Celebrity Frankenstein

The way I read collections and anthologies is to pick and mix. I may read just one story from a book before looking elsewhere – and I have many, many books on the go at any one time. In order to share my reading pleasure I will, from time to time, highlight a particularly strong story in a thread I’ve termed Tell Tales.

Stephen Volk is one of the finest writers of short horror stories (or weird fiction, whatever) writing today. His latest collection, The Parts We Play, was published by PS last year. The first story is “Celebrity Frankenstein”, and a very good story it is.

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The way I read collections and anthologies is to pick and mix. I may read just one story from a book before looking elsewhere – and I have many, many books on the go at any one time. In order to share my reading pleasure I will, from time to time, highlight a particularly strong story in a thread I’ve termed Tell Tales.

“Invaders” by John Kessel begins in November 1532 and the Incas are about to face the force of a superior European army lead by Pizarro. Then it’s 2001 and we are in the modern world, albeit one in which aliens have landed, bringing their superior technology. The story then continues in alternating sections, following the two eras, the two invaders – the first bunch stealing Inca gold, the second offering wonders. Such as time travel.

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Tell Tales

The way I read collections and anthologies is to pick and mix. I may read just one story from a book before looking elsewhere – and I have many, many books on the go at any one time. In order to share my reading pleasure I will, from time to time, highlight a particularly strong story in a thread I’ve termed Tell Tales.

“Tower of Babylon” by Ted Chiang can be found in his collection Stories of Your Life and Others (Picador £8.99). This is the lead story in the book and was originally published in Omni in 1990. Like almost all stories from Omni (the ones I’ve read, anyway), it is an outstanding and powerfully written tale. As one would expect, coming from such a publication. Read more here.


Miss Peregrine’s Home… reviewed

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. Quirk Books $17.99

Reviewed by Peter Coleborn

This is a better-late-than-never review. I obtained this book in hardcover back when it first appeared in 2011. It went into the teetering to-be-read heap and that’s where it stayed until I recently spotted the second book in the series in W.H. Smith. So I thought: I really should find Miss Peregrine and read it. I am so glad I did. Miss Peregrine is best described as “weird fiction” — a story that makes you look at the world askance, that makes you shiver because of its strangeness and charm.

Can you judge a book by its cover? Or in this case, by the overall production values? Did the smart layouts and internal photographic illustrations mask a less-than-good read? In this case, no, they did not; in fact they enhanced the book. The whole package looks fabulous and the story is equally fabulous (see later).

Jacob’s grandfather is killed. His last words are cryptic hints that disturb the 16 year old boy, which together with grandfather’s tall tales, lead to nightmares and obsessive behaviour. Eventually Jacob learns of an island, off Wales, on which he hopes to find the mysterious Miss Peregrine and her home. He travels there, with his father (on a bird-watching trip), only to discover the home is in ruins, the result of a bomb dropped on it in 1940, over 60 years ago.

Yet there is something else going on, something … peculiar. Jacob comes across Emma and other youngsters, and eventually enters Miss Peregrine’s home, stuck in a time loop. Stuck there because of the dangers of the outside world. Dangers that threaten to find them, destroy them.

I read fewer and fewer novels these days. I usually stick to short story collections because too many novels are not edited down, not tight enough. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is not one of these books. Even when Riggs seems to wander off on occasion it doesn’t matter because – and this is a real bonus – the writing sparkles. It engages. It carries you along. The only problem I have is that the last chapter, the big climax, is a bit over-written; Riggs describes too much of the action which, I feel, slows down the pace when it should be racing. Despite this, Miss Peregrine is a tremendous read, thoroughly recommended. Although Jacob is 16, this is not simply a YA book. Ransom Riggs tackles the youth’s problems with a grown-up approach; it is a book for all ages.

A few nitpicks. Some of the references that Jacob makes (the book is in the first person) feel a bit too adult. I made a note of these but, typically, I’ve mislaid that piece of paper. I don’t think that the people in the time loop would use metres – they’d be measuring distances in Imperial. And the book will undoubtedly draw similarities with the X-Men and their school for gifted youngsters. Don’t worry about them. They certainly are not enough to spoil the reading experience.



The Death House reviewed

Death House 02

The Death House by Sarah Pinborough. Gollancz.

Reviewed by Peter Coleborn

I’ve been kicking myself (metaphorically of course) for not reading The Death House until now. It’s been sitting on my shelves waiting patiently for its pages to be turned, its words read.

Sarah Pinborough’s science fiction novel is set in a dystopian future/alternate world (it’s not obvious which and it’s not important), in a house that resembles an approved school on an isolated island somewhere far from civilisation. It’s a place where “Defective” children are housed until they die from the illness triggered by their defective genes, a place where there is only one way out – on a gurney, their existence then wiped away. It’s a bleak scenario and yet, despite the death that awaits the inmates, it is a coming-of-age story that bubbles with the promise of life.

Toby is the de facto head boy of Dorm 4. He whiles away the days in semi-boredom, avoiding the attention of Matron and her staff, living for the nights when he is alone, echoing the location’s isolation. The status quo is shattered when a new bunch of Defectives arrive, including the teenage girl Clara. At first he resents her, that she too has discovered the secret of the vitamin pills; soon, though, he becomes besotted. Together, they plan their escape (from a place that no-one, ever, has escaped from).

Sarah Pinborough readily gives away two of her inspirations for this novel: The Lord of the Flies and the Narnia books (there are hints of others). And yes, the children do form tribes, do develop friendships and hatreds. Unlike Lord of the Flies, however, they know their future; know that there is no ship on the horizon to release them from captivity. She is able to enter the heads of the boys with consummate ease, depicting their concerns expertly – no doubt lessons she learned as a teacher.

Neil Gaiman endorses the hardcover edition; Stephen King the paperback. Who am I to disagree with these two giants of the field? The Death House is a thoroughly engaging read (it’s a cliché but I really found it difficult to put the book down when I had to get on with life). Toby, Clara and the others are real people and if you don’t finish this novel with tears welling up then you are probably a robot. A tremendous book and one I have no hesitation in recommending.


The White Mountain by David Wingrove reviewed

The White Mountain

The White Mountain (Chung Kuo Book 8) by David Wingrove. (Corvus £14.99)

Reviewed by John Howard

David Wingrove’s huge novel Chung Kuo originally appeared in eight volumes between 1989 and 1997. Now Wingrove has ‘recast’ the entire series, spreading out it across twenty volumes, with the addition of completely new material in two prequel volumes and two more planned at the end. The White Mountain initially formed the second half of the original book three (which was also called The White Mountain).

The story continues from where it left off in the previous volume, The Broken Wheel. It takes place over a short period of time, autumn 2207 to the summer of the following year. The situation for Chung Kuo, both its near-absolute rulers and its people – and those who seek to overthrow the rulers – has not improved. A virulent disease, particularly aimed at the younger members of the ruling elite, has been unleashed. Li Yuan, the leader of the T’ang, acted with ruthlessness to prevent it spreading, but his prevention of an epidemic came at great cost. For once this fell, not on the ordinary people, but on the rulers themselves – and their families. Li Yuan finds some of his fellow rulers and supporters turning against him for the first time.

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Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris reviewed

midnight xroadMidnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris. Gollancz £18.99

Reviewed by Jan Edwards

The brand new book in a brand new series from the mistress of urban fantasy, Charlaine Harris; and whilst it is indeed in the realms of urban fantasy its tone and its characters are very different from either the Sookie Stackhouse or Aurora Teagarden books.

Midnight is hot and it’s dusty and its pace of living is oh so sloooow that it could almost be called a modern Texas ghost town. A place that might have made something of itself once upon a time, if it had been given a chance. As it is, the tiny town of Midnight has become one of those shabby echoes that you glimpse from the window of your car. You might be tempted to take a closer look if you happen to get stopped at its one and only set of traffic lights and you might be curious about a place where a magic shop, a pawn shop and a nail salon are its main business concerns.

Naturally, none of Midnight’s inhabitants find that odd; but then the people who don’t live in Midnight might also find those residents a little strange.

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Tourmaline by James Brogden reviewed

tourmalineTourmaline by James Brogden. Snow Books (£7.99)

Reviewed by Jan Edwards

This book, published last year, is about realities, alternate realities, altered realities, imagined and projected realities. Of multiple personalities and ever-changing perceptions. Ultimately, it’s about how nothing ever changes in essence. We are what we are, whether we like or recognise that fact, or not.

Set between the streets and universities of Birmingham, where perving security guards not only get their come-uppance but find a man living inside his dream in Tourmaline; a watery alternate world something akin to the Sargasso Sea. Tourmaline is a realm of steampunkish fantasy lands where our fallen hero’s nemesis is a ferocious pseudo-Victorian, piratical, lady scientist wielding a weapon that can fix and destroy nightmarish dreams that bleed into reality. Or is she? Nothing and nobody can ever be taken at face value in this tale of split, mixed and stolen identities.

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