Monday, 19 June 2017

It Comes at Night | review by Douglas J. Ogurek

Uncertainty and mistrust take the lead in post-apocalyptic realism at its best.

A sickness is on the loose. It kills quickly. Paul, Sarah, son Travis and dog Stanley hide out in an austere home within the woods. Though they’ve seen the toll the disease can take, they have no idea of the extent to which it has affected the world. And it seems like something else could be lurking out there. Then another desperate family (Will, Kim and young son Andrew) enters the home. Everyone hopes for a mutually beneficial relationship. Alas, this is a horror movie.

It Comes at Night, written and directed by Trey Edward Shults, is a believable portrayal of what happens when two families, both intent on survival and burdened by mistrust, come together in the midst of an indeterminate threat. The film combines the stripped-down, post-apocalyptic feel of The Road (2009), the backwoods locale and defensive paranoia of The Walking Dead (2010–present), the intimacy of Signs (2002), and the tension and desperation of Breaking Bad (2008–2013).

It Comes at Night relies heavily on the unknown to build tension. For instance, the film reveals very little character backstory – it doesn’t even divulge their last names – because in this world of uncertainty and immediacy, the past carries little value. More than once, the camera focuses on a frightened Travis as he looks into the forest. What is he seeing? Travis’s foreboding dreams and the many instances of light moving through darkness enhance the effect. Additionally, Shults keeps tossing in wrinkles to keep Paul (and the viewer) unsure of his guests’ true motivations.

Worth highlighting is Kelvin Harrison Jr’s portrayal of an awkward teen struggling in extraordinary circumstances. Travis eavesdrops on the home’s occupants, tries to please a severe, though caring father, and deals with a crush on Kim (a subtlety that a less thoughtful film would skip).

Shults, perhaps taking a page from the brilliant horror film It Follows (2014), was wise to insert the word “It” in the title of his film. The pronoun underscores the film’s ambiguity. What, exactly, is “It?”

Don’t expect to see a lot of “the enemy” in this film, but do remember: some of the most frightening horror films in the last couple decades have employed that very strategy. So if you, like me, delight in films like The Blair Witch Project (1999) or Paranormal Activity (2007), then you’re going to enjoy this one. – Douglas J. Ogurek *****

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Wonder Woman | review by Douglas J. Ogurek

Resolutely she enters the fray.

Finally, a female has joined the contemporary pantheon of high-profile cinematic superheroes . . . not as a peripheral wisecracking vixen or troubled outcast, but rather as an ass-kicking, yet empathetic lead.

Wonder Woman is tearing up the charts—fourth highest opening weekend for a solo superhero origin film, and the highest-grossing opening weekend for a female-directed (Patty Jenkins) film—with good reason.

Using her shield, sword, magic rope, and physical prowess, Diana/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) gracefully dispatches the bad guys. When the film grandiosely portrays Diana in full superhero poise with hair blowing, one can’t help but feel exhilarated by the immense physical and moral power of this protagonist.

The “fish out of water” story is told in frame format, with a present day Diana reflecting on her escapades. American spy/pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) inadvertently discovers the beautiful Paradise Island and its all-female warrior inhabitants, including Diana. When Trevor tells her of the atrocities of the “war to end all wars”, Diana, convinced that Aries is responsible, sets off with Trevor to the front. She hopes to kill the god of war and therefore bring the battle to an end. Trevor, eager to get back to his superiors, goes along with it. So begins a burgeoning co-attraction, an exploration of evil and forgiveness, an opus on women’s empowerment, and an irresistible action film featuring one of the most versatile superheroes to date—Wonder Woman can just as easily bash through a brick wall as she can pull off stupefying gymnastic feats.

Never mind that Diana really has no weaknesses and that villains are one-dimensional. Even more admirable than Diana’s ability to plough through the enemy is her unabashed approach to a misogynistic London. She is not afraid to wear what she wants, speak her mind, and most important, to do something in the face of injustice.

Each of the two main characters’ vastly different world views helps shape that of the other. Diana, raised on an island cut off from the rest of the world, is willing to drop everything to help those in need and harbours no reservations about walking the streets in her conspicuous battle regalia replete with sword and shield. The war-wise Trevor, on the other hand, understands that achieving the ultimate goal sometimes requires tact and covertness.

The spectacle that is Wonder Woman keeps the viewer engaged from start to finish. It’s also inspirational as an artistic achievement. Lately, when I want to take a project to the next level, I’ve been asking myself, “How can I Wonder Woman this?” – Douglas J. Ogurek *****

Monday, 5 June 2017

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales | review by Douglas J. Ogurek

Shallow content, deep fun.

Seeing a Pirates of the Caribbean (POTC) film is kind of like spending time at an all-inclusive tropical resort—you don’t have to think, there are lots of drunken antics, and you walk away with a smile on your face. In the series’ fifth instalment, directed by Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, the party continues.

Dead Men Tell No Tales offers no profound life lesson. The bickering young lovers and comic book goal (i.e. find Poseidon’s trident) are shameless echoes of the previous films and the talk of maps and stars grows tedious. However, after indulging in the film’s strengths, the viewer who doesn’t need a serious film to be entertained can brush aside these shortcomings with all the nonchalance of Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp).

Sparrow at the Crux
Every major player (i.e. Captain Salazar, the British Empire, Royal Navy sailor Henry Turner, horologist (listen for the pirate banter on this one) Carina Smyth, and Captain Barbossa) is intertwined with Jack Sparrow.

Chief protagonist Henry wishes to use Sparrow’s magic compass to lift the curse that has indentured his father Will (Orlando Bloom) to servitude on a ghost ship. Primary antagonist Captain Salazar (aka “Butcher of the Sea”), played superbly by Javier Bardem, wants not only to unleash the curse that renders him and his crew ghosts, but also to kill Sparrow, who he blames for this misfortune. The power-hungry Salazar takes rasping breaths and his hair constantly undulates as if underwater. “Every time that I’ll stamp my sword,” he tells one adversary, “one man of your crew will die.” And Salazar’s ship rears up animal-like before slamming down on its victims.

Action and Eccentricity
The two-and-a-half hour escape that is Dead Men Tell No Tales immerses the viewer in lighthearted entertainment: humour, drama, a bit of horror, special effects, beautiful scenery, an entertaining villain, and that adventurous score. But that’s all on top of the two strengths that have propelled the POTC franchise: over the top action scenes, and the sometimes (physically and mentally) bumbling, sometimes graceful Captain Jack Sparrow.

Among the key action sequences are an escape from a botched robbery, a diverted execution, and, most gloriously absurd, an attempt to outrow a group of zombie sharks and pirate ghosts who run on water. Often, Sparrow’s clumsiness transforms into extraordinary acts of agility. When the film goes slo-mo at key moments, resist the temptation to roll your eyes, and instead just cheer! Yes, a zombie shark jumping over Sparrow and Henry’s rowboat is completely pointless, but it underscores the schoolboy spirit of the entire film.

Jack Sparrow, with his swaying movements and rum-infused, yet snappy commentary, secures his spot among the most engaging characters in the contemporary action-fantasy genre. This time, he seduces a politician’s wife, falls asleep (standing and pantless) while someone talks to him, fights while attached to a board, and asks his crew members to pay a tribute as they’re saving him. And what other character would tell zombie sharks to “shoo” while flapping a hand at them?

Justified Extravagance  
Like all the gems in the POTC treasure chest, Dead Men Tell No Tales recognizes itself for what it is: a high-action, high-special effects film that isn’t overly serious.

Admittedly, I watched this one in a “4DX” theatre replete with moving seats, fog, flashing lights, and sprays of water. But wouldn’t Captain Jack Sparrow applaud such extravagance? With the pirate Sparrow, overboard is the way to go. – Douglas J. Ogurek ****

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Alien: Covenant | review by Rafe McGregor

Scott forgets female leads and the human species in a strange sequel.

Alien: Covenant is the second in a proposed trilogy of prequels to Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979), following Prometheus (2012), which was also directed by Scott and reviewed for TQF by myself, Howard Watts, and Jacob Edwards. The titles of the prequel trilogy have been selected by the spaceships whose stories they tell and the story of the Covenant is set ten years after the disappearance of the Prometheus. The Covenant is en route to Origae-6, a distant planet designated for human colonisation, and is carrying several thousand settlers and embryos and a small crew, all of whom are in stasis with the exception of the ship’s synthetic, Walter (Michael Fassbender). The ship is caught in a neutrino blast, which kills the captain and prematurely wakens the crew. The captain’s loss proves significant for two reasons: it introduces his widow, Daniels Branson (Katherine Waterston), who will turn out to be the only human character to make full use of her agency, and it places the second in command, Christopher Oram (Billy Crudup), in charge. Oram is not cut out for his unplanned promotion and makes a series of disastrous decisions, beginning with a diversion to investigate a signal that appears to provide evidence of a human presence on a nearby planet. The signal, as anyone who has watched Prometheus will realise, is from Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace), the sole survivor of the doomed mission to find the origins of human life.

Oram makes another poor judgement call in taking Daniels, who – like Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) before her – is a third officer turned deputy, with him in the expeditionary force. The first sign of alien trouble occurs about thirty minutes into the film, when one of the crew is infected by spores. These spores and the particular species of alien that will hatch from them are new, but viewers of the series know that something nasty is coming and will not be disappointed by the eye-watering, gut-wrenching gore that ensues. Up to this point, Alien: Covenant follows the pattern of Prometheus very closely: two spaceships with command problems, two over-confident expeditions to an unknown planet, the infection of two crew members in each expedition – all of which set the scene for an exciting complication, crisis, and climax. Shortly after the emergence of the first aliens from their human hosts, however, the film makes a radical departure from both the initial prequel and the series as a whole.

No sooner has the first alien gone on the rampage, than it is revealed that Shaw is dead and that the sole survivor of the Prometheus is David (also Michael Fassbender), the sinister, secretive synthetic with a Peter O’Toole fixation. Prometheus ended with Shaw and a badly-damaged David on their way to the planet of the Engineers, the mysterious creators of human life, which is where the crew of the Covenant meet David. Curiously, the characters, plot, and themes of the previous film are all handled with complete anti-climax: Shaw is dead, the Engineers have suffered an apocalypse, and no one cares about the origins of humanity anymore. The last of these is especially strange because Alien: Covenant begins with a short scene in which billionaire Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), who funded the Prometheus mission, tries to convince David that humanity cannot be an accidental result of the process of evolution. The conceptual unity in the second prequel is provided by creation rather than origin and David has become obsessed with creating life himself.

The Alien quartet was dominated by Ripley, the calm, cool, and collected warrior queen who repeatedly saved humankind from the alien menace. Prometheus appeared to be setting up Shaw to take over as she proved herself every bit as tough and resourceful as her predecessor/successor. Alien: Covenant makes a half-hearted attempt to do the same with Daniels, but Waterston doesn’t have the presence of either Weaver or Rapace and – in fairness – receives much less screen time. Fassbender, playing both David and Walter, becomes the most familiar face and dominates the film with crucial roles in the first and last scenes as well as a great deal of what comes in between. In fact, it is not just a strong female lead that is missing in this instalment, but humankind itself and the human beings in Alien: Covenant are very far down the food chain. As a sequel to Prometheus, this is a non sequitur, but as a standalone film set in the Alien universe it provides all the thrills and chills one expects from the franchise.***

Monday, 15 May 2017

Prometheus | review by Rafe McGregor

Scott sacrifices the superficial to the substantive in disappointing prequel.

Sequels and more recently prequels constitute something of a genre of their own in that the play between similarity and difference is at least as important as the director’s inventiveness and imaginativeness.  Viewers familiar with any one of the Alien quartet expect to see gut-wrenching body horror and a gutsy heroine who overcomes adversity, but will be content with neither a re-run of Kane’s exploding chest nor a mere replication of Ripley.  The demand for resemblance without replication is exacerbated in Prometheus, which is both a prequel to the quartet and a prequel to the remaining pair of prequels in the prequel trilogy.  One of the concerns of the quartet was the opposition of the capitalist imperative to what one might call basic human values or the more charitable of the religious virtues.  Some of the trouble in Alien was caused by the profit motive and all of the trouble in the rest of the series was caused by the military-industrial complex’s interest in capturing a live alien to create yet another weapon of mass destruction.  In this respect, Prometheus takes the series to new heights because the quest around which the narrative revolves, the search for the origin of human life, is completely commercial.  The venture is not only sponsored by the Weyland Corporation, but undertaken at the whim of its owner and commanded by his representative, Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), who treats the Prometheus’s captain like a lackey and is openly contemptuous of the scientist passengers.

The new Ripley, Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace), is one of those scientists and she is responsible for identifying a series of star maps that apparently guide humanity to the planet where our creators, the Engineers, live.  Shaw considers the map an invitation to meet our makers and the Weyland Corporation considers it a source of profit for the company and personal gain for an influential board member.  Once the Prometheus arrives at its destination, the scientific mission begins, albeit very much under the thumb of Vickers and with the corporation’s android, David (Michael Fassbender), clearly having been programmed to pursue an agenda that belongs to neither Vickers nor Shaw.  It is at the point of touchdown that the emphasis of the film switches from the superficial story of discovery to a substantive exploration of the human infatuation with genesis.  Underlying the literal quest for the origin of human life is a reverence for the species, creature, or being that created humanity and Scott succeeds in capturing the combination of intense curiosity and naïve optimism that drive so many adopted children to seek out their biological parents and so many of the rest of us to investigate our family trees at great financial and emotional cost.  The star map must be an invitation rather than a trap, there can’t be any need for the landing party to arm or protect themselves, and the Engineers must be benevolent towards their creations.  If these assumptions were true, the play of similarity and difference would resemble Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) rather than the Alien quartet, and they are quickly revealed for what they are – astonishingly naïve.

The problem for the film is that in exploring this obsession with origins, an exploration that is mirrored by the prequel trilogy’s apparent concern with the origins of the species after which the quartet is named, Scott sacrifices the story’s suspension of disbelief in its entirety.  The result is a film of two parts, the first third plausible and full of suspense and the rest theme-driven to the extent that the plot holes gape as wide as the inevitably self-administered hole in Shaw’s stomach.  Neither of these two gaping wounds has any recognisable effect: the plot picks up a frenetic pace that Shaw has no trouble matching once she has stapled her stomach shut.  I have been generous in my rating on the basis that Scott has not only chosen a highly significant theme for the film, but that his analysis of humankind’s origin fetish is serious and sophisticated.  I may, however, have been overly generous because Scott provided ample evidence of his ability to pose philosophical questions while maintaining narrative credibility in his first three films: The Duellists (1977), Alien (1979), and Blade Runner (1982).  Prometheus is his twentieth outing as director and, as such, viewers familiar with his work will expect more.  In a word, disappointing, but not disappointing enough to put me off seeing the next prequel.

Monday, 8 May 2017

Murder on the Einstein Express and Other Stories, by Harun Šiljak (Springer Science and Fiction) | review by Stephen Theaker

This title is part of a range intended to bring science and fiction together, which has familiar sf names Gregory Benford and Rudy Rucker on the editorial board. Their ethos is highly appealing: “Authored by practicing scientists as well as writers of hard science fiction, these books explore and exploit the borderlands beteen accepted science and its fictional counterpart.” Unfortunately this book, a short collection of four stories – “Normed Trek”, “Cantor Trilogy”, “In Search of Future Time” and “Murder on the Einstein Express” – doesn’t seem to have been copy edited or proofread. Articles definite and otherwise are frequently absent and tenses are often wobbly, making it a trial to read. If it hadn’t have been short enough to read in a couple of hours I would have given up on it. The author is clearly very clever and an expert in his field, but he is trying to get across ideas that would at times be very difficult for the general reader to follow in even the clearest prose, and that isn’t what we get. Not infrequently I was enlightened more by Kindle’s lookup feature providing the appropriate Wikipedia page (e.g. for the Monty Hall problem) than by the explanations in the book itself. As for the stories themselves: I understood very little of “Normed Trek”, but mathematicians may enjoy puzzling out its functions. “Cantor Trilogy” imagines a future where computers take over the writing and peer-reviewing of academic articles. I stumbled through “In Search of Future Time” without really understanding much more than that it seemed to concern the Turing Test. And “Murder on the Einstein Express” uses an extremely thin fictional frame to support a socratic canter through various thought experiments and puzzles. The author seems to acknowledge the book’s flaws in this story, joking that “criticism of the author’s literary style is strictly forbidden”, and having a character say: “I have always enjoyed writing. The fact that I am not good at it couldn’t stop me, since I had the will and thought it’s enough.” Stephen Theaker *

Monday, 1 May 2017

The Book of Kane, by Karl Edward Wagner (SF Gateway) | review by Stephen Theaker

Kane is a warrior, big as two of his friends put together, three hundred pounds of bone and corded muscle, tremendously strong, startlingly agile, able to see in the dark, red-haired and left-handed. He is very long-lived, supposedly the son of the original Adam, and has in the course of that life accumulated many useful abilities, some of them mystical. Time to him has no meaning, “a dozen years or as many minutes – once past, both fitted into the same span of memory”, and when he makes his entrance in a story, it is often a surprise to those who thought him long-dead, or just a legend. The five stories in this collection all find him in a pseudo-medieval setting, the longest, “Reflections for the Winter of My Soul”, stranding him in an isolated castle threatened by highly organised wolves. Reading that story, one could think Kane a hero, but later stories make it clear than he is a thoroughly bad person, a rapist (“Raven’s Eye”) and a mass murderer of men, women and children (“The Other One”). In “Misericorde” we see him at at work as an assassin, while in “Sing a Last Song of Valdese” he plays a minor role in revenge being taken upon another gang of rapists and murderers. He isn’t a character you can admire, and of course you don’t have to always admire characters to enjoy reading about them, but “Raven’s Eyrie” in particular makes for uncomfortably problematic reading, being apparently more dismayed by how Kane’s victim let the trauma affect her than by the crime itself. Perhaps this story appears out of chronological order because as the first story it would have left readers much less sympathetic to its protagonist. The ebook does have rather odd pagination, with the first story beginning on page 187, the second beginning on page 83, the third on page 143, but is mostly free of the scanning errors that have plagued other SF Gateway titles. A book of fairly decent stories with a loathsome protagonist. Stephen Theaker ***

Monday, 24 April 2017

Preacher, Season 1, by Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg and chums (Amazon Prime Video) | review by Stephen Theaker

The comic Preacher was in development for so long, first as a film and then as a television series, that you might easily have concluded that there was something fundamentally unfilmable about the project. You – okay, I – might have thought there was no way this programme, having finally made it to the screen, could possibly live up to the standards of the comic. And it’s quite an old comic now. Would it still work? Well, anyone who had those thoughts, me included, has been proven utterly wrong by a programme that rollicked with an energy rarely seen on television, that has left every other programme since feeling muted and low-key. But not everyone has read the comic, and the show is not quite the same as the comic, so I should say something about the story. Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper) is a half-assed preacher in a dirty, rotten town. His church helper Emily (played by Lucy Griffiths, the former Maid Marian in the BBC’s Robin Hood) has a crush on him, but he’s in no fit state to notice. Then three lightning bolts strike his life. Genesis, the offspring of an angel and a demon, embeds itself within his body, giving him the power to command. The vampire Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun) drops out of an aeroplane and pals up with Jesse in a bar. And old flame Tulip O’Hare (Ruth Negga) roars back into town, wanting Jesse to help her get revenge on an old colleague who left them in the wind. All of a sudden Jesse’s in the middle of a lot of trouble, so it’s a good thing he is surprisingly handy in a fight. It seems as if this show might, like The Walking Dead, cluster its seasons around particular locations, as this one is mainly set in the town of Annville, but it works very well, and at the end of a very satisfying season it’s a treat to know how much more from the comics is still in store. The cast is brilliant, coping with the shifts in tone from horror to comedy as if it was all the same thing, and without exception perfectly portraying the characters we’ve loved and loathed from the comics. Credit to Jeanie Bacharach, casting director, who must have clapped herself on the back for a job well done after watching each episode. One minute it reminds you of Justified or Fargo, the next it’s Monty Python or Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, all while successfully reclaiming its storylines from Supernatural in a way that Constantine didn’t quite manage. Altogether it adds up to something totally new. Confident, brash and bloody, I reckon it’s my favourite programme on television right now. *****

Saturday, 22 April 2017

THEN: Science Fiction Fandom in the UK: 1930–1980 by Rob Hansen #rednosereviews

I recently had the pleasure and the privilege of attending the British Science Fiction Association (BSFA) Awards for the first time, mere hours after having had the publisher of this book hold the door open for me as I left the hotel toilets. The ceremony itself was marvellous, despite the Powerpoint problems that so often beset these events, and despite only four awards being handed out (a mere amuse-bouche compared to the epic fourteen given out by the British Fantasy Awards during the period when it was my good fortune to run them). I had a marvellous time watching them. So full of good-humour, friendliness, and bonhomie.

What a tragedy it was, though, to see this astonishing, informative and amazing book lose out to Geoff Ryman's writing about one hundred African science fiction writers. Yes, Ryman made everyone laugh the instant he came to the stage by kneeling down to the low microphone, and yes, he provided a brilliant example of "paying it forward" by taking his moment in the sun to announce the nominees for best novel in the new Nommo award to celebrate African writers, but what does any of that matter when the victim was THEN: Science Fiction Fandom in the UK: 1930–1980 by Rob Hansen, so cruelly deprived of that glorious transition from nominee to winner that is reserved for a fortunate few.

Perhaps I am to blame? I think I voted in the BSFA awards, being a member of that fine and august institution, but the screen went blank after I submitted the form so who can say? Surely, for all the wondrous writers covered in Geoff Ryman's articles, those articles were not the revised, expanded and corrected edition of a history that originally appeared in four fanzine-format volumes from 1988 to 1993. And surely, however popular the winner of the non-fiction award was, it did not include over three hundred photos of contemporary fans of all eras, nor dozens of scans of fanzine covers from each decade, nor an index of those photographs.

Did Ryman's work feature an introduction by Peter Weston, was it published by David Langford, and did it feature chapters enticingly entitled "Man and Supermancon", "Aardvarks, Wombats, Gannets and Rats" or "The Bastard Offspring of Science Fiction Monthly"? I think not. If it did, I apologise for my mistake. But I suspect that the only place you will find these things is in THEN: Science Fiction Fandom in the UK: 1930–1980 by Rob Hansen, which might not have won the award that night, but wins a place in all our hearts, just like the genre and the fans it chronicles. What else could it get but five red noses? So it does.

Buy the book here and count yourself lucky that you can! It's available in paperback, hardback and ebook.

This is the last of our Red Nose Reviews, written for fun (about a month after the event) without reading the book.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Children of Eden, by Joey Graceffa (and Laura L. Sullivan) (Simon and Schuster Audio) | review

This is the Audible edition of Joey Graceffa’s first novel. I enjoyed his previous memoir and I was just as pleased with this book. Although it is published under his name, he didn’t actually write it. He probably came up with the ideas, but I think that it might be written by Laura L. Sullivan because she is thanked at the start. He is more well-known as a YouTuber and this is why I was interested in the book. He is very funny in his videos and he comes up with very creative and exciting ideas. I’m a big fan of his.

In this dystopian future couples are only allowed to have one child because they don’t have enough resources. Almost everything is artificial: the plants, the food, everything. The world was saved by Aaron al Baz. He made the Eco Panopticon which is what keeps the world (and the humans) alive. Rowan is a girl who has lived her life as a second child. Her parents didn’t want to kill her so they kept her hidden and had the birth at home so that no-one would know they had a second child. Rowan is Ash’s twin and they are very close but Rowan wishes that she could go outside the wall and make friends.

So she does. She goes outside and has an huge adventure. She meets Ash’s crush and they fall in love and Rowan kisses Lark (Ash’s crush). But then she gets found out and reported so she needs to hide somewhere. Lachlan takes her into the underground, which is a home for second children, and tortures her to check whether she was actually a normal second child. Second children can be identified by their colourful eyes. At birth all legal children have their eyes protected from the artificial air but people can survive a long time without getting their eyes damaged. They go on an adventure that will save the second children but end up saving the world, solving a mystery and revealing secrets.

I really enjoyed the story because it was full of suspense; the writer managed to fit in a lot of other dilemmas while the main storyline was going on. The vocabulary kept me engaged and made me want to keep listening. I felt the panic in the parts with the wall because you never know whether she’s going to get caught or fall. It is definitely open to sequels: it has an ending that could lead on to another story.

I am not really bothered that Joey Graceffa didn’t write it because it’s fun to know that it is based on his ideas, and even though it’s not written by a YouTuber, it’s still a great book. I enjoyed this so much and I would love to read more books by Laura L. Sullivan and listen to more books read by Sarah Grayson. I think that it is very well read by her. She really makes it feel like Rowan is speaking to you, and she also changes the tone of her voice to show different characters very well. If you are a teenager you will especially enjoy this book, as I did. ***** LCT

This review originally appeared in Theaker's Quarterly Fiction #59, which also included stories by Rafe McGregor, Michael Wyndham Thomas, Jessy Randall, Charles Wilkinson, David Penn, Elaine Graham-Leigh and Chris Roper.

Monday, 17 April 2017

The X-Files, Season 10, by Chris Carter and chums (Ten Thirteen Productions et al.) | review by Stephen Theaker

It took me a little while to warm up to The X-Files when it first began. Round about the episode “Deep Throat” is where I started to become a fan, rather than someone who watched it because my girlfriend was watching it. Before then I had a big problem with the way Mulder would throw lots of so-called evidence at Scully in support of his irrational crackpot theories, evidence that in our world had been totally discredited, and then be proven right by what came next. That led to a resurgent real-world interest in the paranormal, just before mobile phones and their cameras laid ghosts, nessies and bigfeet to rest forever, but I made my peace with it after realising that on Mulder’s Earth there is good evidence, because in his world monsters and aliens do exist. Of course I then became frustrated with the idea of Scully being the rational, scientific one, when she ignores all the evidence – the implication being that in our world that’s what our scientists do with regard to the paranormal. This new season, following hard on the heels of Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny’s showstopping performances in shows like Hannibal and Californication, severely tested the grudging peace I had made with all that. A two-part story, “My Struggle”, where the worst nightmares of anti-vaxxers and rightwing talk show hosts come true, for example, left me very cold, to the extent that I’d call it irresponsible. If it had been good dramatically and creatively, that would have been one thing, but it was like a Syfy original movie written by the kind of people you block on Twitter. Similarly, “Babylon” explores the aftermath of an apparent terrorist bombing, and you wait for the supernatural twist, for our stereotyped assumptions to be undercut... and it doesn’t come. The paranormal element is that Mulder is apparently now able to enter people’s minds, Dreamscape-style, if he takes the right drugs. And don’t get me started on the “everything you know is a lie” bit they try to pull, yet again. Those were three of the worst episodes of the programme to date. But I’m still glad it’s back. I’d rather have Mulder and Scully back for bad episodes than none at all – and the three other episodes of this short series were good enough to outweigh the bad. “Founder’s Mutation” and “Home Again” both delivered a series of good scares, while “Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster”, featuring the hilarious Rhys Darby as a man who turns into a lizard creature, or so it seems, was a delight from start to finish, one of my favourite ever episodes. So a mixed season, but that’s how it often was with The X-Files, and even the bad episodes had their share of startlingly weird imagery. What worked, worked very well. I hope there are more seasons to come. ***

Friday, 14 April 2017

The Dispatcher, by John Scalzi (Audible) | review by Stephen Theaker

This is a two hour twenty minute story, told in the first person and read with gusto by Zachary Quinto (Spock from Star Trek films eleven to thirteen). He plays Tony Valdez, the dispatcher of the title. We first meet him in a hospital, where his presence in the operating theatre is required by the insurers. He’s quite cagey about the precise nature of his job at first, and we know the surgeon isn’t happy about having him in there. Is he there to kill people if the treatment gets too expensive? Is the patient someone of such significance that the staff will be punished if he dies? Or is this like Nick Mamatas’s The Last Weekend, where someone has to drill the deceased before they turn into zombies? We don’t find out until the operation takes a turn for the worse and Tony has to step in to do his thing. His job is interesting, as is the reason it is needed. The story soon segues into a hardboiled search for a missing dispatcher, while exploring throughout the implications of the difference between Tony’s world and ours. The two-hour length reflects how much this resembles the pilot for a television series, with Tony teaming up with a tough female co-star for an adventure that establishes a strong premise, while leaving plenty more to be investigated. It’s good, and very well read. It was free to Audible members at the time of writing, but if it’s not by the time you read this it is well worth one of your Audible tokens. ***

This review originally appeared in Theaker's Quarterly Fiction #59, which also included stories by Rafe McGregor, Michael Wyndham Thomas, Jessy Randall, Charles Wilkinson, David Penn, Elaine Graham-Leigh and Chris Roper.

Friday, 7 April 2017

The Adventures of Roderick Langham: now out, in print and ebook!

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

Roderick Langham is a retired soldier, disgraced police inspector, and reluctant occult detective. He inhabits the world of Sherlock Holmes, investigates cases with John Watson and Sebastian Moran, and is able to perceive the reality concealed by the illusion of everyday appearances. These nine stories follow Langham from his first encounter with the inexplicable in the Himalayan hills to his investigation of the wreck of the Demeter and his growing realisation that the dales, moors, and wolds which surround his Yorkshire refuge are home to an evil far older than the honeycomb of medieval monasteries and Roman ruins suggests.

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. The cover is by Dave Elsey.

Praise for Rafe McGregor’s The Architect of Murder:

“Arthur Conan Doyle is alive and well, and writing under the name Rafe McGregor.” – Tess Gerritsen

“Rafe McGregor is the architect of murderously good historical fiction.” – Gyles Brandreth

“…a fascinating marriage of investigative mayhem with keen attention to historical detail…” – Graham Hurley

“There’s some dandy police procedure…and plenty of interesting characters to carry the story along.” – Bill Crider

“…an exciting read, giving a very authentic flavour of the period…” – Bernard Knight

Review copies available in print, pdf, epub and mobi. Please send requests to

Monday, 3 April 2017

Ms. Marvel Vol. 1: No Normal, by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona (Marvel) | review by Stephen Theaker

Kamala Khan is a smart fifteen-year-old girl, living in New Jersey with loving parents who quite understandably don’t want her going out at night and an older brother who’s keener on virtue than finding a job. She works hard at school, has a pair of good friends, clever Bruno and proud Nakiyi, and somehow deals with the microaggressions of popular white girls without losing her temper. Her hero is Captain Marvel; Kamala’s been known to write quite popular fanfiction where the Avengers protect the My Little Ponies. One night she gets fed up with her parents and sneaks out to what turns out to be a rather crummy party. Nothing bad happens till she is on her way home: the terrigen mists descend, and she wakes up in a black shell, transformed into a younger Captain Marvel. It looks like Kamala is an Inhuman, with shape-changing powers that she’ll explore in a bunch of different ways over the rest of the book. Growing a big hand, looking like a shop window dummy, shrinking to the size of a mouse – she’ll get the hang of it all while amusing the reader and trying to extricate Bruno’s idiot brother from a tight spot. Like the young Peter Parker, she’s a teenage superhero trying to do the right thing despite the pressures and obligations of school, family and friends, and this feels from the off like classic Marvel at its best: contemporary, imaginative, funny and relevant, with excellent artwork. Kamala is an utterly charming fangirl hero, tailor-made for modern teenagers. ****

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Winners of the Theaker's Quarterly Awards 2017

As announced in Theaker's Quarterly Fiction #59, these are the winners of the Theaker's Quarterly Awards 2017.


  • 1st The Brenda and Effie Mysteries: Spicy Tea and Sympathy, by Paul Magrs (Bafflegab Productions)
  • 2nd Doctor Who and the Ark in Space, by Ian Marter (BBC/Audible)
  • 3rd Vince Cosmos: Glam Rock Detective, by Paul Magrs (Bafflegab Productions)


  • 1st Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe, by Thomas Ligotti (Penguin Classics)
  • 2nd The Last Weekend, by Nick Mamatas (PS Publishing)
  • 3rd Slow Bullets, by Alastair Reynolds (Tachyon Publications)


  • 1st The Glorkian Warrior and the Mustache of Destiny, by James Kochalka (First Second)
  • 2nd Ms. Marvel Vol. 1: No Normal, by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona (Marvel)
  • 3rd The Savage Sword of Conan, Vol. 14, by Charles Dixon, Gary Kwapisz, Ernie Chan and chums (Dark Horse Books)


  • 1st Captain America: Civil War, by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (Marvel Entertainment et al.)
  • 2nd Star Wars: The Force Awakens, by Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams and Michael Arndt (Lucasfilm et al.)
  • 3rd X-Men: Apocalypse, by Simon Kinberg (Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation et al.)


  • 1st Trials Fusion Awesome Max Edition, by RedLynx (Ubisoft)
  • 2nd Rare Replay, by Rare (Microsoft Studios)
  • 3rd Saints Row IV: Re-Elected, by Volition Software (Deep Silver)


  • 1st It Follows: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, by Disasterpeace (Milan Records)
  • 2nd —
  • 3rd —


  • 1st Doctor Who, Season 9, by Steven Moffat and friends (BBC)
  • 2nd The Flash, Season 1, by Andrew Kreisberg and many others (Warner Bros Television)
  • 3rd Penny Dreadful, Season 2, by John Logan and chums (Sky Atlantic)

Issue of TQF

  • 1st Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction #56, edited by Stephen Theaker and John Greenwood
  • 2nd Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction #54, edited by Stephen Theaker and John Greenwood
  • 3rd Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction #57, edited by Stephen Theaker and John Greenwood

TQF cover art

  • 1st Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction #56, art by Howard Watts
  • 2nd Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction #55, art by Howard Watts
  • 3rd Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction #57, art by Howard Watts

Fiction from TQF

  • 1st The Policeman and the Silence, by Patrick Whittaker
  • 2nd Septs, by Charles Wilkinson
  • 3rd Nold, by Stephen Theaker
Congratulations to all the winners and runners-up!

Items were eligible for our awards if they were reviewed in our magazine during 2016, whatever their original year of publication, or published in 2016, in the case of the TQF-specific awards. Our readers and the public were then able to vote for as many items in each category as they wanted.  To break any ties we referred to our reviewers’ star ratings, where relevant, and if that didn’t do the trick we invited Alexa to roll a dice with a suitable number of sides.

To claim their prestigious Theaker’s Quarterly Awards, pictured below, winners should email us at with an address to which we can send them.

Friday, 31 March 2017

Theaker's Quarterly Fiction #59: now out!

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

Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction #59 is now out! This issue, one of our best ever, contains seven short stories, all of them likely to amaze: “The Devil’s Hollow” by Rafe McGregor, “Give You a Game?” by Michael Wyndham Thomas, “The Baby Downstairs” by Jessy Randall, “The Constant Providers” by Charles Wilkinson, “Man + Van” by David Penn, “The Night They Sacked New Rome” by Elaine Graham-Leigh and “Anathema: The Underside” by Chris Roper. The issue also features the announcement of the first annual Theaker’s Quarterly Award winners, and an essay on fake internet reviews, plus a selection of the fake reviews we wrote to raise money for Comic Relief on Red Nose Day.

Then there are ninety pages of real reviews, by Stephen Theaker, Jacob Edwards, Douglas J. Ogurek and Rafe McGregor.

We review books and audios from Joey Graceffa, John Scalzi, James Lovegrove, Emily Foster, Greg Egan, Nick Mamatas, Bruce Campbell, S.T. Joshi, Oliver Langmead, Bruce Sterling, Lisa A. Koosis, Kai Ashante Wilson and Matthew Hughes; comics including Marceline Gone Adrift, Bloodshot: Reborn, The Complete Scarlet Traces, Groo: Fray of the Gods, The Great Darkness Saga, and X-Men: Legacy; films including Assassin’s Creed (reviewed in verse!), The Bye Bye Man, Get Out, Kong: Skull Island, The Lego Batman Movie, Logan, Rogue One, Spectral, and Split; plus a whole bunch of television programmes: Ash vs Evil Dead, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, Doctor Who: The Power of the Daleks, The Expanse, iZombie, The Man in the High Castle, Sherlock, and Westworld. The spectacular wraparound cover is by Howard Watts.

Here are the wise and generous contributors to this issue:

Charles Wilkinson’s publications include The Pain Tree and Other Stories (London Magazine Editions), Ag & Au (a pamphlet of poems from Flarestack), and his collection of strange tales and weird fiction, A Twist in the Eye, now out from Egaeus Press. His stories have appeared in Best Short Stories 1990 (Heinemann), Best English Short Stories 2 (W.W. Norton), Unthology (Unthank Books), Best British Short Stories 2015 (Salt) and Best Weird Fiction 2015 (Undertow Books), as well as in genre magazines/anthologies such as Black Static, Supernatural Tales, Horror Without Victims, The Dark Lane Anthology, Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction, Phantom Drift, Bourbon Penn, Shadows & Tall Trees, and Nightscript. He lives in Powys, Wales.

Chris Roper is a copywriter living in London. He writes as much as he can in his spare time, exorcising horrible thoughts and bad dreams by committing them to paper. When not writing, he’s admonishing himself for not writing, which in turn leads him to red wine and Asian holidays.

David Penn’s short stories have appeared in the magazines Midnight Street, Whispers of Wickedness and previously in Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction, and his poems in Magma, Smith’s Knoll and the Poetry School anthology I Am Twenty People (Enitharmon, 2007). He lives in London, where he also works as a librarian.

Douglas J. Ogurek’s work has appeared in the BFS Journal, The Literary Review, Morpheus Tales, Gone Lawn, and several anthologies. Douglas’s website can be found at

Elaine Graham-Leigh is a writer and campaigner based in London. When not bringing down the system from within, she writes speculative fiction and has had previous stories published in Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction, Jupiter SF, Bewildering Stories and The Harrow. Her website:

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

Jacob Edwards also writes 42-word reviews for Derelict Space Sheep. This writer, poet and recovering lexiphanicist’s website is at He has a Facebook page at, where he posts poems and the occasional oddity, and he can now be found on Twitter too:

Jessy Randall’s science fiction stories and poems have appeared in Asimov’s, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Strange Horizons, and Theaker’s (“The Night of Red Butterflies”, December 2013). Her most recent book is Suicide Hotline Hold Music, a collection of poems and comics. She is a librarian at Colorado College and her website is

Michael Wyndham Thomas’s novels include The Mercury Annual and Pilgrims at the White Horizon, and his poetry collections include Port Winston Mulberry, Batman’s Hill, South Staffs, Come to Pass and The Stations of the Day. His work has appeared in The Antioch Review, Critical Survey, The London Magazine, Magazine Six, Stand Magazine and the TLS. His novella “Esp” was shortlisted for the UK Novella Award. He is currently working on Nowherian, the fictionalised memoir of a Grenadian traveller. Twitter: @thomasmichaelw. Blog: Website:

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.

Stephen Theaker is the co-editor of Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction, and the father of two amazing super-friends, one of whom also contributes a review to this issue.

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

Monday, 27 March 2017

Captain Midnight, Vol. 1: On the Run, by Joshua Williamson, Fernando Dagnino and chums (Dark Horse Books) | review by Stephen Theaker

I loved Chuck Dixon’s Airboy series from the eighties, so this book’s similar mix of superplanes and superheroics really appealed to me. Captain Midnight was a hero back in World War II, who fought the Nazis with his engineering genius, two strong fists, a suit that didn’t let him fly but did let him glide, and his allies, the Secret Squadron. They kept going after he went missing, but now, decades later, he’s back, flying out of a storm in the Bermuda Triangle to land on the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan. The authorities are suspicious, his friends are all elderly, and his enemies are still up to no good. This first volume only collects four issues, but it’s a good introduction to the character. We get to see what he’s about, what keeps him going, and why we’d be interested in reading more about him. His return to action after a long absence obviously has strong echoes of Captain America, and fans of Tom Strong and Miracleman might also notice some similarities, but it feels fresh and fun, not least in the way Captain Midnight swoops and soars. Like Batroc with his leaping, or going up and down the half-pipe in a Tony Hawks game, there’s a joy in the sheer physics of it. ***

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Three books by Howard Phillips #rednosereviews #rednoseday

Just as time was about to run out on Red Nose Day, leaving us cruelly just short of our target of one hundred pounds, our frequent contributor Howard Phillips jumped in with a last-minute donation. So here is our last review of the day, of the three novels he has completed: His Nerves Extruded, The Doom That Came to Sea Base Delta, and The Day the Moon Wept Blood. For boring business reasons (Howard lost all copyright in his work to me in a late-night game of Adventure Time Fluxx) these were all eventually published under my name, but they are all Howard's work, unmistakably so!

His Nerves Extruded is not the first book in the series. That was The Ghastly Mountain, which was never finished. But despite that this remains a brilliant introduction…

No, I can't do this.

It's one thing to write fake reviews of books that I haven't read, but I have read these Howard Phillips books, and I know how ropey they are. Can I really pretend that they're any good? He did make his donation at the last minute, and so, as I write this, it's no longer Red Nose Day, so strictly speaking I'm no longer obliged to give everything a glowing review. In fact, I think you would be disappointed if I did. So let's get back to normal:

His Nerves Extruded is a book by Howard Phillips about his own adventures, which you may or may not choose to believe. Whether it really happened or not, the way in which he parades around England with a troupe of paid palanquinettes is undeniably sexist. That the writer includes a photographer in the group and promptly forgets about his presence says a lot about how much thought went into the book.

The Doom That Came to Sea Base Delta sees Howard take his meandering adventures down into an undersea base, after a baffling interlude behind the scenes of Late Night with David Letterman. The book wants to be The Thing in an underwater base, but never rises to the level of Plan 9 from Outer Space in a bucket. There's an important chapter towards the end that Howard never got around to writing.

The Day the Moon Wept Blood is perhaps the most preposterous of them all. It's all about a terrible writer (it takes one to know one!) who steals a book from the British Library and plots the assassination of the central figure in English literature, whose surprising identity I will leave readers to discover for themselves. It's clear throughout that the author made no attempt to research the book's various settings.

All three books share a level of self-indulgence that is almost impossible to credit, a belief in the power of poetry that makes a mockery of that noble art, and a tendency to skip over events because the author doesn't feel like writing them. All pretend to be true, but all were written in less than a month and it shows. Do not read these books unless you are a glutton for punishment.

I give them all one red nose to share between them.

You can buy the books here: His Nerves Extruded, The Doom That Came to Sea Base Delta, and The Day the Moon Wept Blood.

NB: this is a fake internet review, written for fun for Red Nose Day. It's our last one. Thank you to everyone who donated, helping us reach our target of £100. Not bad for a niche fundraising concept that couldn't be explained in under twenty minutes and massively limited the number of people likely to sponsor us!

This is the Quickest Way Down by Charles Christian #rednosereviews #rednoseday

Charlie Christian was a swing and jazz guitarist who played an important role in bebop and cool jazz, and he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990, 48 years after his death. There is a street named after him in Oklahoma City, and he played with Count Basie and Benny Goodman, among others. He is seen as an influence on everyone from Eddie Cochran and Chuck Berry to Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis.

But this book is not by Charlie Christian, it is by Charles Christian. Whether they are related or not we can't say, but it's not hard to imagine the author of this book tapping away at his keyboard while the electric guitar of his namesake works some cool moves in the background. A book of fiction is a lot like a piece of jazz music. You might start off with a plan, you might even know every event that is going to happen, but the only way to get there from here is by improvising every word as you go along.

You may have noticed the remarkably beautiful woman on the book's cover. I know this reviewer did. While I count myself lucky to have married a brown-skinned woman, and indeed would have counted myself lucky to have married a woman of any skin colour, I must confess to a particular fondness for blue and green-skinned ladies, such as the Asari from Mass Effect, and the Orions from Star Trek. In any video game where you can create your own character, my first impulse is always to recreate my wife, since who else would I want to spend forty hours staring at on screen? But there's a good chance her skin will turn blue given the opportunity.

So the book got off to a good start with me. Then, inside, it sprinted to an amazing finish, with stories like "The End of Flight Number 505", "Confessions of a Teenage Ghost-Hunter", "A Baretta for Azraella" and "By the Steps of Villefranche Station" showing just what a short story can do, and how it can do it! There are thirteen stories in this collection, but if that's unlucky for anyone it's not the reader. This book gets five red noses out of five from me. What's more, it's available for just 99p! Just make your next Amazon order a no-rush delivery and you'll get that much back in promotional vouchers to spend on this book!

If you've ever wondered what a book of short stories written by a former practising barrister and Reuters correspondent turned technology journalist and poet would be like, wait no longer. It's right here! And it can be read on an unlimited number of Kindle devices too, with text-to-speech enabled. What more could you ask for?

You can buy the book here.

NB: this is a fake internet review, written for fun without having read the book to raise money on Red Nose Day.

Friday, 24 March 2017

All Good Things: The Last SFX Visions by David Langford #rednosereviews

As every author secretly knows in their heart, the raison d’être of the reviewer is revenge. Each review is an opportunity to strike back against a literary overclass that refuses to accept us in its ranks, a blow against the publishers who rejected our carefully-crafted works of art, a signifier to our readers that although we are not yet famous for our own work, any book we wrote would of course be better than the book we are reviewing, because we are clever enough to see its flaws where its own author could not. We prove ourselves superior with every review, and what’s more our review takes mere hours if not minutes to write, while the slovenly author takes months if not years to produce the slabs of bookmeat poured into our grinders.

Sometimes, though, it’s more specific than that. More personal. The reviewer, happily working his way through the pile of to-be-reads and sorting them into the read-in-beds and the better-off-deads, comes across a book by an author who has earned his enmity, his anger, his wrath, his undying thirst for literary vengeance. Maybe this new book was written by someone who, a mere fifteen years before, described the reviewer’s second self-published book as “a Stainless Steel Rat adventure with important organs missing”. Or perhaps this new book was written by someone who said it was dire, “mercifully short”, or “memorably forgettable”, or at their kindest said it was “refreshingly pointless”.

Perhaps this crucifying review appeared in a nationally-published magazine by the name of SFX, and perhaps this new book is a collection of one hundred columns from that magazine. Perhaps. And perhaps then the reviewer begins to sharpen his hatchets, cleans off the blood, lays out the plastic sheeting, and prepares to go to work on the unwitting spawn of a mortal enemy.

But sadly for the bloodthirsty, for all those who like to think ill of reviewers, who don’t grant us the ability to put away our prejudices and give every book a fair chance, that’s where the story takes an unexpected turn, since the reviewer then finds the contents of this book to be as aggravatingly wise, funny and enlightening as all the other Langford columns he read, those that appeared in the first hundred issues of SFX (the issues he read before he let his subscription lapse, tired of learning the plots of television programmes two years before they appeared on British television).

And at that point the poor reviewer, frustrated in his desire to retaliate, his need to lash out, is forced to admit that the two stars he received from David Langford were at least double what his book deserved, while All Good Things: The Last SFX Visions deserves at least double the maximum five red noses he is allowed to award it, and the reviewer is forced to declare it essential reading for anyone who wants to know what’s what in the world of science fiction.

Available in paperback and in a limited edition signed hardback. Buy it here.

NB: this is a fake internet review, written for fun without having read the book to raise money for Comic Relief.

Clovenhoof and the Trump of Doom by Heide Goody and Iain Grant #rednosereviews #rednoseday

This is the latest in a series of hilarious short books about Jeremy Clovenhoof, the earthly incarnation of the devil himself, Satan! Now, you might be getting nervous, casting a concerned glance up at the crucifix hanging on your wall, worrying that this book is in some way blasphemous, but the bible doesn't mention the devil having any cloven hoofs so it's probably not the same guy. Or is it? What was the greatest trick he ever pulled, eh? We should be careful, lest we end up reading a book that leads us down the garden path. All that's waiting down there is the Cottingley fairies!

Back to the book. This is up to the minute hot off the presses satire: Nostradamus foretold the barmy presidency of Donald Trump and the barminess of Brexit. The Archangel Michael will try to undo Brexit through the power of song (though perhaps he would have been better off finding a decent candidate for leader of the Conservative party who was willing to oppose it) while Clovenhoof goes to the United States to stop Trump becoming president. You may watch the news and think, sorry, Clovenhoof, too late, but this book, published by Pigeon Park Press, gives us hope that it can still be stopped. If you believe Clovenhoof exists, it's not too hard to imagine he has time travel powers and can still undo all of this.

The book begins in Sutton Coldfield, which is a great place for a book to begin. When I was there I found the best ever discount book store, and spent about a hundred pounds buying virtually everything in the Virgin Doctor Who line that I didn't yet own, including several hardback non-fiction titles and paperbacks that have since become exceedingly rare. The shop shut down within a week or two, leaving me to wonder ever since whether it was really there. Back then the high street also had a McDonald's where I would have a cheeseburger and small fries while reading the Independent, before, in good weather, heading over to the bench by the church to read a book, or, in bad weather, going into the library to read a book.

It's terribly sad that the library is now closing, as I spent many happy pages there. If only Clovenhoof could have done something about that, as well as fixing Trump and Brexit, this superb book would have been even better, but it would be unfair to mark down an otherwise exceptional and hilarious book for something so far out of its control, so it gets a rollicking five red noses out of five from me.

You can buy the book here.

NB: this is a fake internet review, written for fun without having read the book on Red Nose Day.

Sea-Girt Jungles by Cyril Collenette #rednosereviews #rednoseday

This book, subtitled The Experiences of a Naturalist with the "St. George" Expedition, was written by Cyril Leslie Collenette, a naturalist (i.e. someone who studies nature, not someone who takes their clothes off in public) who lived from 1888 to 1959, and it was published in 1926 – the year my alma mater Reading University received its charter!

It describes the highlights of an 1924 expedition that went to Madeira and Trinidad, then through the Panama Canal to some islands in the Pacific that were at the time less frequently visited. After that came the famous Galapagos Islands, the Marquesas Islands, the Tuamata Atolls, Tahiti, the Austral Islands and Rapa Nui (Easter Island). On some of these islands were the jungles of the book's title, surrounded as they were by the ocean.

Collenette was a fellow of the Entomological Society, and so his professed interest was in finding examples of butterflies, moths and beetles, though rumour has it that he also took quite an interest in a rather more sophisticated lifeform: Cynthia Longfield! She went on to a glittering career of her own, becoming known as Madam Dragonfly for her research on that creature.

The book does not mention his reaction upon returning to the United Kingdom to discover that, during his absence from these shores, the Sunday Express had become the first newspaper to publish a crossword. One is left to wonder also how he felt about the news that Eric Liddell had won the four hundred metre gold at the Paris Olympics while setting a new world record, that fridges were now on sale, that fellow explorers George Mallory and Andrew Irvine had met their doom on Mount Everest, and that the first naturist (i.e. people who take their clothes off in public, not people who study nature) camp had been established in Wickford, Essex. We can only speculate.

Collenette was known for collecting pteridophytes and spermatophytes, and went on to publish books about the Ruwemzori expeditions of 1934-1935 and 1952 as well as the H.E.K. Jordan expedition to Angola. There had been hope that the 1924 expedition would discover buried treasure, which if it had happened would have made this already brilliant book even better. It did not, but Collenette was after all more interested in the bugs than the bounty, and so this book remains a fitting legacy. It gets five red noses out of five.

You can buy the book here.

NB: this is a fake internet review, written for fun on Red Nose Day, although the facts above are probably accurate. The actual book review from which many of them were taken can be read here.

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.