Friday, 29 February 2008

flame on/off

Posted comments on some forums today, but managed to avoid getting drawn into latest random flame wars. Usually somewhat bemused by such online arguments because, generally, I don't want people to agree with me. At least, not too often. Well, yes, it's good to find busy communities with common fandom interests, where board members can enjoy all the pros & cons/ back & forth of various topical discussions. Indeed, this can be great fun, and it's very satisfying to join in some informed debates, but why do some opinionated people fail to accept that contrary views may be just as valid as their own?

There's no reason that fans - of whatever, in particular - should have to agree about everything or anything, really. I'd strongly suggest that a little bit of respect for other people's thoughts wouldn't go amiss. However, my opinions are just mine... So get your own!

Monday, 18 February 2008

new collections

Skimming off the cream? Mopping up the scum? Either way, the 13 stories in Andrew Humphrey’s second collection of short fiction, Other Voices (Elastic Press), are a fine collection of literary SF, urban terror, weird crime, melancholy noir, and bloody pessimism. It’s an engaging sampler of whatever sorrows float in the deep vats of cross-genre slipstream. There are dramas of cruelty and candour, sociopathic affairs and broken marriages, but the various characters’ estrangements might actually be from reality, and some protagonists find their sense of identity is undermined by curious events. Just like the urgent messiness of real life, happenings are frequently beyond explanation let alone human control.

When this volume came along I was partway through reading Joe Hill’s expansive collection 20th Century Ghosts (Gollancz), and must admit that the American author’s constant engagement with wraparound sentimentality was just starting to bore me (a little bit!), so the unexpected opportunity to review Other Voices for Starburst #360 provided a welcome relief. Okay, so maybe there’s a little too much of Norwich in Humphrey’s work, but this book frames an ample dose of satisfyingly British doom and gloom, with an appealing minimum of the mushy, the woolly, and the tritely condescending. Actually, there's nearly as much 'hope' in Humphrey's fiction as there is in Joe Hill's, but whereas hope seems like an essential ingredient in most of Hill's work, Humphrey's hope is fleeting at best or plays really hard to get. If you’re after dark fiction that quietly stockpiles optimism and settles happily into maudlin comforts after a hard day’s night practicing survival tactics, shop elsewhere.

Published by Serpent’s Tale books, Old Devil Moon is Christopher Fowler’s 10th collection of short fiction, exploring an impressive range of themes and styles from urban horror to whimsical fantasy, packing in much contemporary wit, literary flair and satirical insight. Compared to Humphrey’s finely-honed accounts of domestic disaster and laments for wrecked psyches, the grumbling quality of Fowler’s high-contrast offerings might be somewhat variable, but the sheer diversity of material reaches levels of pure astonishment, perhaps to the extent that readers might be left questioning whether all these disparate chillers and comedies were indeed composed by just one mind (latent evidence of Fowler’s um, apparently well-managed, multiple-personality disorder?).

Ringing the changes from knockabout Sherlock Holmes case histories and catalogues of absurdity (certainly, Fowler’s The Night Museum is a lot more fun than any dozen books by Tom Holt!) to cautionary tales about foreign travel, guiding us through yet another set of fascinatingly twisted and macabre tropes which, like the chillingly primal classic Sharper Knives (1992), sagely warns readers about whatever’s probably lurking down both familiar dimly-lit alleys and the cheerfully unknown back roads of cosmopolitan landscapes.

Thursday, 14 February 2008


Not to be confused with the sci-fi TV series (shown a while back on Channel Four, and out now on DVD), or Armand Mastroianni's 1997 TV film (based on a Robin Cook story) starring Luke Perry and Kim Cattrall, or the latest version of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (also on DVD now), this low-budget movie from David Michael Latt is actually a cheap version of H.G. Wells' classic War Of The Worlds re-titled for a UK region 2 DVD release.

Just like Spielberg's blockbuster, it's a contemporary adaptation, transplanted to USA, but because modern visual effects are outrageously expensive (assuming that filmmakers aim for quality, anyway), low-budget SF cinema in a serious mode such as this is forced to rely heavily upon the actors for its principal dramatic moments. B-movie veterans like C. Thomas Howell and Jake Busey deliver their best, and yet, it's still not enough to save this production from abject mediocrity. The ending is wholly predictable, and it's a film only suitable for SF completists.

Final score: 4/10