Friday, 2 October 2015

Doctor Who: The Beautiful People (Big Finish) by Jonathan Morris | mini-review

The fourth story from the first series of the Companion Chronicles is an hour-long adventure for the fourth Doctor, K9 and the second Romana, recounted in character by Lalla Ward. The three of them arrive in a beauty spa where the treatments are somewhat extreme. The story ends up offering a positive message towards those of us tipping the scales in the wrong direction, but there’s a fair bit of fat description before we get there, and it sounds a bit odd coming from Romana. Stephen Theaker **

Friday, 25 September 2015

The Brenda and Effie Mysteries: Bat Out of Hull (Bafflegab) by Paul Magrs | mini-review

Brenda, the former bride of Frankenstein, continues her new life in Whitby, getting tangled up in mysteries with new friend and neighbour Effie. In this second story the entanglement is literal, as Tolstoy, a ventriloquist’s felt bat puppet with the uncanny ability to fly on its own, gets stuck in her famous beehive during a performance at the Christmas Hotel. The weirdness with the bat may be connected to the discovery of a toyshop, supposedly established in 1818, though Effie’s never heard of it. The music is perfect, the performances excellent, the story a good one. Never mind Radio 4, this would make perfect Sunday night television. Stephen Theaker ****

Monday, 21 September 2015

The Visit | review by Douglas J. Ogurek

Pop Pop and Nana go gaga as Shyamalan adds another gem to his trove.

Don’t cast teens as protagonists. Stay away from twists. Don’t try to weave in a message. And please, for the love of all things cinematic, do not use the found footage technique. Such is the advice a critic might bestow upon the director of a contemporary horror film.

Despite ignoring each of these presumed precautions in The Visit, M. Night Shyamalan manages to prove his directorial ingenuity once again. The film offers equal parts humour and horror, topped off with Shyamalan’s ever-present moral message. And it’s all steeped in the scenario that this generation’s Hitchcock has mastered: strange things happen to engaging characters in remote and unglamorous locations.

No Cookies and Cocoa
Fifteen-year-old Becca and her peppy younger (by two years) brother Tyler, self-dubbed T-Diamond Stylus, set out to spend a week on their grandparents’ Pennsylvanian farm. Becca, a budding director, wants to film a documentary that explores the longstanding rift between her mom and her grandparents.

The story, unfolding through Becca’s cameras, quickly reveals that “Pop Pop” and “Nana” are a far cry from the cookies and cocoa grandparents that many of us envision . . . especially when the sun sets. Their behaviour grows more erratic and more eccentric. The tight-lipped Pop Pop, prone to bursts of violence, retreats to his shed and makes the most of his incontinence. Nana obsesses over the cleanliness of her oven and engages in a variety of nocturnal oddities. Employees of the local hospital stop by and express concern that the couple has stopped coming to volunteer as counsellors.

By the film’s end, the viewer will get gobs of what Shyamalan does best, such as funny dialogue, the goosebump-inciting twist, and the evocation of contrasting emotions. For instance, sequences in which the siblings debate whether to investigate the strange sounds just outside their door merge humour and tension. The film’s climax, in which both protagonists confront their weaknesses, brings to mind the intensity of that in There Will Be Blood.

From Gen Z to Cra-zy
Films with kids who act beyond their years can be supremely annoying (think Home Alone), yet in The Visit, as with other Shyamalan films, it somehow works. Teens Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) stand as fully developed characters with an innocence and sense of wonder that contrasts with the typical horror film teen so quick to shed clothes and crack open beers. The siblings also represent Generation Z. These are the kids who’ve grown up with the instant access to unlimited information that today’s technology affords. They’re perceptive. They’re intuitive. They’re sensitive.

While Becca is the voice of reason, Tyler is the primary source of humour. His vibrancy, curiosity, and even charisma more than make up for his misogynous (Becca’s word) impromptu rapping that grows a bit tedious. In one of the funniest scenes, Tyler’s bright green jacket rebels against the bleak winter setting as he imitates Nana’s antics.

Though The Visit has many strengths, its true jewel is Nana, who bangs and scratches her way through the film. Chicagoan Deanna Dunagan achieves an unpredictability on par with Heath Ledger’s Joker: one never knows whether Nana will laugh hysterically or burst into tears and start hitting herself. This instability is especially effective during sit-down interviews when Becca attempts to coax from her grandmother details about the falling out with Becca’s mother.

The Revisit
Critics have been unjustifiably harsh with Shyamalan’s films. Consequently, it’s quite possible that with this latest film about the making of a documentary, Shyamalan is, in a sense, revisiting those critical slings and arrows.

Just as Becca seeks an “elixir” that will heal the wounds between her mother and her grandparents, Shyamalan points to an elixir that could bridge the gap between his oeuvre and its attackers. However, is it possible to find such an elixir? More important, can Pop Pop, Nana, and those critics be trusted? ***** Douglas J. Ogurek

Friday, 18 September 2015

The Adventure Zone: Murder on the Rockport Limited (Maximum Fun Network) by the McElroys | mini-review

An excellent podcast where three brothers play Dungeons & Dragons with their dad. In this campaign their three daft adventurers are on a non-stop train to Neverwinter, and must pull off a heist and find a murderer before they get there. Their in-character interactions with NPCs like Angus the boy detective (“That’s a really good goof, guys!”) are what really make it for me. When I was a teenager playing Warhammer or Paranoia or whatever with my fellow school librarians, I used to laugh so much I couldn’t speak. This takes me back to that happy place. Stephen Theaker *****

Friday, 11 September 2015

Holy Cow by David Duchovny | review by Stephen Theaker

Holy Cow (Macmillan Audio; Audible edition) by David Duchovny. Subtitled a modern-day dairy tale, Holy Cow is the story of Elsie, a cow who discovers the grim fate awaiting her kind in the slaughterhouse. With Shalom the pig and Tom the turkey she makes a break for it. Animals can talk to each other through grunts, whistles, barks and squeals, “a kind of universal beastly Esperanto”, which will come in handy as they travel the world. Elsie hopes to reach India, where cows are revered. Shalom dreams of Israel, where no one eats pork, and he’s already using Yiddish words and phrases and planning his circumcision. Tom is heading for Turkey, but his real dream is to fly.

It’s a short book, lasting just three hours, broken up into forty-eight chapters. Duchovny reads the audiobook himself, and is much more laid-back than fans of Californication might have expected – it’s friendly and conversational, rather than intense and tortured. That’s not to say he isn’t talking about some big stuff: our treatment of animals, religion, strife in the Middle East. He makes some pretty good points, but the message never overwhelms the charm. I wasn’t a fan of the script-like dialogue style, especially early on – it may have looked economical on the printed page, but slows down the audiobook with its repetition – and yet, overall, this is much better than people might have expected.

My favourite character enters the book late on, a camel, a former model, his fame from cigarette advertising appearances now faded, who misses the adulation that once irritated him so much, and feels guilty about having encouraged people to smoke. ***

Friday, 4 September 2015

Memory Lane | review by Jacob Edwards

Just when is it safe to go back in the water?

Returning to his home town, troubled young Afghan war veteran Nick Boxer (Michael Guy Allen) finds solace in the love of the inscrutable Kayla M (Meg Braden), a girl with whom he feels an immediate, palpable connection. When Kayla commits suicide, Nick tries to do the same by electrocuting himself, but in the seconds between dying and being revived finds himself re-experiencing moments of their relationship and picking up details he missed when he was alive. Convinced there is more to Kayla’s death than first appears, Nick, with the help of close friends Elliot (Julian Curi) and Ben (Zac Snyder), sets out to kill himself again, zapping his consciousness down memory lane as he tries first to understand, then to alter, the past.

Memory Lane (dir. Shawn Holmes) has been likened to Christopher Nolan’s Memento, an apt comparison insofar as each employs a non-linear plot to explore themes of narrative veracity, grief, memory and perception. Both films were made on relatively low budgets, both are cleverly scripted and both display artfulness not for the cheap thrill of deception but rather for the sake of good story-telling. Yet, whereas Memento remains perfectly executed right to the end, Memory Lane stumbles at the final hurdle and so must forfeit its standing ovation and receive only with some caveats the garland of critical acclaim. The subtleties of the story are rendered with a deft touch – particularly the overlap between Nick’s mental state post-war and his retroactive acuity while dead – but the denouement feels rushed, and while everything makes sense (air quotes) the reveal does not inspire the audience to an epiphanic fathoming so much as a slow-nodding, piecing-it-all-together sort of reconcilement after the fact.

Memory Lane in this respect bears some resemblance to Shane Carruth’s Primer, which made a beguilingly naturalistic foray into time travel paradoxes only to fall on the sword of expository narrative voiceover some fifteen minutes short of feature film length. Both movies evidence the best aspects of independent filmmaking: a clear focus on story over spectacle; relatively unknown actors bringing their (considerable) talents to bear unencumbered by preconceptions; dialogue as it would occur in life, not just words intended solely for the viewer and near enough flashed up as intertitles while the characters choke on schmaltz; in short, the cohesiveness that comes from having one person in charge from the outset, pursuing a distinct editorial vision. As it happens, both movies also fail to stick the landing, but so be it. Memory Lane is only sixty-eight minutes long (perhaps it was made with film festivals in mind) and for all that Holmes and co-writer Hari Sathappan concentrated on proofing their script against extraneous material, it’s hard not to think they were somewhat more attuned to their own knowledge of the story than how an outsider might perceive it. That doesn’t mean the end product is not well worth watching, or that up-and-coming auteurs like Holmes don’t deserve awards for kicking down the doors of an industry so corporately skewed it would rather spend $73 million making Battlefield Earth than give new writer-directors the time of day. It just means there’s even better to come.

To praise any film relative to its funding or that of other productions must surely do it a disservice – Memory Lane requires no special consideration to secure its recommendation – but in this instance the figures demand mention, if only because they will seem hard to credit. Memento started life with a budget of $4.5 million. Primer was brought to the screen for only $7,000. Memory Lane cost about $300. It was made (in the sense of remuneration, not skills deployed) as an amateur production: a labour of love. Yet, the core idea and its realisation belie the lack of finances, and either the script was written with certain actors in mind or Holmes has the Midas touch in casting unknowns to fit each part. The cinematography is not always slick (Holmes took responsibility for everything himself), but if anything this rawness adds something to the characters’ emotional state and to the immediacy of what’s taking place; it certainly doesn’t detract, or prevent Holmes from sending us twenty-five years down memory lane, back to when we first saw Flatliners.

Since its festival run (and before that, a limited pre-release online) Memory Lane has garnered quite some renown as the $300 film. More than that, though, it is an estimable movie in its own right, and the first step – taken without shoes, let alone a shoestring – of a filmmaker who promises to make great strides within the profession. So long as the critical approbation for his debut isn’t dependant in some way upon Holmes electrocuting himself in the future, we’ve much to look forward to.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Calling all contributors! Issue 54!

We are now closed to submissions for issue 53, but as one window closes another opens up, and we are now open to submissions for issue 54.

This is going to be our first themed issue in a long, long while. We are looking for stories inspired by this art by Howard Watts, which will be the cover art for issue 54, guest edited by Howard! Here are his guidelines for this themed issue:

"What’s going on with these three characters? Their fate lies in your hands! TQF is looking for short stories based on this image, to appear in issue 54, guest edited by me, Howard Watts. Normal TQF guidelines will apply, but I’m looking for strong character, conflict and ultimately plot – a completely developed idea, with a resolution."

As a bonus, an online poll will then ask the readership to decide the most popular story addressing the theme, and the author of that story will receive a year’s subscription to TQF (or a cash equivalent if outside the UK), plus a large jpeg version of the art, with a white border with their story title beneath it – suitable for framing by one of the many high street photographic shops or online art sites, such as Snapfish.

Submissions to:
Deadline: 31 October 2015

Friday, 28 August 2015

The Dark Defiles by Richard K. Morgan | review by Jacob Edwards

The blood wells, the ink heralds.

Richard Morgan seemed to spend most of The Steel Remains, the first book of his A Land Fit For Heroes trilogy, coming to terms with his own dark take on the fantasy genre. The ending was abrupt (almost like walking off a cliff), and it took him much of the second book, The Cold Commands, to prod and coerce his protagonists back into the story. These characters, however, were always the key, and having made his name writing holistic and gritty science fiction, Morgan, from the moment he embarked upon his disquieting march across genre boundaries, clearly wasn’t going to start faffing about with bog-standard wizards and warriors, chalices and chosen ones; nor, for that matter, join-the-dot quest narratives, rainbow character arcs or pre-industrial paradises threatened by long-dormant evil forces now risen. The setting would be, as the umbrella title suggested, one calling out for heroes, but those heroes in turn would be the tarnished product of their environment. By nature of his approach, Morgan implicitly promised (then explicitly delivered) the sort of unsettling realism that sees shires ransacked and Hobbits crushed dead underfoot. The result is urgent, forceful, unromantic, unforgettable – including graphic, present tense flashbacks to defining acts in the protagonists’ lives, some of them sexual and uncensored, brazenly confronting – yet, by spurning escapism and the lazy warm glow of the happily ever after, could Morgan, for all his exertions and for all that his titles play coy with noun/verb ambiguity, ever have thought to leave us with fantasy sutras as satisfying as they are compelling? The answer, of course, lies in the trilogy’s concluding book, The Dark Defiles (Gollancz, 549pp).

Morgan’s brand of high fantasy differs from the historically popular model in several key aspects, the most pervasive of which is a grimness of setting; the stark refusal to glamorise a world in which the overwhelming majority of the population is poor, miserable, vulnerable and without prospect. A Land Fit for Heroes is not, in short, a place that right-minded readers would wish themselves into, not even (or perhaps especially not) as the heroes in question. Morgan’s main characters – Ringil, an outcast homosexual swordsman; Archeth, an immortal drug addict orphaned of her alien heritage; and Egar, an aging nomad and onetime dragon-slayer too restless to settle – have their own codes to live by, certainly, but they are more self-serving than altruistic or noble; as much as their particular natures have inured them to the heroism (such that it is) of railing against life’s misfortunes and limitations, their dogged struggle for self-determinism rarely appears more than a rearguard action. As The Dark Defiles builds towards its conclusion, the plot doesn’t so much resolve as clear sufficiently to at last reveal something of Morgan’s grand purpose for the trilogy: seemingly, to undermine the tradition, to question the very concept, of an externally mandated quest. Yes, Ringil, Egar and Archeth are on a quest (or, more accurately, three quests with considerable overlap), but the defining difference is that they are not instruments of some greater need; rather, the course of events is shaped by their needs. They are not recruited to the quest; they generate its existence. Morgan’s crowning accomplishment, then, is to leave his players unaware that they are part of any great undertaking, while slyly inculcating in the reader an appreciation that fantasy is, ultimately and at its best, about the intricacies of who, and that where and why, and what and how and when, are merely tributaries and run-off in an ever-refining, ever-defining cycle of identity.

With The Steel Remains having broken new ground as an audacious if incomplete challenge to genre platitudes, and The Cold Commands then coming on again as unremitting and unflinching, near enough self-contained, a high-water mark, The Dark Defiles remains faithful to Richard Morgan’s rose-thorn-scratched not rose-tinted ethos; inaccessible, perhaps, without the preceding books, but cleverly resolved and feeding synergy back into the mix, allowing the trilogy to reach a most apposite, far from inevitable conclusion. If Tolkien laboured over every detail, every where, why, what, how and when of Lord of the Rings, Morgan has sweated blood on the who of A Land Fit for Heroes. In the perfect world he so emphatically disavows, this would see him take pride of place for the next fifty-plus years. As it is – well, chances are he’ll just have to suck it up and keep on doing what he does. But such is the way of heroes.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Theaker's Quarterly Fiction #52: now available for free download!

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

Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction #52 is a little shorter than usual, but still features four great stories: Rocking Horse Traffic by Yarrow Paisley, Quest for Lost Beauty by Howard Phillips, Zom-Boyz Have All the Luck by Len Saculla, and “Surprise Thee Ranging With Thy Peers”, the latest Two Husbands episode from Walt Brunston. The Quarterly Review from Douglas J. Ogurek, Stephen Theaker and Jacob Edwards includes reviews of It Follows, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Insurgent, Memory Lane, Jurassic World, Holy Cow by David Duchovny, The Dark Defiles by Richard Morgan, The Glorkian Warrior Eats Adventure Pie by James Kochalka, and many others.

  • Rocking Horse Traffic, Yarrow Paisley
  • Quest for Lost Beauty, Howard Phillips
  • Zom-Boyz Have All the Luck, Len Saculla
  • “Surprise Thee Ranging With Thy Peers”, Walt Brunston
  • The Quarterly Review
  • Also Read
  • Also Reviewed
  • Forthcoming Attractions

Here are the kindly contributors to this issue:

Douglas J. Ogurek’s work has appeared in the BFS Journal, The Literary Review, Morpheus Tales, Gone Lawn, and several anthologies. He lives in a Chicago suburb with the woman whose husband he is and their pit bull Phlegmpus Bilesnot. Douglas’s website can be found at:

Howard Phillips is a dissolute poet whose previous contribution to this zine received such bad reviews that he wept for three days, burned seventeen unpublished novels, and wrote a series of angry blog posts accusing various parties of disparaging his genius. We asked him why he had taken it so badly, and he replied, “If you need to ask, you’ll never know.”

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

Jacob Edwards flies with Australia’s speculative fiction flagship Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, but meets us in the pub between runs. This writer, poet and recovering lexiphanicist’s website is at He also has a Facebook page at, where he posts poems and the occasional oddity. Like him and follow him!

Len Saculla has had stories and poems published in venues such as the BFS publication Dark Horizons, Terry Grimwood’s Wordland and Ian Hunter’s Unspoken Water. He has also had a couple of stories turned into podcasts from Joanna Sterling’s “Tube Flash at the Casket” (

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

Walt Brunston’s adaptation of the classic television story, Space University Trent: Hyperparasite, is now available on Kindle.

Yarrow Paisley lives in the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts, USA. His fiction has appeared in Shimmer, Strange Tales V (Tartarus Press), Sein und Werden, and Dadaoism: An Anthology (Chômu Press), among others.

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

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Pork pies in the gardens: my FantasyCon 2014

FantasyCon 2015 is coming up soon. Not sure yet if I'll be there this year, but if you're on the fence about going and wondering what it's like, here's my report on last year's event, originally written in November 2014 for the BFS Journal #13.

Eating a pork pie in the lovely grounds
of the Royal York Hotel.

I wasn’t in a great mood heading off for this year’s FantasyCon, which took place from September 5 to September 7. The plan had been to go with Mrs Theaker and both children, but a school entrance exam on Saturday torpedoed that plan, and so I made my way to York alone. The hotel (a charming Premier Inn five minutes from the convention hotel) already had the children’s beds ready, so that made me rather glum.

But the 75% reduction in Theakers at the convention had some benefits: I saved a good deal of money, and I didn’t have to wait till the kids were back from school to set off. So I arrived at the hotel in good time for the opening ceremony. It was overshadowed by the absence of Graham Joyce, obviously not a good sign given what we already knew of his health. FantasyCon chair Lee Harris filled in, and introduced us to Kate Elliott, Toby Whithouse, Charlaine Harris and Larry Rostant, each of them taking a turn to make a few comments.

The first panel I attended was the end of Doctor Who: Space Messiah, where Guy Adams, Mark Morris, Juliet E. McKenna, Caroline Symcox and Joanne Harris were being moderated by Jonathan Oliver. I wasn’t there long enough to hear much, but what I heard was interesting.

Paul Cornell and Caroline Symcox hosted a FantasyCon edition of Pointless, which was very good fun. Lots of audience participation, good-natured hosts, challenging questions – even the crying of a hungry baby couldn’t spoil things. It was nice to see an event at which regular attendees (as the contestants) were the main focus of attention.

I didn't spend much time in the dealers' room, not having much money free to spend or anywhere in the house to keep any books I might buy, but I was surprised to see one blogger selling off pristine, unread review copies and ARCs for a pound each. Selling ARCs is frowned upon at the best of times, never mind doing it in direct competition with booksellers and publishers in the same hall.

In the evening I was on my first panel since 2010 (panels not being something I ever volunteer for), my first ever as an actual panellist, on “Awards and their value. What are they good for? Which are the important ones? Who really benefits?” The moderator was Glen Mehn, who did a brilliant job of bringing everyone into the conversation. The other panellists were publisher Simon Spanton, agent Juliet Mushens, and author Charlaine Harris (who talks exactly like Sookie in True Blood), which meant there was a wide range of views on the panel. Apologies if I spoke too loud – I didn’t realise there were microphones!

What I learnt then about preparing for a panel is to focus on your own position and perspective; that’s why you’re there. The publisher, author and agent talked about how awards affected them, so all my notes covering those angles were useless. I should have concentrated on what awards mean to me as a reader, a fan and an awards administrator.

There wasn’t much programming at this convention for later in the evenings, certainly none of the entertainingly blotto midnight panels I’ve attended in the past. I spent a bit of time in the Joel Lane bar, where a karaoke began. Many attendees proved to be skilled in the art of making tuneful noises come out of their mouths, not least the FantasyCon chair himself.

Once it got to the point that most of the singers taking part were young women, I felt any further interest I showed in the event might be open to misinterpretation, and headed up to the main bar to send some maudlin texts to Mrs Theaker and make notes for the AGM. I got a delicious pizza from the bar, and had a good chat with the BFS’s new events organiser Richard Webb, who seems like a very sensible chap, as well as some other nice people whose names I failed to note.


“The Pen vs the Sword” (“Writers who also happen to be swordfighters discuss the myths and realities of the sword in fiction – and demonstrate their skills with the blade!”) featured Marc Aplin as moderator, with Fran Terminiello, Juliet E. McKenna, Adrian Tchaikovsky and Clifford Beale on the panel. The discussion was fascinating, and extremely useful for anyone whose fiction features people fighting with melee weapons. (So pretty much everyone at FantasyCon!)

Fran Terminiello and Juliet E. McKenna
show us how to fight.
The only problem was that they left it a bit too late to get onto the meat of the practical demonstration, and took it into the adjoining room, which tempted away much of the potential audience for guest of honour Charlaine Harris’s conversation, and it made quite a racket until the doors were solidly closed.

Adele Wearing soldiered on, and did a great job of interviewing Harris, who cheerfully laid out the failures that led to her current success. It was good as well to hear that her political differences with Alan Ball, and the direction in which he had taken True Blood, hadn’t affected her respect for him as a writer.

I left the panel “Surprise!” (“Why do some shock twists leave an audience in awe and others make them feel cheated?”) as soon as a panellist said “I’m sure everyone knows the ending of…” because it was clearly going to be a spoiler-heavy hour, and I’m the kind of person who doesn’t read the Radio Times listings till after I’ve seen Doctor Who. My own silly fault: what was I expecting?

Charlaine Harris and Adele Wearing
in conversation.
“Beyond Grimdark” (“Is the trend for mud, misery and moral bankruptcy on the wane in SFF, and if so, what’s next?”) featured a certain amount of eyerolling on the panel as one panellist explained why his novel really did need a rape scene, because it was an integral part of his female character’s story.

“She Ain’t Heavy, She’s My Sister” was I think my least favourite event of the convention, with the moderator and one panellist talking at length between themselves, even to the point of leaning back to literally talk behind the back of the panellist sitting in the middle. It didn’t feel well-prepared, the moderator not having many questions, and the panellists unable to offer many examples of female friendships in fantasy and seeming to assume they don’t exist.

All seemed a bit odd to me, given that my television had been tuned by the children to the “female friendships in fantasy” channel for the whole of the school holidays: Winx Club, Monster High, Ever After High, the Tinker Bell movies, The Wizards of Waverley Place, Aquamarine, H20: Mako Mermaids, Rainbow Magic, Every Witch Way, etc.

I haven’t read any books by guest of honour Kate Elliott yet, but listening to her in conversation was enough to make me want to change that. (The forthcoming Very Best of… looks like a good place to start.)

I left the panel “Who’s Missing?”, a discussion about authors you should be reading, fairly soon after it began, because my stomach was threatening to drown out the panellists. After eating, I arrived late for “Tea and Jeopardy” with Toby Whithouse, and entrance was denied (or at least discouraged) because it was so full. A shame for me, but good that the event was so popular. I suppose if you asked the three hundred or so people at FantasyCon for their favourite writers, you’d get hundreds of different replies, but podcasts are more like television and films, in that they are not so numerous and there’s more commonality.

Latimer, the butler from Tea and Jeopardy, stayed on to be scoremaster for my favourite part of FantasyCon, “Just a Minute”, hosted by Paul Cornell. The guests were Kate Elliott, Stephen Gallagher, Gillian Redfearn and Frances Hardinge, and what made it so enjoyable is that this year they played it for real, with challenges flying thick and fast. Stephen Gallagher’s win was well-deserved.

If my fellow Theakers had been there, the FantasyCon Disco (sponsored by Gollancz) might have been another highlight of the convention. As it was, I looked on with a frown for a few seconds and scarpered upstairs.

That took me to the Super Relaxed Fantasy Club, a long, free-form event at which I felt rather like an intruder. At the beginning, everyone sat in a circle and took turns to say who they were, receiving a round of applause in return. It felt a bit culty, a bit happy-clappy, but it was a good event to have at FantasyCon, because it got lot of people talking and gave anyone (like me) who didn’t fancy the bar scene a chilled-out, friendly place to go. The interview with Gollancz’s Simon Spanton was fascinating, with readings from Laura Lam and Edward Cox being warmly received. The latter talked about how his novel had been completely rewritten to make it more commercial.

By the second break in SRFC I was pretty worn out and approaching a certain level of grumpiness, and I had the AGM in the morning, so I headed back to the hotel and watched Solomon Kane on TV. (Not a great movie, but better than expected.)


Sunday morning we had a short meeting of the BFS committee in the bar, and it was good to meet the people I’ve been working with for the last year. The AGM (on a bit later this year, at 11 a.m.) was rather less fun, because I refused to change one of my proposals to suit everyone else, leading one attendee to yell, “They’re not your awards, Stephen!” No, but it was my proposal and I’m glad I didn’t change it, even if that meant it failed! I’d rather have the proposal I wanted fail than have a proposal I didn’t want go through in my name.

The awards ceremony was in the afternoon, after the banquet. I missed the beginning of the banquet, because I was gluing the names of the award-winners onto the awards – which were still a bit sticky. Next year we’ll know to get them unpacked sooner so that they have time to dry. But I soon caught up and the food was the best I’ve had at a FantasyCon banquet. The ceremony itself went a bit haywire at first, with the PowerPoint setup getting muddled up – at one point thumbnails of all the slides appeared on screen at once. But host Paul Cornell handled it all with grace and aplomb.

I had to go on stage to accept the prize for best comic or graphic novel, on behalf of Becky Cloonan for Demeter. Slight panic in that Paul, when reading out the nominees, did not say the name Demeter in the way I’ve said it all my life. What to do? Say it his way or mine? I assumed he was right and said it his way, but felt my inner nine-year-old scowling at my capitulation. He knows I’m always right, even when I’m wrong.

So that was my FantasyCon. I’m not really a convention person, I think. I’m not a pub person either, and the social side of a convention feels like a big pub to me. But there were lots of interesting panels to attend, lots of interesting panels I didn’t have time to attend, and a very pleasant, welcoming atmosphere. It was good to see so many new faces on the panels. Elsewhere, I was constantly amazed at how generous people were with their time (and how often talking to people would garner choice nuggets of gossip!). It’s not really my thing, socially, but approached as a work convention for my publishing hobby I found it very useful.

I was right about one thing, the Very Best of Kate Elliott was a very good place to start – I recommend it highly! FantasyCon 2015 will take place 23–25 October 2015, at the East Midlands Conference Centre and Orchard Hotel, Nottingham, UK. FantasyCon is one of the cheapest conventions around, especially for BFS members, and even more so if you book early. Even now, tickets are only £55 for BFS members. Join the convention here.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

The Future Fire fundraiser!

Our similarly-abbreviated chums over at The Future Fire are planning a special anniversary anthology, The Future Fire 10 (TFFX for short), to celebrate the tenth year since they began publishing. It will feature reprints of some of their best material to date and new material to match, plus illustrations of a similar standard.

Because they have the funny idea that it's nice to pay contributors rather than extracting their publishing rights in late-night games of Cluedo or keeping them shackled in the dungeons until their writing hands have wilted, they are running a crowdfunding project at

The stretch goals include increased pay for their forthcoming horror anthology, Fae Visions of the Mediterranean, and increased pay for magazine contributors for twelve months. (They'll give the small press a good name if they aren't careful.)

You can pre-order the anthology, or pick up ebook or paperback copies of their previous and forthcoming books, plus other perks like story critiques, custom art, and personalised knitted undead dolls. For just $12 you can get the ebooks of TFFX and The Lowest Heaven (from Jurassic London), which is a definite bargain.

Here's the link again. Click it!

Monday, 10 August 2015

Pixels | review by Douglas J. Ogurek

Alien invasion comedy resurrects classic video games in all their pixelated glory

Centipede. Donkey Kong. Asteroids. Pac-Man. Most of us who grew up in the eighties did battle with these icons. The video games, with their graphic primitiveness and single screen action, reflect a simpler time . . . a time of striped socks pulled up to the knees, big hair bands with mind-numbing lyrics, and backyard or field-down-the-road sports.

Pixels, directed by Chris Columbus, brings the ultimate eighties intellect (i.e., Adam Sandler) to the screen with a straightforward objective (i.e., save the world), a plot as simple as a yellow circle munching dots, and an outcome as predictable as the first level in a classic video game. It has a middle school mentality, and it’s a blast!

Aliens vs. Nerds
1982 world video game champion hopeful Sam Brenner (Sandler) has become a disillusioned employee (“I’m just a loser who was good at old video games”) of the Nerd Brigade, a technology installation/repair company that forces its employees to wear humiliating orange uniforms. His life seems a disappointment, until aliens threaten the earth with gigantic versions of those beloved eighties video game characters. How’s that for a concept?!

The aliens, using modified video footage of eighties legends ranging from Daryl Hall and John Oates to Fantasy Island’s Mr. Roarke and Tattoo, challenge earthlings to a series of video game competitions.

Lifelong friend Will Cooper (Kevin James), now the charmingly bumbling President (of the United States!) pleads with Brenner to reboot his long-dormant gaming skills to resist the aliens. So Brenner and a couple of cartoonish sidekicks set out to save the world. They will fall in love, take outrageous risks, and best of all, lavish the viewer with the triumphant feeling that comes when nerds prevail.

Adam Sandler typically plays one of two roles: the lovable goofball (e.g., The Waterboy, Happy Gilmore, Billy Madison) or the down-to-earth good guy (e.g., Mr. Deeds, 50 First Dates). In Pixels, it’s the latter, and it makes sense with an “event film” like this. Moreover, Brenner’s “Arcader” allies are more than enough to compensate for Sandler’s toned down lead.

First, there’s “Wonder Boy” Ludlow Lamonsoff (Josh Gad), a conspiracy theorist who lives with his grandmother and longs to win the love of blonde bombshell Lady Lisa. Ludlow has his work cut out for him, since Lady Lisa is a video game character. Then there’s Eddie “The Fire Blaster” Plant (Peter Dinklage), a supremely narcissistic former world video game champion serving time for tech crimes. Rounding out the team are the fun-loving President Cooper and Brenner’s love interest Violet (Michelle Monaghan).

Playing the Patterns
Pixels repeatedly references the importance of recognizing and acting on the “patterns” within classic video games. Similarly, the film’s makers capitalize on recent alien invasion successes: the destruction of universally recognized monuments, the Independence Day recklessness of tossing the U.S. President into the fray, the aliens dropping from a mother ship for Avengers/Transformers-style all-out urban chaos. Pixels, in essence, plays the patterns, and it wins.

Game challenges pair special effects—ironic, considering the film’s graphically archaic muses—with late seventies/early eighties rock anthems. Brenner and Ludlow, accompanied by Loverboy’s “Working for the Weekend,” blast up at glowing centipedes. Queen’s “We Will Rock You” stomps away as Donkey Kong rolls and hurls his digital barrels toward the Arcaders.

Go Guts
When he meets Violet’s son Matty, Brenner sarcastically contrasts eighties and contemporary video game experiences. I’m paraphrasing here: “We used to leave the house and go to these things called arcades. We got together and had fun.”

What an apt statement for today’s tech-enslaved youth . . . and adults. Pixels, for all its absurdity, encourages viewers to get together and get silly.

In the eighties, our parents didn’t enroll us in a dozen different activities. We had to invent our own fun within the confines of our neighbofrhoods. And we didn’t have Rotten Tomatoes telling us whether or not we should like a film. All we had were our own guts, and with Pixels, my gut tells me I want to play again.

Douglas J. Ogurek *****

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Apologies for neglecting you, dear readers!

Sorry that it has been so quiet on here of late, and that Theaker’s 52 is so tardy. It’ll finally be out this Friday – honestly, it will, the blog post is written and the files are all with Amazon for approval! – though I’m afraid you’ll have to wait till issue 53 for the next instalments from Mitch Edgeworth and Antonella Coriander’s science fiction sagas, both bumped with great regret from this issue because I ran out of time to proofread them. They’ll be worth the wait, I promise.

The main reason I’ve been so pressed for time has been that my freelance work has been going remarkably well (and my co-editor John has been even busier than me with work), though late night sessions of the lovably reprehensible Saints Row IV: Re-Elected have played a tiny part too, and the end of the summer term meant a whirlwind of end-of-year shows and awards nights and governors’ meetings. (Our oldest daughter even appeared in a play at The Rep, playing Angry Teacher No. 2!) I spoke successfully in favour of a school planning permission application at the city council, which was a fascinating experience – and will lead to the local children getting a brilliant new sports hall. I’ve also been running the British Fantasy Awards, which are currently in a busy phase. The nominees have been announced and I’ve been arranging for the jurors to be supplied with reading copies.

Not many of my reviews have appeared on the TQF blog this year, but I’ve kept up with writing reviews for Interzone. I looked at The Very Best of Kate Elliott in #257, The Galaxy Game by Karen Lord and The Whispering Swarm by Michael Moorcock in #258, and The Great Bazaar and Brayan’s Gold by Peter Brett in #259. If all goes according to plan my review of Armada by Ernest Cline will be in #260. It’s a privilege to appear in those pages. It can sometimes be quite a challenge to write eight hundred words about a novel while avoiding spoilers and grand claims, especially for an author I haven’t read before, but it’s a challenge I enjoy.

My mistake has been to aim for a similar style with my TQF reviews, when there’s a limit to how often I can spend a whole day or so working on a review. But I have begin to write new reviews for TQF as well, and the fruits of that should begin to appear in issue 53, for which I have twenty or thirty reviews lined up. They are a bit shorter than my reviews have been of late, and written in a looser style, more quickly, but I’m quite happy with how they’ve turned out. I’ve created a neat little Google form for inputting the reviews, and some clever functions in the responses spreadsheet that organise the reviews into sections and alphabetical order and add all the typesetting coding required, meaning the TQF review section will take about ten minutes to typeset from now on.

I realised that the same techniques could also be applied to the irregularly produced ezine I compile for the BFS from the reviews that have already appeared on its website, and so Shelflings #5 emerged at the beginning of this month after a long time away, like Rip van Winkle emerging from a cave! For the BFS I’ve also worked out a nifty way of sending out renewal notices and new member welcome letters, building them into the production of our brilliant monthly members-only bulletin, which with luck will save our membership secretaries a good deal of work. If you’re not a member of the BFS, join now so that we can enter this new golden age together!

Anyway, that’s all my excuses for now. Come back tomorrow for the world's first good review of *Pixels*! And on Friday for issue 52!

Friday, 7 August 2015

Book notes #12

Notes and ratings from TQF50 and TQF51 for books I didn’t review for TQF. Credits from Goodreads; apologies to anyone miscredited or missing.

Transit (Image Comics) by Ted McKeever. Street punks, down-and-outs, religious and political fatcats, and assassins. Spud is in a subway station when a murder happens. Quite challenging. Archetypically eighties in style and subject matter. ***

Umbrella Academy, Vol.1: The Apocalypse Suite (Dark Horse Books) by Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba. A bunch of former child heroes reunite as jaded adults. I would not have expected a comic by the singer in a rock band (even one who invited Grant Morrison into his videos) to be as good as this. Reminiscent of Doom Patrol with friendlier art. ****

Usagi Yojimbo, Vol. 13: Grey Shadows (Dark Horse Books) by Stan Sakai. The rabbit ronin travels to collect the bounty for Hosoku the Bandit on behalf of a friend, and while waiting for the money helps Inspector Ishida to investigate murders and corruption in a series of connected short stories. Great stories, and the artwork is clear, detailed and full of character. ****

Valérian et Laureline l’Intégrale, Vol. 2 (Dargaud) by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières. Volume two of the complete Valérian and Laureline, which collects Le Pays sans Étoile, Bienvenue sur Alflolol and Les Oiseaux du Maitre. They’re a pair of space agents who get embroiled in a different adventure on each planet. Can’t pretend I understood every word, but that didn’t stop me enjoying them. I like how Laureline does exactly what she wants, however irksome that may be for Valérian. ****

Werewolves of Montpellier (Fantagraphics), by Jason. A thief who dresses as a werewolf on the job attracts the attention of the real thing. ****

Willful Child (Tor Books), by Steven Erikson. Star Trek in the style of Archer. Reviewed for Interzone #256. ***

Winter Well: Speculative Novellas About Older Women (Crossed Genres), by Kay T. Holt (ed.). A decent book collecting four novellas, including “Copper” by Minerva Zimmerman, “The Other World” by Anna Caro, and “To the Edges” by M. Fenn, which begins with an older woman being fired from her job on the day of a terrorist atrocity. “The Second Wife” by Marissa James was for me the best story here. It’s a fantasy or science fantasy story about a second wife whose husband is killed by a conqueror who marries her for her magic. Before he can really set her to work, visitors come from the south, one of whom burns brightly in her mystical visions. Reminiscent in some ways of the Darkover series, but much better. The story has a mature approach to transgender issues. ***

X-Men: The Complete Age of Apocalypse Epic, Book 1 (Marvel), by Scott Lobdell, John Francis Moore, Howard Mackie, Brian K. Vaughan, Ralph Macchio, Terry Kavanagh and Judd Winick. A barely readable muddle set in an alternative X-Men universe. **

Yuki vs Panda, Vol. 1: Revenge. Lust. Karaoke (Duskleaf Media), by Graham Misiurak, Nick Dunec and A.L. Jones. Short and not very good graphic novel about a girl whose nemesis is a panda. **

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Balancing chakras on your backside (or, your right to review stuff that isn't in your wheelhouse)

Dawn Cano's post, "Delicate Sensibilities, an Author’s Responsibility, and Common Sense", on the Ginger Nuts of Horror blog, talks about people saying in reviews of horror books that they were too gory, or sweary, or obscene, etc. For example the blog post says things like:
"If you buy a horror novel, especially one with a trigger warning written on the cover, and take offence to it, you absolutely forfeit your right to complain…"
Do you really? Surely one of the fundamental rights of the reader (even if Daniel Pennac forgot to include it in his list) is to talk about our own reactions to a book, to read the book as ourselves. Also:
"What absolutely needs to change is people leaving bad reviews based on content. When a reader gets his feelings hurt by a book, then slams it in a review, it’s not helpful to anyone, especially the author."
"don’t ruin an author’s livelihood and reputation or spoil the book for other readers just because you have delicate sensibilities."
I don't really agree with very much of the post, but especially these bits. The comments the blog is concerned with aren't calls to have books banned or anything like that, but consumer reviews on places like Amazon.

Reviews help other readers to know if they'll like a book or not, and a review that says a book was too violent for their liking will be helpful to other readers that would find it too violent as well – while alerting readers who do like violence that it might be the right book for them. The effect on the writer's career doesn't come into it. You put a book out there, it's going to get reviewed and rated by fans, casual readers and people who read it because they ran out of books on holiday.

The overall argument in the blog post comes pretty close to saying that you should only review the kind of books that you know you'll like, but I don't think that's true, and I don't think authors should be told to expect that. Fans of a genre may well find reviews from other fans of that genre more useful, and uninformed reviews can be amusing, but people can review whatever they want to.

I gave Crystals R For Kids (or Crystlas R For Kids as the spine would have it) one star on Goodreads recently. It's supposedly factual balderdash for children about using crystals to enhance their magical psychic powers. (It came into the house as a freebie with some gems one of the children wanted to buy.) The picture above is an illustration from the book, showing a boy balancing his chakras by balancing a crystal on his backside! And if you think that's stupid you should read the rest of the book.

This post suggests I was wrong to rate it because I knew in advance that I wouldn't like it. That doesn't make any sense to me. If we all did that, no one would ever read books that don't fit neatly into genre slots, and those slots would get ever smaller. As a reader and a reviewer, you have to sometimes take chances on things you might not like, and report back to other readers on what you find.

But also, in the case of Crystals R For Kids, I think I'm probably the best person to review it because fans of that nonsense will give it undeservedly high scores, despite the utter nonsense it aims to plant in children's heads. Reviews coming at a book from outside our favourite genre can defamiliarise that genre's conventions, make us think about them again.

We can chuckle at uninformed or naive reviews, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't be written, and while fans may prefer to read reviews from other fans, outsider perspectives can be valuable. Mark Kermode hated the Entourage movie, and he got a lot of flak from fans of the television show saying that he shouldn't have reviewed it, but as a fan of the show myself I welcomed his perspective, as a reminder of how objectionable I might have found some elements if I hadn't got so used to them after eight years of watching it.

Friday, 31 July 2015

Book notes #11

Notes and ratings from TQF50 and TQF51 for books I didn’t review for TQF. Credits from Goodreads; apologies to anyone miscredited or missing.

The Goon, Vol. 0: Rough Stuff (Dark Horse Comics), by Eric Powell. A mob enforcer is secretly also the mob boss, and his main rival is the leader of a zombie gang. These collect very early issues, from before Eric Powell was really happy with it, but it seemed pretty good to me. ***

The Goon, Vol. 1: Nothin’ But Misery (Dark Horse Comics), by Eric Powell and Robin Powell. More adventures of the Goon. It’s like a cartoonish, supernatural version of Sin City. ***

The Kosher Guide to Imaginary Animals (Cheeky Frawg Books), by Ann VanderMeer and Jeff VanderMeer. Brief but amusing book exploring whether various imaginary animals would be considered kosher or not, and how one might cook them. ***

The Last Demon (Penguin Books) by Isaac Bashevis Singer. Three excellent stories in a Penguin Mini Modern, two of them fantasy. “The Last Demon” is about a demon who relates his frustrating attempt to persuade a rabbi in the town of Tishevitz to sin. “Yentl the Yeshiva Boy” is about a girl who wants to study the Torah rather than get married and darn socks, and the trouble into which that leads her. “The Cafeteria” is about a troubled woman who survived the Holocaust but now sees Hitler alive on the streets of New York. *****

The Last Rakosh (self-published) by F. Paul Wilson. Jack, an experienced monster hunter, spots a dangerous creature at the circus: a rakosh, a cross between a gorilla and a shark. This one is weak, because it’s being kept in an iron cage and isn’t being fed properly. One hearty human supper later it becomes a real problem. I’d heard good things about the Repairman Jack series, but this story didn’t quite sell it to me. We don’t see what makes him or the series special. He seems to be a typical tough guy, and the story is told in a straightforward way. ***

The Many Adventures of Miranda Mercury: Time Runs Out (Archaia), by Brandon Thomas and Lee Ferguson. Space adventure. Enjoyable, but falls a bit short of its very high ambitions. ***

The Portent: Ashes (Dark Horse Books) by Peter Bergting. Warrior wood nymph Lin returns from the spirit realm to find much time has passed. Her wood has been razed to the ground, and the land is divided between three warring parties, two of whom she has a history with: her former mentors, a warrior wizard and a witch. Lovely art. ***

The Unquiet House (Jo Fletcher Books), by Alison Littlewood. A woman moves to a haunted house, and we travel back in time to find out who haunts it and why. Several terrifying scenes. Reviewed for Black Static #43. ***

The Very Best of Kate Elliott (Tachyon Publications) by Kate Elliott. Reviewed for Interzone #257; I enjoyed it a lot. I think it might be her complete short fiction rather than a selection of the best, but I wouldn’t have guessed from how good it all was. ****

Friday, 24 July 2015

Book notes #10

Notes and ratings from TQF50 and TQF51 for books I didn’t review for TQF. Credits from Goodreads; apologies to anyone miscredited or missing.

The Beauty (Unsung Stories), by Aliya Whiteley. A very good novella. In a world without women, men embrace mushrooms. Reviewed for Interzone #254. ****

The Boys, Vol. 11: Over the Hill with the Swords of a Thousand Men (Dynamite Entertainment) by Garth Ennis and Russ Braun. Everything kicks off. Vought American take control of the White House. The Homelander makes his play. Black Noir is unmasked. And Butcher wades in with a crowbar. Very good fun. ****

The Boys, Vol. 12: The Bloody Doors Off (Dynamite Entertainment) by Garth Ennis, Russ Braun and Darick Robertson. After the climactic events of volume eleven Butcher gives the Boys a three-month holiday, but Wee Hughie figures that something is up. The end of another terrifically entertaining comic from Garth Ennis. Each book has been a treat. ***

The Change: Orbital (Endeavour Press) by Guy Adams. A novella by my former BFS boss about a young Howard Phillips (!) struggling to survive after a cosmic rip brings weirdness to the world. The main monster is great, a horrible mixture of man and machine. Looks like the book’s been pulled from sale now – the series is being relaunched with a new publisher. ***

The Darkness: Accursed, Vol. 2 (Top Cow Productions), by Phil Hester and friends. A colossal improvement on the original run, but disappointing compared to some of the things Phil Hester has been involved in before. (I adored his run as an artist on Swamp Thing.) ***

The Darkness: Accursed, Vol. 3 (Top Cow Productions), by Phil Hester and friends. More murky shenanigans. ***

The Darkness: Accursed, Vol. 4 (Top Cow Productions), by Phil Hester and friends. I should have read a Darkness book before buying so many in a sale. ***

The Death-Ray (Drawn and Quarterly) by Daniel Clowes. A short indie comics album, republishing a story that originally appeared in Eightball. After smoking his first cigarette a boy discovers that they give him super-strength; this turns out to have been the work of his father. He also comes into possession of a death-ray gun. Unfortunately his best friend is a very bad influence. ****

The Delicate Prey (Penguin Books), by Paul Bowles. One of the scariest books I read all year. One creepy story (“The Circular Valley”, about a haunted monastery) and two that are terrifying (“The Delicate Prey” and “A Distant Episode”, about desert travellers and a foolish professor). ****

The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll Through the Hidden Connections of the English Language (Icon Books), by Mark Forsyth. Fascinating wander through the nooks and crannies of English. Constantly amazing, which is why I liked reading it in bursts. You can only do so many double-takes a day before your neck gets tired. *****

The Gifts of War (Penguin Books), by Margaret Drabble. Two excellent stories by Margaret Drabble, editor of the equally excellent Oxford Companion to English Literature. The first is “The Gifts of War”, about a downtrodden mum who has been saving up to buy her child a special present, and a young anti-war protester who doesn’t think toyshops should sell a particular kind of toy. Each has their own half of the story, but it’s holding each in your mind at once that renders the story so devastating. The second story is “Hassan’s Tower”, about newlyweds having a terrible honeymoon in a hot country who climb the stairs of a random building. Like The Delicate Prey, the book is a Penguin Mini Modern. I’m grateful for how many wonderful writers that series has induced me to try for the first time. I bought the box set of them for myself as an expensive birthday present, and it was some of the best money I’ve ever spent. *****

Friday, 17 July 2015

The Gallows | review by Douglas J. Ogurek

Funny. Tense. Amped up. Still the critics scoff. 

Recent critical response to mass market horror films (It Follows (2014) being the exception) has been abysmal. Last year, critics erred in bashing the thoroughly entertaining As Above, So Below. Once again, they’ve lambasted an engaging found footage film with a young adult cast. This time, it’s The Gallows, and once again, they got it wrong.

The Gallows, directed by Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing, traps four Nebraskan students in a haunted high school performing arts center. It keeps the viewer locked in from the appalling accident in the first scene until the final twist. At the end of the 81-minute film, I felt as if I’d downed a couple of energy drinks.

Reese has quit his high school football team to pursue the performing arts. His decision is driven solely by his secret crush on Pfeifer, whose acting (versus cheerleading) leanings make her forbidden by Reese’s ex-teammate and friend Ryan Shoos. Somehow, Reese has been cast in the male lead – he’s a terrible actor – beside Pfeifer in a play that bears the same title of this film.

But there is a far more dangerous threat to Reese: twenty years earlier, Charlie Grimille, slated to play the executioner in the same play, had to step in as the lead. A freak accident during a performance killed Charlie, who is rumoured to haunt the facility.

The loquacious Ryan convinces Reese that the way to avoid bombing his performance (and disappointing Pfeifer) is by destroying the set. Then Reese can swoop in and aid the ailing Pfeifer. So the two young men, accompanied by Reese’s snarky girlfriend Cassidy, sneak into the theatre at night, where they encounter Pfeifer. The foursome gets locked in, and thus begins their increasingly horrific escapade.

If you’re a “that could never happen” kind of person, perhaps this isn’t the film for you. For instance, you’ll have to overlook the unlikelihood that a school would repeat the same ill-fated play twenty years later (hey, I didn’t say this film was perfect). However, if you can suspend disbelief and stop thinking for an hour and twenty minutes, then go see The Gallows. Squirm as the camera lingers on dark passageways, passes through creepy shop rooms, or zooms in on strange objects. Breathe faster amid the creaks and bangs, and feel the tension as an unseen presence grows closer.

If you’re willing to plunk down the $10 to $15 to see this film in a cinema with a superior audio-visual system, do it. It adds to the authenticity of scenes, such as that during which the camera view moves along wooden ceiling slats and the thump of footsteps grows louder. During that moment, you are there with those students.

One way this film stands apart from other recent found footage entries is the level of humour, mainly at the beginning. It’s driven largely by egocentric and uber-chatty lead cameraman Ryan. In the funniest scene, Ryan steps out from behind the camera, then tosses a football that knocks over a classmate he refers to as “Stage Boy”.

Sure, this film probably has a short shelf life, but so does a good pair of running shoes. And who says a movie has to have a long shelf life to be enjoyable? – Douglas J. Ogurek ****

Michael Wyndham Thomas on the shortlist of the Novella Award 2015!

Exciting news: Michael Wyndham Thomas has made the Novella Award Shortlist 2015! It's not for the two novels we published by him (The Mercury Annual and Pilgrims at the White Horizon), but for a work that is as yet unpublished. Here is the full shortlist:

  • The Harlequin by Nina Allan
  • Motherland by Alix Christie
  • The Year of the Horse by Zoë Ranson
  • Mistakes by the Lake by Brian Petkash
  • When It Was Raining by Kevin Parry
  • Esp by Michael Wyndham Thomas
  • In Wolf Village by Penny Simpson

I bet the Nina Allan novella is good too, but all our luck must go to Michael!

The award is a partnership between the Screen School of Liverpool John Moores University and Manchester Metropolitan University’s Department of Contemporary Arts, who originally established The Novella Award. Sandstone Press, Time to Read, and NAWE are all partners of the award and work alongside it to encourage the publication of new writing.

The winner receives a £1,000 cash prize and their novella is published by Sandstone Press.

More details here.

Book notes #9

Notes and ratings from TQF50 and TQF51 for books I didn’t review for TQF. Credits from Goodreads; apologies to anyone miscredited or missing.

Star Wars Tales, Vol. 1 (Dark Horse Books), by Jim Woodring and Dave Land. Entertaining anthology of non-canonical stories. ***

Star Wars Tales, Vol. 2 (Dark Horse Books) by Dave Land (ed.). Enjoyable series of short stories set in all periods and places and plotholes of the Star Wars universe. The adventures of Luke’s severed hand and Darth Vader’s encounter in Cloud City with C3PO were highlights for me, but it’s all pretty good. Shame that Dark Horse have lost the license, it looks like they were making the most of it. ***

Star Wars Tales, Vol. 3 (Dark Horse Books) by Dave Land (ed.). Includes two strips written by Garth Ennis: how Han Solo won the Millenium Falcon from Lando Calrissian, and the life story of the first stormtrooper sent on to the rebel ship in Episode IV. My favourite strip was Jay Stephen’s “The Rebel Four”, Star Wars in the style of Jack Kirby. ***

Star Wars Tales, Vol. 4 (Dark Horse Books) by Dave Land (ed.). Another good collection of out-of-continuity Star Wars stories, including some focusing on Mace Windu and, more interestingly, Darth Vader. ***

Star Wars Tales, Vol. 5 (Dark Horse Books) by Dave Land (ed.). Best in the series so far, including a set of stories from indie comics creators like Tony Millionaire, Jason, Peter Bagge and Gilbert Hernandez. I could have gone for much, much more than four pages of James Kochalka’s “Milton Fett”, the useless younger cousin. ****

Star Wars: Crimson Empire (Dark Horse Books) by Mike Richardson, Randy Stradley, Paul Gulacy, P. Craig Russell, Konot, Sean and Dave Dorman. A surviving member of the Imperial Guard goes after a traitor, bringing him into a temporary alliance with the new republic. Follows on from other expanded universe stories where the Emperor was resurrected in clone bodies; a bit confusing if you don’t know that. It’s okay. ***

Star Wars: Darth Vader and the Ghost Prison (Dark Horse Books) by W. Haden Blackman, Randy Stradley, Agustan Alessio and Dave Wilkins. A very good story about Darth Vader, a young cadet and another bad guy protecting the Emperor after an attack on Coruscant by Imperial rebels, by taking him to recover in a forgotten prison established by the jedi to house the prisoners of war captured by one Anakin Skywalker. Makes you think a Darth Vader film would be a really good idea. ****

Star Wars: Legacy, Vol. 1: Broken (Dark Horse Books) by John Ostrander, Jan Duursema, Dan Parsons and Adam Hughes. Set a century or so into the future of the Star Wars universe, when the Sith once more rule the empire. The previous emperor, who wasn’t a Sith, plots his return to the throne. Cade Skywalker works as a bounty hunter, and he plans to turn in the former emperor’s feisty daughter. Decent, not amazing. A bit depressing to think the new republic will fall so quickly. ***

Star Wars: Tag & Bink Were Here (Dark Horse Books) by Kevin Rubio and friends. A Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in the Star Wars universe. Not quite as much fun or as clever as that sounds. ***

Steed and Mrs Peel, Vol. 2: The Secret History of Space (BOOM! Studios) by Yasmin Liang, Caleb Monroe and Will Sliney. Felt a bit straightforward after the wildness of the Grant Morrison volume. ***

Steed and Mrs Peel, Vol. 3: The Return of the Monster (BOOM! Studios) by Caleb Monroe and Yasmin Liang. Steed and Mrs Peel are faced with the return of an old foe from the TV series, at least I think so – I’ve only seen a handful of episodes. Readable without being remarkable. ***

Steed and Mrs. Peel: The Golden Game (BOOM! Studios), by Grant Morrison, Anne Caulfield and Ian Gibson. Liked it, but a problem with the colour separations made it difficult to read. ***

Suddenly, Zombies (self-published), by Amanda C. Davis. Quirky pair of short stories, one about zombies on a spaceship, the other about giant zombie gorillas. Cheap and cheerful. ***