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David L. Brzeski "cosmic_jukebox"
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The Hole
The Hole

5.0 out of 5 stars Another Willie Meikle winner., 31 Dec. 2013
This review is from: The Hole (Kindle Edition)
This review is based on an advance review copy, supplied by the publisher.

Regular readers of my reviews will know by now that I am a fan of William Meikle's work. His writing seems to be made up of all the best things about all the stuff in books, films and TV that I loved in my formative years.

I can see the inspirations for 'The Hole' in 'Quatermass', 'X the Unknown', 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers', 'The Twilight Zone', John Wyndham, H.P. Lovecraft etc. etc.

It starts with a hum, which causes the townsfolk to come down with severe headaches and nosebleeds. Then an ever expanding sinkhole appears under a septic tank. The characters are very nicely fleshed out, as I have come to expect from William Meikle. It's one of his major strengths as a writer.. There's the Sheriff, his clandestine lover, the town's new lady doctor--somehow the scientifically trained one always has to be an outsider--the local spinster harridan, who constantly sabotages their plans, a young girl they rescue from the car in which her parents died and two excellently realised town drunks. The sheriff tries to keep this small group of people alive in the face of a terrifying and unknown danger, while they wait for help from the government. When the authorities do finally make their presence known, things just get so much worse.

It's a story of small-town paranoioa, heroism and sacrifice, with all the aspects that would make for a great Stephen King novel, compressed into a short, pulp novella. The ending is open enough to leave room for a follow up, but satisfying enough that it doesn't need to. In short, another Willie Meikle winner.


Suicide Risk Volume 1
Suicide Risk Volume 1
by Mike Carey
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I'm certainly going to be keeping up with this one., 31 Dec. 2013
This review is from: Suicide Risk Volume 1 (Paperback)
Leo is a cop. He's on compassionate leave, because he was the only physically unscathed survivor of a bank raid. The other survivor, his partner, had his arm crushed beyond saving.

The perpetrators of the bank raid had super powers. Such powers can be bought by anyone from back street dealers--if you have the money and the courage. There are no guarantees that you'll get anything good, if anything at all. And more often than not they come with a free dose of psychosis, which means most of the super-powered are bad--very bad!

Leo decides to get some power of his own, to enable him to bring the people who crippled his partner and killed so many other cops, not to mention all their hostages, to justice. The problem is, he doesn't fully understand his abilities, and he certainly can't control them. In his first encounter with one of his targets, a not-particularly innocent, but non-powered, individual is critically injured.

The various characters and their powers are well thought out and reasonably original, without being too hokey. Even their super-villain code-names are pretty cool: Diva, Grudge War, Dr. Maybe, Voiceover and my personal favourite, Memento Mori.

It's excellently written as one would expect from Mike Carey, and the art, by Elena Casagrande and colourist, Andrew Elder simply cannot be faulted.

There are many unanswered questions at this stage in the series; such as where does the mysterious device that the dealers use to grant power to anyone with enough money come from? Will Leo go bad in the end too, when the psychosis takes hold? Hints are given in the fourth issue that there may be something really strange going on, involving destiny and some sort of cosmic plan. Mike Carey achieves this in a manner which actually lets the reader understand slightly more about what's going on than the protagonist does at this stage.


The Abnormalities of Stringent Strange
The Abnormalities of Stringent Strange
by Rhys Hughes
Edition: Paperback
Price: £19.14

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars No one writes this sort of thing better than Rhys Hughes., 31 Dec. 2013
This review is based on an advance review pdf, supplied by the publisher.

I liked it. It's funny. Go order a copy.

I suppose that's not enough is it? You insist on more details about what it's actually like don't you?

OK, it's a pulp adventure about a half-man, half-gorilla pilot hero from the late thirties who gets sent centuries in to the future to fight evil.... sort of.

Imagine if Douglas Adams and the Zucker Brothers collaborated on a pulp movie. Maybe Mel Brooks would direct, with some script tweaks by Oliver Postgate. It has no soup dragon, but there are telepathic winking dinosaurs! Who could not love telepathic winking dinosaurs? I'm talking telepathic winking tyrannosaurs wearing red fezzes here!

I've read a few alternate history stories, in which the Germans won the second world war, but none of those future histories had the Nazis eventually evolve into peace-loving hippies!

Then there are the Rushans. There are no Rushans in Russia! Fans of classic Canadian rock will get the joke very quickly.

Rhys Hughes has come up with the most bizarre and original concept of time travel I've ever encountered. I defy readers to read the explanation of how it works and not hear it in the voice of the late Peter Jones. I'm sure there's a chapter on the subject in a certain galactic guide-book.

I had the impression early on that the author was breaking the 4th wall in this novel, but it turned out that the 4th wall had been very shoddily constructed by cowboy builders and was just full of holes, which made it prone to collapsing on a regular basis.

Sadly, this book is never going to sell more than four copies. I expect, decades after the death of Rhys Hughes, it'll become a major cult and legions of inadequate authors will attempt to write sequels from notes found on the back of old off-license receipts found stuffed in the author's mattress after his passing. You could prove me wrong though, it's in your hands.

In conclusion, I can state that with absolute confidence that no one writes this sort of thing better than Rhys Hughes. Granted that's mainly due to the fact that no one else writes this sort of thing at all... perhaps with good reason.


Recon One-Five: A Nineteen Galaxies
Recon One-Five: A Nineteen Galaxies
by John Charles Scott
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fast-paced and bloody, 31 Dec. 2013
This review is based on an advance review copy, supplied to the British fantasy Society review team by the author.

It didn't start great for me. Chapter one is nothing more than a potted history of the interplanetary war with the insectoidal Jalic, which forms the background for the book. It's set out in short paragraphs, one for each significant date. It's not a device which has ever appealed to me as a reader, so I was glad when I got to the end of it and the story finally got going.

Thankfully, once it did get going, it picked up pace quickly and never let up until the end. The story is very reminiscent of a classic World War Two movie plot, in which an elite platoon find themselves stranded behind enemy lines with no choice but to fight their way out. Once their position becomes truly untenable, they decide to embark on a suicide mission, which, if successful, could make a huge difference to the war effort, and at least allow them all to die doing something worthwhile. The overall concept is a bit like `Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos' crossed with `Starship Troopers', but with a wild card thrown into the mix. This wild card is the mysterious Ghost, a maverick vigilante super-soldier type with a crescent shaped starship, who may, or may not be on the side of the Terrans.

It's fast-paced and bloody, and the reader has no way of predicting who will survive. Scott expends as much effort in detailing the characters who get killed off on the next page as he does those who go on to play a major part in the story.

The origins of Adam `The Ghost' Caine are touched on briefly, and I was intrigued enough to immediately purchase a Kindle copy of the author's previous book, `The Legend of Adam Caine', which is a huge (736 pg.) collection of, as the author puts it, "not-so-short stories about, you guessed it, Adam Caine, a former Royal Marine and SB Operator." A follow-up, `Ghosts of Earth', was also recently published.


The Queen's Martian Rifles
The Queen's Martian Rifles
Price: £1.99

3.0 out of 5 stars I enjoyed the book for the most part., 31 Dec. 2013
This review is based on an advance review copy, supplied the the British Fantasy Society review team by the author.

This was a very interesting one to read. Had I realised going in that the author's book contained a fairly heavy Christian, Creationist message, I might not have bothered. Having already started the book, I decided that, since I was quite happy to read horror novels in which Christianity played a great part in rallying the forces of good against the supernatural evil, it would hardly be fair of me to let my personal atheist biases prevent me from giving this book a fair chance. I'm quite glad I did.

M.E. Brines is by no means a bad writer. He creates an interesting steampunk scenario, in which Earth sent colonies to Mars in the late 19th century. It has to be said that, while there are indeed several Earth nations competing for whatever benefits they might glean from this situation, the integration with the primitive Martian population is a lot more diplomatic and respectful than real history suggests would have been likely.

The hero, David McLaughlin, is a likeable character. He joined the Queen's Martian Rifles regiment, rather than follow his parents wishes to enter the clergy, out of a need to do more good than he could see himself achieving from a pulpit. Refreshingly, he's not the typical square-jawed, athletic hero, in fact he's quite "portly", as the author puts it. He soon finds that the rest of his regiment is in a sad state, having been allowed to fall into slovenly ways, due to their snobbish, drunken officers not doing their job. McLaughlin runs into a lot of class-based prejudice from his superiors. Brines does a reasonable job of arguing against this sort of social bigotry, along with sexism and racism. One suspects that he felt a need to show his reasonable, non-bigoted side, before he attempted to portray the "evidence" for his religious standpoint. McLaughlin is very much the everyman of the book, in that he believes in God, but doesn't really see any problem with rationalising this with evolution and extraterrestrial life. He represents the reader who Brines possibly hopes to influence with the rationalisation of Creationism that lies at the heart of this story.

The first part of the book starts in the middle and lands our hero and heroine in deep trouble. Part two is a flashback, where McLaughlin muses on his first meeting with the feisty heroine en route to Mars. Lady Rebecca "B" Bryce is a militant suffragette and archeologist, who also happens to be an atheist, who is out to find evidence to prove her Von Danikenesque theories on the extraterrestrial origins of the human race. Brines is a little heavy-handed in the way he depicts her constant assumptions that anything the hero does to help is based on the belief that a mere woman is incapable of doing anything for herself. He is to be commended, however, for not automatically making all the non-believers in the book villains.

The villain of the piece is none other than "the wickedest man in the world", Aleister Crowley. Sadly, Crowley never really manages to be the major villain he should be, in that he has a few conversations with the other characters, turns up at a sacrifice in a Martian temple, then runs away. To be honest, the book would have survived quite well without Aleister, who was really only there to put forward the pro-Lucifer viewpoint.

There's a certain amount of religious discussion in this part, which is helped along by the inclusion of a Christian missionary, who plans on converting the indigenous Martians. Brines does a reasonable job of putting forward the beliefs of all sides in a fair manner.

The third part starts out well enough. Brines writes good, exciting action scenes. I found the Christian bent of the book didn't hinder my enjoyment of a rollicking good, pulpy steampunk yarn too much at all. There are places where the author's evident enjoyment in the fast-paced action makes him forget the period and McLaughlin starts to sound very modern, almost American in places.

After the battle on Mars is over, it all starts to fall apart a bit. The hero suddenly comes to realise how the evil, Lucifer-worshipping Martians have set into motion the intended destruction of Earth. Frankly their method was a real knockout blow to my suspension of disbelief. One hardly expects steampunk to be a hundred per cent scientifically feasible, but this was as silly as a 1950s Superman comic book. I suppose, on reflection, that is wasn't any sillier than the ideas found in the proto science fiction tales of the 19th century, but I feel we tend to expect more in the twenty-first century, even when the book is set over a hundred years in the past.

It's not much of a spoiler to reveal that the hero does indeed save the day and the world. The absolute silliest moment in the entire book, is when "B" suddenly accepts all the evidence that there is a Devil, therefore there is a God and the Creationists were right all along. And isn't this wonderful? And she can't wait to get home and help spread the word.

The thing is, it's not the Christian bent of the book that will put people off. We've all read many, many books in which the heroes believe in God. I've never found that particularly off-putting as a non-believer. After all, I have good friends who believe. The problem for most people, and I include most of the Christian readers here, is in the Creationist concept, that evolution is nonsense and God created the World, including mankind, in just six days.

Still, I did enjoy the book for the most part.


Quatermain-The New Adventures: Volume 1
Quatermain-The New Adventures: Volume 1
by Alan J. Porter
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.89

4.0 out of 5 stars A very promising start to a possible new series., 31 Dec. 2013
This review is based on an advance pdf copy, supplied by the publisher.

Let me say right from the start that this book was never going to get an easy ride from me. In the first place, I'm a huge H. Rider Haggard fan and to make matters worse, I have recently embarked on a rereading of the original Allan Quatermain books.

Neither author, perhaps wisely, tell their stories from Quatermain's point of view, as did Haggard. instead they both chose to invent a character of their own for this purpose, through whose eyes we see Allan Quatermain.

In `Golden Ivory', Alan J. Porter introduces us to Daniel, a Canadian riverboat man, working a river taxi service in Africa. He comes into possession of a pouch full of odd artifacts, which include the tip of a very strange ivory elephant tusk. In his efforts to find someone he can trust to help him solve the mystery of this tusk of golden ivory, he falls in with Allan Quatermain and his compatriots.

For the most part, Porter captures the feel of the period quite well. I wasn't too sure about the scene where Quatermain uses a whip, in an apparent nod to a certain Professor Jones, but the good far outweighed the bad in this entertaining tale. There were a few ends left loose, which at the time of writing, I don't know whether, or not will be resolved in a future story by Mr Porter. I liked the story quite a lot, albeit in places it seemed more influenced by old jungle adventure films than by the work of Rider Haggard.

In his afterword, Porter admits to having a desire to have Quatermain meet with a certain other African jungle-based character, but the dates wouldn't allow it. Nevertheless, there is a brief cameo by a feral white man, and he couldn't resist linking himself, by way of his surname, to certain other members of the Porter clan.

I really liked the opening of Aaron Smith's story. `Temple of Lost Souls' opens in 1940, when his protagonist, Everett Blaine, is telling his young grandson of the time he went to Africa and met Allan Quatermain. He sets the tale up neatly, as a sort of morality piece, to demonstrate that the school bully's idea of what makes a man doesn't stand up to close scrutiny.

Aaron Smith admits, in his afterword, that he doesn't know Allan Quatermain nearly as well as he knows Sherlock Holmes--the other period character whose mythos he's contributed to. His version certainly isn't terrible though, and I have to emphasise the fact that I read this book immediately after having read a few of Haggard's originals. In fact, he captures the feel of this classic character of Victorian British fiction better than most modern American writers--and certainly better than any of the various film adaptations of Quatermain's adventures.

Everett Blaine is in Africa to take part in a safari, in the hope of impressing the father of the woman he loves. He's struck down by a fever as soon as he arrives, and so misses the hunt. Instead he offers to accompany Allan Quatermain on a mission to find out what became of nine female missionaries, who, against all advice and common sense, went into the jungle to spread the word of the Lord to the natives. Personally, I thought Smith went a little overboard with Quatermain's sexist opinions here, but that's a minor point. Inevitably, Quatermain and his companions encounter an ancient and strange lost city, which is ruled by even stranger beings. I'll stop here, for fear of revealing too many plot details.

It's a fun book, and a very promising start to a possible new series. I look forward to more adventures of Macumazahn, and dare I hope to see some lost tales of the mighty Zulu warrior, Umslopogaas at some point?


Portraits of Ruin
Portraits of Ruin
by Joseph S. Pulver
Edition: Paperback
Price: £20.00

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Joseph Pulver is a unique voice in modern fiction., 31 Dec. 2013
This review is from: Portraits of Ruin (Paperback)
This review is based on an advance pdf copy, supplied by the author.

Joe Pulver is a one-off. His novel, 'The Orphan Palace', which I reviewed a while back, was my personal choice for best novel of 2011, even if it didn't actually sweep the board for awards. Not enough people read the book, or it surely would have.

This is his third collection of stories. They're not your usual fare for a horror collection. Pulver's poetic prose is frankly awe-inspiring. His plots are vague, to say the least. The underlying power of cosmic horror, as written by Lovecraft and his peers, was always the sense of otherness, of man being an insignificant speck in the vastness of creation. Pulver gets this on an instinctive level and somehow transfers it to the reader by osmosis as they read the words. That's not to say that the stories in this book are necessarily cosmic horror, or particularly Lovecraftian. His protagonists seem to exist in a universe over which they have little control, or understanding, which is what inspires me to draw that comparison. It's not fiction as we know it, but somehow it's never difficult to read. It flows organically in a way that gets under the reader's skin.

I started this review, in my normal manner for a book of short stories, by making notes on each story as I read them. It wasn't long before I came to realise that this method simply wasn't going to work in this case. For one thing, there are a lot of stories in this extraordinary book, so there's no way I could mention them all. In more than a few cases, to try to describe the story would be to pretty much retell it, and that would serve no one.

One could describe Joe Pulver's work as challenging. Those who share some of Pulver's tastes will have an easier time working out what is going on in some of the tales in this book. He is a major fan of the 'King in Yellow' stories of Robert W. Chambers, and this, along with the films of David Lynch, informs his work to a great degree. I had to read a few of the stories more than once before I got a handle on them. His protagonists tend to range from damaged to completely insane, and Pulver gets into their heads brilliantly. No-one has ever written train of thought from the perspective of madness better than Pulver. He often writes in a sort of prose beat-poetry style, which is just coherent enough for the reader to follow; the result is very powerful. The way his writing absolutely does follow a sort of logic, just not a familiar logic, is very clever. I don't know of many writers who could pull it off. Hell, I've read more than one writer who has tried and fallen headlong into the murky ditch of pretentiousness.

Having used the words "train of thought" to describe the way Pulver writes, I have to qualify my statement. Every word, every space, every punctuation mark in his work is of equal importance. There's nothing "off the top of his head" about this stuff. It's painstakingly crafted.

I sincerely hope I haven't put too many readers off the book, here. Yes, it can be challenging, but it is oh so very worth it. Don't be frightened to give it a go. Sit back, relax, don't think too hard and just let the words seep into your consciousness.

Joseph Pulver is a unique voice in modern fiction. Help me spread the word.


Play with Fire and Midnight at the Oasis: Morris & Chastain Investigations
Play with Fire and Midnight at the Oasis: Morris & Chastain Investigations
by Justin Gustainis
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Recommended without reservation., 31 Dec. 2013
This review is based on an advance review copy, supplied by the author.

This is actually an omnibus edition of books four and five of the series. They were originally released as two individual Kindle editions, which are also still available. Both stories are shorter than the previous books in the series (in fact at least one of the previous books is longer than these two stories combined) so they were combined for the paperback release. Although this is a review of the omnibus collection of books four and five, I actually read (and enjoyed) the entire series straight through, before embarking on this review.

There are many stories set in a world, where the existence of supernatural creatures is treated as a fact, known by many, if not all. It's unusual to find an author who has two such worlds, running simultaneously. In his 'Occult Crimes Unit' series, which I reviewed some time back, the supes are an established fact. Everyone knows they exist and they have special police departments to oversee supernatural affairs. In the Quincy Morris/Libby Chastain series, however, the knowledge of such things is much more limited. There are people within the intelligence services who are aware and South Africa does actually have a sort of Occult Crimes Unit within its police force, but for the most part, the general population are kept in blissful ignorance.

While Quincy Morris, who most of you will work out is a direct ancestor of the character in Bram Stoker's 'Dracula, is the lead character, I found myself much more taken with Libby Chastain, a white witch and his partner in many of his cases. In the first three books they go up against assorted evil witches and demons. Apart from a brief intro in the first book, Gustainis has so far avoided the obvious idea of pitting them against vampires.

In 'Play With Fire', houses of worship--of all denominations--are being burned to the ground, often while full of people. Morris and Chastain find themselves in a race against time to prevent Hell on Earth becoming a grim reality. Apparently, not all the denizens of Hell think it would be a good idea, so Morris and Chastain acquire some unlikely help in the form of a remarkably likeable demon.

Then, in 'Midnight at the Oasis' (I really don't have to point out the rock song origins of all the Morris and Chastain story titles, do I?), they take on an Afreet, a Djinn fire-demon, which I guess would be an obvious supernatural weapon in the arsenal of Middle-Eastern terrorists in this world.

Gustainis' writing is never less than gripping and lots of fun. Fans of the crossover will love the many hints of various other authors' work which pepper the series to varying degrees. Ranging from a New York cop named something-wicz, to an incident which takes place outside Del Floria's Tailor Shop. Among the more blatant, are the references to his friend, Jim Butcher's regular character, Harry Dresden, which will have fans hoping for a full-fledged team-up someday.

I read all four (five) books in three days. Recommended without reservation.


Nightsiders
Nightsiders

5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent read and really good value., 31 Dec. 2013
This review is from: Nightsiders (Kindle Edition)
This review is based on an advance review copy, supplied by the publisher.

Forget Vampires, Werewolves, Ghosts and other monsters. When it comes down to being scared, all we really need is other humans. Nothing is scarier to us than trying to hold our lives and families together in the face of interference from other people, whose motives we can't even understand.

Robert Mitchell and his family have returned from a camping holiday, and they are on their way to a Northern village, to take possession of the house that he'd bought not long before. They need to escape the terrors of the city, where his wife had been brutally raped, and try to piece their lives back together.

They arrive, only to discover their new house occupied by another family, and from there things start to get very, very unpleasant. Who are the Corbeaus, and why are they trying to destroy Robert and his family?

Sometimes, stories and characters steadfastly decline to follow the paths their author intended, so despite my opening paragraph, events do eventually take a walk on the weird side. Some may be disappointed by this, and wish the author had kept his evil firmly rooted in the petty nastiness of humankind. Gary McMahon handles the slide into the Twilight Zone so adeptly though, that I didn't feel it detracted at all from the paranoia and unease of the powerful first half.

I can't deny, however, that I would be intrigued to see how the story would have panned out, had he not allowed his muse to change tack. In any case, it's an excellent read and really good value for the low price.


The Morrigna: The Maurin Kincaide Series Book 1
The Morrigna: The Maurin Kincaide Series Book 1
by Rachel Rawlings
Edition: Paperback

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A very enjoyable read., 31 Dec. 2013
I've had this one for ages. I started it once, but at that time it was chock full of typos and in need of a serious re-edit. So, I passed it back to the author. To her credit, she took note, had the book completely re-edited, as I suggested, and sent me a new copy--which then languished in my to-be-reviewed list for almost another year, until I found the time to make a real effort to clear some of my backlog.

I'm pleased to say that it's now in a much better state than it was the first time I looked at it. Not only that, but it was a very enjoyable read.

The book concerns Maurin Kincaide, a psychometric investigator for the SPTF (Salem's Preternatural Task Force). Obviously, this is a paranormal series. The paranormal genre has become very popular over the last decade, and it would be easy to dismiss Rachel Rawling's work as just another bandwagon jumper.

It's actually quite a page-turner of an adventure, as we, along with Maurin, discover her destiny. Maurin lives in a world where witches, vampires, werewolves and demons are all only too real. She's an outsider. Not really one of the "supes", but her psychic abilities make her stand out like a sore thumb among the "norms" too. Her world seems to be informed by various TV shows, such as 'Charmed' and 'True Blood', with familiar terminology, but it's not a slavish copy of anything. Ms. Rawlings has put considerable effort into giving us a Celtic, Pagan menace so nasty, that it allows her to put the vampires, who in this book are generally not at all nice, on the side of good. In case anyone is wondering if the title is one of the typos that I mentioned, "The Morrigna" actually refers to the triad of the Morrigan and her two sisters.

It's by no means perfect. Their are clarity issues. The story involves a betrayal that almost seemed tacked on at the last minute. There are few clues to it, until just before the reveal, as none of the other characters ever suspect anything of the sort. The actions of the traitors early on in the book seem slightly illogical. The cavalry is summoned, to pull the heroes' fat out of the fire, at the last minute, but no real clue is given as to why this wasn't done a bit sooner, and why, if no traitor was suspected, was it kept secret from Maurin and the others?

Those are niggles--things that didn't quite work for me in the internal logic of the plot--but the important thing is whether, or not, it left me wanting more. The answer to that is yes--I really do want to read the further adventures of Maurin Kincaide. There are minor characters in the book, whose final fate we never discover. Some of those, like the punk vampire girl, I'd like to see more of, assuming they did survive the battle. Some of the other characters are left with unresolved issues, and much of the background of Maurin's world is still to be clearly delineated, which leaves plenty of potential for more stories to come.

Hopefully, Rachel Rawlings has ironed out the weak points in her plotting and the two, already published follow-ups are even better.


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