Filler content with rogue chimps

Another review that appeared on the old TTA Press website back in the day:-

BAD MONKEYS by MATT RUFF
Bloomsbury paperback, 234pp, £10.99

The book opens with a young woman imprisoned in an asylum for murder, but as the resident psychiatrist talks to her a strange tale emerges. As a child Jane Charlotte was involved in the capture of a serial killer preying on young boys and thus came into the orbit of an organisation calling itself the Bad Monkeys. Years later she was recruited as a field agent by this organisation, which takes a pro-active stand in the battle against evil by killing the bad guys and has advanced technology at its disposal. And then there’s The Troop, a rival organisation dedicated to evil and with a special interest in Jane Charlotte. Naturally the psychiatrist has no difficulty demonstrating that these are all simply delusions, brought on by the guilt felt over a childhood trauma, but of course there’s more to it than that.

With its super science gimmickry and rival organisations championing good and evil, Bad Monkeys seems pitched at the same audience as TV shows like Alias and conspiracy nuts, but written with a comic book sensibility. It’s fast paced and feisty, packed with incident and invention, almost as if Ruff wants to keep the reader off balance so that there is never time to call into question the credibility of the whole, and along the way he constantly reinforces our interpretation of events as all a part of Jane Charlotte’s mental landscape. Credibility is an issue throughout though, with the technology used by these organisations sounding a note of caution, while the idea of The Troop actively promoting evil seems rather fanciful, at least as stated. Do the bad guys ever think of themselves as evil? Ruff needed to apply himself a bit more to the ideological background of this novel. And don’t even get me started on the Scary Clowns.

Bad Monkeys does hold the interest, especially in the final furlong where the changes of fortune and perception come thick and fast, but ultimately it’s like one of those Russian doll nests, where at the end you are left with nothing, except a vague feeling that the author has slipped one past you and you’re not sure exactly how.

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The Back Catalogue – 3rd Time

Another story from those days of yore when I wrote more fiction than I do now.

THE WARLORD’S TALE

Know that the writer of these words has sat at the feet of the philosophers in the Great Square of Shand and conversed with the wise men of the Elder Kingdoms. This tale then is neither the idiotic maundering of old age nor the idle fancy of untutored youth, but the simple truth.

Now in a time long ago, the warlord Ar-Djake gathered his armies and went up against the land of Tomaar. The hosts met on the desolate plain of Zoke and at the end of the day the warlord stood victorious. By his own hand he slew Vate the King, and fifty thousand, the cream of Tomaar, lay dead upon the ground for the vultures to pick at their bones. His chief captain brought the triple diadem of Tomaar and placed it on the head of Ar-Djake, so that all the land proclaimed him King.

Ar-Djake vowed that he would build a great city on the plain of Zoke to thank the gods for his victory. It was to be the most wonderful city in the entire world, so that all who visited it would marvel at the power of Ar-Djake, the King. The city was to be more glorious even than distant Shand, and it was to be called Ar-Djake in honour of its founder, so that his name would live forevermore. The most renowned architects and engineers and builders in all the land were summoned to the court of the King, and half a million of Tomaar were enslaved so that Ar-Djake’s dream could be made reality.

Of all the buildings in this city of wonders Ar-Djake decreed that the most magnificent was to be the temple of his patron, Ar the God of War and Warriors, who had granted the King victory on the bloody field of Zoke and a hundred other battlegrounds, by whose grace he ruled over Tomaar and the lands beyond. This temple was to be the largest building ever fashioned by mortal hands. Its spires were to pierce the fabric of heaven and its walls were to be lined with beaten gold and encrusted with precious gemstones. At the heart of this edifice was to be a shrine, dominated by a giant statue of the War God hewn from a single block of white Parian marble, which had been hauled from far off Colande at the cost of a king’s ransom. Only an artist of genius could be entrusted with such an important work, and so couriers were sent at the King’s command to scour the four corners of the world in search of Andelfji, the legendary sculptor who had fashioned the awesome statue of The Trix, which overlooked Shand’s harbour in the days of that city’s greatest glory.

Andelfji came in the twelfth year of the city’s construction, and many who had eagerly awaited his arrival now shuddered at the sight of the sepulchral sculptor. Unnaturally tall and gaunt, he was dressed entirely in black, a patchwork of rags and tatters that resembled funeral cerements and gave off an unwholesome odour. What little could be seen of his skin was covered by a fine network of veins, as if the man had been turned inside out. His bloodshot eyes seemed to look right through whatever they focused on, as if he saw something more, something else, and no-one could long endure that damning stare. Accompanying the sculptor was his assistant, a mute and hideously deformed dwarf whose facial features were always concealed by a leather mask.

Ominous signs and portents were seen throughout Tomaar that year. Fiery comets chased each others’ tails across the night sky. Infants were found murdered in their beds, the young bodies horribly mutilated. Falls of blood were common and watchmen reported sighting strange creatures on the outskirts of Ar-Djake at night, neither man nor ape but a terrible amalgam of both life forms. A mysterious plague that made men’s bodies rot and fall apart while they yet lived struck down a full third of the King’s work force as the physicians stood by helpless. The superstitious whispered that the Dark God had at last woken from his aeon’s long sleep and his minions now stalked the land.

Andelfji was seldom seen. He worked alone, slept in the temple behind barred doors and ate his meals there. Only the sculptor’s assistant and the King himself were allowed to intrude upon the artist’s solitary strivings. Ar-Djake spent long hours closeted alone with the sculptor and began to neglect the duties incumbent upon his high office. The King’s manner was greatly changed. Often at night he went forth in disguise, to consort with whores and quaff immense quantities of wine in the lowest taverns. His steely sinews were replaced by fat and the mighty warrior who had strode the battlefields of his youth like an angry lion remained only as a memory in the hearts of those who loved him. An inner fire seemed to consume the King. Many thought that Andelfji had cast an evil spell over Ar-Djake, but none dared to speak this opinion aloud for fear of the King’s spies who were always abroad and faithfully about their master’s business.

There came a time when only the head of Ar remained to be chiselled from the marble and the dignitaries and ladies of the court were permitted to view that great statue for the first time. In stunned amazement they gazed at the faithful likeness of their sovereign in full panoply of battle and wielding a mighty broadsword. As one the horrified captains and ministers begged Ar-Djake to desist in this terrible act of blasphemy for all their sakes, but the King stood firm against their clamour. The representation of Ar should resemble him down to the very smallest particular. Thus did Ar-Djake set his face against both the gods and men.

Andelfji locked himself in the temple, denying even the King entry. He worked all through the day and long into the night. The constant clink of his sculptor’s tools chipping away marble echoed preternaturally loud through the halls of the neighbouring great palace and all who heard that fateful sound shuddered inwardly.

That night a storm like none ever known before raged over all Tomaar. Great battalions of cloud swept in from the east obscuring the face of the moon with their dark mass. Rain lashed down and jagged streaks of lightning rent the night air. The people shivered in their tiny houses and huddled together for warmth and comfort, while the land itself seemed to buck and heave beneath their feet like a tormented creature in the last extremities of death. Just before dawn the storm broke suddenly. An ominous quiet hung over the benighted city of Ar-Djake and then shattered as a blood curdling scream rang out from the environs of the temple.

The members of the royal court ran out into the suddenly calm night, many of them still dressed in their sleeping garments. The great temple door stood barred against them and no-one answered their hammered demands for admittance. Taking command the Chief Minister summoned a dozen guardsmen with a stout battering ram to force entry. The metal reinforced wood resisted the ram with a baleful groaning, like a lost soul in agony, and then gave way abruptly with a mighty crash.

Just inside the door the party stumbled over the recumbent body of Andelfji’s assistant. There were signs that the dwarf had been involved in a fierce struggle. His robes were torn and bloody. In his hand the dwarf clutched a dagger of curious design, its hilt adorned with arcane symbols and the saw-toothed blade stained bright crimson. A rope burn or cut encircled his bull neck and at one place there was an indentation whose shape resembled that of the King’s coronation ring. The Chief Minister dispatched several guards in search of Ar-Djake and then reached over to remove the dwarf’s mask, but before he could tear it away the creature’s body crumbled to fine powder in front of their eyes. A gust of icy wind seemed to blow over them from out of the shrine, followed by another appalling scream.

With the Chief Minister at their head the bravest members of the party pressed forward into the sanctuary, nervous fingers dancing close to sword hilts. The statue of Ar stood as before, but now it was surmounted by a human head, the flesh and blood image of the King himself. Slowly the soldiers and courtiers shuffled forward, scarcely daring to breathe, and then Ar-Djake’s eyes flickered open freezing them all in place. His cracked and bloodied lips parted to whisper barely audible words in a hideous unknown tongue that scorched the souls of all who stood close enough to hear, so that afterwards their sleep was always troubled by vague and nameless fears. Finally Ar-Djake screamed, a sound to chill the blood in human veins and break the spell that held them all motionless. His head fell forward and toppled to the ground, at last devoid of the unholy life that had animated it.

At that moment several guards burst in to report the discovery of Ar-Djake’s headless corpse in the royal bedchamber beside the obscenely mutilated body of his favourite concubine. Those first upon the scene claimed to have seen a head of white Parian marble atop the King’s bloody neck, but carved in a visage that was inhuman and terrible to behold.

And so a new King came to reign in fabled Tomaar and the statue of the God of War was destroyed at his command. Though many sought him no trace of the sculptor Andelfji was ever found. Ar-Djake’s head was burnt after ritual purification and the ashes were scattered far out at sea. The room containing his body was walled up, its whereabouts forgotten by all. His name was cursed the length and breadth of the land. The city that had been his dream was left unfinished and abandoned by the royal court for cheerier climes. It became a lair for jackals and their sinister brethren, werecreatures of the night.

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Song for a Saturday – Holiday

We all need one.

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Filler content from Innsmouth – Part 2

Following on from yesterday’s blog post, the second part of a feature that originally appeared in Black Static #48:-

H. P. LOVECRAFT SLEEPS WITH THE FISHES (continued)

After an introduction by editor Jones in which he details the previous volume’s path to publication, WEIRD SHADOWS OVER INNSMOUTH (Titan Books pb, 355pp, £8.99)
kicks off with a ‘Discarded Draft of “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”’. Weighing in at ten pages, this curiosity piece presents several scenes in embryo from that seminal novella and HPL scholars may find it of great interest to compare these sketches with the finished product. Next up we have John Glasby’s ‘The Quest for Y’Ha-Nthlei’, the latter being the name of the submerged city of the Deep Ones sited just off Innsmouth. Presented as the reports of three federal agents who took part in the raid on Innsmouth and attack on the Deep Ones, it fills in some of the details from Lovecraft’s novella, giving us a desperate and action packed account of the fight against the creatures from the ocean and the inbred populace of Innsmouth itself, though I have to admit only with the appearance of a giant sea beast ready to attack the navy’s submarine does the outcome really feel in doubt, as the Deep Ones themselves seem only too prone to the effects of bullets.

In ‘Brackish Waters’ Richard A. Lupoff uses an historic event, a massive explosion that took place at Port Chicago in 1944, as the backdrop to his story of an academic who gets involved with a conspiracy theorist group believing in the Deep Ones, but much of the thrust of the piece deals with Delbert Marston’s personal voyage of discovery, including his transformation into one of the Deep Ones, or a hybrid at least, the story cleverly merging the personal and the historic, and holding the attention all the way. There’s a more minimalist feel to Basil Copper’s ‘Voices in the Water’, which in essence is a haunted house story with an ichthyic twist. The artist Roberts buys an old mill, but is gradually driven insane by the voices that he hears originating from the stream that flows beneath the building. Told mainly from the perspective of family friend Kent, it painstakingly and credibly details one man’s psychological dissolution, but with more than enough to suggest that something much worse is taking place in the background of the narrative.

‘Another Fish Story’ by Kim Newman has his Luciferian figure Derek Leech (from novel The Quorum and elsewhere) adrift in the desert landscape of 1968 California and encountering the Manson family, with a descendant of the Marsh clan lingering in a bathtub and planning to bring on the apocalypse by means of flooding. This is an inventive, twisty tale, with numerous references to be picked up on as you’d expect from Newman, not least the identity of the Creighton character, and underlying all that a commentary on the true nature of the apocalypse, one that seems painfully pertinent to our present day. Drug addiction is touched on in Paul McAuley’s ‘Take Me to the River’, the story told from the viewpoint of a second string musician trying to save the life of his drug dealer friend, whose existence is menaced by a creature stranded in the nearby river, one that feeds on the life force of others and needs them to get itself free. McAuley captures perfectly the feel of the times and world in which the story is set, with a wealth of background detail on the lives of musicians and dealers that adds verisimilitude to what, ultimately, is a tale of the fantastic, one that might otherwise stretch credibility.

‘The Coming’ by Hugh B. Cave has a reporter involved with a religious group trying to pray away the end of the world, only what they encounter are monstrous creatures derived from industrial pollution of the nearby water course. Though more standalone than Lovecraft derivative, it’s an engaging piece, written in an agreeable voice, one that shows respect for the characters even though their beliefs are somewhat out there, and with a truly repellent vision of monsters at its resolution. There’s a similar feel to ‘Eggs’ by Steve Rasnic Tem, as a terminally ill man and his pregnant wife retreat to a lakeside cottage, only to find that something alien is close at hand, the story offering a compelling picture of personal dissolution, one in which the macabre and outré elements, effective and unsettling as they are, only play counterpoint to what is going on in the lives of the characters. ‘From Cabinet 34, Drawer 6’ finds Caitlín R. Kiernan in a playful mood, giving us a story in which a museum worker finds a fossil relic that seems to completely undermine our current understanding of the world’s past. It’s a story buzzing with manic energy, conspiracy theories and larger than life characters, and in a move that seems obvious with hindsight, ties Innsmouth mythology in with the film of The Creature from the Black Lagoon.

Ramsey Campbell’s ‘Raised by the Moon’ has a teacher driving off the map and ending up in the isolated and decaying seaside town of Baiting. There are some wonderfully creepy moments as he encounters the perfect host and hostess, and then stumbles across the town’s ichthyic denizens, only to himself be ensnared in something far more sinister. It is perhaps the most evocative and unsettling of the stories in this anthology, taking Lovecraft’s ideas and giving them an even more sinister turn, though the motives of the story’s villains is almost altruistic in intent. A career burglar steals some Innsmouth jewellery from a house in ‘Fair Exchange’ by Michael Marshall Smith, but finds that he himself is the one who has fallen foul of something terrible. Smith is superb at getting us inside the head of his character, laying out the various theories that he uses to justify the way in which he acts, and then subjecting the character to something truly awful, though its nature can only be seen from the outside, by the reader.

The best has been saved to last with ‘The Taint’, a sixty page novella by Brian Lumley. It focuses on a small group of people in a dying seaside village, professionals who feel that they are slightly above the rest of the community. But as the story unfolds links to Innsmouth are revealed and what is actually taking place is a look at how the Deep Ones and their hybrid progeny might survive and flourish in the modern world. It is a fascinating and thoroughly absorbing story, one that has the distinction of not showing the sea creatures as monsters, but simply as a different life form, one that is trying to hang on against the odds. Lumley gives us credible and fully rounded characters, while seamlessly tying his story into the greater Innsmouth theme and at the same time moving the narrative on, doing for the Deep Ones what Rice, and then everybody else, first did for the vampire archetype. It is a stunning end to a very strong anthology, one that once again does the business in entertaining the reader and paying tribute and reverence to its source material.

Going down for the third time, WEIRDER SHADOWS OVER INNSMOUTH (Titan Books pb, 377pp, £8.99) opens with an introduction from editor Jones and a brief, mood setting poem from Lovecraft himself entitled ‘The Port’. After that we get ‘Innsmouth Bane’ from John Glasby, which refers back to Lovecraft’s text, detailing the coming of the Deep Ones to the town and ensuing power struggle, as witnessed by the ancestor of Zadok Allen. It’s a well-told story, but one that really adds nothing to what we already know of the back story, only explains how that information was passed down.

Kim Newman produces a delightful parody come pastiche of the Boy’s Own Adventure type comics with ‘Richard Riddle, Boy Detective in “The Case of the French Spy”’. Told in a slightly breathless style it details how a Deep One is rescued from the clutches of an evil preacher by an intrepid band of children and is a pure delight to read, with touches of sly humour and a subtext that will only be understood and fully appreciated by the adults in the audience. Lovecraft and August Derleth join forces for ‘Innsmouth Clay’, the undemanding and entertaining tale of what happens to a sculptor who moves to Innsmouth and falls under the influence of the Deep Ones. In ‘The Archbishop’s Well’ by Reggie Oliver, an archaeological investigation arouses the unhealthy interest of a Dagon cultist, with the result that something evil may be unleashed. Set in 1938 it captures well the mood of pre-war Britain, with a touch of Wodehouse to the writing and, in the figure of the cultist, perhaps a nod of the hat to jingoism.

Private investigator Nick Nightmare gets drawn into a power struggle between various Innsmouth factions in ‘You Don’t Want to Know’, the story written with a hard boiled sensibility and an awareness of its own essential absurdity, all of which makes it great fun with engaging characters and an interesting angle on the activities of the Deep Ones. Beautifully written, ‘Fish Bride’ by Caitlín R. Kiernan tells the story of the doomed relationship between a man and a woman on the brink of transformation into one of the Deep Ones. In ‘The Hag Stone’ by Conrad Williams an elderly man who stays at a wartime fort in the Channel Islands becomes drawn into the activities of the Deep Ones when a series of murders seems to lead right to his door. As ever with Williams the story is splendidly told, with details piling atop each other until character and reader alike cannot deny the obvious, while the wildness of the story’s isolated location, its disconnect from the modern world, is powerfully realised on the page.

Caitlín R. Kiernan’s ‘On the Reef’ recounts the details of a ceremony at which cultists sacrifice themselves to the service of the ancient gods, the story perfectly capturing the essential weirdness of its material, the strangeness of what is taking place juxtaposed with the very human need to feel potent, that our actions matter. ‘The Song of Sighs’ by Angela Slatter takes us to an unusual academic institution, one where a professor is remembering her past and coming to a realisation of her true nature, the story told mainly through suggestion and a sense of dreaming, before ending on a powerful, assertive note, one that does not bode well for mankind. A woman with animal whispering abilities is taken to a secret US prison in ‘The Same Deep Waters As You’ by Brian Hodge, her task to communicate with the prisoners taken from Innsmouth when the town was overrun by the authorities in 1928. This is another story that builds splendidly, each detail fitting into the overall pattern and helping to make it credible, and while solving the riddle of what happened to the captives taken back in 1928 it also addresses modern concerns, such as Guantanamo Bay. From Ramsey Campbell we have the darkly comedic ‘The Winner’, with a man stepping into the wrong pub and finding himself in a world that is disturbingly off kilter with the rest of consensus reality.

Completing a trilogy of tales by Caitlín R. Kiernan, ‘The Transition of Elizabeth Haskings’ elicits our sympathy for a woman who is afflicted with the Innsmouth disease, its matter of fact relation showing that Elizabeth is as human as the rest of us, beset by the same appetites and desires, despite the physical differences that set her apart from the common stock of humanity. An artist with a painting block finds that Carmel is not like other towns in ‘The Chain’ by Michael Marshall Smith, the story written with an almost Stepford Wives feel to the action, and an ending that, after the constraint shown throughout, really lets rip in the final reel as the Deep Ones and their overlords take centre stage. It is, as the title implies, a story that celebrates and marks the connectivity of everything.

From Simon Kurt Unsworth we have ‘Into the Water’ as television journalists report back on unprecedented flooding that threatens the UK. Of course, with various occult signs and cryptic comments from some of the characters, it’s implied that the rising water levels are the result of intervention by Cthulhu and his peers, but as a side issue Unsworth addresses issues such as global warming and its consequences, his story bringing to mind the flooding and environmental concerns of recent years. Angela Slatter is back with the brief and mythic ‘Rising, Not Dreaming’ in which a musician lets down his wife by allowing the Old Ones to wake, the story entertaining in its way but not really engaging the interest as strongly as one might hope.

Last of all we have ‘The Long Last Night’ from Brian Lumley, set in a future where the world is ruled by the Old Ones and the remnants of humanity live on in the cracks or serve their alien masters. One man hopes to blow up the Twisted Tower, home of the entity known as Bgg’ha. It’s an engaging read, particularly for the picture of a world ruled by the Old Ones, but at the same time somewhat predictable, to the point that you feel the scientist character must be the only one who is actually surprised by the act of betrayal that leads into the story’s grim denouement. No matter, as I enjoyed it despite that, and in fact nearly all of these stories had something to commend them. Let’s hope that the fourth volume of Innsmouth tales Jones mentions in his introduction doesn’t turn out to be the one that got away.

Other stuff I should mention. Fedogan & Bremer sent us a review copy of their edition of WEIRDER SHADOWS OVER INNSMOUTH (F&C hc, 332pp, $36), and for those who like rarity the publisher also have a limited edition retailing at $110. All three volumes have contributors’ notes in which the writers not only provide biographical details but also talk informatively about the genesis of their tales. And there is an abundance of illustrations provided by Jim Pitts, Dave Carson, Martin McKenna, Bob Eggleton, Randy Broecker, Les Edwards, and Allan Servoss, all of which should leave you feeling appropriately squamous.

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Filler content from Innsmouth – Part 1

The first part of a feature that originally appeared in Black Static #48:-

H. P. LOVECRAFT SLEEPS WITH THE FISHES

While most of us abhor his racist views, there is no denying that H. P. Lovecraft’s influence on the weird tale and horror fiction itself has been immense, with a plethora of writers over the years having adapted his ideas to their own ends. Many have taken inspiration from ‘The Shadow Over Innsmouth’, HPL’s tale of a decaying New England fishing port and the ichthyoid beings that live in the sea outside its harbour, exerting a malign influence on the town.

Back at the end of the 1980s editor Stephen Jones cast his net upon these agreeably troubled waters and hauled in a bumper catch of Innsmouth derived fiction. These tales eventually saw publication by American press Fedogan & Bremer in 1994 as the World Fantasy Award nominated anthology Shadows Over Innsmouth. Jones returned to the theme twice more, with further volumes released by F&B in 2005 and 2013, and so we come to the present day with the Titan Books publication of all three volumes in a uniform paperback edition.

SHADOWS OVER INNSMOUTH (Titan Books pb, 485pp, £8.99), after an introduction by Jones, appropriately opens with the novella that started it all, ‘The Shadow Over Innsmouth’ by H. P. Lovecraft, a classic and seminal horror story in which a man visits an isolated seaside town where the inhabitants have inbred with the Deep Ones, creatures from the sea, the author’s disgust at this miscegenation coming over on the page, and with the various elements of the tale precisely delineated. Basil Copper takes up the tale and history with ‘Beyond the Reef’, moving events further inland to Arkham and the Miskatonic University, where workmen discover a series of tunnels leading to the sea. Concurrent with this we get a police investigation that leads to Innsmouth and an academic attempting to translate certain ancient tomes, all of which is wrapped up with a desperate fight for survival in the tunnels. It’s a bravura effort from Copper, the various strands merging perfectly and the story holding the interest as the reader watches the pieces of the puzzle slotting neatly into place.

In ‘The Big Fish’ Jack Yeovil tries to capture something of the style of Raymond Chandler, with the Deep Ones and their nefarious schemes transplanted to Bay City. Against the backdrop of the Second World War and a country terrified of Japanese attacks, a private investigator is hired to find the missing baby of a crime baron and a film star, the trail leading him to an offshore gambling boat and an encounter with one of the Marsh brood, the “ruling” family of Innsmouth. It’s a delightfully tongue in cheek piece, with the hard boiled and world weary tone captured perfectly, a wealth of genre references for the aficionado, and some memorable characters, all wrapped up in a compelling and credible plotline. One of the weaker pieces, Guy N. Smith’s story has its protagonist undertaking a ‘Return to Innsmouth’ and losing his shadow as a result, the story unmemorable and with a going through the motions quality to it. More impressive was ‘The Crossing’ by Adrian Cole in which a man’s search for his absentee father leads him to a fishing village in North Devon and an encounter with the numinous as he learns the terrible secret of his family’s line and what is expected of him. Cole cleverly ties his story into the legends of Innsmouth, but gives it a subtext concerning familial duty and what a father will do for the son he loves, the idea of sacrifice and bargains with the unspeakable at the story’s heart.

A woman confronts the loss of her latest husband in the enigmatically titled ‘Down to the Boots’ by D. F. Lewis, the shortest story in the book and one in which the obliqueness of the prose reinforces the impression of something terrible taking place off the page and captures how people are reconciled to and able to live with such events. Ramsey Campbell’s ‘The Church in High Street’ builds its effects gradually, as a man goes in search of a friend who went to live in the accursed town of Temphill, but in doing so finds rather more than he bargained for, the story strong on atmosphere and the sense of something implacable snapping at the edges of existence, willing to devour the whole of human life and still not satiate its monstrous appetite. ‘Innsmouth Gold’ by David A. Sutton makes for an engaging read, with its account of a man who goes seeking gold abandoned in the swampland around the deserted town, tying in the legends of the area effectively, but while entertaining enough in a pass the time sort of way the reason given for our hero’s search seemed rather tenuous to me, a bit too much clutching at straws for plot convenience.

In ‘Daoine Domhain’ by Peter Tremayne a man learns what happened to his grandfather, who went missing on a visit to his ancestral Ireland, and that he is to share a similar fate, the story absorbing and holding the attention until the expected denouement, even if with hindsight it does seem slightly contrived. Kim Newman’s brief ‘A Quarter to Three’ is a sheer delight and ends with an audacious piece of wordplay guaranteed to bring a smile to even the most curmudgeonly of readers’ faces, as a pregnant teenager waits in a rundown diner for the father of her child to arrive. There’s little new to ‘The Tomb of Priscus’ by Brian Mooney and with a cosmetic change or two it could easily pass muster as a bog standard tale of a revenant disturbed by an archaeological dig, and yet while I might seem dismissive it was in fact my favourite story in the book, thanks to the author’s lightness of touch, the effortless storytelling, and the creation of a larger than life, ebullient hero to whom the protagonist plays the role of amanuensis. All things considered it was a splendid piece of entertainment.

Brian Stableford applies scientific method in ‘The Innsmouth Heritage’ with his protagonist studying the genetic makeup of the town’s oldest families, but not realising what he is dealing with. It works both as scientific study and as a tale of genuine tragedy with a romantic sidebar, holding the interest all the way and ending on a note of ambiguity crossed with bitterness. In ‘The Homecoming’ Nicholas Royle reinvents Lovecraft’s novella as the tale of a political exile returning to Romania after the fall of Ceausescu. It’s an intriguing concept and works very well, with events paralleling those in the source material and a similar brooding atmosphere of decay and desuetude, but given a freshness and relevance thanks to the political dimension of the narrative. David Langford takes an equally novel approach in ‘Deepnet’, with the Deep Ones infiltrating human society through the means of computer software, and at a push you can find a subtext concerning the pervasive presence of Microsoft in our world today.

There’s a touch of The Wicker Man in ‘To See the Sea’ by Michael Marshall Smith as a man and his wife go to stay in the seaside town off which her mother nearly died in a shipwreck, but the truth is even more strange and frightening. It’s a story that builds well, with the atmosphere of an insular community captured perfectly on the page, all of which leads into a truly unsettling end reveal. Brian Lumley’s story ‘Dagon’s Bell’ has a man and his wife take up residence in Kettlethorpe Farm, whose previous owner disappeared without explanation. At first they think the place is haunted, but something far more terrible lurks in the tunnels beneath the ancient building, the story a textbook example of its type and thoroughly entertaining for the time that it takes to read, though I doubt I’ll remember much about it in a year or so.

Finally we have ‘Only the End of the World Again’ by Neil Gaiman, the narrative bubbling with energy as the werewolf anti-hero thwarts an attempt to summon the Old Ones by the members of a cult. As ever with Gaiman the prose is effervescent and the characters are larger than life, while odd touches of detail, such as the undigested fingers of a small child, help to keep it all painfully real. It was a strong ending to an overall excellent collection of tales, all of which pay appropriate tribute to their source material while attempting to move the narrative on from Lovecraft’s point of origin.

(TO BE CONTINUED)

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Dennis does Menace

Three recently watched horror(ish) movies starring Dennis Quaid.

Cold Creek Manor (2003)

Dennis plays documentary maker Cooper Tilson, who moves to an isolated house in the country with wife Leah (Sharon Stone), daughter Kristen (Kristen Stewart, who presumably got the role because of her name and ability to convincingly play a bratty teenager), and son Jesse (Ryan Wilson – never heard of again), whose near death in an RTA was the prompt for their relocation from the big, crazy city. Almost immediately they connect with former owner Brad Massie (Stephen Dorff in fine fettle), who lost the house to the bank after his wife and children left him for parts unknown. Feeling guilty that they got his family home for a song, the couple hire Brad to help with the renovations that are needed, but he has an agenda of his own, which does not bode well for the Tilson family. The plot precis on the back of the DVD case suggests that there is something spooky about these goings on, but in reality the story is entirely grounded in psychology and has more in common with such outings as The Hand That Rocks the Cradle. Dorff makes a very credible psychopath, waging a campaign of terror against the family, while background details of the house’s history add another frisson. There’s an interesting backdrop too, with some of the close knit community resentful of the outsiders who have got a bargain at the cost to one of their own, feelings which Cooper exacerbates by his own behaviour, so that at times his prying makes you almost sympathise with Brad. On the downside, I wondered exactly what the Cooper children did for school, wasn’t entirely convinced by the family’s reasons for relocation and speed in doing so, and thought the ending was unconvincing and needlessly dragged out for dramatic effect. Slightly more to enjoy than not, but not really the film I was expecting and one that could have been much better had they worked a bit more on the human interest angle and played up to subplot regarding the insularity of rural communities.

Horsemen (2009)

A film that wants to be the new Seven but is a five at best. Dennis is detective Aidan Breslin, investigating a series of horrific murders that he believes have a Biblical backdrop and are being committed by a group modelling themselves on the four horsemen of the Apocalypse. Breslin is distanced from his two young sons, whose mother died in a car crash three years previously, failing as a father through always putting his work first. As the case progresses he comes to see that he has been targeted by the killers for a reason that horrifies even more than the murders. There is a sense of despair to this film, a feeling that the killings are a cry for help from those emotionally isolated from their families, who believe that killing is the only way to get attention (and to say more, would be to stray into spoiler territory, if I haven’t done so already). But set against the gore effects and convincing grittiness, is the sheer unreality of what is taking place, the way in which the horsemen go from killing others to killing themselves, the economic and physical constraints that their actions would seem to pose and for which no satisfactory explanation is provided. The idea is intriguing, and some of the characters, particularly Ziyi Zhang who is engagingly over the top as Kristin, are thoroughly engaging, but overall this simply isn’t convincing, asks too much of the viewer in the way of suspension of disbelief.

Legion (2010)

Dennis plays Bob, the owner of a roadside diner in the New Mexico desert that is on its last legs. Pregnant waitress Charlie is carrying the saviour of humanity and, with the end of days pending, archangel Michael (played by Paul Bettany with a poker face, bad attitude, and case filled with automatic weaponry) turns up to save Charlie and child from an angelic horde champing at the bit to slay her and put matters apocalyptic beyond any last minute save. By way of a finale we have Michael taking on rival archangel Gabriel. Well now, Prophecy it ain’t. On the other hand substitute robots for machines, and the future for Heaven, and you’re close to Terminator 2 territory, even down to the survivors driving off into the sundown in their jeep as ominous music plays at the end. Best you can say about the cast is that they’re competent enough in roles that make no real demand on their talents. The star of the show here is the sfx, with some mildly gob smacking scenes committed to celluloid, such as the final fight between the angels, and the Ice Cream Man with his pneumatic arms and legs, but my personal favourite was the nasty granny and her wall crawling antics. Okay, it’s all entirely predictable, even if it seems to be edging towards the controversial with angels in lieu of demons as the bad guys and the idea of a God who isn’t omniscient and can be shown how to act better, and most of what appears on the screen has been done before and mostly better, but as long as you don’t take it seriously this is an entertaining enough odyssey into the end of days subgenre. And I really do like the idea that God could get tired of all the bullshit. Yes, that needed saying. I’m not God, and even I’m tired of all the bullshit.

I see that I have three SF films starring Dennis Quaid sitting patiently in my TBV pile, so we could come back to this actor at some point in the future.

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Trailer Trash – Jason Bourne

You have no idea who you’re dealing with, unless you watched the first three films in the franchise, that is.

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