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The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 21 (Mammoth Books)
The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 21 (Mammoth Books)
by Stephen Jones
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Stories Are Great ..., 18 Jun. 2011
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Best New Horror 21 is a varied collection of short stories from some of the great names of the genre. I really enjoyed all of the stories, they all struck me as original and strong in their own areas. The only one to disappoint slightly was Joe Hill/Stephen King's story about a biker gang being chased by a juggernaut. The standout stories of the collection for me were Simon Strantza's "Cold To The Touch" a claustrophobic tale about an Inuit-discovered arctic anomaly, Mark Valentine's "The Axholme Toll", a solitary tale set in the borderland between ancient and modern in Lincolnshire's Isle of Axholme, particularly enjoyed because the setting is close to where I live. Finally, the most outstanding story for me is by Brian Lumley who shines as always in his tale of desolate hotel resorts and visitors from elsewhere.

My only criticism would be the 140+ pages' worth of other material - a not-so-brief essay on the machinations within the horror genre in 2009, and a long list of anyone connected to the genre who happened to have passed on recently. Still, it's a useful resource for those who are particularly keen on following the ins and outs of the genre with a fine-toothed comb.

The list of addresses of publications for aspiring writers is interesting but again possibly surplus to requirements as it's nothing a determined writer wouldn't already have in something like the The Writers' & Artists' Yearbook 2012 . Five stars would have been given for an extra 140 pages worth of fiction :-)


Monsters [DVD] [2010]
Monsters [DVD] [2010]
Dvd ~ Whitney Able
Price: £4.99

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Is This What America Looks Like From The Outside?, 19 May 2011
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This review is from: Monsters [DVD] [2010] (DVD)
"Monsters" is set in the near future where an alien race of gargantuan Cthuloid monsters have set up colonies on the Mexican/USA border. On the surface it's a story of a guy and a girl stranded in Mexico and finding themselves unable to travel by sea, having to make a perilous journey through the "infected zone" - the alien habitation - between the two countries so that they can return home to the USA. Between the lines, it's an attempted discourse on America's relationship with the rest of the world; the walls it builds metaphorically and physically, ostensibly for protection, though they drive wedges between civilisations, and the bombs it drops on those deemed alien and thus a threat.

The feature itself is nicely filmed and well-produced. It travels at a slower pace than your average monster feature, but it also tries to be thoughtful and intelligent, and at least partially succeeds in this.

The portrayal of the creatures as destructive but ambiguous in motivation is interesting; like the humans they have encountered, they destroy what they don't understand and yet are apparently capable of love for one another. The bombed out towns across the border are mainly destroyed by humans though - the aliens seem to be responsible for a lot less destruction than the humans with their emergency cordons and military responses.

The final scene is still a wee bit too sucky for me, and it ends abruptly; perhaps an attempt to let the film's message sink in, but also a bit unnecessary, what with this message having already been made pretty clearly.

It has a somewhat similar theme and premise to District 9 [2009] and though I definitely preferred District 9, I still found this an enjoyable watch.


Slaughter on a Snowy Morn: A Tale of Murder, Corruption and the Death Penalty Case That Shocked America
Slaughter on a Snowy Morn: A Tale of Murder, Corruption and the Death Penalty Case That Shocked America
by Colin Evans
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Lesson From History, 19 May 2011
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Slaughter On A Snowy Morn is the true story of Charles Steilow, the itinerant farm worker who was charged with the double murder of his employer and their aide, imprisoned, and sentenced to death.

The book follows the 1900s murder case as it unfolds, from the sketchy first hand reports of gunshots and a woman begging for help at Charlie Steilow's door, through the authorities' determination to execute Steilow for the crimes, to the equal determination of lawyers and detectives to prove that in fact, he was not the murderer and to rescue him from the chair at the eleventh hour.

It's a tale of prejudice, power and crass injustice; Steilow, with what would nowadays be termed 'special educational needs', was believed to be an easy target - and a populist one, as his German background proved, as America entered the First World War.

But those who would see him executed had their own agenda for framing him. In regional and national power politics the life or death of one man could win or lose an election, and those seeking power were intent on getting the outstanding murder case out of their way.

Evans writes extremely well, with a prose that has the ability to captivate and to stir up powerful emotions, as the sheer outrageousness of the authorities' behaviour - the lies, blackmail, beatings and ultimately a genuinely nasty desire to see an innocent man executed - hits home on the reader.

It's a powerful story that while ostensibly looks at the first use of forensics in revealing the truth (and also perhaps one of the first examples of pseudo-science being used to obscure it), is possibly much more about the depths that human beings can sink to in their own quest for personal power.

An historical murder mystery that documents not only a milestone in forensic science, but exposes the dark side of human nature and political ambition.


Wild
Wild
by Lincoln Crisler
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.12

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Zombies At High Noon, 17 May 2011
This review is from: Wild (Paperback)
Being a horror fan who has had a long interest in indigenous Mexican sorcery and who has spent much time in both Mexico and New Mexico, Lincoln Crisler's novella of Mexican mages and cowboy zombies ticks pretty much all the boxes for me.

Set in the dusty Texas towns of the late 19th Century, their warped wooden saloon bars populated by gunslingers with names like Black Tom and Fancy Jim, "Wild" is the story of a dysfunctional posse of lawmen and outlaws who reluctantly join forces to track down a missing army Colonel. What they weren't prepared for was their encounter with reanimated corpses and dark Mexican magic - and thus the desert zombie showdown ensues.

Despite it's dark-sounding content, "Wild" is written with enough gusto to betray the author's clear enjoyment in writing it, and the characters' classic wild-western dialogue retains a sense of fun throughout.

My only gripe - and it is a very minor one - is that tiny but crucial typo right on the last line of the novella, where the closing speech marks are omitted. As the book is very short, one might think that the conversation should continue on the following page when in fact the story has ended.

In all a good, fun, horror western - one which would lend itself nicely to a play adaption or even a film short.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 18, 2011 2:28 AM BST


Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?
Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?
by James Shapiro
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.31

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars No Contest?, 18 Mar. 2011
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I'll start right now by saying that I'm not an academic scholar of Shakespeare (or literature in general for that matter) but I do read it, and over the years I've always been fascinated by the constant theories put forward, that everyone and their dog - except for Shakespeare - wrote the plays that bear his name.

Whereas the creation of anything clever with occluded but possible late Mediaeval origins is often lazily claimed to be the work of Da Vinci or Bacon, the poor old feller from Stratford has long been subject of a trend that seems to say he's the only person that couldn't have made something that's actually attributed to him.

Shapiro's work first introduces Shakespeare and what (admittedly little) we know about him, and some of the problems, frauds and controversies that have beset researchers. He then looks at the cases for the contestants - Mary Sidney, the Earl of Rutland, Fulke Greville, Christopher Marlowe, the Earl of Oxford, Francis Bacon and the Earl of Southampton. He focuses on the Earl of Oxford and Francis Bacon, these being the two most hotly and passionately supported potential author theories, investigating when where and how the theories came about, the interests of those who put them forward, and the evidence by which the theories are supported. Finally he looks at Shakespeare himself, his life and his work at the Globe Theatre, and the personages who were his contemporaries and what they had to say about him.

Common accusations against Shakespeare that he was somehow "illiterate because he couldn't spell, including his own name" are smartly dismissed by discussing the fact that the modern concept of spelling simply didn't exist in the 1500s - at the time of writing many of his plays, there wasn't even such a thing as a dictionary, words were spelled phonetically and inconsistently. As for his own name "Shakspear", it was a near-impossibility for a 1500s printing press as the Italic "k" and the huge "s" of an Elizabethan typesetter's font would collide and break, resulting in them sometimes having to hyphenate the name to Shak-speare, or alternatively adding an e - "Shakespeare". Clear evidence is also given of the same spelling anomalies applying to the works of the contesters. It was simply a well-known 1500s typesetting problem.

Shapiro concludes that Shakespeare did write his plays in corroboration with others at the Globe - a standard practice then, as with modern scriptwriters - so they are unlikely to be "purely" his work. Accusations that he didn't have the education to write about far flung places may be partially true, given the bad geography and factual errors in some of his works, but it by no means proves that a poor boy can't make good. Clearly well known in his day, he was referenced by his contemporaries who sought his advice and remembered him and his achievements, even if some modern scholars aren't as keen. The suggestion of this man not being Shakespeare and being another well-known public figure either in disguise or using a Globe actor's name, is shown to be wholly implausible.

Thoroughly proving Shakespeare would seem to be the most important project here, as having to thoroughly disprove any and every other potential candidate that might pop up is a task that will ensure a conspiracy goes on for ever - one can't disprove a negative and all that. I always like to keep an open mind, but Shapiro's conclusion that Shakespeare himself wrote Shakespeare has convinced me that the cases for Bacon and the Earl of Oxford are extremely unlikely, and much stronger for the man from Stratford himself.


Weird Astronomy: Tales of Unusual, Bizarre, and Other Hard to Explain Observations (Astronomers' Universe)
Weird Astronomy: Tales of Unusual, Bizarre, and Other Hard to Explain Observations (Astronomers' Universe)
by David A. J. Seargent
Edition: Paperback
Price: £35.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not That Weird ...., 18 Mar. 2011
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Despite it's title, this book is really about conventional astronomy, and how it can be used to explain what we see it the sky and how we may, now or at some point in the distant past, have misinterpreted it.

The bulk of the examples are from the 19th and 20th Centuries and discuss astronomical observations that early astronomers believed to have been planets, comets, meteors or whatever, but then turned out to be another phenomenon such as a fireball or problems with lenses.

It's a well written book and has some very interesting projects for the amateur (though, I think, experienced!) astronomer to carry out to either recreate or better understand some of these phenomena.

I was a wee bit disappointed however with the book's overall dryness and the fact that it tended to tackle, for example, astronomers' misidentifications of fireballs as comets rather than some of the genuinely weird observations that have generated much more popular interest such as the apparent anomalies orbiting within the rings of Saturn. That said, the Face on Mars gets a mention along with the "tube" on the moon. Although I'm not a believer in the conspiracy theories of NASA keeping secrets about the existence of advanced structures on the moon or anywhere else, I thought the author's evidence against it so dismissive as to appear lame and the murky photographs in his support don't really show much, which is exactly the kind of fodder the conspiracy theorists love.

A better title for the book may have been "Some Early Astronomical Misidentifications" but I can see how that wouldn't help sales. On the subject of which, I can only assume that the publisher's asking price of £[] for a paperback is done in keeping with the 'astronomical' theme ... it's not a bad book, but try and get it for a cheaper price!
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 21, 2011 4:04 PM GMT


TRUE GIANTS: Is Gigantopithecus Still Alive?
TRUE GIANTS: Is Gigantopithecus Still Alive?
by Mark A. Hall
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.95

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Small Book About Big People, 18 Mar. 2011
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"True Giants" is a term coined by the authors to differentiate between the Bigfoot/Yeti/Sasquatch/Orang Pendek et al -style cryptozoological hominids, and the much larger hairy hominids that they believe are surviving Gigantopitheci. According to conventional science Gigantopithecus was an almost 10' (3 metres) tall bamboo-eating vegetarian ape that lived in Asia and India alongside our ancestors Homo Erectus, and died out about 300,000 years ago.

It's the authors' belief that the folk tales of indigenous peoples regarding hairy giants are often dismissed as mere stories when in fact they all paint a similar picture of red-eyed hairy giants having lived, and possibly still living, among them.

The folk tales and occasional sightings reported by word of mouth are the main bulk of the authors' evidence of existing Giantopithecus, supported by occasional photographs of tracks. These folk-tales and stories are a great read and while one can see how some of their striking similarities can be interpreted as a consensus, it's also easy to spot differences so it's difficult to ever know how much of the tale is pure story-telling or embellishment and how much is race memory or hand-me-down fact. Likewise, as we know from other monster and UFO sightings, eye-witness accounts can range from the broadly accurate to the hugely mistaken.

Some other anecdotal evidence does sound interesting and I found it frustrating that it wasn't always referenced - for example, the authors note that early European settlers in America had to fight off an attack by True Giants using the first recorded use of firearms against them. I would have liked to read more but there was no reference to follow up.

So in all an very interesting read, full of possibilities and as always if you keep an open mind, always exciting to think we could be living along side a giant species that was long thought extinct. But also ultimately disappointing because the evidence is, as so often is the case, anecdotal and the much needed photographs and film are still eluding us, allowing critics to put some of the authors' assertions into the realm of pure belief.

That said, it took three months of intensive filming and camera-trap setting to finally prove, in 2010, indigenous people's insistent tales of tigers living at altitudes of 13,450 feet high in the Himalayas. Perhaps if cryptozoological studies were awarded that level of time and financing, something concrete to support the folk tales may eventually emerge.


The Pale Horseman (The Warrior Chronicles, Book 2)
The Pale Horseman (The Warrior Chronicles, Book 2)
by Bernard Cornwell
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.39

4.0 out of 5 stars Mud & Bad Blood, 18 Mar. 2011
The story is set in the rule of Alfred the Great, King of Wessex (whose name, ironically for a pious Christian king, means "Elven Counsel") and the Pale Horseman of the title is a Danish enemy, Svein. Although Cornwell's afterword states that Svein is a fictional creation, he does bear a lot of resemblance to the later Danish king Svein Forkbeard who committed similar atrocities in revenge for Wessex's retribution under their king Aethelred The Unready, against the Danes.

The story's main protagonist is Uhtred, an unlikeable character who despite his bold statements seems uncertain of his allegiances and really doesn't want to commit to any ruler in the shifting political fortunes of Wessex versus the Danelaw. Neither does he want to commit to his wife or child which he leaves almost forgotten as he pursues his pillaging campaign across Wessex, Cornwallum and Mercia.

Cornwell's characterisation, while unfortunately lacking in many other areas here, is notable for its portrayal of Alfred's famous biographer Asser as a slimy, evil character and of Alfred himself as a lily-livered bible basher who psychologically falls apart at the mere thought of fighting the Danes. As unlikely as these depictions are, they help hold the story together in what would be a narrative often bereft of colourful characters except for maybe Steapa, the huge, somewhat intellectually challenged and permanently angry Saxon.

Cornwell's love of the Arthurian cycle often raises its head in many of his works other than those that deal with it directly, and character names like Iseult and Peredur pop up here too, though Cornwell's treatment of the remaining Britons is generally fairly vague.

The battles and battle scenes are probably the main ballast of the book, and they are invariably bloody and muddy. In fact mud and blood are possibly among the most used words in the tale, as all the characters seem perpetually covered in either one or both substances!

Not being able to give this book it the 3.5 I think it deserved, I've settled with a 4 as compared to many other writers Cornwell is excellent - however compared with many of his own other works this would come in at a 3.5 as it's certainly not his best, but is still an easy and enjoyable read.


The Guardians
The Guardians
by Andrew Pyper
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Watcher At The Window, 17 Mar. 2011
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This review is from: The Guardians (Paperback)
"The Guardians" is a ghoulish haunted house tale set in Canada, involving a group of former high school ice hockey players (the eponymous Guardians) now in their forties and hampered by their own Achilles Heels, summoned back to the town of their collective childhoods after the death of a close friend.

Their return opens up old wounds, rekindles old passions, and revisits old shared childhood experiences that they'd hoped they'd left in the dim and distant past, only for the death of their friend and their subsequent arrival in town to awaken it again.

For me there are clear similarities to Stephen King's It both in style and content. Both novels are about childhood friends having to reunite as adults, return to their childhood hometown and confront unfinished supernatural business lying almost forgotten in their past, one or more of the adults having died along the way. Both have narrative streams set in the present day with regular interludes set in the past to inform the reader of what happened then. Pyper even uses a Canadian version of familiar King-type references to the minutae of "Ezee-Kleen" and "Krazy Kevin" style brand names.

Nevertheless Pyper is a very good writer and whether consciously emulating King or not, he's managed to find a similarly engaging style of writing which draws the reader in and keeps her or him turning the pages. More twists to the plot develop as the story unfolds and the author conjures up some pretty powerful scenes; I found the protagonists' later dealings with their team coach particularly vividly constructed.

Though the film Grindstone Road [2007] bears a few similarities to this story (and for me, I found the character Ben's attic vigil reminiscent of scenes from The Sentinel [1977] )it would probably make for a decent film in its own right.


The End of the Line
The End of the Line
by Christopher Fowler
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mostly Good, 29 Nov. 2010
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This review is from: The End of the Line (Paperback)
End of The Line is a collection of short horror stories set underground.

In their own right all the stories are solid and I feel would be above-average if included individually in generic horror anthologies. However, lined back-to-back as each one is with eighteen other stories on the same theme, they lose their individuality a bit, and some of the themes become increasingly repetitive. A common theme is the tube as an interdimensional gateway where the story's protagonist alights from the train and things "aren't quite right". Even individual concepts such as baggage checks between dimensions and the smell of roses crop up more than once. Clearly the stories have mostly been inspired by the strangeness and inhumanity of commuters once they're fixed on their destinations while crammed together, yet wholly indifferent to each other.

Given the theme of 'underground' to work with, most authors have chosen the London Underground or another tube system, whereas Mark Morris' "Fallen Boys" stood out for being set in a mine railway, which was quite refreshing. Incidentally, its front cover is remarkably similar to the DVD cover of the horror film Creep, also set on the London Underground.

The editor introduces each author both before the story and then also at the end, giving each one a short biography; this makes the pre-story introductions somewhat redundant, and they're also delivered in a somewhat annoying style "Al Ewing is mental" "Natasha Rhodes is pretty (expletive) metal" etc, more akin to a band's intro for a Student Union rock night than a piece of literature.

"End Of the Line" had appealed to me because both Christopher Fowler and Adam Neville were contributing, though it was actually Al Ewing's "The Roses That Bloom Underground" and John Llewellyn Probert's "The Girl In The Glass" that stood out for me as the best stories among the collection.

3.5 stars, if I could give that score :-)


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