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Dead Man Walking
Dead Man Walking
by Paul Finch
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

4.0 out of 5 stars Crime or Horror?, 22 Mar. 2015
This review is from: Dead Man Walking (Paperback)
The line between crime and horror is getting increasingly blurred. As this book is almost entirely taken up with one long sequence in which the characters are pursued across a fog bound landscape by a deranged psychopath with no means of contacting anyone for help, I'd say this was mainly a horror novel. However, although this a novel about a sadistic killer and we know how he kills, the actual killings are not described in the graphic way that has been the case in the earlier books - and I have to think this was a conscious decision.
As with his earlier Heck books, Paul Finch has gone to great pains to set this novel in an actual real location, which he spends a lot of time describing accurately. You may get impatient with this wanting to get on with the action. You can see the locations on Paul Finch's Twitter feed if you scroll back through the images. Witch Cradle Tarn is Buttermere in the Lake District which if you've ever been there would take a very long time to walk around - which is one of the reasons this is a long novel. Talking of Twitter - see the start of chapter 7 where Paul Finch encourages other authors to "be nice to your readers" there. So send him a Tweet - he is always polite - no trust me he is.


The Reckoning
The Reckoning
by Sarah Pinborough
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars That Difficult Second Book..., 24 Dec. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Not that Sarah Pinborough has any difficulty with it. This is her second book for the American Leisure Horror list. So it has to conform to the expectations for a horror book and does so admirably. This is the adult group of friends who revisit the horror they encountered as teenagers and the buried secrets that are uncovered along the way. So you know what you are getting . There can be no complaints. This delivers to the brief. Sarah Pinborugh says that she has moved on from horror, but that is not true, She has just moved on from formula horror, but there is nothing wrong with that and this book could easily stand a reprint. Oh, and Sarah Pinborough really doesn't do happy endings.


The Hidden (Leisure Horror)
The Hidden (Leisure Horror)
by Sarah Pinborough
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars The not so Hidden author?, 20 Oct. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This title is the first book written by Sarah Pinborough ever published. The original readers would have been indifferent to that fact. The American publishers “Leisure Horror” were offering a paperback book-club service of at least 2 titles a month for Horror book readers, buying books because they are horror, not for any particular author.

The days when jobbing authors could churn out novels almost anonymously have now almost gone and authors now need to promote themselves almost more than their books. There is no one better at this than Sarah Pinborough. As of writing she has 8,603 Twitter followers and tweets everyday to a loyal fan-base. She regularly appears at genre events and unlike many of her personality free fellow scribblers she is always lively and engaging.

This is why I now find it impossible to read this book any way other than through the filter of my perception of her personality. This is a first novel and as such there is often more of an author’s personality in their first book than there is in later ones. Which is why, for example, it is noticeable that one of the principal charcters is an English teacher.

Furthermore the story is an interesting picture of the dilemma facing modern authors. The principal character starts as a rather frumpy bookish type who prefers to stay at home. She is then possessed by a completely different character who is – to put it mildly – rather more lively and outgoing.

In an interview in 2010 Sarah Pinbourough was asked about this business of authors promoting themselves and said, “I have realised, however, that I am not a natural self-promoter. I am very English about that kind of thing and would rather just sit in my house and write books than go out and about trying to sell them!”

So to what extent is the Twitter personality a necessary construct? Discuss.


Path of Needles
Path of Needles
by Alison Littlewood
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Marketing approach needs reviewing!!, 2 Oct. 2014
This review is from: Path of Needles (Paperback)
I bought A Cold Season in Tesco's. I bought this book in The Works. Which is a shame, because in many ways this is a better book than Alison Littlewood's first book. I rather fear that the general reader having been encouraged to buy A Cold Season by Richard and Judy would be rather shocked by the very dark and seriously disturbing way that book turns out. This book is marketed as horror, but it is rather more of a Police Procedural. A consultant on odd subjects - in this case fairy tales - is bog standard for Police Detective tales. The book this most resembles is Sacrifice (Detective Mark Heckenburg) and it no surprise that Allison Littlewood acknowledges Paul Finch at the end. However I doubt the general crime reader who will read Sacrifice (Detective Mark Heckenburg) will ever discover this book because of the way it has been marketed.


The Scarab Path (Shadows of the Apt)
The Scarab Path (Shadows of the Apt)
by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Lost in the Apt, 14 Sept. 2014
If you have read this far then you really do not need any reviewer to tell you how good these books are.
I once had an English teacher who said one of the most terrible things I have heard in my life and I have lived too long hoping that it is not true...but it usually is. That was a suggestion that we only read books to get to the end. However I had a friend at school who when he finished reading The Lord of the Rings would just start reading it again and again. There was a book he never wanted to finish.
I started reading this after giving up on a more difficult read - a book I wanted to read so say that I could say that I had done so. When I was into this book I felt that the curse had lifted and I was just lost in the Apt. It did not matter how long this book is (it usually does) and it did not matter how long it took to finish, because that was not the goal. It is enough to be absorbed in the self contained world that Adrian has created.
It does end and in fact there are some well constructed twists and turns - so much so that I had to abandon the original title I had for this review.
What astonishes me is that Adrian has completed this huge series of books and is still not a full time writer!!


The Alchemy Press Book of Pulp Heroes 2
The Alchemy Press Book of Pulp Heroes 2
by Mike Chinn
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As yet untitled, 7 Aug. 2014
I bought this book because back in July 2010 I suggested it to Peter Crowther of PS Publishing. What I actually suggested was a volume of stories involving characters from the Small Press that might otherwise be forgotten.

The characters I suggested were: - The Paladin Mandates- by Mike Chinn starring the pulp character Damian Paladin. Also Chico Kidd with her character Captain da Silva - novels about whom were at the time unpublished, but see now Demon Weather: The Da Silva Tales Vol. 1 The origin of Captain Da Silva can be found in a story in The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 13: No. 13 Another character was Paul Kane's Dalton Quayle. Peter did not take up the idea, but to all intents and purposes here it is.

The first story is a Da Silva story and an important one because it enlightens him on some of his powers. As Mike Chinn edits this collection he obviously feels unable to include a Paladin adventure, but does the next best thing - and that is to include a story of an early pulp hero from the 1930's which has inspired his own character. Ian Hunter's story is about a post apocalyptic hero called the Wraith and as with the other two just mentioned we are clearly in the middle of numerous adventures for this character. Ian tells me that are a few other "Wraith" stories which are "out there" trying to find a home for themselves and a novel that he's working on at the moment set in the East Nuked.

Arguably the greatest pulp fiction writer was Edgar Rice Burroughs and after Tarzan his most popular creation was John Carter of Mars: The Collection - A Princess of Mars; The Gods of Mars; The Warlord of Mars; Thuvia, Maid of Mars; The Chessmen of Mars. Robert William Iveniuk's story of Detective Neumann set on a populated Mars clearly references this in the Mars back-story. Iveniuk's blog suggests he has a continuing character, but not it would seem Detective Neumann. William Meikle goes one step further in that his character is the actual Professor Challenger from Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World It would help if the book could make that clear to readers who do not know that.

Andrew Coulthard's story stars a Red Sonja like character called Ula. (The brief biog doesn't make it terribly that Andrew's communication business is based in Stockholm, so is easily confused with the Andrew Coulthard who has a communications business in this country. Anyway that is my excuse.) Martin Gately has written a Green Hornet pastiche with the excellently named Pulp Hero character called Kibosh!!

Adrian Cole's story is about a detective called Nick Nightmare who usually investigates supernatural cases. The joke here is that he is investigating the theft of the plots of pulp fiction. Stuart Young's story is a Biggles (now called Blake) story, set sometime after WW1 when he ended up in space.

I read Robert Heinlein's version of Mike Resnick's story in the collection "The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hogg" where it is called "They" a very, very long time ago!! The story can now be found in The Fantasies of Robert A. Heinlein.

No pulp collection would be complete without a Western and this is provided by an excellent standalone tale by Marion Pitman. The pulps were always a mix of standalone tales and continuing character ones, just like comics.

However what I think this collection lacks is character bios which should appear instead of the author ones. The point is, no one cared who wrote these stories in the pulps. The next Buffalo Bill adventure was written by the author of "Buffalo Bill." All you wanted to know was what was happening next to your favourite character. Although it was always possible to read the stories in any order, it was still good to know the biography and where the story fits into it.

There are additionally some interviews with the authors about these stories on the Alchemy Press website if you want "added value."


The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories (Penguin Modern Classics)
The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories (Penguin Modern Classics)
by H P Lovecraft
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.49

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Total Perspective Vortex, 23 July 2014
"Any investigator making a Cthulhu Mythos roll will realise that a powerful summoning spell is in progress...The worshippers begin another chant, while the prisoners are brought in, pushed towards the Lloigir, and knocked out...The Th'Yasku'hakula starts to drain magical energy from each victim each minute. (Most start on 6-10 points)."

The above is a part of a Roll Play Game mini adventure for the game Call of Cthulhu published in the sadly short-lived magazine "Skeleton Crew." For those who are interested the Th'Yasku'hakula is Lloigir loner with the following Stats:- STR 44, CON 30, SIZ 53, INT 19, POW 17, DEX 12 and HP 42. It has the following Spells:- Contact Deep Ones, Contact Lloigir, Contact Ghatanothoa, Dampen Light (does not require pipes) and Mindblast. See Call of Cthulhu (Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying)

Now I have to confess to a certain fondness for RPGs - I once ran a group - but it has to be said that the game of Call of Cthulhu with its clear and detailed classifications is the "reductio ad absurdum" of the Cthulhu Mythos. In Cold Print, Ramsey Campbell's collection of his own Mythos tales, his favourite story is "The Voice of the Beach." This is a story that deliberately makes no specific references to any of the established Mythos props - it was initially rejected for this reason - but is Campbell's attempt to return to "Lovecraft's first principles...without the encumbrances of the mythos."

There is little terror in an overpopulated and over explained realm of Lovecraftian entities. Partly for this reason Lovecraft has the reputation for being juvenilia; the kind of story that is good at the right time, but which you are expected to grow out of. It has been suggested that Lovecraft was a hack writer. Even if he was however, - as Steven King points out in Danse Macabre - he was a very important, very committed and honest one. When he wrote something, as King says, "..he meant it."

Well here he is in the heady realms of the Penguin Classics, with full critical apparatus provided by S. T. Joshi. This must be as good a place as any for anyone's reappraisal. In his Introduction Joshi makes two things clear. The first is that Lovecraft sold to the pulps because they were the only market for weird tales at the time. The second, as he clearly demonstrates, is that Lovecraft was an atheist, or at the very least, an agnostic. Now the last thing an atheist would be interested in is the painstaking classification of supernatural beings for its own sake. The point is not that there are discoverable supernatural beings and realms that may give some meaning to our existence, but rather that mankind is an anachronistic accident in a universe of total otherness.

In Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy there is a Total Perspective Vortex, which sends most people mad. The reason it does this is because most people see in the Vortex their true relationship to everything else. This in most cases is one of total and utter insignificance. This, I believe, rather than any obscure esoteric lore, is the "truth" that for Lovecraft he is seeking to convey in the oft derided final madness of many of his protagonists: "Even now I absolutely refuse to believe what he implied about the constitution of ultimate infinity...never was an organic brain nearer to utter annihilation..."

The best example of this is probably, "The Haunter of the Dark." Bill Read in his Introduction to the Haunted Library booklet, "Call of the Tentacle," holds this up as an example one of the stories, which are "...some of the finest works of comedy in the English language." Now while Bill's stories are some of the few that make me laugh out loud, I just cannot agree with him about Lovecraft. I find the descriptions of what Robert Blake sees within the Shining Trapezoid haunting and powerful: "He saw towers and walls in knighted depths under the sea, and vortices of space where wisps of black mist floated before shimmerings of cold purple haze."

One of the best Lovecraftian stories I have seen recently was a Babylon 5 TV movie called BABYLON 5 - THIRDSPACE (DVD). Despite an absence of any overt references the dark dream imagery was spot on. Thirdspace is just otherness. You do not ever go there and any doors must be closed. It is, "...some place whar things ain't as they is here..."

Which is not inappropriate because, "The Colour out of Space," was originally sold to Amazing Stories. As the notes imply, if Hugo Gernsback had not been such a cheapskate, he would have submitted more there. For Ramsey Campbell this, despite or because of an absence of the mysterious books and more obvious creatures, is the best Mythos story. The only consistent feature is the creature's clear extraterrestrial origin. Undoubtedly, this story about the effects of a meteorite crashing into a remote farmstead is a very Wellsian one. I cannot help but wonder, if Lovecraft might have been better served had he been perceived more generally as a Science Fiction author. Probably not.

What the notes also do is open a window into a world of extraordinary fecundity. When writers as brilliant as Lovecraft, Robert Bloch, Clark Ashton Smith and Robert E. Howard could spark off each other, they created stories still avidly read today. The idea of a shared world of fiction was not as limiting then as it often is today, but rather created the impression of a vast mythological backdrop from which these stories could appear to arise. That many believe that backdrop capable of codification is a testament to the sincerity of their endeavours.

If there is one other lesson to be learnt from this book about writing successful horror, it is to write about places that you know and if you don't know them, follow Lovecraft's example and visit them. It is clear from Cold Print that Ramsey Campbell has absorbed this lesson. His book THE NAMELESS. contains some effective London scenes. It is clear from the acknowledgements that he visited London several times before writing these. The only stories of mine that have ever seen print arose from a genuine location, the feelings the place evoked, the ideas it generated and yes, the mythology the place inspired.

Nevertheless there is one respect in which Joshi's notes do not serve to demystify. This is in relation to Lovecraft's dreams, which Joshi sources frequently. No doubt a psychologist could give an interpretation of them all, but to me they remain frankly disturbing. For me they add to the sense that there must be some tangible reality, beyond imagination, to this haunting evocation of otherness.


One
One
by Conrad Williams
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

3.0 out of 5 stars It's a book of two halves..., 10 July 2014
This review is from: One (Paperback)
This book does really divide into 2 parts. The first part could be an SF novel. A cosmic event has in a moment incinerated everyone who is not deep underground or well shielded. Jane - that's his surname rather irritatingly - was at the bottom of the ocean. Jane makes his way from Scotland to London through this post apocalyptic landscape. The author makes the most of the gruesome tableaux people make at the moment of their incineration. Then just at the end of part one we discover that some cosmic dust is actually alive and can reanimate the corpses of people and animals. The second part 10 years later is then a Zombie novel. It's not the 10 year jump that is jarring - it's the complete change in tone.
Also Jane is forever talking to his young son Stanley and other people who are not there - which is often confusing because sometimes he is talking to someone who is there. Now this business with his son is all very well in the first half when he's making his way towards London where his family might still be living - but 10 years later he needs to get over it. His constant obsessing spoils - rather badly - what relationships he does have in this bleak future and it really can't end well which is why other reviewers have not liked the ending.
I felt all this stuff about Jane's son was in the wrong book. His marriage has failed because he works as a deep sea diver on an oil rig and is never as a result at home. All this obsessing would make sense in a book about a bloke trying to deal with separation and divorce, but really grates in a book where the kid has clearly died already. There is so much stuff about Jane's pre-apocalypse life with Stanley that I could not help feeling that it was all a bit too personal to the author, but I may be wrong.
Conrad Williams is a big fan of Steven King and unfortunately I could not help thinking whilst reading this of King's book Cell with which it shares a number of themes and regrettably compares rather unfavourably.


Salute the Dark (Shadows of the Apt)
Salute the Dark (Shadows of the Apt)
by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The War to End all Wars..., 24 Jun. 2014
...but of course it never is. I really do not understand the appeal of Game of Thrones - of course like most people I've only watched it on TV. It can't just be the sex and violence, I hope not, but what else is there? Folks are saying will George ever finish the series? What a stupid question! The point about the Game of Thrones is that the Game never ends, the Game is the point. Who cares which group wins? You may care for individuals, but that's about it. The Game will go on regardless.
I prefer this world of the Apt. The Empire is bad. The Empire must be stopped. The Wasps go to war because if they did not they would fight amongst themselves to destruction. The Wasps are the Nazis. The Wasps must be stopped. Yes, yes, there are ambiguous characters on both sides but you know who to root for.
In this book as before there are clear debates about the ethics of war, the arms race and particularly here, weapons of mass destruction. In Thrones there doesn't seem to be any sense of restraint. Power is everything, any sense of morality is for losers.
As I say elsewhere I think this is where Martin has ended up.
Although Adrian can be just as ruthless with his characters as Martin, there is still a sense here that sacrifices have been worth it. No one is terribly cheerful at the end, but the end of this first arc is still uplifting. The only satisfaction Thrones offers is the kind you get at the end of horror movies when the monster is destroyed.
If you are going to invest the kind of time you have to in a fantasy world of this complexity then the world of the Apt is the one to go to. It will probably never get made into a movie, but it would make excellent Anime.


The Killing Club (Ds Heckenburg)
The Killing Club (Ds Heckenburg)
by Paul Finch
Edition: Paperback
Price: £2.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Yippee ki-yay!!, 31 May 2014
Heck and his best friend Gemma rent a cottage by the seaside to spend a quiet few days, but there are some rum goings on in a nearby cove…No of course not!! Heck's back and it's action all the way. The tension, action and suspense are remarkably sustained. I particularly like chapter 25. One cop on his own is the only one who can stop a gang of really bad mercenaries and ex special forces types. The problem with the Die Hard series is each episode has to be more extreme and dramatic than the previous one. This however has got to be the high point in the Heck series. It can't get any more violent than this! This book should have been later in the series as Paul Finch originally planned, with clues and references to the Nice Guys activities being dropped into the intervening books, but his publishers had other ideas. What do they know? Heck has a big enough fan base not to need this uber-violent episode to give it extra momentum. May prove to be counter-productive. I hope not


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