Reviews

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. Book review

July 17, 2011

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Jane Austen and Ben H Winters. Quirk Books, $12.95

Reviewed by Matthew Johns

Another of the series of classic novels reimagined to include some form of horror ' in this case, as the title suggests, sea monsters.

Winters manages to keep the story of the Dashwoods flowing along, with the added bonus of the waters surrounding England being full of mutated sea monsters and man eating fish and crustaceans. Mrs Dashwood and her three daughters find themselves in the classic Austen scenario of losing their family home and riches, and in this version of events end up living with an eccentric, monster-hunting relation of Mrs Dashwood in a rickety sea shack on an island in an archipelago off the coast of Devonshire.

Those acquainted with the original work will find many familiar characters, including the massively obnoxious Mr John Dashwood, the slightly grumpy and aloof Colonel Brandon (but with added facial tentacles) and the bumbling, but loveable Edward Ferrars, beloved of Elinor Dashwood.

The addition of sea monsters and the peril that the Dashwoods find themselves in on a daily basis, existing in their shack on Pestilent Isle, add an extra depth to the story that Austen somehow managed to miss when writing the original text. The humour slots in well to the original storyline, making this a very enjoyable read.

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The Devil’s Rock. DVD review

July 17, 2011

The Devil's Rock. Written by Paul Campion, Paul Finch & Brett Ihaka. Directed by Paul Campion

Reviewed by Mike Chinn

The eve of D-Day. Two New Zealand commandos land on the small island of Forau; their mission: to sabotage the Nazi gun emplacement and contribute to the Allies' misdirection campaign ' making Hitler believe the invasion was coming through the Channel Islands. Pausing only to establish that Ben Grogan (Craig Hall) is still mourning his wife Helena, and his partner Joe Tane (Karlos Drinkwater) has a hot date waiting back in Blighty, they creep into the ominous concrete bunker. Where all is not well.

The interior is a claustrophobic nightmare: narrow corridors that terminate in impenetrable shadow; tight, grimy rooms strewn with dismembered dead; all filled by echoes of screams and indistinct voices. There is just one German left alive: Colonel Meyer (Matthew Sunderland) ' and a young girl (Gina Varela), shackled to a wall in a locked room. Has Meyer gone mad, murdered all of his comrades just to have the girl to himself? Or is there something much worse going on?

Sunderland and Hall work well in what is essentially an intimate two-header. Director Campion mostly goes for the less is more approach ' leaving the bunker's dark and cramped atmosphere to scrape at the nerves. There are even cheeky nods to Raiders of the Lost Ark and Lovecraftian Mythos.

I have some reservations: Sunderland's German accent is noticable by its absence, and the New Zealand locations don't look anything like the Channel Islands (black volcanic sand?) ' but perhaps the slight wrongness contributes to the film's overall atmosphere. There are the usual interviews and shots of set-building among the extras (though the sound quality during Paul Finch's snippets is shocking.)

Overall, a film that works very well within its restrictions. Recommended.

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We have three copies of The Devil's Rock looking for good homes. To be in with a chance of winning simply send an email to news@britishfantasysociety.org  with the subject line DEVILS ROCK. The competition is open to BFS members only (and over 18). Competition deadline is 28 July 2011.

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The Hilliker Curse by James Ellroy. Book review

July 11, 2011

The Hilliker Curse by James Ellroy. William Heineman '16.99/'8.99.

Reviewed by Peter Coleborn

This book is subtitled 'My Pursuit of Women' and I guess that gives you a huge idea of what it's all about. It all started in the late 1950s when his Ellroy's mother obtained a divorce. The ten year old boy had difficulty adjusting emotionally and became fixated on her ' both desiring and despising her. It was lust and hate, so much so that Ellroy wished her dead. In a few months she was found murdered and, to this date, her killing has not been solved. Her death left a void in the boy. As he grew Ellroy entered a life or petty crime, and a life spent looking for that one woman to save him. But he was looking for his mother.

Fortunately for him and us, he found a few women able to tame his destructive streak, which became channelled into some of the finest crime fiction I've read. The pinnacle of his oeuvre is, arguably, LA Confidential. Although I rate American Tabloid I feel that Ellroy's writing had by now become too abrupt, like bullet points. This staccato style is very much an acquired taste and persists into The Hilliker Curse and this, I fear, detracts from a full appreciation of the story. It's quite exhausting to read ' although I guess people well versed in the vernacular he employs may not agree with me.

Despite all that, I do suggest that for the writer of crime stories, this book provides excellent research and background material. It allows you to get into the mind of Ellroy as he matures into manhood, as he seeks out his ideal woman.

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The Beautiful Room by RB Russell. Chapbook review

July 10, 2011

The Beautiful Room by RB Russell. Nightjar Press '3.00

Reviewed by Mario Guslandi

Publisher and editor Ray Russell is a man of taste, devoted to elegant fiction with a penchant for dark, ghostly and supernatural stories. As a writer he's the author of two short story collections (Putting the Pieces in Place and Literary Remains) and of the  novella 'Bloody Baudelaire'.

Russell's writing style is consistent with the refined nature of his literary choices. Subtlety and ability to gently disquiet and unnerve the reader, wrapped in a classy, polished wording, are the main characteristics of his fictional output.

The Beautiful Room, a twelve-page booklet from Nightjar Press, is no exception. The plot is quite simple. A couple, just relocated abroad and looking for an apartment to rent, inspect a  house which immediately takes the woman's fancy because of a gorgeous bedroom. The man, however, doesn't share his mate's enthusiasm and, in just a few sentences, Russell contrives to depict how the relationship has its uneasy moments with a slight undercurrent of  resentments and recriminations.

The discovery that a flock of birds is trapped within the room's walls will lead to unexpected developments ending up in an ambiguous Aickmanesque fashion apt to leave behind an unsettling sense of foreboding.

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The Unwise Woman of Fuggis Mire by Raven Dane. Book review

July 10, 2011

The Unwise Woman of Fuggis Mire by Raven Dane. Prosochi '11.99

Reviewed by Matt Johns

A new(ish) entry to the comedy fantasy genre, Dane's book contains some great parodies of classic novels and films. Her world is populated by many well-known fantasy species ' elves, demons, dwarves, boggarts and heavy metal-loving flower fairies.

The titular Unwise Woman of Fuggis Mire is Morven, purveyor of rather unusual potions, poultices, cures and advice to those who seek her out. Morven takes the mantle of Unwise Woman for many reasons ' her advice is often far from wise: her own personal life shows just how unwise she is. Madly in love with the dashing, promiscuous, steals-anything-that-isn't-tied-down and sleeps-with-anything-female-and-still-breathing highwayman, Jed Moonraven, she lives in a swamp beset by questing fellowships and apprentices seeking their hidden destinies (of which there are many) in between short-lived but passionate trysts with her beloved.

Dane is clearly a devotee of high fantasy such as Tolkien, and her work resounds with fond parodies of the many characters and scenarios that often appear in such novels. Many witty situations, Carry On-style smutty humour and fantasy in-jokes arise throughout the book, making it overall an excellent read. Comedy fantasy authors always end up with the inevitable comparison to Pratchett, which while undoubtedly flattering is unfair ' Dane deserves to be judged on her own, substantial merits.

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The Company Man by Robert Jackson Bennett. Book review

June 25, 2011

The Company Man by Robert Jackson Bennett. Orbit '7.99

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan

Superficially, this novel would appear to be an historical crime set at the time of the rise of the unions in 1919's America. While it is that, it is also alternative world science fiction and although set in the past it has elements that could place it in any other era.

Cyril Hayes is not a particularly prepossessing main character. He has a tendency to drink and visit the opium dens of Evesden. His problem is that if he spends too much time in the company of one person, their thoughts begin to leak across into his mind. This makes him a very useful tool to the McNaughton Corporation, the Company of the title. He can find out things others can't.

Evesden, a port city on the west coast of America, has expanded rapidly due to the success of McNaughton. The Company has produced and provided the rest of the world with all kinds of technology from airships to guns, shaping the world slightly differently from ours, and has become wealthy and powerful within the political arena. Donald Garvey, a policeman and one of Hayes few friends, calls him to view a body fished out of a canal. If the corpse is a company man, the Company wants to know. Five weeks later, a trolley arrives at a station laden with the corpses of union men. Hayes, Garvey and Samantha Fairbanks (Hayes new assistant) have to piece together what has happened to prevent the city self-destructing.

The Company Man is an unusual book in that it successfully manages to combine elements of a number of different genres. It is well written and the characters are plausible. Sometimes it is lacking in emotion; and although there are detailed descriptions in some places, those of the new technology are sparse. Worth reading.

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Deadline by Mira Grant. Book review

June 25, 2011

Deadline by Mira Grant. Orbit '7.99

Reviewed by Jenny Barber

After the shocking events of Feed, Deadline picks up with Shaun Mason and his band of intrepid bloggers as they get dragged into a new set of troubles thanks to the faked-her-own-death scientist that turns up on their doorstep. There's something hinky going on at the Centre for Disease Control, something to do with the zombies that roam the land and a lethal conspiracy that's going to create some significant changes to all their lives. If they can survive the cover ups, the mad scientists and the persistent threat of a mutating virus that still has a few more surprises, that is'

Grant has created a fully realised world that's completely believable, filled with fascinating technical detail that doesn't overdo it and characters so well drawn that the story successfully wrenches deep emotional reactions out of even the most cynical reader. And that's before you get to the action packed plot, which is, quite frankly, made of awesome. 

There are eye-popping plot twists that keep springing up to hook you and drag you further into the carnage. There are constant and evolving threats that leave everyone's continued existence in doubt. There's mad science and madder scientists and ever-deepening conspiracies and political shenanigans and dodgy genetic engineering and clones and zombies ' and ' and ' dear God, people, what is not to love about this book. It's glorious! Always compelling, by turns terrifying and tragic, and with an ending that's so evil that waiting for the next one becomes a torment, Deadline is a definite must-read.

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Surface Detail by Iain M Banks. Book review

June 25, 2011

Surface Detail by Iain M Banks. Orbit (2011) '8.99

Reviewed by Jim Steel

The latest in the Culture series takes place around 2770AD. If you're new to the series, don't worry; this is a self-contained novel. It does take some getting used to, though. A viewpoint character is killed off at the end of the first chapter and the next viewpoint character is killed off at the end of the second chapter. An intriguing literary technique? Possibly ' but not in this novel. Since people can be downloaded into virtual realities after their deaths or even reincarnated in fresh bodies, death is not always fatal.

The third chapter starts off with some elephant-like aliens attempting to flee a virtual Hell and, at first, it seems that Banks has fumbled the ball in merely recreating a traditional Hieronymus Bosch-style environment for them. It later transpires that this is exactly the point as he skewers the hypocrisy in organised religion. There is a virtual war raging between civilisations that maintain virtual Hells and others (including the Culture) who are totally opposed to them. The virtual war goes live, of course, when one side feels that it is about to lose, and we are then treated to some very convincing space combat. The eccentric ships are amongst the most delicious characters.

The story winds its way through half-a-dozen characters, including Joiler Veppers, a text-book psychopath who is also the leading aristocrat in the Enablement, a much less flexible society than the Culture. It really doesn't matter if all the strands don't tie up as tidily as they might since Banks packs Surface Detail with dazzling writing and invention. At times his dark wit even reveals him to be a much bleaker version of Douglas Adams as he deftly satirizes our hubris. Highly recommended.

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Tales From the Deep by Cerys Mathews. Book review

June 25, 2011

Tales From the Deep by Cerys Mathews. Illustrated by Fran Evans. Pont Books '5.99

Reviewed by Jan Edwards

You might wonder why a pre-school picture book deserves a review from the BFS. But, then again, why not? After all, this is a book aimed at the demographic where a love of books and of fantasy will often begin, guided by the parents and grandparents who choose their books.

Tales From the Deep relates two traditional Welsh folks tales by Cerys Mathews, Welsh rock-diva, and illustrated by fellow countryman Fran Evans. And published by a Welsh Publisher. It is told in a totally uncompromising fashion, without smoothed edges or safely happy endings, yet lyrically, poetically ' as you would expect from a gifted lyricist.

Open one cover and you have 'Ghost Bells of the Lowlands' where a village watchmen falls asleep on the job and the entire place drowns. Flip the book over and start from the other end and you get 'Mfddfai Magic', where a mermaid marries a fisherman only when he agrees never to strike her. When he does ' inadvertently ' causing her bruises, she returns to the water and the fisherman's heart is forever broken.

These are traditional folk tales as they would have been related around firesides down the centuries by bards and poets Tales From the Deep is the kind of book that can impart a life-long love of real fantasy, horror and literature that challenges the senses. 

My daughter would have loved this at age four or five, but then her favourite book was The Tailypo by Joanna Galdone, which scared the pants off her brother; she was made of quite stern stuff. 

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Branded By Fire by Nalini Singh. Book review

June 23, 2011

Branded By Fire by Nalini Singh. Gollancz '6.99.

Reviewed by Rhian Bowley

Changelings, humans and the Psy occupy Earth, 2080. None of us are good at sharing. The Psy are emotionless psychics, connected and controlled through the PsyNet. Changelings look like humans, can turn into animals and their animal characteristics are present when they are in human form ' heightened senses and urges. Oh, the urges: sexy futuristic animal SF? Indeed. And it's great fun.

Mercy is a leopard and Riley is a wolf. Mercy has the urges of a cat in heat, but worries she'll never find a mate who can handle her dominant alpha-female ways. She has lots of sex with Riley, spends the intervening pages brooding that he won't be able to handle her strong femininity (even though he's clearly fine with it) and then sleeps with him again. In between encounters, while the scratches on their backs heal, Mercy and Riley lead military-style Changeling packs who are trying to protect their communities ' and all of civilisation ' from the latest threat. Someone's targeting the implacable Psy and turning them into suicidal killers. But who? And can the PsyNet ever recover?

This is pacey stuff, handled well with alternating points of view from each group. The writing is excellent and, although this is the sixth in the series, I didn't feel lost. While Mercy's libido does take up a lot of pages, the SF arc is interesting and balanced well with the romance. The main characters swap with each book to others from the Changeling packs, which means I can continue with the series even though I wasn't fond of Mercy. The tenth Psy-Changeling novel is out now, so if you like your SF-romance raunchy and intriguing you have some catching up to do.  

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