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.