Friday 31 March 2017

Theaker's Quarterly Fiction #59: now out!

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Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction #59 is now out! This issue, one of our best ever, contains seven short stories, all of them likely to amaze: “The Devil’s Hollow” by Rafe McGregor, “Give You a Game?” by Michael Wyndham Thomas, “The Baby Downstairs” by Jessy Randall, “The Constant Providers” by Charles Wilkinson, “Man + Van” by David Penn, “The Night They Sacked New Rome” by Elaine Graham-Leigh and “Anathema: The Underside” by Chris Roper. The issue also features the announcement of the first annual Theaker’s Quarterly Award winners, and an essay on fake internet reviews, plus a selection of the fake reviews we wrote to raise money for Comic Relief on Red Nose Day.

Then there are ninety pages of real reviews, by Stephen Theaker, Jacob Edwards, Douglas J. Ogurek and Rafe McGregor.

We review books and audios from Joey Graceffa, John Scalzi, James Lovegrove, Emily Foster, Greg Egan, Nick Mamatas, Bruce Campbell, S.T. Joshi, Oliver Langmead, Bruce Sterling, Lisa A. Koosis, Kai Ashante Wilson and Matthew Hughes; comics including Marceline Gone Adrift, Bloodshot: Reborn, The Complete Scarlet Traces, Groo: Fray of the Gods, The Great Darkness Saga, and X-Men: Legacy; films including Assassin’s Creed (reviewed in verse!), The Bye Bye Man, Get Out, Kong: Skull Island, The Lego Batman Movie, Logan, Rogue One, Spectral, and Split; plus a whole bunch of television programmes: Ash vs Evil Dead, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, Doctor Who: The Power of the Daleks, The Expanse, iZombie, The Man in the High Castle, Sherlock, and Westworld. The spectacular wraparound cover is by Howard Watts.

Here are the wise and generous contributors to this issue:

Charles Wilkinson’s publications include The Pain Tree and Other Stories (London Magazine Editions), Ag & Au (a pamphlet of poems from Flarestack), and his collection of strange tales and weird fiction, A Twist in the Eye, now out from Egaeus Press. His stories have appeared in Best Short Stories 1990 (Heinemann), Best English Short Stories 2 (W.W. Norton), Unthology (Unthank Books), Best British Short Stories 2015 (Salt) and Best Weird Fiction 2015 (Undertow Books), as well as in genre magazines/anthologies such as Black Static, Supernatural Tales, Horror Without Victims, The Dark Lane Anthology, Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction, Phantom Drift, Bourbon Penn, Shadows & Tall Trees, and Nightscript. He lives in Powys, Wales.

Chris Roper is a copywriter living in London. He writes as much as he can in his spare time, exorcising horrible thoughts and bad dreams by committing them to paper. When not writing, he’s admonishing himself for not writing, which in turn leads him to red wine and Asian holidays.

David Penn’s short stories have appeared in the magazines Midnight Street, Whispers of Wickedness and previously in Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction, and his poems in Magma, Smith’s Knoll and the Poetry School anthology I Am Twenty People (Enitharmon, 2007). He lives in London, where he also works as a librarian.

Douglas J. Ogurek’s work has appeared in the BFS Journal, The Literary Review, Morpheus Tales, Gone Lawn, and several anthologies. Douglas’s website can be found at

Elaine Graham-Leigh is a writer and campaigner based in London. When not bringing down the system from within, she writes speculative fiction and has had previous stories published in Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction, Jupiter SF, Bewildering Stories and The Harrow. Her website:

Howard Watts is a writer, artist and composer living in Seaford. He provides the spacetacular 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 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, where he posts poems and the occasional oddity, and he can now be found on Twitter too:

Jessy Randall’s science fiction stories and poems have appeared in Asimov’s, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Strange Horizons, and Theaker’s (“The Night of Red Butterflies”, December 2013). Her most recent book is Suicide Hotline Hold Music, a collection of poems and comics. She is a librarian at Colorado College and her website is

Michael Wyndham Thomas’s novels include The Mercury Annual and Pilgrims at the White Horizon, and his poetry collections include Port Winston Mulberry, Batman’s Hill, South Staffs, Come to Pass and The Stations of the Day. His work has appeared in The Antioch Review, Critical Survey, The London Magazine, Magazine Six, Stand Magazine and the TLS. His novella “Esp” was shortlisted for the UK Novella Award. He is currently working on Nowherian, the fictionalised memoir of a Grenadian traveller. Twitter: @thomasmichaelw. Blog: Website:

Rafe McGregor is the author of The Value of Literature, The Architect of Murder, six collections of short fiction, and one hundred and fifty magazine articles, journal papers, and review essays. He lectures at the University of York and can be found online at @rafemcgregor.

Stephen Theaker is the co-editor of Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction, and the father of two amazing super-friends, one of whom also contributes a review to this issue.

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

Monday 27 March 2017

Captain Midnight, Vol. 1: On the Run, by Joshua Williamson, Fernando Dagnino and chums (Dark Horse Books) | review by Stephen Theaker

I loved Chuck Dixon’s Airboy series from the eighties, so this book’s similar mix of superplanes and superheroics really appealed to me. Captain Midnight was a hero back in World War II, who fought the Nazis with his engineering genius, two strong fists, a suit that didn’t let him fly but did let him glide, and his allies, the Secret Squadron. They kept going after he went missing, but now, decades later, he’s back, flying out of a storm in the Bermuda Triangle to land on the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan. The authorities are suspicious, his friends are all elderly, and his enemies are still up to no good. This first volume only collects four issues, but it’s a good introduction to the character. We get to see what he’s about, what keeps him going, and why we’d be interested in reading more about him. His return to action after a long absence obviously has strong echoes of Captain America, and fans of Tom Strong and Miracleman might also notice some similarities, but it feels fresh and fun, not least in the way Captain Midnight swoops and soars. Like Batroc with his leaping, or going up and down the half-pipe in a Tony Hawks game, there’s a joy in the sheer physics of it. ***

Saturday 25 March 2017

Three books by Howard Phillips #rednosereviews #rednoseday

Just as time was about to run out on Red Nose Day, leaving us cruelly just short of our target of one hundred pounds, our frequent contributor Howard Phillips jumped in with a last-minute donation. So here is our last review of the day, of the three novels he has completed: His Nerves Extruded, The Doom That Came to Sea Base Delta, and The Day the Moon Wept Blood. For boring business reasons (Howard lost all copyright in his work to me in a late-night game of Adventure Time Fluxx) these were all eventually published under my name, but they are all Howard's work, unmistakably so!

His Nerves Extruded is not the first book in the series. That was The Ghastly Mountain, which was never finished. But despite that this remains a brilliant introduction…

No, I can't do this.

It's one thing to write fake reviews of books that I haven't read, but I have read these Howard Phillips books, and I know how ropey they are. Can I really pretend that they're any good? He did make his donation at the last minute, and so, as I write this, it's no longer Red Nose Day, so strictly speaking I'm no longer obliged to give everything a glowing review. In fact, I think you would be disappointed if I did. So let's get back to normal:

His Nerves Extruded is a book by Howard Phillips about his own adventures, which you may or may not choose to believe. Whether it really happened or not, the way in which he parades around England with a troupe of paid palanquinettes is undeniably sexist. That the writer includes a photographer in the group and promptly forgets about his presence says a lot about how much thought went into the book.

The Doom That Came to Sea Base Delta sees Howard take his meandering adventures down into an undersea base, after a baffling interlude behind the scenes of Late Night with David Letterman. The book wants to be The Thing in an underwater base, but never rises to the level of Plan 9 from Outer Space in a bucket. There's an important chapter towards the end that Howard never got around to writing.

The Day the Moon Wept Blood is perhaps the most preposterous of them all. It's all about a terrible writer (it takes one to know one!) who steals a book from the British Library and plots the assassination of the central figure in English literature, whose surprising identity I will leave readers to discover for themselves. It's clear throughout that the author made no attempt to research the book's various settings.

All three books share a level of self-indulgence that is almost impossible to credit, a belief in the power of poetry that makes a mockery of that noble art, and a tendency to skip over events because the author doesn't feel like writing them. All pretend to be true, but all were written in less than a month and it shows. Do not read these books unless you are a glutton for punishment.

I give them all one red nose to share between them.

You can buy the books here: His Nerves Extruded, The Doom That Came to Sea Base Delta, and The Day the Moon Wept Blood.

NB: this is a fake internet review, written for fun for Red Nose Day. It's our last one. Thank you to everyone who donated, helping us reach our target of £100. Not bad for a niche fundraising concept that couldn't be explained in under twenty minutes and massively limited the number of people likely to sponsor us!

This is the Quickest Way Down by Charles Christian #rednosereviews #rednoseday

Charlie Christian was a swing and jazz guitarist who played an important role in bebop and cool jazz, and he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990, 48 years after his death. There is a street named after him in Oklahoma City, and he played with Count Basie and Benny Goodman, among others. He is seen as an influence on everyone from Eddie Cochran and Chuck Berry to Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis.

Friday 24 March 2017

All Good Things: The Last SFX Visions by David Langford #rednosereviews

As every author secretly knows in their heart, the raison d’être of the reviewer is revenge. Each review is an opportunity to strike back against a literary overclass that refuses to accept us in its ranks, a blow against the publishers who rejected our carefully-crafted works of art, a signifier to our readers that although we are not yet famous for our own work, any book we wrote would of course be better than the book we are reviewing, because we are clever enough to see its flaws where its own author could not. We prove ourselves superior with every review, and what’s more our review takes mere hours if not minutes to write, while the slovenly author takes months if not years to produce the slabs of bookmeat poured into our grinders.

Clovenhoof and the Trump of Doom by Heide Goody and Iain Grant #rednosereviews #rednoseday

This is the latest in a series of hilarious short books about Jeremy Clovenhoof, the earthly incarnation of the devil himself, Satan! Now, you might be getting nervous, casting a concerned glance up at the crucifix hanging on your wall, worrying that this book is in some way blasphemous, but the bible doesn't mention the devil having any cloven hoofs so it's probably not the same guy. Or is it? What was the greatest trick he ever pulled, eh? We should be careful, lest we end up reading a book that leads us down the garden path. All that's waiting down there is the Cottingley fairies!

Sea-Girt Jungles by Cyril Collenette #rednosereviews #rednoseday

This book, subtitled The Experiences of a Naturalist with the "St. George" Expedition, was written by Cyril Leslie Collenette, a naturalist (i.e. someone who studies nature, not someone who takes their clothes off in public) who lived from 1888 to 1959, and it was published in 1926 – the year my alma mater Reading University received its charter!

There Will Be Walrus: First Volume V #rednosereviews #rednoseday

Military science fiction is a part of the genre that does not always get the attention it deserves, but thank goodness Cattimothy House is on the case, producing an anthology of stories and essays that ranks with the very best sf being produced in the world. Overrated social justice writerers such as John Scalesy and Jim B. Hinds might knock this kind of stuff and despise the fans who love it, but us real fans know the real deal when we see it, and here we do!

These United States by Clive Tern #rednosereviews #rednoseday

I want to begin this review by telling you a story. When I was a young boy, our bedroom had a wide window, with a large fixed pane in the middle, and parts that opened on the left and on the right. I am not proud of what I am about to tell you, but I would exit on the left, walk across the exterior window sill to the right, then come back inside. It frightens me to think of it, now more than ever, as I think of all the joy that would have been lost if I had fallen to my death. No lovely wife, no beautiful children, and worst of all so many wonderful novels never written! Imagine if I had died then, never having seen Game of Thrones, never having used the internet, never having played an Elder Scrolls game!

Letters to Barack Obama from Handsworth #rednosereviews #rednoseday

Remember what it was like eight years ago? A new president was in the White House, but everything was so different. The mood was hopeful, we thought the future would be better than the past, and that is reflected in this book of letters and drawings that were sent from Handsworth, a gloriously multicultural part of Birmingham, to Barack Obama. The librarian who put the project together was nominated for the Chamberlain Award, and received a letter in reply from the White House (now framed and hanging on her wall), but the stars of the show are the local children, with their funny questions and quirky drawings.

"I wish I had all the power you have but I don't. That ain't fair!" said one. (Are we sure Donald Trump wasn't living in Handsworth back then?) "I wanted to tell you, you are a great man," said another in a matter-of-fact tone. "What is your favourite soccer team? I hope it's not a naff team like Wolves or Burnley," asked one pupil, with an admirable grasp of the most important issue of the day. "Was your name Barry when you were younger?" asked another, a question to which we now know the answer to be yes, thanks to the Netflix original movie of that name.

The project was inspired by the McSweeney's book Thanks and Have Fun Running the Country, in which the letters were by American children. Here the letters are by British children, a crucial difference that perhaps explains the greater interest in association football shown within its pages. One of the most charming parts of the book was how often the children drew pictures of themselves with the new president, as on the cover. They trusted him, could imagine him hanging out with the class, buying them an ice cream.

It's hard to imagine any British children wanting to spend time with the current president, though if they did I imagine they would put him to shame with their maturity and interest in the world and its future. This book reminds us that it doesn't have to be that way, that we can have leaders we believe in, that give us hope, and even if they don't deliver on every single one of those hopes, it's better than the alternative. I give this book five red noses.

You can buy the book here.

NB: this is a fake internet review, written for fun on Red Nose Day. Book a fake internet review of your book.

Children of Eden by Joey Graceffa #rednosereviews #rednoseday

Joey Graceffa is a very famous YouTuber, well known for his exceptional talent for playing video games without a shirt on and being very good-looking. Mysteriously, this is something that greatly appeals to young women, and after they bought his first book in droves – In Real Life, about his unreal life as a YouTube star, made the New York Times bestseller list – he has now written a novel.

Professor Challenger in Space by SW Theaker #rednosereviews #rednoseday

Review by Howard Phillips

Professor George Challenger is one of the classic characters of science fiction, although he has perhaps not outshone The Lost World to the extent that fellow Arthur Conan Doyle creation Sherlock Holmes has thrown all the books in which he appeared into the shadows. This novel is by a writer I definitely do not know personally, S.W. Theaker.

Happy Red Nose Day! #rednoseday #rednosereviews

It's going to be an unusual day here on the TQF blog. For those of you who don't live in the UK, Red Nose Day is an event organised every two years for Comic Relief, which involves people being "funny for money". Children dress in red clothes, adults sit in baths full of baked beans, and in the evening we all cry our eyes out watching heartbreaking stories of people doing everything they can to survive against the odds.

Tuesday 21 March 2017

Kong: Skull Island | review by Douglas J. Ogurek

Out romance. Out cuteness. Out sentimentality. Make way for MONSTERS!

Lieutenant Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly) calls his cohorts’ attention to a chirping. He says, “That sounds like a bird, but it’s a [expletive] ant.”

That the ants in Kong: Skull Island are so large that you can hear them says something about the size of the island’s inhabitants, the biggest of which is King Kong. The famed monster has not appeared in a big budget film since Peter Jackson’s King Kong (2005). That Kong was 25 feet tall. In Kong: Skull Island, the figure resurrects at an imposing 100 feet! Marvel at Kong’s full-body profile before the setting sun. Now that is an iconic image.

Sunday 19 March 2017

Pay £5 and we will give your book a glowing review! #rednosereviews

This Friday, Red Nose Day, we will be raising money for Comic Relief by casting aside our scruples, our principles, the very core of our being! That is to say, we will give your book (or any book you choose) a glowing review – without reading it, in the style of fake internet reviews! – if you donate five pounds to Comic Relief.

Click here to donate and book your slot:

We will write and post the reviews in a marathon on Red Nose Day, and they will appear here on the TQF blog and in a subsequent issue of the magazine.

If you are an indie author or a small press publisher, this is a great way to publicise your projects and support a good cause. They will be clearly flagged as our joke Red Nose reviews, so don't worry about anyone thinking you have done anything shady…

Friday 17 March 2017

Supernatural, Season 11, by Andrew Dabb, Jenny Klein and chums (E4) | review by Rose M. Rye

Supernatural season 11 may not be different from what we have seen before, but it’s enjoyable as ever. Sam and Dean continue to investigate murders, in the “monster of the week episodes”, and we see the return of strong female characters Sheriff Mills and Sheriff Donna, adding a female presence to the programme. There is also a new threat to the world and the Winchester brothers must find a way (with the help of some great returning characters – Castiel and Crowley) to defeat this new evil. The cast’s chemistry as an ensemble is a real highlight. The script is witty and the back and forth banter between the Winchester brothers and especially Castiel is superb. Misha Collins’s performance is just marvellous this season. A standout episode is “Just My Imagination”, episode 8. Sam and Dean team up with Sam’s childhood imaginary friend; such a clever idea. In episode 14, “The Vessel”, Sam and Dean go back in time and we learn more about the Men of Letters. These individual episodes really add to the strength of the ongoing story arcs and made this season well worth watching. The fantastic season finale, “Alpha and Omega”, introduces a new female character who brings the promise of international adventures. The programme is still going strong and I’m enjoying it as much as I did when it started over a decade ago. ****

Monday 13 March 2017

Logan | review by Douglas J. Ogurek

Decapitations and lamentations: Jackman and Stewart swan songs reveal human side of superheroes in violent, yet touching Wolverine threequel

It’s been 17 years since Hugh Jackman’s rough and laconic Wolverine clawed his way into pop culture. Yes, Wolverine is strong, and he’s great to watch. But can we truly connect with a guy who quickly heals from gunshots or stab wounds? In Logan, the final installment of the Wolverine trilogy (and Jackman’s final appearance as the character), we can connect. As its title suggests, the film offers a more intense exploration of the human and therefore, more vulnerable, side of the protagonist. It’s not the all-powerful Wolverine, but rather the ageing Logan, a hard-drinking and world-weary has-been just hoping to retreat. Both he and Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), former head of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters (i.e. mutants), are deteriorating, and the feelings the film evokes captures this sense of loss.

Friday 10 March 2017

Black Dog, by Neil Gaiman and Daniel Egnéus (Headline) | review by Rafe McGregor

Black Dog is one of Neil Gaiman’s four American Gods stories, all of which have been re-released by Headline in hardback editions illustrated by Daniel Egnéus. The other three are: American Gods itself (first published in 2001 and re-released in an expanded tenth anniversary edition in 2011), The Monarch of the Glen (also reviewed in this issue), and Anansi Boys (first published in 2005). As an update to my previous review, the television adaptation of American Gods is due for release as a STARZ original series in 2017, possibly over Easter. Ricky Whittle will play the part of Shadow, Ian McShane the part of Wednesday, and the duo will be joined by a host of familiar faces from the big and small screen. Black Dog is a novella (or short story – it is, once again, difficult to tell due to the copious illustrations) and was first published in Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances (2015), Gaiman’s fourth collection of short fiction (excluding his writing for children). The narrative shares the same protagonist with American Gods, Shadow, and the temporal setting is easily established: three years after his wife’s death and either several weeks or a few months after The Monarch of Glen. The latter novella ended with Shadow leaving Scotland by train, his eventual destination Chicago, but somewhere along the line he exchanged rail for foot and the spatial setting is the first mystery Gaiman presents to his readers. Many clues are provided, some tantalising, some contradictory: the blurb labels a “rural northern village”; but it is not too remote from London; it might be near Glossop; it is surrounded by hills and valleys; it features plenty of drystone walls; and it has its own ghost dog, called Black Shuck. Black Shuck is the name of East Anglia’s version of the old English legend, but East Anglia is notoriously flat and I think the name “The Gateway to Hell” is decisive, suggesting Eldon Hole in the Peak Forest and the Peak District (also known as the Derbyshire Dales) more generally. This relocation of Black Shuck to one of the few regions of England that does not have its own ghost dog is the first indication of the categorical originality of Gaiman’s re-invention of the legend.

Monday 6 March 2017

Get Out | review by Douglas J. Ogurek

Brilliant directorial debut packed with eccentric characters and suspense.

Though comic genius Jordan Peele’s directorial debut Get Out intrigued me, the preview seemed a bit silly. Particularly off-putting was a close-up of a teary-eyed Betty Gabriel saying “No. No. No no no no no no...” I almost decided not to see it in the theatre. What a mistake that would have been.

Friday 3 March 2017

The Monarch of the Glen, by Neil Gaiman and Daniel Egnéus (Headline) | review by Rafe McGregor

Neil Gaiman’s American Gods was first published in 2001 and then re-published in an expanded tenth anniversary edition. Remarkably, the latter – which has been available as a delightfully captivating audiobook since 2012 – is a literal “author’s cut”, i.e. Gaiman’s original novel, published without the considerable editorial redactions of the published version and therefore substantially longer (such are the perks of fame). I thought American Gods was deserving of its critical and popular success although I was disappointed that Gaiman hadn’t integrated the monotheistic religions into his universe, a strategy which was obviously expedient, but felt inconsistent. The audiobook (but not the tenth anniversary edition) contains a deleted passage in which Shadow meets Christ, offering a tantalising taste of how Gaiman might have treated the monotheistic gods (oxymoron intended), but the encounter raises more questions than it answers. As an aside on adaptations, the television series of American Gods is due for release by Fremantle Media on an unspecified date in 2017. Despite The Monarch of the Glen being marketed by Amazon as part of the “American Gods Novella” series, there is no mention of any such series from publisher Headline on or in the book itself. The narrative is indeed set in the world of American Gods and even shares the same protagonist in Shadow, but is also – as one might expect from a storyteller of Gaiman’s skill – perfectly self-contained and can be enjoyed without having read the novel.