Cinema Show/Firth of Fifth/Second Home by the Sea

A triple bill to bring down the curtain on this month’s celebration of Genesis, as I really can’t decide which is my all time favourite track by the band (but it’s probably one of these three).

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OR: Futures Mysterious Anthology Magazine #30

A review that originally appeared in The Fix #7:-

FUTURES MYSTERIOUS ANTHOLOGY MAGAZINE #30

Edited by Babs Lakey

It looks decidedly pulpish, with poor quality paper, every inch of which is crowded with prose, poetry, cartoons, contests and illustrations, everything but the kitchen sink in fact, while the cover is a migraine inducing red background with a nifty little macabre drawing of cutlery and bones in the foreground. According to the cover the issue contains ’50 spine tingling short tales!’ but diligent examination of the Table of Contents revealed only 38. There are however 12 poems and 12 articles, so perhaps one of these makes up the shortfall. Whatever, to complain of lack of content would be churlish. Horror, Fantasy, Science Fiction and Literary Mainstream are all within the magazine’s remit, but mostly what we get is Crime Fiction, with an emphasis on brevity and the problem solving aspects of the genre. Think Marple rather than Marlowe.

Okay, 38 stories. Let’s see if I can rise to the challenge of saying something interesting about every single one of them without repeating myself (doubtful). Leading off, ‘The Telltale Spot’ by Sharon Short, which climbs on the bandwagon whereby crimes are solved by everyone except the police, and helping the Sheriff out this time around is the local laundress who finds incriminating evidence on the villain’s smalls. It’s totally unconvincing and hinges on the investigating authorities being blind to what’s right in front of their eyes. Who, however, can resist a heroine called Josie Toadfern? Equally incredible, but somewhat more amusing, is ‘The Hellers’ by J. R. Chabot, in which a married couple at odds try to hire a hit man and get something far worse, a lawyer. Mary J. Davidson’s ‘Dangerous Reunion’ gives us four Miss Marples for the price of one, with a gaggle of little old ladies outwitting the bad guys, and the feel good factor where grey power is concerned almost makes me prepared to overlook the fact that something like this would only happen in fiction.

‘Sorry, Wrong Number’ by Jeff Fielder is one of the more innovative offerings, with a disastrous case of mistaken identity unfolding through a series of messages left on a telephone answering machine, a clever story and one where only the reader has all the pieces. In contrast ‘The Black Cat’ by Tim Wohlforth is a wholly ridiculous piece where the bad guy leaves the stolen merchandise inside a cat, for no better reason than that the writer would have to come up with a real story otherwise. Luann Larsen’s ‘Anybody’s Fool’ has the nosy neighbour who saves the day, her suspicions about the guy next door leading our heroine into danger, and once again it seems to owe a tad too much to convenience. In ‘What Goes Around’ by Mark Murphy a DA’s guilty secret is cunningly propelled out into the open, a plot driven story that is pleasing for the way in which it’s all worked out rather than any originality of design. Ultra-short ‘The Blue Bottle’ by Margaret Searles is for the crossword aficionado, with all the clues as to who kills the Sultan hidden in the body of the text and the answer revealed on the following page. More puzzle piece than story.

FMAM contains rather a lot of flash fiction, and the quality is variable. Guy Belleranti’s ‘Motive for Murder’ is one of the better examples, a slice of black comedy that has a psychiatrist uncovering a wife’s reason for killing her husband, one with which all readers will surely feel a twinge of empathy. ‘My Rule’ by Jennifer Gatewood is one of the more grittier stories, with a burglar who doesn’t believe in leaving witnesses behind getting his comeuppance after some very grisly goings on. It rang true, something I wouldn’t say about a lot of FMAM‘s contents, and the lack of cosiness was a definite point in its favour. ‘Easy Choices’ by Kathleen J. Stowe has nothing much going for it, a woman finding the entirely banal reason a neighbour’s wife committed suicide, but it’s difficult to see why we should care. ‘Pardoe’s Wife’ by Karen S. Cook starts fairly ordinarily, with a man put out by seeing his friend fall prey to a gold digger, but then develops into something more interesting, culminating in a neat and macabre twist that shows us who the victim really is. ‘Waiter, There’s a Clue in My Soup’ by Camille LaGuire is as silly as it sounds, with the killer given away by his choice in cuisine. Still, to be fair, I don’t think we’re meant to take this as anything more than a light-hearted diversion. Some diversions however are more rewarding than others.

‘Champagne For One’ by Carol Kilgore has a red herring or two, as a police detective investigates the murder of an old friend, and the best that can be said about it is that it fills the space. Flash fiction ‘Recipe for Murder’ by Nick Andreychuk is an amusing and macabre little ditty with a wicked last line pun. Also more than a tad on the macabre side is ‘Tough Guy’ by Stephen Rogers, in which a child kidnapper’s bluff is called, not something I would recommend, but there is a certain grim satisfaction in seeing a scumbag get his head handed to him on a plate, literally. Pamela White’s ‘The Diet Defense’ is one of the sillier pieces, as a murderess gets off on the grounds that hubbie didn’t respect her diet. What is it with these people? Haven’t they heard of divorce? ‘Baby’s Breath’ by Sarah Elleni Glenn is another piece devoid of much rhyme or reason, as poor Simon dies as a result of his culinary ignorance, and perhaps the real crime is to publish pointless stuff like this. ‘Second Helping’ by Stephen Rogers has a clever thief putting one over on a smug, self-satisfied detective, as gratifying as it is morally null.

‘Eddie’s Motel’ by John M. Floyd is cute crime in a series with the general heading ‘Law and Daughter’, as the sheriff is helped to solve cases by her interfering mother and anyone who can take it seriously has my respect, or something like that. Another series, ‘Wife and Death’ by Michael Mallory, has poor old Dr Watson playing patsy to his wife Amelia instead of second fiddle to the great detective. It’s yet another Holmes variation and we’ve perhaps seen enough of those, but latest instalment ‘The Adventure of Beggar’s Head’ is entertaining enough, with an intriguing story, a killer with a novel MO and nicely drawn period atmosphere. I liked it very much, but this could just be a situational thing. ‘Jesse James’ Radio Caper’ by Rick Magers is another piece of plotting silliness, and here played out at too great a length to be anything more than mildly irritating. More satisfying is ‘Notions of the Real World’ by Dorothy Rellas, about a young girl whose ideas are shaped by listening to detective shows on the radio, which proves invaluable to her when a real crime intrudes into her life. The plot is slightly stretched but Rellas compensates with some convincing characterisation and a showdown filled with tense expectancy. Billed as Science Fiction, ‘Who’ll Stop the Rain’ by Robert N. Stephenson starts with a familiar premise, the computer game that is actually reality, and goes off at a tangent to produce something that, to this reader anyway, simply didn’t add up or engage the attention.

‘Wish Fulfilment’ by Shirley Richardson has Mengele given first hand experience of the Nazi desiderata and finding it not at all to his taste, picking up on something that’s often occurred to me, that all those top Nazis (short, fat, balding guys with glasses) are hardly an advert for Aryan supremacy, but sadly the story owes more than a tad to wish fulfilment itself. Megan Crewe’s ‘The Light’ ODs on pretentiousness, as the story unfolds of a brilliant intellectual condemned to prison for hoodwinking people into believing that aliens shaped human history, the narrative building and building but ultimately left with nowhere to go. In contrast we have the beautifully understated ‘Broken Glass’ by Karen S. Cook which describes a normal, everyday situation as a man mulls over this strange dream that he had and then delivers one of those last lines that puts a different interpretation on everything, pulling the reader up hard. ‘Silky’s Getaway’ by Earl Staggs is another story in which the villain is foiled by an elderly person (grey power is definitely in here), an unconvincing and transparent tale twister. Rick Magers is back with ‘Deadly Dozing’, the by the numbers story of a man prone to slipping into deep sleep and afraid of being mistaken for dead, and so you can probably guess what happens.

‘Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite’ by Todd Allen has a conman being conned in a story that wears its heart on its sleeve rather too obviously. ‘Murder on the Cutting Room Floor’ by Stephen D. Rogers has a film director killed and plenty of suspects, all of it wrapped up in four columns, just the bare bones of a story rather than the real thing. Debra Purdy Kong’s ‘Justice Calling’ is another piece of flash fiction, only here that’s spelled trash. A teacher’s mobile phone is stolen by one of the children in her class, and I wonder who can guess how she nabs the culprit. Charles Benoit’s ‘The Hit’ seems to be running along familiar tracks, with a hit man hired as part of what appears to be an insurance scam, but then we get a twist at the end that elevates the story to an entirely different level, one about the perils of love and loss. ‘Time to Kill’ by Allen McGill is about the worst thing in the whole magazine, a truly dreadful piece of nonsense that reduces the whole of film noir to a single column, along the way throwing overboard things such as pacing, characterisation and credibility. Dross that actually makes the Grisham book of the same name seem appealing, and that’s one of my all time unfavourite books.

‘That Hour’ by Tina Tocco is the literary offering, meaning it abjures stuff like story in favour of presenting a pretty little world picture of an idyllic moment. The quality of the writing can’t be faulted; it is far more evocative than much here. I just don’t see the point of it though. ‘Last Ride Home’ by Jake Steele has a long lost prodigal husband returning home only to find that he is the slaughtered oxen, another story that doesn’t have a lot going for it other than the reader’s natural desire to see ugly customers get what’s coming to them. ‘Nothing but the Best’ by Linda DiMaria has another murderer of the elderly hoist by her own petard, which proves every bit as painful as it sounds, but plotwise leaves a lot to be desired, such as credibility. ‘For the Love of Creative Matter’ by Nancy Kay Peterson is a deal with the devil story, done with enough novelty to be fun and with a nice sting in the tail, one that proves sometimes you can have it all, albeit at somebody else’s expense.

The poetry is rather neat, amusing and at times quite emotive if hardly on a par with Philip Larkin, and the articles, covering a variety of legalistic and writerly subjects, are all interesting enough. There’s good artwork, a quiz and competitions and yes, there probably is a kitchen sink, but I haven’t found it yet. Must be off somewhere with the missing twelve stories.

Okay, fictionwise there is nothing here that’s going to change your life. What we get is one or two clunkers and a few more pieces that show a little ambition, but mostly what’s on offer is the written equivalent of fast food, to be consumed quickly and forgotten soon after. There’s little that’s truly gritty and there’s a little bit too much love of seeing bad guys get what they deserve, even if the the writer has to tweak the rules of verisimilitude somewhat to get there. FMAM reminds me of nothing so much as one of those bumper fiction issues put out in the summer by magazines like Take A Break or Women’s Realm, and on that basis it provides harmless fun for the few hours reading that it takes. Reviewing it however, is another matter. That I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

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The Return Of The Giant Hogweed

The first album I bought by the band was Genesis Live and I remember loving this song, in part owing to the horror genre overtones of the title. They said hogweed, but in my mind I heard triffid. Only later did I discover that there actually was such a thing as giant hogweed.

Enjoy.

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OR: Problem Child #1

A review that originally appeared in The Fix #7:-

PROBLEM CHILD #1

Edited by Lori Selke

‘A Group Home for Well-Loved but Unruly Literature’ is what it says on the front cover. In both its predilection for old advertisements and drawings from yesteryear by way of illustration and the quirky fiction it offers PC brings to mind that other wilful prodigy, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet. Editor Lori Selke declares her own background to be in erotica and gay literature, and says that she’s looking to provide an outlet for ‘stories that were too sexy and edgy for mainstream markets it seemed, but without enough actual genital action to make the erotica markets happy’, so expect to see a lot of what’s often euphemistically and sometimes entirely accurately referred to as adult fiction.

‘Siren’s Call’ by Karen Z. Perry gets the issue off to a flying start with the tale of a fireman and his engine, said engine having a personality all its own and falling in love with the guy in uniform, a relationship that’s bound to end in flames. Doesn’t sound promising does it, but Perry’s tasteful writing and ability to evoke mood makes this incredible scenario seem real and brings a tale of unrequited love alive. Richard Butner’s ‘Banal Probes’ piles one absurdity on top of another as it sends up the concept of alien abduction with zest, giving us an out of work PR guy who the aliens want to use to put themselves over to mankind. No denying there’s a lot of fun here, but the plot does tend to ramble a bit, as if the author is making it all up as he goes along, and ultimately it comes close to exhausting its welcome. The story could have done with being a bit sharper. As is, it reads like a first draft. Selke’s own ‘The Secret Life of Mr Clean’ illustrates the point perfectly, wittily imagining a day in the life of one of those anthropomorphised household cleaners, such as Mr Muscle. Sad and very funny, the advertising jargon deftly skewered on a spike of satire.

Next up is my favourite piece, ‘White Girl’ by Miriam Gurba, a beautifully paced account of a young woman’s sexual awakening, all the trials and tribulations of young love laid out on the page. The prose is vivid and the narrative rich in those telling details that make people and situations come alive, and underlying it all is a sense of loss that makes you want to cry. Bill Brent’s ‘Drugs and Sleep’ is a triumph of style over substance, an account of a good/bad trip (you decide) but rising above the banality of the situation through the use of a sing song prose that brings out the rhythm of the ordinary events described, coming close to capturing the lure of the drug experience. ‘The Case of the Delirious Nervekranken Siblings and Dr. Moritz’s Coital Cure: A Psychoanalytic Case History (1911)’ by Lisa Archer is every bit as bad as it sounds and one of the magazine’s low points. It tries to ape the language of psychoanalysis, and though promising at first it ends up going so far over the top whatever humour might have been found in the situation expires for lack of oxygen. Written in the first person ‘Awakening’, one of two shorts by Jean Roberta, cleverly examines sexual etiquette, arguing that the metaphors to which we cling help determine our actual sexual experience. The last line, which in a more obvious piece would be a terrible cliché, is here just right. ‘God’ by Greg Wharton is an ultra-short that’s two parts sick joke to one part blasphemy and the fact that I found it hilarious says more about me than it does about the quality of the story. Probably best avoided if you have any sort of religious convictions at all.

Jan Stekel’s ‘That Balding Angel’ is only two pages and confusing. I think it’s about a medical student who is having all sorts of odd emotional entanglements because his one time writing tutor thought he should have more in the way of worldly experience and so asked an angel to get on his case. On the other hand it might be about something else entirely. Either way I quite enjoyed it, and had the distinct impression that some interesting things were going on even if I didn’t know what they were. ‘Just Nasty at the Subspecies Ball’ by Ryan Kamstra is even more confusing and this time I didn’t get the sense that anything much at all was going on. It reads like something written by someone who’s trying way too hard to be both deep and controversial, as two weird people get it on together. From obscure to perfectly opaque with ‘Cat Got Your Tongue?’ by Scott T. Wilson, the most ordinary story here, a slice of Horror hokum, which tells the story of a man lumbered with the Anticat. It’s quite amusing most of the time, but goes on a bit too long and then fizzles out rather than reaching any climax. I imagine Eddie Murphy will star in the film adaptation. Whatever, it certainly provides an interesting contrast to the rest of the magazine. Finally there’s ‘Mindscape’, the second piece from Jean Roberta, and this time she’s in a metafictional mood, investigating the culpability of a writer who allows her character to be raped. It sounds offbeat, but the story does address serious concerns about the role of fiction in creating social expectations.

In addition to the fiction there are poems by Steve Schwartz and Daphne Gottlieb, while Schwartz also provides an amusing article on ‘The Zines That Might Have Been’, several of which I think I might have been published in.

Problem Child has made an auspicious debut, and if they can maintain this standard the magazine has a bright future.

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The Fountain of Salmacis

Another track from Nursery Cryme

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OR: Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine #5

A review that originally appeared in The Fix #7:-

ANDROMEDA SPACEWAYS INFLIGHT MAGAZINE #5

Edited by Danuta Shaw

According to the cover blurb this is ‘Australia’s PULPIEST Science Fiction & Fantasy Magazine’. Could well be, but you’ll have to ask a native to be sure.

It’s competently produced rather than any triumph of style, with an easy on the eye layout, clear print and few typos, a combination of line drawings and photographs for illustration purposes, which complement the text without being intrusive. Non-fiction is pretty much the sort of thing we’ve come to expect from genre magazines, the usual melange of reviews and interviews.

A generous but perhaps unlucky thirteen stories are listed in the Index, but that’s deceptive. For starters there’s one that isn’t listed and for seconds the first supposed story is ‘Almost Home’ by Robert Hoge and not a story at all, but a thoughtful and moving personal account of the Columbia disaster, looking at the instinct that sends men and women into space inside tin cans. The emotive writing elevates this above all the other non-fiction and most of the fiction. Five more stories, all written by John Borneman, are presented under the general heading ‘Dr Susan Lee Research Notes’, set in the far future and with the good doctor recording unusual scientific breakthroughs of the past. These are brief, humorous skits in the manner of Frederic Brown’s Great Lost Discoveries series crossed with Pythonesque absurdity, and certainly they have their moments, but they are in the nature of light relief sprinkled in among the more ‘serious’ stuff.

And then there were eight. ‘Fairy Prince’ by Monissa Whiteley is a by the numbers piece about a streetwise commoner helping a magician and a prince disguised as a woman escape from their pursuers, competently written but with nothing to distinguish it from a thousand others in similar vein except a lack of engaging characters and heavy reliance on the idea that only idiots serve in the military. Sue Bursztynski’s offering is called ‘The Sword From The Lake’ and anyone who hasn’t already twigged that, yes this is another Arthurian variation, should go up and apples and pears right now, cause it’s well past your bedtime dear. Okay, it’s well written, with some interesting characters and reconfigures Arthur’s career in mythic and religious terms, but I found it wholly predictable and surely can’t be the only one who thinks Arthur needs a rest by now. ‘Bianca’s Birthday Present’, the first story by Wendy Laharnar, is a bit more promising, set in a future world where a loving husband tries to save his wife from the punishment meted out to those who are unhappy. This is a good idea, one with potential, but we don’t really get enough by way of background information about the society for it to feel real, while the dialogue is borderline naff and heroine Bianca a rather unappealing piece of work.

Finally things start to look up with ‘The Warlord and The Princess’, in which a marauding warlord’s lieutenant tries to save a young family from his master’s savage mood swings. It’s a familiar plotline perhaps, but Patrice E. Sarath makes it more interesting than the usual fantasy fodder, with an engaging storyline and characters with whom the reader can empathise, even the crusty old warlord who’s far from being as bad as he’s painted. The result is a well rounded and occasionally gritty slice of fiction, and it finishes with an end that’s realistic instead of the cliché I was expecting. A doomed love affair is at the heart of the portentously titled ‘RavensPerch: A Faerie Tale’ by Kirstyn McDermott, with a prince lost in the wood and finding a beautiful woman in a tower who helps him. It’s competently written, but with all the excitement and predictability of the Star Trek rerun you’ve seen umpteen times already.

Sarah Guidry’s ‘The Grandfather’, the story that didn’t make it into the Index, is a lively little number about a young girl who acquires an invisible friend, or could it be a mischievous spirit out of Russian folklore? Well, of course it could. The story’s engaging enough and holds the attention to the end, with credible development and believable characters, but at the end you’re left wondering what the point of it all was and coming up blank. Similarly with ‘Ice For The King’ by Angela Boord, with a magician wanting to present this rare commodity to his sovereign and the slave who carries it having a meeting with a little known god, all of which reads like someone attempting to ring the changes on Dunsany, and there are moments along the way of warmth and humour, some thoughts on freedom, but they’re just window dressing in a tale that has little real substance. Finally ‘Catbones’ by Sue Isle which, if you can get past the idea that what seems entirely transparent to the reader is opaque to the story’s protagonist, that her cat is some sort of murdering werebeast, is rather a pleasing little number. The novelty here is not in the plot so much as the backdrop, a world where vampires and body snatchers are all pretty much business as usual, rather as with Laurell Hamilton’s Anita Blake series, and as a result we get some larger than life characters and tongue in cheek dialogue, all of which entertain.

So, is it pulpy? Well a lot of what’s on offer here hasn’t been fresh since the 1950s if that’s your criteria.

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The Musical Box

I used to love Genesis and Nursery Cryme is fifty years old this year. Here’s a deliciously creepy track from the album.

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Lighthouse Magazine #1

A review that originally appeared in The Fix #7:-

LIGHTHOUSE MAGAZINE #1

Edited by Paul Calvin Wilson

This new magazine looks promising, printed on good quality paper and with an attractive, easy on the eye layout. Mind you, at £5.00 plus 80p p&p for only 52 pages it needs to look good, and some more gloss is knocked off when you realise that something like twelve of those pages are taken up with adverts and competitions (very nice competitions with some very nice prizes, but that’s beside the point). For illustration we get a few original and generally uninspiring drawings, but mostly its photographs and reproduced book covers and artwork by people trying to sell stuff, and the proofreading lets down the general air of professionalism, as in one slight column billed as ‘Pychic Tips’.

#1 is described as a ‘Special Brian Lumley Horror Issue’ and there’s a lengthy interview which is lively and informative, with Lumley coming over as very approachable and down to earth, and if they’d followed that up with some critical studies of his work and a story I might have been well impressed (they do have a story by Lumley on the books, but it’s going to feature in #3, which is the Robert Weinberg special – go figure), but what we get is a number of people, most with things to sell, saying what a great guy Brian is. Sorry, but as special issues go this is about as half assed and half cocked as it gets.

So what else is there? There’s ‘Blackhouse’, which is just what the world needs, another page giving us Stephen King news, albeit it seems to have been slung together in half an hour by someone who found a website and contains nothing that most King watchers won’t already know. Okay, I’ve read everything the great man has ever written, so King isn’t an issue, but there are people who are paid to keep us informed every time he passes wind and have huge advertising budgets for that very purpose, so why the independent press have to climb on this particular bandwagon is beyond me. Find some lesser known but deserving writers and push them, why don’t ya? There’s also ‘The Lighthouse Foundation’ where ‘the Lighthouse Team have their say, and come across all creative like’, in this case consisting of three poems, and to be fair those by editor Paul Calvin Wilson aren’t too bad. There’s a feature on the indie film Comptine and director Damien Chemin, which aside from Lumley is the most substantial piece of non-fiction here, creating real interest in seeing the film itself and appreciative of the director’s work. There’s an interview with Jack Chalker which is quite revealing as to his methods, and there are two book reviews that read like they were knocked off in a hurry. Dotted here and there about the magazine are the odd poem and snippets of information about writerly folk (Silverberg signs for second volume of Legends etc).

So, fiction. Five stories occupying slightly less than eight pages including the illustrations, which speaks volumes about how important fiction is to this magazine (nowhere near as significant as the competitions and adverts). ‘The Rime of Four and Twenty’ by Claire Mitchell is a competition winner and a decent outing for the old plot where everything is revealed in the last line granting the reader a new understanding of what is going down, it’s just too bad that the whole thing is given away by the title, reducing the story to a simple going through the motions. Judd Hampton’s ‘Selected Droughts’ is a little more interesting, with a couple who move to the country because they can’t stand their neighbours only to find that Mother Nature has her own way to trash the neighbourhood. It’s well written with a neat twist in the tail, but nothing special. ‘The Small Roads out of Town’ by C. J. Hutt is your typical small town tragedy, revealing what really happened to a wife beater and it holds the interest but does nothing more to justify its existence. Phill Garnett’s ‘Late Night Stroll’ reads like something Richard Laymon would have produced on a bad day, giving us a man walking about at night and beset by various problems, only to reveal in a last paragraph that continually ups the ante that he himself is some sort of monster. It’s a dreary little damp squib of a story, rehashing ideas anyone who has ever read Horror will already be sick to death of. ‘Grim’ by Darren Paul Clark is the longest story and perhaps the best, which really isn’t saying much. It’s about a woman who has a premonitory dream of her own murder and tries to outwit the killer, routine stuff and slightly overwritten, but then comes at the reader with a twist that almost redeems the story.

I’ve saved the worst for last. There’s an interview with singer and musician Gary Numan. At one point Numan mentions that he’s writing a novel, and editor Wilson’s immediate response is to ask, ‘Gary, do you write short stories? If so, is there any way Lighthouse Magazine could persuade you to send us one?’ There’s no suggestion that said short story will have to meet any criteria of quality. And that is what I dislike about Lighthouse Magazine. It doesn’t seem interested in providing the punter with a quality read so much as name checking as many B list celebs as possible, with whatever they can catch by way of content thrown in to make up the weight.

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Procession/The Story in Your Eyes

Fun fact: ‘Procession’ is the opening track on 50 year old album Every Good Boy Deserves Favour and the only song to be written by all five members of the Moody Blues.

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OR: Here & Now #2

A review that originally appeared in The Fix #7:-

HERE & NOW #2

Edited by Jenny and Helen Barber

This magazine, while not exactly a triumph of design, is a neat and utilitarian package, with decent layout and not too many typos, though it does give in to the current vogue in the independent press for spelling lightning with an ‘e’ between the two syllables, especially noticeable in the title of the story by Tony Richards.

We’re off to a good start with ‘The Only Constant’ by Justin Thorne, which begins very low key, with a film fan forgetting some minor detail of his favourite Arnie flick, but as the story unfolds the whole of consensus reali9ty is undermined and our hero ends up in another realm entirely. The idea is perhaps not the freshest out of the starting blocks, but Thorne’s writing is assured and he develops the story with a sound feel for the material, winningly focusing on the little things and building from there instead of launching into a full frontal attack on reality from the off. ‘The House’, one of two pieces by Ian Hunter and the shortest thing here, is about a man in a charnel house, a moody little thing that does its job and then is gone, no messing around. More familiar territory with ‘The Girl in the Green Car’ by Martin Owton, the tale of the hapless Roger who buys a car with a personality only to have it fall in love with him and become very antsy about his secretary. This rather innocuous story falls between two stools, on the one hand not out and out funny enough to cash in on its comedic potential and on the other lacking the conviction that would have brought the incipient madness and technological menace of this situation bubbling over. Tony C. Smith’s ‘The Daffodil Train’ is well written and deftly evokes a world gone by, if indeed it ever existed at all except in our imperfect memories of the past, but wallows too much in sentimentality for my liking, ending with the cliched death of the protagonist. John Grant’s story ‘The Golden Age’ is much more upbeat, harking back to the pulp SF of yesteryear, a romp of a story that opens with one of the genre’s most striking images, a spacecraft atop its column of fire coming in to land on an unknown planet, and goes on from there to pit the craft’s crew against an otherworldly menace that challenges their intelligence in a story that delights the reader with its casual wit, the playfulness of a writer who knows the form inside out and has his tongue lodged firmly in his cheek.

Jay Lyte’s novelty piece ‘The Easter Operation’ contains the hypothesis that reality is just too damned sad, and so we alter it by rewriting history, hence unsink The Titanic. It is, of course, impossible to take this story seriously, and equally impossible to keep a wry grin off your chops while reading its poker faced account of what is to be done. Hunter’s second story ‘The Only Ones That Matter’ is presented in the form of a long poem, a curiously effective device, and purports to give a true account of the awful fate of the Bishop of Terni, known to us today as St Valentine. I can’t vouch for its historical veracity but this is a moving piece, one that celebrates the power of love to triumph over all. ‘The Trendelenberg Concerto’, a first story by John Llewellyn Probert, is possibly the highlight of the issue, giving us a musician every bit as mad as Lovecraft’s Erich Zann. The story develops at a credible pace, one that makes the train of fantastic events seem entirely plausible, with moments of mystery and gore complementing each other, and the tone of voice with its hint of madness barely held in check is put over well. A very impressive debut and hopefully not the last we’ll see of Probert. ‘Lightning Dogs’ by Tony Richards is also a supernatural based piece, but rather ordinary in comparison, once again airing the old plot about spectral hounds who pursue those who see them to an untimely end, though our hero manages to turn the tables somewhat. This is an entertaining enough story, well written and with solid characterisation, but no one should come to it expecting any surprises. And finally there’s ‘Unplugged’ by Mike Gullen, about Tristan who is ditched by the heartless Jane but finds an unusual way to rekindle her interest. There’s a slightly manic feel to this that keeps you reading to see what the author will throw your way next. Ultimately though, while it entertains, the story is slightly too long to justify the blackly comedic but weak ending.

For Here & Now after an unpromising start things are looking up, and it will be interesting to see what editors Jenny and Helen Barber do with the magazine.

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