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.