Friday, 24 March 2017

There Will Be Walrus: First Volume V #rednosereviews #rednoseday

Military science fiction is a part of the genre that does not always get the attention it deserves, but thank goodness Cattimothy House is on the case, producing an anthology of stories and essays that ranks with the very best sf being produced in the world. Overrated social justice writerers such as John Scalesy and Jim B. Hinds might knock this kind of stuff and despise the fans who love it, but us real fans know the real deal when we see it, and here we do!

Like all the best books, this is edited by a gun-toting feline, in this case Timothy the Talking Cat, "one of America's foremost political philosophers and one of the aspiring leaders of the future". He has been assisted in bringing the book to publication by Camestros Felapton, and the contributors include such amazing stars in the science fiction sky as Timothy the Talking Cat, Straw Puppy, Mr Atomic, Flight Rear Admiral General Fortescue-Billinghman, Chilsed McEdifice, and the infamous Vax Doy, well known for his failed attempts to rig the Hogu Awards.

It includes five forewords, each better than the one that came before, a guide to surviving a squirrel attack, self-publishing advice for indie authors, stories with names like "Clean Up on Gamma-6-Gamma" and "Behold the Valiants" and "The Dead Tell No Secrets of the Dead", and an FAQ for those people who just stubbornly refuse to get with the program and need a handout! Online, I get the impression that some people haven't taken the book seriously, but I bet those are just omega males, or even more embarrassingly, people who aren't even male at all.

The book contains twenty-two thousand, one hundred and eighty words, which seems like just the right length. Not too short that it has finished before you get going, but not so long that you will wander off to read something less walrussy halfway through. And it's free, the best price of all, so I have no hesitation in awarding it the maximum five red noses out of five. If it doesn't win any awards that can only be down to the machinations of those evil social justice weirdo cat hating squirrel lovers.

You can get the book here.

NB: this is a fake internet review, written for fun on Red Nose Day. Book a fake internet review of your book.

These United States by Clive Tern #rednosereviews #rednoseday

I want to begin this review by telling you a story. When I was a young boy, our bedroom had a wide window, with a large fixed pane in the middle, and parts that opened on the left and on the right. I am not proud of what I am about to tell you, but I would exit on the left, walk across the exterior window sill to the right, then come back inside. It frightens me to think of it, now more than ever, as I think of all the joy that would have been lost if I had fallen to my death. No lovely wife, no beautiful children, and worst of all so many wonderful novels never written! Imagine if I had died then, never having seen Game of Thrones, never having used the internet, never having played an Elder Scrolls game!

It doesn't bear thinking about, so let's not, let's move on to another childhood memory. We lived near one of the (if not the) smallest train stations in Britain, Damems, on the Worth Valley Light Railway. We would walk down there to see the steam trains go by, and if that sounds like a scene from The Railway Children, well, parts of that film were indeed filmed there. I never took off my underwear and waved it at a train, but we did discover the ruins of an abandoned mill, with a huge enticing crack in one wall. The mystery of this entranced us for weeks, until we were able to take advantage of a Tandy special offer and get ourselves a torch.

I then led an expedition into the crack. This may all sound like an episode of Stranger Things, but let me assure you that this really happened. Following me into the crack were my little brother and a gaggle of other children, some of them probably as young as five or six. We shone the torch into the crack and made our way inside. It was terrifying, but we kept going, step by worrisome step, the light shining ahead of us into the darkness, but seeming to illuminate only more darkness. Before long the crack narrowed and I began to worry about being trapped in there.

I called a retreat, and had to wait, anxiously breathing as deeply as I could, while the youngest children at the back got the message and led us out. I think back to that often, and consider how easily we all could have died. No one knew we were there. No one would have looked for us there. If the walls of that crumbling mill had fallen, that would have been it for all of us. We would all have died, and it would have been my fault. I'd be famous for being the idiot that led a group of younger children into a hole in the wall of a abandoned mill.

All of which is by way of explaining how intensely you may be affected by the stories in These United States by Clive Tern. It's a collection that will make you gasp in horror at how easily you might have let it pass you by, changing your life forever, very much for the worse. He is not from the United States, but declares a strange love for them. He writes about a man who can't die, and another who is locked up all day, and aliens and sea-gods and dangerous cigarette lighters all while making you think and taking you to a different state of the union each time.

In thirty years time, do you really want to think back to this moment and rue the terrible mistake you made, or do you want to read this book right now? And it's only volume one! How many more can we look forward to?! I give it five red noses.

You can buy the book here.

NB: this is a fake internet review, written for fun on Red Nose Day. Book a fake internet review of your book.

Letters to Barack Obama from Handsworth #rednosereviews #rednoseday

Remember what it was like eight years ago? A new president was in the White House, but everything was so different. The mood was hopeful, we thought the future would be better than the past, and that is reflected in this book of letters and drawings that were sent from Handsworth, a gloriously multicultural part of Birmingham, to Barack Obama. The librarian who put the project together was nominated for the Chamberlain Award, and received a letter in reply from the White House (now framed and hanging on her wall), but the stars of the show are the local children, with their funny questions and quirky drawings.

"I wish I had all the power you have but I don't. That ain't fair!" said one. (Are we sure Donald Trump wasn't living in Handsworth back then?) "I wanted to tell you, you are a great man," said another in a matter-of-fact tone. "What is your favourite soccer team? I hope it's not a naff team like Wolves or Burnley," asked one pupil, with an admirable grasp of the most important issue of the day. "Was your name Barry when you were younger?" asked another, a question to which we now know the answer to be yes, thanks to the Netflix original movie of that name.

The project was inspired by the McSweeney's book Thanks and Have Fun Running the Country, in which the letters were by American children. Here the letters are by British children, a crucial difference that perhaps explains the greater interest in association football shown within its pages. One of the most charming parts of the book was how often the children drew pictures of themselves with the new president, as on the cover. They trusted him, could imagine him hanging out with the class, buying them an ice cream.

It's hard to imagine any British children wanting to spend time with the current president, though if they did I imagine they would put him to shame with their maturity and interest in the world and its future. This book reminds us that it doesn't have to be that way, that we can have leaders we believe in, that give us hope, and even if they don't deliver on every single one of those hopes, it's better than the alternative. I give this book five red noses.

You can buy the book here.

NB: this is a fake internet review, written for fun on Red Nose Day. Book a fake internet review of your book.

Children of Eden by Joey Graceffa #rednosereviews #rednoseday

Joey Graceffa is a very famous YouTuber, well known for his exceptional talent for playing video games without a shirt on and being very good-looking. Mysteriously, this is something that greatly appeals to young women, and after they bought his first book in droves – In Real Life, about his unreal life as a YouTube star, made the New York Times bestseller list – he has now written a novel.

And it must be his own work, because his is the only name on the cover. He really is very, very good-looking, you know.

As we can tell from the cover, the book contains male characters and female characters, and while sometimes their interests overlap, sometimes they don't, and so their pictures are not completely aligned. This is very subtle.

Rowan is the girl, the second child of her family in a world where families are only allowed one child. After being hidden away for sixteen years she escapes for a night of adventure, but it's dangerous, because she has special kaleidoscope eyes.

She is a child of Eden, but cannot live there, and so the book asks us all a profound question: can it really be Eden if its own children are not allowed to live there? The answer must be no, because Eden should be a perfect place to live, and who could be happy in a place where your children are hidden away?

Although, if Adam had been happy in the original Eden, would he have wanted an Eve? If Eve had been happy in the original Eden, would she have wanted an apple? So perhaps it makes perfect sense to call this unhappy place Eden.

Many adventures follow, and characters develop in interesting ways, some becoming happier, some becoming sadder, but always letting the reader see what is happening.

I would give this book five red noses.

You can buy the book here.

NB: this is a fake internet review, written for fun on Red Nose Day. Book a fake internet review of your book. (There will be a real review of this book by someone who actually read it – and loved it – in our next issue.)

Professor Challenger in Space by SW Theaker #rednosereviews #rednoseday

Review by Howard Phillips

Professor George Challenger is one of the classic characters of science fiction, although he has perhaps not outshone The Lost World to the extent that fellow Arthur Conan Doyle creation Sherlock Holmes has thrown all the books in which he appeared into the shadows. This novel is by a writer I definitely do not know personally, S.W. Theaker.

I am definitely not S.W. Theaker writing under a different name to trick you into buying his book, because that would be wrong. I read on his website that this book was originally written in the nineties, in the course of a couple of weeks. Whether that is true or not I can't say, since, as I previously explained, I do not know him personally and am definitely not him writing under a pseudonym, but it is difficult to believe given how extraordinarily good this book is.

Arthur Conan Doyle's belief in spiritualism is shown to be mistaken by sheer dint of the fact that his spectre has not emerged from the grave to shake this author by the hand and pat him on the back, in gratitude at having done so much with the character. Granted, descriptions of the lead characters' physical attributes are few and far between, the author possibly having got halfway through writing this novel before going back to look up their descriptions in the Conan Doyle stories.

But would the creator of Sherlock Holmes, that master investigator, who famously said that when the impossible has been eliminated, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth, would the creator of that character ever have considered removing Challenger's head and putting it onto a robot body? Of course not, because it takes the imagination of a true genius to think of something so radical, and that is what we have here.

Some reviewers, the kind to which you shouldn't pay attention, the haters, the slaters, the Johnny-come-laters, might complain that here Theaker just recycles Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol idea of the chief as a head on a plate, but pathetic literary trolls don't realise how ingeniously that allows the good professor to travel through the vacuum of space! Complainers and moaners might also wonder why everything in the book is so lightly described, as if it was written in a rush and the author just wanted to write the dialogue, but that's simply to miss the point of this novel's marvellously pulpy fun.

This book gets five red noses from me!

You can buy the book here.

NB: this is a fake internet review, written for fun on Red Nose Day. Book a fake internet review of your book.

Happy Red Nose Day! #rednoseday #rednosereviews

It's going to be an unusual day here on the TQF blog. For those of you who don't live in the UK, Red Nose Day is an event organised every two years for Comic Relief, which involves people being "funny for money". Children dress in red clothes, adults sit in baths full of baked beans, and in the evening we all cry our eyes out watching heartbreaking stories of people doing everything they can to survive against the odds.

For this Red Nose Day, we decided to compromise our principles and write fake internet reviews of books we haven't read, in return for donations to Comic Relief. For a bit of background, read the guest post I wrote for the Ginger Nuts of Horror blog, where I talk a bit about the various varieties of fake review I have encountered over the last decade or two. I reckon it's quite the eye-opener!

I'm about to get started on writing the reviews, but it's still not too late to reserve a slot for your own book. Our fundraising goal is one hundred pounds, and at the time of writing we're three quarters of the way there. Even more would be amazing. I'll keep writing as long as you keep donating! If you want us to "review" your book(s), go to our JustGiving Comic Relief page and donate five pounds, euros or dollars and we'll add a book of your choice to the queue.

Or feel free to make a donation without asking us to review anything! We've produced fifty-eight issues of Theaker's Quarterly Fiction to date, given them all away for free, and you don't owe us a thing for any of that – we do it because we love doing it! – but if you did want to show your appreciation for any of our work, whether it's here or on any other projects that you've enjoyed, a donation to Comic Relief today, however small, would be an amazing way to do it.

So: don't trust anything you read on our blog today. It'll all be flim-flam, trickery, bluff, dishonesty, padding, chicanery and fakery, but in a good cause. I don't know yet how funny it will be, but if it fails to raise a chuckle or two I hope at least it will help you to spot some of the telltale signs of a fake review. And where better to start than with a fake internet review of my own book, the first book we published, the first thing to appear in our magazine, by our very own fictional reviewer…

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Kong: Skull Island | review by Douglas J. Ogurek

Out romance. Out cuteness. Out sentimentality. Make way for MONSTERS!

Lieutenant Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly) calls his cohorts’ attention to a chirping. He says, “That sounds like a bird, but it’s a [expletive] ant.”

That the ants in Kong: Skull Island are so large that you can hear them says something about the size of the island’s inhabitants, the biggest of which is King Kong. The famed monster has not appeared in a big budget film since Peter Jackson’s King Kong (2005). That Kong was 25 feet tall. In Kong: Skull Island, the figure resurrects at an imposing 100 feet! Marvel at Kong’s full-body profile before the setting sun. Now that is an iconic image.

Hats off to director Jordan Vogt-Roberts who, despite top-shelf acting talent such as John Goodman and Thomas Hiddleston, deemphasizes the leading lady, cuts back on romantic relationships, and makes Kong and his supporting cast of colossuses the true stars of this film.

There’s no buildup to this Kong: within the first five minutes of the film, his gargantuan (and realistic) head and hands burst onto the screen. Even if the rest of the film wasn’t graced by strong acting, a solid story, classic rock, and an ecological message, Kong: Skull Island would be entertaining.

Threats Low, Threats High, Threats Right before Your Eyes
It is 1973, and the Vietnam War is winding down. Scientists Bill Randa (Goodman) and Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) head out to explore the undiscovered Skull Island. Joining them are Royal Air Force tracker James Conrad (Hiddleston), war photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), and embittered Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) and his troop of soldiers.

When the group drops bombs under the guise of a geological survey, Kong swats them out of the sky. Packard assumes an Ahab-like obsession with exacting vengeance upon Kong, while most of the others just want to get off the island, which is full of threats large and larger.

Some characters recognise that they are intruders on the island and advocate a nonviolent extraction, while others, particularly Packard, approach the situation with guns blazing. Packard is angered by the Vietnam War and upset that some of his men were lost during the initial skirmish with Kong, but his bloodlust seems to extend to the island as a whole. For instance, Packard doesn’t hesitate to pick off a prehistoric-looking bird for no reason.

Comic relief comes with Hank Marlow, an inhabitant of the island since his plane crashed there during World War II. The Chicago native warns the visitors about the massive lizard-like creatures that live underground and threaten to surface and kill everything in their path. “I call them Skull Crawlers,” he says. “I never said that name out loud before. It sounds stupid now that I think about it.”

Again, though Marlow is entertaining, the most captivating players in this story are the island’s animals, ranging from massive spiders and sea creatures to truck-sized yak-like beasts and winged man-eaters.

A Message of Planetary Proportions
Typically, King Kong develops a ridiculous relationship with a damsel in distress. This Kong exhibits toward his less hostile human visitors not necessarily a soft spot, but more of a not-as-hard spot. His relationship with Mason Weaver is subtler. There are no crushes, playfulness, or snuggling. It’s a mutual respect.

The film also imparts a timely message. Kong, protector of the island and almost like a god to its inhabitants, could represent the Earth’s ecosystem. If you treat it with respect, it will support you, but if you hurt it, it might just hurt you back.

One soldier, Cole, says, “Sometimes the enemy doesn’t exist until you go looking for one.” In other words, leave it alone! Perhaps there are some places where mankind need not meddle. – Douglas J. Ogurek *****

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Pay £5 and we will give your book a glowing review! #rednosereviews

This Friday, Red Nose Day, we will be raising money for Comic Relief by casting aside our scruples, our principles, the very core of our being! That is to say, we will give your book (or any book you choose) a glowing review – without reading it, in the style of fake internet reviews! – if you donate five pounds to Comic Relief.

Click here to donate and book your slot:

We will write and post the reviews in a marathon on Red Nose Day, and they will appear here on the TQF blog and in a subsequent issue of the magazine.

If you are an indie author or a small press publisher, this is a great way to publicise your projects and support a good cause. They will be clearly flagged as our joke Red Nose reviews, so don't worry about anyone thinking you have done anything shady…

Friday, 17 March 2017

Supernatural, Season 11, by Andrew Dabb, Jenny Klein and chums (E4) | review by Rose M. Rye

Supernatural season 11 may not be different from what we have seen before, but it’s enjoyable as ever. Sam and Dean continue to investigate murders, in the “monster of the week episodes”, and we see the return of strong female characters Sheriff Mills and Sheriff Donna, adding a female presence to the programme. There is also a new threat to the world and the Winchester brothers must find a way (with the help of some great returning characters – Castiel and Crowley) to defeat this new evil. The cast’s chemistry as an ensemble is a real highlight. The script is witty and the back and forth banter between the Winchester brothers and especially Castiel is superb. Misha Collins’s performance is just marvellous this season. A standout episode is “Just My Imagination”, episode 8. Sam and Dean team up with Sam’s childhood imaginary friend; such a clever idea. In episode 14, “The Vessel”, Sam and Dean go back in time and we learn more about the Men of Letters. These individual episodes really add to the strength of the ongoing story arcs and made this season well worth watching. The fantastic season finale, “Alpha and Omega”, introduces a new female character who brings the promise of international adventures. The programme is still going strong and I’m enjoying it as much as I did when it started over a decade ago. ****

Monday, 13 March 2017

Logan | review by Douglas J. Ogurek

Decapitations and lamentations: Jackman and Stewart swan songs reveal human side of superheroes in violent, yet touching Wolverine threequel

It’s been 17 years since Hugh Jackman’s rough and laconic Wolverine clawed his way into pop culture. Yes, Wolverine is strong, and he’s great to watch. But can we truly connect with a guy who quickly heals from gunshots or stab wounds? In Logan, the final installment of the Wolverine trilogy (and Jackman’s final appearance as the character), we can connect. As its title suggests, the film offers a more intense exploration of the human and therefore, more vulnerable, side of the protagonist. It’s not the all-powerful Wolverine, but rather the ageing Logan, a hard-drinking and world-weary has-been just hoping to retreat. Both he and Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), former head of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters (i.e. mutants), are deteriorating, and the feelings the film evokes captures this sense of loss.

But don’t put on your bonnet just yet. Logan, directed by James Mangold, delivers all the skin-piercing, bone-breaking, head-lopping, full-throttle maniacal violence for which Wolverine is known. It even has the classic Wolverine roar.

The year is 2029, and the world is bereft of the original mutants, with the exception of Logan, nonagenarian Charles, and Caliban, a tracker with a severe aversion to the sun. They’re shacked up in a remote Mexican outpost. Logan regularly takes his limo over the border into Texas to scrounge up enough money to medicate Charles with pharmaceuticals and himself with alcohol. He hopes to save enough to buy a boat and live out the rest of his days at sea with Charles (and away from humanity). Then Laura, a girl with a familiar mutation, enters the picture.

Logan’s initial response to Laura’s guardian’s pleas for help isn’t the most heroic. He must overcome his demons to help Laura get to a place called Eden, where she can meet up with her fellow lab-manufactured escaped super-children. But there’s a catch: Eden might not be real. Thus the unlikely trio of Logan, Laura, and Charles embarks on an adventurous road trip filled with pain, discovery, and hope.

In the meantime, the lab has sent out bounty hunter Donald Pierce with his mechanical hand (never explained or used impressively) and his goons to retrieve Laura and the other child mutants. Moreover, the lab is cooking up something that’s stronger than all these kids and that will, of course, be another of Logan’s obstacles.

Hurt and Help
One character tells Logan that in her nightmares, people are hurting her. He says that in his, he’s hurting others. He’s not talking about the enemies he ploughs through, but rather those to whom Logan gets close. Pain is a constant companion to Logan. He has repeatedly dealt with physical agony, but the emotional turmoil has inflicted more damage. And what a remarkable job Jackman does, whether he’s limping or grieving, in conveying both.

One of the most poignant aspects of this film is the relationship between Logan and Charles. Logan, worn down by loss, has no interest in helping others. And yet, in his own gruff way, he serves as Charles’s caregiver. Sometime before the start of this story, Charles has, in his early dementia, used his mind powers to do something terrible on the East Coast. However, even in his intermittent mental fog, Charles encourages Logan to help the mutant cause, while always showing respect to the human race. Stewart, shedding his professorial demeanour and even dropping some f-bombs, offers a moving performance.

An Improbable Spokesman
If you look at the posters of the first three films in the X-Men canon, you will likely see in the forefront the same character: Wolverine. Of all the mutants, he remains a favourite among the masses. Perhaps it’s because he rolls his eyes at the whole superhero thing; he’s not interested in capes and masks. With his outbursts and his pain, Logan reminds us of ourselves... minus the use of metal claws to hack off limbs, the indestructible adamantium skeleton, and the ability to withstand bullets, knives, explosions, fire and flesh-stripping winds.

Logan delivers everything that a superhero movie should have. You will feel exultation in the action scenes, and sadness in the dramatic scenes. Thanks to Hugh Jackman for giving the world a superhero with the ferocity of a wolverine, the grace of a swan, and the complexity of a human being. – Douglas J. Ogurek *****

Friday, 10 March 2017

Black Dog, by Neil Gaiman and Daniel Egnéus (Headline) | review by Rafe McGregor

Black Dog is one of Neil Gaiman’s four American Gods stories, all of which have been re-released by Headline in hardback editions illustrated by Daniel Egnéus. The other three are: American Gods itself (first published in 2001 and re-released in an expanded tenth anniversary edition in 2011), The Monarch of the Glen (also reviewed in this issue), and Anansi Boys (first published in 2005). As an update to my previous review, the television adaptation of American Gods is due for release as a STARZ original series in 2017, possibly over Easter. Ricky Whittle will play the part of Shadow, Ian McShane the part of Wednesday, and the duo will be joined by a host of familiar faces from the big and small screen. Black Dog is a novella (or short story – it is, once again, difficult to tell due to the copious illustrations) and was first published in Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances (2015), Gaiman’s fourth collection of short fiction (excluding his writing for children). The narrative shares the same protagonist with American Gods, Shadow, and the temporal setting is easily established: three years after his wife’s death and either several weeks or a few months after The Monarch of Glen. The latter novella ended with Shadow leaving Scotland by train, his eventual destination Chicago, but somewhere along the line he exchanged rail for foot and the spatial setting is the first mystery Gaiman presents to his readers. Many clues are provided, some tantalising, some contradictory: the blurb labels a “rural northern village”; but it is not too remote from London; it might be near Glossop; it is surrounded by hills and valleys; it features plenty of drystone walls; and it has its own ghost dog, called Black Shuck. Black Shuck is the name of East Anglia’s version of the old English legend, but East Anglia is notoriously flat and I think the name “The Gateway to Hell” is decisive, suggesting Eldon Hole in the Peak Forest and the Peak District (also known as the Derbyshire Dales) more generally. This relocation of Black Shuck to one of the few regions of England that does not have its own ghost dog is the first indication of the categorical originality of Gaiman’s re-invention of the legend.

The novella opens with a play on words: the first chapter is titled “The Bar Guest” and the barghest is the name of the Yorkshire incarnation of the black dog. Gaiman very quickly provides a series of reflections on and allusions to many of the linguistic and conceptual associations with dogs that are such a prominent part of English culture: the love of dogs as pets, the eternal conflict between cats and dogs and consequent division of human beings into “cat-people” and “dog-people”, “black dog” as a description of depression (made famous by Winston Churchill), “black dog” as a favoured name for brands of ale, and the curiosity of a ghost dog that portends or causes death without possessing any corporeality. As the tale develops, he adds the conceptions of prehistoric dire wolves, Odin’s wolves (although Odin’s nemesis Fenrir seems more appropriate), and the myth of the Wild Hunt. There are also explicit references to Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902) and, in my opinion, implicit references to Stephen Booth’s Cooper and Fry crime series, which is set in the Peak District and was initiated with the novel Black Dog (2001). The combination of these references also serves as a clue that this is as much a mystery as it is a work of speculative fiction. When compared to The Monarch of the Glen, Daniel Egnéus’ artwork reflects both the change in emphasis from fantasy to mystery and the more hospitable countryside in which Shadow finds himself, where an evening on a hilltop is an experience to be enjoyed rather than a death sentence – or should be. Egnéus’ drawings are much less visceral than those in The Monarch of the Glen and with a few exceptions evoke wonder rather than fear while nonetheless retaining a haunting quality. Like the dog itself, they are shady, shapeshifting, and surreal.

The story starts with Shadow in a public house, where there is much spooky talk of big black dogs and cats walled up in buildings. The village has no accommodation available and a local couple, Ollie and Moira, offer him a room for the night. As the three of them walk home, Ollie thinks he sees Black Shuck and falls into a narcoleptic state. This introduces the natural dimension of Gaiman’s take on the black dog, as a manifestation of depression, which grounds the narrative in reality: depressed people recognise their own despair, exemplified by the ghost dog, and either try to kill themselves or simply lose the will to live. Following this motif, Ollie self-harms as soon as he emerges from his semi-consciousness, setting the scene for Shadow remaining in the village for a few days to help Moira look after him. Whether or not I am correct in identifying Black Dog as equal parts speculative fiction and mystery, it is certainly focused on a contemporary crime rather than an ancient evil. What raises Gaiman’s contribution to the black dog legend from the original to the exceptional is the way he not only offers a rationalisation of its continued existence, but binds the supernatural explanation to its own special logic. The ghosts that inhabit this particular piece of the American Gods universe are not restricted to the canine variety and the relationship between the villain and the ghost dog and between Shadow and the benevolent ghost is explained by the metaphor of flame and moth. Human beings, warm with their life blood coursing through them, are the flames that attract the attention of moth-like ghosts, which clarifies the reciprocal relation between corporeal and non-corporeal: the moth flying too close to the flame can either extinguish that flame or be destroyed by it.

Monday, 6 March 2017

Get Out | review by Douglas J. Ogurek

Brilliant directorial debut packed with eccentric characters and suspense.

Though comic genius Jordan Peele’s directorial debut Get Out intrigued me, the preview seemed a bit silly. Particularly off-putting was a close-up of a teary-eyed Betty Gabriel saying “No. No. No no no no no no...” I almost decided not to see it in the theatre. What a mistake that would have been.

This tale of a well-adjusted guy in an unsettling environment steeped in racial issues offers a completely absorbing filmgoing experience from start to finish. Although it’s billed as a horror, Get Out blends suspense, mystery, drama, comedy, and even a bit of soft sci-fi.

Budding photographer Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) and white girlfriend Rose Armitage (Allison Williams) head out to the country to meet Rose’s family. However, the carefree Rose has not told her family that Chris is black. Initially, the Armitages seem the perfect suburban family, but their oddities, along with those of their social circle and their housekeepers, gradually surface, leading to the discovery of a dangerous secret.

What makes Get Out so compelling is that everyone who Chris encounters displays some eccentricities, with Rose’s family leading the pack. Despite his backslapping demeanour and his conviction that “I would vote for Obama for a third term if I could,” surgeon father Dean (Bradley Whitford) makes comments that range from off-kilter to attacking. Rose’s mother Missy (Catherine Keener), a psychiatrist, applies her specialty in hypnosis to attempt to stop Chris from smoking. But her intents may not be entirely beneficent—watch for Missy’s menacing facial expressions. The most entertaining Armitage, however, is Rose’s brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones), a wild-haired medical student whose drunken banter highlights a tense dinner table scene.

The Armitages’ idiosyncratic white guests, most of them older, watch Chris with a creepy fascination, while housekeepers Walter (Marcus Henderson) and Georgina (Betty Gabriel) speak in a “golly gee” 1950s sitcom fashion. This strangeness isn’t random; there is a reason for all of it, and when it surfaces, it’s as jolting as what you would find in an M. Night Shyamalan film.

Comic relief comes in the form of Chris’s friend Rod Williams (LilRel Howery), a TSA employee. Rod, Chris’s lifeline to the outside world, offers a steady stream of humorous commentary.

Though everyone acted superbly, Kaluuya’s performance deserves special mention. He achieves viewer empathy as our ally in this odd world. And when a hypnotized Chris reveals to Missy the circumstances behind his own mother’s death, he transfers the emotion to the viewer.

Throughout the film, one can’t help but ask oneself: Who are these people? And why are they so fascinated with Chris? What a phenomenal job Peele does of pulling the wool over the viewer’s eyes.

Those of us who love horror films are constantly on the lookout for something completely original. This is it. – Douglas J. Ogurek *****

Friday, 3 March 2017

The Monarch of the Glen, by Neil Gaiman and Daniel Egnéus (Headline) | review by Rafe McGregor

Neil Gaiman’s American Gods was first published in 2001 and then re-published in an expanded tenth anniversary edition. Remarkably, the latter – which has been available as a delightfully captivating audiobook since 2012 – is a literal “author’s cut”, i.e. Gaiman’s original novel, published without the considerable editorial redactions of the published version and therefore substantially longer (such are the perks of fame). I thought American Gods was deserving of its critical and popular success although I was disappointed that Gaiman hadn’t integrated the monotheistic religions into his universe, a strategy which was obviously expedient, but felt inconsistent. The audiobook (but not the tenth anniversary edition) contains a deleted passage in which Shadow meets Christ, offering a tantalising taste of how Gaiman might have treated the monotheistic gods (oxymoron intended), but the encounter raises more questions than it answers. As an aside on adaptations, the television series of American Gods is due for release by Fremantle Media on an unspecified date in 2017. Despite The Monarch of the Glen being marketed by Amazon as part of the “American Gods Novella” series, there is no mention of any such series from publisher Headline on or in the book itself. The narrative is indeed set in the world of American Gods and even shares the same protagonist in Shadow, but is also – as one might expect from a storyteller of Gaiman’s skill – perfectly self-contained and can be enjoyed without having read the novel.

The novella (or perhaps short story, it’s difficult to tell with all the illustrations) was first published in Legends II, a collection of speculative fiction edited by Robert Silverberg, in 2003. This version has been co-released with American Gods and Anansi Boys (first published in 2005), which is also set in the American Gods universe, as well as the other “American Gods Novella”, Black Dog, also reviewed in this issue. All four volumes are illustrated by Daniel Egnéus, who cites his influences as Arthur Rackham and Gustave Doré. He certainly displays the former’s flair for line and the latter’s ability to represent the otherworldly and there is also a strong surrealist sense of the fluidity of shape, reality, and reason in his depictions. The interior illustrations are black and white and they fully capture the darkness of both Gaiman’s setting and the subject matter of the tale that unfolds in that setting. Egnéus leaves readers in no doubt that Shadow has arrived in a vital, visceral, and volatile place where the trappings of modernity conceal an ancient and unchanged way of life. Egnéus’ work enriches rather than embellishes Gaiman’s and my one complaint is that a couple of the titles that form part of the drawings are spoilers and detract from one’s intellectual and imaginative engagement in the first instance and from the drama of the fully-realised dénouement in the second.

The narrative takes place in the north-west of the Scottish Highlands and is set two years after the conclusion of American Gods. Shadow, who may or may not be an incarnation of Baldr (or Baldur or Balder), who may or may not be a god, has spent the interim backpacking across Europe and North Africa and finds himself in an unnamed village somewhere between Thurso and Cape Wrath. The plot begins when, in quick succession, he is offered a weekend job as a bouncer at a local country house and meets an unconventional barmaid named Jennie who regales him with stories of the local lore, particularly those pertaining to the strong Norse influence in what is usually assumed to be a hyper-Celtic culture. The suspense is generated first by the mysterious party, then by its mysterious guests, and finally by the real reason for Shadow’s employment. Having uncharitably criticised Egnéus for a couple of slight spoilers, I shall be careful to avoid the same charge myself in raising my quibble with Gaiman. I am also aware how minor this point is in a work that has – words and images combined – provided me with an exceptionally rewarding reading experience and that I shall have complained that it is too revealing and too opaque, which doesn’t seem very convincing at all. The opacity is in the title. The Monarch of the Glen (1851) is a painting of a red deer stag by Edwin Landseer and has become one of the exemplary and archetypal images of the Highlands specifically and Scotland more generally. Landseer was famous for contributing to the Victorian image of an idyllic Scotland that never existed and for representing anthropomorphic animals in savage struggles for survival against one another, man, and nature. The painting itself – or rather, Landseer’s copy of his own painting – appears in the story, the property of Mr Alice, who is hosting the party. Its significance – and given the title, it must surely be significant – is never explained or even suggested and the only commentary is Alice on its popularity and Shadow’s silent appraisal of the stag as “haughty, and superior”.

My understanding of the painting’s significance in the novella is that the shared title is a reference to Shadow, who has been hired to take part in a struggle even more savage than those portrayed by Landseer. In this struggle, Shadow is the symbol of both man against monster and Scotland against its (Norse) invaders. But, just like the criticism that Landseer created a false image of Scotland, Shadow is being set up as a false symbol, one that has no basis in reality. He is, like the English Landseer in the Highlands, a foreigner, and also, as the opening dialogue of the narrative reminds readers, a monster himself – not quite a man and not quite a god. And of course Gaiman is far too sophisticated a writer to allow the simple dichotomies of man/monster, Celtic/Norse, and the relation between them to remain unchallenged. The result is that the explosive climax at the country house does not turn out as expected for any of the participants and Shadow is measured against his own judgement of Landseer’s stag. Shadow survives (no spoiler, as he will reappear in Black Dog) and the tale concludes with him on a train, heading south with the ultimate aim of bringing his wandering to an end in Chicago. The complexity of the title, the symbolism, and Shadow’s character are wonderfully intriguing and if I didn’t find the confirmation I was looking for, that may well be because my interpretation is mistaken. I shall, however, make no mistake here: this is a great novella, atmospheric and thrilling, intellectual and unpredictable.

Monday, 27 February 2017

Savage Dragon Archives, Volume One, by Erik Larsen (Image Comics) | review by Stephen Theaker

This huge black and white collection includes issues one to three of the original Savage Dragon mini-series, plus the first twenty-one issues of the ongoing series, all of it written and drawn by the character’s creator, Erik Larsen. As with the Walking Dead books, there is nothing to indicate where one issue begins and the next ends, making for an intense helter-skelter of a reading experience, fights with full-page villains constantly bursting out of nowhere. There are moments of peace here and there, but the Dragon’s life is not one of quiet contemplation. He was found in a vacant burning lot, his skin green and tough, his head sporting a fin, and his arms as thick as tree-trunks. He remembers nothing about his life, but remembers baseball and the president. A desperate friend, Frank, finds a way to finagle the Dragon into joining the police force (in a way that he’ll come to greatly regret), and thus begins the jolly green giant’s career as the official strong arm of the law. It’s tremendously exciting, bonkers, and inventive, one bizarre battle following another, with very little time wasted on introducing the villains – they just get on with it – and the ongoing storylines and mysteries are always ticking away nicely. The artwork to me seems quite similar to John Byrne’s (ironically, since he comes in for some stick in the book as Johnny Redbeard), with the drama of Frank Miller, and the crackling kinetic energy of Jack Kirby. Reading it in colour might have helped me to make visual sense of some fight scenes quicker, but it still looked really nice in black and white. It reminded me of what I like so much about Invincible, a much later hit from the same publisher, in that it feels like a whole superhero universe in one book – even the guest appearances from Spawn and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are made to feel like an organic part of the over-the-top storytelling. Is it truly good? Hard to judge, because it’s playing by its own mad logic, but it’s certainly an enjoyable and unique experience. The subsequent five volumes were, on the whole, just as enjoyable. ****

Last chance to vote in the Theaker's Quarterly Awards 2017!

At midnight on Tuesday voting will close in the first ever, utterly amazing and tremendously significant Theaker's Quarterly Awards!

Voting is open to everyone, and you can vote for as many items in each category as you want.

At this stage only two things are guaranteed: Howard Watts is going to win best TQF cover art (but for which issue?) and Disasterpeace is going to win best music. Everything else is up for grabs!

Ties will be decided by the star ratings items received from our reviewers (where relevant), and if that doesn't do it, we'll ask Alexa to roll an appropriate dice.

The prestigious awards themselves can be seen to the right, but don't worry, whether you win or lose, you still rule.

Click here to vote!

Friday, 24 February 2017

Autumn Snow 1: The Pit of Darkness, by Martin Charbonneau, Joe Dever and Gary Chalk (Megara Entertainment) | review by Rafe McGregor

Stephen Theaker has been kind enough to allow me to indulge my nostalgia for 1980s fantasy gamebooks in his magazine and over the course of three reviews – The Voyage of the Moonstone (TQF55), The Buccaneers of Shadaki, and The Storms of Chai (both TQF57) – I’ve charted the remarkable story of Joe Dever’s Lone Wolf series. The latest of my reports contains a couple of surprises of the kind I’ve come to expect by now, given the series’ incredibly complicated publishing history, characterised by first falling victim to and then being perpetuated by the domination of internet technology at the turn of the century. To begin at the beginning, I first found out about The Pit of Darkness courtesy of Project Aon (, the voluntary organisation that has done so much to keep the series alive during its many years in the publishing wilderness, in a bulletin listing the current availability of Lone Wolf products dated 8 July 2016. Megara Entertainment founder Mikaël Louys began crowdfunding for the volume in September 2014, the main purpose of which was to secure the services of the original Lone Wolf illustrator, Gary Chalk, who had an apparently acrimonious split with Dever between the release of Castle Death (#7, 1986) and The Jungle of Horrors (#8, 1987). The gamebook is only available from the Megara website direct ( and has been released in both French and English versions. The two are presented distinctly on the website and although the price is quite steep (about £30 at the time of my purchase, no doubt more now), it includes postage and packaging and my copy arrived promptly and in perfect condition. I nonetheless have two small complaints about Megara. First, they don’t seem to advertise very well – I ordered immediately after following the link from Project Aon and the copy I received is already a “THIRD PRINTING, REVISED” – what happened to the first two printings? Second, and this may well be the reason for being in a third printing already (assuming all three were released in 2016), there are quite a few typos and formatting errors in the book (albeit all minor).

The volume itself is entirely pleasing, if printed in a slightly unusual format (a hardback that is either medium octavo in size or extremely close to it) with a wonderful colour cover by Chalk, around double the ten full-page black-and-white illustrations originally intended, and large easy-to-read print. Chalk’s artwork is highly stylised and his clear lines, imaginative use of negative space, and slightly disproportionate figures will be instantly recognisable to his fans from the eighties. His style is especially well-suited to children’s illustrations, in which market he has worked extensively, although I noted that the innocence and simplicity of his original Lone Wolf work has been eclipsed by a vision of Magnamund (the world of Lone Wolf) that is both more sinister and more intricately detailed. Chalk’s Vassagonian pirates are a perfect example, depicted in all their bloodthirsty savagery on the pages adjacent to sections 7 and 256 – not a Pirates-of-the-Caribbean-style comedy character in sight. The Pit of Darkness thus has two major selling points: it is the first Lone Wolf gamebook to unite Dever and Chalk in thirty years (Dever is credited as having “Edited and Augmented” the volume) and it is the first Lone Wolf gamebook to feature a female protagonist. The latter is particularly welcome, although in fairness to Dever the eighties wasn’t exactly a decade known for its equality of opportunity. Nor has the Kai Order eschewed gender discrimination entirely as male and female candidates are required to pursue different paths, the former to become New Order Kai Lords and the latter to become New Order Kai Konor. Autumn Snow is one of the latter, having joined the Konor when she was seven, mastered five of the ten Kai disciplines over the next seven years, and reached the rank of Initiate. The Lords and Konor study the same disciplines and this level of expertise puts Autumn Snow at precisely the same level as Lone Wolf at the beginning of the series, in Flight from the Dark (#1, 1984).

There is no explicit dating, but the story is set a year after Dawn of the Dragons (#18, 1992), presumably in MS 5081, while Lone Wolf is away, presumably on his last mission as a player character, The Curse of Naar (#20, 1993). This is a post-Darklords Magnamund, but is – just like our own post-Cold War world in the nineties – going through more than a few teething troubles. Autumn Snow is invited to join her principal instructor, Kai Lord Silver Flame, on what appears to be a routine investigation of sightings of former Darklands creatures on the Isle of Kirlu, which is part of the Kirlundian archipelago off the coast of Sommerlund. The first part of the gamebook takes place at sea, before Kirlu is reached, as the merchant ship on which Autumn Snow and Silver Flame are travelling is attacked by the aforementioned bloodthirsty savages. The battle involves a series of tough and exciting combats and leaves Autumn Snow the sole survivor of the crew, with Silver Flame missing in action presumed dead. Despite the fatal encounter with the pirates there is still a chance that the main mission is routine, but of course it proves not to be and when Autumn Snow arrives in Misty Bay after a dangerous journey on foot, she learns that Giaks (Magnamund’s orcs) have been sighted in the ruins of Wytch Aieta Nematah’s citadel. Autumn Snow infiltrates the ruins, finds a lot more than Giaks to fight, and the final part of the gamebook switches from a wilderness to a dungeon adventure (to use the old Dungeons & Dragons terminology). The Pit of the title lies beneath the ruins and it quickly becomes evident that the appearance of the Vassagonian pirates was no accident as the Vassagonians and Drakkarim, two of Magnamund’s most evil human races, are in league together.

From a gaming point of view, I thought the level of difficulty was particularly well-pitched, the mission challenging rather than suicidal. The toughest combat is probably with the Pit itself and players will need one of the disciplines of Mindblast, Mindshield, or a high initial Combat Skill to survive. With regard to disciplines, I found Tracking useful and – as always – Weaponskill and Healing, although Martin Charbonneau has introduced his own take on the latter. With regard to the actual mechanics of play (which follows the Lone Wolf gamebooks exactly and also has the traditional 350 sections), I was very interested to see that a third option is being tried for the Healing discipline. Back when I first came to the series in the mid-eighties Healing allowed one point of Endurance to be restored for each section where one was not involved in combat. When I chose my five disciplines, Healing was my first choice, followed by Weaponskill (the former to restore my character’s Endurance, the latter to boost his Combat Skill) and I can’t imagine how anyone could have managed without both. Dever must have decided that Healing was too powerful – and, in retrospect, with the Sommerswerd, Healing, and a bit of commonsense I don’t think there was too much to challenge Lone Wolf post-Darklords – because in The Voyage of the Moonstone (#21, 1994), which launched the New Order series, a limit was placed on the amount of Endurance the discipline could be used to restore. In The Pit of Darkness, the limit is gone and Endurance is restored at the rate of two points rather than one, but only at selected sections (indicated by a grey rather than black section number). There are naturally never any grey sections around when you need them, but allowing for the fact that I’ve only used this system in a single gameplay I think it is the best so far and part of the reason for the balance I noted – not too easy, like the Kai Grand Master series (books 13 to 20), or too hard, like the tail end of the New Order series (books 21 to 32). Having discovered the secret of the Pit, the adventure ends with Autumn Snow en route to the Maakenmire, a swamp south of the Wildlands. The second Autumn Snow adventure is Slaves of the Mire, but there are no publication details available in The Pit of Darkness or on the Megara website. My worry as I write this is that it will have to be crowdfunded too, in which case we’re unlikely to see it in print for two years (given the rate at which The Pit of Darkness was printed). Hopefully, that’s not the case, especially if the series is reaching new fans with Dever completing the long-awaited final four New Order adventures. I think the Autumn Snow series could be an outstanding addition to Magnamund – the best since the Magnakai series ended with The Masters of Darkness (#12, 1988) – but word will need to spread beyond the Megara website if it is to reach its potential.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Aldebaran, tome 1: La Catastrophe, by Leo (Dargaud) | review

Contact with Earth was lost over a hundred years ago, soon after it was hit by an economic crisis, though life isn’t too bad on the planet known as Aldebaran. A religious order rules, but their influence is barely felt in Kim’s little village on the coast, where the beach is endless and the ocean the sweetest blue. She dreams of getting back in touch with Earth. Marc, a boy who fancies her big sister, works as a fisherman; his dream is to go to the big city. The fishermen find some odd corpses in the water, monsters driven up from the seabed, and a stranger arrives with dire warnings of a disaster to come. No one believes him and he leaves, before a journalist turns up, hot on his trail – Marc takes her after him, and they begin to see some really weird stuff. And maybe it’s a good thing he isn’t at the village right now… This is the first of five French albums collected in Aldebaran: L’Integrale, recently reprinted. It’s a gorgeous book, inside and out, and it feels like this first volume barely skims the surface of this strange and beautiful world. Leo’s artwork is rather like a slightly stiffer Steve Dillon, his creatures as weird as Miyazaki’s. An English translation is available, but it’s possible to order the French version through UK Amazon too, if you fancy dusting off your GCSE French. Stephen Theaker ****

Friday, 17 February 2017

Now out: Theaker's Quarterly Fiction #58: Unsplatterpunk!

free epub | free mobi | free pdf | print UK | print USA | Kindle UK | Kindle US

Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction #58: Unsplatterpunk! is now out! Guest-edited by Douglas J. Ogurek, this is a special issue, an anthology featuring five founding tales of unsplatterpunk, a brand new genre! Douglas describes it as “extreme horror stories [that] offer a positive message, whether blatant or subtle, within their otherwise vile contents”. So don’t expect any slap-up dinners in this issue!

As Douglas says in his editorial, this isn’t a volume you’d want to pull out on family reading night, and you might want to avoid discussing it in detail with your coworkers. But it is interesting! Here’s what Douglas had to say about the stories in this issue:

In M.S. Swift’s deliberately disjointed “A Desert of Shadow and Bone”, brutality meets philosophy in an extravaganza of limb hacking, gentry slaughtering, and drug use that makes a statement about corporate greed and the repression of women. What starts as an extreme, albeit intimate ritual beside a tree-lined natural pool builds to a climax that is both apocalyptic and indicative of personal growth.

There’s something awry about an impending birth in “Quand les queues s’allongèrent”. When you discover what it is, you’ll get a jolt of humour and revulsion. Antonella Coriander offers a slashing take on misogyny and women’s empowerment.

Drew Tapley’s “The Fisherman’s Ring” delves into the absurd as he unveils what really happens in the secretive ceremony to select the next Pope. You get ringside seats for a series of trials full of pain-tertainment. You also get hope and solidarity.

In “The Armageddon Coat”, the collection’s longest work, Howard Watts (who also supplies the terrifying cover) takes us on a more serious journey of two pre-teens as they try to make sense of their world following an alien attack. The theme of innocence vs experience swirls amid political maneuvering, mass destruction, and vicious fighting to survive.

We also have a handful of reviews this issue, from Douglas himself, Rafe McGregor and Rose M. Rye (yes – after two long years we have once again published a female writer!), and they look at the work of Martin Charbonneau, Joe Dever, Gary Chalk, Neil Gaiman and Daniel Egnéus, as well as the films Arrival and Doctor Strange, and season eleven of the television show Supernatural. The issue concludes with twenty-four pages of notes and ratings for almost everything Stephen Theaker read during 2016 but didn’t review for us.

Here are the munificent contributors to this issue:

Douglas J. Ogurek’s fiction, though banned on Mars, appears in over 40 Earth publications. He is the guest editor of this special issue. Ogurek founded the literary subgenre known as unsplatterpunk, which uses splatterpunk conventions (e.g. extreme violence, gore, taboo subject matter) to deliver a positive message. More at

Drew Tapley is a copywriter and journalist, and has been publishing in Canada, Australia, and his native England for the last decade, both in print magazines and journals, as well as online. He is now based in Toronto, and has been making short films for the last five years. Some of his films have screened at film festivals throughout the world. He was recently published in the UK’s Popshot Magazine, and has two published books: one fiction, and one nonfiction.

Howard Watts is a writer, artist and composer living in Seaford. He provides the wraparound cover art for this issue, as well as a brilliant story. His artwork can be seen in its native resolution on his DeviantArt page: His novel The Master of Clouds is available on Kindle.

M.S. Swift writes horror and dark fantasy inspired by the ancient landscapes of the U.K. His contemporary horror tales have been published by Ghostwoods Books, the First United Church of Cthulhu, Schlock! Webzine and Schlock! Bi-monthly. He is currently working on a dark fantasy series inspired by the late medieval witch hunts, the first story of which has been published through Horrified Press. His long-term goal is to write a series of weird tales inspired by the early work of Wordsworth and Coleridge. He is paying off the accumulation of negative karma by working in the English education system.

Rafe McGregor Rafe McGregor is the author of The Value of Literature, The Architect of Murder, six collections of short fiction, and one hundred and fifty magazine articles, journal papers, and review essays. He lectures at the University of York and can be found online at @rafemcgregor.

Rose M. Rye is an actual woman, honestly, but she’s writing for us under a pseudonym because she doesn’t really want to be hassled at work by people who disagree with her opinions about television.

Stephen Theaker’s reviews, interviews and articles have appeared in Interzone, Black Static, Prism and the BFS Journal, as well as clogging up our pages. He shares his home with three slightly smaller Theakers and works in legal and medical publishing.

As ever, all back issues of Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction are available for free download.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Fall of Cthulhu Omnibus, by Michael Alan Nelson, Mateus Santolouco and chums (Boom! Studios) | review by Stephen Theaker

This huge book collects six trade paperbacks in one epic volume. The first five stories, from “The Fugue” through to “Apocalypse”, concern the plans of Nyarlathotep, the creeping chaos, who has taken human form and resurrected Abdul Alhazred to write a new chapter of the Necronomicon, a chapter concerning the fate of Cthulhu, who sleeps undying under the waves in R’lyeh. A saga that ends with gods clashing and the Dreamlands spilling their nightmares upon the earth begins in a more mundane setting, with Cy and his girlfriend Jordan at a cafe, where Cy’s uncle, Professor Walt McKinley of Miskatonic University, shows up, rambling about the blood on his hands before taking his own life, right there, al fresco. He leaves Cy a big bundle of mysteries and a knife ornamented with eyes that follow you around the room. It’s the start of a story that will take Cy to the traditional Lovecraftian edge of madness and a long way beyond. He will meet allies, like Sheriff Raymond Dirk, whose family have long tried to keep the craziness in Arkham from bubbling malevolently to the surface, and Luci Jenifer Inacio das Neves, or Lucifer for short, a teenage rascal with a pretty decent handle on what is going on. The three of them will encounter nightmares and gods, monsters of all kinds, most startlingly of all the Harlot, who summons unhappy men to the Dreamlands and gives them what they want, for a horrible price. A variety of artists take turns to portray this amazing colossal woman as we pass through the book’s six hundred pages, and each captures her horror in a differently spectacular way. The sixth section of the book is in part an ironic epilogue, but mostly a prequel, showing what went down (if you’ll forgive me) in Atlantis long ago. Overall, this is a good solid attempt at a Cthulhu mythos comic book, very much in the style of what you might expect from an official TV adaptation of Lovecraft’s work, rather than the glancing references and nods we so often get. The scenes in the Dreamlands are the high points, different artists and art styles used to render their strangeness. Cthulhu’s name is in the title, but this is about the Harlot and Nyarlathotep and the humans caught in the middle of their battle. You wouldn’t want to be in their shoes when R’lyeh starts to rise… ****

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Douglas J. Ogurek’s top five mass market sci-fi/fantasy/horror films of 2016

The fascination with superhero movies grows: half of the top ten grossing (U.S.) films of 2016 involved crusaders of one kind or another. Overall, last year’s SF/F/H film output brought some disappointments (e.g., Independence Day: Resurgence, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Suicide Squad (excepting the Joker and Harley Quinn)) and some silly yet fun fantasies (e.g. Gods of Egypt, The Huntsman: Winter’s War), as well as some pleasant surprises (e.g. Ouija: Origin of Evil). Though advertisements championed The Witch as the next super-scary horror offering (and critics seemed to agree), the film doesn’t hold a candle next to the last two decades’ masterpieces (i.e. The Blair Witch Project, The Ring, Paranormal Activity). So we horror fans patiently await the next attempt.

With the exception of Arrival, SF/F/H films are absent among major categories in this year’s Oscar nominations. Typical. But… Suicide Squad was nominated, for Best Makeup and Hairstyling. That’s the Joker and Harley Quinn again.

So here you go: my picks for the best SF/F/H films of 2016:

#5: Don’t Breathe – Suspenseful and fast-moving. The victim, a muscular blind veteran, becomes the aggressor when three unwitting thieves break into his home for what they think will be an easy job. There’s something quite unsettling about the thieves’ would-be killer standing feet away and using his enhanced non-visual senses like a predatory animal. Full review.

#4: Dr. Strange – This superhero origin tale details neurosurgeon Dr. Stephen Strange’s transformation from self-absorption to pursuit of a greater purpose. Great acting, strong visual effects (nominated for an Oscar in this category), and quite a bit of humour. Full review.

#3: Deadpool – Entertainment personified. You probably don’t want this superhero on your child’s lunchbox. The wise-cracking Deadpool breaks the fourth wall (i.e. he talks to the viewer), carries a Hello Kitty backpack, gets to his destinations via taxi, and never shuts up . . . and you don’t want him to. Fun (and funny) from start to finish. Like Ferris Bueller, with explosions. Full review.

#2: Arrival – This sci-fi drama does away with the explosions and the ridiculous dialogue of the typical alien invasion film. Instead, it’s a sophisticated exploration of language, perception of time, and human response to the unknown. Full review.

#1: 10 Cloverfield Lane – A play, a horror film, and a sci-fi mystery all rolled into one captivating package. So many great elements, the best of which is John Goodman’s portrayal of Howard. Are his intents in imprisoning the protagonist in his bunker malicious or altruistic? Even the kitchen table scene will have you completely absorbed. Full review.

There you have it: a blind killer, a jerk, a bigmouth, cryptic aliens, and an ineffable antagonist. Let’s see what 2017 brings. – Douglas J. Ogurek

See Douglas’s top five picks from 2015.