Archive for December, 2015

Ghosts of Christmas Present

December 30, 2015 - 10:19 am No Comments

Guest Blog: Ken Preston

Christmas wouldn’t be the season of joy and goodwill if there wasn’t at least the hint of a ghost story in the cold, frosty air. Just like roast turkey and pigs in blankets, Bing Crosby and the Queen’s speech, presents under the tree, crackers, mistletoe and the Doctor Who Christmas Special, ghost stories are a Christmas tradition we can’t seem to do without.
For most people, the mention of Christmas and ghosts will immediately conjure visions of Scrooge being visited by Christmas Past, cobwebs hanging from his ghostly frame as he rattles his chains and entreats the miser to follow him back to his childhood.
Dickens not only popularised the idea of ghost stories at Christmas, but invented the idea of a White Christmas. I know, you thought we could lay the balme for that at Bing Crosby’s feet, right?
Not quite. Dickens spent much of his childhood in an England gripped by a mini ice age, and so White Christmases were very common, and gave him the atmosphere for his seasonal story. And it’s stuck ever since.
For me the tradition of the Christmas ghost story was set by the BBC in the 1970s. My childhood might not have had a mini ice age, but I got to watch, among others, Denholm Elliot in The Signalman (another Dickens story), Robert Hardy in The Stalls of Barchester and Peter Vaughn in A Warning To The Curious, both adapted from stories by MR James. These chilling short films were a particular Christmas treat for me, feeding my inner budding horror author.
I’m sure it helps feed the tradition that the days are short and the nights long, and the weather is usually pretty bad at this time of year. It might be many long years since we last saw snow on Christmas Day, but it’s usually damp, miserable and grey, enough to keep a person indoors, reaching for yet another glass of mulled wine, and feeding the imagination with dank and grisly happenings just outside the front door.
Ghosts don’t own Christmas though. Pure, good old fashioned horror has its day too.
America might have been the homeplace of Father Christmas’s birth, in the advertising department of the Coca-Cola company, but the good old USA is also the place where the image of Santa in his red suit has been deconstructed and rebuilt as a demonic psychopath. After all, red and white might be the emblem of Coca-Cola, but aren’t they also the colours of blood and death?
Christmas Evil (1980) takes this to the extreme as a psychopath dressed up as Santa gets to decide who’s been naughty and who’s been nice, and of course slasher movie Black Christmas tips its hat in an ironic nod to Bing Crosby, as a group of sorority sisters are murdered during the Christmas break.
And those two Christmas themed horror movies are just the tip of the iceberg.
My favourite Christmas horror movie has to be Gremlins. Just like the mischevious little monsters themselves, Gremlins the movie is cute and nasty all at the same time, much like my image of Santa Claus really. How else can you view a man who breaks into your house, steals into your children’s bedrooms, but leaves them presents?
And seriously, Gremlins has to be the movie that does the greatest job of deconstructing the figure of Father Christmas, as we listen to Kate telling boyfriend Billy about the moment she simulteaneously found out that Santa is not real, and that her father had died.
You don’t get much more horrific than that.
So this Christmas Eve, why not snuggle down with a movie like Silent Night, Zombie Night (2009), (and do I really need to explain the concept behind that one?) or cuddle up with a good Christmas themed horror book. I would recommend Joe Hill’s N0S4R2, where you can visit Christmasland, presided over by the evil Charlie Manx, and where children never grow up, but for all the wrong reasons.
Merry Christmas!


Twitter: @kenpreston100


Tall, Dark and Hungry

December 29, 2015 - 5:19 pm No Comments

Argeneau Book 4
Author: Lynsay Sands
Publisher: Gollancz
Page Count: 372pp
Release date: 4th March 2010
Reviewer: Theresa Derwin

In Argeneau Vampires Book 3, Single White Vampire, romance writer Lucern finally seals the deal with editor Kate, falling madly in love with her. In book four, the wedding is about to take place and Lucern’s younger brother Bastien is about to become the victim ofHis mother’s, Marguerite’s matchmaking skills. But Bastien has no time for love, he’s the fixer amongst the vampire family and has far too many responsibilities. So, when he’s invited to lunch by Lucern and Kate he expects his sorting skills will be needed for the New York wedding. Terri, Kate’s cousin and maid of honour is arriving two weeks early to help with last minute arrangements, and Kate wants Bastien to put her up at his penthouse and look after her needs.
Things get a little wacky when they arrive at the penthouse to find cousin Vincent in a flamboyant Cape practicising his ‘method’ acting on the housemaid, for his latest role the lead in, Dracula: The Musical. And to make matters worse, Kate’s co-editor C.K had a toilet fall on him, break his leg, and he too has to stay at Bastien’s apartment along with the extrovert actor.
Bastien, normally the in-control decision maker is suddenly at a loss as to how to deal with a house full of demanding guests, making for some good, humorous scenes. As Bastien starts to fall for Terri, all sorts of hungers and appetites return to him. And as always, it is Sands’ sense of humour that shines through the text. Particularly the hiccups that occur with C.K. and with the wedding arrangements. This is a really funny book, though it doesn’t detract from some serious issues being considered, such as dealing with terminal illness.
As with all of the books in this popular series, this one tackles new areas, old and new characters and a vibrant new romance. And Sands delivers every time.

Children of Time

December 29, 2015 - 3:48 pm No Comments

CHILDREN OF TIME by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Tor / 608 pgs / £18.99 hardback / ISBN 978-1447273288
Reviewed by Carol Goodwin

For those of you who are unfamiliar with his work, Adrian Tchaikovsky has written, amongst other things the well-regarded 10-volume Shadows of the Apt series which is a fantasy where different races of people have the aspects/abilities of real insects. His new book CHILDREN OF TIME is Science Fiction but the author’s fascination with arthropods clearly was the inspiration behind this story as well.
Two thousand years after human civilisation tore itself apart in civil war, the ark ship Gilgamesh and its cargo of hibernating humans is desperately trying to find a new home. Earth is poisoned, damaged and dying. Patched together from bits and pieces of salvaged old technology that present humanity cannot replicate, the ship is heading for Kern’s World. This planet was terraformed and seeded with life in the final days of the old civilisation. What they do not know is that the Kern’s World project was also an attempt at species uplift. The world has been seeded with a nanovirus which was designed to accelerate the evolution of intelligence in the offspring of infected individuals. The original aim had been to work with monkeys but in the chaos of the civil war, the launch was sabotaged and only the virus is safely deployed. On the planet the virus infects the available fauna. In particular, the hunting spider, Portia labiata has the mental capacity and flexible behaviour that allows the virus to work most effectively.
The story then alternates between the humans on the failing ship and the developing spider civilisation as both species head towards a confrontation which will decide which of the “Children of Earth” will inherit this new world. The story rattles along at a good pace and kept my interest all the way through.
I enjoyed this book immensely. The spiders are well devised so that although they are clearly “alien” (ie not human) they are still sympathetic. I particularly liked that their approach to problems and their technology is clearly influenced by their non-human biology so it is different to humans. The author has succeeded admirably in a difficult task of making what many people see as scary into something fascinating instead. It is very refreshing to see them not just as the monster in a story. The story of their progression reminded me of an old favourite of mine, John Brunner’s THE CRUCIBLE OF TIME in which an alien race evolves from primitives into starfarers.
The other main strand of the story, of the humans confined to the decaying spaceship is also well written, as we see them divide into factions as their resources dwindle and the technology fails. As with the spiders, they are interesting as characters and the plot feels credible. The author cleverly shows the similarities and differences between the two species so that towards the end I found myself wanting both species to “win” even as they head towards an inevitable confrontation. Unless you are an arachnophobe, I would definitely recommend this book.
(Review copy kindly donated by Pan Macmillan Tor)

Alien Tango

December 28, 2015 - 3:01 pm No Comments

Author: Gini Koch
Publisher: DAW
Release date: 7th Dec 2010
Page Count: 428pp
Reviewer: Theresa Derwin

The second book in the ‘Alien’ series by Gini Koch, Alien Tango starts six months after the events in the first book, Touched by an Alien. Kitty Katt has joined Centurion Division, working with the aliens and humans, to deal with ongoing threats, whilst dating a rather hunky alien, Jeff Martini. Not only are these aliens protecting Earth, but they’re super sexy, fit and are awesome in bed. They also have two hearts, extraordinary talents, such as Jeff’s empathy and can move at hyper speed.
It’s been five months since Kitty joined the Division, and she’s spent much of that time learning how to fly and land aircraft. She’s also the Commander of the new Airborne Division.
This is a really fun series, with travel ‘gates’ being positioned all across the world in airport toilets.
Kitty is a great character; sexy, sassy and sarcastic, she has her own classic rock soundtrack when she flies or goes into battle.
The proverbial hits the fan when twelve superbeings (human hosts infected by alien parasites) turn up in Paraguay. Resembling giant bugs with razor sharp teeth, such a cluster normally suggests another Big Bad is coming to town.
Amidst all the drama, Kitty has to decide if she’s going to her school reunion. Her Mom is desperate for her to go because, though she’s in love with Jeff, Interspecies mating isn’t allowed and there may be other options for her, particularly as Jeff’s parents don’t seem too keen on her. It also doesn’t help that Kitty wants to avoid seeing best friend Chuckie at the reunion, because she can’t lie to him, yet can’t tell him about her secret life. Things are getting complicated.
Similar to the first novel in the series, this one literally doesn’t take a breath. There’s action, adventure, fighting and fun all the way through, and Kitty is a fun protagonist to ride along with. She’s a very complex, realistic character; she cries when you’d expect, has a biting wit, yet is the best kind of strong female character. From taking down terrorists to dodging alligators, she remains in control when the proverbial hits the fan, having a timely meltdown afterward.
Amidst the fun is political intrigue, which leads to political refugees. Overall, another enjoyable instalment in the series, which I shall continue to read and no doubt enjoy.


December 22, 2015 - 4:14 am No Comments

Author: Christopher Golden

Ella Santos stands on the sidewalk contemplating the storm that is raging through her town of Coventry; as a restaurant owner snow days were bad days for business. Ella was thirty two, single, and knew no one would be waiting for her back at home, whereas her bartender Ben Hemming had a pretty wife and a baby to go home to. At the end of her LNG day at The Vault, Ella settles down for a quiet drink listening to regular TJ playing something soothing on his guitar. The various residents of Coventry are all set up to deal with the blizzard, at least until the power goes out. For Joe Keenan it’s a night of call after call as the power lines go down and people go missing. And there is something in the snow that wants the residents. Then twelve years later with eighteen dead, it starts to snow again. As the townsfolk start to die or disappear the tension in the town is steadily rising and with its background of a snow blizzard, you can almost feel the chill and the icy death in every sentence. Coventry is a ghost town, but not in the traditional sense; it is town filled with ghosts of death and fear as the residents panic every time there’s another snow blizzard. As Keenan searches for a missing child, an orphans who’s parents have died in a car crash during the blizzard 12 years later, tensions rise even more across the police department and the town. And things get worse when some of the residents start acting strangely.
There is definitely at mystery at the heart of this horror novel, and although it’s slow going at times, as Golden attempts to explore the psyches of the various townsfolk, the tension is palpable. The snowy atmosphere is built gradually through the novel and pervades the text echoing the sense of loss. It is a solid new horror novel from Golden, who is departing from his normal Urban Fantasy work, and whilst not my favourite novel of his, it is a very entertaining read, if a little grim.