Thursday, 20 July 2017

'Warmth in the Winter'

The last story in Jordan Anderson's collection is an ambitious novella. It has overtones of Algernon Blackwood and Jack London, in that it's a tale of the snowy wilderness. It's a weird tale, but the focus is as much on the protagonist's suffering as the strange forces that besiege his isolated home.

Old Jack is a loner, a man who lost his one love in tragic circumstances and has withdrawn from the world. He bought a cabin in the wild from a man who warned him not to go outside during the darkest days of winter. The supernatural force, when it appears, is satisfyingly bizarre and menacing - a tide of blackness that sweeps down and engulfs his valley.

As the tale unfolds we learn more of Jack's background. Past and present become entangled as childhood trauma repeats itself, with variations on a theme. However, there's a strong suggestion that he finds a kind of solace at the end. Overall it's a satisfying conclusion to a somewhat uneven collection. At his best the author is very good indeed, but his work would benefit from firm editing. He has a tendency to (in my opinion) over-write and pile on too much verbiage. Cleaner lines would have made the longer tales more memorable.

And that rounds off my running review of The Things That Grow With Us. Next up comes a new collection of British ghost stories by authors from outside the field. Prepare for some forthright opinions - praise, blame, the chucking around of epithets. It's all here, folks.

Monday, 17 July 2017

RIP George and Martin

George Romero died last weekend at the age of 77. He was a true innovator, someone who - working to a very tight budget - made movies that were iconic and wildly entertaining. Night of the Living Dead rebooted the zombie movie, and made possible later hits such as The Walking Dead (1968). Before Romero the zombie was a minor horror menace, usually found in period pieces such as Hammer's enjoyably camp Plague of the Zombies. After NotLD and its quasi-sequel, Day of the Dead zombies escaped their Haitian origins and starting roaming out streets and shopping malls. Oh, and they could come into your house and get you as well.



We have also lost Matin Landau, a much-loved TV and film actor. He often appeared in genre fiction, notably the original Mission Impossible and the British sci-fi saga Space: 1999. His daughter Juliet played Drusilla, a major recurring character in Buffy and its spin-off Angel. Both had the distinctive Landau features - 'aristocratic', dark-eyed, attractive in a slightly hectic, on-the-edge way. Landau's only Oscar was in the quasi-genre movie, Ed Wood. Landau played the ageing, drug-addled Bela Lugosi.

Friday, 14 July 2017

'Angelic Tendencies'

Full disclosure - the next story in this collection is a horror-fantasy called 'Burials: The Speaking Dead'. While it's not badly written it is way outside my wheelhouse and reads like a fragment of a longer work. I didn't like it at all, so I'm moving on to something I found more to my taste. With a few qualifications.

Firstly, a general point. there is a tendency in modern horror to use child abuse as a convenient plot device. I think it is as questionable as using rape as a plot device. Now anything goes for a writer, and censorship - including self-censorship - is wrong. But I wish horror writers would find something better to say about childhood in the context of weird/supernatural fiction. After all, if every sixth or seventh story you read pivoted on a woman being raped wouldn't you think it was a bit much?

Right, ran over. 'Angelic Tendencies' is about a little girl called Abigail who survives a car crash that kills her parents. She is adopted by Aunt Cheryl and Uncle Reed. The latter sexually abuses Abigail, who prays for help. Angelic beings manifest themselves in her room and start giving her advice. But are they real, or the products of a desperate child's imagination?

This isn't bad, and the descriptions of the 'angels' is rather Machenesque, as they manifest in a benighted forest. They are like 'sagging lumpy balloons' emitting sounds like 'knuckles cracking and liquids gurgling'. Uncle Reed comes to the bad end her deserves. Then Abigail is left to her life with the monstrous, powerful beings watching over her. Is this, we are left to wonder, altogether a good thing? There's a slight X-Files vibe to the ending, when an implant is put into the back of the girl's neck.

Its an enjoyable but rather imperfect story. There's an obvious plot-hole- after Aunt Cheryl appears to take Abigail from the hospital, she disappears. There is not even a suggestion of complicity in Reed's vile behaviour - the wife simply vanishes as if the author has forgotten her. In terms of form and style the killing of Reed is over-done, dragged out at inordinate length. Too much descriptive writing bores me, especially when it gives the impression the author hasn't really figured out what his Big Bad really is. But these are quibbles - it's basically a decent story that would have benefited from firm editing.

Nearly done with The Things That Grow With Us. Fingers crossed for the final tale!

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Supernatural Tales 35

Supernatural Tales 35



Cover pic by Sam Dawson.

The print-on-demand version of the magazine is now available from Lulu.com here. It's priced at £2.95 plus postage, which doesn't seem too steep to me for what you get. Seven jolly good stories, covering every possible topic from ancient legends to weird local customs to entities from beyond our mundane realm. And then some.
'Absolute Possession' by Charles Wilkinson
'The Scarlet Door' by Mark Valentine 
'A Russian Nesting Demon' by Andrew Alford 
'The Subliminals' Pt 1. by Michael Chislett 
'To Utter Dust' by Mat Joiner ' 
The House at Twilight' by John Howard 
'Gold' by Helen Grant
The ebook version will be available on Amazon in the very near future. I will be sending out copies to contributors, reviewers, and postal subscribers very soon - please bear with me, this one has been a bit tricky to get together.


Sunday, 9 July 2017

'The Gore Hole'

The fourth story in The Things That Grow With Us by Jordan Anderson confirms my suspicion that he is much better at mainstream horror than the genre-spanning stuff (i.e. sci-fi- or fantasy-horror). 'The Gore Hole' is the story of a spooky abandoned house in small-town America, the kind of place where kids go for a dare. So of course some do. The twist is that one of the kids has been there already. He didn't exactly get the tee-shirt, either...

Young Sam and his floppy, lovable dog Isabelle visited the old house. When he is half-cajoled, half-bullied into going back he finds that in the clearing where the house once stood is a tree stump. It seems harmless enough, but then a strange force starts to exert itself. One by one the boys are forced to move up to the stump, to kneel, and to put their heads into a hole in the trunk. What happens then is lurid yet bleak. Sam's mother, we learn, warned him that it's always okay to run away from a threat. Unfortunately by the time he thinks of this sage advice it is too late.

'The Gore Hole' is somewhat over long, and it's never spelled out why what happens happens. A somewhat haphazard series of images tumble over one another, and perhaps the author over-eggs the pudding. That said, the ending is convincingly bleak. In a way this is a coming-of-age story, if one accepts that the end of childhood is the beginning of death, or perhaps death-in-life.

And on that cheery note, enjoy the rest of your weekend!

Friday, 7 July 2017

'Sand and Wine'

The Things That Grow With Us by Jordan Anderson is nothing if not diverse. From Lovecraftian space adventure and (un)heroic fantasy we move on to a small domestic tale of loneliness and imagination. 

Dani and her mother arrive at a run-down house by the sea. Mommy has a drink problem, Daddy's no longer on the scene, and Dani likes elephants because they are 'big and dopey and sweet'. The latter point becomes significant as the little girl explores the barely-remembered house while her mother gets sozzled in front of the TV. She finds a strange mirror with an elaborately decorated frame. Images of animals fascinate Dani, and then she breaks off part of the frame that happens to be a carved elephant.

It transpires that Dani is ill, perhaps terminally so. She collapses, clutching the piece of wood, and awakes to a new world. She goes outside, down to the sea. Dreams and reality merge as Dani gets her wish, while Mom sleeps on. It's a beautiful ending, on that is just ambiguous enough. This small, unpretentious tale is the best so far.

More of this runing review tomorrow, probably!

'The Tides of Oblivion'

The second story in Jordan Anderson's new collection is a very different kind of tale from the first. We move from the cosmic horrors and too-easy conventions of Lovecraftian pastiche to a quirky tale of fantasy. The setting is one of those taverns in the wasted zone between the realms of Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, and Terry Pratchett. Everyone is depraved, drunk, violent, or preferably all three. Not a chartered accountant in sight. Enter a youth who seems to be out of his depth among the brutal, canny company. But is he?

This story was apparently created as a result of a challenge thrown down by the author's writing group, and it shows. The tale is rich in atmosphere but a bit short on plot and characterisation. It's very violent, full of mighty oaths of the sweary kind, and has a sort of an ending. The final image is one that stayed with me, but more from incongruity than anything else.

Okay, maybe third time's the charm! Find out tomorrow what I think of the next story in The Things That Grow With Us.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

The Things That Grow With Us - Review


Image result for jordan anderson things that grow with us

Here we go with another of my sort-of-popular running reviews! I have a lot of books lined up, in fact, so I need to be Disciplined, Efficient, and Other Unfamiliar Things. Right, let's go.

The Things That Grow With Us is a self-published collection by Jordan Anderson. Self-published can mean a lot of things. Yes, a lot of self-published stuff is terrible. But it's arguable that the next Harry Potter will be self-published simply because who in their right mind what's to go through that many rejections? I'm glad to say that TTTGWU is not by any means a bad book. It has its faults, judging from what I've read so far, but these are not so significant as its virtues. And what book is without flaw, anyway?

Right, we're in Lovecraftian territory. That's your first an final warning. The book begins with a quote from the film Event Horizon, which you may recall is about a cathedral-shaped starship that visits a kind of cosmic hell and returns with a strange cargo. The first story. 'The Further We Soar Into Madness', takes this idea as its quasi-theme, and features an epigraph from Lovecraft's 'The Festival'. And yes, there are tentacles.

The story is really two narrative threads that are interwoven, sort of. We begin with a very familiar scene, in which Edward Jamison secures a safe deposit box left by his dear old dad. Needless to say, this being Lovecraft country, the box does not contain a stash of Kruger Rands. Instead he finds a journal, and a mysterious amulet. The action then shifts back in time and far away in space, as we find out what happened when Jamison Snr. went to Europa, the icy and probably oceanic moon of Jupiter.

This is where I had a problem. I don't think the earth-based palaver with the Jamison inheritance adds anything to the story. Opening manila envelopes that have been sealed with wax and so forth seems frankly absurd in the context of a futuristic tale. It is mere window dressing of a familiar sort. Without it, admittedly, the story would just be a tale of space explorers encountering monsters. And it is, really. The scenes on Europa in which not one but several expeditions attempt to contact a Huge Thing under the icy surface are well done. But I felt that the mind-blasting horror of it all simply wasn't there. We have seen this too often to justify overblown prose.

'I seek that which man has been evolutionarily bred to fear, the darkness of alien oceans and the black behind the veils of reality'.

There's far too much of this and it doesn't really work for me.

The same can be said for the backstories of various characters. They are just not that interesting. It's as if Lovecraft spent the first quarter of At the Mountains of Madness giving biographies of the captains and first officers of his explorers' ships. He did not do this because it would have added nothing to the story bar padding. I think the tendency of Hollywood to bore us with the bios of cardboard cut-out characters has spread too far into written horror, to be honest.

That said, 'The Further We Soar Into Madness' is entertaining in spurts. It's solidly constructed, just badly cluttered and over-long.

Stay tuned for my take on the next story, which is a very different beast entirely.

Monday, 3 July 2017

Arkham Horror: The Card Game Tutorial





This looks great!



"Oh, I've drawn Driven Insane by Cosmic Blasphemies - again..."