Saturday, 13 November 2010

New Review Posted

Dark Scribe Magazine has posted my review of Justni Cronin's The Passage

You can find it at

http://www.darkscribemagazine.com/reviews/

Just have to scroll down a bit.

Sorry for the short posting - have promised the family that we will start a film shortly so have to rush

Sunday, 7 November 2010

DemonMinds extra

Thought before I log this machine off for the evening it might be an idea to post the ful contents list for the DemonMinds antho I mentioned in the last post. So here it is

Daniel Robichaud - Jacket Ne Saie Quoe (Poem)

Suzanne Sykora - Dandelion Seed (Poem)

Jenna M. Pitman - A Girl and a Dog Walk Into A Bar (Story)

Gustavo Bondoni - Happy Hour at Lilu's (Story)

Kenneth Whitfield - Addictions (Story)

April Grey - At the End of Day (Story)

Chris Morey - Schism (Poem)

Joyce Frohn - Little Coffins (Poem)

Bernard J. Schaffer - The Kyoshi Scrolls (Story)

MZ Hoosen - The Sleeper (Story)

Bruce Memblatt - Bottle in Bordeaux (Story)

C. S. Johnson - Seven Circles (Story)

Gary McCluskey - Patches (Art)

Zac Mauer - Good Grief (Art)

David Pickering - Elegance (Story)

KC Wilder - an unsuccessful writer relaxing at home (Poem)

Tom Thornton - Dow Jones (Poem)

I. E. Lester - Acting's A Hell of A Job (Story)

John Grey - It's Not Like the Old Days (Poem)

Michael Shell - I Have Seen A Gargoyle (Poem)

Dark Matter - The Crush (Story)

Jeffery Scott Sims - Stealing Boris Karloff (Story)

Coy Hall The Image Disturbed (Story)

Rhonda Parrish - Hunger (Poem)

Michael Shell - I Have Seen a Gargoyle (Poem)

Recent times update

In amongst a few weeks of assorted craziness (I might blog about it later) I have had a couple of nice writing related moments. I received a copy of DemonMinds Halloween 2010 anthology magazine. It's a whopper - I think the format size is US Letter although being a Brit I might be wrong about that. And much more importantly to my writing ego, it contains a story of mine - Acting's a Hell of a Game. As well as lots of other short stories and poems from authors like Jeffrey Scott Sims, Daniel Robichaud and loads more.

And I also received a copy of Murky Depths issue 14 which contains three of my short reviews - for Lavie Tidhar's Cloud Permutations, W. D. Gagliani's Wolf's Bluff and the film Defendor.

And I have started writing again - sent in another review to Murky Depths this afternoon and will hopefully get some more done later...

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Bathynomus giganteus

Forget all the drawings, paintings, models and computer generated imagery of what an alien race should look like. All you have to do is look up this creature - the giant isopod or Bathynomus giganteus. It is a very weird looking animal and you can find them in the deep waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

You don't need to go traveling to other worlds (of the imagination or otherwise) to see strange creatures.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Stephen Fry

I'm supposed to be reading all kinds of books at the moment. I think I must have about 20 or so review copies sitting on my to read pile. The only problem is that Stephen Fry has a new book out - his second volume of autobiography - and I simply have to read it. You see like a number of other English people (I can't claim this to be so for other nationalities - I've never asked) I like Stephen Fry.

I like his cleverness. I like his word use. I like his geeky enthusiasms. I could go on. He would. He's not the most modest of people - and I have to admit I can appreciate that. There are few things that annoy me more than false modesty. If you have a talent, an ability, why the hell not be proud of it and promote it, and hence yourself, as best you can.

Equally I like honesty. And in this book, The Fry Chronicles - I'd noticed I'd not mentioned the title earlier, Stephen Fry discusses his University life and early career in TV, radio, journalism, playwriting and all-round general clever-clogs-ness.

But he also tells of is failings. His physical failings such as nicotine addiction, his feelings of shame about his own body and his desire, immense desire - need really - to be loved.

I rarely read autobiographies. I'm trying to think of ones I've read as I type this. I've read all of Asimov's but then again I am a total Asimov addict so they go without saying. And yes I probably would read his old shopping lists - how do you spell obsession again?

And I've read Frankie Boyle's - on a whim that one. I like some of his comedy, he takes chances. He tries to do things with comedy others do not. A lot of people think he goes too far but unless you try things how do you know what's going to be funny? His book is frightening honest at times. And very scathing. But all through it's just plain funny.

Anyway I digress. Back to Stephen Fry. And his book. It's superb. And tonight it will be finished. I just pity the author whose book I pick up next. It will suffer in the comparison.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Murky Depths #13

Just received my copy of Murky Depths #13 in today's post. It's a really good looking magazine and I'm looking forward to giving the stories a read later.

But I wanted to post a quick little blog entry about it as the issue contains three of my short (c. 250 word) reviews. There are two book reviews (for Dean Koontz's Relentless and Ronald Malfi's Snow) as well as a film review (for Stag Night).

If you feel like taking a look at their site - and preferably considering buying a copy of this fine mag (and I'm not just saying that because it features me) - then their website can be found at

http://www.murkydepths.com/

Oh and the site currently has the cover for #14 (really great cover too) which is available for pre-order and which I will also have reviews in. You could go buy both.

Enjoy!

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Catch-up time

I've not been blogging much of late. Holidays and new bookcases have taken up a lot of my time. I spent a week based in Belgium and managed to go exploring in Holland, Germany, France and Luxembourg (in addition to Belgium itself). I still love Belgium. I think I may have to go back there many more times.

As for the book cases. Well we had a little bit of building work done earlier this year and some of the extra space was devoted to storing my books. And book cases arrived this last week. So I had the happy task of going through the boxes which have contained many of my books for the past couple of years and give them shelf space. Oh it was fun.

I have managed to find time to watch some movies too - so I thought I'd spend a few minutes giving some short comments.

1. Night of the Demons. I liked the original of this back in the 80s. It was a fairly tasteless, silly little horror comedy. It had all the elements you'd expect for a straight to video (remember pre-DVD age) release. Bad effects, corny dialog, decent amount of bared female flesh and silly monsters. But it was good fun. It didn't take itself even remotely seriously. So - the sequel, have they screwed it up, made it all PC and taken the fun out of it?

Thankfully no. It's a fairly straight (or should that read camp and twisted) remake. All the elements you'd want are still there. And it's still great fun.

2. Zombie Women of Satan. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. This is bad. Seriously. A mad scientist has been experimenting on his son's sex slaves. (Sonny boy runs a brainwashing cult - who doesn't?) And he's created zombies out of lyngerie clad young women. And it all kicks off when a 38th rate adult caberet act, with the prerequisite dwarf, have turned up for an interview for an internet broadcast (also run by sonny boy). This film is terrible. But as I watched it in good company the experience was at least enjoyable - we spent the hour and a half taking the piss out of it mercilessly.

3. Robin Hood. I know, it's a bit mainstream for me. But I do have a family and I'm not the only one who decides on the films to watch. The production values are high. The film looks good, although the locations don't look much like the Nottingham I know - Nottinghamshire is only about a dozen miles away from where I live so I am reasonable familiar with the county. And the story seemed a little silly to me - even for a Robin Hood story. Nice looking film (probably better for the women watching it - Russell Crowe doesn't do it for me).

4. Bodyguards and Assassins. Back to Chinese films. Much more my thing. Slightly different to the norm this one - for Chinese films. It's set in Hong Kong at the turn of the 20th Century when the city was still a British colony. And it's subject matter is revolution against the Imperial rule in China.

Most Chinese films I watch fall into one of two categories. Firstly there's the epic history, the true cast of thousands, slightly fantastical legend movie that the Chinese are so good at producing (think Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or House of Flying Daggers). And secondly there's the modern, edgy gangster type movie with plenty of kung fu and guns.

I like both. This is neither. But that's not to say I didn't enjoy it. I found the film was superb.

4. Death Tube. Japanese horror that's very much in the Saw mold. Our main character wakes up to find himself inside an internet based killing game called Death Tube. He's not alone. There are eight people in total each facing tasks and puzzles with death being the penalty for failure. Oh, and the whole thing is run by people dressed in teddy bear costumes.

It's a very silly concept but it manages to be quite disturbing. Somehow having a dehumanised, partly synthesized voice coming from the image of child's toy is creepy. That and people do die in this game. And the good thing is the survivors of the killings really freak out about it.

5. Meat Grinder. Korean gorefest - a very over-the-top sequence of torture and grisly killings. This is definitely not a film for the faint of heart. The central concept of disposing of bodies by serving them in a fast food restaurant is certainly not new - Eat the Rich came to mind as I watched this - but none before have done it with quite as much on screen claret. Satisfying to all us sickos.

6. Arn: night Templar. Swedish historicla movie set during the crusades. Young kid Arn is raised in a monastery and trained by a former Templar. No sooner has he returned to his family as a young man that a single indiscretion sees him pressganged into the Templars and sent to fight in the crusades for twenty years. He proves himself a great warrior and an honourable man...

I could go on but I don't want to spoil it. This film is superb. Truly wonderful. It has the grime and dirt you'd imagine of the 12th Century, lots of action, love, chivalrous knights, betrayals, unlikely friendships and plenty of sword fights. Fantastic

7. Road Train. Australian horror (I'm getting around the globe a bit with this movie watching aren't I?) The road train is a multi stage trucks. They are famous in Australia and hundreds of them criss cross the country delivering all manners of goods. This one though is evil and it's found it's next victim. It's a bit like Christine on steriods, this truck. Can't say it's the best film I've seen but not bad at all.

8. Nazi Dawn. American supernatural war film. Lance Henricksen leads a rescue mission to a US warship adrift in the Persian Gulf and drifting towards Iranian waters. It's a silly film. I mainly watched it as a fan of Henricksen. Problem is he is just too old to be convincing as a special forces soldier - even one who admits he's nearing retirement age.

There are others. But I'm running out of time. It's 11pm and I'd like to get another review written for submission before I go get sleep.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Where did this month go?

I just noticed I haven't blogged since the 5th. Wow. Where have the last three weeks gone? Okay I think I can put some of it down to being on holiday in Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, France and Germany for ten days in there somewhere (I will add some blog entries about the trips at some point). But it doesn't account for all the gap. To be truthful I haven't written all that much in that time either - half a dozen reviews for Murky Depths is all.

Well the fact is I have had nine new book cases delivered and have spent a good deal of the time since getting back from mainland Europe sorting out the various boxes of books and getting books onto shelves. And it's been great fun. That may sound sad but it's true. I love books and a lot of these books haven't been out of boxes in years.

Good times.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

New Review posted (New Myths)

My review of Harry Turtledove's Hitler's War has just been posted to sf website New Myths. If you want to check it out you can find it at

http://63.64.44.120/index.pacq?id=278&tier=2

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Magners League

Anyone who's read any of the previous postings on this blog will be aware that I am a Europhile, and addicted to Italy in particular (and Belgium, Luxembourg, France - I could go on).

And I'm a rugby fan. A serious rugby fan.

Today saw two of these things come together. The Magners Leage which has featured teams from Scotland, Wales and Ireland, this year also features two Italian teams, Benetton Treviso and Aironi Rugby. Fantastic stuff.

And as a serious Venice fanatic I'm obviously going to sepnd the entire season, and hopefully many to come, supporting Terviso (Treviso is only just up the road from Venice).

Today Treviso played their first game against the Scarlets and they won 34-28. Yehay!!!

Monday, 30 August 2010

Two more submissions out there

I wanted to end the long weekend having done something positive writing wise and fortunately something presented itself in the form of page proofs from Demon Minds for my short story "Acting's a Hell of a Job" in their upcoming Halloween edition.

That and I found new potential homes for the two short stories rejected this weekend.

Review of Edward Lee - The Golem

I'd never read an Edward Lee novel before picking this book up. I'd heard they were gory, and many of the review quotes on the cover of and inside this book used phrases like "hardcore horror". I was expecting extreme horror.

So it came as a bit of a surprise when this book wasn't an out-and-out gorefest, when it wasn't the loosely strung together sequence of gross-out horror violence I'd imagined. What it is, is a well-written, tightly plotted and entertaining, but decidedly mainstream, horror novel - with the kind of main plot you might imagine Stephen King producing.

Games designer and recovering alcoholic Seth Kohn and his ex-junkie girlfriend Judy Parker have moved to Lowensport, Maryland to start a new life away from the reminders of their former addiction riddled lives. Their plans, though, are not going to work out, as the town is the home of a dark cult based on a twisted form of Judaism - a cult that controls a zombie-like golem.

And, unfortunately for them, Seth and Judy are square in the cult's sights as soon after they arrive in town four barrels of clay from the old world (Prague to be specific) are discovered, one hundred years after they were lost in the early days of the town. The cult consider these barrels theirs, and they want them back so they can create more golems.

Seth and Judy are great creations. Lee has created two fully rounded lead characters that you just cannot help sympathising with. They are damaged goods, yes, but they are have got their lives back together and are trying to keep on the straight and narrow. And the author has then placed them in great danger, some supernatural, some through deliberate manipulation of their pasts by the locals. He's delivered the precise kind of seemingly hopeless situation that makes a good horror novel.

But this is not the only story going on in this book. Intermingled is the tale of the Lowensport of 1880, the time of the founding of the town and of the battles between the Jewish incomers and the Maryland natives. It's this two time period nature that is the book's only real drawback. Having two timelines running means you have to read a lot more of the book before anything really substantial happens.

It is a shame - for much as the 1880s tale is good, it pales in comparison to the modern plot strand. Seth and Judy's story is compelling. But every time it begins to build momentum the action switches back to 1880 - to a tale that you know will only have one possible outcome. The present day set up leaves it reasonably easy to guess what must have happened in the past.

But this is almost nit picking. This book has some good horror moments without overdoing the gore. It has a slightly different, and interesting, take on zombies. The Jewish connection is handled well - the author has managed to use an element of Jewish mythology and a Jewish cult as bad guys without vilifying the religion itself. Definitely worth a read!

Annoying weekend - writing wise

The last weekend in August in the UK means a three day weekend with a national holiday on the Monday. So it seems all the ingredients for a good time. Didn't quite happen that way though. Not writing wise in any case.

Firstly the weekend statrs with a rejection from Drabblecast and today it has ended with another rejection, this time from Neo-opsisfor a story I still feel is one of the best I've written. Although now that it has received six rejections maybe I should re-assess that belief. Mind you it has taught me not to write stories in second person narrative. Which is a great shame as I rather like second person tales. They make me feel as though I'm in the middle of the action.

And running all through the three days was the fact I had a lot of extracurriculur from the day job. I spent nearly all this weekend, including until 4am yesterday (on a Sunday) updating our software system. And sitting here now at 9pm Monday I have more yet to do.

I don't dislike my day job by any means, in fact I have to say I rather like the puzzles and problems it throws my way but I could have done with a nice break this weekend from it to get some writing done. I have three reviews I need to write for submission with deadlines looming (and two of which are likely to be missed meaning I won't be able to feature in those mags) and a (hopefully) comedic horror short story I'm about 8000 words into that I have some ideas for where to take it next that I would love to get time at.

Still I will get time at some point I'm sure. I know this weekend was an aberration. It's not normally this time consuming.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Second Review of Wrath James White - Succulent Prey

After a number of years reading horror you begin to feel that you have pretty much seen it all. There's nothing left that will scare you or make you wince. Nothing an author can write that you will disturb you. Zombies - been there, ate brains with them. Vampires - heck they're pretty much PG these days. Witchcraft's gone cuddly, demons are just like regular people etc, etc.

Even serial killers, with their advantage of being all too plausible, are sanitised somewhat - Hannibal Lector, Freddy Krueger and Michael Myers - are now more friends than feared enemies.

Not so when you pick up a Wrath James White novel however. He still has the ability to unsettle you big time. He does this not only by the extreme violence of his books, but also by the context. The main character in this book is a cannibalistic sex-maniac - and, believe me, this is going to let you in for some pretty gory bits. Even for a long time reader/watcher of gory horror.

He's achieved this by making his monster more than just a straightforward monster. Joseph Miles is a giant of a man, six and a half feet of sculpted muscle. He's also the only survivor of a child sex killer - suffering repeated rapes and stabbed over a dozen times. As an adult he is consumed by his urges to cannibalise his sexual partners.

But he is not willing to give in totally to these urges, he wants to fight against becoming a total monster. He sees the attacker of his ten-year-old self to be his salvation. If he can reach the man (tricky as he's in a maximum-security psychiatric unit) and kill him, it will free him to become a normal human being.

As a plot is may seem a little hackneyed - the kind of thing that would feature in many pulp vampire or werewolf stories. But in many ways this is the point. Miles is attempting to reason away his insanity, to find an external reason for his condition - something that was done to him. Something he can cure.

White has brought a sick world into sharp focus. He may have focused the action on one twisted individual but, through Miles' visits to sex-clubs and Sex Addicts' self help groups, the author has provided him a supporting cast of, in their own ways, equally broken characters.

In his own way, even his college lecturer is as needy - being willing to deliberately withhold information from a police investigation or even mislead the detectives to give him a chance at testing his own theories on aberrant behaviour.

This is what horror needed after years of dumbing-down on the scare-front. This book is a definite confirmation of horror as adult fiction. No teenage-friendly undead romances here. This is flesh-ripping to the extreme, gore-splattering scares! Great stuff.

Review of Jacy Nova & Nick Nova - Vampress Girls: City of the Lost Souls (Graphic Novel)

In the fourteenth century, during the time of the Black Death plague in Europe, a deal is struck. The secrets contained in the Vampress Code were written down in a locked book, one that required two keys to be opened. One key was given to the High Priestess of the Vampire Clan (the good guys in the book) and the other to the High Priest of the Demon Clan (the Bad Guys).

Not a totally original premise, but one that held a certain amount of promise. Nothing came of it though. The action soon moves forward in time to early twenty-first century California, but the promised epic battle between the supernatural forces of good and evil doesn't materialise. What we have is two girl-group pop bands, made up of American high school girls (one from each tribe) spending their time bickering at each other, going clubbing and being sick. It's all very superficial.

Despite the simplistic art style and the speech bubbles dialogue being very prosaic, this could have been a great story. It isn't though. Despite all the available richness of the vampire and demon mythologies, seven-centuries of history and modern culture against which the authors/artists set their tale, they have produced one of the most lightweight and crass books I have ever read. In its way it's a really impressive feat.

How you can mix vampires and demons, seven hundred years of history and glitzy, Rock 'n' Roll world of the early twenty-first century, and end up with something this vapid is mind-blowing.

In fact the only challenging thing you'll find in these pages is identifying the various characters. Eight of the main characters are high-school age girls dressed as rock-chicks, and without colour to the artwork to give you assistance it is difficult to tell these girls apart.

It's difficult to think of a single good thing to say about this. Oh, here's one - it doesn't take too long to finish.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Review of Brian Keene - Urban Gothic

Six suburban white kids venture into inner city Philadelphia because one of them "knows" where he can get good drugs. It's plainly not a good idea. One made all the worse when their car breaks down in a run down neighbourhood.

When a group of black teenagers approaches them they fear the worse and panic, not waiting to see if the group was intending to rob/attack them or, perhaps, help them. They run, heading straight into an old, seemingly deserted house at the end of the street. Once inside they find themselves in a mutant nightmare, the house is populated by some of the most twisted, vile sub-humanoid creatures I've ever read in a mainstream horror novel.

The danger is immediate. As soon as they close the door behind them they run into the first of the house's freak occupants - a giant, pus-oozing, brutal beast of a man carrying an un-really large hammer. From this point on they will undergo a terrifying ordeal, running, crawling, sliding, swimming through every kind of foul substance, desperate to escape the mutants intent on making them lunch (and you guessed it - I don’t mean they are inviting them to dinner).

Keene has managed to create one of the most disgusting books I've ever read. Talk about slime. This book positively drips slime, mucus, blood - in fact pretty much every type of bodily, or otherwise organic, fluid oozes out of every page of this book. As a novel is the total embodiment of the word "ew"!

I've never read anything that made you cringe as much as this book. Keene wants you to live this experience, breathe in the odors and drink the filth; yes, drink - his characters end up doing just that, half drowning in something you'd rather not go within a hundred yards of.

But for all its unpleasant content this is a good read. Keene has managed to write characters you can actually sympathise with. They make mistakes, they get scared and lash out, but they are human, and they are in deep shit (literally).

It is possible to say that the plot, such that there is one, is lightweight. Six kids get locked in a building full of twisted mutant monsters. It doesn't sound that inventive or realistic - sounds like maybe there's not enough to maintain interest to the last page. And that would be true but for one thing.

It's a very fast paced novel. There's no hanging around here. The whole of the book takes place within a single evening, a total time-span of perhaps a couple of hours. You aren't going to get bored with this one.

Brian Keene has a knack for horror. He can induce some serious scares. He can make you cringe. And with Urban Gothic he's added to an already impressive horror resume. Watch out for this guy, he's going places.

Film Review - The Midnight Meat Train (back to posting old reviews)

Leon Kaufmann is a struggling photographer - determined to make it big without selling out. He prowls night-time New York in search of the iconic image of the city's dark side that could make him a household name.

A chance encounter on a subway station platform with a well dressed, but hard-faced, man sparks an obsession in Kaufmann. He pursues the man, believing him responsible for series of disappearances from late night trains. His paranoia about the man is well founded. Mahogany (the well-dressed man) commits the most brutal of acts on the subway, beating his victims to death and then butchering them.

Ex-soccer player Vinnie Jones is perfect as Mahogany. He has the perfect look for a deranged serial killer. But it's the focus on Kaufmann (Bradley Cooper) that makes the film work. Cooper plays the progression from career-desperation into obsession about the subway killer wonderfully.

This is a film for the Saw fan, rather than the fan of psychological scares or Freddy-style total gorefest. It's not going to unnerve you; suspense isn't on the cards. And although there's considerable violence here (it gets very bloody at times) it's not relentless. There's more too it - a fairly good plot for one thing, including a decent amount of intrigue. (How many people are involved in this?)

It's a good film, no doubt about it. But it could have been better. More should have been made of the reasons why it's all happening. The reveal at the end answers some but not all of your questions. There are also issues concerning Mahogany that are left hanging (his medical condition for one). You reach the end of the movie with several things unexplained and it's frustrating.

These are minor gripes only though - this film has a lot to recommend it. Watch it - you could do a lot worse!

Director: Ryuhei Kitamura

Actors: Bradley Cooper, Vinnie Jones, Leslie Bibb, Brooke Shields, Roger Bart

Label: Lions Gate

Length: 100 minutes

DVD Release: February 2009

Demon Minds 2010 - Table of Contents

Demon Minds have posted the table of contents for their 2010 edition - out around Halloween. You can find it at the link below

http://www.demonminds.com/accepted.html

But it's posted in full below

Daniel Robichaud - Poem - Jacket Ne Saie Quoe

Suzanne Sykora - Poem - Dandelion Seed

Jenna Pitman - Story - A Girl and a Dog Walk Into A Bar

Gustavo Bondoni - Story - Happy Hour at Lilu's

Kenneth Whitfield - Story - Addictions

April Grey - Story - At the End of Day

Chris Morey - Poem - Schism

Joyce Frohn - Poem - Little Coffins

Bernard J. Schaffer - Story - The Kyoshi Scrolls

MZ Hoosen - Story - The Sleeper

Bruce Memblatt - Story - Bottle in Bordeaux

C. S. Johnson - Story - Seven Circles

Gary McCluskey - Art - Patches

Zac Mauer - Art - Good Grief

David Pickering - Story - Elegance

KC Wilder - Poem - an unsuccessful writer relaxing at home

Tom Thornton - Poem - Dow Jones

I. E. Lester - Story - Acting's A Hell of A Job

John Grey - Poem - It's Not Like the Old Days

Michael Shell - Poem - I Have Seen A Gargoyle

Dark Matter - Story - The Crush

Jeffery Scott Sims - Story - Stealing Boris Karloff

Coy Hall - Story - The Image Disturbed

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Ray Bradbury Music Video (just a little rude)

I've just seen a pop video entitled F*** me, Ray Bradbury. One of my friends on Facebook posted the link and it's hilarious.

Just wnated to share the vid with anyone who doesn't mind adult language - if you do mind and you still visit the link, please don't blame me

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e1IxOS4VzKM

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Third Dark Scribe Review (of recent times)

The third of my recent batch of Dark Scribe Magazine reviews (and fifth in total) has been posted. This one for George Mann's Ghosts of Manhattan, a 1920s Batman style story with steampunk stylings. Not a bad read.

Anyway you can find my review at http://www.darkscribemagazine.com/reviews/

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Latest short story rejection

Everyday Weirdness just rejected my short story Chicken. Makes my batting average with them .500 (and yes I know being English I shouldn't probably use American sporting idioms but what the hell).

Now to try to find it a new potential home

Latest Dark Scribe Review

Dark Scribe Magazine has posted my review of Edward M Erdelac's novella Red Sails - a bit of a pirate adventure piece. You can find it at http://www.darkscribemagazine.com/reviews/

Monday, 9 August 2010

On Dean Koontz's Frankenstein (written before book four had come out)

In the near two centuries since the publication of Mary Shelley's novel, Frankenstein has become almost synonymous with horror itself for many, with only Bram Stoker's Dracula being more widely known.

But like Dracula, the years have not always been kind to Frankenstein - both are often considered fair game for authors; filmmakers; comic writers; games-designers and merchandising manufacturers - not all of whom have been all that concerned with maintaining the legacy of the original.

In summer 2005 Dean Koontz became the latest author to take a stab at adding to the Frankenstein mythos, with the first of a series of novels based on his concept for a proposed, but never realised, TV series.

Koontz's basic premise is an updating of the Frankenstein story, accepting the events of Shelley's novel but asking what would happen next.

We find out early in Prodigal Son, the first book (co-written with Kevin J. Anderson) that Dr Frankenstein still lives, having prolonged his life by artificial means far beyond normal limits. So too does his seemingly immortal creature, now going by the name of Deucalion and residing in a remote monastery far away from civilisation.

The first thing you notice about this series is that the two main protagonists have changed sides somewhat. Victor Frankenstein, now living under the alias of Victor Helios, is an intensely driven evil man. Any hint of the misguided scientist of Shelley's original has gone. This is not a man attempting to push science for science's sake only. He has a much more sinister purpose in mind - the creation of an artificial super race controlled by him, and intended to replace regular humans.

Deucalion is a much more peaceful individual, he has learned to control his anger and is seemingly content to remain in his monastery home. However when he hears his creator still lives he knows he must stop him from completing his scheme.

In the middle of it all are two New Orleans police officers investigating a murder where the corpse appears to be not entirely human.

There are some good ideas here. The updating of the myth introducing twenty-first century science to Frankenstein's work is handled well. Add to that, three interesting interweaving main plot lines (scientist, creature, police), well rounded characters and skilful prose that is a joy to read with just the right amount of humour to lighten the mood from time to time and there is the making of a great novel in this.

But it's the members of the New Race and, in some ways, Frankenstein himself that are the let down of the book. That Frankenstein is the villain of the piece is not a problem, but what is, is the fact that he seems to have mutated into the over-the-top stereotype villain you would associate with James Bond movies - although perhaps he might be a little too much even for a Bond flick.

And his creatures are hate-filled, over-athletic sex machines. Okay, within the framework of the story some of this is understandable. Frankenstein has engineered his creatures with the desire to kill us normal humans - a hatred they find difficult to contain - and with a powerful sex drives so they have a means of releasing their tensions. But it seems almost a trashy exploitation gimmick, a literary equivalent of the ten-minute plot-break heavy sex scenes you get in straight-to-video horror films.

On balance though Prodigal Son comes out well ahead. It's an entertaining read, one could easily read in a couple of sessions, and it sets up the series well.

Book two, City of Night, followed later in 2005, this time Dean Koontz having swapped his co-author Anderson for Ed Gorman.

The book picks up the action straight from the end of book one, and sees Victor Frankenstein/Helios increasing his work to replace humanity. Okay, there is a lot of extra suspense thrown into the mix but the book suffers from a definite "in-the-middle" feeling. It's not a book that gives any real answers to the questions book one raised. You might say this is not a fair criticism for the middle book of a trilogy, but I've always felt the "trilogy" concept was one too often forced.

Just because a story is going to last longer than a single book, why does it have to reach three volumes. If a story can be told just as well in two books, it should be left at two books. As a result of fitting into the expected trilogy format, this book feels it is a little stretched.

But despite that it is far from a bad book. Koontz and Gorman have ramped things up a little. The dangers are growing, the numbers of the New Race out in the world are growing and our heroes are facing ever-greater odds.

It successfully builds on the story of book one, develops it, adds in some unexpected twists and sets up the conclusion well.

And therein lies the series' main problem. Book two came out at the end of 2005 and left a story hanging in mid air. Anyone who bought the book and read it at the time would have been aching for the conclusion.

Well the third book was delayed, being published nearly four years later. It's been such a delay that many people will have forgotten about the series entirely and will never read this third book. At the very least the delay will mean that many people will approach this book almost cold, remembering little but a general outline of the first two volumes and having to relearn all the character names etc.

That would be okay though if the book were good. And that's a real pity. It just doesn't measure up to the first two volumes. The action here feels lacklustre. The characters have moved more into stereotypes and have flattened into very two-dimensional beings.

I'm probably going to buy book four when it does come out but I can't say I'm holding out all that much hope.

Better late than never I guess

I enjoyed reading. Okay a number of people may read much more than me but I do manage to get through two or three books in a week so I don't think I do too badly. And I will admit this is largely due to a liking for shorter books. I read a lot of novellas so I guess I get a bit of assistance from the books I choose to read.

Anyway I recently discovered a new way of adding to my reading tally. I take a book with me to work. Before you start accusing me of not actually doing anything for the day job, I want to say I restrict my reading to lunch hours only. But it does mean I can add an extra book into the reading schedule each fortnight. As long as I stick clear of fiction that is. I don't think I could ever read a novel in the middle of a crowded canteen.

But non-fiction. I can do that. So recently I've read a book about the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study, Dava Sobel's Longtitude, a couple of travelogues and am currently reading a book on Fermat's Last Theorem.

It gives me a good feeling to know I'm doing something good (for me anyway) in this dead time. Unless there is anyone in the canteen I enjoy talking to I often spent these breaks being very bored and wondering back to work early.

Once more books have saved me.

Review of Bill Bryson - Shakespeare: The World as a Stage

Although best known for his travel books this is far from Bryson's first venture into other fields. He has written the obligatory (for a writer) book of personal memoirs ("The Life and Time of the Thunderbolt Kid"), a book or two on the English language ("Bryson's Dictionary of Troublesome Words") and even one on the sum total of human knowledge ("A Short History of Nearly Everything"). And now he has turned his hand to biography with this book on the greatest of all authors.

This feels remarkably well researched - despite being such a short book he lists three and a half pages of selected bibliography. This amount of available research material does not mean, however, that much is actually known about Shakespeare life - far from it. Bryson even makes fun of this fact throughout the book.

The book explains the few known facts of Shakespeare's life and how they are known - his birth (or rather his baptism, the exact date of his birth being inferred from the baptismal ceremony), his schooling, his marriage and fathering of children in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Then moving on, Bryson details the little that is known of Shakespeare's life in London - lodgings, acting, a few various financial activities including taxes and house purchases and finally his death and will.

All of these items provide such a frustratingly small portion of Shakespeare's life, giving rise to a plethora of guesses, educated and otherwise (mainly just wishful thinking), about the unknown years.

Bryson however, does not join in this make-believe. The book includes many of the speculations that other biographers have made about aspects of Shakespeare's life. He humorously dismisses the more outlandish claims - his sexuality, his religious affiliations and even whether or not he was actually the author of the books attributed to him, whilst being fair and even-handed to the more reasonable speculations.

But this book is far more than a presentation of the scant few known facts about Shakespeare's life, with a discussion on Shakespearean research and commentary tacked on. Bryson sets his life into its context, explaining the conditions, customs and opportunities of London in the late sixteenth century. He grounds Shakespeare in his world, proving how he was fortuitous he was to enter the theatrical world of London in the middle of a golden period.

The book also answers one question - why is Shakespeare remembered as he is? If he lived in a London filled with theatres, actors and playwrights, why aren't his contemporaries' works as widely known, especially given as he was not one the most of the most productive of Elizabethan London's authors?

As Bryson states in this book - of the twenty-nine surviving plays from this period consisting of three thousand words or more, fully twenty-two are by Shakespeare or Ben Jonson. This leads naturally to the question (answered within these pages), "Why is William Shakespeare so well represented?"

And in answering this Bryson places Shakespeare not only in his time but also very much in ours, exploring how the writer has lived beyond his days when many other Elizabethan playwrights are known now only by scant references in obscure documents.

Bill Bryson could probably explain anything. He has such a wonderfully friendly, relaxed, easy-to-understand way of writing. His writing is full of joy, and reading his prose brings a smile to your face. And he is an honest writer.

Although you do get the impression that he is a strong proponent of Shakespeare Bryson doesn't put him on a high pedestal or believe him a man incapable of errors. Whilst discussing his work he is happy to list several of Shakespeare's mistakes, shortcuts and laziness of writing. This helps make the book a well rounded, balanced piece. There is no vitriolic criticism, and no hero-worship. This is a straightforward history (as well as can be presented from the lack of information) of the English language most famous writer - and very entertaining it is too.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Review Posted

My review of Robin Becker's Brains: A Zombie Memoir has been posted on the horror website Dark Scribe Magazine.

You can find them at - http://www.darkscribemagazine.com/

The reviews section is accessible from the link on the right hand side of the screen, or you can get to it direct by clicking - http://www.darkscribemagazine.com/reviews/

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Review of Richard Parks' Hereafter, and After

Jake Hallman is a dead accountant, and the afterlife's latest arrival, appearing at the start of the Golden Road to Heaven. Brendan, his own personal guide angel awaits him. Jake soon non-plusses Brendan however, when he questions the need to actually make the journey - can Brendan force him to go? With this simple revelation Jake becomes a Free Soul.

As a Free Soul he begins to realise certain truths about the afterlife, and of the nature of the gods. Although such occurrences are rare, heaven has a mechanism to track them, and Jake finds himself from time to time in front of The Accountant, the being responsible for keeping score.

Jake follows his own path, a ghostly free agent. He visits Valhalla where he discovers that hearing tales of even the most heroic and perilous adventures grows dull after an eternity of retelling, and the gods are bored. He teams up with a former Valkyrie and visits Hel, and all the time continues to see the truths about existence.

This book is wonderfully irreverent. It takes a swipe at the old myths, and our beliefs of life after death. It lines up wonderfully bizarre encounters as angels, demons, gods and mythical heroes, even the mistress of Hel all come face to face with an accountant.

And it knows when to stop. This is not an idea for a 500-page book, or a trilogy of such books. The almost surreal, off-kilter feel of this works perfectly as a novella. It's a wonderful stress reliever of a book.

 

Book Details

Released March 2007

90 pages

PS Publishing =

http://www.pspublishing.co.uk

ISBN-13: 9781904619864

Review of Mike Resnick's Starship: Pirate

For me I have always felt Mike Resnick is my guilty little secret author. Generally I like hard science fiction, I like high concept science in my fiction. Books concerning alternate-dimensions or time travel, genetic manipulations, major scientific advancement and the like written by Stephen Baxter, Robert Charles Wilson, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov and others fill my bookshelves.

Mike Resnick's fiction is not like this. His books are galaxy-spanning adventures, without the slightest care for how his starships, blaster pistols, gadgets and gizmos actually work. His worlds are frontier outposts, mankind on the edge, exploring and expanding into new territories. In short he is telling tales of America's old west transplanting the setting to the stars.

This probably leads to another reason why I shouldn't like his work. I do not like western movies. I endured many of them as a kid as my father is a fan, and I would be perfectly happy not seeing another my entire life, and reading one would certainly not figure. So my liking Resnick's fiction is something I try not to understand - I just accept it.

This particular book is the second in a series, although I would guess it is not all that necessary that you would have read the first. Suffice to say Wilson Cole is a hero, the most decorated officer in the Republic's navy. Also he is not particularly liked by the brass, having this tendency to get the job done by any means, even if it means circumventing regulations. That the public adores him, is just another reason why he is despised by the higher ranks.

In book one in the series he saved the day again. I'm not giving anything away - he was hardly likely to die in book one of a series intended to last five volumes. So the Navy decides to reward him with a court-martial. His crew disagrees with this, rescue him, steal their ship - a hundred-year-old patrol ship called the Theodore Roosevelt - and they head to the inner frontier.

Well they need to find someway to sustain themselves so they decide on becoming pirates. But being hero-types standard piracy is not going to be way of things - certainly not a moral enough activity for heroes to engage in. So they decide to prey only on other pirates.

All of which means that we are to meet a fairly familiar bunch of typical Resnick characters in typical Resnick surroundings. But do not for a minute think that this will lead to a very derivative and unoriginal book. This is a galactic-spanning stage remember. If we maintain the old west analogy then hearing the legends of the Frank and Jesse James does not mean we would not want to read about Billy the Kid, the Dalton Gang, "Doc" Holliday, Buffalo Bill or Wyatt Earp.

Resnick's books are fun; they are pick-me-up fiction. This one maintains that, it's a good read. It's not up with his best - for that you would need to check out Ivory or Santiago - but it should entertain anyone who enjoys adventure science fiction.

Monday, 2 August 2010

...and a rejection

Encounters Magazine just returned my short story "What Do I Do Now". Never mind, eh?

Film Review - The Midnight Meat Train

(Again, allow for the time between this being written and resurrected for this blog)

Leon Kaufmann is a struggling photographer - determined to make it big without selling out. He prowls night-time New York in search of the iconic image of the city's dark side that could make him a household name.

A chance encounter on a subway station platform with a well dressed, but hard-faced, man sparks an obsession in Kaufmann. He pursues the man, believing him responsible for series of disappearances from late night trains. His paranoia about the man is well founded. Mahogany (the well-dressed man) commits the most brutal of acts on the subway, beating his victims to death and then butchering them.

Ex-soccer player Vinnie Jones is perfect as Mahogany. He has the perfect look for a deranged serial killer. But it's the focus on Kaufmann (Bradley Cooper) that makes the film work. Cooper plays the progression from career-desperation into obsession about the subway killer wonderfully.

This is a film for the Saw fan, rather than the fan of psychological scares or Freddy-style total gorefest. It's not going to unnerve you; suspense isn't on the cards. And although there's considerable violence here (it gets very bloody at times) it's not relentless. There's more too it - a fairly good plot for one thing, including a decent amount of intrigue. (How many people are involved in this?)

It's a good film, no doubt about it. But it could have been better. More should have been made of the reasons why it's all happening. The reveal at the end answers some but not all of your questions. There are also issues concerning Mahogany that are left hanging (his medical condition for one). You reach the end of the movie with several things unexplained and it's frustrating.

These are minor gripes only though - this film has a lot to recommend it. Watch it - you could do a lot worse!

Director: Ryuhei Kitamura

Actors: Bradley Cooper, Vinnie Jones, Leslie Bibb, Brooke Shields, Roger Bart

Label: Lions Gate

Length: 100 minutes

DVD Release: February 2009

Short Review of Richard Satterlie - Imola

(Review written in 2009)

Last year Satterlie introduced us to an insane serial killer with a difference. Agnes Hahn a shy, retiring type, scared of much of the world around her. But she was a split personality, and her other self, Lilin, was a sadistic killer who liked pleasuring herself on the severed members of her victims. This being the follow up has no reveal to build up to, and for that it lacks something.

Agnes starts the book in control, a resident of Imola, a mental asylum. But slowly her murderous alternate is beginning to work her way back to the surface. Lilin takes control and escapes the asylum, intent on mayhem and the love of Agnes's life - Jason Powers, the reporter who helped catch her in book one.

This book really does suffer from being a sequel. It's well written, the characters are good, the plot adequate. But there's little suspense or mystery. How can there be? Right from the off we know what Agnes/Lilin is all about.

Satterlie writes a good tale and has some decent ideas, it's just this one ran its course in the first book. This is one sequel that just wasn't needed.

Short Review of Brian Keene - Urban Gothic

Trapped in the wrong part of town when their car breaks down and confronted by a group of, what they believe are gangbangers, six friends decide to seek safety in a seemingly abandoned house. They soon realise their mistake, discovering the house is a filthy hovel with every kind of slime or secretion coating the walls and floors as well as home to a family of cannibalistic mutants, one of whom seems very keen on, quite literally, "f***king-your-brains-out".

This is one of the biggest gross-out books I've seen from a mainstream publisher. Almost every page dips with one bodily excretion/fluid or another. Okay, there might be little in the way of character-building, minimal background and little plot development, but you have to consider the timeline. The whole thing takes less than an evening from start to finish - maybe two hours of story time in total. In that time you would learn much about anyone.

In some ways you might consider it a one-dimensional slime-fest, but in Urban Gothic Brian Keene has served up an incredibly fast paced, adrenaline filled, romp of a novel. And boy, does he know how to disturb you!

Review of Stefan Petrucha - Teen, Inc

Jaiden Beale is in nearly every way a typical teenager. He is starting to becoming aware of himself and his place in the world. He has been going through the changes of puberty, becoming an adult. His hormones are racing, bringing with them a growing sexual awareness and all the insecurities these changes bring.

Jaiden's life is a little more complicated than most. Whilst still a baby Jaiden's parents were killed due the negligence of a large company, NECorp. The company sought to regain some PR points by adopting him and offering to raise him in place of the parents he had lost.

Although initially a media sensation, his celebrity has grown quiet and he believes he has the chance of at least some normality, the chance to be an ordinary kid. He convinces NECorp to allow him to attend a regular high school.

However, each incident or opportunity in his life has to be passed by a committee, the corporation being paranoid against future potential lawsuits. Their obsession with guiding his life has effects ranging from stifling to deeply embarrassing. They offer him seminars on dating, profiles on potential girlfriends etc.

And when the girl Jaiden likes just happens to be an environmental campaigner dedicated to proving NECorp is releasing pollution in levels far greater than they report, the higher ups see it as an opportunity to gain inside information about the environmentalist's work.

Jaiden, though, doesn't want to play their game, and fights back. Problem is the corporation has a great deal more resources than he does.

This is a real David vs. Goliath tale. Jaiden is struggling against absolutely overwhelming odds. But he still fights, he doesn't give up. And because of this the book is very uplifting; it’s a true story of hope.

This is a great example of a what-if tale on a human scale. Jaiden's age is perfect for the story, it works in a way that just wouldn't were the lead character adult. For not only is Jaiden struggling against the machine that is NECorp, but he having to do so at a time in his life when he is unsure of himself - standing, as he is, at that junction between his childish past and adult future.

Highly recommended stuff.

Three more review sales

I received email this evening that horror website Dark Scribe Magazine will be featuring another three of my reviews.

These are for Robin Becker's Brains: A Zombie Memoir, George Mann's Ghosts of Manhattan and Edward M. Erdelac's Red Sails.

I'll post links when the reviews are live

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Review of Robert Edric - The Mermaids

Early one morning a group of five girls from a small fishing village encounter three mermaids in a cave by the sea's shore. No real interaction occurs between the girls and the mermaids. The girls though are mesmerised by the creatures and begin telling their tale to whoever would listen. They are not believed.

The majority of this book focuses on Sarah Carr, the eldest of the group, and the town magistrate and church minister who are questioning her about these events, trying to get her to admit that the girls had invented the whole thing.

The magistrate is particularly venomous in his questioning, interrogating the girl as though she had committed mass murder. In his eyes Sarah is bringing ridicule down upon the town, especially as she told her tale to a newspaper reporter.

For a fantasy novella there is very little actual fantasy in this tale. Indeed if you consider that the mermaids only appear in the retelling of a tale by the girl at the centre of the story you could say there is none at all. But there is a pervading feel of something otherwordly running throughout the story.

 

The book concentrates on the reactions of the village-folk to the tales told by the girl. Some react angrily, fearing the embarrassment this could cause their home, others looking for ways to exploit the notoriety and the influx of people who would come to seek out the mermaids in an attempt to reverse some of the decline the town had suffered since its hey-day.

 

This is not a book for anyone who likes closure in their fiction, or for that matter action. The main events of this novel don't even occur during the timeline of the book - they are just included as testimony. In many ways this is more like the real world. Things happen, people talk about them and then they just fade out of our collective consciousness, leaving the people involved to get on with their lives. I like this in a book.

 

Having the majority of the piece as a questioning session works well. The barely controlled anger of the town magistrate is very believable. He would be the kind of man who would be incensed at the girls and their tales, and of the fact that the situation has grown beyond his control with Sarah's telling her tale to a reporter.

 

The "good-cop, bad-cop" routine the magistrate shares with the minister is handled well, better than I would have expected. This too easily could have felt forced, included only for effect, to house the mermaid encounter retelling. This is a good read. It's original, more than I would have believed from a quick read of its blurb and the setting reads true. I've visited declining fishing villages like this in many part of England.

This is good stuff!

Review of Robert Edric - The Mermaids


Early one morning a group of five girls from a small fishing village encounter three mermaids in a cave by the sea's shore. No real interaction occurs between the girls and the mermaids. The girls though are mesmerised by the creatures and begin telling their tale to whoever would listen. They are not believed.


The majority of this book focuses on Sarah Carr, the eldest of the group, and the town magistrate and church minister who are questioning her about these events, trying to get her to admit that the girls had invented the whole thing.


The magistrate is particularly venomous in his questioning, interrogating the girl as though she had committed mass murder. In his eyes Sarah is bringing ridicule down upon the town, especially as she told her tale to a newspaper reporter.


For a fantasy novella there is very little actual fantasy in this tale. Indeed if you consider that the mermaids only appear in the retelling of a tale by the girl at the centre of the story you could say there is none at all. But there is a pervading feel of something otherwordly running throughout the story.


 


The book concentrates on the reactions of the village-folk to the tales told by the girl. Some react angrily, fearing the embarrassment this could cause their home, others looking for ways to exploit the notoriety and the influx of people who would come to seek out the mermaids in an attempt to reverse some of the decline the town had suffered since its hey-day.


 


This is not a book for anyone who likes closure in their fiction, or for that matter action. The main events of this novel don't even occur during the timeline of the book - they are just included as testimony. In many ways this is more like the real world. Things happen, people talk about them and then they just fade out of our collective consciousness, leaving the people involved to get on with their lives. I like this in a book.


 


Having the majority of the piece as a questioning session works well. The barely controlled anger of the town magistrate is very believable. He would be the kind of man who would be incensed at the girls and their tales, and of the fact that the situation has grown beyond his control with Sarah's telling her tale to a reporter.


 


The "good-cop, bad-cop" routine the magistrate shares with the minister is handled well, better than I would have expected. This too easily could have felt forced, included only for effect, to house the mermaid encounter retelling. This is a good read. It's original, more than I would have believed from a quick read of its blurb and the setting reads true. I've visited declining fishing villages like this in many part of England.



This is good stuff!

Review of Nate Kenyon - The Bone Factory

As we pick up the action, David Pierce is in a hole. Unemployed since a bust up with his previous boss, and with a young family to support, when he is offered a job at a remote hydroelectric project deep in the Canadian forest, he has no option but to accept.

However things are not quiet and peaceful as he might hope in the remote community he and his family are about to join. A local farmer was discovered dead, missing his head, and a young girl and cop have recently disappeared. David, his wife Helen and their daughter Jessie are about to move into Ground Zero, the centre of the killing fields.

There's a quote on the front of this book likening Kenyon's writing to early Stephen King. On the strength of this book I have to agree with this - although maybe it's a little too similar.

A number of the elements of this may be familiar. We have a couple whose marriage has problems, with a slightly weird kid who seems to have some psychic ability, moving into the middle of nowhere in winter. Throw in a bit of mental instability and it sounds a little bit like The Shining doesn't it? So far you might feel there is little about this book that will make you want to read it. Okay, it might not win prizes for originality, but there is much to recommend here.

For once the kid with powers angle manages to be neither creepy (very much overdone in fiction) nor annoying (something I thought the only alternative to creepy). Jessie has premonitions, glimpses of the future that she accepts calmly even when they are portents of great danger.

Kenyon has portrayed the townsfolk of Jackson as a real community, people care about each other here. And he's done this very efficiently, dropping in just enough human caring without drowning you in syrupy goo.

The author has also handled his sub-plots well. Adding in an environmental investigation against a power plant was a risky touch on Kenyon's part. It could so easily have become little more than vitriolic raving - pages of narrative needlessly interrupted just so the author can get on his/her soapbox. Not so here, Kenyon has reeled in any excess he may have been tempted to indulge. There is no story element here that isn't needed; everything contributes to the whole.

Kenyon's writing still is wonderfully simple, unencumbered with over-elaboration, yet still richly descriptive. He sets his scenes simple, without feeling it necessary to describe the room's curtains or the number of trees lining Main Street. He also isn't over the top, he manages to creep you out, and doesn't have to drown you in the red and sticky. Kenyon is not at the top of horror's tree yet, but on the strength of his first three novels, it wouldn't surprise me to see him there soon.

Review of Charlie Huston - Half the Blood of Brooklyn

None of the major elements of this series are new. Vampirism caused by a virus (been there), healing quickly so not worried about being injured (done that), clan wars between different undead factions (seen it), depravity and a disregard for regular standards of human decency whilst still showing signs of a conscience (bought the T-shirt for that one).

But despite these familiar ingredients Huston's books feel fresh. That's possibly because he puts a bit of twist on all of them. Joe Pitt is callous one minute, whilst agonising on whether he should infect his human girlfriend, making her a vampire to save her from dying of AIDS.

The clan wars are spun by introducing a family of ultra-religious Jewish vampires -intent on pursuing their vampiric goals whilst still obeying Jewish law. Throw in a group of misfits who have decided that the best thing to do with vampirism is to stage a freak show. The only difference is that the blood and gore are real, rather than staged, with the performers relying upon fast healing powers to be able to perform the following night.

This is real noir stuff. It has the feel of a typical old-school pulp crime story, right down to the cynical first person narrative. Joe's character matches almost exactly the downtrodden Private Eye. He isn't averse to violence, but equally he is not a guaranteed winner in his fights.

His "job" is to be an enforcer type for "The Society", one of the vampire clans on Manhattan Island. It's not a position he cares overly for, nor one he is that comfortable with. He'd prefer to make his own way, but knows that being independent or rogue would ensure a very short life. The result of this is he is not the most diligent of enforcer. See him backed into a corner and the Society's needs will be the last consideration in his attempt to escape it.

Huston's language is strong but it fits. His vampires are immoral so why would they worry about profanity. His stories are brutal, extremely violent in a casual way. Whereas a lot of modern vampire stories are horror-lite, providing a kind of diet-terror, this is the full-fat, hi-salt variety. These are not books you would want to give your teenage niece who enjoyed Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Bloody, violent and relentless. What more do you want?

Review of Phoebe Wray - Jemma 7729

Jemma 7729 has the misfortune of being born into a very dystopian North America, one devastated by earlier war. The government of this time has twisted history, using their biased version of to justify their subjugation of women. This causes a serious problem for Jemma, a wilful, independent girl who refuses to step into line and accept the lowly position of being female.

She fights back, refuses to allow boys to bully her, and in one case rape her, and the authorities put the blame squarely on her shoulders - after all she should have allowed the boys to beat her, should have submitted to their naturally aggressive nature and kept quiet.

When she doesn't she is punished, imprisoned in a correction facility facing just the prospect of being altered - chemically stripped of her will and emotions.

Where most would give up, Jemma continues to fight back. She escapes from her prison and begins a campaign of resistance, dedicating herself to destroying as many of the facilities producing the alteration drugs as she can.

In many ways this book reads like a feminist version of George Orwell's 1984, Wray is treading the same boards as Sheri Tepper. But whereas Tepper tells unique stories, full of freshness and unlike anything else you are likely to come across, Wray's work feels familiar.

Originality is one thing this novel just does not have. Several of the elements are so predictable it is unbelievable. However it is very readable, and more over it's readable even if you aren't an overt feminist - or even female. In many ways that puts her one up on Sheri Tepper, I could see this book being enjoyed by teenage readers - definitely not something you could see with a Tepper novel.

Jemma is a very likeable hero. When she is being persecuted you feel the injustice of her situation. When she is struggle against the system you root for her, will her to succeed despite the inevitable futility of her efforts and overwhelming odds against her.

Thankfully Jemma does not have a golden touch. In a book like this it would have been all too easy to make Jemma a superhero, capable of anything. What she is though is determined, and intelligent - and she uses this well, researching and planning before making her every move.

But even with this level of care she does run into trouble on many occasions, escaping some by luck, others by being rescued - she makes good allegiances that serve her well.

The style of this seems ideal for younger readers. The action and violence is described in a very gentle manner, even when the action the author is describing is of a graphic nature. This is further emphasised with the underlying hope running throughout this novel. Even when things seem futile Jemma never gives up, never accepts her fate - not matter how grim the situation. Not bad; I wouldn't call it brilliant, but not bad!

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Review of Simon Clark - Ghost Monster

Pel Minton is a young American woman with a mission. She wants to see the world, working her way around the globe. Six months into her trip and she's got as far as England and is still there, working as a field archaeologist. She has decided, however, that her current dig, at a cemetery in the coastal village of Crowdale will be her last before moving on.

What she hasn't counted on though, is the Murrain curse. Centuries earlier Crowdale was terrorised by Justice Murrain and his army of the insane. Murrain was eventually defeated and his ghost and those of his Battle Men are trapped in a mystical prison controlled by a mosaic in the family mausoleum. The town is safe as long as the mosaic remains intact.

Unfortunately, though, the cemetery is falling into the sea, a victim of rapid coastal erosion and the spirits of Murrain and his followers are beginning to break out. So, unless the archaeologists can convince the authorities that their site is worthy of protection, the necessary coastal defences to prevent the mausoleum from being destroyed will not be built.

The setting and set up of this book are superb. The town has a wonderfully complex history. It's protectors, the Murrain family, descendants of the former town persecutor, are reviled as outsiders by people unaware of the efforts to keep the town safe. The myths of the "Ghost Monster", the children's nickname for the mosaic itself is endearing and totally believable.

The characters too are, for the most part, very real. Okay the bad guys, the insane Battle Men, are stereotypes for the most part - but in their role as the big bad, this is not detrimental. Pel is a good enough lead character. She's not going to be memorable in the way that some horror characters would be - Mother Abigail anyone? But she's real. You can sympathise with her. As you can with the archaeological site director and the present day Murrain family members.

But it's the story itself that doesn't totally live up to its part of the bargain. It's a good set up. Possession is a disturbing horror concept and Clark handles it well. But the book's progress towards its climax feels, at times, somewhat laboured.

The subplot, with the personal vendetta of one family against Jacob Murrain, after an event decades earlier, may be necessary to trigger certain elements of the main plot, but it doesn't ring true. It feels a little forced, necessary only to speed up the climax. The three characters involved stand out as very one-dimensional when compared to the main roles.

This book is not one of Clark's best. To find out what he can really do you should try Darkness Demands or Vampyrrhic. But it's certainly entertaining. And it's setting in an archaeological dig and its plot use of coastal erosion does make it at least a little bit different from the norm. Shame about the title though.

Review of Mike Resnick - Starship Mercenary

You know what you will get with a Mike Resnick novel - a galaxy-spanning backdrop, larger than life characters and above all else action. Resnick is not an author who will spend time convincing you of his scientific credentials - you are not going to need to wade through page after page of technical specifications. Nor are you going to receive exquisitely woven intricacy - rich background detail is not Resnick's speciality. After all when you think about it, both of these things would get in the way of the action. And the action is superb.

Wilson Cole and the crew of the former Republic Navy Starship the Theodore Roosevelt (Teddy R) are continuing their attempts to make a life for themselves on the Inner Frontier, outside the reach of the Republic. This is not easy; Cole and his crew are military men and women. They have always lived ordered lives, ruled by discipline and law. The inner frontier, however, is a much different place.

Having tried their hand at ethical piracy - and realised such an endeavour is plainly impossible - this volume sees them becoming mercenaries, although still working within a strong sense of right versus wrong.

This new line of business sees them protecting worlds from the threats of warlords, exposing cheats in casinos and rescuing a fence from incarceration on an alien - all of which Cole achieves using a minimum of force and a maximum of guile. However his ethics over choosing which contracts to accept beings him into conflict with the Valkyrie (or Val as she prefers to be called), a former pirate who joined the Teddy R in the previous book.

When Cole refuses to accept a commission as part of a warlord's armada intent on wiping out a world refusing to pay tribute, Val is incensed (as well as drunk) and heads off to join the mercenary fleet on her own. It's a decision that sees Val and Cole on opposite sides when her warlord new boss and former captain find themselves on opposing sides following an argument in a casino.

In similar fashion to the previous volume Resnick shows the difficulties of trying to operate ethically in a lawless frontier - after all morality applies as loosely to a mercenary as it does to a pirate. Cole, however, has a very strong morale streak and he is determined to apply this to his new professions - despite these attempts seeming very oxymoronic and impossible to fulfil.

Cole as a central character is superb. He is an idealist in many ways, but a realist in his expectations. At the start of this series, whilst he was still a Navy officer, he relieved his captain of command to prevent her from destroying a world and killing millions of sentient beings. He did this fully aware that the Navy would not agree with his actions and that he was heading for a court-martial for mutiny. But he did it anyway, because it was the right thing to do. That one thing sums up his personality.

But this is not a book to succeed or fail on the strength of a single character. His crew is also full of wonderfully real and wonderfully over-the-top characters. Cole's second officer, Forrice (or Four-Eyes) is a sex-crazed alien with an evil sense of humour. Security Chief Sharon Blacksmith is almost Big Brother on legs. David Copperfield, an alien infatuated with the works of Charles Dickens who dresses as an English Victorian gentleman. Val, the redhead giantess former pirate who can outfight, out-drink and out-sex any man. And that's to name just a few.

Resnick writes a kind of fiction that should appeal to fans of Captain Kirk and Arnie-style sf-action movies. But don't think means it is brainless. Resnick delivers morality tales in lawless realms complete with romantic outlaws and much derring-do.

It's not one for the fan of great prose, nor of hard science fiction. But if you want to be entertained and don't care about the (currently-thought) scientific impossibility of faster-than-light travel, the difficulties of maintaining an empire spanning hundreds of thousands of worlds or just how your ship's shields actually work then there are few better than Mike Resnick.

Review of Ray Garton - Bestial

In horror movie-land sequels are pretty much a par for the course. You make a good horror film, it seems it only makes sense to go back and milk the idea a second time. In the world of horror books (note - not dark fantasy or paranormal romance, I mean HORROR) this has been less common.

I'm not saying they don't exist - Graham Masterton's Manitou and James Herbert's Rats both started series - and sure you get books set in a repeated environs - take Gary Braunbeck's Cedar Hill short stories and novels, and Stephen King's version of Maine. But straight sequels, picking up the action from the end of the prior book or soon after, haven't filled the shelves in bookstores.

I guess part of the reason for this is the rather final end that most horror books have. Zombies are destroyed, vampires staked, demons exorcised, witches burned etc, etc. Okay, Dracula can be resurrected over and over but mostly you get to the end and that's it.

Recently though this seems to be changing. L.H. Maynard and M.P.N. Sims have begun a series featuring secret British Government Department 18. Bryan Smith followed up his 2005 debut novel House of Blood with Queen of Blood, and Mary SanGiovanni followed her debut The Hollower with Found You.

Ray Garton has continued this trend in producing a sequel to his 2008 werewolf novel Ravenous, as well as an indirect sequel to earlier novels with the re-appearance of paranormal investigators Gavin Keoph and Karen Moffett. Ravenous is a good choice for a sequel. Its ending was wide open, the sheriff of Californian town Big Rock had been killed, along with the werewolf hunter and the werewolves had won!

We pick up the action with the lead werewolf, Irving Taggart, having taken over as sheriff, intent on taking total control of Big Rock. Our investigators have once again accepted an assignment from horror author and weird-stuff aficionado Martin Burgess and arrive in Big Rock to uncover the truth - unaware just what they about to walk into. Fortunately for them they have allies, as we discover that not every werewolf is happy with their transformation or with the intentions of pack leader Sheriff Taggart, and one or two of the unchanged townsfolk are finally determined to fight back.

There are some nasty bits in this book. Werewolf babies are born fast, strong and feral and very, very hungry, which leads to a rather pleasingly bloody and violent little birth-scene in a hospital ER - and it has an all-action, no-holds-barred gorefest of an ending.

But there is one aspect of this novel that is likely to upset some more than the flesh-ripping or graphic sex, and that's the author's treatment of the Seventh Day Adventist Church. Garton was raised in this church and it's plain virtually from the start he is not a fan. It's a shame really for, though the church made a good centre for some of the action, the scathing tone adopted for these sections does distract, and could cause some to avoid reading it at all.

It's not perfect. It has flaws. But the writing is strong, the horror stronger! Garton has a great knack of writing extreme horror and strong sex (often combined). I definitely want the next Garton novel.

Review of Ray Bradbury - Dandelion Wine

Dandelion Wine in many ways is a coming of age story for its most frequently occurring character. The book starts with the start of the summer of 1928. Doug Spalding is twelve; his younger brother Tom is ten. Doug has made an important and quite revelatory discovery about himself - he is alive! And he intends to celebrate and relish every minute of it and of this summer.

Unlike many of Bradbury's books this is not science fiction or horror, or at least not overtly. There are some hair-raising moments and more than one of the stories concern death - even going as far as Green Town having its own serial killer.

One of the most wonderful imaginings in this book concerns and old civil war soldier, and his tale telling, the rapt attentions of the young listening to stories so far removed from their present they could almost be in another country. But this is far from the only highlight, we read of friendships, hopes and dreams, treasured items, and above all regular folk adapting to changing times.

Having a 12-year-old boy as central character helps this feeling of change. Doug is starting to see not everything is eternal and unchanging - a point emphasised by his taking the final ever trolley bus journey to the end of the line and back - with the old track-bound cars being replaced with regular buses. But not all is negative.

Yes, there is a sense of the inevitability of change, but change that can bring new opportunities, new adventures as much as end to the ways of old.

The stories are like spinning threads, weaving gently across a summer in a small American town, carrying the characters in an out of the focus and allowing the readers glimpses of their ordinary yet magickal lives.

New Short Story Sale

Demon Minds have just sent an acceptance for my short story "Acting's a Hell of a Job". It will be appearing in their Halloween issue.

If you want to check out their site you can find it at - http://www.demonminds.com/

Monday, 26 July 2010

Review of Will Elliott - The Pilo Family Circus

There are a number of things that children love but adults can find creepy, disturbing or just downright scary. Think of puppet shows, balloon animals, ice-cream truck jingles and worst of all clowns.

One night on his way home from work Jamie almost runs over a clown standing oblivious to his surroundings in the middle of a Brisbane street. He thinks little of it. The following night he encounters more of them, all seemingly out of it. When Jamie recovers a small bag one of them drops - believing it contained drugs as they had to have been on something - without realising it, he has put himself in great danger. For now the clowns are aware of him.

And now he has a simple choice - pass an audition to join the circus or die. Unfortunately for him he passes the audition.

This particular circus is a little stranger than most, more sinister and definitely more dangerous. Jamie, now re-christened JJ the Clown, finds himself a member of an antagonistic troupe. There's none of the famous carnival camaraderie; this is more like a civil war with face-paint and big tops.

It's also not your typical circus of trickery, sleight-of-hand and fakery. The freaks are real (the show has a matter manipulator to create them); the fortune-teller can actually see the future and has a crystal ball she uses to spy on the carnie folk. And the clowns try their best to inflict injuries on each other during the show - relying on the magickal powers of their face-paint to prevent them dying and heal their injuries quickly.

But this protection comes at a price as Jamie finds out - the greasepaint might save his life but it makes him a different person - the sadistically violent, uncaring and self-centred JJ, perfect for this clown posse. He also finds the circus's true purpose. Enter through these gates and you wont find yourself losing money on the stalls and you needn't worry about your wallet going missing. This circus steals souls.

This book is bizarre - it's almost as you might imagine a collaboration between Chuck Palahniuk and Salvador Dali, providing they are supplied with enough hallucinogenics and amphetamines to keep them going. Yet is more than just surreal brutality.

To go with this weirdness and mayhem Elliott has even managed to supply a pretty decent plot and some well-rounded characters - okay well-rounded in a kind of slightly out-of-focus, fluorescent, rabid-dog manner but still they're there.

And it's the interactions of two of these characters that provides the books highlight. Jamie and his psychopathic clown alter ego JJ are battling for control of their body and their place within the circus - each trying to gain the upper hand.

Elliott's other great achievement here is that it all holds together. It would have been easier to allow the weirdness to get away, for the violence to destroy all in front of it. But it didn't, it's coherent - as well as splendidly absurd in just the right way. Now I need to go for a lie down.

Review of Chris Roberson - The End of the Century

Strand One - Galaad, a young man from Wales, has been having visions of a woman in white trapped in a glass tower on a remote island. He journeys to Caer Llundain (London) to tell of his visions to Artor (Arthur to you and me). Artor believes his visions to be true and organises a quest to rescue the woman in white.

Strand Two - Sandford Blank is a Victorian Private Investigator with a mysterious shady past. (Yes he does sound a little like Sherlock Holmes.) Together with his associate Miss Roxanne Bonaventure he is called in to investigate a series of murders in London threatening to disrupt the Diamond Jubilee celebrations of Queen Victoria.

Strand Three - Alive Fell is a teenage American who suffers from temporal lobe epilepsy. She's run away to London, following clues given to her in hallucinations during epileptic attacks. Once there she encounters a former spy from a secret British Intelligence organisation MI8 - tasked with pursuing supernatural foes. She also discovers that there could be some truth to the hallucinations that compelled her to come to England.

The most impressive part of this segmented novel is that the three parts are equal. No single part rises above the others. Usually when reading this kind of book one segment is noticeably more enjoyable than the others. As it's human nature is to want the good bits there is a natural tendency to rush (or skip) the others. No such worries here - this book is remarkably well balanced.

Roberson has also managed to write each strand in a slightly different voice, making slight changes to the language to suit the period. But it's not done to excess. Blank and Bonaventure's diction is the wonderfully self-restricted, clipped prose of Victoriana. The Arthurian tale is told in a restrained heroic tone - everything measured against masculine bravado; and the modern tale is more edgy, more a case of fighting a system as well as a definite enemy.

But the book has one or two flaws. Firstly right from the very first page there is an all too obvious inevitability that the three story strands will join together. This knowledge does hamper the pleasure of reading. You find yourself waiting for those links to arrive, and doing so does distract. But this is minor, and some might find it pleasurable to spot these links.

But the main problem is the switching between the threads. It's jerky - especially as each section appears in the same exact order - Arthurian into Victorian into modern day before beginning the loop again.

When you do return to each in turn you pick the tale up exactly where you left it. If these are linked tales there should be more of a feeling of progress across the strands despite their differing time periods. It’s slow, hard going.

I've read longer books. I've read books that took longer to get to the action. But these gave more. If I've moved forward so little plot-wise after two hundred pages, I want to have enjoyed some wonderful, deep character and world building. Here you get little of that, because in reality you are only seventy pages into each tale.

It's a shame, for Roberson has created fine characters. And his plot, once you get to it, is not bad. It has intrigue, adventure, touches of the supernatural and magickal, a little humour and a definite David versus Goliath vibe.

So, I have advice for anyone thinking of reading this book. Do! But I would recommend your reading the first twenty-eight chapters of this book as three separate linear tales. That is start from the beginning and read every chapter headed "Twilight" (Arthurian) until you run out of book. Start again and read all the "Jubilee" (Holmesian) chapters (except chapter thirty), and then the "Millennium" (present day) chapters.

When you have done this then begin reading what should have been the fourth separate linked short story of the book at chapter twenty-nine and read to the end. I have a feeling it will be a lot more satisfying that way. A pity it's not how it was presented.

Review of Brian Keene - Castaways

Okay - I'm going to post another couple (maybe three) this evening. Here's the first...

Many matches can be considered as made in heaven - strawberries and cream, hot dogs and mustard to name but two. Brian Keene has introduced another - Reality-TV show contestants on a tropical island and a tribe of previously unknown pygmy cannibals.

You just can't go wrong with a combination like that. Except that is if you are a contestant, cut off from your only means of escape by a tropical storm that has grounded the helicopters. Fortunately amongst the ranks of stereotypically vapid wannabe celebrities are one or two people you will actually like - and feel may have a chance of surviving the show.

This book is well balanced. It has a great concept, an element of gore (although not overdone), a few good scares and a band of disparate powerless underdogs facing seemingly insurmountable odds and a good touch of humour. It has its flaws, a pointless subplot concerning terrorism, and unnecessary character development of the some of the ingredients on the pygmy's main course. But despite its faults, this is a well-crafted entertaining horror.

 

Book Details

ISBN: 08439-6089-2

Page Count: 285

Price: $7.99

Format: Paperback

Release: February 2009

Publisher: Leisure Books (Dorchester Publishing)

Webpage:

http://www.dorchesterpub.com/Dorch/productdetail.cfm?product_id=2294&L1=1

 

 

Sunday, 25 July 2010

A horror film top tip

This weekend I watched a relatively new release horror film that I feel I need to mention to anyone who happens to read this blog.

The film has a really fun title - Backwoods Bloodbath and a cool silhouetted scythe on the cover. Ok, the plot is a little familiar - group of city folk head to a remote cabin in the woods in a region where there's your stereotypical local legend (can't really call it an urban legend in the middle of nowhere) and encounter a mad man (yeah, the one the locals went on about) armed with a scythe who proceeds to start killing.

But an overused plot is nothing a well made horror film can't overcome. Good directing, halfways decent acting (screaming doesn't have to be Oscar winning level to be effective), and some kick-ass effects and you can have a really good gory scarefest out of this much-used scenario - after all they wouldn't keep using it if it didn't work.

However this film isn't all the things you might hope - and certainly not what I hoped. I sat down to watch this with a couple of friends on Friday night hoping to have fun both with the film and at the expense of it - half the fun is shouting at the characters after all. But what we got was a serious appalling movie. Badly acted, badly directed, abysmal dialogue and ludicrously inserted, seriously bad effects. I mean this was just plain bad.

I don't normally like writing scathing reviews of films. I try to find something good in every film I see. Problem is with this film I just couldn't. Please avoid.

Review 3 of L.H. Maynard's and M.P.N. Sims's Black Cathedral

In case you haven't heard of buzzword bingo - here are the rules. The players enter a business meeting with a card with a number of buzzwords written on it. Then these words and phrases are crossed out as they as spoken in the meeting (but not by the person whose card features the word). The first person to complete their card wins.

With this book you could almost play X-Files Buzzword Bingo -

Secret Government Organisation - check!

Psychic Powers - got that one too!

Ley lines - and that!

Big Brother Style Corporations - on a roll now!

Mysterious deaths on a deserted island and a satanic cult - you better call the scorer over now. I think I have a winning card.

But what prize might it have won me? Well you would be forgiven for thinking a book combining all of these different plot elements (and I haven't named them all by any means) would be confusing at best - downright unreadable at worst.

Well, it actually isn't that bad. Despite the myriad overused plot hooks, the stereotypical characters (can you think of a maverick lead investigator at odds with his boss?) Maynard and Sims have actually produced something entertaining.

Essentially the story is this. A team building exercise on a remote Scottish island goes wrong - badly wrong. All the group members suffer gruesome deaths, and their bodies are never found. Nor for that matter is the rescue helicopter.

Their employer - a large US based multinational that feels equal parts Orwell and Occult - wants to know what happened and has tasked Department 18 (a secret British government body who investigate the paranormal) with uncovering the truth. And they have one condition - the expedition must include Robert Carter - even though he's just been fired after years of insubordination.

And so off the group go to their date with destiny (or at least the plot climax). Not everyone is going to survive (that's a given in horror novels) and there's the inevitable twist as the action starts to gear up. This book really is that formulaic in many, many ways.

But for its faults there is a lot to recommend this. For one Department 18 is interesting. It takes the X-Files vibe further. Its investigators are all psychic in one way or another. They have great toys - these guys are like a room full of spooky James Bonds - possibly without the martial arts skills though.

This is intended to be the first book in a series. Considering the amount they've crammed in here - this gives me visions of D18's next case featuring a lost tribe of half-alien, ghostly werewolves and their war with vampiric sorcerers who have taken control of the internet in a fiendish plan to hypnotise the whole world into following their diabolic ways. Whatever the authors pick for the second book I definitely want to read it.

Book Details

ISBN: 08439-6199-6

Page Count: 287

Price: $7.99

Format: Paperback

Release: January 2009

Publisher: Leisure Books (Dorchester Publishing)

Webpage:

http://www.dorchesterpub.com/Dorch/productdetail.cfm?product_ID=2272&L1=1

 

 

 

Review 2 of L.H. Maynard's and M.P.N. Sims's Black Cathedral

What do you get if you throw a secret government ghost-hunting organisation, psychic powers, ley lines, a maverick investigator who hates his boss, sinister multinational corporations, satanic cults, a secret Vatican order and a remote, deserted Scottish island into a pot and stir.

Well by rights it should be an ungodly mess, a disjointed novel crammed to overflowing with so many overused dark fiction stereotypes you wonder how they managed to close the book's covers. It almost reads like a season trailer for the X-Files.

Somehow though Maynard and Sims have managed to make all these pieces fit together into a cohesive whole. Not perfect by any means but it is entertaining. The characters are engaging; the plot is well paced; the organisation (Department 18) has sufficient promise to sustain the promised series and the cult at the crux of the plot is original enough to keep your interest. Not a bad start - let's see where book two goes.

Book Details

ISBN: 08439-6199-6

Page Count: 287

Price: $7.99

Format: Paperback

Release: January 2009

Publisher: Leisure Books (Dorchester Publishing)

Webpage:

http://www.dorchesterpub.com/Dorch/productdetail.cfm?product_ID=2272&L1=1

 

 

 

Review 1 of L.H. Maynard's and M.P.N. Sims's Black Cathedral

This next one is a bit odd. I read this book when it came out and wrote three reviews, each targetted at a different magazine. Guess how many of them sold - yep, none. So here's the first. I'll post the second and third straight afterwards...

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Most of the elements of the book will seem familiar - even too familiar. We have a secret government department operated by psychics, all of whom are feel as though they've been dragged out of 1960s-90s TV spy/cop shows and liberally dosed with special mind-powers, investigating paranormal events - not exactly a fresh idea.

Add to this a powerful loose-cannon top operative with a knack of pissing off his boss - a boss who finally had cause to fire him only to see him brought back for one last mission.

We also have mysterious secret religious organisations, including a satanic cult and a secret Vatican order, and a remote island location, which has been the centre of spooky goings-on that just happens to be at the convergence of a number of ley lines. It sounds like you could have put all the elements from Hammer House of Horror into a hat and drawn out half a dozen to make the plot.

But oddly enough it's not a bad read. The characters might be overly familiar but they're comfortable. You don't find yourself irritated by them - well except for their grouchy boss, but you are supposed to find him annoying.

The tale focuses on an investigation by the secret British government Department 18. Robert Carter is the fired maverick investigator. His association with the department seems at an end when his partner goes missing during an investigation, until the events on Kulsay Island require his special skills.

Kulsay Island, off the coast of Scotland, is deserted. No one has lived there in decades. Perfect territory for the kind of team building exercises one American organisation wants its employees to undertake. Unfortunately this is one island whose spooky reputation has substance and their people all disappear. The corporation's CEO wants Department 18 to investigate, and insists Carter is on the team.

For all its lack of originality this is wonderfully entertaining. For one thing the authors have managed to bring the myriad of threads together into a cohesive whole. For all its pick & mix plot makeup this holds together. The investigators manage to step out of their PC all shades of the demographic stereotypes, become realistic individuals and gel as a team.

The plot is paced well. It's not action from the get-go, but builds tension gradually towards the very effective climax. Here the authors have been very clever. The bad guy is not revealed from the start. We follow the investigation in real time, as it were - we're slowly drip fed snippets of information as the investigators make discoveries and deductions. So as their levels of fear and excitement build so do ours.

Maynard and Sims have also managed to set the groundwork what could become a very entertaining series of Department 18 paranormal investigations, while not sacrificing the action and excitement of this first story. I have a feeling this could be a great series. I can't wait to read more!

Review of Zoran Živković - The Bridge

This is a difficult book to fully describe. If you'll indulge me I believe I know the best way of summarising The Bridge.

Imagine a drunken conversation between Franz Kafka and Salvador Dali, one in which Dali challenges Kafka to write a book based on a few compulsory elements suggested by the painter. Firstly each of the three linked stories must start with an impossible encounter (a man meets himself, a woman meets a dead former neighbour and a teenage girl meets her future son). Each story must feature an antagonist with red hair, a mismatched item of clothing, a pursuit (mostly on foot) and all must end at the same place - on the bridge of the book's title. Oh, and nothing in any of the stories must make any real sense, although the main characters must, in the end, accept everything.

That just about sums this book up. It gives a better overview than a direct explanation of the plot could.

For all its weirdness it is beautifully written - Zoran Živković's prose is always elegant. Even when his plot is this obscure his narrative flows wonderfully well. There are few authors who could sustain your interest when each tale can be viewed as a series of increasingly bizarre, random events. A man entering a brothel to eat flowers, playing a version of ten-pin bowling in a church with wine bottle for pins and a young man in a bath full of shoes are typical of the scenes you will encounter in this book. There are stranger.

He is also playing with the structure of the short story in this book. His are not the traditional tales of exposition into conflict rising to climax then denouement. He often begins his tales somewhere in the middle of nowhere, then meanders through a surrealistic fantasy analogue of our own world before dropping us off at a point some time later, not necessarily at a recognisable end point, having allowed us to share his unique world.

Don't start reading a Živković book expecting to be told the "whys" of the situation. You will rarely get the answers you want. In this book the encounters just happen - treat the fact a man can meet an alternate version of himself as reasonable and don't go looking for an explanation. Go with it!

It's worth the effort. Because if you can accept the variation from traditional story structure you will feel enriched by your visit, and you will certainly marvel at the writer's imaginings - even when you are struggling to understand how someone who dreams this stuff up is not in an asylum. But for all his flights of whimsical fantasy Živković's tales are very grounded.

The tales work so well because of their focus - the involvement and motives of the lead characters. The man in the first story follows himself for purely selfish reasons - he is afraid that the copy might cause him embarrassment. The woman in the second follows her dead neighbour out of a feeling of concern, the girl in the third out of a bizarre maternal instinct.

Živković has made these people real and, through them and their bafflement at the events they witness, we can connect with the story. Also when the tales end - usually abruptly - their acceptance of events allow us to accept them also.

This is the kind of fiction fans of David Lynch's more offbeat moments would enjoy. This is Twin Peaks on acid, dream-sequence style fiction - all overlaid with a very European sensibility. In short it is extraordinary. To anyone who has read Živković before this probably comes as little surprise. He is like a modern gritty urban Lewis Carroll.

His Alice is less likely to fall down a rabbit hole to find her fantasy world than enter through a shabby looking doorway in a seedy brothel. But for its extra dimension of edginess over Carroll's work, Živković has the same innocent whimsy. His characters may live in a world of murder, theft and deception but it's seemingly kept at arm's length - it never touches them directly.

Okay it might not be the best idea to be a friend of a Živković lead character - they can have a high mortality rate but their grisly, and usually bizarre, ends are remote from the action and not described in excessive detail. For his protagonists Life will just carry on getting slowly more and more unreal.

Živković has been an active writer in his native Yugoslavia / Serbia since the 1980s and has been a publisher, academic and even written and hosted a television show. Outside the Balkans though he has remained unknown. Thankfully in recent years translations of his work have seen publication both in the USA and UK from a variety of speciality presses.

The nature of these presses though results in his books being published in limited editions so few people will be reading his work in English. His work deserves to be read, but it is likely his books only ever see publication in the small presses and Zoran Živković will remain the greatest writer you've never heard of.