Saturday, 25 November 2017

Art Of Horror Movies

The Art Of Horror Movies: An Illustrated History
Edited by Stephen Jones

Applause hardcover $40

***** (5 stars) review by Christopher Geary   

Since the beginnings of cinema, horror on screen has been troubled and distinguished by the difference between the explicit and the merely suggestive. Whether purveyors of generic imagery intended to scare audiences with atmospheric settings and lurking menace, or shock them with raw terror and gory displays of special effects, the results might be just as impressive and quite artistically valid. Perhaps even strong enough... provocative enough in its vicarity to promote catharsis. Celebrating the contributions of painters, illustrators, and creature designers, to a century of delicious frissons and ghastly disgust, this companion to The Art Of Horror (2015), that was also edited by Stephen Jones, delivers the very goodies and nasty baddies in a beautifully presented hardback packed with a stunning range of colour and B&W pictures. 

Writers, directors, and actors made a considerable impact upon horror movies, but it must be acknowledged that genre cinema would not exist without the essential works of visionary artists. After the foreword by John Landis on the iconography of horror, standout chapters are Christopher Frayling’s exhumation of sinister expressionism in the silent era noting the diversity of influences, including romantic literature, theatre, and crazy carnival traditions, upon a veritable onslaught of surreal gothic portrayals.    

Noir of the 1940s is revisited by Barry Forshaw, who notes the decade’s filmmakers’ imagination and ingenuity overcoming the strict limitations imposed by Hays code censorship, by “subverting the permissible” in pursuit of the macabre. Even as horror is almost crippled by parody, the rise of lurid colour cinema as a new standard saved the genre.   

Studios with style in the 1960s, championed by psychedelic pop culture remixed with fetishistic gore, are charted by Kim Newman. Shifting from period settings into more contemporary scenarios distinguished urban horror from traditional source material, and the gruelling spectacle of warfare on TV prompted an escalation of shock as new zombies arrived, straight from hell, in George A. Romero’s groundbreaking Night Of The Living Dead (1968).  
After the creators of major special effects became iconic stars in their own right in the 1980s, when a video nasty scandal and genre revisionism dominated works by horror auteurs, Anne Billson considers the 1990s' offerings that were often driven by pre-millennial anxieties leading a transition from B-movie fun to a fearsome mainstream. But that was before the dismal end-of-century trend for ‘found footage’ threatened to turn genre cinema and no-budget media into a cultural dystopia. As usual with this type of art book, texts and captions provide the chronicle’s broad sweep, while images deliver the depth. And, really, this is worth buying as an Xmas gift for any fans you know if only for its gallery of eye-catching portraits... Dorian Gray, included. 

Tuesday, 14 November 2017


Adrian Tchaikovsky

Solaris hardcover £25 / $30

*** (3 stars) review by Donald Morefield   

New war in Europe rages between US corporate forces and plucky Nordics. While the steadfast Russians invest in formidable reputations and giant ‘Jodorowsky’ helicopter gunships, the mega-wealthy Americans depend on their privileged heirs and favoured brats as armoured ‘Scions’ - protected by the very best battle-kit accessories that dark money can buy. The more progressive states, like Finland, develop meta-were-human combatants with abilities so far beyond the customised but familiar wraparound suits of a captain iron-man and his ilk.

Basically, this standalone novella starts off as a sci-fi version of Saving Private Ryan (1998), with super-soldiers. Sergeant Ted Regan is ordered to lead a small team on a rescue mission behind enemy lines only to find that he’s completely expendable in the on-going conflicts between vast global commerce and seething political idealism. Can the Sarge’s band of wholly underestimated heroes rebel against their elitist superiors, and fight on to save the world from the masters of mankind?

This type of genre storytelling is probably best presented as a graphic novel. Indeed, it’s war-punk themes and hi-tech notions are very similar to a few recent adventures in the world of independent comics. Warren Ellis has tackled such ideas before and he remains the subgenre’s finest practitioner of neo-military SF and political intrigue. Adrian Tchaikovsky sketches in his characters well enough but, ultimately, the merry little band of heroes fail to fully engage this reader’s sympathy and make me care very much about any of their fates or successes, whether they are exploited humans or the underdog superheroes. 

Saturday, 13 May 2017

New York 2140

New York 2140
Kim Stanley Robinson

Orbit hardcover £20

***** (5 stars) review by Christopher Geary   

Just like his book ‘2312’ presented us with a cogent picture of post-human futurism in a fully populated Solar system, this instantly engaging novel scales down SF narrative from interplanetary concerns to matters with a closer focus on a single city, albeit one with global renown and vigorous citizens. New York 2140 is a distinctly pro American take on Ballard’s Drowned World views. Not so much an exploration of eco-regressive traits, as in Ballard’s London of 2145, this type of US SF is, ultimately, about escaping from debt as the modern form of slavery. They don’t own you but you owe them is the message, and that’s the way they like it... until something changes the system.      

Manhattan is a flooded island, now a super-Venice project becoming a centre for new breeds and brands of wholly progressive - not recalcitrant - survivalists, and home to a colourful batch of unlikely heroes with or without political ambitions and important practical guidance from extended, meta-familial attachments. There’s Charlotte, the reluctant politico; Vlade, the building superintendent; Amelia, the flying starlet of a cloud-media circus; Franklin, the rogue trader with a hedged betting scheme/ scam to burst the cluster-cloistered financial world’s new bubble; Gen, the big black female police inspector; Mutt and Jeff, a pair of brain-trust ‘brothers’ from nerds-ville; and a couple of crazy kids, Stefan and Roberto, the gloriously rebellious orphans and chums without a cause that bring Huckleberry elements of reckless (bight me!) adventure to the solidly pragmatic and watertight drama of big issues.    

Here are tales from the burning edge of edginess and the waving-not-drowning moral panics of careerist interlopers bound together by authorial voice of ‘the citizen’ whose chapters provide both insider knowledge relief, and incisive commentary of a ranking outsider. New York 2140 is not any sort of New Atlantis, it’s far more grimly realistic, despite a gloomily predictive model of how badly rampant climate change could very soon devastate coastlines and break economies around the world. In keeping with previous works, Kim Stanley Robinson maintains his firmly ingrained, but non-dogmatic, anti-capitalist and pro-social themes that surge and ebb like tides throughout the storyline and its numerous historical references. Comedy and tragedy rub shoulders, and nobody emerges from the murky aftermath of the climate-climactic and catastrophic storm unscathed. 

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Massacre Of Mankind

The Massacre Of Mankind
Stephen Baxter

Gollancz hardcover £18.99

**** (4 stars) review by Christopher Geary

Stephen Baxter wrote the award-winning novel The Time Ships (1995), an excellent sequel to classic book The Time Machine (1895) by H.G. Wells, and so Baxter is the perfect choice for this sequel to Wells’ greatest work, The War Of The Worlds (1898). The Massacre Of Mankind picks up the story in the 1920s when the Martians are preparing for their much feared return to Earth, as predicted by astronomers view of Mars, a world of “red lakes, green continents” - harbouring busily intelligent, but entirely unsympathetic, life with ancient rivals in the Solar system clearly the wiser residents of Jupiter.    

The heroine and narrator of this adventure, ex-suffragette Julie, returns to a Britain where paranoia under military rule, in league with Germany, seems a necessary evil, despite defences bolstered by the technological fallout from Martian warfare in 1907 that, amongst other accomplishments, ensured that the ship’s armour-plating applied to the Titanic proved the famous ocean-liner really was unsinkable. Emerging from its period melodrama, the best SF content here is found in speculative paragraphs about origins of the Martian slave labourers, some Cytherean amphibians from Venus, and the cosmological implications of inhabited planets within reach of conventional rockets. 

Baxter manages to shoehorn a full set of eclectic WOTW references - to Orson Welles’ radio broadcast, Hollywood’s classic 1956 movie, Jeff Wayne’s album, and even Wells himself - into this roundly international storyline, with glowing fan-boy reverence for such meta-fictional asides. And the great philosophical question of human futurism is also keenly addressed: does a threat from space of ET invasion unite the world? There is a heartfelt and hopeful answer and, of course, this narrative’s conclusion is never in any doubt, but Baxter springs a genre medley of clever twists along the way to a finale that Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass might find suitably appealing.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Phantom Atlas

The Phantom Atlas: The Greatest Myths, Lies And Blunders On Maps
Edward Brooke-Hitching

Simon & Schuster hardcover £25

***** (5 stars) review by Ian Shutter

A magnificently mind-boggling treat for all fans of Lost World and Atlantis fictional adventures, this book offers cartography on hallucinogens, and ghostly fables of the haunted islands where ‘here be dragons’ is a final warning for the unwarily curious. 

Explorers recast as storytellers with a delightful whimsy, or sinister derangement, is the order of the day in this collection of images, boasting the allure of seven cities of gold, somewhere on the border between speculative horizon and utter dreamscape.  

Lemuria, Thule, weird territories, strange mountains, the kingdom of Prester John, Australia’s inland sea, the Island of California, the infamous Flat Earth, reports from various quests for paradise, and whales so big they are mistaken for islands by saints and sinners alike. From Wak-Wak to Antilla, there and back again, the wanderers do justice to wonderings in grandiose mistakes or hopes of celebrity in civilised nations.

From the Nordic to the Antipodean, this book presents voyages of discovery without wholly rational results. The Phantom Atlas is a fully illustrated compendium of misguided compass following treks, seafaring journeys into fear, confused fantasy, ancestral folklore, and far-out but fascinating inventions about our world as it never was. The African story of the Mountains of Kong, “running along the 10th parallel”, and the mythical Mountains of the Moon, “said to be the source of the Nile”, is a particularly odd piecemeal work of equatorial creationism.  

Looking for a blaze of inspiration to write a gothic fantasy saga or non-historical epic adventure? This marvellous catalogue of errors has plenty of unpicked other-worldly locations, ranging from whole continents to hidden valleys, to choose from. 

Friday, 6 January 2017

Nineteen Nuns On The Number 15 Bus

Nineteen Nuns On The Number 15 Bus: 
The Southend Zombie Apocalypse
Simon G. Gosden

Createspace paperback $5.85 / £3.86

**** (4 stars) review by Steve Lee

Without wanting to sound over praiseworthy of this work I must admit it was right up my street. A rather quirky English saying I know but that’s like the book, both rather quirky and very English. Simon Gosden’s first novella, although he is part of the genre book trade in modern Britain so he knows a thing or two about writing. Rule one write about what you know, so that box is ticked. Set in Southend, and around the Thames region of old Blighty, the story whisks you off with an engagingly fast pace of zombie activity as if in one’s home town. The characters are interesting grounded people we could meet any day of the week, thrown together to survive Southend’s zombie shenanigans.

Shenanigans another great British bit of terminology and just the sort of language found among the very few (60) pages, but that suited me perfectly so I read it in one shift at work on standby overtime. These days I do not read enough anyway and shy away from the usual fare of a 600 page doorstop, so this short piece of English lit from Sarffend made my day. How many Fs in Southend? As many as Mr Gosden wants, and it works. Proper people storytelling in a fantasy apocalypse begs a question. Are you ready for it? Not prepped, living in a bunker sleeping with an AK between your food provisions and an armoury, are you mentally ready for it? Prepared to survive able to care and kill at a moment’s notice. Jeff Cooper’s tag coded up, green light red light stuff, mind set focus grit.
The main character, whose adventure we follow, goes by the name of Tim, who meets the stunningly attractive Tania from Croatia as you do on zombie apocalypse day, so it’s his perspective and insightful thought processes we share. Yes, they make mistakes just like in The Walking Dead TV show I’m also watching as a DVD box-set, but it’s no surprise while the undead try to bite you at every turn and then an arsehole turns up named Jason. He only wants to shit over everything like in Team America.

Gosden writes as I wish I could, or would if I did, and I hope that makes sense. He sticks to zombie lore, so it’s head-shots or stabs all the way and we’re treated to a lot of fast pace action with just enough gore and sprinkle of comedy, some in-jokes, and likeable product placement worthy of transfer to film. Then again I always say that, but it’s true, and I have seen worse. Suppliers would queue up to advertise their brand so come on Triumph, Glock, and Ford, find some money and let’s get this made before the real world ending event rocks up to pull the plug on our greedy fucked up dystopian existence.

19 Nuns... what a title! The dialogue is laced with my genre favourites with references to The Matrix, Spider-Man, Monty Python, Star Wars, Elm Street, and even Duran Duran - though I don’t really like them, honest. This plays out as a cultural joke at the expense of our European heroine because she just does not get it, any of it, but it’s funny. Clarksonesque science comes in a Top Gear style, but I can live with that. In my zombie fantasy they are caused by overusing mobile phones, which is the main reason I might survive, not forgetting my well stocked bunker arsenal and colour coded lifestyle. Hero Tim drinks what I do - Rioja red wine and lager beer, eats what I eat, rides a big motorbike, and has great taste in guns. His van does have a tail-lift, as does mine at work. The gap in my knowledge means I know next to nothing about his boat content, although I’ve been on a really big boat.

Although I do prefer the Glock 21 in .45ACP to the minor calibre model 17. Come on, Simon, if you want to make a hole make it a big one. Get armed, stay armed, find the girl, and never leave her alone. Mossberg beats Remington in the shotgun arms race as it’s easier to load. I liked the landmarks too, such as Traitors Gate at the Tower of London, name dropping the royal prince and the Prime Minister whom the hero recognises but still has to ask who he is. “I’m the PM” he says. My favourite author is Dean R. Koontz, and Simon G. Gosden is a minnow in comparison, but we all know that. Mr Koontz’s heroes always find the love of their life just after winning the lottery, but before they have to face evil, and Gosden’s tale is not unlike that. It reminds me of Road To Fero City by Morat, another recommended read. Tim likes bikes, girls, and guns, but not necessarily in that order, and that’s fine by me.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Take Back The Sky

Same war. Different enemy. The WAR DOGS trilogy concludes with...


Published by Gollancz 
26th January 2017
Trade PB £18.99 | eBook £9.99

First it was Mars, then Titan - the battlefield changed but the war remained the same. Until now.  

Master Sergeant Michael Venn and his soldiers now know the truth about what the supposedly benevolent Gurus are really doing in our solar system. A truth both Earth and the alien Antagonists are intent on wiping out. 

The soldiers must forget their training, forget what they know, and journey to Planet X - infamous home of the Antagonists. Hunted by friend and foe alike and desperate for answers, they will do anything to survive. 

Even team up with their greatest enemy.

Greg Bear is one of the world's leading hard SF authors. He sold his first short story at the age of 15 to Robert Lowndes' FAMOUS SCIENCE FICTION and has since written over forty different sci-fi books across a number of series, including the Forerunner Trilogy, written in the Halo universe. 

A full-time writer, he now lives in Washington with his family. Greg Bear was also one of the five co-founders of the San Diego Comic-Con.