Monday 29 August 2016

The Maze Runner, by Noah Oppenheim, Grant Pierce Myers and T.S. Nowlin (Twentieth Century Fox) | review

Three years ago Alby (played by Aml Ameen) woke up in a wooded glade surrounded by immense walls, with no memory of who he was or how he got there. He remembered his name after a day or two, but that was it. Each month another boy arrived in the freight elevator, bringing with them some essential supplies, and though it got really bad at times a peaceful community slowly developed with a few simple rules, don’t hurt each other, and, unless you’re a runner, don’t go through the huge gap that opens up in the wall each morning and closes at night, because if you’re stuck in the maze on the other side when night falls, and the maze starts to shift, you won’t ever come back.

Friday 26 August 2016

Predator vs Judge Dredd vs Aliens: Incubus and Other Stories, by John Wagner, Andy Diggle, Henry Flint, Alcatena and chums (Rebellion/Dark Horse Books) | review by Stephen Theaker

Judge Dredd and his fellow lawmen here face two extraterrestrial threats from the silver screen. In the first story a Predator crashes in the Cursed Earth, and from there makes his or her way to Mega-City One, where four hundred million people are already losing their minds. The Predator quickly realises that the judges are the big game here, and begins to collect its gruesome trophies. A somewhat psychic descendant of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character from the first film is called in to help in the search. Alcatena’s artwork is very appealing, but is maybe a bit cute for this story. The Aliens story that follows is much more memorable, perhaps because the Predator doesn’t offer much of a threat to Mega-City One. It kills a lot of people, but it’s essentially a nuisance – whereas the Aliens are a plague that threatens total extinction. Henry Flint’s art looks a lot like Carlos Ezquerra’s, so this feels like authentic Dredd from the beginning. The Mega-City offers a million dark places for an alien to hide and lay its eggs. A space pirate brought them here to conquer the city, but luckily another idiot thought he could breed them for use in fighting pits and got himself infected – his exploding chest and the thing that comes out of him gets Dredd on the case. Great use of Dredd, the Mega-City, and the aliens. ***

Wednesday 24 August 2016

Contributor news: Charles Wilkinson, Rafe McGregor, Douglas Ogurek

Hope you’ve been enjoying issue fifty-five, which was as ever free to download and as cheap as we could possibly make it in print. We don’t expect anything in return, other than your unquestioning love, but if you want to show your thanks in less romantic fashion, there’s no better way than having a look at our contributors’ other publications.

Charles Wilkinson has a collection of strange tales out now from Egaeus Press, A Twist in the Eye, which includes two stories that first appeared here. In his introduction, Mark Samuels calls it “the most exciting collection of weird fiction … that I have read for many years”. Charles’s work has appeared in Supernatural Tales, Shadows & Tall Trees, Horror Without Victims and Strange Tales V (Tartarus Press) amongst other places. The book is available to buy from the Egaeus Press website.

Rafe McGregor’s seventh book, The Value of Literature, was due for publication by Rowman & Littlefield International in hardback in August 2016 and in paperback in February 2018. Learn more.

Douglas J. Ogurek’s unsplatterpunk extravaganza “Maim Street” was selected for The Best Weird Fiction Vol. 6 (Morpheus Tales Publishing). Prick of the Spindle published his satirical piece “Thomas Sageslush’s Support of the Moronvia Heights Pit Bull Ban”. The Literary Hatchet (PearTree Press) picked up his oft-anthologized (and highly juvenile) “Stool Fool”. The Great Tome of Forgotten Relics and Artifacts (Bards and Sages Publishing) featured “The Binding Agent.”. Learn more.

Finally, check out the current Interzone #265 for my reviews of Hunters & Collectors by M. Suddain and World of Water by James Lovegrove, plus the upcoming Interzone #266 for my review of The Rise of Io by Wesley Chu and – honour of honours! – my guest editorial, where I talk a bit about running the British Fantasy Awards, where I think awards can go awry, and why I love them anyway.

Monday 22 August 2016

The Cobbler, by Tom McCarthy and Paul Sado (Voltage Pictures and others) | review

Max Simkin has been struggling since his dad left, a long time ago now. He’s angry at the guy for going, a feeling not helped by going to work each day in the shoe repair shop where his father worked, as well as his grandfather and great-grandfather. Max’s mother suffers from dementia, and her well-meaning suggestions to take a nice girl out just drive home the point that all the nice girls he used to know have been married for fifteen years with children. A change in his life is provoked by the appearance in his shop of an obnoxious and aggressive criminal, played by Method Man of the Wu-Tang Clan, who doesn’t want the shop to close till he’s got his shoes. Max’s cobbling machine breaks down and because of the urgency he goes down into the basement and gets out an old machine – a magical machine! He discovers that when he uses it to stitch the soles of a pair of shoes, he turns into a replica of the person to whom they belong. With interesting consequences! Max is played by Adam Sandler, totally convincing in the role of this disappointed, miserable man who doesn’t resent his mother for a minute. The friendly barber next door is played by Steve Buscemi, extremely likeable in the role. The film sets out very clearly (though unobtrusively) the rules of the premise: he looks like the person as they look right now (even if they are dead), he takes on their voice and accent, he has to wear both shoes, and they must fit his size ten and a half feet.

Suicide Squad | review by Douglas J. Ogurek

Popsicles and lollipops advertised, mostly stale bread delivered.

The playful colours and reckless tone of Suicide Squad advertisements suggest a departure from the typical superhero film. Unfortunately, excepting the antics of one flamboyant couple, the film is too dull and safe to live up to the hype.

Friday 19 August 2016

Goldtiger: The Poseidon Complex, by Guy Adams and Jimmy Broxton (Rebellion) | review by Stephen Theaker

Lily Gold and Jack Tiger are fashion designers at London’s most stylish fashion house, Goldtiger, but have a side project: adventure. In this book, collecting newspaper strips which supposedly appeared in the Maltese Clarion during the sixties, they investigate the disappearance of a number of boats on the Thames. Eventually this will lead them to the carnivorous Mr Sobek, but before then the putative artist of the strip, Antonio Barreti, will get bored of the scripts provided by Louis Schaeffer and begin to draw whatever the heck he likes, to the point of inserting himself into the story. In reality, this is the work of Guy Adams and Jimmy Broxton. The idea of the book is neat, and the strips do a good job of recreating the feel of the actual Modesty Blaise or James Bond strips from that period. But there are so few of them: by my count just eighty-nine finished strips, appearing two to a page, which means they only fill about a third of the book, the rest being substantially padded out with text pieces, photographs and rejigged pieces of art. The Goldtiger adventure is okay, but there’s never time to get into it, while the text pieces spend a lot of time telling us how outrageous and shocking the strips are, which the strips don’t really live up to. It was a potentially interesting project, and you can see why it picked up plenty of backers on Kickstarter before finding a home with Rebellion, but it feels half-finished and scraped together. That may be deliberate, all part of the gimmick, but readers who like the sound of it will probably have more fun with Modesty Blaise herself. **

Monday 15 August 2016

Superman: Doomed, by Greg Pak and chums (DC Comics) | review

A young Superman is dating Wonder Woman rather than Lois Lane, and maybe that’s a good thing because Lois is currently under the control of Brainiac, who is in deep space, preparing to add the people of Earth to his collection. That would be trouble enough, but what’s more Doomsday, the monstrous product of Kryptonian science, has been resurrected, this time with the brand new ability to drain the life from anything nearby. (It isn’t clear whether Doomsday has killed Superman yet in this new reality.) Superman decides that there’s only one way to stop the monster for good, and rips it to bits, and then, erm, inhales what’s left, and is thus infected himself. He has Doomsday’s rage, strength, bony bits, and tendency to suck the life out of a room. How to fight off Brainiac’s attack when it’s not safe for the Man of Steel to be on Earth any more? This is a chunky five hundred page book on Comixology, though in print it would be even longer because all the double page spreads count as one page each on Comixology. It’s surprising to see so many of them here: they are a pest to read on a tablet (and don’t look much better in a print collection). It’s almost like print issue devotees are deliberately throwing their clogs in the digital works. The book collects material from eight different titles, including five issues each of Action Comics and Superman/Wonder Woman, and there are sections where the art style changes every few pages; it’s a jigsaw where each piece was drawn by a different person, but somehow it hangs together pretty well. It’s quite contrived, since so much of the story hangs on Superman acquiring powers from Doomsday that Doomsday doesn’t usually have. Perhaps it was felt that involving Parasite in the story wouldn’t have had the same heft. The Doomsday angle feels like it’s been bolted on to beef up the Brainiac story, a feeling reinforced by the way it’s eventually resolved, as an afterthought. Many other DC characters make an appearance. Batman, Steel, Lana and Wonder Woman come across very well, and it’s interesting to see the ways that different artists cope with the shame of having to draw Supergirl in her current costume! They cover it up with her cape, draw her from the waist up, or lengthen the sides to turn it into more of a jumpsuit, which is a big improvement. We don’t get to see much of the new young Superman’s personality in this book, what with the Doomsday infection and everything, but his costume looks weirdly unbalanced without the red underpants. Stephen Theaker ***

Friday 12 August 2016

Sherlock: The Abominable Bride, by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat (2entertain Ltd) | review by Rafe McGregor

Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction may seem an unlikely venue for a review of the first full-length Sherlock special, shown on all small screens and some big screens across the UK on New Year’s Day 2016. Three mini-seasons (of three episodes each) and one mini-special (of just over seven minutes) in, however, the world of Sherlock is already brim-full of superhuman beings. The eponymous protagonist refers to himself as “a high-functioning sociopath” (one of the series’ most-repeated phrases, suggesting sociopaths are usually low-functioning), but his superpowers include: reading an entire life history in a glance, disarming sword-wielding assassins without breaking a sweat, destroying international crime syndicates single-handedly, successfully masquerading as an extremist in Karachi, riding a motorbike safely at breakneck speed, instantly recovering from consuming vast quantities of Class A drugs… and returning from the dead. His nemesis, supervillain Moriarty, has his own list of powers: controlling Cockney serial killers, Chinese secret societies, and Eastern European paramilitaries; breaking into the Tower of London, the Bank of England, and Pentonville Prison simultaneously; resisting “enhanced interrogation” indefinitely… and returning from the dead (which is what the special is all about). Even Mycroft, whose powers are intellectual rather than physical, can follow his brother’s clandestine footsteps across Europe, masquerade as a Serbian soldier without detection, and take charge of a Tactical Firearms Command team. In fact, poor old Watson is the foil to at least four superhumans as “His Last Vow” (season 3, episode 3) reveals that Mrs Watson is a (semi-retired) super-villain-turned-hero, able to fire a handgun with one hundred percent accuracy, pass through multiple layers of physical security without trace, evade the joint efforts of NATO’s intelligence services, instantly access information beyond the combined capacity of MI5, MI6, and GCHQ… and waltz in a wedding dress. All of which to say that the BBC’s Sherlock is very much a mix of genres, alternating between detective stories in an urban fantasy setting and high fantasy in a tragic clash of good and evil – not to mention regular dashes of comedy.

Monday 8 August 2016

Planetary Brigade, by J.M. DeMatteis, Keith Giffen, Julia Bax and chums (BOOM! Studios) | review

The Planetary Brigade is a team of mismatched superheroes from the writers of Justice League International. Captain Valour, the Grim Knight and Earth Mother are analogues of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, the first two played for laughs, as if the chummy Superman of the fifties teamed up with the Batman of the nineties. Purring Pussycat is a former supervillain who joined the team after becoming disenchanted with mentor Mister Master, two feuding brothers in one body who will destroy the world if he can’t conquer it. Mister Brilliant is an obese genius in a weaponised hoverchair who runs a comic book store in his spare time.

The standout characters are the Third Eye, the team’s female Phantom Stranger/John Constantine/Doctor Strange, and the Mauve Visitor, an ambi-sexual acerbic alien with a taste for the finer things in life.

The book is a bit of a jumble, collecting a two-issue series illustrated by several artists in each issue and a three-issue series that jumps around the group’s timeline. On the whole it works, and though the art styles change from page to page it’s all good. It’s not as funny as the JLI, but I devoured dozens of issues of that comic all at once so there was time for the running jokes to hit top speed. A scene at the end hits a bum note, where a kiss with a trans character is said to be less scandalous because she’s has sex-change surgery. Not my place to forgive it that clumsiness, but at least the book is trying to be progressive and accepting.

A more cohesive follow-up with a longer present-day adventure for the team would be very welcome. Stephen Theaker ***

Friday 5 August 2016

Fallout 4 (PS4) by Bethesda Softworks (Bethesda) | review by Howard Watts

I didn’t mention this in the editorial to TQF55, but Bethesda are partly responsible for a huge distraction when it came to putting that issue together. Having bought a PS4 with Fallout 4 as part of the package, and being a bit of a Fallout 3 and Fallout New Vegas vet, I was eager to load the game, having watched various YouTube first playthrough and guide vids. Time exists as an entirely different entity when playing this game, as your perception of the outside world is taken over by this new reality. Crazy!

Monday 1 August 2016

Rare Replay, by Rare (Microsoft Studios) | review

When I bought the Xbox One, I never imagined – or dared to dream! – that one day I would use it to play Atic Atac. But sometimes dreams come true, even the ones you never dreamt! Rare Replay is a collection of thirty of Rare’s games, going all the way back to their days as the fabled gods of ZX Spectrum, Ultimate Play the Game. Their name was a guarantee of quality in those days where the hottest new titles would cost just £5.50. The oldest game here is the evergreen Jetpac, still as good as ever. A few titles at either end of the Spectrum era don’t make the cut – like Psst!, Trans Am and Alien 8 – and one can only hope that DLC will be forthcoming, but the stone cold classics are, like Lunar Jetman, still as rock hard as ever, till you realise this collection adds a rewind button that turns you into Tom Cruise in Edge of Tomorrow, magically anticipating enemies before they even materialise. It never occurred to me, playing that game thirty years ago, that there might be so many more aliens in the game than I had ever seen. Destroying one alien base still feels like a great achievement, but with the rewind button in play I managed eight! Then there are the games that dared to cost ten pounds: Sabre Wulf, rope-swinging Underworlde and isometric werewolf adventure Knight Lore, and the less fun Gunfright which still impresses by replacing the traditional “rooms” with a scrolling three-dimensional environment. Ultimate then became Rare, and began to produce games for Nintendo, games that were always out of my price range. I was still playing on my Spectrum the day I saw WipEout and the PlayStation on Gamesmaster with Patrick Moore! So there are several titles here that are completely new to me: Battletoads, Slalom, Blast Corps, Killer Instinct, and most excitingly (for me at least) Solar Jetman, which turns out to be a clone of Thrust, albeit with enough new features to make it well worth playing. Some of their notable games from this period are inevitably missing, for rights reasons, like Donkey Kong Country and Goldeneye. Others, like Perfect Dark and Banjo-Kazooie, appear in the form of their Xbox 360 remakes, produced after Rare became part of Microsoft. Rather than being part of the Rare Replay game proper (at least in the digital version), these are downloaded to the Xbox One in their Xbox 360 versions, and can be run separately too. (It doesn’t look like they become part of your Xbox 360 library, though, which is a shame.) Here too are the Xbox 360 originals, like Kameo: Elements of Power, Perfect Dark Zero, Viva Pinata and Jetpac Refuelled, all a bit underappreciated upon their original release but sure to find their fans now. I love that Perfect Dark Zero includes a bot multiplayer mode; I wish more games did. From the fact that I’ve written quite a lot of review without saying a great deal about any of the individual games, and not even mentioning half of them, you can tell what a huge package this is. I’ve barely scratched the surface, both here and while playing it. I haven’t yet mentioned the special features that can be unlocked, or the snapshots that let you play strangely altered versions of those classic Spectrum games (Underworlde without the creatures!), the ten thousand gamer points (there is an achievement just for playing most of the games!), or the price: amazingly, it costs just twenty pounds. Rare Replay is an essential purchase for Xbox One owners, and goes a long way towards making the Xbox One an essential purchase too. It’s an instant games collection, and they are some of the best games ever made. Stephen Theaker *****