Archive for October, 2018

AGES OF ESCAFELD edited by Mathew Presley. Reviewed by Pauline Morgan.

October 21, 2018 - 9:57 pm No Comments

AGES OF ESCAFELD edited by Mathew Presley. Sheffield Science-Fiction and Fantasy Writers Group, Sheffield, UK. £6.99 paperback. 249 pages. ISBN: 978-781545-004883
Reviewed by Pauline Morgan.

There are writers who respond well in a workshop situation, who can rise to a challenge whatever the circumstances, so setting a task of writing an anthology in a day could have been a good idea. Unfortunately, there are very few writers that can produce a finished, polished product at one sitting. As a way of stimulating ideas and getting people actually writing, a day like the one that produced this book is a praiseworthy idea.
The participants in the day were given a framework within which to base their stories. The history of the mythical world of Escafeld is divided into four sections – the Age of Dreams is high fantasy with elves and dragons, the Age of Hammers is basically steampunk, the Age of Spirits roughly equates to urban fantasy with vampires and werewolves and the Age of Infinity is SF. Thus any writer should be able to find an area in which they felt comfortable.
The end result, however, doesn’t live up to the promise. There are two principal reasons for this. The first is very basic. Producing a book to celebrate an occasion or event is laudable but whoever is involved in the production, especially in these days of self-publishing, really needs to see how the international publishing houses do it. They have a format for a purpose – to give the reader information and the authors’ legal protection. This book lacks fundamentals such as title page and more importantly, copyright page. None of the authors have their by-lines on the contents list, a serious issue if you are trying to locate the story of a friend. The internal layout of the stories themselves uses the format favoured by report and letter writers. It is not the way books are laid out. Finally, proof reading needs to be done more carefully.
The other main issue is the stories themselves. All of them read as though they have been handed in at the end of the day and no further work done on them. All of them need polishing. Some participants contributed more than one story. While the scenario may well have generated several ideas, I feel that the extra time should have been spent in improving the story as editing is part of the skill set a writer needs.
Some of these stories have the potential to be very good if they were expanded, and one, ‘Engine-rat Adventure’s by M. Presley has the ingredients necessary to make a good steampunk novel.
While the exercise is worthwhile in stimulating ideas and generating the germ of a story, a lot of work is needed on the part of the authors and editors to make this a book that will have the respect of readers.

ANNO DRACULA 1899 AND OTHER STORIES by Kim Newman. Reviewed by Pauline Morgan

October 21, 2018 - 9:47 pm No Comments

ANNO DRACULA 1899 AND OTHER STORIES by Kim Newman. Titan Books, London, UK. £7.99 paperback. 369 pages. ISBN: 9781781165706
Reviewed by Pauline Morgan.

Many of the stories in this volume will show up the divide between the old guard of SF/Fantasy/horror readers and the younger generation. Kim Newman is very knowledgeable about films, particularly early ones in the horror genre. Many of his stories reference these.
This particular volume collects eighteen stories, originally published between 1988 and 2015, and the opening of his next novel. Some of these relate to the creations of other writers and are written in an accessible narrative style that reflects the Victorian era when a number of these originate. When you begin to read, make sure your sense of fun is turned up to maximum as Newman has certainly had fun creating many of the stories.
‘Famous Monsters’ is narrated by the off-spring of one of the Martians left behind after the War of the Worlds and relates his career as a film star. ‘Illimitable Dominion’ is also set against the background of the movies, in this case the company starts out making a film based on an Edgar Allan Poe story which is the start of a plague as the who industry becomes haunted by Poe references. The Poe in ‘Just Like Eddy’ is complaining that too many publishers are spelling his name wrong. ‘A Drug On The Market’ follows up the research Dr Jekyll did in creating his elixir, refining the recipe with the intention of making a mass market tonic. The problem is that the effects are addictive. There is always a question as to what happens to ‘monsters’ when they grow old. In ‘The Chill Clutch Of The Unseen’ it is an elderly invisible man who is in search of a last resting place.
Legendary characters turn up, years after they should have died. In ‘Red Jacks Wild’, the persona who was Jack the Ripper is rather miffed because, someone else is killing in a potential hunting ground (six tributes every three years is what Hecate has decreed for him to keep his youth). He is prepared to co-operate with the police to find this killer. The link between them is comics. A knowledge of the characters from various comics play important parts in ‘Übermensch!’ and ‘Coastal City’. In the former, the baby that became Superman landed in the forests of Bavaria and the superhero became a saviour in Germany. In the latter, what was New York has become the home of many superheroes and an attraction for supervillains.
‘The Snow Sculptures Of Xanadu’ and ‘Une Étrange Aventure De Richard Blaine’ delve into the world of film. The former relates to Citizen Kane and a certain Mr Welles visits Kane’s home of Xanadu to see the snow sculptures that haunt the building. The latter references Casablanca but is an earlier episode in the life of Rick Blaine who is coerced by the Germans to help hunt down legendary figures from Paris’s past. They are the soul of the city and the Nazi’s can only truly occupy the city when they have gone.
A few of the stories here are more traditional horror stories, in that film and comic references are kept to a minimum. ‘One Hit Wanda’ is the story of the only song that fans of
the Vanity Brothers want to hear so their stage set consists of playing it over and over again. In ‘The Intervention’ Keith does not admit to having any problems. This is unacceptable to everyone else so he needs to have the situation corrected. ‘Is There Anybody There?’ is a delightful story highlighting the consequences of being an internet predator. It is coincidence that Boyd lives in the same house as a deceased medium. Irene Dobson is the one who first realises that her ‘spirit guide’ is from the future and she takes advantage of Boyd’s knowledge.
Usually, when spirit worlds are in juxtaposition and crossover can occur, the perspective is from the contemporary side of the ‘veil’, but we are ‘The Pale Spirit People’ whose artefacts have disastrous consequences to the tribe that finds them.
There are two scripts within this volume. ‘Sarah Minds The Dog’ is an audio play in which the house/dog/teenager-sitter has the problem of dealing with the deceased dog, a beloved pet. While the start of it may be a kind of urban myth, it quickly descends into black humour. ‘Frankenstein On Ice’ relates the events after the Monster is unearthed and unfrozen in the Arctic wastes.
Along with Mary Shelley’s creation, other monsters are available. For those who like zombie apocalypses, ‘Amerikanski Dead At The Moscow Morgue’ will satisfy need for a short time. Blaming the plague of the West, the Amerikanski are the zombies which are rounded up, killed and taken to the morgue for examination. One of the researchers wants a live one, the director is remodelling a skull reputed to be Rasputin, and all the zombies start queueing up outside the building.
The volume ends with the opening segment of Yokai Town: Anno Dracula 1899,
Newman’s next novel involving vampires as a group of them seek refuge in Japan. It is a taster of what is to come.
Kim Newman is a skilled story teller and there is a lot to like in this volume. Recommended.

WINTERSONG by S. Jae-Jones. Reviewed by Pauline Morgan.

October 21, 2018 - 9:43 pm No Comments

WINTERSONG by S. Jae-Jones. Titan Books, London, UK. £7.99 paperback. 508 pages. ISBN: 9781785655449
Reviewed by Pauline Morgan.

Folk tales and fairy tales have long held a place in popular culture. They were the stories told around fires on dark cold nights. Some contained hidden messages, especially for young girls, others were just to delight and rouse the audience. As many were not written down, it is often difficult to decide when the tale was created. These stories have been a source of inspiration for modern writers such as Angela Carter. The best of these adaptations take the heart of the story and reconfigure it for the modern reader. Others, less successfully, merely retell the tale.
In 1859, Christina Rossetti composed a poem called the Goblin Market. The elements within it were likely culled from earlier stories. S. Jae-Jones has taken the essence of Rossetti’s poem for Wintersong. It tells the story of the sisters Kathe and Liesl. Kathe, the younger, is wilful and feels that the world revolves around her. Liesl is the more practical of the two. They have a brother, Josef, who is a talented musician. At a time when women were not expected to have accomplishments, Liesl would compose scores for him. As the time approaches for Josef to perform for a master who their father hopes will take him on as an apprentice, the sisters head into the local town to collect a repaired bow for Josef to use. It is market day. While Liesl knows the danger of tasting the fruit the goblin men tempt them with, Kathe ignores her sister’s warnings. As a result, she will be claimed by the Goblin King as his bride. Unless Liesl can find a way to free her sister, this is a death sentence.
The setting for this story is unspecified. It is sometime in the past, in mid-Europe in a rural community. This makes it slippery, not knowing the context of the events. A hundred years after Rossetti’s poem was written, various critics have tried to analyse it, putting interpretations of it that may or may not have been there. Some suggest it is an exposition against Victorian marriage practices, others that it was an early feminist tract. Whatever the truth, Jae-Jones has missed the opportunity to lace her story with hidden meanings. True, Liesl is denied the opportunity to compose and play in her own right as this was regarded as a male preserve but this is not a startling observation.
If the reader is looking for a retelling of The Goblin Market, then they will be satisfied with this book. I would have liked to see more layers to the events.

Dead Reckoning and other stories by Dino Parenti

October 17, 2018 - 7:41 pm No Comments

Dead Reckoning and other stories by Dino Parenti
Published by Crystal Lake Publishing on 5th October 2018
226 pages

Regardless of whether I recognise the author, I always purchase any book published by Crystal Lake Publishing. Dead Reckonings and other stories featuring 16 short stories that some could be in the news today.
Like all anthologies there were some stories that stood out for me. From the seventies Two Boys in a Diner- Vic and his younger brother Jimmy are in a diner reminiscing about family, death and old times. As there is only 2 characters, you really get to know them and whilst brothers and brought up together, they are like chalk and cheese. It is not till the end that the true reason of their visit to the diner is revealed.
From the eighties Dead Reckoning- The story opens with a policeman being dragged by a priest on a horse. The story swaps between past and present with ease and as you read this story you find out exactly what the policeman had done to deserve this treatment and why the priest felt the need to dish out the punishment. This story does make you think, was either in the wrong, was their actions justified.
From the nineties Savior- Following a vet disfigured from war, trying to make a living and his fascination with a performer from the visiting fair. There was a feel of sorrow to this story. The main character was hidden away due to his serious injuries. When he performed with his disguise it reminded me of the elephant man and the prejudice that people had for him. Did he do the right thing, I am still undecided.
Jumping to the post-apocalyptic story On the Fickle Nature of Germination. A discovery of 2 ancient bodies trapped between the ice and the outbreak of a devastating flu. Is there a link. This story was one that could be more fact than fiction, as remains get excavated what diseases could be unearthed. This was a quick pace story just like the outbreak.
There was the odd story that I could not get in to, but this did not stop me liking the book. A nice touch was that some of the stories had a low-key link, either by an odd line or action which if like me you read the whole book from cover to cover you will spot straight away.
These stories had a mixture of genres, that would please the readers of dark fiction. Whilst I was writing this review I was checking on amazon to see his other published work and I am surprised that this was his first.

Snapshot by Brandon Sanderson

October 13, 2018 - 10:05 pm No Comments

Snapshot by Brandon Sanderson
Published by Gollancz on 26th July 2018
128 pages

As a 1st timer to this author’s work, I did not know what to expect. With its mixture of crime and technology I knew that it was something I would enjoy.
Davis is a real-life detective, working an unusual beat. He doesn’t have to catch a criminal but spends his time finding evidence. Him and his partner Chaz worked in New Clipperton, living each day in a snapshot. The government used them to walk in a certain day at a certain time to get incriminating evidence, so the real police can make the arrest.
As a police officer Davis was quite non-descript. He did is job every day without a word of complaint. That was until 1st May when he decided to make a difference. Chaz was the complete opposite, he had a temper and had the same level of enjoyment as a young boy pulling wings of flies. But as a partnership they worked well together.
The story was descriptive, and you could imagine Davis walking the beat, feeling more despondent. The addition of a serial killer gave it a thriller edge. The use of technology played a big part in the story and got me thinking, which days would I want to relive, what did I miss on that day.
As it was a novella it was a quick read and a good introduction to this author’s work. The author writes an ending that was unexpected, which took the story to a different direction.
Whilst it is a standalone I would love for the story to continue to find out what happened next.