“Cold Turkey” by Carole Johnstone – A Review

cold turkey by carole johnstoneWhilst I’d be the first to admit that the TTA novella releases haven’t been quite as frequent as I would have hoped (The first was released in November 2012, the second over a year ago in March 2013), you certainly can’t fault the quality.

I reviewed the first two novellas (“Eyepennies” by Mike O’Driscoll and “Spin” by Nina Allan) when they came out, and having been a fan for a number of years of TTA’s periodical publications (Interzone for SF and fantasy and Black Static for horror) I was very pleased that they managed to match the peerless, boundary-pushing quality quality of the shorter stories I loved in the magazine.

Now we’re at novella number 3, by Carole Johstone. Carole has featured in Black Static a number of times, as well as a wide range of anthologies and collections, and I have read her stories myself several times.

And now we have a novella. Called “Cold Turkey”. With a terrifying man (?) in a top hat on the front. First impressions are, you have to admit, distinctly good.

Read on…

Black Static #39 – A Review

black static #39

Do you want to know a secret? Writing the introduction to a review is my least favourite part of the whole thing. It’s rare that I won’t know what I think of a film or story, and if I don’t know starting out where I’ll finish up, the very process of writing it tends to steer me towards one.

No, it’s the introduction. The watching the wordcount as I ramble on, wondering if I’ve done so enough that I can just jump onto the meat of the matter. I’m impatient, basically. As a kid it was the oversweet luxury of desert that I craved, and that has never really gone away.

Black Static, as ever, is the best magazine in the horror business. Certainly in the UK. Probably in the world at large. It has been a part of my diet since my student days, lounging in halls on lazy afternoons when I should have been writing essays, getting lost in worlds of darkness and monsters.

I’m not much of a marketing shill, but if you are at all interested in modern horror — or explorations of the human soul — then you could do a lot worse than a subscription to Black Static. I don’t profess to like every story, but I’ve yet to read one from which I haven’t taken something away.

Is that enough of an introduction ? (Yes, that’ll do – Ed)

Read on…

Interzone #251 – A Review

interzone #251I’m sure somebody will disagree with me here, but I don’t know of any fiction magazine as consistently striking as Interzone.

Obviously a book, or magazine, shouldn’t be judged by its cover, but presentation is important, and the new(ish) design of the Interzone cover supplemented with a succession of frankly fantastic artwork, only makes the interior more enticing.

Interzone‘s in the wild are a fairly rare occasion — the shelves of W.H. Smith being stocked mainly with nonsense — which is a shame really. Actually, I think this would stand out a mile off on a newsagent’s shelf.

And if I saw it there, hell I’d pick it up! Wouldn’t you?

I’m not sure what the point of this little pre-review rant is, just that some of the best genre material is something of a secret by the simple fact of a lack of exposure. There is no reason at all that magazines like Interzone should be just for established fans.

Read on…

“Parasite” by Mira Grant – A Review

parasite by mira grant(Orbit, 512pp, pb £7.99 eb £4.99)

This review was originally published in issue #250 of science-fiction magazine Interzone. You can buy back issues and subscribe to future issues at their shop.

What makes the tin-hat brigade of paranoids scarier? When they know what they’re talking about, seemingly.

I haven’t read any of Mira Grant’s other novels, but the spiel attached to “Parasite” establishes her as more than qualified to comment on matters of biotechnology, pharmacology and ethics.

The novel follows Sal, who was Sally until a car accident left her a complete amnesiac. In a world where almost everybody has genetically-engineered tapeworms inside them boosting their immune system, Sal’s worm having helped her survive apparent brain death makes her a medical marvel and minor celebrity. This places Sal at the epicentre of the events that unfold, all linked to tapeworm firm SymboGen.

Read on…

Black Static #38 (Jan/Feb) – A Review

black static #38

I don’t think that I’ve ever seen an obituary in an issue of Black Static. Interzone includes brief notes on genre figures who have passed away, as part of Ansible Link. But the obituary — the glowing tribute to Joel Lane in Black Static #38, penned by Nicolas Royle, is something else.

I never met Joel, and I only read a few of his stories. They had a dark, brooding atmosphere which resonated with a distinct sense of place. He had a distinctive and powerful style of writing, focusing on very British locations, and the weird close to everyday life.

When he sadly passed away at the far-too-young age of fifty, my Facebook page was alive with people shocked, hurt and in mourning at the lost of someone key to the genre. Although I didn’t know, the shockwave which his death caused was undeniable and inescapable. A picture has emerged of a British genre stalwart taken too soon.

And as such, the idea of an issue of Black Static in tribute is very attractive indeed.

Read on…

Interzone #250 (Jan/Feb) – A Review

interzone #250When you think about it, 250 is a big number. And 250 issues of Interzone is a staggering amount of science-fiction.

For anyone wondering, no I haven’t been reading since issue #1. I came in with issue #222 in May/June 2009. And I can still remember tearing off the plastic wrap in my University halls room, and diving in. Tim Pratt’s “Unexpected Outcomes” was the first story I read, and it blew me away (and you can listen to it for free at Escape Pod now).

But this is a landmark issue, and a real achievement in a climate where we are constantly being told that print publishing is on its way out, to have persisted publishing such a high quality product. I always look forward to holding it my hands — and, yes, to the smell — every two months.

Whilst I can’t speak to the first issue, the story quality has been consistently good since I subscribed. It is the first stop for top-notch SF and fantasy. The fact it’s British is just a matter of pride.

Read on…

American Hustle – A Review

american hustle

This was a train which, honestly, I thought I’d missed. Ash and I were going to see American Horror Story American Hustle a good few weeks ago, but for some reason we never quite made it. But since it was the only one of the four main Oscar films of the year which we hadn’t managed to get along to (the others being The Wolf of Wall Street, 12 Years a Slave and Gravity).

So with no small sense of duty, we headed out through the rainy dark to Southend Odeon’s last showing of it, following a beacon of 70s nostalgia through to a promised land of acting and entertainment brilliance.


Read on…

“Chalk” by Pat Cadigan – A Review

Chalk-by-Pat-Cadigan(This Is Horror, 39pp, eb £1.99)

Though I’m a frequent reader of the site, before I picked up “Chalk” I hadn’t actually read any of This Is Horror’s series of chapbooks. Which is somewhat surprising, given that I’m a reader of pretty much all of those writers published.

But somehow they have — so far — escaped my attention. Until, as I say, “Chalk”.

Pat Cadigan is something of a legend in the SF community, having won the Arthur C. Clarke award twice and (more recently) a Hugo award. This is her first foray that I’ve seen into horror, and so I was expecting good things.

Read on…

“Monsters in the Heart” by Stephen Volk – A Review

Monsters in the Heart by Stephen Volk(Gray Friar Press, 248pp, £18.99 hb, £8.99 pb)

I have a lot of time for Stephen Volk.

He has made some cracking TV — Ghostwatch, and the extremely underrated Afterlife — and I rather enjoyed his film The Awakening.

And he has good form as a prose writer too, with his novella Whistable being one of the most bleakly moving pieces of writing I’ve read recently. At the time I took great delight in describing it as “lovingly crafted, yet fundamentally honest and believable”, a description which I stand by today.

Short stories are one of the loves of my life. They are undoubtedly the path of less glory — nobody ever made their fortune writing tales under 5,000 words long — but there’s a delight to what can be conveyed with a minimum of words.

So when I received (unsolicited) in my inbox an advance review PDF of Stephen’s new short story collection Monsters in the Heart, I jumped at the chance to see how he took to and used the form to elucidate and entertain.

Read on…

“Lurker” by Gary Fry – A Review

lurker by gary fry(DarkFuse, eb $2.99, hb $35.00)

For a man as active as he is in the UK horror scene, it’s truly remarkable that I don’t think I’ve ever read anything by Gary Fry before. He seems to be everywhere at the moment, almost unavoidable.

It’s not likely to change in the near future, as Fry launches what looks like some sort of dastardly plan for transatlantic domination, with a nine book (nine book) deal with stateside publisher DarkFuse.

I’m always in favour of horror getting a louder shout, and the kind of reviews Gary has been getting have left me intrigued for a while now. Anyone who the great Ramsey Campbell himself describes as “a master” is clearly not messing around with this stuff.

With his novella Lurker, Fry looks set to kick off a new and prolific phase of his writing career, so let’s open up the bonnet and see what we have here, shall we?

Read on…