Sunday 30 September 2018

Cosmonauts of the Future, by Lewis Trondheim and Manu Larcenet (Europe Comics) | review by Stephen Theaker

First of a three-album series, this album was originally published in French in 2000 on Dargaud’s Poisson Pilot label. This English translation followed in 2016. It’s about two awkward children who struggle to get on with their peers or their parents. The girl, Martina, thinks everyone is a robot, and has a habit of twisting the skin on people’s hands to see if they will pretend to scream to seem human. The boy, Gildas, a new arrival at school, thinks everyone is an alien, and he tells Martina that he is a a “highly-trained cosmonaut”. They have a begrudging go at being friends, stop talking when the other children make fun of their relationship, but eventually team up to investigate the world and discover which of them is right. This is a really sweet portrayal of a childhood friendship, with witty and perceptive dialogue, and cartoonish but effective and emotive art. Children will enjoy it very much, although parents should be warned that it shows the children lying to their parents and going secretly on a train ride to another town, and what’s more taking a little sister with them on this jaunt, not something one would want to encourage. There’s also a scene where the boy punches a little girl at school without any consequences, which might be enough to keep this out of primary school libraries. Happily, an extremely jarring event later in the book turns out to be less serious than it seems at first, and this takes the book in a new and interesting direction that places it more solidly in TQF territory. Recommended for adults as well as children. ****

Saturday 29 September 2018

Soulfire: Omnibus 1, by Michael Turner, J.T. Krul, Marcus To and chums (Aspen Comics) | review by Stephen Theaker

Mal is a teenage boy in the year 2211 who is, as he will find out, a chosen one, the bearer of a spirit that has moved through many lives in preparation for its ultimate destiny. A flying woman with black speech balloons comes to kill him, while another winged woman, Grace, comes to rescue him, and while a giant robot dragon attacks his home city Grace whisks him away, to meet mystics who can train him to use his powers, and then to other allies in their fight against the evil Rainier and his soldiers. He’s a bad guy who survived the end of the last age of magic by embracing technology, and now that magic is on the rise again he is ready to combine the two to ensure his dominance. Luckily Mal has a pair of excellent friends in Sonia and PJ, who have got his back in all this and are willing to follow him way out of their depth.

Sunday 23 September 2018

Chasma Knights, by Boya Sun and Kate Reed Petty (First Second) | review by Stephen Theaker

In the cute and colourful world of Chasma Knights, discarded toys roam free in the wild like Pokemon. Everyone goes through a lot of toys, as many as eight a day, because of the fun of catalyzing with them. “Oxygen, chrome, recognize!!” they might shout, “Meet, merge catalyze!” Then they merge with the toy and gain special abilities. It’s a lot of fun. Beryl, however, is a Neon Knight, supposedly too low-powered to catalyze, so she catches toys in the wild for a secret project. She is especially thrilled to capture a cute little dinosaur with a gold core, but no sooner has she stored it within her meowpack than three bad boy sulphur knights show up and steal it from her! To get it back she goes to the toy market, but there she also meets Coro, an oxygen knight who follows Beryl back to her amazing workshop and sneaks in. It’s the beginning of a beautiful friendship, although it will have its ups and downs (literally so at times). This is a bright and charming adventure for children that will particularly appeal to fans of Princess Bubblegum and Marceline the Vampire. The art style is very pretty – imagine a combination of Adventure Time and Katamari Damacy – and as usual with First Second books it would make a great gift. Any parent or school would be happy to see their children learning the lessons of this story. It encourages recycling and repairing, kindness and resilience, recognising everyone’s contributions to a joint project and sharing the credit fairly, making amends for bad decisions, and (most important of all) following safety instructions carefully. ****

Saturday 22 September 2018

Working for Bigfoot, by Jim Butcher (Subterranean Press) | review by Stephen Theaker

This collection of three short stories seems like a handy introduction to the Dresden Files, a highly successful series of novels about the work of Harry Dresden, a professional magician. These tales take place at different points in his life, Harry being hired three times by a bigfoot with the brilliant name Strength of a River in His Shoulders, to look in on his half-human son, Irwin Pounder – a scion, as they are known. Although these stories have very different sources – “B Is for Bigfoot” first appeared in a book for young readers (Under My Hat: Tales From the Cauldron), while “Bigfoot on Campus” debuted in a book of erotica (Hex Appeal) – there’s no difference in tone or style, just in content. The last story is especially steamy, but not inappropriately so given that the young half-bigfoot is by then the right age for such matters. It’s clear from these stories why the character of Harry Dresden is so popular: he’s very capable and reliable, and the same goes for the writing. It reminded of the Jack Reacher books I’ve read, but with all the fantastical elements that are so sadly missing from the thrillers of Lee Childs. A good little book. ***

Sunday 16 September 2018

Conan Omnibus, Vol. 1: Birth of the Legend, by Kurt Busiek and chums (Dark Horse) | review

Conan is a burly, quick, strong and sharp fellow who wields a broadsword and wears a horned hat. He is a great thief, a great warrior, and eventually a leader of armies and a great king. He never gets the hang of magic, though, and over the years plays a pretty big part in ending its dominion over humanity. But that lies ahead. An unobtrusive framing device – a wazir reading tales of Conan to his prince in the distant future – takes us back to Conan’s birth, on the battlefield, after his pregnant mother Fialla rushes to help his father Conaldar. He is a month premature, but is still a very big baby. He already has a mean stare. To some extent, he is already the man he will grow up to be, even as a child. Rather than seeing him formed as he grows up, we see him revealed, through interactions with other children, adults, wild animals. He is as keen to learn as he is to fight. After bringing war upon his people, he leaves home, and then we see his first travels, with the traditional enemies of his people, and then being enslaved by the Hyperboreans.

Saturday 15 September 2018

Waking in Winter, by Deborah Biancotti (PS Publishing) | review by Stephen Theaker

In this science fantasy novella, reminiscent in good ways of Whiteout or The Thing, Muir is working on an alien planet, part of a group of glacionauts working from the Base Station. She’s a couple of days away from going home, though she isn’t keen because her mother’s funeral awaits. On what would have been one of her last trips in her twin-seater flying Otter she sees something under the ice: a gigantic woman, a mermaid with a six-metre-wide tail and miles of hair. She assumes it’s been carved into the ice, but when other team members look at it they each see something different, something rooted in their own cultural heritage. No one wants to talk about it, and Muir doesn’t think it’s a good thing. When a colleague says he sees a lotus flower, “Muir felt something slip inside her. The beginning of an avalanche.” The book never lets us forget how cold it is there, so the reader understands very quickly how dangerous the situation could become. There are only two days until winter sets in, and it’s going to get dark, but her colleagues are keen to dig up what they can. As you might imagine, that’s a mistake. I enjoyed this a lot: it was frightening, and awe-inspiring, and very good at showing how co-workers who spend too much time together can wind each other up. Available here.  ****

Tuesday 11 September 2018

Schedule update

We had been planning to have a big catch-up with TQF over the next few months, putting out monthly issues till we were back on our original schedule.

But a combination of workload, new responsibilities (I am now the vice-chair of a school's governing body!) and realising that after all we've already published three quarterly issues this year has changed my mind.

So instead of having an issue a month till Christmas to get back on our original schedule, we're going to just have issue 64 in December and then carry on with a quarterly schedule after that.

As a result, we've re-opened to submissions for TQF64, and will remain open until the end of October 2018. Hope that's all okay. It'll be nice to end each year on a multiple of four!

Monday 10 September 2018

UNSPLATTERPUNK! 2 (TQF63): now out in paperback and ebook!

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


“Ghastly.” “Bloodthirsty.” “Transgressive.” “Over-the-top violence and sexual deviation.” So said the reviews of UNSPLATTERPUNK!, the first official collection in the unsplatterpunk subgenre.

Now, seven goreslingers and propriety defilers have grossed up their game to deliver UNSPLATTERPUNK! 2. True to the unsplatterpunk subgenre, these stories deliver a moral message while shocking or repulsing the reader. The collection includes a foreword by criminologist, philosopher, and aesthetic commentator Rafe McGregor.

Returning contributor Drew Tapley kicks off the awfulness on an impressively juvenile note with the anthology's most straightforward story. In “First Kiss”, a high school student deals with an expulsive situation with as much stoicism as Conan the Barbarian… maybe “Barfbarian” is more relevant. Trophy hunting is Triffooper Saxelbax’s target as his protagonist, a designer of controversial augmented reality games, takes on the corporate obsession with teamwork in “The Villainy of Solitude”. Hugh Alsin’s satirical piece “Convention Hitler!” explores intolerance run amok when the story’s namesake attends a British horror convention. In “The Music of Zeddy Graves”, Stephen Theaker brings his planet-hopping duo of Rolnikov and Pelney to Melodia, whose inhabitants participate in an endless music festival, and whose main attraction goes to gruesome extremes to achieve her compositions. Douglas J. Ogurek’s “Gunkectomy” alternates between an embittered architect/author and a husband hunter who finds commercial and social value in her earwax. “The Tapestry of Roubaix” by Howard Phillips seems to come off the shelf of a nineteenth century library, until it reveals what the protagonist does in his washbasin. M.S. Swift, another returning contributor, closes out the collection with “The Bones of Old England”, an extravaganza of mania-induced carnage.

Delve deep into the cesspool that is UNSPLATTERPUNK! 2, and remember – sometimes to learn a lesson, you might have to get dirty.

Here are the unsplattered contributors to this issue:

Douglas J. Ogurek is the pseudonym for a writer living somewhere on Earth. Though banned on Mars, his fiction appears in over forty Earth publications. Ogurek founded the controversial literary subgenre known as unsplatterpunk, which uses splatterpunk conventions (e.g. extreme violence, gore, taboo subject matter) to deliver a positive message. He guest-edited Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction #58: UNSPLATTERPUNK!, the first ever unsplatterpunk anthology. He also reviews films at that same ezine. Recent longer works include the young adult novel Branch Turner vs the Currants (World Castle Publishing) and the horror/suspense novella Encounter at an Abandoned Church (Scarlet Leaf Publishing). More at Twitter: @unsplatter

Drew Tapley is a copywriter, journalist and filmmaker based in Toronto.

Howard Phillips is the author of His Nerves Extruded, The Doom That Came to Sea Base Delta and The Day the Moon Wept Blood.

Howard Watts provides the exceptional wraparound cover for this issue.

Hugh Alsin is a writer who now stays away from conventions, although he stresses that the events in his story are completely fictitious, and any resemblance to people living or dead is either unintentional or for the purposes of satire or parody.

M.S. Swift’s work has been published in a wide range of horror and fantasy anthologies, including the first TQF unsplatterpunk collection. Swift’s writing is inspired by the landscape and mythology of his native Britain. He recently completed a witch hunter novel set in an alternative medieval Britain and is seeking a publisher courageous enough to back it.

Rafe McGregor lectures at Leeds Trinity University and the University of York. He is the author of The Value of Literature, two novels, six collections of short fiction, and two hundred articles, essays, and reviews. His most recent book is The Adventures of Roderick Langham, a collection of occult detective stories.

Stephen Theaker has written several novels, but does not recommend reading them.

Triffooper Saxelbax is an emerging (and often grating) voice in the unsplatterpunk subgenre. When he is not writing, he stir-fries vegetables and decorates pine cones. His work has not been translated into any other languages. Neither has it been nominated for nor appeared in the year’s best so and so. Saxelbax’s mental exertions have caused numerous regional power outages.

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

Sunday 9 September 2018

Amatka, by Karin Tidbeck (Vintage) | review by Stephen Theaker

Amatka is a settlement which readers might assume is on an alien world, though it could perhaps be somewhere like a warmed-up version of Antarctica. Brilars’ Vanja Essre Two, information specialist with the Essre Hygiene Specialists, and Vanja for short, is sent there to research whether it is a suitable market for the export of cleaning products. She gets on with the work but neglects to utter the name of her suitcase, with the result that it dissolves, and from then she becomes more interested in a budding relationship with her host, Nina, and with what is going on in the world. Why does everything need to be named? What happened to the fifth colony? Questions like these are forbidden, but a friendship with a librarian (as is so often the case in our world too) proves a useful source of information.

Tuesday 4 September 2018

Final Girls, by Mira Grant (Subterranean Press) | review by Stephen Theaker

Virtual reality horror scenarios are being used to heal family wounds. Sisters like Kim and Diane go in hating each other, and their relationships are reforged in the fire of being hunted by by a serial killer. A journalist, Esther Hoffman, comes to investigate the process, concerned by the power of such false memories, a deeply personal concern because of what happened to her father when she was young. Unfortunately her visit coincides with that of an industrial spy and so her trip into virtual reality becomes even more horrific than expected. It’s a good novella that explores the interplay between memories and emotions and relationships and asks whether, if we could tweak those things to make them better, we should. The horror scenes are frightening enough to convince the reader that going through them would have the claimed effect. ****

Sunday 2 September 2018

Acadie, by Dave Hutchinson ( | review by Stephen Theaker

It’s the day after the president’s one hundred and fiftieth birthday, and a crisis presents itself. An object has passed the dewline, the solar system’s defensive border, which comprises a billion satellites. The object is a highly radioactive fifteen metre long cylinder, with a shield of ice and a fission engine, and it looks like it’s from the Bureau of Colonisation. The Colony was established in secret hundreds of years ago, founded by genetic engineers fleeing from a right-wing theocracy, and the Bureau of Colonisation has been hunting it ever since. As the cover puts it: “The first humans still hunt their children across the stars.” Now they’ve been found. Duke Faraday got the job of president because no one thought he wanted to do it, making him the ideal candidate, but will he be up to the challenge of protecting this hippie paradise, where people happily turn themselves into orcs, elves, vampires and lions? Though it is a very good novella – large-scale science fiction, full of ideas, crammed into a hundred or so pages, with a brilliant ending, just the way I like it – this is quite a tricky book to review, and people who have read it will know why. You will want to have read it before hearing any spoilers, and this review has been redacted somewhat to reflect that. One thing I can talk about is the book’s title: some reviewers have assumed Acadie is the name of the Colony, but I don’t think that’s mentioned in the text. My guess is that it’s a reference to the doomed seventeenth century French colony. ****