Genre Fiction

Book Review: 5/5 stars to FEVRE DREAM by George R R Martin

Fevre DreamFevre Dream by George R.R. Martin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of the best written vampire novels I have read. A real pleasure after having waded through so much tripe elsewhere.

GRRM knows how to write, and how to plot.

The main character in this book isn’t really a person at all… it’s a steamboat, the Fevre Dream. It is built by a Captain, and his strangely pale partner. Together they take to the river, getting involved in trying to set fast times and race other steamers.

Things hot up when it becomes obvious that the pale partner has night-time interests. He is hunting for others of his kind. And when he finds them, we get to some of the most vicious vamps in literature, along with their equally vicious human “pet”

The characters are all vividly drawn, especially Abner, the steamboat captain who just wants to be on the river, in a big boat.

And GRRM has enough twists and turns in the plot to keep the reader interested through until the end, which comes with a perfect grace note. There won’t be a dry eye in the house.

They really should make this into a movie… just to show what “Interview with The Vampire” COULD have been.

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Book Review: 4/5 Stars to THE SIX MESSIAHS by Mark Frost

The Six Messiahs (The List of Seven, #2)The Six Messiahs by Mark Frost

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I first read THE SIX MESSIAHS, I was more than a bit disappointed with it. I wanted a sequel to the excellent LIST OF SEVEN. I wanted Jack Sparks and Conan Doyle, hunting down the bad guy, with all the appropriate Sherlockian nods and winks that would entail. What we get instead is a dizzying host of characters, hardly anything of Jack Sparks, and not much at all of Doyle.

If you’re looking for Sherlock in this one, you’re really looking in the wrong place. THE SIX MESSIAHS is a different beast entirely. It’s more about suffering, and redemption, and the power of cults than anything else.

On this second reading I got the point a lot quicker than on the first, and I raced through it. Frost is great at pacing, has an eye for what makes a character memorable, and an inventive imagination that keeps the whole thing careering along.

There’s a bit too much head-hopping around the point of view characters for my liking, and even a couple of places where it gets confusing trying to figure out which head we’re supposed to be in at the time. And in the rush to the finish, a couple of characters get sidelined and don’t really get to finish their part of the story.

But that’s just quibbling. All in all, it’s a fine romp. And despite what I said earlier, there is indeed a glimpse of Sherlock, right at the end, when the right thing is done and most of the threads are tied up.

I keep hoping for another sequel from Frost to see what Doyle gets up to next, but the new Twin Peaks will do just fine in the meantime.

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Book Review: 4/5 stars to HIDE ME AMONG THE GRAVES by Tim Powers

Hide Me Among the GravesHide Me Among the Graves by Tim Powers

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve been a big Tim Powers fan for many years now.

I adore the way he attacks a plot with exuberance and bravado. In this one we’re tossed into the lives of the Rossetti family, a veterinarian, a prostitute and an adventurer in Dickensian London all plagued by a family blood curse that has come back to claim its own. It’s also a sequel to an earlier work, but you don’t need to know that to enjoy this one on its own merits.

19th Century London is a locale Powers has detailed before of course, in THE ANUBIS GATES in particular. HIDE isn’t quite in that league of baroque brilliance – then again, what is? – but it’s a glorious, almost breathless romp that throws snatches of poetry and music hall at you, draws in legends of London from the Roman era onward, dances in the bars and descends into the sewers and caverns beneath the Old Lady to meet the denizens, natural and supernatural who live there.

It’s all driven along by Powers’ at times poetic language and feel for a story. You’ll find death, romance, seances, exorcisms, high magic in Highgate Cemetery, ghosts by the Thames and derring-do in Cheyne Walk.

It’s a fine addition to Powers’ catalog.

Reading him always makes me feel like a rank amateur in my own writing – but it also makes me want to strive to do better, so I’m off to try.

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Book Review: 4/5 Stars to REVIVAL by Stephen King

RevivalRevival by Stephen King

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve been a constant reader of the man since CARRIE – over forty years now, and in recent years have found his work a bit hit or miss for me – I loved 11/22/63 for example, but was terribly disappointed in Dr. Sleep. So there was some trepidation when I picked up REVIVAL, having read scathing reviews.

I’m glad I ignored them though for, despite being another slow burner, there is much to enjoy in this tale of broken people, redemption and mad science. King references Arthur Machen’s THE GREAT GOD PAN but I found echoes of other works here, from Theodore Sturgeon’s THE DREAMING JEWELS to Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN, and also B Movie nods to the likes of THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES and even I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF.

As I said, it’s a slow burner, and it’s only as we approach the climax that all the threads come together and we see why we needed to look so closely at history, family, young-and lost-love and how life changes as the years grow. Then it’s a rush riding the lightning to the bitter-sweet end.

Maybe it’s because I’m getting on a bit myself now, having been on this journey with the writer since I was 16 myself, but this book spoke to me, and I liked it a lot. It reminded me in style of another much maligned King, FROM A BUICK 8, and, yes, I liked that oneĀ a lot too.

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Book Review: 4/5 stars to Medusa’s Web by Tim Powers

Medusa's WebMedusa’s Web by Tim Powers

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another one-sitting read from the great Tim Powers.

I’ve been a fan since reading THE DRAWING OF THE DARK in 1980, and over the years since he’s never failed to astonish and entertain me with his skill and imagination. This is no exception.

Medusa’s Web initially sets itself up as a Gothic horror, with its rambling old house and disfunctional- and weird – family members, but Powers quickly spins things off into fractured time streams, plots within plots and a mystery dating back to 1920’s Hollywood. A word of warning though – if you’re an arachnophobe, it’s probably best to avoid this one, as there are spiders here that’ll haunt your dreams.

As ever, it’s all heady stuff from Powers. There were a couple of places where I felt the complications of the mythos he built, and the amount of exposition needed to keep the plot going, was in danger of bringing the whole thing crashing down – but Powers is a master juggler, and keeps all the balls in the air just long enough to speed us along to the finale.

A very enjoyable way to spend the day.

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When Hollywood doesn’t call.

One of my regrets in my writing career is that I never managed to get anywhere with my script writing apart from seeing a handful of no-budget shorts get produced, and having a shared credit on a low budget feature, HALFWAY TO HEAVEN that got me my sole IMDB entry to date. Most of the shorts have vanished off the face of the earth now too.

At one stage around ten years ago I was shipping half a dozen feature length scripts around. I had phone calls with agents and directors, had projects fold on the brink of filming getting started, and had people take out options on my work that lapsed without ever appearing.

There’s still a film-length version in production of something that was once CLOCKWORK DOLLS but has now been rewritten by a studio four times, and if it ever sees the light of day, my contribution is now down to ‘Based on a story by…’ in the credits. At least I got paid for that one, but it’s been ten years in pre-production hell and I doubt it’s ever getting out.

I found all my feature length scripts in an email directory today and had a pang of longing to see one of them made up on the big screen.

I keep getting told my stories are ‘filmic’ and visual.

I just wish i could convince somebody that matters in the industry of that.

I gave up shipping the scripts around a few years back, and there they sit in the ether of webmail, lost souls waiting for the stars to be right. My novels and short stories take up all of my time now, but I’ve yet to get anyone show any interest in filming any of them.

Maybe if I had an agent to shop film rights around things might be different.

But if wishes were horses, we’d all be eating steak.

I live in hope that one day somebody will take a chance on one of my books. It’s a dream I have.

Right, that’s enough whining.


No retreat, no surrender.

I was tidying up my Facebook history and came across this, from Sep. 2008.. It seems I was going through something of an existential crisis with regards to my writing. These nine or more years later I can’t really remember feeling that low, but I suppose I must have been; I wrote this, after all…

I turned 50 this year. At the time, back in January, I though little of it, but slowly and steadily it’s been preying on me at the back of my mind.

It’s not that I mind getting older. Hell, I went mostly bald when I was 30, and grey when I was 40, so it’s not as if I didn’t see it coming.

No, what I mind is that I can hear the clock ticking. For most of my life until now I’ve been too busy living to notice, but I recently realised that my dreams and aspirations are no longer those of a young man looking ahead. They’re in danger of becoming the regrets of an old man looking back.

I still have the drive. I still want to write books, and have them read by a lot of people. But I’m wise enough to realise that the mass market deal I’ve been coveting is probably less rather than more likely to happen now. My view on life, tainted as it is by my experiences, is that of a middle aged man. Today’s fiction markets are full of youthful exuberance with their young fads I know little about and care even less.

The last novel rejection I had told me that I wrote well, but I needed more cultural references to connect with the readership demographic. I don’t know if I have the energy to try, never mind the will.

In two years time I’ll have been writing for twenty years. I’ve been asking myself, is a dozen pro story sales and a handful of small press novels enough for me? Can I lay down my pen, happy I did my best?

Or do I keep going, keep searching for that one sudden inspiration that will get me over the hump?

Truthfully, at the moment, I’m having trouble seeing a way forward.

I can still feel that clock ticking.

But if I’d given up then, I would have missed the best of my writing career so far. I wouldn’t have all the novel, novella and collection sales to Dark Regions, Dark Renaissance and DarkFuse among others, I wouldn’t have that shelf of hardcover editions of my work, I wouldn’t have a bookcase full of anthology appearances, and I would have missed out on another sixty or so ( so far) professional short story sales.

I wouldn’t have those 5 sales to Nature Futures, or the sales to ‘The Mammoth Book of…’ series.

And I wouldn’t be having fun writing Carnacki stories.

I’m bloody glad I didn’t give up.

Book Review – 5/5 stars to The Nickronomicon by Nick Mamatas

The NickronomiconThe Nickronomicon by Nick Mamatas

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There’s a keen intelligence at work in Nick Mamatas’ fiction, and he’s not afraid to let it show. This collection of Lovecraftian works of his shows off his various talents in great fashion. His voice is distinctive, with noir touches mingling with philosophical musings, and a hint, and often more than a hint, of razor sharp sarcasm.

There’s tentacles here, and Mi-Go, nameless dread and ancient books, but it’s the shifting nature of reality that gets much of the focus in these stories, and the ground is rarely solid underfoot.

It’s a great collection, and heartily recommended to anyone wanting to see how Lovecraft’s vision can be molded into fiction relevant for a new day and age.

Great stuff.

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Dreamlands – Shall we talk about the black bird?

The black bird has been with me for a long time – 50 years and more now.

I think I first saw The Maltese Falcon in around 1963.

My granddad was a big Bogart fan, and I remember long Sunday afternoons spent sitting at his feet watching movies on the tiny black and white TV that was the norm back in the UK in the early Sixties. Back then everything was Britain was still in black and white – the Beatles were about to change all that, but Bogey would stay eternally gray and eternally Sam Spade for me. Even at that early age there was something about the snappy dialogue and the larger than life character that spoke to me.

I saw the film several times before I got round to reading the book – aged around 12 so about 1970. In much the same way as the film had, the book also spoke to me, touched something in me – the stuff that dreams are made of if you like.

When I started writing for myself, back in school, my voice was heavily influenced by teenage longings – I hadn’t learned enough of the ways of the world to be confident and sparse, I wanted to be flowery and intense and intellectual.

University, then ten years of being a corporate drone quickly drummed that nonsense out of me. I developed cynicism and from that my own voice started to emerge, enough to ensure I could cope with being an adult but not yet enough to turn me into a writer.

The booze did that. Booze and nightmares and a new wife that understood me better than I did myself.

The booze is part and parcel of being brought up in a working class environment in the West of Scotland. Beer came easy to me in my late teens, a love affair I still have to this day. Whisky I had to work a little harder at, but I persevered and developed a taste for single malts that means my habit is largely curtailed by the expense. It doesn’t mean I don’t get the thirst though.

The nightmare? I’ve been having it off and on since I was a boy. It’s of a bird – a huge, black, bird. The stuff that dreams are made of.

In the nightmare I’m on the edge of a high sea cliff. I feel the wind on my face, taste salt spray, smell cut grass and flowers. I feel like if I could just give myself to the wind I could fly. Then it comes, from blue, snow covered mountains way to the north, a black speck at first, getting bigger fast. Before I know it it is on me, enfolding me in feathers. It lowers its head, almost like a dragon, and puts its beak near my ear. It whispers.

I had the dream many times, and always woke up at this point.

Then, in 1991, I heard what it said.

“Will we talk about the black bird?”

The next morning, for the first time since 1976, I wrote a story. It wasn’t a very good story, but something had been woken up, and the day after that I wrote another, a wee ghost story. It didn’t have a black bird in it, but it did have some jazz, and a sultry broad, a murder and some dancing. When that one made me 100 pounds in a ghost story competition, I was on my way.

The bird comes back and whispers to me every couple of years – I’ve come to think of it as my spirit guide. Although it terrifies me, it also reassures me in a weird kind of way. As long as it’s around, I’ll still be a writer and not just a drunk with weird ideas he can’t express.

One of the bird’s recent appeareances was a few years back, and the next morning I had an idea that fused my own history, my favorite movie and my bad habits into one coherent whole – BROKEN SIGIL, my Darkfuse novella is the most personal thing I’ve ever written. It’s also among my favorites of all my works.

Will we talk about the black bird?

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