Friday 28 June 2024

All That Is Solid, by Rosanne Rabinowitz (Eibonvale Press) | review by Stephen Theaker

This review was originally written in September 2020 for a previous iteration of the British Fantasy Society website, and then appeared in TQF69 (April 2021).

A pair of female friends, a Polish designer and a formerly East German bookkeeper, are living in London shortly after the UK voted to leave the European Union. Over the course of twenty-eight pages we see the impact of our collective decision on their lives: harassment from yobs on buses, work drying up, and fears about the future, though we also hear about people who stand up for them, and who help a shopkeeper after an arson attack. It’s all getting to Gosia, and Ilona thinks she might benefit from seeing a therapist. The therapist suggests expressing her feelings through art, with peculiar consequences.

Wednesday 26 June 2024

Bludgeon Tools: Splatterpunk Anthology edited by K. Trap Jones (The Evil Cookie Publishing) | review by Douglas J. Ogurek

Tool-themed visceral horror anthology hits the nail on the head in some parts, strikes a thumb in others.

This splatterpunk anthology features stories of extreme violence enacted by tools. It’s mostly the usual suspects like hammers and saws, but there are also a few surprises. Characters range from cavemen wielding primitive weapons (“Sticks and Stones” by Christine Morgan) to students learning about torture techniques through remote instruction (“Online Learning” by Vic Kerry). Several stories involve women using phallus-like tools to exact revenge on men. 

Some entries by lesser-known authors enticed me to purchase more of their work. Conversely, I researched other authors in this anthology to avoid ever attempting to read something by them again. Their stories, limited in conflict and conversation, come across as amateur. The book also suffers from spelling mistakes and typos – at times, it’s enough to pull the reader out of a story. 

Well-known splatterpunk authors Kristopher Triana and Matt Shaw bookend the anthology with equally gruesome stories. In Triana’s “Hammer Time”, call girl Cassie visits a wealthy artist with piercings and tattoos covering his body. A tool aficionado (and a masochist), he has an idea for his ultimate work of art. It’s hard to write a story like this with the intent of being serious, but Triana pulls it off concisely and brutally.

Despite its problems with typos and tense, Matt Shaw’s “Smash It” offers a highly original, graphic depiction of violence that makes the reader cringe and laugh. After a bad experience with acid, the protagonist thinks his penis is encouraging him to violate and kill women. He decides he needs to take care of the problem. 

Stephen Kozeniewski’s “Tool Story”, the anthology’s most original entry, is written from the perspective of three tools used by a man who tortures people for information. Typically, anthropomorphic stories are intended for children, but Kozeniewski’s ultraviolent take results in humour and cleverness. 

In Vic Kerry’s “Online Learning”, an instructor delivers a remote course on torture as if he’s delivering a biology lesson about root systems. His clinical presentation of the subject matter combined with the students’ enthusiasm about using their “volunteers” to do heinous things makes for an amusing read. 

Ola, the protagonist of Jonathan Butcher’s “Drilldo”, decides to take her fetishes into her own hands after she has a bad experience with a dominant who calls himself Dr Surly. She does so after inserting a power drill (handle first) into a tight place. The story appears to be headed down the typical extreme horror path of abusing women, but it twists like a drill bit. 

The concept of a musician killing people on stage has been done before, but maybe not as funnily as in Antoine Cancer’s “Jesus of Jim Beam”. The story reflects the punk rock mentality by saying “f-- you” to the whole tool theme. There really aren’t any tools... or maybe the musician is the tool. Notable is the audience members’ response to the killing spree – they’re not overly impressed. It’s a commentary on being desensitised. 

Bludgeon Tools reinforces a theory about splatterpunk stories: although humour is not a requirement for such fiction, considering the over-the-top nature of the stories, humour often proves to be the best route. Douglas J. Ogurek ***

Friday 21 June 2024

New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color, edited by Nisi Shawl (Solaris Books) | review by Stephen Theaker

This review originally appeared in Interzone #281 (May–June 2019).

When asked about the lack of diversity in their books, English anthology editors all too frequently declare that the quality of the individual stories is all that matters. But if every story had the same plot and the same theme their individual quality would do nothing to stop the anthology from being very dull. Excellent books like We See a Different Frontier and The Apex Books of World SF have shown how diversity of contributors contributes to the quality of an anthology, not least because it tends to contribute to variety in the stories.

Friday 14 June 2024

Koshchei the Deathless, by Mike Mignola and Ben Stenbeck (Dark Horse) | review by Stephen Theaker

This review previously appeared in TQF67 (July 2020).

This Hellboy spin-off, a graphic novel written by Hellboy creator Mike Mignola, focuses on Koshchei the Deathless. He is a character from Eastern European folklore who appeared briefly in Hellboy as the servant of Baba Yaga, the Russian witch who lives in a house with chicken legs.

Friday 7 June 2024

The Map of Salt and Stars by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar (Orion) | review by Stephen Theaker

This review originally appeared in Interzone #275 (May–June 2018).

This novel tells the story of a twelve-year-old refugee, Nour, as her family flees war-torn Syria in 2011, while she tells and finds strength in the story of Rawiya, a girl crossing the same territory with a renowned map-maker in the twelfth century; for safety, both girls disguise themselves as boys while travelling. Like the main character, the author is American with a Syrian mother, but the book isn’t based on her own experiences.

Monday 3 June 2024

Halloween Ends | review by Douglas J. Ogurek

Halloween ends? Let’s hope so.

Whenever a film or television scene involves a man positioned behind a woman and showing her how to hit/shoot/operate something, my cliché radar goes off – a bad sign for the rest of the programme. This radar bleeped rapidly in Halloween Ends when troubled protagonist Corey (Rohan Campbell) sat behind love interest Allyson Strode (Andi Matichak) and showed her how to operate a motorcycle. Vroom vroom. Dumb.

In the original Halloween (1978), Michael Myers, with his jumpsuit, heavy breathing, expressionless white mask, economic movements, and unexplained drive to kill Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), carved out a new kind of horror film. He not only spawned countless knockoffs, but he also reappeared in eleven subsequent films within the franchise. Though I haven’t seen all of them, I was intrigued by the bold claim inherent in Halloween Ends (2022) – that the franchise would draw to a close. After watching it, I hope it does – the movie had more flaws than a months-old pumpkin. 

The year is 2019, and Myers’s decades-long psychological grip on the provincial residents of Haddonfield, Illinois remains strong. Nobody is more aware of the serial killer’s spell than Laurie, who continues to live there with her adult granddaughter Allyson while writing her dull memoir consisting of meaningless talk about evil.

The movie does offer an intriguing opening sequence in which Corey, who hopes to study engineering, babysits a bratty boy. What happens derails Corey’s life and earns him a negative reputation among the townsfolk. This, coupled with his overprotective mother and detached father, causes Corey’s life to spiral out of control. 

After witnessing Corey get assaulted by younger higher school students, Laurie decides he’d be a good match for her granddaughter. Not very perceptive. Allyson, remarkably well-adjusted despite her parents being killed by Myers, wants to help Haddonfield’s zero-prospect scapegoat overcome his problems. Corey, now working at his father’s mechanics shop, is going down a dark path thanks to the influence of a certain figure he encounters. 

The film, laden with the typical clichés and foreshadowing as conceived by a child, gets increasingly ridiculous until it culminates in an ending worthy of a musical – it seemed as if the characters were about to break into song.

One of the only interesting aspects of Halloween Ends is that the high schoolers who repeatedly antagonise Corey are not the expected jocks or punks, but rather members of the marching band. It shows how pathetic Corey is. Douglas J. Ogurek **