Thursday 31 August 2023

TQF74: UNSPLATTERPUNK! 6: out in paperback and free to download!

Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction #74
is now out in paperback and ebook!

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

This issue features “Kung Fu Sue: Origins” by Harris Coverley, “Man-Eating Mother of the Year” by DW Milton, “The Fall and Rise of Donna Harrington” by LJ Jacobs, “The Great Him-Horse / Horsehekin War” by Antonella Coriander, “We Who Are About to Die” by Jack Thackwell, an editorial and reviews from Douglas J. Ogurek, reviews from Stephen Theaker, and a cover by Edward Villanova.

Optimism smothered in ghastliness!

Sometimes to learn a lesson, you need to get a little dirty, or in this case, covered in bodily expulsions. The UNSPLATTERPUNK! smearies continues with a new batch of gore-infused horror with a positive message. This sixth instalment introduces five stories about women who take a stand (or stand back as men destroy themselves). Brace yourself for shattered teeth, smashed bones, ruptured organs, plucked eyeballs, torn-off limbs, and for the first time in the USP catalogue, spaghettification.

A modern-day Cinderella stumbles across a rare book containing the secrets to physical and spiritual empowerment. A bounty hunter couple that uses toilets to travel between times and dimensions discovers something unexpected about their latest target. A sex-starved jerk confronts his grieving wife at the zoo just before things go apeshit. Women in a futuristic society turn an analytic eye on how 21st-century men wiped each other out… because of a cartoon. A gladiator imprisoned by aliens and stuck in a cycle of killing, drinking and fornicating meets his match in a fed-up sex slave.

Edward “Eddie V” Villanova's cover art makes us question everything about this volume: Is this death, or is it life? Is it dark, or is it light? Sinner or saint? One thing is for sure: these stories won’t just drop your jaw – they’ll rip it off and hurl it!"

Wednesday 16 August 2023

Inspection: A Novel by Josh Malerman (Del Rey) | Review by Douglas J. Ogurek

Don’t mess with puberty: Orwellian tale takes unconventional narrative route to show repercussions of assuming too much control over children’s lives. 

The Parenthood has withdrawn a group of boys from society to test the organisation’s premise that the opposite sex is an impediment to intellectual advancement. Thus far, the experiment is working: the twelve-year-old Alphabet Boys are already reading at a college level… and they have no idea that females exist. How jarring a juxtaposition: the same boys on track to become the most advanced scientists and engineers the world has ever seen think babies grow on trees. 

There is, however, one major threat to the Parenthood’s plan: puberty. Because of the absence of females, the boys are understandably confused. In one charming scene, they observe what they call “fighting bugs”. The reader knows the bugs are doing something else that starts with an f. 

Part of the book is told from the perspective of J – each Alphabet Boy is named a letter – who is concerned that headmaster Richard (known by the boys as D.A.D.) and other members of the Parenthood are withholding something from the boys. Some boys are completely devoted to D.A.D., while others are more open to J’s inquisitiveness. One particularly intelligent boy, Q, is developing a kind of religion and starting to bring in other boys. Eventually, J has a pivotal meeting that puts into overdrive his quest to unveil the lie in which the students have been raised.

Richard, who oversees activity within the campus and the dormitory high-rise called the Turret, is intent on maintaining power and keeping his boys in the dark despite their blossoming sexuality. For the boys, the moniker D.A.D. has no fatherly connotations – it is simply a combination of letters assigned to their administrator. Richard/D.A.D.’s refusal to use videos to monitor boys says something about the extent of his megalomania; he wants psychological power over the boys, wants them to trust him so much that they will readily share their inmost thoughts.

Inspection reads partly like an adventure story, with its young protagonists venturing into unknown passages, running into strange characters, and gradually unveiling bits of information.

Will they bring down the lie that’s been built around them? It sounds like young adult fiction. It’s not. It does not sound like horror. It is. By the time you finish, you’ll understand why.  

The authorial temptation with a story like this is to restrict the reader’s point of view to that of the victims… in this case, the boys. Thus, the reader is just as much in the dark as the victims and comes to discover the full extent of the world along with them. That’s the typical pattern. Malerman, however, makes a bold narrative move by also sharing the perspective of those who have perpetrated this experiment. He explains why they’re doing it and how it got started. Getting the victims’ and the perpetrators’ viewpoints makes the reader both sympathetic and complicit: What adult hasn’t been a child? And what adult hasn’t withheld something from children?

The Alphabet Boys have been duped into thinking they will contract a disease if they stray from the compound. The Parenthood conducts daily inspections ostensibly to determine whether the boys have “vees”, “rotts” or other diseases. The hocus-pocus inspections put the boys in fear about overextending their boundaries. If an inspection does turn out badly (i.e. the boy has discovered the other sex), he gets forced to walk through the door in the Corner, a mysterious, undesirable place in the Turret’s basement. Nobody knows what’s behind that door, nor what happened to A and Z after they walked through it. 

Another obstacle to the Parenthood’s master plan is in-house novelist Warren Bratt, who’s fed up with churning out cookie-cutter female-less adventure stories under the pseudonym of Lawrence Luxley. He’s tired of selling himself out, and his creative side yearns to produce something that will shake things up. But there is a risk: the difference between Bratt writing in a yellow notebook as Luxley versus writing in a white notebook about his true thoughts could mean the difference between life and death. 

Inspection appeals to the exploratory side in all of us, the side that seeks to unshackle whatever binds us and venture out into the unknown. The work also forces us to “inspect” the present-day tendency to helicopter parent children. Do that for too long and you risk running out of gas and crashing.—Douglas J. Ogurek ****