stories, by David Tallerman (Digital Horror Fiction) | review by Rafe McGregor

David Tallerman has achieved not only remarkable but rare success with his short fiction. In the space of nine years, he has had more than seventy-five stories published in venues such as Clarkesworld, Interzone, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Lightspeed, Nightmare, AE, Chiaroscuro… and of course Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction. This is his first short story collection – the appearance of which is itself an achievement given the reluctance of publishers to take on such projects. The short story came into its own with the rise of literacy in Europe and North America during the nineteenth century, but declined dramatically with the rise of domestic television ownership during the twentieth century. In the second decade of the twenty-first century, it is easy to forget that many of the most famous speculative fiction writers – Robert A. Heinlein, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Philip K. Dick, and even Stephen King – began their careers as writers of short fiction. The notion of supporting oneself financially by short fiction alone is already archaic and authors like David (and publications like Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction) breathe life into what might otherwise be a dying art form. I must interject a disclosure (or perhaps disclaimer) before I proceed: I met David while he was living in York and was surprised to discover that he had been kind enough to dedicate The Sign in the Moonlight and Other Stories to me in memory of the small assistance I was able to give him with the initial drafts of some of the stories. Our acquaintance has not prevented me from writing this review, however, because my primary concern is not the quality of the stories. That has already been judged by others: thirteen of the fourteen have been previously published – in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Nightmare, Flash Fiction Online, Necrotic Tissue, Bull Spec, Bards and Sages Quarterly, Angry Robot’s blog, and three anthologies – with “War of the Rats” appearing for the first time.

Monday 18 July 2016

Invincible, Vol. 18: The Death of Everyone, by Robert Kirkman, Ryan Ottley and Cliff Rathburn (Image Comics/Skybound) | review

Mark Grayson, aka Invincible, is an extremely strong and durable (albeit not indestructible) superhero who inherited his powers from his father, an alien who was originally hanging around on Earth with a view to making it a part of his people’s empire. As this volume begins, Invincible’s powers are on the blink, and Zandale, the hero formerly known as Bulletproof, has been keeping his costume warm. But Zandale is about to make the mistake of telling his parents his astonishing origin story, and Mark will discover that sometime ally, more often enemy Dinosaurus has been making big plans. It’s a shocking book from start to finish, as you might expect from the collection that spans this comic’s hundredth issue. That’s one of the things I love about this comic, its scope for telling those huge stories: it’s as if Crisis on Infinite Earths, Civil War, Infinite Crisis, The Death of Superman and Zero Hour all happened in the same ongoing series. The status quo can be completely upended in Invincible – and in this volume it does, a good half dozen times – without concern for the effect upon twenty other books that feature the same character. This isn’t the remixed version of a story I’ve read three times already, and when Mark’s friends are in danger there’s every chance that they could really die. That’s why I’m up to volume eighteen of this when I haven’t even reached issue eighteen of a new DC or Marvel universe book in years. Stephen Theaker ***

Friday 15 July 2016

Lone Wolf 21: Voyage of the Moonstone Collector’s Edition, by Joe Dever (Mantikore Verlag) | review by Rafe McGregor

I wonder if (m)any readers remember the thrill of picking up The Warlock of Firetop Mountain for the first time? Of realising that they hadn’t lost their thread in the real world, but were lost in the maze under the mountain? Or of not realising they were in the maze until the appearance of the deadly Minotaur? Firetop Mountain, the brainchild of Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone, was the first Fighting Fantasy gamebook, published by Puffin in August 1982. The series was a great success, with fifty-nine books available by 1995. The first instalment nonetheless remained the most popular, spawning two sequels – Return to Firetop Mountain (#50, 1992) and Legend of Zagor (#54, 1993) – various spin-off products, and reprinting as late as 2010. I find it difficult to convey the excitement of Fighting Fantasy to twenty-first century readers, but one must remember that they appeared in a decade without the internet or household computers, where “TV games” (for those who could afford them) were restricted to Pac-Man and Space Invaders. Unlike the Choose Your Own Adventure series, which was well underway when Firetop Mountain appeared, Fighting Fantasy was aimed at young adults rather than children, with the best adventures combining compelling storytelling with pleasing terror at what awaited in the next numbered section. I must have played Firetop Mountain for the first time in 1985 or 1986, but quickly left Fighting Fantasy for a newer series. Lone Wolf was written by Joe Dever and launched with Flight from the Dark, first published by Sparrow in 1984. Where Fighting Fantasy were all standalone adventures, some of which took place in different universes, Lone Wolf adventures were self-contained but constituted an extended quest by a single character who progressed to new levels of expertise in a vividly-drawn and complex world called Magnamund. The epic began with the extermination of the Kai – an order of warriors dedicated to protecting the nation of Sommerlund as well as the rest of the free (medievally-speaking) world – at the hands of the demonic Darklords of Helgedad. Readers adopted the persona of Kor-Skarn (Lone Wolf), the sole survivor of the Darklord attack, and his first mission was to convey the bad news to the king. The missions became gradually more challenging as Lone Wolf advanced in power and ended up with the destruction of the Darklords in The Masters of Darkness (#12, 1988). The road to Helgedad and beyond was a rocky one, however, no more so than for Dever himself.

Monday 11 July 2016

The Legend of Tarzan | review by Douglas J. Ogurek

New take on classic story swings engagingly between action, setting, and character.

Whether you’ve confronted Tarzan in a comic book, a Disney cartoon, or Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novels, chances are you don’t envision the iconic jungle-dwelling adventurer as a tea drinker.

Saturday 9 July 2016

Independence Day: Resurgence | review by Douglas J. Ogurek

Like the first one… just much worse.

Although President Whitmore’s (Bill Pullman) rousing speech in Independence Day (1996) is clichéd and overly dramatic, people can’t help but love it. It makes them feel something.

The makers of Independence Day: Resurgence had to make sure that Whitmore gave another speech. This time, the motley, over-medicated has-been attempts to do so in an airport hangar. Music plays. People gather. At the end, David Levinson’s (Jeff Goldblum) smirk seems to say, “Yeah, nowhere near as good as your first one.” Such is the sentiment that summarizes this film.

Friday 8 July 2016

Life, the Universe and Everything, by Douglas Adams (MacMillan Audio) | review by Jacob Edwards

Laughter beyond fits.

Life, the Universe and Everything is a remarkable book, and not just for the cosmic pull-tab placed so aptly on its front cover. Like its predecessors it is an existential satire with vast and brilliant ideas. Like its predecessors it projects human foibles onto the whole of creation, thence to bounce back in a fatalistic and absurdly funny manner. And like its predecessors it indulges in a digressive, facetious and distinctly Adamsey disregard for the sanctity of traditional prose narrative. Unlike its predecessors it isn’t really a Hitchhiker’s novel.

Monday 4 July 2016

Theaker's Quarterly Fiction #55: now out, in print and ebook!

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

Issue fifty-five of Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction is now out!

It is guest edited by the zine’s long-time cover artist, Howard Watts, and includes stories inspired by his art, including competition winner “The Departure” by Mark Lewis, “Our Sad Triangle” by Len Saculla, and “The Stone Gods of Superspace” by Howard Phillips (a TQF crossover special featuring many friends from past issues), plus the more tangentially related “This Alien I” by Antonella Coriander and “The Little Shop That Sold My Heart”, and an entire weird novella from Anthony Thomson, “My Place”. Then a sixty-page review section features the work of Stephen Theaker, Douglas J. Ogurek, Jacob Edwards, Howard Watts and Rafe McGregor. The cover art is by Howard Watts.

We look at the work of Alcatena, Andy Diggle, Brian K. Vaughan, Cherie Priest, David Tallerman, Douglas Adams, Frazer Irving, Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Guy Adams, Henry Flint, Jimmy Broxton, Joe Dever, John Wagner, Peter Tomasi, Phil Hester, Pia Guerra, Steve Yeowell and Tony Harris. Plus there are reviews of 10 Cloverfield Lane, Ash vs Evil Dead, Deadpool, Fallout 4, Fear the Walking Dead: Season 1, Gods of Egypt, Jessica Jones: Season 1, Sherlock: The Abominable Bride, The Boy and The Witch.

The spectacular wraparound cover art is, as ever, by the marvellous Howard Watts.

Here are the kindly contributors to this issue:

Anthony Thomson has an idea he lives in Brighton, but can never be sure. His short story “Burning Up” was published by ABeSea magazine. He’s influenced by the paintings of Leonora Carrington and Remedios Varos, and he mines the soundscapes of sixties music for psychedelic nuggets.

Antonella Coriander has never been happier. “This Alien I”, which appears in this issue, is the sixth episode of her ongoing Oulippean serial, Les aventures fantastiques de Beatrice et Veronique.

Len Saculla had a story entitled “Zom-Boyz Have All the Luck” in Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction #52. He has also had work published in the BFS Journal, Wordland, Unspoken Water and anthologies from Kind of a Hurricane Press in America. In 2015, he was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

Mark Lewis has recently had work published in The Four Seasons anthology from Kind of a Hurricane Press, and in collaboration with fellow Clockhouse London Writers in The Masks anthology by Black Shuck Press. He has also had fiction and poetry widely published in the independent press, including the British Fantasy Society Journal, Escape Velocity, Scheherazade, Estronomicon, The Nail, and others. He has also written and performed in pantomimes. More of Mark’s writing can be found at:

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:

Howard Phillips typed up the novella that appears in this issue, “The Stone Gods of Superspace”, after finding a draft version in his moleksine notebook. He does not remember writing it, and is not sure whether those events really happened or not.

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

Jacob Edwards also writes 42-word reviews for Derelict Space Sheep. This writer, poet and recovering lexiphanicist’s website is at He has a Facebook page at www.facebook.
com/JacobEdwardsWriter, where he posts poems and the occasional oddity, and he can now be found on Twitter too:

Rafe McGregor has published over one hundred and twenty short stories, novellas, magazine articles, journal papers, and review essays. His work includes crime fiction, weird tales, military history, literary criticism, and academic philosophy.

Stephen Theaker’s reviews have appeared in Interzone, Black Static, 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.

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