Still You Turn Me On

I’m not sure where E and P have got to, but here’s the L of ELP singing what is probably my favourite song from their back catalogue.

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OR: The Travelling Vampire Show

A review that originally appeared in The Third Alternative #25:-

THE TRAVELLING VAMPIRE SHOW

Richard Laymon

Headline hb, 314pp, £17.99

The latest vehicle to roll off Laymon’s production line, Show is a lot more roadworthy than much of his recent work, with novels like Bite and the lamentable After Midnight showing signs of veering off into their very own sub-genre of crazed horror farce.

Posters advertising the Vampire Show’s arrival for one midnight performance only spring up all over the town of Granville. Needless to say our three sixteen-year-old heroes, Police Chief’s son and straight shooter Dwight, manipulative Rusty and tomboy Slim, are eager to cop a look at the woman billed as the one and only known vampire in captivity. Unfortunately they aren’t old enough to attend the performance, so decide instead to trek out to isolated Janks Field during the day in the hope of catching a glimpse of the actress who plays the gorgeous Valeria (these kids are cool, they don’t believe in vampires). Naturally things go wrong from the off, resulting in a slew of incidents that culminate in a midnight set to with the Vampire Show road crew.

This reads like one of Bradbury’s Green Town, Illinois stories, such as Something Wicked This Way Comes, but with elements grafted on from Stephen King’s oeuvre (mad dogs, teenage hoodlums, child abuse etc.), and a far less subtle diabolic double act than Cougar and Dark. Surprisingly for Laymon there’s no real violence until the last fifty pages (an observation, not a complaint), but it’s as fast paced as anything he’s written, with a plot that effortlessly racks up the tension and enough twists and turns to keep the canniest reader guessing what’ll happen next. Characterisation, mainly rendered through dialogue, is excellent, the three teenagers convincingly portrayed as sex obsessed halfwits with their hormones raging out of control. Only the token adult, Dwight’s stepsister Lee, lets the side down; she’s supposed to be a teacher and responsible, but much of the time acts like your stereotypical dumb blonde. And near the end, after so much good work, it all nearly falls apart in a finale that reads like a Benny Hill sketch with added ketchup and sharp, pointy things, but fortunately Laymon reins himself in before things go totally gaga. The overall package, while nobody is going to claim it as great literature or cutting edge horror, delivers thrills and chills with enough chutzpah to keep the campers happy.

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Fanfare for the Common Man

Emerson, Lake and Palmer made the list of artists with 50 year old albums in 2021 with two entries, Tarkus and Pictures at an Exhibition. I was a big fan of ELP back in the day, with most of their albums on vinyl including these two, but they haven’t survived the purges of yesteryear. However I do still have CDs of work by Mussorgsky and Copland, who composed this little ditty, which I believe I am correct in saying was the only time ELP broke into the single charts.

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OR: Don’t Tell Me The Truth About Love

A review that originally appeared in The Third Alternative #27:-

DON’T TELL ME THE TRUTH ABOUT LOVE

Dan Rhodes

Fourth Estate hb, 191pp, £12

Rhodes’s second collection consists of seven stories of varying lengths. In ‘The Carolingian Period’ a chance encounter brings home to an ageing academic how he’s wasted his life. A man ignored by the woman he loves, a musician, is transformed into ‘The Violincello’, only to lose out again. The hero of ‘Glass Eyes’ has to prove his love in dramatic fashion, while in Madamoiselle Arc-en-ciel’ a man completely misjudges a woman’s feelings. In ‘Landfall’ an obsessive man and woman collide. ‘The Painting’ fatally beguiles all who see it, while ‘Beautiful Consuela’ demands of her husband the ultimate proof of his devotion.

Rhodes presents the most unlikely people and events with enough conviction to carry the reader along in his wake. There’s a magic realist feel to what’s on the page, with the stories all set in some fabulous never-never land, one so like our own world but not really a part of it, a place where the fantastic is an everyday occurrence, remarked upon in the same way that we discuss the weather. As with Anthropology humour is an essential ingredient of the mix, but this time around more obviously tinged with sadness. And the truth about love? It’s all done with smoke and mirrors, sleight of hand and misdirection, a conjuror’s trick that delights but will fall apart if we examine it closely or ask too many questions. Hence the plea not to be told. Cherish your illusions.

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Trailer Trash – The Underground Railway

A ten episode series based on Colson Whitehead’s acclaimed novel will debut in its entirety on May 14th on Amazon Prime Video.

Here’s the trailer.

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Aqualung

Let’s finish Jethro Tull month with the title track from their fifty year old album.

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OR: Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet #10

A review that originally appeared in The Fix #5:-

LADY CHURCHILL’S ROSEBUD WRISTLET #10

Edited by Gavin J. Grant & Kelly Link

Whimsy is the order of the day, as the title of this American magazine might suggest, an impression reinforced by the black and white cover image. Typos are short on the ground though some deliberate errors contribute to the general air of zaniness. Some pages have information about various types of tea printed lengthways in the margin. Are these people kooky, or what? By way of non-fiction we get zine reviews, brief enough to pass muster as back cover blurbs, and a film column discussing Spider Baby, labelled ‘The Maddest Story Ever Told’, which sounds quite interesting, though sadly I suspect it’s a spoof. In a lengthy and well argued article, L. Timmel Duchamp examines feminism in crime fiction by way of the books of Joanne Dobson. There are three poems by Charles Coleman Finlay, which are rather better on a second reading, but don’t risk a third as you might become addicted. Mention should also be made of the subscription offers, which quite tickled my fancy (eg for $628 you get four issues plus ‘two tickets to a Major League Soccer game of your choice, a night at the Paramount Hotel in NY, dinner at a half decent restaurant and a dark wool sweater. Probably blue, but tastes change over time’. Sounds hard to resist).

Stories then. Eight of them. Leading off is ‘The Mushroom’ by Brian Conn, a surreal take on Invasion of the Body Snatchers, with two boys, Ood and Ott, discovering that people in their neighbourhood are really mushrooms. It holds the interest, with strong hints of paranoia and how sinister the world can seem when seen through the eyes of a child. Steve Bratman’s ‘The Fat Suit’ is in a more whimsical vein altogether, but with a serious point at back of the dry humour, as thin men take on more presence in the world courtesy of padding. ‘Lost Connections’ by Barbara Krasnoff strikes a more sombre note, the bittersweet story of a woman who, thanks to a new technology, is allowed to view events in the past of her family, but is left frustrated by her inability to effect history, an intriguing idea that is given genuine emotional resonance thanks to the writer’s skill. In the bizarre ‘People Stuff’ by Greg van Eekhout man’s best friend nastily turns the tables on his master, an economical slice of black comedy, while Jeffrey Ford rings the changes on National Velvet with ‘What’s Sure to Come’, an engrossing and agreeable mix of fantasy and family saga, with a grandmother who dreams the winners of horse races.

On the down side we have Geoffrey H. Godwin’s first person paranoia rant ‘Stoddy Awchaw’, whose eponymous monster is going to get you no matter where you hide, a story that is too slight and lacking in purpose to be anything more than vaguely irritating. Amber van Dyk in ‘Sleeping, Waking, Nightfall’ tries to do something new with the werewolf, telling the story from the viewpoint of a creature held captive by humans to exhibit for profit, but it has nothing much to add to the canon and the disjointed narrative structure tends to alienate the reader. More rewardingly there’s ‘Born on the Edge of an Adjective’ by Christopher Barzak, the story of two men and the strange woman who comes between them, a compelling piece about unrequited love and the bonds that hold people together, ending on a note of ambiguity that is bizarre and yet has about it a feeling of emotional rightness.

LCRW impressed me. The magazine’s refusal to take itself seriously on the one hand and a selection of quality fiction on the other proved a winning combination.

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Trailer Trash – Mirrorland

Back in the day posting film trailers used to be a regular thing on this blog, but it’s something that’s fallen away in this age of Covid-19, along with the film industry itself.

We’ll be back in the multiplexes sooner or later, stuffing ourselves with overpriced popcorn and fizzy drinks, and film trailers will return when the stars align, but for now here is something different, a book trailer, and one I’m really pleased to be showcasing as I love nearly everything I’ve read by Carole Johnstone and am delighted to see her novel picked up by a ‘Big Five’ publisher (or is it ‘Big Four’ now?)

Wishing Carole every success with Mirrorland.

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The Whistler

A happy song from the band:-

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OR: Artemis #7

A review that originally appeared in The Fix #5:-

ARTEMIS #7

Edited by Ian Randal Strock

Artemis is published by LRC Publications Inc, in association with DNA Publications. LRC stands for Lunar Resources Company, and the magazine declares its support for The Artemis Project, an organisation set up to finance a return to the moon through private funding, a real life exemplar that harks back to pulp glory days when space projects were always the preserve of wealthy philanthropists and altruistic companies, while government got on with mucking up everything else. To be fair they make it sound eminently plausible, and for those who want to see manned spaceflight back off the drawing board and with an attainable goal there don’t seem to be too many other games in town.

Printed on glossy paper and with few typos, it has better production standards than other magazines I’ve seen from the DNA stable. There’s photographs and artwork accompanying the text, including several pieces in full colour, among them a gorgeous stellar panorama by Alan F. Beck and a striking cover illustration by H. Ed Cox, though some vandal has gone and spewed text over about half of this. Yeah, I know potential readers need to know what’s inside the issue but there’s a thin line between discreet placing and outright defacement, and this stomps all over it. If I was Cox I’d never work for them again.

‘Science and Fiction for a Space-Faring Age’ reads the banner under the magazine’s logo, and as you’d expect given the agenda content is evenly divided between the two, though even the stories are a bit heavy on the fact side of things. There’s information about The Artemis Project, books reviews, readers’ letters and news snippets of interest to the astronaut wannabe. In ‘Moon Age Daydreams’ Allen M. Steele toys with the idea of how a viable moon colony might actually operate, while Daniel M. Kimmel makes a hindsight reassessment of the film Destination Moon. John G. Henry unveils past plans by the US military for a lunar base, and why they didn’t become fact, while Walter B. Hendrickson, Jr discusses alternatives for the space shuttle and Robert E. Strong puts the case for a lunar lighthouse. It’s all interesting stuff, if this is the sort of stuff you’re interested in.

The fiction, of which we get seven examples, is on the whole the sort of material that gets described as meretricious rather than meritorious. ‘Flower of the Void’ by James Killus is about the launching of a deep space probe using nanotechnology, and the language with its biblical allusions is striking at first, but ultimately can’t disguise the fact that nothing really happens; what we’re getting is not so much a story as description rooted in techno wish-fulfilment. Shane Tourtellotte’s ‘Intelligent Conversation’ has a neat idea on the theme of first contact, but everything hinges on the final twist and this is delayed too long for maximum effect. It would’ve worked better as an ultra-short.

‘Birthright’ by Edward Muller is one of the issue’s better offerings, the sort of story Asimov churned out by the heckagig. It’s about a murder on the moon, with plenty of red herrings and the science satisfyingly blended with the detection. Hardly a classic, but an entertaining read. ‘To the Rescue’ by Lorren Stiles is a by the numbers account of a rescue in space, a story that laboriously tries to build up some tension and character empathy, while never moving any faster than a plod and managing to telegraph any plot surprises. Reading it is about as dull and pointless as going through the telephone book to see if all the names really are in alphabetical order. Much better is Will Ludwigsen’s ‘Representative Sample’, an epistolary piece that offers a witty solution to getting man back into space and made me smile.

‘Foggy Acres Blues’ by Thomas A. Easton takes the novel idea of an old peoples’ home whose residents are cloned and then set to take care of themselves. It’s well written and moving in places as the plight of the inmates and their carers becomes apparent, but Easton doesn’t do enough to make the nightmarish scenario seem credible. Finally there’s ‘Je Me Souviens’ by Edward Willett, set in the far future long after Earth has been destroyed and only a shrine remains to celebrate the cradle of mankind, with an elderly priest attending to those few who make the pilgrimage. It’s a story that attempts to ask some of the big questions, but in execution chokes on its own sentimentality, coming off a poor second to stories like Tiptree’s ‘Faithful to Thee, Terra, in Our Fashion’.

If you’re interested to know what’s being done to reboot the space programme, then Artemis could well be the magazine for you, but if you’re looking for memorable and exciting SF then it might be as well to swing your telescope in a different direction entirely.

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