Friday, 26 October 2012

Strange Horizons Fund Drive

If you love Strange Horizons (and we very much do) then now is the time to show your support by donating a little to their fund drive.  Over on their blog they've got a lovely list of reasons why you should support them, including a few nifty prizes for donators... Books!  Art!  Tarot Readings!  Tax relief!  (er, what?)

All of which are very good reasons, however the best and foremost one should be this: Strange Horizons is one of the best magazines out there.  Not just for the fiction - which, it has to be said, is almost uniformly excellent.  We've reviewed  Recognizing Gabe: un cuento de hadas by Alberto Yáñez (Jan 2012) and Tornado's Siren by Brooke Bolander (Feb 2012), and further recommend Feed Me the Bones of our Saints (part 1) (part 2) by Alex Dally MacFarlane (July 2012), Tiger Stripes by Nghi Vo (May 2012), Pataki (Part 1)&(Part 2) by Nisi Shawl (2011), 起狮,行礼 (Rising Lion—The Lion Bows) by Zen Cho (2011),  The Yew’s Embrace by Francesca Forrest (2011), & Last Of The Monsters by Emil Skaftun (2010).

But! Also! Their non-fiction is also brilliant.  Always fascinating articles and some extremely juicy in-depth reviews that should not be missed. 

Share the love and keep them going strong by donating here!

And if you're curious, here's how the fund drive is going so far:

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Bitesize Recs of the Week

While the Shiny Shorts team get their heads around longer reviews again, here's some bitesize recommendations...

Blood Oranges by K.C. Shaw - Daily SF.  A fun flash tale about a vampire wanting to share his hobby with his beloved.

Fire Exit by Mhari Simpson - Tales of the Nun & Dragon (from Fox Spirit) Another fun tale, this one about an inn beset by dragons and the girl who wants to escape it.

Cursed Motives by Marissa Lingen - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #105 A young imperial princess with a knack for casting a curse stops an invasion and rescues her ship with a couple of well placed curses. An enchanting and highly readable story.

What the Sea Wants by P. Djeli Clark - Daily SF.  A haunting story of the perils of going away with merfolk and then leaving them to return to land.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

The Barricade

The Barricade by Nina Allan
Reviewed by Jenny Barber

Found in the Dark Currents anthology, The Barricade is a peculiar tale, running slow as it carefully builds up to the faltering of a marriage due to apathy and the discoveries of escaping wife Christine during a visit to the coastal town of her birth.

The catalyst for eveything is the painting Christine finds in a gallery while holidaying with her stolid husband.  Her growing fascination with it, and the memories triggered by locals who keep claiming to know her lead her to certain realisations about the state of her marriage while also reawakening things about herself she'd thought she'd forgotten.

The soon-to-be ex-husband is a thoroughly unlikeable chap, and one wonders why Christine took so long to ditch him, or at the very least, let him get away with so much without argument, and it's in such in-depth characterisation that Allan excels. Each carefully constructed layer builds until you're left with a fully encompassing story that wraps you up in the mundane details and makes the dénouement satisfying with the hints of things to come.  The elements of the fantastic are subtle to the point of barely noticeable, and can be seen from a mile off but Allan has crafted a beautiful tale that, while not a new twist on selkie mythology, is a solid addition to the genre.

More about Nina Allan can be found here, and more on Dark Currents (edited by Ian Whates) can be found on the Newcon website here.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Frightfully Cosy and Mild Stories for Nervous Types

Frightfully Cosy and Mild Stories for Nervous Types by Johnny Mains
Reviewed by Mario Guslandi

In addition to his unrelenting  activity as an editor and promoter  of horror fiction, Johnny Mains  also writes dark stories, a first cluster of which has  been  collected  in “ With Deepest Sympathy”, published in 2010 by Obverse Books.

The present volume assembles a further  dozen of  tales, none of which can be defined as outstanding, none as a misfire. Mains provides consistently good material, enjoyable and entertaining, which won’t spellbind  nor disappoint horror readers. This is probably what Mains means to say when he calls himself “a minor writer”, that he’s the king of  fictional aurea mediocritas ( but aurea,after all, means golden, not a minor achievement).

The topics addressed by the stories featured  in the volume are rather diverse.

In The Cure a cancer patient follows un unusual, unorthodox treatment, while in Head a horror fan finally meets in person, but only fleetingly,  his favourite writer.

Dead Forest Air is a well conceived story taking place in Dachau, in which the horrors of the past blend with those of the present time.

The Jacket revolves around a bomber jacket endowed with peculiar properties , while Aldeburgh featuring the great MR James, discloses the source of inspiration for one of the author’s most famous tales.

Prim Suspect is a delightful noir where two murders (one fictional, one occurring in real life) nicely intertwine.

My favourite  story is The Were-Dwarf, an original piece with a good characterization, hilarious and horrific at the same time, a fine example of Mains’ potential as an author. Hopefully he will provide many more stories like that in the near future.

Published by Shadow Publishing - more information and ordering details can be found on their website here.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Shimmer #14

Shimmer #14
Reviewed by Jennifer Rickard

Shimmer is a very rewarding magazine to read because it always contains a real mixture of different genres, worlds and characters within it, and issue #14 is no different, with a range of different stories and different talents within it.

Food My Father Feeds Me, Love My Husband Shows Me by A.A. Balaskovits is the first story in the issue and is definitely one of the best. The story follows the daughter of a ‘great man of meat’, who is then married off to a vegetarian, thus forced to live a vegetarian lifestyle. Her obsession with the blood and meat she misses so much leads her to make a terrible discovery and terrible choice. This story is such a gem because the descriptions of blood and gore are utterly striking and vivid, staying inside the reader’s head for a long time after they have finished the story. There is also a real sense of foreboding inside this story which really keeps you reading. Perhaps the ending is a little rushed and unclear, but this does not do much to tarnish the shine of this otherwise excellent tale.

Chinvat by Sunny Moraine is in comparison a slightly weaker story, slightly outshone by the one that comes before it, which is a shame as it does have some good elements to it. The narrative follows a journalist who decides to shadow Denn, an old man who stops and helps the suicidal trying to jump off the Golden Gate bridge. The protagonist’s personal experiences and past intertwine neatly with what happens in the story and the setting is well described, but the plot feels rather aimless and wandering, and the back-story of what has happened to the world is not explained fully enough to be properly satisfying.

Made of Mud by Ari B. Goelman is a rather charming little tale, well executed. It follows a young boy’s experiences with the mudlings, small creatures who dig themselves pits in the soil and turn into mud if you try to separate them from these pits. The use of a young boy’s voice in this story is very effective and well written, and the idea of the mudlings is an intriguing one, though more back-story to these creatures would have made this better.

This House was Never a Castle by Aaron Polson is another striking story with good imagery. The story is about a boy and his two sisters who are living and hiding inside a magical house while what can only be described as a ‘plague war’ goes on outside the walls. The sense of entrapment, of a tentative peace which does not last, is palpable in this story, and although not everything is explained, the writer gives you enough hints for you to put the story together yourself.

Minnow by Carlea Holl-Jensen is a very short story, reminiscent of a dream where nothing makes sense. Whilst the descriptions are interesting and engaging, they are also ambiguous to the point of confusion.

Trashman by A.C. Wise is a story with excellent characterisation. It follows a young man’s experience with the trashman - part human, part something else entirely - who reads the lives of people by what they put in their trash. The protagonist’s struggle between his unwillingness to talk to the trashman and his desperate need for the man’s help is wonderfully portrayed, and the trashman himself is thrillingly creepy.

We Make Tea by Meryl Ferguson is another brilliant story in the magazine, following a futuristic group of robots on a plantation, who, after being abandoned for many years, are finally visited by a lost and distraught human. This story is fantastically imaginative and clearly well thought through, the dialogue is spot-on and the characterisation of the different robots very enjoyable. I feel that the ending is especially good in this story.

Bad Moon Risen by Eric Del Carlo is rather a generic idea, describing a post-apocalyptic world haunted by humans who have been changed into wild beasts. Whilst the action in the story is gripping and well written, the characters and plot line have been written many times before, and as such the story is not a particularly memorable one.

Some Letters for Ove Lindström by Karin Tidbeck has an lovely aura of mystery and suspense about it. The story is in the form of a collection of letters our character writes to their dead father, concerning their life and their mother. There is a real sense of the character waiting for something to happen and losing time as they switch from their past to their present.

Gödel Apparition Fugue by Craig DeLancey is a quasi biographical account of the scientist Gödel and his relationship with those around him, especially Einstein. This rather short account of his life is nonetheless compelling and reveals a very human side to this scientist.

Reviewer Sam Tomaino of SF Revu says that the stories in this issue of Shimmer ‘are like pieces of rich fudge, all very different but quite delicious’, and this is an opinion I definitely agree with, as there is something in this magazine for everyone, whether it be cannibals, robots or even just normal men. Well worth a read but be warned - it’ll make you want to subscribe to Shimmer!

To get your hands on a copy of Shimmer, check out their website here.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

The Female of the Species

The Female of the Species and Other Tales of Terror by Richard Davis 
Reviewed by Mario Guslandi 

Mostly known as an editor of horror fiction (for instance, the celebrated Year’s Best Horror Stories anthologies) and of TV horror productions (e.g. BBC’s Late Night Horror series) Richard Davis (1935-2005) has also been the author of a handful of short stories, appeared in various renowned anthologies in the UK, but never before collected in a single volume. Praise then to Shadow Publishing for assembling Davis’ horror tales in a long overdue collection, enriched by two rare essays of the author about horror genre.

The eleven stories featured in the present book portray a writer well trained in the genre’s canons and literary tricks, providing many entertaining and pleasantly disquieting, shivering moments to the reader.

The title story, rather predictable but very enjoyable, tells how a man, after his wife’s death, discovers unpleasant secrets about her and about the she-cat he has recently accommodated in the house.

Elsie and Agnes is a delightful tale about sisterly hate, with a nice twist in the tail, whereas Day Out is an excellent, tongue-in-cheek ghost story.

In The Clump Caribbean horrors take hold of two American tourist, saving, at the same time, the life of their wife and mother, while in Nondescript we make the acquaintance of an evil and powerful creature in the shape of a repulsive, bizarre artifact.

The splendid The Lady by the Stream portrays a lonely spinster and her odd affection for a young boy, while the strong, compelling The Inmate features a woman obsessed with a gorilla belonging to his wealthy husband’s personal menagerie. In both cases the women’s passions will lead to tragic consequences.

The Sick Room, a quite horrific story, told in a restrained narrative style, revolves around a peculiarly haunted room while the long, well crafted Guy Fawkes Night puts together the pieces of a past, unsolved puzzle, the explanation of which was lost in a bonfire.

Davis’ stories are well worth reading and it was high time to pay homage to an unprolific writer whose talent was unjustly put in the shade by his editorial activities.

Published by Shadow Publishing, 2012 at £ 7.99

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Mammoth Book of Body Horror

The Mammoth Book of Body Horror
Edited by Paul Kane and Marie O'Regan
Reviewed by Jenny Barber

With a name like Mammoth Book of Body Horror, you can reasonably expect a high proportion of gruesome to be contained within - and yes, there is, but where this anthology really excels is the variety of horror tales presented - from classics by Mary Shelley, Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft to more modern fare from the likes of David Moody, Michael Marshall Smith and Nancy A. Collins.

While some of the stories were a bit of a trial to read - John Campbell's Who Goes There runs to an insane length and Lovecraft's Herbert West - Reanimator would also have benefited from getting to the point a lot quicker - for the main, the collected stories make for a compelling read, ranging from out and out gross to fascinating dark satire.

The Body Politic by Clive Barker delivers a concept that is both creepy and just a bit clever. It tells the tale of what happens when hands develop independent thinking and stage a revolution against their body oppressors. The thought of all those hands scuttling around is likely to stick with you long after you've finished reading and Barker's delivery manages to make you side with the hands against the unpleasant protagonist.

In Fruiting Bodies by Brian Lumley we've got an enjoyably creepy story where an exotic kind of dry rot has overtaken the remains of a village abandoned due to cliff erosion.  While the tentacles of fungus that work their way into everything, including the remains of the graveyard, would be more than enough to feed nightmares, it's their interaction with the last living inhabitants - one man and his dog - that really hammer home the horror of it all. Where this story really scores is in its easy readable style that is reminiscent of classic King stories and it keeps your interest with relateable characters in a setting rife with possibilities.

Hitting the classics is The Fly by George Langelaan which is quite an intriguing yarn that was also the basis for the films of the same name. (Which I didn't know beforehand.)  The basis of the tale, therefore, should need little introduction - take one mad scientist fiddling about with teleportation, add in the unfortunate results of extra test subjects sneaking into the teleport process and merging on rematerialisation with the aforementioned scientist, and you've got a recipe for a classic mutation story.  All of which is fine enough but with such a pompous narrator opening things up the story runs the risk of crashing to a halt quite early.  Luckily, this isn't his story, as once the narration moves to the mad scientist's wife and her version of events, things pick up beautifully.

Butterfly by Axelle Carolyn is a bit of a mood piece - a short reflective story about a coma victim's transformation which has a definite aww factor to it while Tis the Season to be Jelly by Richard Matheson took me a moment or two to get into the hang of the slang but it's got a fun ending with a killer last line.

One of the stories I've definitely read before is The Look by Christopher Fowler, which first saw the light in the Urban Gothic anthology from Telos Publishing.  It hasn’t lost any of its appeal since then. In it you get a quite fascinating and very disturbing commentary on the modelling industry as you follow a couple of wannabes sneaking in to see a fashion designer in the hopes of the protagonist being picked to be the star model for the coming year. Except it's her friend who gets picked instead and the current star model decides to enlighten the protag as to just what nastiness her friend is going to be in for. 

Whether you're new to the horror genre or not as well read as you'd like to be, this is definitely a good anthology to dip into as it has a good balance of classic reprints and shiny new stories that showcase a wide range of horror styles and authors. Cracking stuff.

Find out more about the editors on their websites here - Marie O'Regan & Paul Kane.

Friday, 20 April 2012

The Satyr's Head: Tales of Terror

The Satyr’s Head: Tales of Terror
Edited by David Sutton
Reviewed by Peter Coleborn

In 1975 a slim paperback boasting a fabulous cover by Patrick Woodroffe and bearing the title The Satyr’s Head and Other Tales of Terror was published by Corgi. And now, 37 years later the editor David Sutton has reissued the anthology on his own Shadow Publishing imprint, but with the subtly altered title to The Satyr’s Head: Tales of Terror. This time the equally striking cover comes from Steve Upham.

The Satyr’s Head includes ten stories by Ramsey Campbell, Brian Lumley, Joseph Payne Brennan, David Riley (who wrote the “title” story) and others. I don’t know if the editor deliberately chose stories on a theme, but the prevailing one is of angst, of guilt. And of people receiving their just, or unjust, reward from something supernatural and/or evil (but fortunately steering away from the worse excesses of some of the stories in the Pan Book of Horror Stories). As such, reading all these tales in one go may come across as somewhat downbeat and depressing. As with many other anthologies you may do best by dipping into it now and again.

I read this book in the early 1980s, a few years after initial publication when it was already difficult to buy. Therefore Sutton’s reprinting of it is very welcome. But my tastes have moved on and I didn’t get the same frisson on re-reading these tales now. The story that worked best for me this time round was Lumley’s Aunt Hester, which felt as fresh as it did then (even though poor Aunt Hester’s fate doesn’t come as much of a surprise). The stories are obviously of their era. Having said that, this anthology is a must; it should be bought and read by all fans of horror tales, particularly the younger ones who missed out on The Satyr’s Head and its contemporaries when they first appeared.

A few years before Satyr’s Head, David Sutton edited two volumes of New Writings in Horror and the Supernatural. I’d like to see these reprinted (unless they have been and I missed them). Sutton’s Shadow Publishing has a number of titles lined up, including The Female of the Species and Other Terror Tales by Richard Davis. Let’s hope the imprint grows from strength to strength.

The Satyr's Head is £5.99 from the Shadow Publishing website here.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Julian - A Christmas Story

Julian – A Christmas Story by Robert Charles Wilson
Reviewed by Peter Coleborn

The Dealers’ Room at Eastercon 2012 was a dangerous place, financially speaking. I bought a load of books, including a number of older PS Publishing titles, such as Julian by Robert Charles Wilson. I missed this book when it was published back in 2006; I am very happy to have rectified that omission.

The cover is an atmospheric painting by Edward Miller which, although not quite depicting a scene in the story, complements the feel of the tale to perfection. Julian is a novella (approx 80 pages), a story set in the year 2172, a post apocalyptic America. The oil has all gone, diseases have ravaged the population, technology has gone backwards, the country had fought a war against Brazil and is at war once more, now against the Dutch in Labrador. All very 1984-ish; all reminiscent of other tales such as Earth Abides and A Canticle for Leibowitz. But there is no all seeing Big Brother. There is a President, though, due to run again in an election with just one candidate.

In the village of Williams Ford, Julian Comstock and Adam Hazzard are 17 year old boys and best friends – although etiquette should have kept them separated. Julian is an aristo, Adam a leaser’s son, a class well below. There are other differences but these are nothing compared to their sense of wonder, their love of books (the rare artefacts left over from by-gone days).

Then the Reservists – a sort of militia – arrives, to take the vote and to begin the draft. The war against the Dutch is faring badly, it seems. Adam is prepared to do his duty for America – it’s what he’s been brought up for. But Julian sees other motives. After all, he is a nephew of the President; his father was hung for treason; and Julian fears the worse. And so the boys seek to escape…

I haven’t read anything by Robert Charles Wilson before; at least not knowingly – maybe a short story here or there. I will keep an eye out for his work in the future. In his introduction, Robert J Sawyer says that Wilson is an excellent writer. Based on this evidence, I agree. The narrative flows seamlessly. The prose is perfect, with no meandering off topic; it is always precise, crisp. The characters, particularly Adam (the narrator), come across as real, with fears and concerns we all recognise. And the milieu is captured to a T – Wilson doesn’t need a hundred-thousand words to create his world, although I can see the story of Adam and Julian continuing in further stories, novellas or novels. Recommended.

(Note: Just checked online and indeed the story has been continued: Julian Comstock was published in 2010 by Tor books).

Julian can be bought from the PS Publishing website here and more about Robert Charles Wilson can be found on his website here.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Something Wicked #19

Something Wicked Issue #19
Reviewed by Jennifer Rickard

Something Wicked #19 is a real eclectic mix of stories all inspired by different subjects - a writer, a band, a past, a profession - and as such, it is extremely difficult to compare one against another as a means of gleaning which is more expertly told, as each has their good parts and their weak parts.

It Pays To Read The Safety Cards is a sci-fi short story by R.W.W. Greene, who was inspired by his work as a high-school teacher. The tale is told from the point of view of a young girl whose family is joining a group of colonists on their exodus from a stricken Earth to Proxima Centauri, four light years away. However, the expedition is sabotaged almost as soon as it begins by a group of religious terrorists who believe that everyone should remain on Earth to face the repercussions of what they have done to the planet. Greene’s narrator means that the story is told from an interesting perspective, from one who has not got the grasp of all the facts, but as the writer himself is a middle-aged man, his voice as a young girl seems at times forced and generic. The world which Greene creates is an interesting and imaginative one but the plot is rather predictable in its execution.

Stained, by Chris Stevens and inspired by his life, has a real sense of atmosphere to it - the title on its own is excellent because the story itself covers almost all the meanings of the word. The story follows Colin in his attempt to resurrect his dead grandfather using dark magic, and it is well worth reading this piece for the twist at the end alone. Although a great ambience is set up by the narrative it does feel a little stilted at the beginning, but the subtle characterisation easily overcomes this.

Ghost Love Score, by Peter Damien, is strongly influenced by the symphonic metal band Nightwish and one of their songs is taken as the title. A fan of the band myself, I listened to the song and found it fascinating as to how he had incorporated the lyrics into his own story and then had developed it from there. The story itself concerns a young woman, Charlotte, who has been abducted by a serial killer and is now being driven back to his hometown. Damien sets up a good feeling of Charlotte’s delirium, of the shift between her meditations back into reality, and you do get a real sense of the character slipping away. The encroaching sense of something supernatural is also subtly and cleverly put into play, but I feel that the ending is too ambiguous to work with the rest of the story and as such leaves it on a rather weak note.

The Book of Love, a Lovecraftian style piece written by Nick Scorza, is possibly my favourite of them all. Scorza has really got into the writing style of Lovecraft or Machen but he brings his own style to the characters, making you really feel for them. The story concerns an antique dealer, married to a woman who does not love him back, who becomes influenced by a strange book. The plot behind this story could easily fill a novel and as such the writer does not go into as much detail as you would like him to, but the unnerving idea of possession, of love being dangerous and the overarching sense of ‘be careful what you wish for’, makes this an enchanting read.

As well as the short stories, this issue of Something Wicked also features Sixth Sense of Humour: Twisted Sinister, by Mark Sykes, who explores the idea of plot twists in short stories and explains how Roald Dahl does the short story so well, a book review of Stephen King’s time-travel novel 11.22.63 by Deon van Heerden, which was so enthusiastic that it now makes me want to track the book down and read it, and a thorough, spirited and informative interview with Brandon Auret by Joe Vaz.

All in all, this issue of Something Wicked is an diverse and interesting mix, and is well worth a read.

Something Wicked can be read for free online or bought as an ebook edition here.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Coming Soon: Saving for a Sunny Day

Another NewCon Press title being released at Eastercon this year is Ian Watson's new collection - Saving for a Sunny Day.

Available in both paperback and special signed limited hardback editions from the NewCon Press website here, the collection brings together fifteen previously uncollected stories with comments on their inspiration, plus an introduction from Adam Roberts..

Eastercon attendees can drop by the official launch on Friday 6th April to buy a copy and get it signed live by the author - which sounds like a good deal to us. :-)

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Rough Music

Rough Music by Simon Kurt Unsworth
Reviewed by Mario Guslandi

If this novelette (or longish short story) were appearing in a mass market anthology instead of being published as a chapbook with a limited print run (Spectral Press) I’m sure it would already be considered as a little literary classic, a modern apologue about sin, guilt and punishment.

Cornish, a man who has been recently cheating on his wife, keeps waking up in the middle of the night because of the noise made by a masked individual beating on a pan. The noise, that nobody else seems to hear, becomes increasingly loud as the masked man is joined by a whole group of people. Little by little some of the mysterious performers disclose their true identities , so much so that it becomes apparent that Cornish is the target of the night racket.

Unsworth’s narrative style is allusive but solid, as shown by the excellent initial description of the sensations elicited by waking up around 3 a.m., an experience we are all familiar with.

Imbued with a strong symbolism and seasoned with a touch of old fashioned moralism, the story confirms once again what various masters of dark fiction have been teaching us in their work, namely that the truest, scariest horror in life lies within us, at the very depth of our soul.

Rough Music is available from Spectral Press here. More information about Simon Kurt Unsworth can be found on his blog here.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

New Releases: Armored

Another one for the SF fans - released today from Baen Books is Armored, a new anthology from editor John Joseph Adams.

The blurb:


Decades ago, Starship Troopers captivated readers with its vision of a future war in which power armored soldiers battled giant insects on hostile alien planets. Today, with the success of Iron Man, Halo, and Mechwarrior—and with real robotic exoskeletons just around the corner—the idea of super-powered combat armor and giant mecha has never been more exciting and relevant.

Now acclaimed editor John Joseph Adams brings you the first-ever original anthology of power armor fiction. Join leading SF authors Jack Campbell, Brandon Sanderson, Tanya Huff, Daniel H. Wilson, Alastair Reynolds, Carrie Vaughn, and others as they explore the limits of what a soldier of the future might become—with the aid of the right equipment.

Imagine power armored warriors battling at the bottom of the sea, or on nightmarish alien worlds, or in the darkest depths of space. Imagine armor that’s as smart as you are, armor that might keep on fighting even after you’re no longer willing … or able.

The possibilities are endless, but some facts remain constant: The soldier of the future will be fast. The soldier of the future will be deadly. The soldier of the future will be ARMORED.
Armored can be had from all traditional and online bookstores, and for some extra book related goodies, check out the Armored site here!

New Releases: A Few Further Tales of Einarinn

Hot off the e-press today - a spanky new e-book collection from Juliet E. McKenna! Published by Wizard's Tower Press, A Few Further Tales of Einarinn collects together five stories from McKenna's excellent Einarinn fantasy series - from the blurb:

Win Some, Lose Some tells the story of that first encounter with Arle Cordainer which Livak mentions from time to time in the Tales. Find out why she’s intent on revenge.

A Spark in the Darkness sees Halice, Livak, Sorgrad and Gren coping with Halice’s injury between The Thief’s Gamble and The Swordsman’s Oath – tricky, when someone wants them all dead.

Absent Friends details Livak’s first introduction to Ryshad’s family, and what followed

Why the Pied Crow Always Sounds Disappointed explains why Sorgrad and Gren were in Solura before The Assassin’s Edge – and why leaving them to their own devices is seldom a good idea.

The Wedding Gift sees Livak and Halice looking forward to the future, just as long as they can tidy up a few loose ends from their old lives.
A Few Further Tales of Einarinn is available in epub & mobi formats, and can be had for £2.99 from Wizard's Tower Press here.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Coming Soon: Dark Currents

Launching at Eastercon this year is Dark Currents from NewCon Press.

With fiction from: Adrian Tchaikovsky, Adam Nevill, Tricia Sullivan, Rod Rees, Nina Allan, Andrew Hook, Finn Clarke, Lavie Tidhar, Jan Edwards, Emma Coleman, Rebecca J Payne, Sophia McDougall, Una McCormack, Neil Williamson, Aliette de Bodard and V.C. Linde; the Dark Currents blurb says:

... an exciting blend of science fiction, fantasy, dark fantasy and horror; a set of stories that traverses genre boundaries, linked only by their common source of inspiration. Contributors were given just those two words: ‘Dark Currents’ and then asked to write whatever story the phrase inspired. The result is a dazzling blend of exciting fictions, from haunted seascapes to distant starscapes, from reality-hopping soldiers in a surreal war to naval battles in the ether, from the deeply poignant to breathless excitement and back again, delving into the very undercurrents of life…

Looks funky! We're hoping to get our hands on a copy soon... It'll be available in paperback and limited signed hardback editions and can be purchased from the NewCon Press website here.

Recent Releases: Robots

One for the SF fans -recently released from Prime Books - Robots: The Recent A.I. edited by Rich Horton & Sean Wallace

The blurb:
From Karel Čapek’s biotech machines of Henry Kuttner & C.L. Moore’s “The Proud Robot” Isaac Asimov’s positronic the many stories, films, cartoons, and games that have come since featuring cybertronic sex toys, robotic rebels, grandmothers with artificial intelligence, automatons, bots, droids, and so many other variations—these machines have represented our dreams as well as our anxieties. We love these literary creations but fear them as well. Stories from the last decade by top science fiction authors representing the many facets of robots in the twenty-first century: beautiful, hideous, and everything in between.
Robots has fiction from: Elizabeth Bear, Tobias S. Buckell, James Cambias, Benjamin Crowell, Aliette De Bodard, Cory Doctorow, Mary Robinette Kowal, Ken Liu, Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, Ian McDonald, Mark Pantoja, Tim Pratt, Robert Reed, Benjamin Rosenbaum, Rachel Swirsky, Lavie Tidhar, Catherynne M.Valente and Genevieve Valentine.

Available from Prime Books here.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Prudence and the Dragon

Prudence and the Dragon by Zen Cho
Reviewed by Jenny Barber

Because Prudence Ong never read newspapers or watched British TV, she maintained a spotlessly pure ignorance of the dragon throughout. She encountered the dragon in a rather more traditional setting. She met him down the pub.
Originally appearing in Crossed Genres Quarterly #1 and currently up on the World SF Blog, Prudence and the Dragon is an enjoyable story that manages to be both sweet and beautifully humorous.

A dragon comes to town, and titular heroine Prudence manages to remain blissfully, almost deliberately, unaware of it for a good part of the tale. The dragon, meanwhile, is in town to secure himself a maiden and is quite relentless in his pursuit of Prudence. This does come off more than a tad stalkery as the dragon manages to blag his way into her home as a permanent houseguest despite Prudence's initial reactions of throwing things at him and threatening him with the police. Fortunately, Prudence remains quite sensible about his attempts at courtship.

“Come away with me,” said Zheng Yi. “I will show you sorcerous wonders the likes of which you have never imagined. You will learn how to put your hand into fire and grasp its beating heart. You will speak to fairies, and they will speak back if they know what’s good for them. I will teach you the secrets of the moon and the language of the stars.”

Prudence threw the hairdryer at him.

There are all kinds of nice touches in the story, weaving the fantastical with the mundane - like the dragon's arrival bringing statues to life and having the pigeons get jobs in the City (more efficient as they don't use Facebook!) and the cooking -
With a supernatural effort at politeness, Angela said, “Oh, that smells delicious. What is it?”

“Potatoes, carrots, swede, some grated apple for sweetness, fairies for protein. But only non-sentient ones,” said Zheng Yi reassuringly. “Fairies are terribly good for you.”

They were also quite crunchy, and froze well.

The interactions between Prudence and best friend Angela are fun, and also a little heartbreaking when the dragon's glamour causes a temporary rift; and while the dragon throwing his glamour around to impress Prudence could be a slightly problematic twist, it is implied that Prudence is unaffected by it and develops a fondness for the dragon based on deeper virtues than the image he's attempting to project.

Zen Cho weaves a wonderful setting with some easily relatable characters and has created a very entertaining story that is a definite must-read.

Check out the World SF blog here, where Zen Cho was interviewed here. More about Zen Cho can be found on her livejournal here and if you fancy reading more of her excellent fiction, try out the highly recommended 起狮,行礼 (Rising Lion—The Lion Bows) in Strange Horizons.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Recent Releases: Witches

Recently released from Prime Books is the fab looking Witches: Wicked, Wild & Wonderful edited by Paula Guran.

The blurb:

"Surrounded by the aura of magic, witches have captured our imaginations for millennia and fascinate us now more than ever.

"No longer confined to the image of a hexing old crone, witches can be kindly healers and protectors, tough modern urban heroines, holders of forbidden knowledge, sweetly domestic spellcasters, darkly domineering, sexy enchantresses, ancient sorceresses, modern Wiccans, empowered or persecuted, possessors of supernatural abilities that can be used for good or evil—or perhaps only perceived as such.

"Welcome to the world of witchery in many guises: wicked, wild, and wonderful. Includes two original, never-published stories.

With stories from: Elizabeth Bear, Lean Bobet, Neil Gaiman, Theodora Goss, Nancy Holder, Ellen Klages, Mercedes Lackey, Ursula K. Le Guin, Margo Lanagan, Tanith Lee, Madeleine L’Engle, Kelly Link, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Andre Norton, Richard Parks, T.A. Pratt, Linda Robertson, Delia Sherman, Cory Skerry, Cynthia Ward, Don Webb, Leslie What & Jane Yolen.

Definitely one to go on the read pile so watch out for the review!

Sunday, 18 March 2012

The Hounds of Tindalos

The Hounds of Tindalos by Frank Belknap Long
Reviewed by Peter Coleborn

For want of something to read last night before falling asleep, I browsed my bookshelves and chanced upon the collection The Hounds of Tindalos by Frank Belknap Long. This slim book – less than 180 pages – originally appeared as an Arkham House edition in, I believe, 1946. My paperback version was published by Belmont in 1963. But sadly, I gather that this book does not include the same content as the Arkham House original.

Back to last night’s reading. I was pretty tired and so only read one of the tales, the title story. It’s clear from the start that this is a Mythos yarn – Long and Lovecraft were contemporaries.

Chalmers summons his friend Frank to witness and record a time travel experiment. Chalmers is convinced that time can be bypassed via the fourth dimension, using a mix of mathematical formulae and mind-enhancing drugs. Of course, Frank is sceptical of all this but agrees to write down everything that Chalmers describes as he travels back, far back to the very beginning. But things go wrong for Chalmers. He travels to an era of angular rather than curved time. And there are beings inhabiting that place, creatures that hound him back as he returns to the twentieth century.

Frank agrees to help Chalmers fortify his rooms, to eliminate all the corners, all the angles of his apartment. Yet later, the dismembered body of Chalmers is discovered, covered in a protoplasmic gloop. And, of course, his diary is discovered, which details his final days.

Despite this story being over 60 years old, I found the writing quite invigorating, and was swept along with the tale. And it had its bleak touches of humour, too. Chalmers wrote in his diary:
“They are breaking through! Smoke is pouring from the corners of the wall. Their tongues— ahhhh—”

I always had to smile at these passages; I read a lot of this when I was much younger. Still, that aside, this is a fine story of paranoia, and a warning against searching for the darkest secrets. Man’s hubris can get him into a lot of trouble.

Note: Back in 1997 I produced on behalf of the BFS a chapbook, Long Memories: Recollections of Frank Belknap Long by Peter Cannon. This is an affectionate reminiscence of Long by Peter Cannon; Ramsey Campbell provided the afterword – who also met Long before the latter’s death in 1994. I’m not sure if copies still remain. Contact the BFS stockholder via the BFS website.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Tornado's Siren

Tornado's Siren by Brooke Bolander
(From Strange Horizons/20th February 2012)
Reviewed by Jenny Barber

"Rhea is nine years old when she first meets the tornado that will fall in love with her."
As first lines go, that's a doozy and sets up a beautifully surreal story that has the tornado stalking our heroine, sending her valentines and crashing her wedding. Because what else would a lovesick tornado do? Naturally the course of tornado love doesn't run smooth and while Rhea's first instinct is to reject the tornado's advances, she experiences a shift in attitude as she grows older and discovers that a traditional life really isn't what she wants after all.

This is both fabulous fun and quite moving while effortlessly making you root for the unconventional couple. Somehow the tornado's actions are completely logical and Rhea makes for an appealing heroine who deals with the weirdness affecting her life in a believable manner. Excellent stuff.

Strange Horizons is available for free here and more about about Brooke Bolander can be found on her website here. Also, check out her story Her Words Like Hunting Vixens Spring on Lightspeed here.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Rumours of the Marvellous by Peter Atkins

Book review by Jim McLeod

It's been a while since I last read anything by Peter Atkins; it must be something like 15 years since I read Big Thunder. A lot can happen in 15 years; what you liked then may well not be the same as what you like now. Hell, just looking back at some of the music I used to listen to then is embarrassing. So 15 years down the line I picked up his collection of short stories and poetry: Rumours of the Marvellous published by Alchemy Press, in a rather fetching limited hardback edition, with an introduction by Glen Hirshberg. Thankfully these 15 years have been kind on my love for Peter's writing. The main reason for this is that Peter's writing is indeed rather marvellous.

Before I talk about my favourite stories in the collection, I have to admit, that I completely skipped over Dr Arcadia a poem that gives Tam O'Shanter run for its money in terms of length. I have never been able to get into poetry, and even though I started to read this poem, I just couldn't get into it. I'm not saying it's poorly written; all I am saying is I can't make judgement on it. Poetry is as baffling to me as the female mind.

I'll admit I was hard pushed to single out the best stories in this collection, the quality within the book is exceptional, truly exceptional. However, King of Outer Space is a moving tale about love conquering the vast distances of Space, or so it seems. The twist ending to this tale is a stroke of genius. It also has one of my favourite lines from the book:

"Flames shimmer from its boosters, their majestic roar telling the laws of physics to go fuck themselves."
That sentence alone sums up, for me, an underlying tongue-in-cheek element to the stories presented here. I may be wrong, but it felt that there was a very subtle line of humour, a sly wink to the camera, nothing to make you laugh out loud.

Stacy and Her Idiot mixes drugs, severed fingers, some Lovecraftian monsters and a scorned woman on a mission of revenge. This is a hugely fun read, with an ending that makes me hope we will be hearing more from this plucky heroine (we do in the final story of this collection).
The Cubist's Attorney is an odd tale indeed, full of very odd characters coming together for a reading of a will. A will that has some truly odd bequeathals. Again, Peter pulls the rug from under the reader's feet with the ending of this tale.

Rumours of the Marvellous is a brilliant collection. Sometimes single author collections can drag a bit -- not so the case here. Peter Atkins has such a varied style that it keeps the collection fresh, right up to the last page. A marvellous collection from a master story teller.

You can purchase the book by clicking this link (also available via Amazon). And you should. Aside from the great stories, this is another example of a small press producing an excellent looking book for a price that is remarkable.

More about Peter Atkins can be found on his blog here.

(This review originally appeared on the Ginger Nuts of Horror reprinted with permission.)

Thursday, 16 February 2012


Greyglass by Tanith Lee
Reviewed by Peter Coleborn

This is a strange little book (just 190 pages). It begins with a visit to Susan’s creepy Grandmother’s creepy house – the vegetable house because it seems to grow rooms, and is surrounded by a mass of verdant plant life. Ergo, it’s going to be a supernatural story – oh, good! But as one reads the book, and as Susan grows from child to young woman to adult, it seems to abandon the paranormal…

Susan’s mother, Anne, meets a man called Wizz, runs off to the USA with him, and then rarely sees her daughter – just a few flying visits back to the UK. When we first meet Wizz he comes across as a dodgy character. A bit of a wide boy.

As Susan grows she goes to college, meets men, has sex, moves home several times, and eventually ends up living in a flat next to Crissie, a prostitute. With each change in her life it seems as if the story veers off at an unexpected angle. And just when I thought, despite the subtle hints Tanith Lee drops into the narrative, the supernatural element was just wistful thinking … Ms Lee ties up most of the loose ends just about perfectly. (Most, because this book does leave tantalising elements dangling – characters disappearing from Susan’s life; resolving her mother’s problems…)

I have to say, Greyglass is a quirky read. It’s as if Tanith Lee plays with syntax, repeating phrases, leaving half-finished thoughts. I am sure this is all deliberate, to mirror Susan’s disjointed life. Once you get into the swing, it’s a fast and enjoyable read (yes, okay, with a nice supernatural dénouement). Recommended.

Greyglass is published by Immanion Press and is available from their website here.

(Originally published on the BFS website, reprinted with permission of Peter Coleborn)

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

The End of the World

The End of the World by Den Patrick
Reviewed by Jenny Barber

The apocalypse is a serious business - all that death and destruction and, well, contemplating the end times stuff... which is all very well but sometimes what you really want is something a little light hearted and The End of the World by Den Patrick delivers this beautifully.

Spittleshite, a daemon who goes by the name Speight (or sometimes Luke) when he's wandering the earth (because, well, you just would, wouldn't you...) has, in his own words "been tasked with witnessing the destruction of one of the world's greatest cities, just to make sure everything goes to plan."

Unsurprisingly, not everything goes to plan. See, there's a girl. The kind of girl who will quite happily tell off the prince of hell and mace a daemon in the eye. The kind of girl who calls herself Candy and once upon a time used to date our beleaguered daemon protagonist, but then the end of the world got in the way. Well, that and Spittleshite chickening out about the whole love thing.

So, yes, end of the world aside, this is a daemon love story; a very funny daemon love story that sneaks disturbing images into your brain like a bling bedecked Lucifer and daemons in Hawaiian shirts and angels dancing on a pinhead to the tune of 'Can't Get You Outta My Head'. (The horror!) It occasionally dives down to the type of humour that'll make you roll your eyes (Spittleshite is joined by daemonic colleagues Rigorprick and Bumblefuck) but whether or not you like that kind of thing, this still remains a story that'll leave you grinning. Great fun.

The End of the World can be found in Pandemonium: Stories of the Apocalypse, edited by Anne C. Perry and Jared Shurin. Pandemonium is available in eBook format from here and as a bonus, a portion of the proceeds go to the Arthur C. Clarke Award.

More about Den Patrick can be found on his website here.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

All These Little Worlds

All These Little Worlds
Edited by Rob Redman
Reviewed by Peter Coleborn

I read this anthology last year – probably around September – but for a variety of reasons didn’t get around to reviewing it. And then, just recently, the book resurfaced amongst the detritus in my study. All I knew, all I could remember, was that I thoroughly enjoyed All These Little Worlds, but not in enough detail to write a review. And so I re-read it and, again, found the anthology engrossing and … well … thoroughly enjoyable.

All These Little Worlds is published by The Fiction Desk, one of their quarterly anthologies. Ten pounds might sound a lot, at first, for 170 pages but a subscription cuts a marvellous deal: £30 a year. Check their website for details.

There are nine stories in this volume, mostly by British and American writers, and all share a high level of quality. Those readers looking for yet more horror may not be impressed, but readers with a broader taste should be delighted. Nevertheless, despite the quality of prose, some of the stories felt incomplete, too much like an anecdote rather than a tale with a – you know – beginning, middle and a suitable conclusion. But that’s a small quibble.

The book kicks off with Jaggers & Crown, a story that sometimes mirrors the career of a certain real-life comedy double act. Jaggers is already a comic performer during WWII when he encounters Crown, who soon becomes Jaggers’ straight man. But Jaggers falls prey to various addictions and rent boys (this is before homosexuality became legal), and in the end it is Crown who saves the act’s bacon. The story is told in retrospect, beginning when Crown opens a newspaper and reads his own obituary. But even knowing where the story will end, it is a moving account of the two character comedians who began treading the sleazy boards before the fame of television.

The next story reminded me of Rick Kleffel’s The Pet Peeve from Chills (reprinted last year in Dark Horizons). This is Swimming With the Fishes by Jennifer Moore. Here, a mother buys a miniature diver for her children’s aquarium. Daughter loves the little man with his red costume, but son wants something more exciting, such as a crab or an electric eel – with the inevitable consequences. Darkly comic.

Pretty Vacant by Charles Lambert, the third story in the book, is pretty damn good (and where did that title come from?). An Italian rich kid, Francesca, is sent to a private girls’ boarding school in England by parents splitting up – she was getting in the way of things. There, she meets Pilar, a similarly rich kid this time from Spain. Francesca is bored – really bored – with the whole thing, and this leads her into dubious activities, including befriending low-life Gary and then kidnapping Pilar. The consequences are never realised… Lambert captures Francesca’s personality perfectly, amazingly so. She is a spoilt brat, but at the same time vulnerable to the things tearing her life apart in Italy.

Story number four is Room 307 by Mischa Hiller. Here, a travelling salesman with problems back home (they haven’t had sex since their child was born months ago and neither will discuss it; yet both love each other) meets another rep, a beautiful woman who seems to pick him out for her own sexual needs. I didn’t buy the conceit, but I bought into the story; yet another writer who is able to get under the skin of his/her protagonist.

These, plus Dress Code, Glenda and After all the Fun We Had, are the book’s highlights for me. Worth the asking price. But if I were editor, one of the first four stories would have tailed the volume. But that’s the nature of anthologies: every editor and reader has their own preferences. Anyway, to end on a positive note: an exceptional collection of stories, the perfect antidote to many of the horror anthologies that cross my desk.

All These Little Worlds is available from The Fiction Desk for £9.99.

(This review was originally published on Piper at the Gates of Fantasy, reprinted with permission.)

Friday, 10 February 2012

Conan's Brethren

Conan’s Brethren by Robert E Howard
Reviewed by Peter Coleborn

If you own Gollancz’s previous Howard collection The Complete Chronicles of Conan (and if you don’t, shame) you’ll want this companion volume. Both are handsome productions, a credit to a mainstream publisher. And both are edited by Stephen Jones.

Conan’s Brethren is a massive 700 page tome full of stories that flowed from Howard’s typewriter. Here are the tales of King Kull, Bran Mak Morn and, of course, Solomon Kane. At FantasyCon 2010 a panel discussion came to an unanimous agreement: Kane was everyone’s favourite REH character.

Howard’s writing may seem dated to the modern reader. It’s flowery and melodramatic. At times you wish he’d just get on with it. Howard’s characters are reflections of each other, bringing a similarity to the stories. And yet it does not matter because, in the main, the stories swirl along at a blistering pace. Howard has been described as a natural-born story teller. You can imagine him strutting around a room regaling an audience with his outrageous yarns, the audience lapping up every word. Reading this book I was fondly reminded of tales first read 30 years ago, such as Worms of the Earth, Skulls in the Stars and The Frost King’s Daughter (later rewritten as a Conan yarn swapping Giant for King).

In the Lancer editions published in the 1970s, many REH’s stories were completed by the likes of Lin Carter and L Sprague de Camp. Here, all you get is Howard, except for the detailed afterword by Stephen Jones that charts the publishing history of many of these stories. Howard was prolific! In his brief life he produced a huge canon of work that influenced many fantasy writers over the decades. To discover more about Howard’s life and relationships check out One Who Walked Alone by Novalyne Price [filmed as The Whole Wide World].

If you have any interest in the roots of modern fantasy and horror (for Howard’s stories were steeped in both) get this book. (Note: although the copyright page says 2009 the book has just appeared in 2011 - something to do with trademarks.)

(This review was originally published on the BFS website)

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Master of the Road to Nowhere/In the Time of War

Master of the Road to Nowhere/In the Time of War by Carol Emshwiller
Reviewed by Peter Coleborn

Publisher Pete Crowther said he loves the old Ace Doubles: one short novel starts at one end; flip the book over and the second novel begins. This book by Carol Emshwiller is a nod to that format: two collections, Master of the Road to Nowhere starts from one end, In the Time of War from the other. I’m not sure this format is necessary because all the stories have a similar feel to them, that of loss, of trying to come to terms with the outside world, of being on the road to nowhere, in time of war or not.

I’ve not knowingly read anything by Carol Emshwiller before – but I’m damned glad I have now. These are beautifully written stories about real people. If they don’t move the reader to (almost) tears, then he or she must be a zombie. I especially like – love – the title story from Master, and Logicist from War. But I don’t believe there is a bad story in this/these collection(s).

The name Ed Emshwiller maybe well known to you as an artist extraordinaire – and his paintings grace both covers of his wife’s book. Also included are two introductions by Ursula K Le Guin and Phyllis Eisenstein.

Carol Emshwiller
shows you how to write fantasy/SF stories – engaging characters, intriguing plots, true emotions.

Published by PS Publishing.

(This review was originally published on the BFS website)

Monday, 6 February 2012

Albedo One #41

Albedo One - Issue #41
Reviewed by Jenny Barber

Issue #41 of Albedo One is definitely a mixed bag. While there are enjoyable tales to be had, most interestingly from the winners of the International Aeon Award 2010 Short Fiction Contest and one of the winning stories from the 2010 John West Fantasy Writing Competition; there were still a good few that didn't quite work for reasons of being either too surreal, too gross or not enough appeal in the main characters.

My favourite story in this issue would have to be the 3rd place winner of the 2010 Aeon Award - A Room of Empty Frames by Robin Maginn. It's an atmospheric tale which carefully pulls together pieces of an intriguing mystery involving a missing artist and the pictures he left behind. The hints of the shape of the story tease without giving an obvious resolution but there's a nice enough feel to it that any lack of definite answers are unimportant.

The 1st place winner of the Aeon Award, Aethra by Michalis Manolios (translated from its original Greek by Thalia Bisticas) makes for uncomfortable reading. It's a story that shows the systematic abuse of clones created by a famous artist who makes not only her artwork but also her pets and furniture out of clones of herself, and it's the loving detail applied to showing this spectacle that brings a certain amount of wincing. The story itself is interesting enough - a murder investigation where the artist is the prime suspect, and as you would expect with so many clones about the house, the final answers aren't simple.

From the winner of the Fantasy Writing Competition (& winner in the Junior Secondary Category) is the fun story Ways of Making Math More Interesting by Lauren Mulvihill. There's a nifty Alice in Wonderland vibe to this as the heroine of the tale is thrown into a world of anthropomorphic numbers and must do battle with the evil Minuses to rescue the Common Denominator.

On the down side, Lost Highway Travelers by Judy Klass didn't really work - it's a rambling story about country music and musicians whose subtler nuances are obviously lost on me. Likewise Demon by Bruce McAllister which was a slog of excessive navel gazing that quickly lost my attention.

I had hoped for something better from Eric Brown in his story Differences, but I found it rather flat with too much space taken on selling the world without giving a reason to care much about the main character and the trouble they find themselves in, and the ending tried too hard to create a fanfare of something that only merited a vague shrug.

So not the best issue of Albedo One I've ever read, as, despite some intriguing premises, the final execution fell short too many times.

Albedo One is available in print and PDF versions from their website here.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Visitants: Stories of Fallen Angels & Heavenly Hosts

Visitants: Stories of Fallen Angels & Heavenly Hosts
Edited by Stephen Jones
Reviewed by Peter Coleborn

I hate angels (got that out of the system). Of course, by this I mean all those cutesy ‘beings’ that act as personal guardians that make sure everything is hunky dory. Fortunately you don’t get that sort of angel in this anthology of 28 stories. Stephen Jones, one of the best horror anthologists working in the field, makes sure that these deal with God’s messengers as they (probably) were (or are or will be). I was hoping for creatures similar to those Mike Carey described in his masterful Lucifer comics. I wasn’t disappointed.

It’s a rule of thumb that the first story in an anthology should be the strongest. It acts as appetiser to the meal. Here, Neil Gaiman’s Murder Mysteries does the first job perfectly. It has to be perfect since the story takes place in the Silver City, which God created perfectly. But obviously not perfect enough: there’s been a murder. The last story is Going Bad by Jay Lake, in which there’s another crime, this time involving ‘fallen’ angels. Although Lake’s is a good, albeit brief, tale, the penultimate story by Christopher Fowler shines brighter. Beautiful Men deals with the End, where a human is visited by angels, and is tempted. It’s easy to see why this story was shortlisted for the World Fantasy Awards.

Lake’s story is set at/after the End. See the thread? Stephen Jones’s selection charts the rise, decline and fall of these angelic beings, humanity, too. Many of the stories are original to this anthology: Lake, Fowler, Ian R MacLeod, Yvonne Navarro, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Robert Shearman (a weird tale), Ramsey Campbell. Reprints come from Gaiman, Arthur Machen (The Bowman), Sarah Pinborough, Lisa Tuttle and Michael Marshall Smith among others. Do yourself a favour: become a bit new dark-agey for a while and buy this book.

(This review was originally published on the BFS website)

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Various Authors

Various Authors
Edited by Rob Redman
Reviewed by Peter Coleborn

Sometimes one has to read outside the confines of genre. And as much as I love fantasy/horror short stories there are times when I need to go off at a tangent. This is where Various Authors comes in. (Of course, one could argue that all fiction is just a bunch of lies and is, ergo, a form of fantasy fiction, but I’ll not go that route today.) Anyway, this anthology features twelve new stories from authors I’m not familiar with but, judging from their contributions, writers I’d like to encounter again.

One writer I should’ve recognised is Patrick Whittaker, he won the BFS short story competition a year or two back with Dead Astronauts. I dug out that issue of Dark Horizons and re-read and thoroughly enjoyed the quirky, surreal and humorous account of astronauts falling from the sky littering up the lawn. Whittaker’s story in Various Authors is Celia and Harold, equally strange and weird. It’s a horror story (can’t get away from them) about being trapped, unable to avoid the inevitable.

Other contributions include stories that touch on frustrating lives, on coincidences perceived or actual, on aspirations. It’s difficult to pick highlights: probably How to Fall in Love with an Air Hostess by Harvey Marcus and Crannock House by Ben Lyle, although, to be honest, I enjoyed them all. I imagine, however, that these stories won’t appeal to everyone because often they end unresolved; they are snippets of a larger story that continues after the final full stop. And yes, that can be frustrating but the quality of writing makes up for this. The characters feel just right and the narrative flows seamlessly.

Various Authors is volume one in an intended series published by The Fiction Desk which began life as a blog. Well worth getting hold of and reading.

(This review originally published on the BFS website)

Wednesday, 1 February 2012


Memory by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Reviewed by Jenny Barber

"It‭’‬s half theatrics and half misplaced nostalgia.‭ ‬After all,‭ ‬she doesn‭’‬t need the sword to kill him.‭ ‬She could drown him in the vast expanse of water that is slowly eroding all the coasts,‭ ‬eating the land bit by bit.‭ ‬But it seems to have become tradition and there are few things to cling on to these days.‭ ‬As a result,‭ ‬she carries the sword and waits by the sea."
Found in the December 2011 edition of Expanded Horizons, Memory is a bittersweet tale that is perhaps a little too short as there's enough of interest in the two protagonists that you could do with reading just a bit more about them. Perhaps this is the beauty of this particular tale, as it implies much with few words and leaves you imagining the centuries of backstory as its two immortal protagonists meet and fight and kill each other over and over.

For Lei, her past is full of lost love and old wounds, born in the ancient battle that started their eternal enmity; for Zaniel, there are hints of power and a taste for riches but both lose a little more of themselves after each battle and here they are, brought to another meeting which only one will walk away from.

What is most intriguing about this story are the questions left open when the story closes: there are only hints at how things began, and what might ultimately happen between the two protagonists is also left for the reader to guess but Lei is drawn well enough that these are things you want to find out as the story weaves a subtle spell that makes you care about her despite the very short glimpse into her life you are given. Very lovely and quite atmospheric story.

More about Silvia Moreno-Garcia can be found at her website here, and don't forget to hop over to check out the other stories on Expanded Horizons here.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

The Appetite

The Appetite by Nicholas Royle
Reviewed by Peter Coleborn

Nicholas Royle is one of the UK’s literary secrets. He quietly and all too infrequently writes masterfully disturbing stories and novels. The Appetite is such an example. This novella (similarly to Graham Joyce’s Three Ways to Snog an Alien) is about two people falling in love. Royle places this romance against the backdrop of a hurricane and its aftermath. The fierce storm, with its strong merciless winds, swept people up into the clouds, seemingly to disappear. But a few days later they return, falling out of the sky. Miraculously, there are only slight injuries.

Sally is one of the storm’s victims, and returning to earth she falls into Mike’s arms. And so begins their romantic liaison. She, though, is happily married and refuses to leave her husband. And so their relationship spirals into issues of guilt and claustrophobia.

And at the same time the world around them shifts, moving closer together, as if things are shrinking. This only compounds the sense of claustrophobia.

The Appetite effectively captures the conflicting emotions of Mike and Sally. It delineates their stresses as they test their relationship, until Sally has to finally decide.

Nicholas Royle, in this book, has taken a simple tale, added an element of strangeness, and then twisted in the literary knife. This is surely a front runner for the British Fantasy Award’s Best Novella in 2009.

The Appetite was published by Gray Friar Press in 2008 and can be purchased directly from them. More about Nicholas Royle can be found at his website here.

(Review originally published on Piper at the Gates of Fantasy)

Friday, 27 January 2012

Recognizing Gabe: un cuento de hadas

Published in the 16th January 2012 edition of Strange Horizons, Recognizing Gabe is an utterly beautiful story where any attempt at describing it isn't going to do it justice. That's not going to stop us trying though...

It's partway coming of age tale, partway modern fairytale, keeps offering up challenges to standard gender perceptions and shows how it is possible to be accepted for who you are, even if who you are doesn't meet the traditional expectations of those around you.

The titular Gabe was technically born as a girl, but it takes the interference of his godmother, in a scene that's both sweet and done with elegant simplicity, to get the rest of his family to accept him as a boy. And even though it takes a little time, they fully accept him as their son - so much so that there's a lovely scene where Gabriel's father passionately defends Gabe's right to be the kind of boy he is.

It also shows that gender labelling is never an easy thing, as even after Gabriel is accepted fully as a son of the family, his family traditions still challenge him. His love of cooking falls firmly into the accepted female sphere of activity and is considered not a thing a good son should be indulging in, but even that isn't set in stone and the resolution is subtly done.

Where this story really wins out is the telling. Yáñez has a deft touch, saying much with a few well chosen words, and effortlessly weaves a wonderful story that stays with you long after the reading of it. Very highly recommended so remember it when award nomination time comes around.

Strange Horizons is available for free here (and a must-read for the excellent selection of non-fiction they also publish) and more about about Alberto Yáñez can be found on his website here.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Career Day

Career Day by Margaret Ball
Reviewed by Jenny Barber

Found in Chicks in Chainmail (ed. Esther Friesner), Margaret Ball's Career Day serves up that perfect combo of kick-ass warrior woman meets portal-fantasy done with a nifty comic twist. Though I'd expect nothing less from a Chicks story.

The story stars Riva Konneva - a sword-for-hire who raises her daughter on Earth while commuting to Dazau for merc-work. While distracted on a job she accidentally gets talked into taking her daughter's class on an off-world field trip (as you do). Naturally, hijinx ensue.

Above all else, this is an extremely fun story that blends consideration of real world concerns with a wry look at fantasy tropes. The commute to Dazau is expensive and Riva is just as busy juggling the finances to try and give her child a leg up in life, as she is hacking and slashing her assigned targets.

Ball does some fun things with her magic system, giving the story some interesting and unexpected resolutions while showing Riva as both canny and adaptable, and a generally appealing heroine.

This is one of those stories that it's always a pleasure to re-read as there's cleverness to be found beneath the humour and it's little wonder that Riva gets another outing in a later Chicks book (Fun with Hieroglyphics - The Chick is in the Mail.).

More about Margaret Ball can be found on her website here.
Chicks in Chainmail can be found in any decent bookselling venues, or for a funky e-book bundle of the first three Chicks books, mosey on over to Baen Webscriptions.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Zombie Apocalypse!

Zombie Apocalypse!
Edited by Stephen Jones

Reviewed by Peter Coleborn

To be honest, I get bored with trends – very quickly. The rash of books all about vampires and werewolves and zombies tend to pass me by. So I was a little apprehensive at first when I obtained Zombies Apocalypse! Fortunately, I had no reason to be concerned. Zombies Apocalypse! was a joyride, from page one to the end.

With over 15 contributors one might expect an anthology. Wrong. This is a mosaic – an epistolic – novel, cleverly woven together by Stephen Jones. Michael Marshall Smith kicks off the saga. Here, a man writes a long missive to his mother, almost a suicide note full of loss and regret. It hints at the tragedy to follow. The entry by Christopher Fowler describes the source of the zombie plague: a church yard being redeveloped for a New Festival of Britain. There then follows a series of police reports, medical reports, diary entries, and so on, and the horror of the plague becomes clear – there is no easy solution (if, indeed, there is a solution).

It’s not obvious exactly when the events are set. Based on clues sprinkled throughout, I suggest 2013. It appears that London’s Olympic Games were a flop – or didn’t take place – and so the Government forces through plans for the New Festival. Picture the Millennium Dome. At the same time, surveillance and the militia-like police create a society of fear and unease. But that society needs something to be frightened of and the zombies fit that bill. The zombies are clearly a metaphor for today’s bogymen (your choice).

Does this mean that the Government deliberately released the plague? Or just try to take advantage of it? Whatever, they failed to control the situation and the end of civilisation becomes inevitable.

Besides Smith and Fowler, other the contributors are (in order of appearance) Mandy Slater, Paul Finch, Sarah Pinborough Jo Fletcher, John Llewellyn Probert, Jay Russell, Kim Newman, Lisa Morton, Tanith Lee, Paul McAuley, Tim Lebbon, Peter Crowther, Robert Hood, Pat Cadigan, Mark Samuels, Peter Atkins, and Scott Edelman. There is no contents page, so it takes a bit of detection to work out who wrote what. It’s fun to do so but not necessary: just get on and read the book. A few characters reappear over the length of the book, notably Sarah Pinborough's young girl writing in her diary about the death of her mother and father. It felt realistic -- very touching.

Zombie Apocalypse! is a mix of horror and science fiction, with added supernatural elements. There is an end, of sorts, but not a satisfactory conclusion to the plague. It’s a scary read, reminding me of The Andromeda Strain and other convincing post-apocalyptic novels. Highly recommended.

(Review first published on Piper at the Gates of Fantasy)