Thursday, 23 March 2023

THE FACES AT YOUR SHOULDER by Steve Duffy (Sarob Press 2023)


Excellent cover illustration by Paul Lowe

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher and am an old friend of the author.  This review contains a few spoilers.

In this introduction, Steve Duffy points out that the novelette - there are six here - offers the author a chance to build atmosphere and develop characters in a way shorter tales do not. He also concedes that M.R. James didn't need the long run-up but (rightly, I think) sees this as a mark of the man's brilliance. Whatever your view, though, this book is certainly substantial. Here are half a dozen strange worlds in capsule form. They all resemble our own a little too closely for comfort. 

Sunday, 12 March 2023

Codex Antarctica by Cardinal Cox

Codex Antarctica, you say? If there's one region I like, it's the polar region. Something about the vast wastes of ice and snow (with the odd penguin here and there) strikes deep into my Anglo-Saxon soul. Perhaps it's because Antarctica so anomalous in so many ways. A continent that once flourished, rich with life, but is now locked within mile-deep layers of compacted snow. I am not alone of course, and some of the big names in horror and sci-fi are referenced in this, the poet's nineteenth (sort of) in the Codex sequence. 

If you don't know the Cardinal's work, it's well worth seeking out just for the arcane knowledge on offer. Here we have a pamphlet of nine poems (most of them sonnets, interestingly) that cover some of the weirdest fictions and strangest facts or factoids about the great southern continent. 

Thursday, 2 March 2023

NOW IT'S DARK by Lynda E. Rucker (Swan River Press 2023)


*Note - I received a review copy of this book signed by the author, Robert Shearman, who contributes an excellent introduction, and artist John Coulthart, whose brooding imagery adorns the cover.

Am I proud to have been one of the first editors to publish Lynda E. Rucker? Yes, very. When her story 'The Last Reel' turned up in my inbox, did I think 'This one, yes, definitely a star in the making'? Well, to be honest, I can't remember. It was a long time ago, and I'm knocking on a bit. But I do remember loving the story and thinking that the author had that combination of originality, love of the genre, and playful energy that distinguishes a fine writer from the merely competent. More stories came, and books, and accolades and awards. I am proud that, in her story notes, Lynda counts me as a friend who helped her get a foot on the ladder's first rung. She's climbed quite a way since then.

Sunday, 26 February 2023

One for the Discerning Reader

Lynda E. Rucker's third collection of short stories, Now It's Dark, is available from Swan River Press. I'm in the middle of it, and a review will be posted here shortly. It contains two stories from ST, proving that I sometimes have good taste. Just not in socks. Seriously, this is brilliant stuff and should scoop the awards. 

Wednesday, 18 January 2023

Patterns of Orbit - Stories by Chloe N. Clark


Science fiction was my first love. Long before I became acquainted with M.R. James, H.P. Lovecraft, or any modern masters of horror and weird fiction, I was having fun in outer space. Asimov, Clarke, Niven, Shaw, Vance - these were my cicerones among far stars and strange futures. Around the same time, my early teens, I also discovered something odd, a thing called 'New Wave', and it too seemed welcoming. Ballard, Aldiss, Spinrad, Disch, Moorcock - they were altogether stranger than the old-school sf writers but just as interesting. Inner space beckoned. And sometimes it was hard to tell the two apart. James Tiptree Jnr (Alice B. Sheldon) was a case in point, as were Ursula Le Guin, Samuel Delaney, Keith Roberts, and many others.

All of which leads me to a remarkable new collection by frequent ST contributor Chloe N. Clark, whose new book is rather wonderful. I'm proud to say that I accepted two stories here, 'Even the Veins of Leaves' and 'Who Walks Beside You'. They both stand up well, I'm glad to say, and are a good fit. This book is also concerned with inner space while not neglecting the outer kind. The themes and ideas range from interstellar voyages to lost loves. Some are 'true' short stories of several pages, many are vignettes (a thankfully revived art thanks to flash fiction) just a few paragraphs long. All are worth reading and then re-reading.

Monday, 16 January 2023

Evil of Dracula (Michio Yamamoto, 1974)

Sorry guys, but Dracula isn't in it. The original title, 'Chi o suu bara'. means The Bloodsucking Roses. 

Now you've got a general idea, let me sum up this film. It combines the bonkers and the banal as many horror films made on the cheap in the Seventies do. More interestingly, though, it combines a Hammer-European sensibility with a thoroughly Japanese setting and characters, and it kind of works. Well, I enjoyed it. But I had to make myself persist when I was about halfway through. It sags a bit.

Saturday, 14 January 2023

'Knocky Nine Doors' by David Longhorn

Issue 51 is here!

Click here to get the POD copy if having a physical magazine floats your boat. Next week I'll be uploading the ezines to both Lulu and Amazon. Meanwhile, bask in the contents:

'W is for Whispers' by Steve Rasnic Tem 

'Shod' by Sam Dawson 

'Emir' by Tim Foley

'All the Devils Are Here' by Michael Chislett 

'The Secrecy of the Heart' by Tim Jeffreys 

'Crying the Neck' by William Curnow 

'Half-Formed in February' by Charles Wilkinson 

Sunday, 8 January 2023

The Wicker Poet

Cardinal Cox, occult poet and all-round expert on the occult and arcane, has produced a special poetry pamphlet to mark as special event. The Whittlesea Straw Bear Festival takes place on 13th and 14th of January. The poet writes: 

"Years ago I worked with the man (Brian Kell) who restarted the Straw Bear Festival. It was banned by the police in the early part of the twentieth century due to the general drunkenness and the cadging of beggars. Since Brian restarted the festival in 1980 it has been an important event in the calendar of folk dance and folk music."

With that impeccable pedigree, it's entirely understandable that the pamphlet commemorating this innocent folk festival is all about The Wicker Man. Entitled 'The Folk Show 3: Fan Mail For A Film', the small collection looks at the real and the fantastical aspects of traditional festivals, many of which do not involve human sacrifice. 

The first poem, a sonnet entitled 'Horse Fair', sets the tone with its slightly Larkinesque description of a gathering where farriers, dealers, farmers, police, travellers and tourists mingle. Peterborough Horse Fair sounds like fun, but there's the inevitable shadow cast by 'handbills about a missing kid', contrasted with the 'girl in a paper crown' on Queen Katern's Day. The Cardinal always provides intriguing footnotes. I'd never heard of Queen Katern, but I'll remember her from now on. The same goes for 'Sap-Engro', with its cunning-man 'catching adders in summer'. The footnote concerns George Borrow, one of those Victorian writers who have fallen from favour but is surely ripe for rediscovery. 'Toadman', a prose-poem, concerns a local variant of the cunning-man in the Ely and Peterborough area. The toadman in this story is part of an interesting plot that, again, involves travelling people. 

Plough Witchery

Wednesday, 4 January 2023

Exorcism At 60,000 Feet (2020)

This is a very silly film, but don't let that fool you. It is also a very bad film. The cast list made me wonder - would Lance Henriksen and Adrienne Barbeau lend their talents to a sub-standard product? 

Yes. Yes, they would. 

This is an attempt to do a Scary Movie/Airplane hybrid, and it doesn't work. The basic plot is simple. A priest exorcises a demon, which first arose in some half-arsed fashion when he served in Vietnam as an army chaplain and tried to stop an atrocity. My Lai being employed for laughs, there. The demon gets on the plane and starts possessing the passengers. The latter are a gallery of two-dimensional 'gonzo' types, ranging from a dwarf who gets breastfed by his mother to the most stereotypical rabbi in history. There's also a bodybuilder, a Muslim terrorist, and Ms. Barbeau's character, a woman who brings her dead, stuffed pet dog on board as a support animal. 

The crew is just as comical if you don't know what good comedy is. Bai Ling plays a rude Vietnamese stewardess, Henrikson is the captain with an almost spotless record, and there are two others I can't be bothered to look up. The jokes in this film are on the level of an imbecilic frat house conversation at about three in the morning after too much beer and weed has been consumed. The subtlest witticism is that they are all flying Viet Kong Airlines. That is not a great benchmark. 

I can see what they tried. They wanted something with the energy and charm of Leslie Nielsen's Naked Gun films or the parodies of Seventies disaster movies - the Big Bus springs to mind. The problem is that those weren't comedy horrors, and for a good reason. The average horror movie (especially one with a demon in it) is already perilously close to bad comedy. The slightest push can send it plummeting over the edge. And this one plummets from 60,000 feet. 

It's a pity. There are references to classic horror, most notably the Twilight Zone episode 'NIthmare at 20,000 Feet' (the one with Shatner seeing the gremlin on the wing) and the 1973 TV movie Horror at 37,000 feet. The opening scenes pay homage of a sort to The Exorcist. But overall this film spends far too much time trying to gross out the audience while never giving the hapless viewer a good reason to find out what the next stupid gag will be. 

'The Woman in the Veil' by E.F. Benson