Introduction to 13: Tales of Dark Fiction (excerpt from the book) ................................................................ ..................................................................... 2 THEME PLANET By Andy Remic ................................................................................................................................ ................................ .................................................... 2 BLOODRUSH By Bryan Smith................................................................................................................................ ................................ .......................................................... 3 THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF BEST NEW HORROR Edited By Stephen Jones ............................................................................. ................................ 3 DEAD TOWN By K.C. Elliot ................................................................................................................................ ................................ ............................................................. 3 Kachina Dechert Interview By Trevor Wright ................................................................................................ .................................................................... 5 ANNO FRANKENSTEIN By Jonathan Green ................................................................................................ ................................................................... 6 HOW I SOLD 1 MILLION E BOOKS IN 5 MONTHS! By John Locke ................................................................ ........................................................... 6 MANHATTAN IN RESERVE By Peter F. Hamilton ................................................................................................ ........................................................ 7 From the Catacombs: Series or Serial By Jim Lesniak ................................................................................................ ....................................................... 7 ROCK N’ ROLL IS DEAD: TALES INSPIRED BY MUSIC ................................................................ ........................................................................... 9 STUPEFYING TALES (Volume 1, Number 1) ................................................................................................ ................................................................ 10 KATJA FROM THE PUNK BAND By Simon Logan ................................................................................................ ..................................................... 10 ETHEREAL TALES #12 ................................................................................................................................ ................................ .................................................................. 10 Andy Remic Interview ................................................................ ................................................................................................ ...................................................................... 12 THE SHADOW OF THE UNKNOWN Edited By A. J. French ................................................................ ...................................................................... 14 Ramblings of a Tattooed Head By Simon Marshall-Jones Marshall ................................................................................................ ................................................ 14 SOLARIS RISING Edited By Ian Whates ................................................................................................ ................................ ........................................................................ 15 STRICKEN By Sean A. Lusher ................................................................................................................................ ................................ ........................................................ 16 KULTUS By Richard Ford ................................................................................................................................ ................................ ............................................................... 16 RED STATE ................................................................ ................................................................................................................................ ..................................................... 16 Coping with Obscurity in the Horror Market By Alan Spencer ................................................................ ........................................................................ 17 REDLAW By James Lovegrove ................................................................................................................................ ................................ ....................................................... 19 HEIRS OF THE BLADE By Adrian Tchaikovsky ................................................................................................ ........................................................... 19 Interview with Lyle Blackburn lead singer for Ghoultown By Eris S Brown ................................................................ ................................................... 19 REALITY 36 By Guy Haley ................................................................................................................................ ................................ ............................................................. 23 KING DEATH By Paul Finch................................................................................................................................ ................................ ........................................................... 23 THE SAVAGE KNIGHT By Paul Lewis ................................................................................................ ................................ ......................................................................... 23 SKULL FEEDER By Pamela Chillemi-Yeager Yeager and Dana Joseph Schaff ................................................................ ......................................................... 23 DARK WATERS By Peter Mark May ................................................................................................ ................................ ............................................................................. 23 Interview rview with Bruce Bethke by C.M. Saunders November 2011 ................................................................ .................................................................... 24 HOUSE OF FEAR Edited By Jonathan Oliver ................................................................................................ ................................................................. 28 DOUBLE DEAD By Chuck Wendig ................................................................................................................................ ................................ ................................................ 28 My Scariest Scary Movie By Trevor Wright................................ ................................................................................................ ..................................................................... 30 DANGEROUS WATERS By Juliet E. McKenna................................................................................................ ............................................................. 31 GIANT THIEF By David Tallerman ................................................................................................................................ ................................ ................................................ 31 Mark Morris Interview ................................................................ ................................................................................................ ...................................................................... 31 THE HOWLING REBORN ................................................................................................................................ ................................ .............................................................. 36 MERKABAH RIDER 2: THE MENSCH WITH NO NAME By Edward M. Erdelac .................................................................... ................................ 38 2011: A year in reviews By Stanley Riiks ................................................................................................ ................................ ......................................................................... 38 Edited By Stanley Riiks, Written By Adrian Brady, Eric S. Brown, Brown Jim Lesniak, Simon Marshall-Jones, Stanley Riiks, C.M. C Saunders, Brett Taylor, J. S. Watts and Trevor Wright, Proof-read By Sheri White, Craig Saunders, Samuel Diamond. ©Morpheus Tales Jan. 2012 201
Introduction to 13: Tales of Dark Fiction (excerpt from the book) An original anthology of dark fiction. I thought it would be a good idea. It was better than I ever imagined. I wrote a wish list, authors I admired, authors I dreamed of working with. Names I knew would never let me publish them. How wrong I was. Writers want to write. If you give them the freedom and the opportunity to tell a story they grasp it. The stories in this book are written by authors, both established and up-and-coming, who inspire me, thrill me, excite me and scare me. The number 13 is considered to be an unlucky number in some countries. There is even a recognized phobia, Triskaidekaphobia. During the last supper there were thirteen people around the table. The Knights Templar arrests were sanctioned by King Philip IV of France on Friday the 13th, October 1307. Thirteen moons instead of the 12 caused headaches for monks working on calendars who considered it an “unfortunate circumstance.” But the alternative community has taken 13 as their number. Tattooists consider 13 their symbol. Italy thinks of 13 as a lucky number. On a more personal note, my sister was born on the 13th. As was Taylor Swift, you decide for yourself if that is unlucky or not! 13 is an original anthology of dark fiction: dark SF, dark fantasy and horror. Thirteen dark stories by thirteen (surprisingly nice and welladjusted) authors, the anthology includes tales of murder, hurt, music, loss, writing, pain, murder, insanity, Sasquatch... Thirteen very different stories, offering a range of dark fiction, to draw you in, to creep you out, to send shivers down your spine... To entertain you. Adam Bradley
13 Tales of Dark Fiction Available from lulu.com and all good booksellers www.lulu.com/product/paperback/13-tales-of-darkfiction/18720432 Available as an ebooks in many formats: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/110688
Available on Amazon Kindle: http://www.amazon.co.uk/13-Tales-Dark-Fictionebook/dp/B006J6QV4I/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid= 1323345709&sr=8-1 http://www.amazon.com/13-Tales-Dark-Fictionebook/dp/B006J6QV4I/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid= 1323353440&sr=8-4 Soon available elsewhere! THEME PLANET By Andy Remic www.solarisbooks.com The latest blockbuster from actioner Andy Remic returns to SF after the truly brilliant Clockwork Vampire trilogy. Set in the future, Theme Planet is a total holiday planet, with awesome rollercoasters, beautiful beaches, and AI to look after the kids. Dexter Colls think it’s a hellish way to spend the next four weeks, but the London cop is persuaded to go by his two daughters and his wife on the holiday of a lifetime. A futuristic family holiday to a rollercoasterfilled world doesn’t seem like a typical Remic novel. But when you add in killer-assassin androids, world-wide conspiracies, kidnap, murder, chases, pain and war, things start getting exciting. Andy Remic exciting. Coll wakes up to find his wife and children missing and every robot, AI and Theme Planet employee trying to kill him. For those who have not read an Andy Remic novel (and why not?), they are fiercely actionfueled. Forget edge of the seat, these are seat of your pants books, and Theme Planet is no different. But don’t just expect full-on action - Remic is the total package; his characters are not just good, they are memorable. Their pain is our pain. And his plotting... Well, this book has more twists and turns (shocking twists and turns!), than a demented acidtripping rollercoaster (just the kind they have on Theme Planet!). If you have not yet read an Andy Remic novel, then please, please, please read one. Remic
writes thrilling novels, SF/thriller/fantasy/horror; he is unstoppable, as are his novels. You cannot put down a Remic novel ’til it’s finished with you. Brutally violent, intelligently manipulative, a thrillride, Although I don’t think Theme Planet is Remic at his best, , this is a book that’s a joy to read, as entertaining as anything on Theme Planet. However, Kell the Legend continues to reign as my favourite Remic novel. This is the first volume in a new series, and I eagerly await the second book. Remic delivers, a full punch in the face of a book. Love it! By Stanley Riiks BLOODRUSH By Bryan Smith www.deliriumbooks.com I confess I had a C.S. Lewis moment when this novella was passed to me for review. You know, the frequently told story that his response to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings was along the lines of “Oh no, not more bloody elves”. As I was given Bloodrush, the thought “Oh dear, not more bloody vampires” was foremost in my mind. Unfortunately, my sense of foreboding turns out to have been justified. Bloodrush is yet another vampire story and it is decidedly bloody. If arterial blood spurts, decapitation and other assorted dismemberments, rape fantasy and necrophilia are your thing, then you may well enjoy this book. It is quite well written, I’ll give it that. This so-so tale of a newly turned vampire exploring the events of his turning and eventually finding himself and a possible new future amongst the carnage, did little or nothing for me, but I’m not a blood and guts horror fan. I like my horror spooky, scary and subtle, as opposed to a fun day out playing with the offal in the abattoir. With minimal plot and even less character development, this is definitely one for vampire and gore aficionados and, given the priapic focus of the narrator, primarily male gore fans at that. I fall short on all counts. This was so not my pint of blood, but I guess there will be those amongst you who lap this sort of thing up. J. S. Watts THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF BEST NEW HORROR Edited By Stephen Jones www.constablerobinson.com No books have ever defined a genre as well as the annual Mammoth collection by Stephen Jones. For twenty-two years he had provided the yearly bible of short horror fiction. The list of contributors over the
years contains almost every writer you will have heard of and so many that you won’t have. From established writers, to up and comers, to stars of the small press and bonefide legends, you know you have made it in horror when you appear in this book. The current five hundred and something pages contain a similar wide range, but with one thing in common: absolute talent. Michael Marshall Smith and Garry Kilworth provide suitably menacing stories, and it’s nice to see tales from Joe R. Lansdale and Norman Partridge. When a book says on the back that it’s the world’s leading annual anthology you usually take it with a pinch of salt, but in this case there is no marketing hype. The best value for money, the best horror anthology, the best annual, the twenty-second edition of what is simply the best horror anthology. Every horror reader must have a copy. By Adrian Brady DEAD TOWN By K.C. Elliot www.damnationbooks.com Dead Town, partially based on real events, according to the accompanying notes and introduction, tells the twisted story of a satanic serial killer and Cuchero, a forgotten ghost town in New Mexico. Having already butchered sixty victims the killer is caught before he can achieve the mystical number of sixty-six kills he need to win ultimate favour with the devil. Cuchero was his killing ground, and when the town is bought by a budding entrepreneur who moves in with his dog to fix the place up for tourists, he finds the killer’s sweetheart and partner-in-crime, a burned-out meth addict, resident just down the road. He invites a TV crew to the town to film for a ghost-busting documentary, and that is when things begin to turn bad... This is a decent, fast-moving read, but the plot reaches a little in places and none of the characters are what you would call likeable. Also, there are more than a few questions left unanswered at the end of the book. The other mildly irritating thing about Dead Town is the amount of typos and editing glitches that appear in the text. Commas placed, where they shouldn’t be and then omitted from points where their presence could be of some benefit unnecessary spaces and even editorial notes for heaven’s sake. You can forgive one or two oversights, but when you pay good money for a product this amount of mistakes is unforgivable. Especially when the end of the book doesn’t even make sense. By C.M. Saunders
Kachina Dechert Interview By Trevor Wright Growing up, were you a fan of horror movies? And if so, which ones were your favourites? My dad would sit my sister and I down and make us watch scary movies with him all the time, so of course we would. My mum would get pissed because we’d both have nightmares for days because of it, lo but I loved watching them! The two I remember being scared shitless of most were Pumpkin Head and Steven King’s The Langoliers. The guy ripping the paper over and over again... ahhh it still makes me cringe! How did you start in modelling and did this lead to acting? Modelling came after acting; they definitely both go hand in hand. I needed to get head shots taken for acting submissions and the photographer said, “Why aren’t you modelling?!” I think I laughed a little and said, “I don’t know, I guess I never thought about it.” He then proceeded to tell me about some sites where local models, photographers. makeup artists and hairstylists go to put their work up, one of them being ModelMayhem.com. So I signed up, put some photos on, got lots of e-mails with proposals and ideas, and of course being careful with the ones I chose to do I started shooting. Then after I had enough photos that I loved and was proud of, I started looking for representation and now I’m represented by my modelling agent, Maggie Inc, and have gotten lots of work from them. We’ve worked together on The Green Monster. Was this your first role? What was the experience like for you? Yes, The Green Monster was my very first role. It was a ton of fun! I remember auditioning for the part. I think I went to read for the role twice. It was so thrilling and exciting and I was nervous, but the whole time I knew I had the part - I could feel it. It was a great production, everyone was very professional, we were all learning and I think have all come so far since then.
What is Blood Sin? When and where can we see it? Bloody Sin is a Boston University short film I just completed. It is a thriller about a girl vampire who doesn't want to kill to feed anymore. She has only one friend who she can trust. He brings her blood, but when people at his job start noticing missing blood bags, he is then forced to stop, leaving her starving and uncontrollable. It is being entered into festivals and I will also be putting a clip of it up on my website, so you can also check it out there. Do you see yourself continuing to work in horror films or would you like to predominately do other genres? Since The Green Monster I’ve done many different genres including sci-fi, thriller, romantic, comedy, action and of course more horror. I’m always looking to broaden my horizons but when another opportunity comes along to work on another horror film, I will gladly accept. What exciting projects are in store for Kachina Dechert? I have just wrapped on two films in which I play the lead. Both should be out by Christmas. I also just wrapped doing Salma Hayek’s stunt doubling. I’m now on the Adam Sandler film and going to lots of auditions. I have some booked print work coming up and a couple of films lined up to start pre-production within the next month. I’m always on the lookout for new projects to be apart of :) This magazine does a lot of interviews with horror authors and publishes a lot of horror fiction. Do you have a favourite horror author and/or book? Well, I’d love to say I read a ton but I don’t. Do picture books count? Haha - only kidding. I really envy readers! For some reason I just get bored and restless while reading, so I end up going to the kitchen, making a cup of tea, forgetting all about the book and moving on to something else. The only book that has ever gotten my full attention was The Diary of Anne Frank. I was so
engrossed by it I literally had to sit there and read the whole thing! So, anyways, I guess for my favourite horror author it would have to date back to late public school when each month was a different “Goosebumps” book by R.L. Stein for my book reports in English class... And even then, my sister usually ended up doing them for me. Where can your fans go to learn more about you? You can go to my website: www.KachinaDechert.com You can also find me on IMDB and Facebook under Kachina Dechert... The full interview is available in Scream Queens: The Final Chapter, free to read and download here: http://issuu.com/morpheustales/docs/screamqueenst hefinalchapterfull Or buy the printer version here: www.lulu.com/spotlight/morpheustales ANNO FRANKENSTEIN By Jonathan Green www.abaddonbooks.com Very much a book of two halves, the first half is a rip-roaring pulp-style Second World War action adventure as Hercules Quicksilver is sent to Nazi Germany with Dr Jekyll in an effort to stop Hitler’s Frankenstein Corp of undead soldiers by destroying the factory. Things don’t start well when the airship taking them to Frankenstein’s Castle is shot down, but the soldiers sent in to kill Jekyll are mysteriously dispatched before Hercules can get there. Throw in a group beautiful lady spies, vampires and werewolves, along with the usual clutch of evil Nazi’s and scientists, and you have a book unafraid of being over-the-top and having a load of fun doing it. Then everything comes a bit unstuck. The second half of the book introduces us to Patient Zero, Ulysses Quicksilver (Hercules’ father) who has followed his enemy Daniel Dashwood from the
future. (This must have all happened in a previous book because apart from a brief mention of Dashwood in the first chapter there’s no other mention of them.) This makes for an awkward and disjointed continuation. The fact that Hercules doesn’t know that Ulysses is his son and has to be referred to as Shelley, and that Hyde becomes a hero, saving the day far too often, just feels a little wrong. The second half of the book feels shoehorned into what was a perfectly adequate short novel, and turns it into something entirely different. It’s still fun, but not so much. The second half drags on, the plot becomes much weaker as events are led by the interloper and nothing is as organised or thought-out as previously. What could have been a fun and exciting book is almost ruined by a second half that takes things too far, becoming almost ridiculous. Green is a decent writer, and the first half of this ensemble piece is great fun to begin with. Sadly the second half is weak, shoe-horned into place to make the book relevant to the Quicksilver series. Could have been much better. But still not bad. By Stanley Riiks HOW I SOLD 1 MILLION E BOOKS IN 5 MONTHS! By John Locke Anyone with even a passing interest in either the art of writing or the world of publishing should read this book. This guy caused a stir when he really did shift 1 million-plus units of one of his novels in just a few months in the first half of 2011, the first selfpublished author to do so. At one time he occupied the top two slots in the Amazon bestseller lists, and had a total of eight releases in the top 50, as we are constantly reminded throughout. I have no problem with the guy basking in his own achievements, but all the self-congratulatory remarks do tend to grate after a while, even if he makes crude attempts at balancing things out with a spot of light selfdeprecation from time to time. There is even a painfully conspicuous section entitled ‘This is Not an Ego Book’. He’s obviously feeling pretty proud of himself, and why the hell not? But do we really need to be told the same thing a dozen times? In the introduction Locke also gallantly defends charging so much money for a short book. If you want a longer read, he says (paraphrasing) read it twice. So there. There is even a Q & A section where one of the questions he asks himself is ‘How does it feel to have a best-selling novel?’ At various points throughout Locke is at pains to explain to us just how good a businessman he is by stating his achievements and honours in order to
further enhance his credibility, and you get the impression that John Locke is one of those annoying individuals who are just good at everything they do. Lets give credit where it’s due, he was a self-made millionaire by the age of 28. Something else that grates is the flippant use of exclamation marks! They are everywhere! So it resembles more of a marketing brochure than a book! Which, you could argue, it is. After the slightly annoying intro Locke goes on to explain in detail the methods and execution that led to him selling so many 99c classics. Which, by the way, I am not going to reveal here. If you want to know the secret, you can spend $4.99 on it like I bloody did. By C.M. Saunders MANHATTAN IN RESERVE By Peter F. Hamilton www.panmacmillan.com Hamilton is known for his epic space operas, his most recent series being the Void Trilogy. Thousands of pages of intricately plotted, characterdriven SF. His last collection of short stories was thirteen years ago. In his brief introduction he states he enjoys the medium but spends most of his time writing novels. He also points out that the stories, apart from one, are not particularly short. There are only seven stories in this nearly three hundred page book, but each of them shows the kind of writer Hamilton is. He is a master story-teller, creating both worlds you want to explore and characters you want to know more about. As his epic novels take so long to write, this book of short stories will serve to tide fans over, and hopefully introduce his work to those too afraid to embark on one of his epic novels, which are worth the time and effort. Hamilton provides a diverse and brilliant collection of short stories with all the style and skill he delivers with his epic novels and series. Startlingly good. By Adrian Brady From the Catacombs: Series or Serial By Jim Lesniak
Sherlock Holmes due to popular demand. The catacombs have seen two similar platforms for recurring characters: series and serial. For simplicity’s sake, we can define a series as a group of tales that intertwine but can stand alone. A serial, on the other hand, is a single, long story broken into parts that absolutely need one another to be whole. The second volume of a serial may read like the next chapter of the first volume, with no passage of time. The issue to the average reader, therefore, is one of accessibility; you cannot just randomly pick up a volume of a serial and hit the ground running, unless the author builds in some repetition that can bore long-term readers.1 The monthly comic book is a good example of a serial; recurring characters appear in a continuing, overarching story.2 This instalment shall examine the Penemue Trilogy by Sara M. Harvey. Readers with long memories may recall that ye olde reviewer promised to review said series in the last supplement – I was provided the final instalment but could not work it into the column as I’d hoped to. The trouble in reviewing the final instalment was that it had been long enough between reading the first two that I could not fully recall the background of the story. Being a serial, rather than a series, there was no ‘previously…’ type of introduction. That is not a black mark against the book(s) necessarily, just having been a year since the previous volume; it was prudent to reread the whole prior to reviewing. As opposed to my usual reviewing structure, we will flow through the three volumes, with the publication information in footnotes. If you wish to avoid spoilers, be advised to skip ahead to “Analysis” below; here there be monsters. The Convent of the 3 Pure is where we are introduced to the Village of Penemue and our heroines, Portia and 1
In the realms of genre fiction, we find recurring characters popular, if not comforting. A collective background is assembled over time, obviating the need for extensive introduction; after the first book, do we really need exposition on who Repairman Jack or Harry Dresden is? Of course, there is a certain commercial impetus to bring back characters, even Sir Arthur Doyle was forced to resurrect
The movie serials of the 1930s and 1940s had quick and dirty recaps of the previous installment. Of course, they were released weekly and played fast and loose with quality. 2 Modern comic books, unfortunately, do not work to bring new readers up to speed. As recently as the Bronze Age, writers would have cross-references and peppering of background information when characters appeared or events happened. Of course, this was before the decompressed, writefor-the-trade storytelling became the rage. And we wonder why the direct market is shrinking… 3 Apex Publications, 2009, $13.95
Imogen Gyony. The story is not of this Earth, but set in a Victorian era, somewhat steam punk world of magic and intrigue. Surnames are assigned to the house of the Primacy one belongs to if one has power descended from the angels or demons who have consorted with mankind over millennia; children with “power” are disbursed to chapter houses for training and support. As we meet our heroines, they are trouble-shooters or warriors protecting the normal populace from supernatural harm; their being lovers are hampered by the fact that Imogen is quite dead and extant in spirit form.4 Different houses of the Primacy have different goals and interactions with the average human being. Portia is dispatched to the titular convent to investigate a plea for help; Imogen reluctantly attends to her. Alas, the convent has been used for nefarious ends for many years by another house of the Primacy in an effort to create stronger beings from the Nephilim children. Imogen was a resident here and recognizes many of the children in stasis – her kind age much more slowly than Homo sapiens. Portia’s innate power has been desired for years and was the true goal of the pleas for help. Betrayal5, heroism and transformation are the order of the day; Portia is bound to an angel6, Imogen is reunited with her body and the direct conspirators are dispatched7. Upon the convent becoming engulfed in flames, our heroines save as many of the children in stasis as they can. The story ends on a cliff-hanger, with Imogen afraid to cross the boundary of the convent, as her protective sigils are no longer on her body… Which leads us directly into The Labyrinth of the Dead8, wherein Portia must travel into the land of the dead. She must do so in order to rescue Imogen’s spirit since she dropped dead upon leaving the convent’s grounds. Armed with the meagre supplies she can carry and her new angelic powers, Portia must 4
Spoiler: She gets better. Imogen worked for the enemy before falling in love with Portia. Truly, love conquers all. 6 Really. In a combination of Dr. Frankenstein, Dr. Mengele and magic. Or is that magick? I lose track. It reads better than this, trust me. 7 Spoiler: Nigel makes a return appearance even though he is dead. In comic book terms, he is Phoenix dead, not Uncle Ben dead. 8 Apex Publications, 2010, $13.95 5
navigate the shadow world to bring her back to her waiting body. The alliances of the waking world are in effect here, as are the machinations of Belial to break through to the land of the living and expand her empire. The souls of the lost are of little help, but the army of Belial (once she is defeated) is key to opposing Nigel’s plans and affecting the rescue of Imogen’s essence. Portia expands her knowledge of her angelic power and aspects through battle and the revelation of her true father’s identity.9 The underworld’s tower breaks through a weak portion of the nexus between the land of the living and the dead, allowing Portia to save her love. Unfortunately, her angelic wings, which were of some use in the underworld, will not retract or disappear, sending us to… The Tower of the wherein Forgotten10, Portia is under orders to remain in the freak show of the circus near where the tower is a visible attraction back home. Portia and Imogen must determine who is behind all the Machiavellian meanderings and figure out how to stop the machinery of the underworld from completely breaching the world of the living. Allies abound from both prior volumes and the prequel in the form of some of the rescued children and the spirit of a young lass. Our heroines leap once more into the breach, to stop the spirit of Nigel as well as the infernal machinery working to destroy the boundary between worlds. Will there be a happy ending at last for our ladies?11 Analysis This trilogy might as well have been a single omnibus edition, the way it continued directly from book to book. Having read it both in instalments (with a year in between!) and all in one fell swoop, I feel it simply holds together as a big story better than component parts. Sara M. Harvey has obviously put a lot of thought into the politics of the Nephilim and their factions. (I would not be surprised if she has voluminous notes on each character and their motivations.) There is potential for a series of novels set in and around this world, 9
Whose essence has been transmuted into the battle ax given to her in the underworld. Not exactly a chatty guy. 10 Apex Publications, 2011, $13.95 11 I could tell you, but I hate spoilers. I didn’t give the plot twist in Bigfoot War II, even though Eric spouted it off himself. There should be some surprise.
not just the story of Portia and Imogen. This is evinced by the exclusive e-book prequel, A Prelude to Penemue, featuring Lady Hester12. The emotional centre of this serial is the love between Portia and Imogen; they are willing to journey into Hell (literally) for each other. If you are hoping to satiate a prurient interest13, look elsewhere; we are presented with the nurturing side of the relationship with a glimpse to their passion. Harvey brings the feel of the relationship to the forefront in the Labyrinth of the Dead. In the first book, it did not seem obvious why Portia would try to save Imogen, save for lingering guilt. The interactions and sense of love ring true the farther we trek through the novellas. The advertised steam punk aspect of the serial is minimal in ye reviewer’s estimation. True, Portia uses a motorcycle and a wireless radio and there is electric light along with various and sundry devices such as airships, but these items could have mostly been left out and not affected the tenor of the story. It is primarily a dark fantasy (magic, angels, devils) wrapped around political intrigue enveloped by a love story. The steam punk tropes are window dressing on the story as a whole, with rare exception that I shan’t spoil. Magic and politics are more important than machinery, which could have been easily replaced by magic. The Penemue Trilogy is an entertaining read that we here in the catacombs would like to see expanded. There are various threads that are not resolved within the main plot, as well as characters who intrigue enough that back story is wanted. Please note that the books are significantly cheaper in e-book format, but you lose the interior illustrations as well as the tactile sense of the physical copy. Apex Publications has been putting out quality books, primarily with a dark sci-fi bent, for several years now and also produces an onlineonly version of Apex Magazine14 since production costs made the physical edition unfeasible. As we work our way out of the catacombs for this installment, allow me to expound upon a few musical notes (as if you could stop me…). There are a few albums I would like to touch on outside of a full review before a year or more passes until the next “music” column. Spindrift spent the fall opening for The Black Angels and Dead Meadow in the U.S. Of late, most opening bands have been a major
disappointment; this was a happy exception. Primarily an instrumental band, Spindrift look and sound like they walked out of a spaghetti western as the bastard children of Ennio Moriconi and Clint Eastwood with music sounding like that of a lost, acid-drenched movie from 1969. The new album came home with me.15 Definitely check out the videos on YouTube! Astute readers may recall the review of Dead Dick Hammer and the t.b.a. Band’s debut EP; there was promise, but the execution was lacking. In time for All Hollow’s Eve, they were booked in a dive16 in St. Louis and tore. the. roof. off.17 The last time I saw a high energy set like that was a couple years back with The Darkness and the Wildhearts: nonstop rock that made you forget the shite of the opening band. Go see this shockabilly band if they descend on your town! Once again, I would like to thank everyone who reads this column. You give me the most valuable thing: your time. As I write this, I am, after a strange year of trials, tribulations, skirmishes and victories, looking forward to 2012. Thank you, and I’ll see you here next time with graphic novels; may you all have a Happy New Year and stay strange! ROCK N’ ROLL IS DEAD: TALES INSPIRED BY MUSIC www.bloodboundbooks.net This new anthology from Blood Bound Books is dedicated to the late Ronnie James Dio and features a wide selection of fresh new stories each inspired by a different artist or specific track from the mainstream to the downright obscure. It is by no means an original concept, but Rock n Roll is Dead delivers where others have fallen well short in presenting a delightfully diverse showcase of emerging talent. “Thermogenic” by G. Winston Hyatt, apparently inspired by a Throbbing Gristle track called “Hamburger Lady”, is one of the most depraved things I’ve read all year. Don’t read it on your lunch hour. The tightly-woven “Saving Grace” by Quentin Pittman addresses a different kind of horror, one that affects most of us in the end, and the result is no less disturbing. I also liked “Beth Short and the Carnivals of the Damned” by Monique Bos, which uses one of the most famous unsolved murder 15
She dies early in the first book, but casts a long shadow over the trilogy. It is best to read this prior to the third book for background on some of the events. 13 Perhaps http://ladiesofsteampunk.com would be apropos. 14 www.apexbookcompany.com/collections/apex-magazine
www.spindriftwest.com The Way Out Club made the Empty Bottle in Chicago look like the House of Blues. It was in a ROUGH neighborhood, an area worse than CBGB’s. 17 www.youtube.com/watch?v=JEm-F_ocvXM 16
mysteries of all time, that of the Black Dahlia, as a backdrop. This is a certainly a varied assortment of tales, but the one thing they all have in common is a pervading darkness. No sweetness and light here, just oodles of misery and despair, which is just the way us horror junkies like it, methinks! Death and loss, or the pervading threat of it, is an ongoing theme but as mentioned in the book’s explanatory intro, we will always have the music... By C.M. Saunders STUPEFYING TALES (Volume 1, Number 1) www.rampantloonmedia.com Stupefying Tales is not an ezine, nor a webzine, or any other kind of zine. It is described on the website as a ‘monthly anthology’ made available via the above website at a very reasonable price indeed. It is the brainchild of one Bruce Bethke, who some readers may recognize as the sci-fi writer often credited with coining the terms “cyberpunk” (if not the genre itself) and “spam”, in relation to unwanted emails rather than tinned meat. BB is certainly experienced enough to offer a great deal in an editing capacity. BB’s baby contains a selection of tales that run the gauntlet of dark fiction from tongue-in-cheek horror (“S&M Vampire Grrlz: The Movie” by Chris Bailey Pearce) to other-worldly sci-fi (“Return to Earth” by Ryan M. Jones), with a few poems thrown in for good measure. My favourite story in this inaugural issue is “The Deported” by Vox Day, a bewitching tale about Nigerian would-be asylum seekers. Compared to other similar offerings littering cyberspace the overall production quality of Stupefying Tales is good, and there is enough content of a consistently high standard to offer great value for money. This one is certainly worth a punt, and I will be keeping my eyes peeled for future editions. By C.M. Saunders KATJA FROM THE PUNK BAND By Simon Logan www.chizinepub.com The thing about small press books is that you can sometimes tell the quality of the work by the feel of the book. Katja From The Punk Band by Simon Logan is a well-made book, it feels nice, your fingers can’t help but keep touching the embellished spine, the pages are weighty, this book is a fine piece of craftsmanship. And so it goes with the writing. This multi-perspective story is fairly simple
and yet rather more complicated than one would at first suspect. A vial is passed to a carrier to take on a boat across to the mainland. The story of the vial, as it falls through numerous hands - drug-dealers, mules, singers in punk bands, junkies, probation officers – is told from each of their perspectives in this industrial wasteland of the unnamed island. A land of drugs and game arcades, it is not difficult to see why everyone on the island wants to head to the mainland, and the smuggling vial is the only way across. The things that makes the book different, apart from Logan’s urban wasteland and his evocative prose, is the multiple perspectives, which is the same thing which can become wearying towards the end. Seeing some events a few times from different angles is plenty. This doesn’t work as well as Peter V. Brett’s books, but it’s much more disciplined, and seems as much of an exercise in creative writing as anything else. It works, it is just perhaps a little over-done. A kind of Pulp Fiction industrial crime/grime thriller, Logan has a unique style which makes reading this book, almost, thoroughly entertaining. Grimy and filthy, this is a book which shows a great deal of promise. Logan is definitely one to watch. By Stanley Riiks ETHEREAL TALES #12 www.etherealtales.co.uk Not many small press magazines survive three years. Unfortunately this is the final issue for Ethereal Tales, but editor Teresa Ford has packed everything in here to go out with a bang. The biggest issue yet, more stories, more artwork, and a sad sigh to end what has been a great run. ET provides not only high quality fiction but a small community-feel that other magazines don’t provide. Some great stories from Eric S. Brown, Gary Budgen, and many more, with some great illustrations by Poppy Alexander. Probably the best ET issue ever produced, it is such a shame that this will be the final issue. Good strong leadership and a unique voice, offering a different experience, it is sad to see the end of such a good magazine. Show your support and get yourself a copy of the final issue. By Adrian Brady
Andy Remic Interview Your latest book Theme Planet launched in December, published by Solaris Books. Tell us about that. The book follows Dexter Colls, a policeman from a futuristic London who goes on holiday with his wife and two little girls to the Theme Planet. The Theme Planet is an alien theme world, an entire planet dedicated to insane rides and hedonistic pursuits; it has five kilometre high roller coasters that plunge into the sea, it has capsule rides through the guts of giant desert worms, it has dangerous quests to the tops of mountains and down insane river rapids... When Dexter’s wife and kids go missing, and people and aliens begin trying to kill him, Dex must travel the dark underbelly of Theme Planet, searching for his family... and he soon realises that Monolith, the owners of Theme Planet, and the Earth’s Oblivion Government and its Ministers of Joy are all massively corrupt and up to something very, very special. Then mix all this up with the Anarchy Androids (torture/kill models that desperately want to be human) and Amba Miskalov, who’s on a very special mission, and it makes for a fast-paced SF android theme planet thriller. Theme Planet is the first in the Anarchy series. What can we expect from future books, and will it be a trilogy like many of your other series? My Combat K books are an ongoing series, which I love working on, but with the Novels of the Anarchy I wanted to create a universe for which I could write individual, standalone novels. Thus, Theme Planet is a work unto itself, and the second Anarchy Book, Toxicity (out in 2012), is another completely standalone novel - about ECO terrorists on a junk world. I suppose the Anarchy universe works very much the same way as Iain Banks’ Culture novels. After Toxicity I’m back to writing another Combat K novel, then it’s another Anarchy Books novel; ad infinitum, until I die, I expect. :-) You started writing Theme Planet in the midnineties. Why did it take so long? Ha! I had the idea in the mid-nineties, and wrote the 60,000 word novel - a book that’s very, very different from this one, but with the same premise of
an alien Theme Planet. The book was good enough to get me an agent and get me noticed by publishers, but not good enough to be published. The idea, however, stayed with me, nagging, nagging, nagging, until I had to write the damned thing just to get it out of my brain. So, it’s been gestating for 15 years. I hope you like it. Roller coasters: get on or get off? Are we talking about Ronan Keating here? Heh. No, I love roller coasters, love the speed and madness., which is one reason I came up with Theme Planet in the first place. I hate stuff that spins around, however. Waltzers make me very sick. I had an incident with a tuna salad once... So, I’d always stay on a roller coaster for just one more go. Your story “Mongrel Days” features in the Morpheus Tales original anthology 13: Tales of Dark Fiction. Can you tell us a bit about the story? Mongrel Days is about a big scruffy badass war veteran called Mongrel, who ends up owing a large London crime syndicate an awful lot of money. After a savage beating, he is helped by a ragged, worn-out cafe owner called Josie, and decides to sort himself out - by robbing a group of bank robbers. But when things go from bad to worse; Josie turns out to be something quite special... Mongrel Days is the first Anarchy Android short story, and is set in the same universe as Theme Planet and Toxicity. I like it. But then, I’m probably biased. You are well known for your action-packed writing. What is the secret to writing an action sequence?
Immersion, pace, seeing it clearly in your head, reinventing punctuation (for which critics always eat me, heh). I see scenes very cinematically, and they play out like movies in my skull. I just write what I see. It’s not my fault, guv’.
the next Combat K novel. Ooh, actually, I also have a comedy fantasy novel in the pipeline, and my first children’s book, Rocket Cat. And no, it doesn’t have guns and androids. It does have a cat, though. A cat with a rocket pack.
For action-oriented novels your books are populated by quite well-rounded characters. What is the key to good characterisation? You have to get inside their heads, make them believable, and make sure they are always consistent to the logic model you created. They cannot break their own internal rules. Also, conflict between characters makes for interesting characters. Nobody wants to read about flower arrangers. Well, I don’t, unless they beat people to death with daffodils.
Your e-book publishing business, Anarchy Books, is steaming ahead. What new books can we look forward to seeing in 2012? Wow, it���s been a hectic year! Which will round off with our fantastic “bizarre and weird tales” anthology called Vivisepulture, with so many great writers I just can’t list them all! For 2012 we have two books signed up from Gareth L. Powell, we have two more from Eric Brown, an original novel by Tony Ballantyne, as well as some newcomers including Paolo Sedazzari and his semiautobiographical tale of punks growing up in London called Young Punks; we have a mainstream novel by James Rothwell called Cult of the Confession and some gentle fantasy novels by Alexander Caine Duncan. Plus, a fabulous little gem I discovered by a very famous journalist. Watch this space. Apart from running a publishing company and writing several novels a year, you’ve also started the free online Ultimate Adventure Magazine www.uamag.co.uk. What’s that about? This was a project I instigated over the summer, and I put in place the building blocks back then. It’s basically a free-to-download adventure magazine looking at mountain biking, climbing, motor biking, hiking, travel and adventure! It’s just for fun really, but I think you’ll see it will give the big boys a real damn run for their money! The first issue is due out 24.12.11 and will make great iPad/Kindle/ePub reading over the festive season. It’s very lighthearted and non-offensive, and has interviews, reviews and features focusing on interesting stuff. My personal favourite from this issue is the interview with Dr Andrew Murray, who ran from John O’Groats all the way to the Sahara Desert. The madman.
Your epic fantasy Clockwork Vampire trilogy was completed last year with the publication of Vampire Warlords. The omnibus will be coming out in February. Will there be any extras? Please tell us this isn’t the end of the road for Kell. I have many plans for many novels with Kell and Saark, and more of the Clockwork Vampires as well; only not yet. My agent, John Jarrold, also has some new ideas for original fantasy series which I’ve created, so we’ll see if anything comes from that. At the moment, I’m working on Toxicity, then
What is you dream writing project? I’d really, really love to do a collaboration. I collaborated on a short story with fantasy novelist Ian Graham, a manic comedy fantasy with chunky dwarves, but he won’t allow its release because a) Ian Graham is a Big Girl with a Big Beard, and b) the story would destroy both of our careers, the planet, and probably the galaxy. So, to get to the answer, my dream writing project would probably be a collaboration with somebody like Joe
Abercrombie or Richard Morgan, whose work I very much admire and respect. Or maybe even a contract to write some comedy fantasy. Yes. That’s something I’ve never done before, and I love Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, so something like that. THE SHADOW OF THE UNKNOWN Edited By A. J. French A collection of tales based on the works and mythos created by H. P. Lovecraft. Hardly an original idea, but this is a grand collection featuring new and reprinted stories which include everything from homages to unique and original tales loosely based on the writer many consider the pioneer of horror fiction. Lee Clark Zumpe’s story is a favourite of mine, which I first read in the pages of Morpheus Tales, but there are lots of great stories all vying for your attention. A diverse collection, but great quality stories for a small press collection, French is proving to be an intelligent and knowledgeable anthologist. Fans of Lovecraft shouldn’t need any further reason to buy, and non-fans will no doubt find several of these stories excellent entertainment. An inspired collection. By Adrian Brady Ramblings of a Tattooed Head By Simon Marshall-Jones Over the years, people have asked me why I like horror films and books in particular. It’s a question that I myself return to repeatedly because, on the face of it, most ‘sane’ people avoid getting frightened or putting themselves in dangerous situations in real life, actively running away from anything that might harm them. So why, along with many thousands of others, do I actually seek material that I know will scare me? I happen to think that it makes a great deal of sense – in the normal course of life we’re so far removed from the hazards to which even our recent ancestors were daily exposed. The procurement of food is no longer the risky business it once was, and diseases have for the most part been conquered and made things of the past (although there will always be some conditions that will defy science, and bring in their wake grief and anger and yes, utter fright). Our roads are much safer than they once were. There are rules, regulations and laws governing all manner of activities, to ensure our safety. In which case, it should come as no surprise that there are individuals who prefer to live on the ‘wilder’ side of
things – such as those who indulge in extreme sports or deliberately work in dangerous, life-threatening jobs. To a lesser extent, those of us who watch horror movies or read ghost stories are motivated by the same factor; we want to experience something that the modern-day world has more or less banished. However, the roots of my literary and cinematic taste lie much deeper than any reason my adult mind, in those moments of quiet contemplation, has come up with to answer this question. The fact is, I’ve been fascinated since earliest childhood with the underside of life, that aspect of humanity that many seek to hide away. My first interest was anything having to do with cemeteries – my family and I lived near one and, at three years old, I often pestered my father to take me for walks in it (I was especially taken with the headstones engraved with Chinese script). That naturally led me later on to delve into ancient Egyptian funerary culture – the idea that physical bodies were deliberately preserved to allow safe passage for the deceased into the Underworld, aided and abetted by any number of gods and goddesses. Following on from there, I entertained a horrified fascination with the barbaric customs of the Aztecs and Maya – the ritual ripping out of the heart and the rampant bloodlust carried out in order to slake the thirst of the gods, just to persuade them to let the sun rise each morning. At six, I was making headstones out of Lego building blocks and planting them in rows on a bare patch of earth in the back garden. And then, at eight, I discovered my very first ‘horror’ (or, more specifically, ‘true ghost’) book, Elliott O’Donnell’s The Screaming Skull & Other Ghost Stories. Add in to that my being an avid collector of the Aurora Universal Monster model kits and you have a complete picture of what made me the adult I eventually became. My parents were worried, of course, but were assured by a professional that it was completely natural, and that I would eventually ‘grow out’ of the phase. Needless to say, that never quite happened. I loved being scared and thrilled by the ghost stories and mysteries I read as a child, avidly devouring them in a very safe environment. Even today, I harbour a fascination for the rites and rituals of death and how the human animal comes to term with the inevitable approach of bodily and conscious cessation (I have a small library devoted to the subject). It’s the great unknown, and for many it holds a dread greater than anything faced by a fictitious character about to be chomped on by some fanged monster or other. I’ve come close to death a couple of times through illness, but it’s never
particularly scared or frightened me, mostly because I’ve always been drawn to wanting to know about the cultural and social rituals that help us to lessen its hold on the living, and about the process itself. As far as horror is concerned, part of the key to it all is contained in the preceding paragraph: ‘safe environment’. Even back then I realised it was all fiction, that it most definitely wasn’t real and that my parents were there should I ever need them, or I could just put the light on and the bogeyman would dissipate. It was all a vicarious thrill, living out scary scenarios from the safety of my warm, light-filled bedroom, sometimes being deliciously scared out of my wits. The images lingered long in my mind, but I knew that those images, however powerful, were just the result of words on a page. As an adult, that vicariousness still applies; I watch and read horror for the very same reasons. My imagination has been tainted to a certain extent by my experiences and the life I’ve lived thus far, and I’ve come to realise that, in many ways, I see the reading of dark genre literature as a form of exorcism – a way of facing my deepest fears without actually putting myself in danger. It is, at bottom, why all we horror-heads like the genre, even if we can’t articulate it that way or put another gloss on it. Beyond that, however, is another deeper realisation, one that often works on a subconscious level: that truth is very often much stranger and more twisted and dangerous than any fictional creation a writer can come up with. We must also be aware that many classic and modern horror tropes were inspired by real life examples, the prime one being the notorious Ed Gein, whose ghoulish exploits have spawned many a film, from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho to Jonathan Demme’s Silence of the Lambs and many another in between. As if to emphasise that, there was the recent report about a Russian historian who kept twenty-nine bodies at his house in Nizhny Novgorod. He’d dug them up from a local cemetery and dressed the corpses in clothes. Remember, this scenario wasn’t dreamed up by some author or screenwriter; a member of society, albeit a broken one, who was engaged in a ‘respectable’ academic profession, surrounded himself with dead bodies for some unknown reason. This happened in real life. As some wise wit once said, you couldn’t make this stuff up. Of course, there are always going to be those individuals who derive evil inspiration from violence in films, but this has always been the case throughout history. Accounts abound of religious zealots and fanatics committing genocide, killing and destroying others just because their particular sacred text or their god told them to do so. However,
the thing we have to remember here is that it’s the individual who thought it okay to do these things who is to blame. He or she must possess a predilection for such acts in the first place – the book or film is, in itself, incapable of physically ‘making’ someone go out there and act against type. It takes a warped mind to go from fantasy to reality. Nonetheless, it’s far too easy for the ignoramuses of the world to use these kinds of occurrences as scapegoats. In fact, it’s considerably easier and more comfortable for them than actually trying to look for the root causes, which are inevitably social and environmental, for if they did acknowledge those root causes, it would be tantamount to acknowledging a systemic failure, and there are too many vested interests to allow that acknowledgement to happen. The truth is (although you’ll just have to take my word for this) that the people I’ve met through the horror scene are amongst the nicest, sanest and most welcoming people I’ve met. Like I mentioned earlier, many of them see involvement in horror culture and its accoutrements as constituting an act of exorcism, whether it be writing it, reading it, filming it or watching it. For me, it then becomes the means by which I cope with the world as it is and avoid the disappointment of knowing it’s not how I want it to be. But, the important thing to remember is that, whether the naysayers like it or not, I am the man I am because of those reading and viewing preferences and NOT in spite of them. SOLARIS RISING Edited By Ian Whates www.solarisbooks.com Writer Ian Whates turns editor for this reincarnation of the Solaris Book of Science Fiction. Bringing together a slew of brilliant SF authors, including Peter F. Hamilton (with a rare original short story), Alastair Reynolds, Stephen Baxter, Ken Macleod, Pt? Cardigan, Ian Watson, and many more. There are nineteen fairly short-short stories in the book, but despite their diminutive size they all pack a punch. This anthology isn’t going to take on the Mammoth Book of New SF for size or scope, it simply can’t. Instead it goes for quality rather than quantity and does an astoundingly good job. Whates’s experience and knowledge of the genre are clear, and without the restrictions of theme he has allowed the writers contained in this book the freedom to go where their minds take them, which is everywhere. A brave and outstanding collection, Whates has done Solaris proud and produced a collection that rivals the Mammoth books for quality.
By Adrian Brady STRICKEN By Sean A. Lusher www.damnationbooks.com Ancient. Evil. Unstoppable. Says the tag line. When a distress call is sent from an inter-galactic mining crew who have just colonized a ‘frontier world’, a search and rescue team is sent to investigate, only to find the entire colony horribly slaughtered and themselves stuck in a mine on another planet amid a mass of body parts fighting an unknown enemy. Not a good spot to be in, then. I have to be honest here, I am not a fan of sci-fi. I see its merits, and good writing will be good writing whatever genre it is classified under, but spaceships and aliens just isn’t my thang. I like my fiction to unfold on earth, or at least some twisted version of it, so I wasn’t holding out much hope for this novella. As a matter of fact, I told myself that if I made it through the first twenty pages it would be a commendable effort I could be proud of. One thing I don’t like about sci-fi is all the supposition and guesswork involved, which inevitably leads to gaping plot holes. Well, not holes, exactly, more like improbables. It just asks too much of the reader. This reader, anyway. For example, nobody knows what weapons will be available to space-trekking humans over a thousand years in the future, but it’s a pretty safe bet that by then automatic pistols and assault rifles will be obsolete. Also, why is the ‘rescue team’ only fivestrong? And of course, the first thing they do when they arrive is split up. The reader can only suspend belief so much before the whole thing comes crashing down like a house of cards, losing all credibility. Nothing in fiction is truly original, everything has been done before, but Stricken reads rather too much like a mash-up of the first two Alien movies. All negatives aside, the story is exciting and fast-moving and I actually stuck with this right until the end (claps on shoulder). This writer has skills, and could be a force to be reckoned with if they are allowed to develop to their full potential. By C.M. Saunders KULTUS By Richard Ford www.solarisbooks.com Oh, dear. I haven’t read a book that felt like such a chore in a while. For such a short book it took a long time and a lot of effort to push through to the end.It’s not a bad book, I’ve read much worse; however, it reads like a first draft. Description, plot,
and characters are all weak for a published novel. The narrative tone needs polishing, and descriptions seem to be minimal. Characters are in need of fleshing out; they don’t have much in the way of personality or history. The plot repeats terribly; for instance, scenes are repeated until you know what’s going to happen after each big fight. The narration doesn’t help; there is a sly, amused tone that is patronising, making you feel like there’s a joke that you’re not being let in on. The writer is definitely having more fun than the reader. Poor, poor, poor. It’s a shame because there is promise here. Well, there are hints of promise; for instance, our protagonist is a tattooed thug with a knowledge of demonology. His past, and part of something far bigger, are only revealed in hints. Thaddeus Blaklok, a demonist and thug for hire, is out to find the Key of Lunos, which can open the gates of hell. Also seeking out the key are several disparate groups, all of whom will fight each other and Blaklok as they attempt to get hold of it. The barely-described world that Blaklok inhabits is a steam-punk fantasy land, inhabited with demons, called the Manufactory. Some more exploration and explanation would have been nice, as hardly anything is described in any detail, making imagining this world a task and a half. Bare bones narrative might work for Hemingway, but Ford is no Hemingway, and in a steam-punk fantasy you want to be able to taste the new world you are experiencing. This ain’t no fishing trip. There are some good ideas, but they were not implemented successfully.. Certainly not the worst book I’ve ever read, it is readable, but Kultus may still win the award for worse book of the year. A shame really, but with a firm editor’s hand this could be twisted into something decent. By Stanley Riiks RED STATE 2011 Lions Gate DVD Kevin Smith, the director who made his name with slacker comedy but has more recently become better known for spats with airline attendants, takes a turn for the dramatic with Red State. This is somewhat surprising since his last comedy, the buddy cop parody-homage Cop Out, was also his biggest success. But Cop Out was also seen as a work for hire, which in the terms of independent cinema is the same as selling out. So Smith was apparently anxious to get back to his roots. Red State, though a hell of a lot more expensive than Clerks, is still puny by Hollywood standards, budgetwise. Or maybe Smith hopes to follow the path forged by Guillermo
del Toro, another spawn of the nineties independent scene, by following every crowd pleaser with a more “personal” work. In any case Red State, which comes to DVD after sparse theatrical distribution is unlikely to do much for Smith’s career one way or the other. The film resembles what Gus Van Zandt or Richard Linklater might have done with a Rob Zombie script. In case I’ve made it sound too interesting, let me put it another way. It’s a trite mélange of horror, action, and social conscious elements directed in standard “edgy” style (i.e. handheld camerawork). Horror fans need not be too excited. In spite of Smith’s description of Red State as “horror”, it’s not really, though it does contain plenty of violence and an all out psycho turn from Michael Parks, whose character is scarcely any more realistic than Hannibal Lecter. Smith takes inspiration from Fred Phelps, the repugnant minister who makes a habit of taking his followers to protest funerals of gays and other sinners. Smith gives us a fictional version of Phelps in the form of Aden Cooper (Parks), but his insight into misguided zealotry is limited to having various characters talk about what a douche bag he is. Cooper’s followers are so reprehensible that even neo-Nazis disavow him. Red State at least offers a star turn for Parks, a previously underused actor of the seventies. His Cooper is creepily insinuating and full of low key menace. At first he seems like a sincere, albeit twisted man of faith, but something about his tone suggests that he may be a con man in disguise. Unfortunately the performance is undermined almost immediately when Smith grants the character a ten minute sermon on homosexuality which will tax the patience of even the most patient viewers. Once it quickly becomes clear that Cooper is simply whacko, any interest in the character vanishes, though Parks must have surely relished such a prominent comeback role, one which includes the chance to sing “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” in a wispy voice. The plot begins in tried and true horror fashion as three teenage boys head to a trailer for a four way gang bang with an older woman they’ve met on Craig’s List. Want to bet it turns out to be a trap? Yes, and these boys soon awake to find they’ve been caged and forced to attend a weird religious gathering. But the horror grinds to a halt before it can really get started, as the invasion of Cooper’s compound by the ATF leads to much shooting. Strange as it seems, the film gives the vague impression of having been inspired by the old John Russo movie Midnight. Things show signs of brightening up when John Goodman appears, but grow dreary again when it’s obvious little of the actor’s usual good humour
will be allowed to show through. Goodman’s ATF agent, whose conscience brings him in conflict with his superiors, and a young cult mother whose concern is for her child leads her to betray her family, are the closest thing to likeable characters. Everyone else is pretty scuzzy, from Parks’ gunhappy religious nuts to the horny trio of loser teenagers. (Kevin Pollak’s cameo as another agent is over quickly.) Smith’s humour is his usual lowbrow stuff - a sheriff who sneaks off for the occasional gay tryst, but his “serious” dialogue is no better - the kind of preachy exposition that might turn up on Law and Order or some other “relevant” TV show. When a federal officer makes a wisecrack about prison rape, we’re apparently supposed to be shocked at his insensitivity. But since this is exactly the sort of irreverent comment that the heroes of one of Smith’s comedies would have made, and that Smith would have expected us to laugh at, the moral highhandedness seems extremely unconvincing. Smith has so little understanding of small town fundamentalism that the juvenile Catholic satire of Dogma seems positively profound and nuanced by comparison. The DVD includes no commentary, nor even a Red State trailer, but only a series of previews for previously released movies like Religulous and Kick Ass. By Brett Taylor Coping with Obscurity in the Horror Market By Alan Spencer People have been asking me how my latest novel Cider Mill Vampires is fairing on the market lately. For those who aren’t familiar with me (and you are many), I recently self-published a vampire novel and wrote an article for Morpheus Tales about why I decided to publish it independently. I’ll be honest, the response isn’t overwhelming as far as sales go, but again, this isn’t my first book that’s been left idling in obscurity. Remember Zombies and Power Tools or Inside the Perimeter: Scavengers of the Dead? For those who do know about it, I thank you, but I don’t take it personally if you haven’t. I understand. It’s a big world out there, and I’m only one author. And I’m all about being positive, so I’ll talk about what I’ve been doing after releasing my novels to promote them. Honestly, I’m a cheap, cheap man. Spendthrift is my middle name. So I’ll talk about the kinds of promotions that are free or cheap, because cheap is good. I want to go back to when I published my first book, The Body Cartel. Getting reviews was at the top of my list of things to do when it came to
book promotion. I was quickly introduced into a seedy under belly called Amazon.com reviews. It’s an obsession with many new writers to get as many customer reviews and the highest ratings possible. Some freak out if their book gets a one-star review, or God forbid, somebody doesn’t love their book to death. There are people out there who’ve even written fake reviews on Amazon, but in hindsight, I can say I regret being over-concerned with reviews when I first started publishing. It’s great to have magazines, e-zines, and even real customers review your book, but don’t see negative criticism as the stake driven through your book’s heart. The more times your book is mentioned on any website or search engine is positive. There’s no such thing as bad publicity. The word out is the word out. I had a local newspaper in my neck of the woods give The Body Cartel a shitty review. I mean they stomped on it. But some people I knew in my area would say, “Hey, I read that paper, and it was cool to see your book in it.” They heard of me, they heard of my book, and whether the reviewer liked me or not, I was mentioned on a public forum and noticed. Who to send my book to in order to get reviewed was another endeavour. I basically cheated to figure this out. I asked the other authors who were published alongside me when I released The Body Cartel where they were sending off to. I got some good ideas, but there’s a downside to sending out your book once you know where they’re going. If these places don’t accept e-books for reviews, then it comes out of your pocket to send a hard copy, and postage can be expensive. I’ve sent books out to places that agree to review it, then don’t review it, and don’t respond to e-mails asking if they received the book, and I feel like I’ve been left in the dust. Another challenge with getting reviewers is time. A lot of reviewers who’d give a small-fry horror writer like me the time of day are mostly small operations. They don’t have a whole staff of book readers at their stead, and they’re not being paid, so you may be waiting many months, if not almost a year, to see your review. My advice would be to send to the places that have been around awhile, and always, always ask ahead of time if you can send them something to read. Poke around and see where other authors are sending to. But be ready to assume the risk that if you send it off, they may not review it even if they say they will. And be polite. These places are hammered with books to be reviewed. Books slip through the cracks, or as I like to think, shit happens. Another form of cheap promotion I really enjoy is, of course, the Internet. I love Facebook and Twitter. It’s free, free, free! Can I say mentioning I
have a book coming out on my daily update status garners heavy duty sales, no, not really, but it’s gotten me in touch with a lot of other writers. These writers are always mentioning publishers who are taking submissions, useful websites, author events, and nuggets of general encouragement. The circle of horror writers, I’ve found, is very welcoming, so definitely “friend” authors you know or don’t know. It’s a good way to get plugged in, and they always have ideas or may answer questions about good ways to advertise. And don’t forget to send your favorite authors fan mail. Believe me, authors love it. The last authors I fan e-mailed were Gord Rollo and Jeff Strand, and both of them responded enthusiastically. So I’ve mentioned a lot of basic stuff. I could go on about how you can print business cards, create bookmarks with your books on it, start a website, blog, buy advertisements in magazines, but I want to get truthful. I’ve had my books reviewed in several places, attended book signings, done magazine interviews, I’ve talked on blog talk radio, joined Facebook and Twitter, I have a blog, and in a few cases, my books have been advertised in “Fangoria” magazine, and I haven’t seen a shift in success. So what am I doing wrong? Absolutely nothing. There’s no surefire recipe for success. What I really believe in is the idea that I have to keep hammering out the novels. I can’t control when and why people buy books, but I can control what I write and the quality of the final product. I see each book I put out on the market as another layer to the snowball that’s rolling downhill, and one day, that snowball could possibly get some serious attention, and maybe that will later generate book sales. How do you figure about this snowball idea, Alan, you might be wondering. I know it sounds like pipe dream talk, but it isn’t. Considering I have five novels out and I haven’t quit my day job, where am I going with this? I’ve been at this game of writing for about ten years, and I recently had a really good thing happen to me. After sending off a novel called B-Movie Reels for many years, it finally got accepted with Samhain Publishing. I get to work with genre great Don D’Auria. And in early 2012, my book will be featured on their website alongside such writers as Ramsey Campbell, W.D. Gagliani, Ronald Malfi, and Greg F. Gifune, just to mention a few. Some of these authors are already established, and then there are others like me, the new guys in town. I consider this a huge step in the right direction, but I want new writers and even the readers to keep in mind what this publisher asked me when they accepted my book. They wanted links to prior book reviews,
links to my blog, and anything and everything to do with my writing. Publishers read up on you when they’re interested in your work. They search your name and books, and if they see you’ve tried to get yourself out there, they view that as a very positive thing, high sales or not. When you’re in publishing obscurity, you never know when someone’s going to look you up. It might be a long time, but if you keep publishing, writing, and making yourself relevant in one form or another, you’re bound to become that snowball that crashes into someone’s front yard. I believe the novels themselves will eventually be the best word-of-mouth advertising, but maybe I’ll change my mind later on. I’m still new at this. I’ll wrap this up by saying I’m still a small fry in the publishing world. No matter who I publish with, I’m guaranteed nothing as far as book sales go, or if I’ll ever catch on at a mainstream level, but I’m not afraid to keep trying. I enjoy what I do, and I keep my purpose clear and realistic as the years tick on by. If you don’t take people’s negativity personally and can handle being ignored by the general public, you can’t go wrong by doing something you honestly love. REDLAW By James Lovegrove www.solarisbooks.com This starts out like a modern-day Judge Dredd, where Redlaw is responsible for policing vampires, who are ghettoised in Sunless Residential Areas urban wastelands in the poorer parts of London and England - not allowed to leave and fed on cow blood. He is a SHADE (Sunless Housing and Disclosure Executive) Captain until a series of riots in the SRAs provoke Redlaw into investigating, which eventually puts him on the wrong side of the law, running from his ex-colleagues, with a vampire in tow. But the action and excitement of the start of the book swiftly gives way to social commentary and conspiracy, which is all well and good, and particularly relevant in post-riot London. It’s well plotted and quite clever, but not exactly what you expect from a vampire novel. Lovegrove’s vampires are a kind of mindless zombie, a far cry from the romantic Twilight figures (thank god!). Their leaders, the shtrigas are more intelligent, more human, than their animalistic cousins. The vampires mostly play a secondary roll in the novel, their threat easily out-weighed by the politicians and businessman who manipulate and use them, and the stumbling, filthy zombie-like vampires becomes the ultimate victims. This is a book of ups and down, some scenes
are cringingly predictable, whereas others are beautifully understated and poignant. You start off in the first twenty pages ready for the all out actionpacked Judge Dredd with vampires, but end up enjoying the political and social commentary the book provides, despite it feeling very wrong in this context it actual works, it never feels forced or awkward. So where does this book fit? Actually, it doesn’t. This isn’t a vampire book, but it has vampires in it. It isn’t a crime book, but it has crime it in. It contains politic and social commentary, but it’s not entirely that either. There is as much in here that I didn’t like as that I did like, and yet the good things about this book far outweigh the rest. Lovegrove has created an exciting book with some excellent ideas, some great characters, some thought-provoking themes and emotionally charged scenes. Not perfect by any means, but definitely worth your attention if you’re looking for something different. By Stanley Riiks HEIRS OF THE BLADE By Adrian Tchaikovsky www.panmacmillan.co.uk From the Jon Sullivan cover this book screams class. The seventh book in the Shadows of the Apt series continues to shine, showing off Tchaikovsky’s expert plotting and brilliant writing. The Wasp Empire, and the Wasp Empress Seda, continue their devastating invasions. This time the city of Khanaphes is their goal. Meanwhile Tynisa is trying to escape her own demons, the murder she committed, and the brutal murder of her father. A fantasy series with enough originality to raise it above the rest, there are great ideas and touches of brilliance. Tchaikovsky continues this stellar series with what might just be the best book in this epic story. By Adrian Brady Interview with Lyle Blackburn lead singer for Ghoultown By Eris S Brown As a guy who writes horror for a living and loves horror westerns, I fell in love with Ghoultown from the very first time I heard them. They’re a band with a very unique sound that is totally amazing. It’s like Joe Lansdale and Jonah Hex in music form or Johnny Cash-style horror. And so, it is my extreme pleasure to present you with Lyle Blackburn, the lead singer for Ghoultown, for a brief talk about the
band, horror, and more.
interested in, so that’s what I wrote about. Danzig and The Misfits pretty much showed that it could be done, so I fell into horror punk type bands pretty easily. My first band, The Holy, was horror punk before anyone really called it horror punk. Many years later with Ghoultown, I was able to create my own unique spin on this type of music. ESB: What are your goals as an artist? LB: I’m always striving to improve as I go. The next CD has to be better than the last one. I just follow my own interests and hope that the fans like it. But if they don’t, cool too. I just do what I’m compelled to do, so I always get satisfaction no matter what.
ESB: Can you tell us a bit about your band Ghoultown? LB: We are a hellbilly horror band based in Texas. Our style is pretty unique. Something like a middle ground between Johnny Cash and Rob Zombie. Our sound draws influence from punk, metal, old country and spaghetti western soundtracks, and combines it with horror-influenced lyrics. It’s really hard to explain. You just have to hear it to get a better understanding. We don’t really fit into any one genre, so our fans tend to come from all sort of musical tastes. I like to describe Ghoultown as “gunslingers with guitars” if that helps any. ESB: When and how did you fall in love with horror? LB: I’ve always loved all things horror. As far back as I can remember, I was attracted to anything on television that was spooky, I loved Halloween, and I would check out any books at the library that covered horror films or monster make-up. I collected Famous Monster mags, when I could find them, and would spend my allowance on the DC horror titles like Weird Mystery, Secrets of the Haunted House, or whatever I could find down at our local Piggly Wiggly grocery store. As I got older I was able to start going to the theater or renting VHS tapes, so then I was able to see the newer movies. I’m a fan of everything from the classic Universal Monster movies to the Hammer Films to slashers and modern creature features. And let’s not forget Spaghetti Westerns. Most of those great Italian films had many elements of horror incorporated into the western theme. Gritty and bloody. ESB: Was it natural to blend horror with music? How did it all come about? LB: When I started writing songs for my first punk band back in the 1980s, when I was a kid, I just gravitated toward horror lyrics. That’s what I was
ESB: You’re also a writer. Can you tell us something about your work? LB: Last year I began writing for the Canadian horror magazine, Rue Morgue. I write articles, movies reviews, and stuff like that. I also have a blog called Monstro Bizarro, which is featured on their website (www.rue-morgue.com/blog). I also just completed my first non-fiction book which will be coming out in the spring of 2012 on Anomalist Books (www.anomalistbooks.com), called The Beast of Boggy Creek: True Story of the Fouke Monster. The book covers the complete history of the Fouke Monster, a creature said to inhabit the swamplands of southern Arkansas just three hours north of my home in Texas. It was made famous by the Charles B. Pierce classic horror film, The Legend of Boggy Creek, so I cover both the monster and the making of the movie which is really fascinating. It’s a long story as to how I got interested in this particular subject, but basically I met some people who had been part of the movie and also several credible people who claimed to have seen the creature at one time or another. Once I started looking into the whole story, I was inspired to write a book on it. If people want to know more about my various writing projects and about the Boggy Creek mystery, just visit my website at www.monstrobizarro.com
ESB: I know too, that like me, you’re into cryptozoology and Crypto-Horror. What are your favorite books/movies about those kind of monsters? LB: Well, obviously The Legend of Boggy Creek is one of my favorite movies. I did a lot of hunting as a kid, so when I saw that movie, it was pretty scary to think that a creature like that might be living somewhere in the woods not far from where I hunted. That kinda sparked my interest in cryptozoo creatures at an early age. Other Bigfoot-type movies that I like are Creature From Black Lake, Sasquatch: The Legend of Bigfoot, Clawed, Paper Dolls, and Savage. I have a large collection of non-fiction cryptozoology books on everything from Bigfoot to lake monsters. Some of my favorite writers are Loren Coleman, Ken Gerhard and Nick Redfern. As far as fictional crypto-horror, there’s a book I really love called The Loch by Steve Alten and, of course, I love the Bigfoot War series by Eric S. Brown - you may have heard of him. ESB: And you likely knew I was going to ask this one when you agreed to this interview. Your song “Death of Jonah Hex,” what was the experience of writing/performing that one like? How has the fan response been? LB: That song was one of the first Ghoultown songs I wrote. The first recorded version was released in 1999 on a compilation and then we re-recorded it for
our first CD, Tales From the Dead West back in 2000. I’m a huge fan of the DC Jonah Hex series, from the Weird West titles to the Jonah Hex series, so it was something that seemed perfect for a Ghoultown song. I guess in some ways, Jonah Hex influenced the band as a whole since he’s such a dark western figure. Fans seemed to really like the song. It’s remained in our set list all these years. I’m working on a new Ghoultown release called The Unforgotten, which will contain all of our hard-tofind songs and some rare live cuts. It will have the original version of “Death of Jonah Hex” on it, since the compilation it was on is impossible to find now. ESB: What has been your personal greatest moment so far as a writer/singer? LB: Getting to work with some of my horror and music heroes, such as The Misfits and Elvira. ESB: What are the biggest challenges you face doing both? LB: Time. It’s really hard to keep up with all the demands of both the music and writing. Ghoultown is pretty much a labor of love, so everything I do there has to be worked around the demands of making a living and my extra writing projects. Last year when I added book writing to my list, I had to take time off from playing live with Ghoultown in order to do that. I already have offers to write more books, so now I really have to consider how to make this all work. ESB: And I ask everyone this, if you could only pick one, would it be Marvel or DC? LB: If you would’ve asked me this several years ago, I would have said Marvel without question. But in the last few years, I really like where DC has gone with some of my favourites like Batman, and of course they have Jonah Hex, so today I will say DC.
REALITY 36 By Guy Haley www.angryrobotbooks.com Richards is an artificial intelligence, Klein is a cyborg. Together they are a futuristic Mulder and Scully, delving into artificial realities in search of a murderer. This is a pulp-style, noirish crime/ investigation thriller set in a fascinating future world. Haley’s computer characters are just as real as can be, providing the kind of buddy-movie relationship that provides humour as well as tension. With a brilliantly-realised world, great characters, and nice plot, this is a book that provides entertainment by the barrel load. Fun, exciting, entertaining, and unique. Haley is a visionary. Remarkably entertaining. By Adrian Brady KING DEATH By Paul Finch www.spectralpress.wordpress.com The Spectral Press chapbooks are very nicely produced, single-story, limited editions. Some sell out before they are even released, which is a shame because stories like this deserve to be read. Finch’s story is set during a devastating plague in 1348. The Black Death is ravaging the country, dead bodies are piled everywhere, the stench of death violates the air. Rodric, a chancer and opportunist, finds a way to make the most of the scraps, rifling through dead bodies to collect coins and jewels. But his encounter with a young boy will change his life forever... Previous stories from Spectral Press have been heavy on atmosphere, and this book is no different, despite being a bit more visceral than the others, which I really like. Dead bodies, pus and guts, bring it on! The same quality and attention to detail is prevalent, and Pinch’s expertise in his story telling gives such an authenticity to the proceedings, you can practically feel the thick stench of death in the air while you read. Spectral Press has done it again, producing yet another well-crafted story in a very nice package. Spectral is one to watch, one of the crowning glories of the British small press. By Stanley Riiks
THE SAVAGE KNIGHT By Paul Lewis www.abaddonbooks.com A book set in the world of King Arthur, Abaddon’s
series “Malory’s Knights of Albion” is a rip-roaring fantasy adventure series, which resolution proclaims itself history. It’s far too much fun to be real history though! Sir Dodinal the Savage seeks quiet and refuge after leaving Camelot, and thinks he had found it - until raiders begin to steal children in his quiet hamlet. Dodinal cannot stand by and do nothing. He seeks to stop the raider, but naturally finds more than he bargained for in the hills... Fantasy adventure is what Abaddon is best at, with their Arthur and futuristic Robin Hood series. Lewis skilfully handles the action and tension as his plot draws to its inevitable conclusion. Fast paced and great fun, this is not literature by any stretch of the imagination, but it revels in its glory and entertains until the end. Great fun. By Adrian Brady SKULL FEEDER By Pamela Chillemi-Yeager and Dana Joseph Schaff www.terradanworks.net A killer is stalking a prairie town in Kansas, killing and decapitating children. Sheriff Jeb Kawkins is out of his depth as two children’s bodies have been found, and then a third goes missing. Eric Blair, an archaeologist, may have the knowledge to break the case and find the murderer. Having never read either of the authors I came to the book with fresh eyes, willing to discover some new talent, but wary of finding more dross from another small press I haven’t heard of. Fortunately it was the former rather than the latter. This detective thriller with a disturbing horror twist is easy to read, the characters are good, and the plotting is clever. The book is nicely published, and the story is excellent. Very entertaining, this book works the line between horror and thriller exceptionally well. By Adrian Brady DARK WATERS By Peter Mark May www.damnationbooks.com This novella by Peter Mark May, is eerily reminiscent of 2005’s Descent movie (and its sequel), where that bunch of girls go caving and end up battling a selection of long-forgotten inbred monsters semi-nude. In this case, however, the seminude girls, one of the main redeeming features of the movie, have been replaced by an irritating bunch of posh blokes who go ‘cave camping’ in Wookey Hole. Sample dialogue: Those things killed our friends. We should be getting out of here with all
due alacrity? Um, OK... I’m not sure about all the question marks? Either the author couldn’t tell the question mark key from the exclamation point key on his laptop, he is trying to perfect a unique, and quite frankly, annoying style, or there were some serious editing issues. Here’s another example, there you are, old bean? Cringe-worthy dialogue and stylistic issues aside, it’s always slightly weird reading fiction set in a specified, actual location, especially a place you visited as a small and impressionable child. It usually makes things more interesting. Unfortunately, not in this case. Some parts are well written, but I found what little plot there was all-too predictable, and all in all Dark Waters really offers nothing new. By C.M. Saunders Interview with Bruce Bethke by C.M. Saunders November 2011 Most people know you as creator of the term “Cyberpunk”. Once and for all, could you begin by telling us the story? I’ve had this albatross hanging around my neck for nearly 30 years now. I’m finally getting used to wearing it. To really understand the story of “Cyberpunk”, you need to go back a few more years, and know that I did not set out to be a writer at all. I spent most of the 1970s living in this weird space somewhere between rock and serious art. Along with the music, I was doing a little short-story writing because not every idea I had could be readily translated into a score, a program, a patch, or a tape track. I spent the 1970s simply bubbling over with creativity and always going on off in six directions simultaneously, completely unfocused. Then, in the Spring of 1980, while working a crappy day job, I had one of those sorts of low-budget epiphanies I’m prone to having. The epiphany was all about the sudden realization that we adults who were creating all this incredible new microcomputer technology had absolutely no
frickin’ clue how the next generation would use it. Teenagers would no doubt use this new technology in the same way teenagers always use everything new: to rebel against authority, make a loud noise, scare the old ladies, and make the essential teenage statement: “I’M HERE! I’M UNHAPPY! I DON’T KNOW WHY! PAY ATTENTION TO ME, DAMMIT!” But, having grown up “speaking computer”, they would also have a facility with this new technology that their parents and other adult authority figures could only begin to guess at. Once I had that set of core ideas in place, and the determination to give my story a snappy one-word title that would get it noticed in the slush pile, it was simply a matter of trying out different root-word combinations until one just plain sounded right. If it doesn’t sound right, it’s not right. That is the essential truth of the creation of the c-word. It was originally coined as a marketing term, in order to sell one specific story to one specific editor. Everything that came after that was an unintended consequence. What was the original meaning behind the term? “High-tech and low-life” really does seem to get it, although I didn’t think of that at the time. I was thinking more along the lines of “Joe Strummer with a computer instead of a guitar”, although there was also a certain “rebel without a clue” aspect to it. Presumably the story was an instant success? Absolutely not. I wrote it in the Spring of 1980, and sent it off first to George Scithers at Asimov’s. He sent it back with a nice letter saying he liked it a lot but Asimov’s readers would never go for a story that ended with the punk winning, so would I please rewrite the ending? In 1980 the power to buy this story was in George Scithers’ hands, and so the question became, what sort of ending would Lt. Col.
George Scithers, US Army (Ret’d), like to see? In the end I tacked on a coda and sent it back to Scithers. This time he rejected it with a letter saying that in the meantime he’d consulted a real mainframe computer expert, and the whole idea of punk kids running around causing trouble with cheap, powerful, portable, pocket-sized computers was just too far-fetched to be credible. After that, the story spent the next two years bouncing around the editorial offices of all the other magazines in the field. In the summer of 1982 it finally came to rest at Amazing Stories, where the new editor - George Scithers again, just hired away at great expense from Asimov’s - loved it, had to have it, and wanted to know: where had I been hiding all these years? I didn’t tell him the truth until after his check cleared. The story itself has become a seminal piece of work birthing an entire genre and leading to a novel of the same name. You sold the novel to a publisher, but they never released the book. Why? In all fairness, I think the seminal work of the genre came a year later, with William Gibson’s 1984 novel, Neuromancer. There were a lot of people beginning to explore similar sets of ideas in those days but Neuromancer is the book that every agent and editor in the publishing industry saw that made them sit up on their hind legs and say, “Wow! We can publish stuff like that!” So beginning about 1985-1986 there was this enormous flood of Imitation Neuromancer, most of it written by people who wouldn’t know which end of a hot soldering iron to hold and published by people who wouldn’t recognize a line of code if it was tattooed on their forehead. Publishing being the follow-the-leader marketing-driven business it is, everyone began casting about for a label to put on this new stuff. At the time Norman Spinrad argued for calling it “neuromantic” fiction, because so much of it was transparently Imitation Neuromancer, but “cyberpunk” is the name that caught on: partly because it just plain sounded better. During those years I was not idle. Everyone focuses on that one story, “Cyberpunk”, as if it was the only thing I did. But in those three years, I got married, became a father, joined the R&D staff of Passport Designs, did two full-length theatrical scores, two indie movie soundtracks, and learned to play the grants and commissions game well enough to both succeed at it and realize that I didn’t want to succeed at it after all. Plus, I wrote and sold a lot of other stories, both in and out of the SF market.
He Who Must Not Be Named, an American publisher best known for his blood-spattered rightwing militaristic SF novels, got wind that I was working on a novel, tracked me down, and made me an offer that seemed too good to pass up. It was only after I was under contract and interacting with him on a regular basis that I began to realize that, while he wanted to own exclusive rights to the title, Cyberpunk, the story he wanted to be in the pages behind that title was a blood-spattered right-wing sadomasochistic military boarding school novel. My Cyberpunk novel, while not the book I set out to write, turned out to be a pretty decent bildungsroman. But the publisher insisted I rewrite it and throw in a great big bloodbath of a götterdämmerung adolescent vengeance ending, and this I refused to do. Consequently, He Who Must Not Be Named refused either to release the book or to give me a waiver so that I could try to sell it elsewhere. It was only after I fired my agent and took over handling negotiations myself that I realized the publisher’s contract contained a clause preventing my selling any novel-length fiction to anyone else, without the express written permission of He Who Must Not Be Named. It took me five years to buy my freedom from that contract.
All these years later, you must be proud of the original story’s contribution to sci-fi, and its
ongoing legacy. I suppose I am. That’s one of the strange things about the creative personality. If you’re the sort who likes to rest on his laurels and be satisfied with what he’s done, you’ll never get anywhere. When I look back, what I see are all the opportunities missed, things done I shouldn’t have done, things left undone, and things I could have done better. I can’t complain, really. Being “the guy who wrote ‘Cyberpunk’” has opened a lot of doors for me, and presented me with a lot of opportunities I would not otherwise have had. But it does seem just slightly unfair. There were a lot of people working with similar sets of ideas in the early 1980s, and some of them were very, very good. I just had the good fortune to be the guy who wrote the story that named the beast. One thing does make me proud is when some young software engineer says, “Wow! You were writing stories about grid computing, ereaders, botnets, and the Internet as a software ecosystem before there even was an Internet!” Your next major project was the novel, Maverick, written from an outline by Isaac Asimov, and after that came arguably your most successful book to date, Headcrash, in 1995, winner of the Philip K. Dick Award. Can you tell us something about the book? Actually, I can tell you two things. One is that Headcrash should be coming out on Kindle, Nook, and a plethora of other e-reader platforms sometime in December. And the other is... Well, people keep asking: “After you finally got out of the Cyberpunk contract, why didn’t you just turn around and write the novel you intended Cyberpunk to be?” The answer is that Headcrash is the book Cyberpunk was originally intended to be, albeit in evolved and mutated form. In 1999 your novelization of the Will Smith movie, Wild Wild West, was published. This is something you don’t seem entirely proud of. What’s the problem? Wild Wild West was the wrong book, done at the wrong time, for the wrong reasons. I was trying to
sell a completely different book to my U.S. publisher, and they came back with the counter-offer that they’d be willing to look at my next original novel, but only if I did a media tie-in for them, first. The project was a catastrophe from Day One and somehow Wild Wild West went from being the pretty cool and fairly serious steampunk western I’d originally signed on for to being a campy Will Smith summer action/comedy vehicle. In the end, the movie stunk up the theaters, the book flopped in the stores, and when I went back to my U.S. publisher to resume talking about the book I was trying to sell them at the start of this discussion, they informed me that they were no longer interested in publishing new novels written by me, as I clearly was incapable of writing a commercially successful novel. After Wild Wild West, you seemed to disappear off the face of the Earth. Were you abducted by aliens? Standard Operating Procedure in this situation is for the writer whose career is coughing blood to either change pen names, jump genres, or else go back to doing short stories for a while until the stench from the failed novel airs out. I, however, had a third option, unavailable to most writers, which was to go back to my much-better paying career in software development. And the question every writer hates but always gets asked... Where do you get your ideas? You know how I’ve always wanted to answer this one? Ideas are all around you, everywhere, all the time, free for the taking. Rather than asking where I get my ideas, you should be asking yourself: why don’t I get ideas? Almost everything I write is comedy, on some level. I really have to work at putting on a straight face and maintaining it for any length of time. It’s a basic philosophy-of-life thing. I laugh, because the alternative is to scream. Okay, so you dig computers. What do you think the near future holds for society as a whole? I never answer that question in public. My answers frighten people. What is The Friday Challenge? We usually call it an online writing workshop, because that’s a term people find familiar and comfortable, but the truth is a bit trickier. One of the things that goes along with being a successful author is that you continually hear from people who want to write, but don’t seem to know how to get started. Not in a purely technical and mechanical sense, of course; they can type, and understand the rudiments of grammar. But it’s as if they’ve been hobbled by
years of studying English comp in school. They seem to be casting about for some recognized authority figure who can lay hands upon them, bless them, and say, “It’s okay for you to try to write. It’s okay for you to fail, provided you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and try again”. At heart, The Friday Challenge is a motivational workshop for aspiring writers. My methods are not for everyone. I don’t guarantee results. But over the years a goodly number of my work-shoppers have found the encouragement there that they needed to go on to becoming professionally published writers, and that pleases me. It’s a cliché, I know, but I created The Friday Challenge as a way to pay it forward. It’s one way I can use all this attention that accrues to me for being “the guy who wrote ‘Cyberpunk’” in order to do something helpful for others. Strange, huh? I mean, I’m a world-famous award-winning writer! Don’t I know that it’s supposed to be all about me?
I think the mission statement on our web page gets it fairly well. Rampant Loon Press is “dedicated to the seemingly radical proposition that if we produce high-quality work, conduct our business dealings in an open and ethical manner, and treat authors as we ourselves would wish to be treated, it just might be possible to build a successful publishing business without begging for foundation grants, genuflecting before sponsors and advertisers, becoming the house press of some religious or political advocacy group, or publishing work we would be embarrassed to have our children or parents read”. What many writers apparently fail to realize is that these days, most commercial publishing houses are just very tiny subsidiaries of vast multinational media conglomerates, and therefore subject to all the biases and accounting pressures associated with such enterprises. The days of a publisher taking a chance on something really new, or of an editor risking his or her career to advocate for an unusual book or author, are long gone. In modern corporate publishing, there is a tremendous pressure to repeat and refine formulas that have already proven commercially successful. But as the owners, we are free to establish our own definition of success - and we’ve decided that if RLP can be the springboard that launches a half-dozen new writer’s careers and two or three editorial careers, then we will have succeeded beyond our wildest dreams. One of your first projects is a series of e-anthologies called Stupefying Stories. Can you tell us something about that? It’s simple. Stupefying Stories exists because Amazing Stories and Aboriginal SF don’t. There is a tremendous amount of very good short fiction being written these days by some very talented people, most of whom are having a hard time finding readers, because the old pulp magazine business is at least dying if not already dead. So if I can use the attention that accrues to me in order to get people to pay attention to new writers...
You now run your own publishing company, Rampant Loon Press. How did this come about? In the usual way. My wife and I went down to the appropriate government offices and filed the requisite incorporation papers. Now we get to sit in our corporation offices and act all corporationy. It’s fun. What do you domination?
What kinds of stories will you be publishing? People assume that Stupefying Stories publishes only science fiction, because of the pulpy name and my reputation. In truth, I despise labels, and have a really hard time seeing the impermeable genre barriers others claim to see so clearly. What exactly is it that separates adventure from mystery, mystery from fantasy, or science fiction from horror? I don’t care. Tell me a good story, is what I want. Tell me a story that takes me away to an interesting place, introduces me to interesting characters, and delivers
an ending that makes it worth the time it took to get there. Do that, and we’ll let the critics worry about what to label it later, after it’s been published. There is a lot of debate at the moment about ebooks and the future of publishing. How do you see it all panning out? Ebooks clearly are the future of publishing. Print publishing and distribution is hellishly expensive and wasteful, and while I’m certain printed books will never vanish entirely, I’m equally certain they’re on their way back to being what they were a century or more ago: luxury items, made in small batches, for those few affluent enough to afford to buy and keep them. But as for the rest of the future of publishing; look at your kids and their friends. They are practically surgically attached to their cell phones, and perfectly comfortable with reading content on pocket-sized touch screens. In a few more years, they will be thinking of books as more like retro decor objects than sources of information. For authors, or as they should be thinking of themselves, content developers - there is a wonderful window of opportunity that’s open right now. I pulled the plug on past ebook projects because I decided the existing technologies, at those times, were not ready. But within the last year or so, e-reader technology has really finally arrived. Right now, it’s an exciting time to be a writer! Cyberpunk FREE download as it appeared in Amazing Stories magazine:
http://www.brucebethke.com/articles/cyberpnk.pdf Bruce Bethke: http://www.brucebethke.com/index.html Stupefying Stories: http://www.rampantloon.com/ HOUSE OF FEAR Edited By Jonathan Oliver www.solarisbooks.com Haunted house stories are a staple of horror, so it’s nice that this anthology brings together many established names to provide a set of haunted house stories that truly accomplish their aim: to scare you silly. Despite the seemingly limited theme, there are a wide range of stories in here; this is certainly
not a basic haunted house collection. This is an exceptional collection of ghostly house stories. Featuring fiction from the likes of Gary McMahon, Joe R, Lansdale, Adam Nevill, Christopher Fowler, Nicholas Royle, Garry Kilworth and many more, it’s too difficult to pick a favourite. All the stories stand out for their originality. Bringing a fresh and unique view to a sometimes tired horror staple, Oliver’s book will no doubt ignite a resurgence of spooky house stories. By Adrian Brady DOUBLE DEAD By Chuck Wendig www.abaddonbooks.com Abaddon Books’ Tomes of the Dead series is a remarkably diverse collection of undead novels, and this is another good book to add to the series. Not great, but definitely good. Coburn is a vampire, who wakes up after a zombie apocalypse, finding himself bereft of food (humans), and surrounded by zombies willing to eat his undead flesh. When he stumbles on a group of humans he is persuaded to become their shepherd, protecting them in exchange for them leading him to blood. What follows is an adventure across a zombie-filled America of Cannibals and religious fanatics. Ok, so none of this is going to win any prizes for originality, we’ve seen it all before, but it’s brought together very well, and Wendig, for the most part, tells a good story. There are the inevitable first novel blunders, the plot feels organic, growing out of the situations the characters get themselves stuck in, rather than running with the finesse of a well-plotted novel. There are also a few strange coincidental mentions of certain things just before they become relevant, which an editor really should have smoothed out too. The characters are pretty bog-standard zombie fair, Coburn the vampire is a typical vampire with a heart, but at least is given a semblance of conflict about it. All in all this is good fun, enough action, decent enough characters, and a good idea, with some really exciting moments. Shows a great deal of promise, and is perfectly good fun for the undemanding reader. Just don’t expect too much. By Stanley Riiks
My Scariest Scary Movie By Trevor Wright I hated Horror. I hated everything about it. I hated the blood. I hated the scares. I hated the gory VHS covers that littered the video store shelves, caught my eye, and then plagued my brain for days afterward, forcing me into my own personal version of a biblical fast whenever dinnertime came aknocking. I don’t think my parents ever caught on to the real reason why I would sometimes barely touch my meal. Had they known it might have had something to do with that cover of Sleepaway Camp I spotted in the $1.99 bin at K-Mart, or that movie still of a guy’s head on a platter I got a glimpse of when I “accidentally” snuck a peek at the newest issue of Fangoria at the local bookstore, then they might have been a little more cautious of my whereabouts whenever they took me shopping. And really, what nine year old boy wants their parents watching their every move? Yes, horror terrified me. But it also intrigued me. Intrigued me to the point where no matter how much I desperately wanted to stay away, I just couldn’t. I wouldn’t. I wanted to love horror as much as my prepubescent fourth grade friends did. But I had a major handicap – not only could I not stomach scary movies, I couldn’t handle blood from any genre! For your reading pleasure I present an incomplete list of movies I saw as a kid in the theatre in which I had to close my eyes due to trivial amounts of blood or the threat or trivial amounts of blood: 1. The Empire Strikes Back (parents actually took me to see this thing twice in one day because I wouldn’t stop covering my eyes) 2. Return of the Jedi 3. Gremlins 4. The Goonies 5. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom 6. Rocky IV 7. Red Dawn 8. The Black Cauldron (yes, the Disney cartoon!) Yet, through all of this, I was drawn to horror. I wanted to know everything there was to know about Freddy Krueger (even though I couldn’t stand to look at him); I wanted to be able to talk Friday the 13th kills with the neighbourhood teens; I longed to know how much nudity was actually in Slumber Party Massacre! So what changed? What was the movie that did it for me? What was the one that put me on the
fast track to a life of watching endless (and subsequently creating endless) genre fare? The answer: Stand by Me. Wait! What? Yes, Stand by Me, the Rob Reiner (Meathead from TV’s “All in the Family”) directed flick based on Stephen King’s short story “The Body.” Stand by Me, the four pre-teens go camping in the woods coming of age drama. That Stand by Me. The movie that gave us River Phoenix, Wesley Crusher, Jack Bauer and that fat kid that went on to become Jerry O’Connell, not to mention twelve year olds cursing like drunk sailors and adults barfing blueberry pie all over each other. Ah yes, Stand by Me. What’s not to love? I’ll tell you what’s not to love! How about being 10 years old and seeing that dead kid’s hand sticking out of that wood pile at the end of the film?! Oh, excuse me – Spoiler Alert! How about when they uncover said body and what they find is not some maggoty deformed person with half their face missing but a child (who happened to be close to my age at the time) bloated, hair sticking straight up, a couple facial lacerations and those eyes – those dead eyes - staring into nothingness. I didn’t know people died with their eyes open. Hell, at that age I didn’t know kids could die! That image frightened me to my very core. It burned a place holder in my brain that could never be erased. All of the monsters with fangs and serial killers with hockey masks couldn’t come close to the real life terror I felt by such a subtle, yet true to life, image of a kid your own age tragically killed (by a train of all things), and left in the middle of the forest for someone to come along and discover by accident. I went into the woods all the time around my house. Was I going to find a dead body one of these days? Would it be a classmate? A friend? The thought, to this day, has haunted me ever since: Innocence lost. From then on I knew that anything I saw in a “typical” horror movie no matter how gory or how over the top couldn’t hold a candle to the ending of Stand by Me. So I experimented. My first “real” horror movie was A Nightmare on Elm Street 3. I loved every moment of it. Even the moments when I had to leave the room and peek around the corner just to make sure it wasn’t getting
too bloody. And my love of horror movies snowballed from there. Today, I’ve seen it all and never so much as flinched in disgust. But the ending of Stand by Me? Haven’t watched it since. What’s your scariest “scary” movie? What’s the one that got you into horror? And why? Drop me a line and let me know: email@example.com I may even put your experiences in a future column. Until next time... DANGEROUS WATERS By Juliet E. McKenna www.solarisbooks.com The first book in The Hadrumal Crisis, this epic story sets up the world and characters, whilst delivering some great battles, fighting and action. Corsairs are raiding the islands and coast of Caladhrian, but the Archmage (ruler of the island of wizards) had banned the use of magic in war; however, as villagers are enslaved the pressure mounts. There are several other strands to the plot; this is an epic book at nearly six hundred pages, and part of a much larger series. McKenna manages to make the book both epic in scale, and personal with the stories of the individuals and their own private struggles under siege by the pirates. Intelligently written, massively exciting, it’s like Pirates of the Caribbean set in a magical fantasy land. Great stuff, exciting and compelling reading. By Adrian Brady GIANT THIEF By David Tallerman www.angryrobotbooks.com Giant Thief, by the British author David Tallerman, is a fast paced, dryly humorous fantasy that tells the story of a petty criminal, Easie Damasco, as he undertakes the largest and most ill-advised theft of his career and ends up fleeing for his life across wartorn Castoral with Marina Estrada, “ex-mayor and failed resistance leader” and “an aberration of nature”. The story is a relatively simple fight and flight tale, although the tribulations that afflict Easie during the course of his journeys have a tendency to get out of hand and rapidly become life threatening: hardly a simple matter from the beleaguered Easie’s
point of view. Damasco responds to each complication, including being almost hanged, press-ganged into an auxiliary army, kidnapped and facing the constant threat of death, with an entertainingly dry, ironic wit that is present from the opening lines of the book: “The sun was going down by the time they decided to hang me. “In fairness, they hadn’t rushed the decision. They’d been debating it for almost an hour since my capture and initial beating. One of the three was in favour of handing me over to an officer from amongst the regulars. The second had been determined to slit my throat, and was so set in his opinion that I’d hoped he might make a start with his companions. On that basis, I’d decided to lend him my encouragement.” Easie makes for an engaging anti-hero who has to confront both his own kleptomaniac and selfserving tendencies as well as, as is often the way of fantasies, a dark and evil warlord. The greatest evil in the book, however, is war itself. Battle is not glorious or life-defining, but a brutal, mutilating and invariably fatal experience. There are no real heroes and the greatest achievement within the book is to go home. Giant Thief is a wryly amusing and entertaining read that also proves to be more thought provoking than might originally seem to be the case. By J. S. Watts Mark Morris Interview What inspired you to start writing? Since I was a kid I’ve loved stories in whatever format - books, movies, TV shows. And more particularly I’ve always been drawn to stories that take you out of the everyday, especially if those stories happen to be dark and creepy and explore the limits of human understanding and emotions. How did you go about first getting your work published? I graduated in 1984 with no idea what I wanted to do for a living. So while I was signing on the dole and
applying for jobs I was also writing stories and sending them out to magazines and anthologies. Through Ramsey Campbell, who was a big writing hero of mine while I was in my early twenties and has since become a good friend, I heard about the British Fantasy Society and its annual convention. I went along and met Charlie Grant, who at the time was editing the Shadows anthology series. I gave three or four stories to Charlie to read and he liked one of them enough to buy it. That gave me the impetus to join the Enterprise Allowance Scheme, which was a government-run scheme which funded people who wanted to become self-employed during their first year in business. Whilst I was on the scheme I managed to sell Toady to Piatkus Books, and carried on from there. Your first horror novel, Toady, was published in 1989. How has the horror genre changed since then and how have you managed to stay up to date? It’s changed massively since I started. Back in the late ‘80s the genre was really booming and lots of new writers were getting good book deals. By the mid-1990s, however, partly due, I guess, to market saturation, the genre was in decline and it became much tougher to get decent deals, and also to stick with publishers who were prepared to build you up as an author; it became a case whereby if your book wasn’t an instant success you were quickly dropped. The last seven or eight years have been tough. I’ve kept my head above water, just about, by increasing my output considerably and by taking on lots of tiein work: Doctor Who, Torchwood, Hellboy, Dead Island, Hammer’s Vampire Circus, etc. Fortunately I’ve got enough of a name in the genre, after twentytwo years of fairly constant publication, that I get asked to contribute short stories to pretty good anthology markets on a fairly regular basis, so that provides another income stream. As for staying up to date, I’m still very immersed in the genre and very enthusiastic about it. I go to a lot of conventions and read a lot of books. What other writers have influenced you? Probably too many to name. From my childhood, people like Terrance Dicks, Robert Holmes, Brian
Clemens and Nigel Kneale, who were all TV writers. And many of the people who contributed to the Armada, Pan and Fontana horror and ghost story anthologies, which I devoured ravenously as an adolescent and teenager, so that would include classic genre writers like Lovecraft, Poe, Stoker, M.R. James, Walter de la Mare, Algernon Blackwood, Guy de Maupassant, etc., and more modern writers like Robert Aickman, Ron Chetwynd-Hayes, Mary Danby, John Burke and Rosemary Timperley. From my mid-teens and early twenties onwards you can add to those names writers who are still very much active today. Both Stephen King and James Herbert were massive influences in my mid to late teens, and King remains so. Others would include Ramsey Campbell, Dennis Etchison, Peter Straub, Clive Barker, and plenty of non-genre writers too, from Graham Greene, to Kingsley Amis, to Ian McEwan, to Rupert Thomson. Who are your favourite authors and favourite books? For me, Stephen King and Ramsey Campbell have remained consistently excellent over the years. If I had to choose a book from each, I’d choose Ramsey’s short story collection Dark Companions and King’s most recent novel, 11.22.63, which is simply stunning. Other favourites are Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, Peter Straub’s Ghost Story, Jonathan Coe’s What A Carve Up!, Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, Kingsley Amis’s The Green Man, Magnus Mills’s All Quiet on the Orient Express, and The Penguin Complete Ghost Stories of M.R. James. Simply because of the impact that they had on me at the time, I would also add The 7th Fontana Book of Great Horror Stories edited by Mary Danby, The 11th Pan Book of Horror Stories edited by Herbert Van Thal, and Doctor Who and the Auton Invasion by Terrance Dicks to that list. What are your other influences? Well, movies and TV, of course. Movie-wise, the biggest influences would be the Hammer and Amicus films of the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s, which they used to show on Friday nights during my secondary
school years. For me, as for many of my generation, Cushing, Lee and Price were, and remain, the holy (or unholy) trinity. There are certain Hammer films that I absolutely adore — Dracula, The Reptile, Quatermass and the Pit, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, The Devil Rides Out, Fear in the Night and I’m particularly fond of the Amicus ‘portmanteau’ movies – From Beyond the Grave, Asylum, Vault of Horror, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, The House That Dripped Blood, etc. I was lucky that I grew up in an era when there were tons of classic spooky kids TV shows to feed my young imagination. Doctor Who was the big one for me — it remains my favourite TV show of all time, and always will — but there were numerous other great serials too, like Children of the Stones, The Owl Service, Raven, Escape Into Night, The Changes, Ace of Wands, Sky… it was a real golden era for what has now become known as telefantasy. And of course there were also great adult series which I would watch on a weekend – Nigel Kneale’s Beasts was a particular favourite, as was Brian Clemens’ Thriller and Hammer House of Horror. There were plenty of older series too, which seemed to be on perpetual repeat – The Avengers, The Prisoner, The Twilight Zone, Journey to the Unknown… As I say, I devoured them all. Where do you get your inspiration? Aside from all of the above, you mean? Story ideas literally can come from anywhere - a news report, a snippet of conversation, a chance remark, an evocative image, a location… The secret is simply to be open to it all, and to view everything as a potential story idea. You have written a wide range of books, including several tie-in novels. What do you prefer writing and why? To be honest, I like the variety. I don’t favour one above the other. I only do stuff I want to do, and although I’m sometimes somewhat hampered by certain limitations — most frequently, time and word-length - I put my all into whatever I’m working on at that particular moment, be it a novel of my own, a short story, a Doctor Who audio script or a tie-in book that I have to write
in four weeks. Your most recent book is a tie-in novel for the game Dead Island. How much freedom do you get writing a novel in an existing world? A surprising amount, to be honest. I had to write Dead Island from fifteen pages of gaming notes, which don’t always translate well into a novel format, and a short paragraph on each of the four main characters. So from the basic plot and very sketchy character outlines I had to expand, extrapolate and adapt in order to turn the information I had been given into a novel. Once I’d agreed to take the project on, I then only had four weeks to write the book, so there was no discussion of the plot and no interference from either the gaming company or my publisher, simply because there just wasn’t time. What is your writing day like? Do you have any rituals or routines when you write? Not really. It’s a full-time job, so I generally sit down at my desk around 9:30-10:00am and work through until I’ve finished my quota of words for that day. If I’m working on something quite intensively (which I have been this year with both Dead Island and Vampire Circus), I’ll work 10-12 hour days 7 days a week to get it finished. At other times I’ll work from around 10am-5pm. I rarely have a day off, though. Unless we’re actually going away to visit friends, or I’m heading off to a convention, I’ll work weekends. Needless to say, my working day is also interspersed with Twitter, Facebook and making cups of tea. How do you put a book together? Do you just sit down and write or do you plan chapter by chapter? I usually plan it fairly carefully, especially if it’s something that I have a limited time to write and that has to be a specific number of words. If it’s a novel, I’ll work out how many chapters it’s going to be and do maybe a paragraph or so of notes, or sometimes just a line or two, about what has to happen in each chapter. Then when I’ve thrashed out the basic plot, I’ll work out a writing schedule so
that I know where I have to be, in terms of chapters and words, by the end of each writing day. Sometimes that means having to sit at my desk till midnight to get a chapter finished so that I don’t drop behind schedule. If you could goo back in time to when you started writing and give yourself one piece of advice what would it be? Talk to editors more about future plans and ideas. Although most of my work has been in the horror genre, my novels have jumped about quite a bit in terms of content and style over the years, by which I mean that in the past I might have followed up a big, apocalyptic, multi-viewpoint viewpoint novel with a claustrophobic ghost story, and then after that I might have written, say, a non-supernatural supernatural psychopsycho thriller, or something slightly weird and abstract in the first person. Which is fine in terms of exploring the very wide parameters of the genre, but is a nightmare from a publishing point of view, because it means that publishers don’t quite know how to market you or where to position you in the marketplace. Because of my past tendency not only to jump about in this way, but also to present editors with finished novels rather than communicate my plans and ideas up front, I’ve actually shot myself in the foot a couple of times and lost potentially very lucrative publishing deals. So although I certainly wouldn’t want to get stuck into the rut of writing the same kind of book over and over again,, I do now have (and would have had if given my time over again) a much closer relationship with my editors in terms of discussing ideas and ensuring that we’re all on the same page. Writing may be a solitary occupation, but publishing is very much a team game. Do you read reviews of your work? How do you deal with criticism? If a review crosses my path I’ll read it, but I don’t go out of my way to track down reviews of my work. The problem with the internet is that everyone’s got an opinion these days andd as a result there are so many ill-informed informed and ignorant reviews out there,
full of vitriol and envy but with nothing constructive to back them up. I guess I deal with criticism like most writers I know – I take it to heart for a little while and then I forget orget about it. What book are you reading now? I actually get through books at a fair old clip. I’ve read something like fifty-six six books so far this year, so by the end of 2011 I’ll have read about sixty, which averages out at one every six days or so. At A this moment I’m actually reading an old Peter Haining ‘true mysteries’ anthology, but I’m using that as a cosy little palate cleanser between more substantial courses. A few days ago I finished Generation Loss by Elizabeth Hand, who’s an excellent writer,, and next I’ll be reading Sourdough and Other Stories by Angela Slatter, which was recommended to me by my very good friend Robert Shearman. What is your proudest moment as a writer? Hmm, that’s a tricky question. I don’t know about ‘proud’, but there have certainly been plenty of high points over the years. Receiving the Toady acceptance letter from Piatkus on th September 29 1988 was unbelievable. Before that, getting a call one night from Charlie Grant, who was ringing to say that he wanted to buy one of my stories for Shadows, was also amazing. Other memorable moments include seeing Chris Moore’s amazing cover artwork for the paperback pa of Toady for the first time; doing my first professional signing with Anne McCaffrey in 1990; Toady being nominated for a British Fantasy Award for Best Novel in 1990 alongside books by Stephen King, Peter Straub, Ramsey Campbell and Clive Barker; going to the recording of my first Doctor Who audio script and hearing renowned actors like Benedict Cumberbatch and Sylvester McCoy actually reading my words… To be honest, there have been so many great moments over the years that it would be impossible too name them all. Are you disappointed with any of your work when you look back on it? Oh, always. Every writer looks back on his or her
work and thinks he could have done just a little bit better, or if they don’t then they should because that’s how we improve – by constantly striving for perfection. Do you write for a particular audience or for yourself? Pretty much for myself. I write the kinds of books that I think I would enjoy as a reader. Having said that, it’s hard to be objective about your own work. What I strive for is clarity and a kind of… smoothness of style, I guess you’d call it. I want the reader to forget that they’re actually undergoing the physical process of reading a book and just get caught up in the flow of the story and the interactions between characters. What do you like to do when you’re not writing? The kinds of things that most other people do, I guess. I like spending time with my family and friends; I read books; I go to movies and watch TV; I fart around on Facebook and Twitter. To be honest, most of my best friends are writers, and most of my interests are intertwined with what I do for a living, so even when I’m having fun I’m often doing things that are associated with ‘work’. But that’s okay, because I love my work.
oh, I knew I shouldn’t have started this, because I’m bound to leave out someone vital and they’ll get offended. But what I was going to say is we’ll often get together for weekends, either in one another’s houses, or we’ll just hire a cottage in the country and descend on it with masses of food and drink, and we’ll talk ad nauseum about books and films and writing and whatever takes our fancy really. So I love all that. As for the process of writing itself, I love that zing of inspiration when you know you’ve come up with a good idea; I love those rare occasions when a piece of work is flowing well and you’re ahead of schedule; I love that problemsolving moment when things click into place and you suddenly realise that those insurmountable plot discrepancies are not insurmountable, after all. As for what I don’t like, I hate that feeling you get when you’ve been commissioned to come up with something specific - an idea for a zombie story, say and you can’t think of a damn thing that seems new and original, and you get to the point where you sincerely believe you’ll never have a single original thought ever again. I hate the slog and grind when it’s not going well and you just want to stop, but you know you can’t because you’ve got a schedule to stick to. I hate the interminable waiting for news publishing wheels can sometimes turn incredibly slowly. Oh, and I hate proofreading. It’s pernickety, mind-numbing work, but you have to stay concentrated because there’s nothing worse for a writer than a bad typo at a vital moment. Do you get writer’s block? I get blocked for ideas sometimes, and I have days when I just can’t seem to express myself on the page, but those are usually just temporary blips. I’ve never had it for any length of time.
What parts of being a writer do you like best? And least? I love meeting fans and hanging out with other writers. I love doing conventions and literary festivals and bookshop events and signings. I’ve got a real knot of great writer friends, among whom are people like Tim Lebbon, Nick Royle, Sarah Pinborough, Gary McMahon, Steve Volk, Rob Shearman, Conrad Williams, Pete and Nicky Crowther, Mike Marshall Smith, Rio Youers and…
If you could meet anyone, fictional or real, dead or alive, who would it be? Hmm. If we’re talking about real people, the temptation would be to choose someone who has a kind of semi-legendary historical status, possibly someone to whom there is some doubt and mystery attached, like Shakespeare for instance. Purely to satisfy my curiosity, I guess it would be interesting to meet him, just to see what he was like as a bloke, and also to find out once and for all whether he did actually write all the plays that have been ascribed to him, and also whether there were any others that we don’t know about that have become lost over the years. It would also be cool to sit in on one of M.R. James’ famous Christmas ghost story sessions or to find out whether Poe or Lovecraft were as mentally screwed up as some reports claim they were. If
we’re talking about fictional characters, then that’s easy: I’ll accompany Doctor Who on an adventure where he meets up with Sherlock Holmes to fight monsters. That’s on the proviso, of course, that I’ll do something incredibly heroic and come out of the encounter alive. Which do you prefer writing/reading, short stories or novels? I have no preference. I read and write a lot of each, and love them equally. What are you working on now? I’ve just finished and delivered a novel to Hammer/Arrow Books. It’s a modern-day ‘reimagining’, as they’re calling it, of the early ‘70s Hammer movie Vampire Circus. After Christmas I’ve got a couple of short stories to write and then I’ll be doing some work on the YA novel that I’m writing with Tim Lebbon. And once I’ve done that, unless something more imminent crops up, I’ll be turning my attention back to my own novel, which I’ve been forced to put on the back burner for the past six months or so, which is the first book of a proposed dark fantasy trilogy. Do you have any advice for other writers? Just keep writing. Write as much as possible. Be flexible. Be open to opportunities. And don’t get disheartened. It’s probably tougher than it’s ever been for writers to get published, but however many rejections you get you just have to keep banging at the door. What scares you? Death. Pain. Illness. The thought of bad things happening to my loved ones. What makes a good story? There are many elements - balance, structure, an original idea - but the most important one is good characters. If you create characters that people can believe in and/or identify with, then you’re most of the way there. If your characters are dull and unconvincing then no amount of ‘plot’ is going to draw the reader in to the story you want to tell, but if you create a character or characters that the reader likes and identifies with, then the smallest incidents can seem enthralling and full of wonder and tension and excitement. THE HOWLING REBORN 2011 Anchor Bay Films DVD Hollywood continues to coast on name recognition rather than originality - thus 2011 brings us remakes
of Fright Night and The Thing. But the poor old Howling trademark is apparently too tarnished for a big budget retread. Instead, this attempt to reboot the series comes to DVD courtesy Anchor Bay. Much has changed in the nearly twenty years since a Howling movie was released. Low budget films are now shot on high-def digital video, and digital effects are now the norm. But producer Steven Lane still holds the rights to Gary Brandner’s book The Howling II, and still continues to milk them for all they are worth (roughly, enough to cover production costs). This new Howling, directed by Joe Nimzki, has little to do with Joe Dante’s original Howling, but it does borrow that movie’s twist-joke ending. The story centres on Will (Landon Liboiron), a sensitive, studious teenager and his girlfriend (Lindsay Shaw). Like many smart teens, Will is troubled by bullies. But get this, the bullies at his school are werewolves! If that sounds dorky to you, steer clear. But if you love Stephenie Meyer, the WB Network, and so on, this may be your cup of tea. Just so long as you’re not put off by sensitive ballads like “The Book of Love.” Sample lyrics: “I love it when you read to me./And yo-ouuuuu can read me anything./The Book of Love has music in it./In fact that’s where music comes from”. Urgh, blecch. Will’s heartfelt narration gives the proceedings a further air of young adult lit, with observations such as, “One unexpected moment can pretty much change everything”. Without giving away all the complications, let’s just say the movie could have been titled Your Mother is a Werewolf. Much straightfaced debate ensues as the wolves talk about how they’re starting a revolution, an evolution revolution, that is, how humans are no longer at the top of the food chain, how it’s survival of the fittest and so on, while our young hero speaks up for love and humanity. At least the climactic scenes of werewolves tearing the high school to pieces merit a few campy chuckles, as does the fact that the werewolves, for some reason, have long kangaroo tails. The film will disappoint horror fans, and not only that, it’ll likely bypass its intended audience due to DVD art that fails to get across its Twilight tone. The DVD includes commentary by Shaw and director Joe Nimzki. By Brett Taylor
MERKABAH RIDER 2: THE MENSCH WITH NO NAME By Edward M. Erdelac www.damnationbooks.com
I reviewed the first volume in this weird western series for MT last year, so thought it only fitting that I follow that up with a quick look at the second volume in the series. Anyone familiar with Erdelac’s work will be aware of his uncanny talent for marrying real and imagined history into some kind of bizarre, twisted hybrid of fact and fiction. With the MR series he has created an expansive alternate world that sucks you in and holds you in its grip as you follow the continuing adventures of the Rider as he pursues the dastardly destroyer of his mystic Jewish order across the country and unravels yet more of the mystery along the way. This nightmarish version of the American Wild West is not only inhabited by cowboys, Indians and wanton prostitutes, but also by wizards, poisonous dwarves and mythical creatures, all of which makes for a very lively read. Erdelac writes in a vivid, descriptive style that brings his fantastic worlds to life and the characters are so lovinglycrafted that you can’t help but identify with them. The nice ones, anyway. By C.M. Saunders
The other highlight, again from a writing perspective, was the launch of the Tommy B. Smith edited Urban Horror Special from Morpheus Tales, which also features a story by me. A lovely glossy A5 Collector’s Edition of the magazine dropped through my letterbox in the summer. It’s another grand addition to the Morpheus Tales library, and my blast-em-up story fits in nicely. You can order your copy of this fine magazine from here: www.lulu.com/product/paperback/morpheus-talesurban-horror-special-issue-digest-size/15836588
Last but not least, my work also appeared in the FREE Morpheus Tales Christmas Horror Special! Not only is it free, it’s great, and I’m happy to be published alongside some excellent Christmasy stories! Go to the Specials page of the website to download more free magazines: www.morpheustales.com
2011: A year in reviews By Stanley Riiks This has been a busy year. I’ve been reading a hell of a lot of books, and generally been having a great time. There’s been a lot of tosh this year too, but enough about that. The highlight of the year for me came in December with the launch of 13: Tales of Dark Fiction featuring my story, alongside a whole host of great writers, including my current heroes Gary McMahon and Andy Remic (more on them later). This invitation only anthology features thirteen stories of dark fiction, ranging from futuristic warfare, civil war and sasquatch, musical insanity, and a post apocalypse London (that one’s from me!). It’s a great book to be a part of. Go check out the free preview and get yourself a copy: 13: Tales of Dark Fiction Available from lulu.com and all good booksellers www.lulu.com/product/paperback/13-tales-of-darkfiction/18720432
Available as an ebooks in many formats: www.smashwords.com/books/view/110688
Available on Amazon Kindle:
Ok, that’s enough of my pimping my own stuff. Let’s talk about other people’s books. I got this next book for Christmas 2010 after putting it on my list for Santa, but didn’t get round to reading it until the second book in the series came out and I grabbed hold of a copy. I thought I might benefit from knowing what the first book was about and began to read Gary McMahon’s Pretty Little Dead Things. I was absolutely blown away. Unrelentingly dark, menacing, brooding, this is a book that won’t let you put it down. It’s horror for horror fans, disturbing and scarring in a way that is difficult to create in any media. McMahon is a nasty genius who takes delight in torturing his readers. I absolutely loved every harrowing minute of it. The second book in the series is very different, but every bit as brutal and terrorising. It’s been a busy year for McMahon who also published the first in The Concrete Grove trilogy, which again brought us his trade-mark atmosphere and human despair. Every fan of horror should read these books. Andy Remic’s Clockwork Vampire Chronicles ended with the publication of Vampire Warlords, the third book in this rip-roaring series. Massively entertaining. MASSIVELY. These books made me feel like a kid again, a story that sweeps
you away and takes you on an adventure you can never forget. It was a good year for Remic with the launch of his publishing company Anarchy Books (www.anarchy-books.com) along with about four novels! I haven’t got round to reading them all yet, but they line my bookshelf. I did read Theme Planet, set in the same universe as Remic’s story for 13: Tales of Dark Fiction “Mongrel Days”. A shocking book, and great fun. Remic’s stories are true rollercoaster-rides, no one does action like Remic. So good it hurts! Adam Nevill’s Apartment 16 has probably the best Prologue of any horror book ever; it sets the book up in a spooky and disturbing way that keeps you reading till the end. This ghost story reminded me of Joe Hill’s Heart-Shaped Box. Both excellent modern ghost stories. The Reaper Are The Angels by Alden Bell was the best of a huge number of zombie novels I read this year. The only one to stand out, it offers a young girl’s perspective of a zombie-filled postapocalypse. Beautifully written. Apart from that there has been a plethora of middle-of-the-road horror, plenty of good ideas which failed in the deliver, and a raft of utter tosh. Spectral Press have continued to release their limited edition chapbooks. The short story publisher is doing a fabulous job of bringing some chilling tales out in chapbook form. A unique approach to publishing, but done with style and class that you
can’t argue with, and the stories are top notch. Simon Marshall-Jones also joined the MT Supplement as a columnist (you can read how he got into horror in this very issue!). It was also good to hear the news that Steve Upham’s Screaming Dreams Publishing is back. Some review copies have just arrived! Spectral Press might have a fight on its hands for my favourite Small Press Publisher this year! The Stanley Riiks’ Awards for 2011: Horror award for Brilliance: Gary McMahon. Without a doubt the finest horror writer alive. No question. Fantasy award for Brilliance: Andy Remic. Action hero and master of fantasy and SF. He can write anything, and he writes it so well! Action master. Small Press award for Brilliance: Spectral Press. Producing lovely chapbooks with ghostly and menacing stories, I can only hope, and may be beg, that one day they publish something of mine. Let’s hope 2012 delivers... Morpheus Tales #15 Review Supplement, January 2012. © COPYRIGHT January 2012 Morpheus Tales Publishing, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Review can be used, in full or in part, for publicity purposes as long as Morpheus Tales Magazine is quoted as the source.
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