Song for a Saturday – Nobody

Guys are so fickle.

There was a time when I used to adore Toni Basil, but for years now I’d almost completely forgotten about her.

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Filler content with graphic appeal

Here are a couple of reviews that originally appeared in Black Static #34:-


Adapted and with art by Ashley Marie Witter, INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE: CLAUDIA’S STORY (Headline hb, 220pp, £13.99) takes the section dealing with the child vampire from Anne Rice’s bestseller and reinvents it as a standalone graphic novel.

The narrative’s central plank is an old and familiar story, that of the unhappily married couple who bring a child into the world in the hope of maintaining and/or revitalising their relationship, but here given a much darker and more sinister twist, as Lestat turns the child Claudia into a vampire to bind his protégé Louis to him. Grateful at first and charmed by her undead condition, Claudia’s feelings shift to hatred as she comes to realise how she has been used, and the fate that has been thrust on her, to live eternally in an adult world as a child, dependent on others to survive regardless of all the power at her command. Her rage drives a wedge between Lestat and Louis, setting in train a series of events that will see the undoing of all three.

Strip aside the vampire trappings and we are left with a powerful and very human story, that of a tragic and fateful ménage à trois in which Claudia is both the broker of peace and the monger of war, but both these aspects of her being are eclipsed by the anger she feels at the unasked for gift that has been granted to her. Of course things can only end badly, with a greater tragedy to crown the one that has gone before. Finally all Claudia’s scheming comes to nothing, as she is undone by a collision of irony and ignorance with unfounded assumptions as to the nature of other vampires, and yet at the end she seems somehow reconciled to her fate, something that cannot be said for either of her ‘fathers’.

Witter’s artwork captures the character perfectly, bringing Claudia to vivid unlife on the page, carefully detailing each expression and gesture to show the change in her nature, a shift from childlike innocence and wonder at her condition, through to despair and the development of guile, her scheming punctuated with outbursts of pure rage. Each panel is carefully constructed, with a keen awareness of perspective and a sumptuous quality to the finely detailed backdrops, the atmosphere of a bygone age seeping off the page. Witter works with muted colours, an almost sepia effect induced by the use of blacks and browns, and then the judicious splash of carmine to remind us where the book is coming from and what it’s really all about. It is a thing of beauty in its own right, a story which stands well alone while at the same time throwing greater light on the source material, and I have little doubt that Witter’s endeavours will win more converts to Rice’s oeuvre.

Hannah Berry’s ADAMTINE (Jonathan Cape pb, 104pp, £14.99) is an original work, a fusion of the horror story with the familiar trappings of the murder mystery. Four strangers meet up on a train journey that ends in darkness, their carriage inexplicably detached from the rest of the train, with lines of communication cut and their attempts to reach the other carriages all ending in some sort of loop. Gradually the back story emerges, with the revelation that all four were in some way connected to Rodney Moon, a man who many felt responsible for the unexplained disappearance of their loved ones, although Moon had claimed to be acting at the behest of some alien monster. Moon himself disappeared from a train, believed abducted by grieving relatives in search of revenge/closure.

Berry’s second graphic novel, this is a strange and disturbing work, one in which nothing is really explained and all the more powerful for that, with the whole story seeming to hinge on the title, or rather its implications (cryptically explained in the body of the narrative, but you’ll have to figure it out for yourself). The artwork is moody and impressionistic, with darkness the key note, so that there are moments when a black page with speech bubbles is all that we have, while other pages are crammed with small panels, perhaps as many as twelve to a page, each part of some greater whole. It’s a stylistic approach that keeps the reader off balance and works well to bolster the prevailing atmosphere of strangeness, perfectly complementing the complex and oblique story Berry has to tell, one in which nearly all of whatever represents truth is only hinted at, with the reader often knowing more than the characters do. Behind it all lies a suggestion of how power works, in both this world and the next, and intersecting that an appreciation of the sheer randomness of existence, the traditional form of the strangers with a story to tell given a new and unsettling treatment. I won’t claim to have understood it completely – as with life, there are details that hover tantalisingly out of reach – but I did enjoy it very much. Adamtine works well as both a treat for the eyes and a puzzle for the mind, demonstrating how ambitious and effective the graphic novel can be in skilled hands.


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Trailer Trash – The Quiet Ones

A film out later this month, and heralded by the words ‘inspired by true events’.

I remember reading about the Toronto group and their creation of a ghost called Philip some years back, but don’t recall anything quite as dramatic as what seems to be implied by the film’s trailer.

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Fava Beans and a Nice Chianti

Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever tasted either, and while I have tasted liver I hated it.

All of which is irrelevant, as the clued in among you will have inferred from the subject header that I’m going to write about the three Hannibal Lecter movies I watched over the course of the weekend just gone.

Red Dragon (2002)

The last made, but first in the sequence. Edward Norton plays Will Graham, an FBI profiler who has a unique ability to get inside the minds of the monsters he hunts down. After nearly dying at the hands of Hannibal ‘the Cannibal’ Lecter, Graham retires, but is guilt tripped back by boss Jack Crawford (Harvey Keitel), who desperately needs his help in catching new killer on the block ‘the Tooth Fairy’, a monster who slaughters families in their homes. Only to succeed, Graham must once again confront his nemesis Lecter, who is all too ready to play mind games that place Graham and his family in peril. Directed by Brett Ratner, this is a beautifully constructed thriller, with fine performances from all the cast, especially Anthony Hopkins as the arrogant but beguiling Lecter and Ralph Fiennes in fine form as Francis ‘Tooth Fairy’ Dolarhyde. Repellent as his actions are, Dolarhyde is more sympathetic than Lecter in that he, at least, has the excuse of an easily recognisable psychosis and struggles against his impulses when the love of a good woman is put in his path. Contrarily, the disdainful and ‘superior’ Lecter seems completely devoid of any human emotion, a cold and remorseless killer who is beyond love or pity. He is a highly cultured and intelligent man, but these qualities do not give him any empathy or compassion, they only feed his amorality. For the viewer, Lecter is of interest precisely because of this; he is the antithesis and apotheosis of the serial killer, our nightmares elevated and made flesh, in stark contrast to the very ordinary killers we read of in our newspapers, who are far from superhuman. And this fascination is touched on in the film through the character of tabloid journalist Lounds (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who feeds the public’s appetite for sensationalism, only to have the search for a story end badly, and perhaps in his fate there is a warning for us too.

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Jonathan Demme’s film of the Thomas Harris novel is a master class in thriller making, with the Oscars to prove it. The scenario is similar to that of Red Dragon, with new killer ‘Buffalo Bill’ wreaking havoc and rookie FBI agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) sent to solicit help from Hannibal. Everyone is being manipulated. Starling’s superiors use her to get to Hannibal, while Hannibal stage manages events to effect his own escape. We move from one moment of tension to the next effortlessly, the film a smooth running machine, one that operates with such verve that you never question aspects of the plot, even when it descends into the ludicrous, as with Hannibal’s escape. Hopkins’ performance is riveting, the traits of Lecter clearly delineated, all the qualities that I mentioned above, his presence almost mesmeric from our first meeting with the character, but Foster matches Hopkins every step of the way, beauty to his beast, martyr to his monster, but never the victim, never that even when she is victimised. And at the heart of the narrative is a love story of sorts, the protagonists moving from mutual contempt to a grudging respect for each other. Lecter has finally found a person he doesn’t want to kill, and part of that is her unswerving devotion to justice and determination to capture him, regardless of the personal danger. There’s also a feminist subtext, with Starling having to fight for her place in a world that is dominated by men, having to struggle to be treated on an equal footing.

Hannibal (2001)

Directed by Ridley Scott, this is the film which sees Hannibal at large, out in the world and no longer using proxies, and yet in a way his menace seems somewhat diluted as a result. Instead of the evil genius who manipulates everyone else, he becomes just another implacable monster, enacting atrocities with all the gusto of a Jason or Michael, only with a larger vocabulary. As the title implies, Lecter is the ‘anti-hero’ of the film, and to make this work he must face even worse enemies – an Italian police detective who wants a reward, a hideously deformed billionaire who has sworn vengeance (an unrecognisable but chilling Gary Oldman).  Lecter’s fascination with Starling continues, and is seen by others as an Achilles heel, a way to bring him out into the open. To this end, Starling (played by a feisty Julianne Moore) must have her career with the FBI plunged into ruin, and be cast loose by the organisation she wishes to serve. Lecter and Starling become allies against a common enemy, but at the end of the movie she is the one who stays true to her nature and values, even though betrayed, while it is Lecter, in an uncharacteristic and no doubt quixotic act of self-sacrifice, who concedes defeat of a kind. All of which sets the stage for a chilling codicil.

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Books Read in 1984

Following on from last month’s Books Read in 1983.

The numbers continue to rise, with 127 books read this year, and I initially adopted a theme approach, with classics read in January, SF in February, literary fiction in March, Roman history in April, but that fell by the wayside in the second half of the year.

In parenthesis, I find it quite amazing that there was a time in my life when I spent an entire month reading books about the Roman empire, while the smutty side of my personality protests that I really should have read Sexual Life in Ancient Rome before The Climax of Rome, and not the other way round. On this day, thirty years ago, I cracked open The Buried Cities.

On the occasion of my 30th birthday I was slogging through the mighty doorstop that was Shogun by James Clavell, and a friend who observed me reading it took it upon himself to buy me another Clavell doorstop as a birthday present – he really should have asked if I was enjoying it first. I can’t be too hard on the poor guy though, as another year he got me the wonderful It by a certain Mr King.

It was the year I discovered Mary Renault and F. Scott Fitzgerald, both of whom I still adore, while my favourite books, as well as Gatsby, would have to include The Hotel New Hampshire by Irving, Benchley’s The Girl of the Sea of Cortez and Gore Vidal’s epic Creation. The biggest disappointment was John le Carré, whose The Little Drummer Girl I expected to like very much but in the event didn’t care for at all, found it all rather dull. And, while I didn’t dislike it as such, it took another reading and seeing the film before I really appreciated Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice. I read four delicious books by the genius that was Richard Brautigan (and looking at this list, I want to dip into his oeuvre again so badly).

It was also the year I reacquainted myself with H. Rider Haggard, another literary hero of my boyhood. He lived up the road from the village and my father bought all of his books as a matter of principle, while one house at the local school was called Haggard and we read King Solomon’s Mines just about every year. I wanted to be Allan Quartermain when I grew up.

A friend lent me the Fiona Richmond book, and she also gave me Man’s Best Friend, a quirky cartoon take on the penis. I can’t lay responsibility for reading a Molly Parkin book at anyone else’s feet though.

Here’s the list (with author names in the main added from memory, so please feel free to point out any errors):-

A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens

The War of the Worlds – H. G. Wells

The Talisman – Sir Walter Scott

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll

Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte

Treasure Island – Robert Louis Stevenson

Dracula – Bram Stoker

King Solomon’s Mines – H. Rider Haggard

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain

Around the World in Eighty Days – Jules Verne

Steppe – Piers Anthony

Invaders from Earth – Robert Silverberg

The Book of Philip Jose Farmer – Philip Jose Farmer

Mortal Gods – Jonathan Fast

The Penultimate Truth – Philip K. Dick

Survival Kit – Frederik Pohl

Hothouse – Brian W. Aldiss

Alien Embassy – Ian Watson

Threshold – Ursula K. LeGuin

Venus on the Half-shell – Philip Jose Farmer

Hello America – J. G. Ballard

Shatterday – Harlan Ellison

Cities of the Red Night – William S. Burroughs

Creation – Gore Vidal

Black Tickets – Jayne Anne Phillips

Jailbird – Kurt Vonnegut

The Collector – John Fowles

Love-Act – M. E. Austen

The Tokyo-Montana Express – Richard R. Brautigan

Jack in the Box – William Kotzwinkle

Queen of Stones – Emma Tennant

If on a winter’s night a traveller – Italo Calvino

The Grandeur that was Rome – J. C. Stobart

The Age of Augustus – Donald Earl

Great Civilizations: The Cultural History of Rome – Henri Stierlin

The Buried Cities: Pompeii and Herculaneum – Alfonso De Franciscis

All Colour Book of Roman Mythology – Peter Croft

Roman Mythology – Stewart Perowne

The World of Rome – Michael Grant

The Climax of Rome – Michael Grant

Sexual Life in Ancient Rome – Otto Kiefer

Life in Rome in Ancient Times – Paul Werner

Roman Roads of Europe – N. H. H. Sitwell

The Roman World – Michael Vickers

Monuments of Civilization: Rome – Filippo Coarelli

The Little Drummer Girl – John le Carré

Poe Must Die – Marc Olden

The Hotel New Hampshire – John Irving

Hungry as the Sea – Wilbur Smith

Christine – Stephen King

The Robot Who Looked Like Me – Robert Sheckley

Keepers of the Secrets – Philip Jose Farmer

If the Stars Are Gods – Gregory Benford & Gordon Eklund

The Solarians – Norman Spinrad

Carnacki the Ghost-Finder – William Hope Hodgson

The Enchanter Compleated – L. Sprague de Camp & Fletcher Pratt

Pattern-Master – Octavia E. Butler

Necromancer – Gordon R. Dickson

Conan the Swordsman – L. Sprague de Camp

Conan the Liberator – L. Sprague de Camp & Lin Carter

Conan the Mercenary – Andrew J. Offutt

The Sword of Skelos – Andrew J. Offutt

The Road of Kings – Karl Edward Wagner

Spellbinder – Harold Robbins

Ghosts – Ed McBain

The Great Pursuit – Tom Sharpe

The Bull from the Sea – Mary Renault

Interview with the Vampire – Anne Rice

The Dogs of War – Frederick Forsythe

Fast and Loose – Molly Parkin

The Night of Morningstar – Peter O’Donnell

M. A. S. H. Goes to San Francisco – Richard Hooker

Mike Dime – Barry Fantoni

Flash for Freedom! – George MacDonald Fraser

Sunset People – Herbert Kastle

The Girl of the Sea of Cortez – Peter Benchley

The Spy Who Loved Me – Ian Fleming

Golden Voyager – Simon Finch

The Green Ripper – John D. MacDonald

Bare Nell – Leslie Thomas

The House on the Hill – Jonathan Black

Master of the Temple – Eric Ericson

Astrology and Foretelling the Future – Thomas G. Aylesworth

The Necronomicon – Edited by George Hay with an introduction by Colin Wilson

A Reader’s Guide to Fantasy – Michael Franklin, Baird Searles & Beth Meacham

The Cosmological Eye – Henry Miller

Mirage – Boris & Doris Vallejo

The Fantastic Art of Rowena – Rowena Morrill

The King of Elfland’s Daughter – Lord Dunsany

How to Become a Virgin – Quentin Crisp

The Notched Hairpin – H. F. Heard

The Silver Arm – Jim Fitzpatrick

Hallelujah Anyway – Patrick Woodroffe

A Confederate General from Big Sur – Richard R. Brautigan

H. R. Giger’s Necronomicon – H. R. Giger

The World of the Vikings – O. Madsen

The Vikings and their Origins – David Wilson

She – H. Rider Haggard

Sudden Death – Rita Mae Brown

Tropic of Capricorn – Henry Miller

The Siege of Krishnapur – J. G. Farrell

Trout Fishing in America – Richard R. Brautigan

The Jungle Lovers – Paul Theroux

Legion – William Peter Blatty

Neighbours – Thomas Berger

The Delta Star – Joseph Wambaugh

Book of Friends – Henry Miller

Querelle of Brest – Jean Genet

Foundation’s Edge – Isaac Asimov

God Emperor of Dune – Frank Herbert

The Best Short Stories of Fredric Brown

Friday – Robert A. Heinlein

Little, Big – John Crowley

The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald

Story of O – Pauline Réage

In Watermelon Sugar – Richard R. Brautigan

Little Birds – Anais Nin

The Ghost Writer – Philip Roth

The White Paper – Jean Cocteau

The Book of Sand – Jorge Luis Borges

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13¾ – Sue Townsend

The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman – Angela Carter

Man’s Best Friend – Peter Mayle & Gray Joliffe

High Spirits – Robertson Davies

Shogun – James Clavell

The Story of I – Fiona Richmond

Tender Is The Night – F. Scott Fitzgerald


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Song for a Saturday – Long Time Comin’

It’s been a long time comin’, but now it’s here:-

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Filler content with dreams

Here’s a golden oldie that originally appeared back in The Third Alternative #41:-


Tindal Street Press pb, 159pp, £7.99                         

 Bundled together under the brand name noir, this anthology showcases the work of three young British crime writers, with somewhat mixed results.

Andrew Newsham is probably the one of the three whose literary sensibilities are closest to the mainstream. Opening piece from him ‘The Nazi Gold’ is a blackly comedic account of a heist that goes seriously wrong, a character driven story with a compelling narrative voice and some amusing changes of fortune, entertaining for the reader without treading any new ground. Criminality is somewhat marginalized in his other stories, narratives that offer us bleakly convincing studies of men on the edge. ‘Teaching a New Dog Old Tricks’ has a self-important young man in a bar getting taught a lesson by one of the regulars, a story that delights with its dialogue and the satisfying denouement, while in ‘The Party Trick’ an unhappy man indulges in a little recreational arson, as you do at such times, his mental state perfectly rendered on the page. ‘Fucked up the Ass’ is the longest and most substantial of what Newsham has to offer, with a man going through a painful divorce having trouble settling down in a new neighbourhood, while attempting to build bridges with his estranged son. Again, it’s the characterisation that makes the story, giving the reader dilemmas with which most of us can readily identify, such as awkward neighbours and difficult teenagers, with plenty of subtle touches to reveal the emotional bedrock that underpins the story.

The three pieces from Mick Scully carry a little more weight and fit more easily into a crime/noir jacket. The heartfelt ‘Abstract’ is a story about what a man will do to survive, as desperate immigrant Hamid takes on the identity of a dead man and finds himself coerced into acts he would normally shun, a beautifully written observation piece, with a neat twist at the end, one that gives the whole story more substance. ‘Secret Smile Number 2’ is a tour de force exercise in prose control, the monologue of a sociopath as he goes about his business, explaining what he does and how he justifies it to the person who just may turn out to be his next victim. The restrained and detached style of the telling makes what is revealed all the more chilling, giving us a totally convincing evocation of a disturbed mind. ‘Rain Damage’, the longest piece from Scully, tells the story of tragic Keeley, whose child was killed in a horrific accident, and the two men in her life, one on either side of the law and both partly culpable for her baby’s death. Grounded in character and with a certain grasp of why these people act as they do, it holds the attention right from the start and builds surely to an unexpected but perfectly natural climax, as emotions reach fever pitch.

H P Tinker is the joker in this pack and perhaps the one readers will find hardest to get on with. His writing is the most distinctive of the three, with stories that are rich in humour and gonzo invention, but you get the impression that he doesn’t have much time for stuff like plotting, being reluctant to do the necessary work at story building that would provide a sound foundation for his obvious gifts. It’s a case of more style but less substance, with opening story ‘The Shattered Window’ a case in point, as maverick detectives Williams and Enklemann investigate the eponymous crime and the narrative going ever more over the top with each page as absurdity is piled atop absurdity, before finally fizzling out. ‘City of Women’ follows an almost similar trajectory, with the police investigating a spate of female suicides and the writer apparently losing interest as soon as he’s caught that of the reader. The last story, ‘Blueness’, is a stream of consciousness wannabe that I felt completely out of sorts with. Much as I enjoyed the language the lack of cohesion was a serious obstacle to overcome and eventually I gave up even caring what was going on. It was a low note on which to end a mostly excellent collection.

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