Saturday, 1 August 2015

New Genre - Issue Seven

As an author, Adam Golaski treads the blurred frontier between sourly-witty social realism and the weirdly surreal (or surreally weird). An an editor, he has taken New Genre magazine on a voyage through strange seas of fantasy, horror, and science-fiction, mapping out improbable shores along the way. Well, that sort of thing, anyway.

The latest issue contains five stories, ranging from a space war mini-epic to a haunted house tale. If there's a common idea here it's the way that ideas long rooted not merely in genre fiction but in popular culture can be reworked, evolved, or otherwise mutated into something new and interesting.

Thus in 'Parents of the Apocalypse' Geordie Williams Flantz uses the Dos Passos montage approach to recount the end of the world as we know it. Enright, 'a serious amateur astronomer', spots mysterious glowing flakes falling to the Earth from space. Other characters survive and endure the onslaught by chance, by cunning, and perhaps by sheer lunacy. The enigmatic invaders transform humans into zombie-like creatures as part of their destructive life-cycles. I was slightly reminded of Thomas Disch's novel The Genocides, in that the cosmic incursion is so devastating that only an idiot would expect things to ever return to normal. And, sure enough, things can't. Keep watching the skies, by all means, but that can never be enough. 

Another traditional sf trope is explored by Matthew Pendleton in his extraordinary novella 'Work Planet Welt Space'. If Robert Heinlein had been intoxicated by the works of James Joyce he might just have produced something a bit like this. The story tells of Hum, recruited from his rust-belt world to become a very minor player in a grand conflict that makes little or no sense, as is often the way of history. It's sobering (for an old fart like me, at least) to reflect that, while Pendleton's quite modest stylistic and formal experiments are familiar, they would still be unwelcome to most sf readers today, just as they were during the New Wave period. This is a pity, not least because he has a genius for word play, as when brutally cyborgised space infantry are officially termed Rotund Chums. 

Or maybe I read just too much in the Seventies. I certainly got a James Tiptree Jnr. vibe from 'The Middle-Manager of Pachnout' by G. Carl Purcell. Here is another alien invasion tale, but with the twist that the aliens are a. into progressive rock, big time and b. exude pheromones that wreck our society by making men their idiot slaves and women seriously ill. After our world has been plundered of  all its Yes albums (on vinyl, natch) a grim reckoning takes place. Well, it makes a change from them pinching our water, and the riff on clunky, safe alien occupation tales is a neat one.

Moving on to the maybe-supernatural. we find unreliable narrators. 'The Room is Fire' by Jennifer Claus is set in horror movie territory, and nods to Angela Carter and Shirley Jackson. A little girl called Alexandra witnesses a bizarre disappearance, and nobody believes her story, though her parents are 'too perplexed to question its veracity'. She grows to adolescence and remains fascinated by the spot where the incident occurred. Eventually she is transformed in a manner familiar to students of myth.

'After the Storm' by John Cotter is a haunted house story told in lyrical prose. An elderly couple are awakened by what may be an intruder. The husband investigates and encounters a ghost - or at least, something that might credibly be termed one. In terms of simple incident this is a slight tale, but Cotter skilfully includes a novel's worth of characterisation, beautifully evoking the haunted nature of old age and the difficulty that even the most contented of couples can have over simple communication. 

New Genre 7 is, in brief, another excellent mini-anthology of remarkable new writing. I'd recommend it to anyone who takes their literature neat. 

Friday, 31 July 2015

Supernatural Tales 30 - Don't Miss Out, Hepster Groove Gerbils!

Not content with making the latest, rather brilliant, issue of ST available in print form, I can also reveal that it's available for Amazon Kindle, and - for the Amazon averse - as an ebook from Smashwords.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

The Babadook (2014)

Here I go again, reviewing a film that's been out for about a year. Why? Well, if you're like me you never go to the pictures because you don't find it a pleasant experience. So you've got the option of seeing films on DVD, online, or when they pop up on regular telly. I rented The Babadook because it got a lot of praise from people I know and whose opinions I respect. Surprise, surprise, these people were entirely right.

The film is an Australian-Canadian horror movie and marks the debut of writer-director Jennifer Kent. On the strength this film I'll definitely watch her next one. It's a very simple story with Gothic overtones, and yet at the same time manages to be a realistic, modern drama. It's grown-up horror that is, at times, so harrowing you might not want to see it more than once. But it is worth seeing.

Amelia (Essie Davis) is a young single mother, because she was widowed when her husband died in a car crash. Her son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) is nearly seven. He was born on the day his father died - the fatal accident happened on the way to the maternity ward. Young Sammy is bright, inventive, but also troubled and hard to handle. He is going through a 'monster phase', so every night Amelia must check under the bed, in the wardrobe etc before Sammy will settle down. Juggling motherhood with a job working in a care home and lack of sleep due to Sammy's nightmares is fraying her at the edges.

It's all credible, realistic drama, but things take a twist when Amelia finds an unusual storybook in Samuel's room. The pop-up book entitled Mister Babadook has no author or publisher, and its story is not a pleasant one. Amelia gets rid of the book, or thinks she does, but the Babadook arrives, heralded by the rumbling and knocking mentioned in the story. But is this a folie à deux between a disturbed boy and his stressed-out mother? There are hints that suggest Amelia is hallucinating, but nothing decisive.

What makes The Babadook memorable compared to most modern horror films is that the story springs from realistic characterisation and a well-crafted plot. It is also devoid of cheap gimmicks, like the sudden crashing chord to make us jump. Amelia may be cracking up under the pressure of bereavement, motherhood, and sheer loneliness. A friendly co-worker who might have provided a conventional respite for Amelia proves unhelpful. The same goes for her sister and the latter's circle of glossy, suburban friends. During the final crisis the nice old lady next door is turned away. If the film has a message it's that confronting our terrors is something we can only do alone. Even if, paradoxically enough, we are doing it for someone else.

The performances are excellent, with Essie Davis progressing from wearily sad through to bloodstained frenzy by uneasy stages. Noah Wiseman, who resembles a tiny Edgar Allan Poe with pale face and huge dark eyes, is utterly convincing. Small children tend to be funny, infuriating, and vulnerable, and we get all that in spades. Samuel winds his mother up in grand style, and her response is horrifying without ever being unbelievable. This is grown-up horror in which the shocks are controlled but always effective. Two especially horrific moments are treated differently, and you can see the artistic reasoning behind both decisions. And it all holds together, right to the very end.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015


Not a huge fan of practical jokes and hidden camera stuff, but this is fun and educational. It illustrates the link between being scared and laughter, for a start. So much pf what we call horror is a form of absurdist comedy.