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T. Bobley "Tibley Bobley" (UK)

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The Drowned World
The Drowned World
by J. G. Ballard
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Planet Sauna, 20 April 2007
This review is from: The Drowned World (Paperback)
The world is heating up as a result of solar instability. Ice caps have melted and oceans have risen, flooding low-lying areas. Once temperate zones remaining above sea level have become areas of lush, tropical jungle. Surviving populations have had to migrate to the cooler, polar regions. A party of soldier and scientist representatives of these exiled people, have travelled down from the north to study the new flora and fauna that is mutating and evolving rapidly back towards ancient Triassic forms. Some members of the party start to have disturbing dreams of belonging to a hotter, wetter climate and feel drawn in the direction of the equator by some sort of ancestral memory of living in a primeval swamp. The bloated sun and steaming jungle start to feel like a fond memory of the womb to those who are most susceptible and the hypnotic pull of it dominates even their waking hours.

Some reviewers have complained that this is not proper science fiction, not hard science fiction, not fast-paced, not plot-driven. Ballard places it in an area on the fringe of science fiction that he calls `speculative fantasy' - an area where `dream and reality become fused together'. When I started the book I hoped it might be something like John Wyndham's `The Kraken Wakes', but it's different in almost every way, apart from the flooding. There's no enemy to defeat in order to re-establish normality. There are no solutions to the problem, other than avoidance in the shrinking cool zone. A few individuals are making mental adjustments to the catastrophic climate change that seem superficially like a sort of Lamarckian evolutionary adaptation, but the chances of their survival, in isolation, in the crocodile populated swamp areas look doubtful. The reader has to adopt a fantastic amount of suspension of disbelief to swallow the notion of race memory and reverse evolution. Even so, I sank into the story and festered happily away in its swamps and lagoons right from the start and was reluctant to slurp out of it at the end. Ballard's descriptions are, to use one of his own descriptions, like a fata Morgana: shimmering and evocative.

The Casebook of Carnacki the Ghost Finder (Wordsworth Mystery & Supernatural) (Tales of Mystery & the Supernatural)
The Casebook of Carnacki the Ghost Finder (Wordsworth Mystery & Supernatural) (Tales of Mystery & the Supernatural)
by William Hope Hodgson
Edition: Paperback
Price: 2.69

8 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An account of mysteries both horrible and queer, 7 April 2007
There are nine short stories in this collection: four supernatural, two with just an incidental element of haunting and three that only seem to be spooky until properly investigated and found to be cases of mundane trickery. Comparisons have been drawn between Hodgson's Carnacki, Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes and Algernon Blackwood's John Silence. In my opinion, as an admirer of Conan Doyle and Blackwood, these comparisons are misleading. Both Conan Doyle's and Blackwood's characters have depth, the stories are well constructed and elegantly written. Holmes employs sound, scientific methods and Silence uses recognisable and plausible (at least as described by the stories' narrator) psychic methods. Carnacki, on the other hand, uses pseudo-scientific techniques which he partly and vaguely explains using various made-up words, gobbledygook and mumbo-jumbo - a sort of 'psycho-babble' with added guns, electric pentacles and circles of psychedelic light. Strange stuff!

Hodgson certainly had a fertile imagination and all the tales seem quite original. If only the author had the writing skills to match his boundless imagination - and sufficient attachment to reality to be able to make some of the dafter elements of the stories more believable. The writing style doesn't sparkle. There's a monotonous repetition of the same words over and over. The word 'queer' for example, is practically worn out by over-use. Random initial capitals are scattered abundantly throughout the text. The characters are thin and flat. Each story is presented in the same way: Carnacki successfully concludes a case, then he invites four of his friends round to dinner, nobody mentions the case until they've finished the food and seated themselves comfortably in their customary chairs to listen to the story. Carnacki tells them what happened and when he's finished one or two might ask a question to clarify some point or other. The interrogator is usually Dodgeson, or occasionally Arkright. As far as I recall, Jessop and Taylor (the other two friends) never utter so much as a word. Then their host herds them unceremoniously out of his house. One of the four, Dodgeson, always narrates (like Sherlock Holmes's friend Watson). The pattern never varies.

Wendigo [DVD]
Wendigo [DVD]
Dvd ~ Patricia Clarkson
Offered by PickleTickle
Price: 17.98

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Could have been good, 3 April 2007
This review is from: Wendigo [DVD] (DVD)
A couple and their little boy take a short break from their busy lives in the city to enjoy a couple of days in the countryside. It's the middle of winter and roads are slippery. They have an accident involving a deer and an even more unpleasant run-in with the men who were hunting it. The couple are angry, the hunters are angry and the little boy is upset. Negative emotions are generated all round. The family finally reach their destination only to find unwelcoming signs of the hostile neighbours. Their feelings of unease increase when they notice that the menacing hunters are based close by. The day after the accident, they go into town and the little boy meets a Native American who takes a shine to his innocent belief in the spirit of the Wendigo, and gives him a small idol of the angry spirit. From this point on, the boy seems to sense the presence and get the occasional glimpse of the Wendigo who, in turn forms a link with the boy.

There are a couple of problems with the film, the biggest is the difficulty in making out the dialogue. A large proportion of the story is taken up with the couple talking quietly to each other. It's possible to get the gist of what they're saying but, frustratingly, it's hard to catch most of it. Subtitles would have been very helpful, but there are no subtitles. Another problem is that most of the potential customers for this DVD will be hoping to see a scary horror film with a terrifying supernatural monster. However, most of the fear and tension is provided by the sinister hunters, one of whom is particularly creepy. When we finally get to see the Wendigo, it's fabulous, but it must be about two thirds of the way through the film before it finally puts in an appearance. I almost enjoyed the film but I would have liked more of the amazing Wendigo and less of the (not very original) human conflict. The winter woodland, the sense of impending doom and the representation of the Wendigo are worth high praise, but the poor sound spoils it.

Miller's Crossing [1990] [DVD] [1991]
Miller's Crossing [1990] [DVD] [1991]
Dvd ~ Gabriel Byrne
Offered by Quality Media Supplies Ltd.
Price: 3.79

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mob rule, 1 April 2007
The boss of the dominant Irish gangsters stirs up a hornets' nest of trouble with the subordinate Italian gangsters over the Jewish brother of his girlfriend. His second in command has the burden of trying to calm things down and sort out the mess. He sees that the balance of power is likely to tip in favour of the Italians if the rumpus is allowed to escalate, but not before chaos reigns and a lot of profit is lost and people killed - and all for no good reason: just to win the favour of this woman who's only buttering up the boss to buy his protection for her worthless brother. To complicate matters, Tom (the second in command) is also secretly involved with the woman and he suspects she's only obliging him with her attentions, again, to help out her selfish, ungrateful brother. Also, Tom has a gambling problem that leads all the sleaze-merchants around him to believe they can buy his loyalty by paying off his debts. On top of all that, Tom seems to be afflicted with ethics - the biggest complication of all for a man who makes his living as a mobster. He doesn't appear to be cut out for the life at all. Apart from his ability to take a beating on an almost daily basis and survive relatively unscathed, he just doesn't seem to have what it takes to be a bad guy: the 'killer instinct'.

It's all a bit more complicated than that, but easy enough to follow and interesting enough to make it worthwhile. There are a few clever touches that impressed me in addition to the very sound basics of a good story and fine acting: The film manages to be dark and violent but with a smart, subtle script and great comic timing. It's a visual feast from beginning to end. It starts off in a still and tranquil forest - a situation that couldn't be further from the notion of mob violence. I wonder if Peter Jackson might not have got his idea from this film, of starting his Lord of the Rings trilogy (made over ten years later) in just such a lovely setting, to emphasise the contrast with the battles and terror to come later. Perhaps the similarity was just coincidence and it's simply the case that great minds think alike. Either way, the contrast of violence and beauty is very effective and the way the humour is threaded through the story like a string of pearls, makes the whole film sparkle.

Sherlock Holmes & The Tangled Skein (Wordsworth Mystery & Supernatural)
Sherlock Holmes & The Tangled Skein (Wordsworth Mystery & Supernatural)
by Davies
Edition: Paperback
Price: 2.99

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Sherlock Holmes meets Dracula, 28 Mar 2007
Doctor Watson recounts the case in which he and Holmes had to deal with Count Dracula and his diabolical servants. Soon after their adventure with The Hound of the Baskervilles, the great detective and his faithful friend are again led to the moors and mires of Devonshire, on the track of the Transylvanian terror. A character from the previous case turns up in London to make trouble. Whilst engaged in tying up this loose end, Inspector Lestrade requests their help with a bizarre series of crimes taking place on Hampstead Heath. By coincidence, a young lady involved with the loose end from the old case is also found to have leaked into the new case. Abraham Van Helsing emerges into the moonlight on the Heath just in time to assist the dangerously compromised duo with a determined lady who is lusting after Sherlock's blood and secures their assistance in his own mission. The 'trail of blood' leads to the neighbourhood of Baskerville Hall.

The story is entertaining enough and the style is easy and undemanding though D S Davies doesn't quite manage to capture the characteristic Conan Doyle feel. It lacks a certain fussy precision. There's a bit too much dependence on highly unlikely coincidence. A loose end that didn't exist in the Hound of the Baskervilles was yanked into being (which seems like an unjust criticism of Conan Doyle's end-tying skills) in order to furnish this tale with a thread - to join a skein with unsightly holes and where several threads are left loose by the end. Perhaps I'm being over-critical because it's a Sherlock Holmes story. An industrial sized helping of suspension of disbelief is required for the irrational, illogical an inconsistent material you expect to find in a vampire story - but not a Sherlock Holmes story. Still, Mr Davies did well to get such a mismatched pair of characters to work together even moderately well.

The Woman in Black (Longbarn Listening)
The Woman in Black (Longbarn Listening)
by Susan Hill
Edition: Audio CD

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A tale of insane malice and vengeance, 18 Mar 2007
The Woman in Black has to be one of the darkest and most atmospheric ghost stories I've listened to or read. A young solicitor travels north by train to attend a client's funeral and sort out her papers, happy to escape a choking London smog. At first all goes well. He loves the wide open, flat countryside and marshes and is fascinated by the austere, isolated house that can only be reached by a causeway at low tide. Before long however, he sees and hears things that shake him to the core. Susan Hill's powers of description are impressive. The stinking peasouper in London, the beautiful, wide open landscapes and skies around Crythin Gifford, the sea frets and storms around Eel Marsh House, the terrifying spectre of the woman in black and her effect on the people she haunts, are all described so that you only need to close your eyes to imagine you're there. Paul Ansdell makes an excellent job of this unabridged audiobook reading. There are 4 DVDs in the case (not 5 as is currently stated in the Amazon details above).

There are several ways to enjoy this story. I've also heard it read on BBC Digital Radio 7 by a different reader who was also very good and I've read the book. For some time I've been looking for a DVD of the 1989 film that has had some extremely positive reviews, but for some reason it only seems to be available second-hand in region 1 format and since I only have a region 2 DVD player, I'll have to wait for Amazon or some other enterprising vendor to stock it. In any case, this audiobook is one of my favourites and I highly recommend it to anyone who appreciates a good chiller.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 20, 2009 2:12 PM BST

Rab C. Nesbitt - Series 3 - Episodes 1 To 6 [DVD]
Rab C. Nesbitt - Series 3 - Episodes 1 To 6 [DVD]
Dvd ~ Gregor Fisher
Price: 13.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pure brilliant!, 14 Mar 2007
It's hard to explain how this series has hooked me so completely. The Govan accent and lingo are sometimes hard to follow for people like me, who come from way doown soouth - but it's worth the struggle. Comedy with depth and bite! Rab's my number one anti-hero. He describes himself as "scum", but it's obvious he's not scum because scum always rises to the top and he stays stubbornly at the bottom. The series 3 DVD has a wonderful little something that the series 1 and 2 DVDs lacked: it has *subtitles*. How brilliant is that? I can now understand almost 90% of what's said. It was excellent when I could only understand about 50% of it but now hardly any of it goes over my head. So when Rab gets out of prison and visits his local, I can make out the whole conversation regarding social labelling from the subtitles. His friends are no longer content to be called scum, they prefer to be called "the underclass". Rab's response is typical Rab: "Where else, but in Govan would it be a promotion tae be called the underclass? ... Do you know who christened you the underclass? The same sinister b*st*ards that changed Windscale tae Sellafield!"

Intelligent scripts, sparkling dialogue, fine acting, great series. And subtitles (thank you)!

Terror by Night: Classic Ghost and Horror Stories (Wordsworth Mystery & Supernatural) (Tales of Mystery & the Supernatural)
Terror by Night: Classic Ghost and Horror Stories (Wordsworth Mystery & Supernatural) (Tales of Mystery & the Supernatural)
by Ambrose Bierce
Edition: Paperback
Price: 2.69

39 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Witty, articulate and grim, 14 Mar 2007
There are more than 50 short stories in this excellent collection. Some are no more than a couple of pages long and few are longer than ten pages. They are full of death, misery and pessimism but somehow manage to be fascinating and enjoyable. The quality of the writing is exceptional and, for the most part, a delight to read. In such a collection there are bound to be a few that won't appeal to everyone and I must admit that there were a couple where the style was a little bit too flowery and convoluted to suit my taste. I prefer a good balance of subtlety, eloquence and simplicity and I estimate that about 95% of these short stories suited this preference exactly. The humour, albeit remorselessly bitter, is irresistible. Bierce seems not to have been a very loveable man, but anyone who loves to read (even those who don't care for the horror genre) could love his writing. You can open the book at any page and reading any passage at random, find a fine collection of beautifully crafted sentences that will practically paint a picture in your mind of a person, scene or situation. It's poetry cobbled into horror.

Highly recommended.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 28, 2013 9:15 AM BST

Northern Exposure: Series 1-4 [DVD]
Northern Exposure: Series 1-4 [DVD]
Dvd ~ Peg Phillips
Offered by Mega-Deals
Price: 59.95

35 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Comedy, philosophy, drama - this series has it all, 28 Feb 2007
Anyone reading the marketing blurb about these series might, understandably, expect it to be all about a young doctor from New York who gets conned into spending several years looking after the medical needs of a bunch of country hicks in an Alaskan middle-of-nowhere. The pilot episode would confirm this simple analysis but after that the stories spread out into a vast area of local politics, individual lives, personalities, points of view, beliefs and philosophies. Joel Fleishman, the doctor, is one of the main characters but one amongst many main characters - all real, down-to-earth (and occasionally 'away-with-the-fairies'), interesting, entertaining, loveable characters. Each episode focuses on different, overlapping components of the community, the events and relationships that define and drive them, the way they perceive their lives and deal with their problems. Living in such an out-of-the-way and extreme environment, with raw nature right on the door-step - wild animals, long hard winters with days of complete darkness, summer days that never end, a mixed population of Native Americans, traditional woodsmen and mountainmen, and a selection of folks hailing from many other parts of the country, things happen in Cicely that don't happen in more populous and 'civilised' areas. Watching the series for the first time is riveting because all the ideas and situations seem so new and unusual. One of the things that makes the comedy element of these programmes so funny is that we suddenly see things from an unexpected perspective and that's one of the things jokes do: present the ordinary in a surprising way. There's a constant parade of unusual situations, strange solutions, surprising ideas. It's the sort of series that could broaden your outlook in the same way that travelling broadens your outlook, but without having to leave your armchair.

The four series in this box-set consist of:

Season 1 - 2 discs, 8 episodes, running time approx 6 hours.

Season 2 - 2 discs, 7 episodes, running time approx 5.25 hours.

Season 3 - 6 discs, 23 episodes, running time approx 17 hours.

Season 4 - 6 discs, 25 episodes, running time approx 18.5 hours.

These series are extraordinarily well written, directed and acted. If only everything that came out of the US was of this quality and value.

Highly recommended!

The Empty House and Other Ghost Stories
The Empty House and Other Ghost Stories
by Algernon Blackwood
Edition: Paperback
Price: 9.30

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An excursion into the realms of nightmare, 25 Feb 2007
There are several collections of Algernon Blackwood's stories that become available from time to time, are sold out, go out of print and become (seemingly) as rare as hens' teeth for a while. It can be very frustrating trying to get hold of them. The good news is, this particular collection is in stock at Amazon as I write. The bad news is, if you want to buy it, you shouldn't hang around because by the time this review is displayed, it might have sold out again and then goodness knows when fresh stocks will be available. There's a fair amount of overlap in the collections so that certain stories appear in several of them. No detail is given of which ones appear in this book so I didn't know what to expect, but just hoped there might be two or three that I hadn't already read in my other Algernon Blackwood books. I was pleasantly surprised to find that all the stories were new to me. The stories are:

1) "The Empty House". A man (Jim Shorthouse) is persuaded by his Aunt Julia to join her on a ghost hunt in a notorious haunted house. The spooks obligingly appear.

2) "A Haunted Island". A student tries to get some studying done in an out-of-the-way cabin, situated on an island in a Canadian lake. The local 'after life' has other plans for him however.

3) "A Case of Eavesdropping". A lodger is kept awake nights by the rows of his neighbours but all the din and discord is issuing from a room he thought was empty.

4) "Keeping His Promise". A student has a strange visitor - an old school friend. But why is the friend so quiet, pale and hungry?

5) "With Intent to Steal". Two men lie in wait for an evil alchemist who seems to be stealing people for his experiments.

6) "The Wood of the Dead". A hiker stops at a west-country inn where he meets a mysterious, charismatic old fellow who invites him to a meeting, later in the wood.

7) "Smith: an Episode in a Lodging House". A doctor recounts a strange and disturbing adventure he had as a student staying in lodgings.

8) "A Suspicious Gift". A poor writer/journalist, living in a New York boarding house, sharing with two even poorer friends, falls asleep, tired and hungry and falls into a terrible nightmare.

9) "The Strange Adventure of a Private Secretary in New York". This man is sent by his employer on an ostensibly trivial, but in reality very dangerous, mission.

10) "Skeleton Lake: An Episode in Camp". A party is hunting for moose. One of their guides returns to camp after several days away, in a distressed and confused condition.

This particular collection of ten stories first appeared in about 1906 and therefore contains some of his earlier work. A couple of the tales seemed less polished than the Algernon Blackwood stories I'm accustomed to reading - I imagine because when he wrote these, he was still honing his writing skills and hadn't quite perfected them. He uses the Shorthouse character in four of the stories but Shorthouse seems to have a different personality in each of them. And if it is supposed to be the same man in each of the stories then the stories appear to be in the wrong order. One of the best of the stories was also spoiled for me by an extravagant peppering of anti-Semitism. This came as a disappointment because I consider myself a fan of Algernon Blackwood's writing and I find it very odd that such a clever man should (even allowing that these tales were written over 100 years ago) fail to see through the rather repugnant racial stereotypes - the sort that, no doubt, made the holocaust possible. Just one story is polluted by this inexplicable attitude but I estimate that 80% of the story content of the book falls within the range: satisfactory to excellent.

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