Filler content with urban gothic

A review that originally appeared in The Third Alternative #28:-

Edited by David J. Howe
Telos hb, 252pp, £25

The idea behind this collection is for B list writers to adapt three episodes of the late night Channel 5 horror show, while three A list writers get to pen new stories under the Urban Gothic umbrella.

There’s support comment from, among others, series co-creator Tom de Ville, plus introductions from Richard O’Brien and editor David Howe, all of which give the impression that Urban Gothic was a distinct improvement on sliced bread. Personally I found the series disappointing, more flash than substance, MTV sensibility masquerading as innovative storytelling, something to be watched only as a result of insomnia and a lack of anything better to do.

In the circumstances I can’t comment on how faithful the adaptations are to their source material, or whether their shortcomings are down to the writers or internal constraints, though I suspect the latter. Debbie Bennett serves up weirdness by the plateful in ‘Lacuna’, but can’t make druggies either interesting or sympathetic. Paul Finch does a great job with the back story and characterisation in ‘Boys Club’ but the plot is never more than tissue thin and sometimes a lot less than that. ‘Telling The Tale’ by Steve Lockley and Paul Lewis is more ambitious, attempting to create a sort of urban mythology, but the separate elements don’t really gel and at the end you’re left feeling there really wasn’t that much substance to it anyway.

The three original stories are much better. ‘The Look’, Christopher Fowler’s jaundiced peep at the fashion industry, is character driven and has moments of chillingly memorable invention, the whole shot through with a caustic wit. Graham Masterton’s ‘The Scrawler’, in which a man is stalked by a seemingly relentless nemesis, is a more conventional supernatural piece, but one containing an original and convincing urban monster. ‘Goblin City Lights’ by Simon Clark treats the Goth music scene with compelling flair, several deftly placed hooks drawing the reader in, and then ups the stakes to deliver a remarkable conclusion, one that brings to mind Ligotti’s more cosmic pieces.

The hardback edition is attractively put together, with eight striking photographic images supplied by Nathan Skreslet, and looks to be vying for collectors’ item status. It costs £25, but for that kind of money if you’re quick you can join the British Fantasy Society for one year and receive the paperback edition, along with a whole lot of other goodies, as part of your subscription. Makes sense to me.

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