Tag Archives: Simon Bestwick

Terror Tales of East Anglia

I’m due to start below another of my gradual real-time reviews, turning leitmotifs into a gestalt.

A book I purchased from the publisher:

TERROR TALES OF EAST ANGLIA – edited by Paul Finch

Gray Friar Press 2012

There is no guarantee how long it will take to complete this review, whether days or years.

CAVEAT: Spoilers are not intended but there may be inadvertent ones. You may wish (i) to take that risk and read my review before or during your own reading of the book, or (ii) to wait until you have finished reading it. In either case, I hope it gives a useful or interesting perspective.

All my other real-time reviews since 2008 are linked from here: http://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/

My previous reviews of Gray Friar Press books: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/09/29/gray-friar-press-my-real-time-reviews/

As ever, I shall only be reviewing the fiction stories.

Authors included: Paul Meloy, Gary Greenwood, Christopher Harman, Roger Johnson, Simon Bestwick, Steve Duffy, Mark Valentine, Gary Fry, Paul Finch, James Doig, Johnny Mains, Alison Littlewood, Edawrd Pearce, Reggie Oliver. (14 Oct 12 – 2 pm bst)


Loose – Paul Meloy & Gary Greenwood
“I bring Dan the green beens he ask for.”
The best scene in the story that bit. Hilarious play on beans and beens with green rubbish bins. The rest, for me, is disappointing. A run of the mill story, one about East European immigrants in awkward interface with the English natives’ ‘lazy racism’ as they work in a Suffolk hotel. Some feral curse concerning a ‘wolf strap’ – and  easy swear words that seem tacked on rather than intrinsic. Thinly characterised, but with odd  moments of deft horror passages. Not much point, I feel, in looking for deeper meanings, as is my usual wont, nor in recounting more of the plot. [The print is too small for comfortable reading and, also, I hope I shall not need to continue this service of typo spotting as I read the rest of the book: i.e.  ‘sou chef’ should be ‘sous chef’ on p2; wrong hard return after ‘year-‘ on p4; ‘his slid his legs’ on the same page; who on earth is ‘Steve’ on p6?; and should it be ‘Sprite and ice cubes’ on p7 rather than ‘Spite and ice cubes’?] (14 Oct 12 – 2.55 pm bst)

Deep Water – Christopher Harman
Pages 21 – 31
“‘Towards’ was the operative word.
I am about halfway through this substantive story, and already I am as much elated by this work as I was disappointed by the previous one in this anthology. This promises to be a landmark reading experience for me, and not only because I am long familiar with Dunwich, Sizewell, Woodbridge and Hambling’s sculpture on the beach at Aldeburgh, and not only because this is, at least partially, a superb classical music story (please see my Classical Horror anthology book I recently published), but also because the prose style, the characterisation etc. are wonderful — please see the police character as an example, and the protagonist himself who first reminds me of that in Reggie Oliver’s great senile dementia story ‘Flowers of the Sea’, here with the circumstances of his Celia going missing amid a whole wonderful Davy Jones’ Locker claustrophobia/ exquisition ambiance (my words, not the story’s necessarily) ….. But not completely like that Reggie Oliver character, because this Harman one has arguably betrayed his wife with another woman? Absolutely wonderful, so far, including the Takemitsu, Britten, Vaughan Williams, Malcolm Arnold references….. [Also, so far, no typos to report, so hopefully those in the previous story were examples of a one-off aberration.] (14 Oct 12 – 6.25 pm)
Pages 31 – 42
“…as if he were one of the lost souls who gravitated towards seaside resorts.”
The first half’s promise, for me, has been fulfilled. This is quite a tour de force, with prose tendrils so outlandish they seem the sea itself. The ‘policeman’ – called Trench – we know now why his legs were earlier described finnish, and the ‘green beens’ from the previous story at least link here with the greenness of ‘Celia’ in the swimming pool.  This is a story with which every reader needs to make his or her own bespoke rapprochement – no review can prepare you for it.   There are so many examples of turns-of-phrase or turns-of-plot that I could give you but they would still only give very little idea of what sort of experience this story is.  It is Reggie Oliver’s ‘Flowers of the Sea’ taken perhaps to new depths… where the slippery shape of the missing one vanishes and reappears and vanishes again round the corner of aquarium or street or beach, till you wonder if the missing one is you yourself not someone else. A symbol for sea as the growing communal dementia? A ‘mad wife’ as seen by her husband is only mad because she deemed him mad first (thus his perceptions of her were as they were). “Vivaldi was dry, rational until slow pizzicato strings described hard claws tiptoeing across a striated sandy floor. Bach’s contrapuntal lines entwined in his head like smooth tubular growths.” [Meanwhile, I myself attended, as it happens, a live public concert in Clacton-on-Sea last night where my own wife was singing alto in a chorus performing, inter alia, Vivaldi’s ‘Gloria’ after months of rehearsal]. (14 Oct 12 – 8.10 pm bst)

The Watchman – Roger Johnson
“…somehow the glaziers didn’t quite manage to reproduce the colours. I don’t know: there’s something about mediaeval glass…”
There something paradoxically warm and comfortable about fictionally exploring a country church (here a Suffolk one) despite horrors emerging regarding legends underlying its history. This is a very effective version of such a tale in traditional garb, telling of watchmen, robbers, gargoyles and come-uppance, believably accreted by references and quoted passages. Warm and comfortable maybe, but I did feel a frisson of terror at a simple phrase and what I imagined underlying it in the context. No mean feat of writing. That phrase: “…and began to do certain things.” (15 Oct 12 – 11.10 am bst)



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Black Static #27

I’m starting below another of my gradual real-time reviews. This time it is of the fiction stories in TTA Press’s ‘BLACK STATIC’Issue 27 (Feb 2012 – Mar 2012). Received as part of my subscription to this magazine. As before, I shall attempt to draw out all the fiction’s leitmotifs and mould them into a gestalt.

CAVEAT: Spoilers are not intended but there may be inadvertent ones. You may wish (i) to take that risk and read my review before or during your own reading of the stories, or (ii) to wait until you have finished reading them. In either case, I hope it gives a useful or interesting perspective.

All my previous TTA Press reviews are linked from here: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/09/25/tta-press-my-real-time-reviews/

All my real-time reviews are linked from here: http://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/

Item image: Black Static 27

There is no guarantee how long it will take to complete this review, whether days or years.

The stories to be reviewed have been written by Gord Sellar, Jacob Ruby, Stephen Bacon, Simon Bestwick, V.H. Leslie.

NB: There is much else of value for the Horror reader within ‘Black Static’ in addition to its fiction: – www.ttapress.com


Empty of Words, the Page – Gord Sellar

“Whitney breathed again…”  — “February’s bristling winds had come,…”

An accessibly but cumulatively sophisticated story about obsessional love for one of one’s students – an unrequited obsession utterly felt by the reader as well as by the literature-teacher protagonist himself via the skill of the writing – the story’s writing, his own writing. And the real-life-mingled overheard *sound* of the writing in books and notes as if the curse of word-molten ebooks are already audio-beating the burning books at their own game….  I am a sucker for any story that mentions Ives, Rachmaninov, Mahler, Debussy (even Salieri) as well as Pound’s Cantos, but I am a sucker for this story *anyway*.  It eventually becomes a relentless chain letter in which we shall all one day participate (Cf: the story ‘The Chain’ that I have just serendipitously read as part of a concurrent (“Derridean“?) real-time review of a story collection by another author.). “When his fascination with the w ebbed away, he looked up.” (19 Feb 12)

Perhaps this stunning story also resonates with the world’s first blank story (published in ‘Nemonymous 2’ in 2002)? (19 Feb 12 – two hours later)

The Little Things – Jacob Ruby

One of the books being ‘taught’ to the students in the previous story was ‘Frankenstein’ by Mary Shelley.  Now we have a very powerful and often repulsive scenario that seems to factor-in a detached monstrous life towards, say, a conceptual feel of Kazuo Ishiguro’s ‘Never Let Me Go’ … here, further factored-in towards a historically poor-house-type, God-fearing ‘extended family’ co-responsibility. We share the tentative tussle of Cassie (who looks to be about 13) with the story’s reality of deadpan, taken-for-granted predicaments, as she tries to find her own self of emotions, the correct loyalties as well as the location of the street with sloughed-off familial connections amid the poignant searching for ‘care’ to give as well as to accept, for roots to watch unroot as well as take root again. Meanwhile, the mother’s own envisaged writing is factored into the story’s writing and – like the previous story’s internal writing – underpins a tragic sense of unrequitedness.  Spreading parcels of of word-text: reaching out for audibility: “This was not the first time the growths had come into the world with cries.” (20 Feb 12)

Cuckoo Spit – Stephen Bacon

“Sunlight was crowding the edges of the curtain. The clock ticked a comforting heartbeat. Timber was stretching within the structure of the building. The fridge began humming to itself, distracting her.”

[Stephen Bacon is a rising star of the Horror genre whose work appeared on three separate occasions within ‘Nemonymous’  from 2008.  So very pleased to see his work synchromeshing with ‘Black Static’]. An atmospheric, well-stylised, often effectively poetic Cumbrian tale of feral concupiscence — conveying a similar (but equally different) relationship between a daughter (Megan) and her mother to Cassie’s relationship with her own mother in the previous story, both relationships containing parallel senses of detachment by creatures or outgrowths or ‘were’-nesses acting as vehicles for humanity, and vice versa. The relationships here are also well-drawn and any metamorphoses are sufficiently subtle-haunting without allaying their head-on power as horror images.  No mean feat. And the cuckoo spit’s conceit as salaciousness is another subtle but striking momentariness of realisation.  And, arguably, the metaphor of the cuckoo as occupier is present here. Who is the occupier? The animal-human parasite/host symbiosis? Or simply Megan subconsciously assuming control of the house just before her mother’s ‘departure’? Not even the characters always know their own motives because, in my experience, any author is often powerless to help such characters’ eventual puzzlings-out of self (thankfully). And that lack of ultimate control works for me here, even if Bacon may not have consciously intended to relinquish any authorial control for creative purposes.  [Me brainstorming:- In tune with the chain of cause and effect: the empty page from the first story above: awaiting some unknown force to start writing upon it — so as to help alleviate those challenging tentative tusslings that most writers (old and new) have when beginning a story from scratch or claw. That unknown force is ‘occupying’, in micro, this portrait of Cumbria or, in macro, the fluid-glistening White Noise of ‘Black Static’ itself?] (20 Feb 12 – three hours later)

The Churn – Simon Bestwick

Two employees’d already been sacked for ‘churning’ – instead of amending a policy because details’d changed, you cancelled it and incepted a new one, in order to claim a sale.”

Not that I was guilty of it myself, I know all about that meaning of the word ‘churn’. But before today, I had not really related it to the word ‘chain’ – nor does this story do so explicitly, but the idea as used here certainly resonates with the ‘chain letter’ conceits above and resonates again – serendipitously – with my concurrent real-time review, I mentioned above, here: and the plot resonates strongly, too, with the title story reviewed there: ‘Nowhere to Go’. Meanwhile, it is an original plot here of a middle-aged lady who is subject or subjected to encroaching ‘Gaslight’ (Ingrid Bergman) or ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ (Mia Farrow) types of paranoiac fear – in a very effective and shuddery way – cumulatively a masked ball to share your dreams. Occupied or occupier, mad or enmaddened, one never really knows for sure. (21 Feb 12)

Family Tree – V.H. Leslie

People shouldn’t be so scared of embracing their bestial natures.”

This is a telling outcome of the gestalt of ‘Black Static #27’ stories in the form of, for me, a hilarious account of the human-animal ‘chain’ in the sheer explicitness of reaching its own Bestwickian mid-‘churn’ of a “missing-link” – here upon the brink of some challenging form of ‘Cuckoo-Spit’ stickiness and symbiotic feral ‘were’-ness.  ‘The Good Life’ sit-com’s fashionable mock-sophisticated natural food and self-sufficiency – in family form – taken to the logically absurd gap-jumping along its chain of cause-and-effect, with the schoolboy protagonist (on the brink of going out with girls) coping with the reaction of his peers to the sudden revelation (after their ball is kicked into the long grass) of a highly  embarrassing incident in one of their regular “parent share” evenings at his own house (NB: the Jacob Ruby story’s own ‘parent share’ concept as an illuminatory comparison!). Yes, hilarious: potentially repulsive, too – but with a skilful sense of thought-provoking seriousness as it touches on ‘mental illness’ in a similar way to ‘The Churn’ and, familially, to the Jacob Ruby story with its treatment of bodily-change and family-links via a semi-genealogical ‘Tree’ of sloughed-off connections. The ending allows our protagonist to make a sudden absurd jump which is, in the context, perfect: making me, in a vaguely metaphorical parallel way, proud openly to read Horror fiction, whatever people think of me.  But does Gord Sellar’s ‘Frankenstein’ conceit come into it?

Another great statically dynamic group of blackstories. (21 Feb 12 – two hours later)



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Black Static #24

I’m starting below another of my gradual real-time reviews. This time it is of the fiction stories in TTA Press’s ‘BLACK STATIC’Issue 24 (Aug – Sep 2011). Received as part of my subscription to this magazine.  As before, I shall attempt to draw out all the fiction’s leitmotifs and mould them into a gestalt.

CAVEAT: Spoilers are not intended but there may be inadvertent ones. You may wish (i) to take that risk and read my review before or during your own reading of the stories, or (ii) to wait until you have finished reading them. In either case, I hope it gives a useful or interesting perspective.

All my previous TTA Press reviews are linked from here: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/09/25/tta-press-my-real-time-reviews/

All my real-time reviews are linked from here: http://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/

Item image: Black Static 24

There is no guarantee how long it will take to complete this review, whether days or years.

The stories to be reviewed have been written by Simon Bestwick, K. Harding Stalter, Ramsey Campbell, Simon McCaffery, Tim Lees.

NB: There is much else of value for the Horror reader within ‘Black Static’ in addition to its fiction: – www.ttapress.com (16 Aug 11)


Dermot – by Simon Bestwick

“He sidles up closer to the window and watches Salford glide past him in the thickening dusk,…”

An impelling, rather than compelling, build-up via some tacit simple prose about all-too-human policemen in their special room at the police station in interface with the recent riot troubles? – or, if not, with what? Indeed, with what?  But I have a problem. If I say that effective build-up leads to one of the most shocking dénouements it has been my pleasure or displeasure to experience in a work of fiction (so incredibly full, otherwise, of ‘stuff’ despite its relative short length) – then it may be a let-down or a relief when you find yourself agreeing or disagreeing with me.  So I will merely let you loose in its words without my assistance – with your own psychologically hairless body and baby-mind as a metaphor for you as a reader of this fiction (possibly only like that till you finish it!) – and judge for yourself, if you’re not irreversibly scarred or simply changed, that is, by the story and, therefore, unable to rationalise about it at all!  Seriously. Even whether it is in turn a metaphor for recent troubles and the collusion and/or non-collusion between the various parties.  [What’s the difference between ‘implicit’ and ‘complicit’?]   (16 Aug 11 – another hour later)

A Summer’s Day – by K. Harding Stalter

“Yet I am told by learned men that the fault lies not in my stars, but in my cognitive architecture.”

I was spoilt for choice regarding key-note quotations to start this short exercise in appreciating the theme & variations of another relatively succinct fiction, one, like the previous story, packing an ‘experimental-laboratory’ power-paranoia, but this one is more an SF distillation of savoured-liqueur jabbing images rather than tacit punches.  But neither story is the lesser for that comparison.  The reader seems involved directly, here as a focal point of surgery – in Ancient Greece or in other eras of clumsily inward body-seeking… The crowning glory is not trepanning but some physical communion with an extrapolative formation of living communication-entities similar to nokias or, even, tweets – “…birds sing at dawn…” Or so I read it. (16 Aug 11 – another 3 hours later)

Recently Used – by Ramsey Campbell

“The address system must be overdue for maintenance; the receptionist’s voice was so splintered that the last words could almost have been the harsh cry of a night bird.”

There is much implicit in this story. But this reader is again complicit. Not only because, here, the story parallels the previous story with medical accoutrements in a medical place (here an English (I sense) hospital labyrinth I utterly recognise and have also become lost in), not only because it also parallels the previous story with the poignant potential of mobile-phonery, not only because I fully empathise with the protagonist and his wife (by dint of possibly being them for real by the accident of sensing they are a complicit couple even if this couple is, presumably, configured by fiction while we are not) – not only indeed because of many things, but also because it is genuinely (as someone else has already said elsewhere about this story) ‘heartbreaking’.  And when one is complicit, that is not an easy thing to put out of one’s mind, even if one wanted to do so. (16 Aug 11 – another 3 hours later)

Still Life – by Simon McCaffery

She could leave and post to all her Facebook friends what a sicko he was.”

Separate in itself, this story is an uncompromising word-photograph of an uncompromising war photographer, wars of the last 20 or so years. And of the synergy with his latest girl friend as they explore – in striking, searing detail – the album of his professional past, imbued with his personal present.  It echoes, too, the surgical ‘hospitals’ and intensive uncare of previous stories, with a power perhaps even the author of this story couldn’t have predicted.  A clinical irony of mass-digital communication that has been subsumed by its earlier prehensile darkrooms.  Capa, Callot and Carpenter. The prose is powerful, the ending even more powerful than the prose that contains it, an ending that emerges in the developing-plate of your brain. (17 Aug 11)

How The 60s Ended – by Tim Lees

I pointed out the whole aim in a fight was not to take your own medicine,…”

Although completely satisfying within itself, this threnody of an era represents, whether intentional or not, the perfect coda for this set of fiction.  The era? I suspect it is some 5 years later than my own core experience of the 60s in England (yet, instinctively for me, true in spirit as well as reality), and a boy’s school, and the playground emotions – then projected towards sex, loyalty (two’s company, three’s a crowd), hospital,  mobile phones, “mad spells“… And it is ‘heartbreaking’, too.  Yet,  uplifting.  Even though this reader conjures up the small human bones one needs to collect one day from the corner of an ancient classroom, if it hasn’t already been demolished. Or the corner of a police cell. A cancer cell. Or a charred corpse on a complicit battlefield. “My dad had fought in one World War, my grandad in another. / I’d always known that, when the time came, I’d have my own war to face,…”(17 Aug 11 – seven hours later)

This review dedicated to Colin Harvey, whom sadly I met only once.



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Never Again

I am starting below another of my gradual real-time reviews. This time I shall be reviewing the fiction in the anthology entitled Never Again edited by Allyson Bird & Joel Lane  (Gray Friar Press 2010).  

CAVEAT: Spoilers are not intended but there may be inadvertent ones. You may wish (i) to take that risk and read my review before or during your own reading of the stories, or (ii) to wait until you have finished reading them.  In either case, I hope it gives a useful or interesting perspective.

As ever, I shall attempt to draw out all the fiction’s leitmotifs and mould them into a gestalt. And there is no guarantee how long this process will take. Days, months or years.

In accordance with all of my previous real-time reviews (by now, a substantial number), I am reading and reviewing the stories in order, without first having read any introduction, after-notes or cover blurb.

All my previous real-time reviews are linked from here: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/09/07/df-lewis-real-time-reviews/

 Authors: Nina Allan, rj krijnen-kemp, Lisa Tuttle, John Howard, Tony Richards, Alison Littlewood, R.B. Russell, Mat Joiner, Rosanne Rabinowitz, Rhys Hughes, Simon Kurt Unsworth, Joe R. Lansdale, Kaaron Warren, Steve Duffy, Gary McMahon, Robert Shearman, Carole Johnstone, Stephen Volk, David Sutton, Thana Niveau, Andrew Hook, Ramsey Campbell, Simon Bestwick.


Feet of Clay by Nina Allan

“…put on in the evenings when they were alone together, Debussy’s Submerged Cathedral.”

A memorable narrative concerning Allis – abandoned by her boy friend, Noel.  She lives filtered through the prose in touching interface with her father, her recently deceased grandmother (and a retrocausal parcel), her grandmother’s golem, and the history of racial tensions, holocausts, and their impingement on the present moment.  Leading to a full brush-stroke (brush-smoke?) solution at the end that might harm the innocent as well as guilty motes in the cartography of time (much like Allis’s grandmother’s erstwhile use of the double-edged golem ‘sword’ – and Allis’s later ‘use’ of it). Some receive caring asylum, some do not, in Allis’ own current asylum of existence, often an accident of destiny rather than roots: the place where one happens to live.  Where the heart is?  I faintly  hear the bells, the tolling of the bells, the brazen bells – from the submerged cathedral. Allis’s Asylum. Or Noel’s? (27 Sep 10)


Volk by rj krijnen-kemp

“Beneath her sad notes, she came to imagine she could hear another sound.”

From Allis to Elise – to Volk upstairs in a block of thin flats.  This is a remarkable Pinteresque vision by dialogue and astringent prose where life is attenuated by the dead spirit in the catgut. One wonders if the first story’s ‘brush-stroke’ is already working through the creatures both dear and deadly. This is a pre-post-Holocaust.  By stream of music.  Scraping by.

“Motes of dust laded the grey morning light.” (27 Sep 10 – two hours later)


In the Arcade by Lisa Tuttle

“But the sobs forced themselves up from her gut…”

In effective stark contrast, we start with no sounds here, as Eula Mae wakes up possibly to that earlier ‘brush-stroked’ world but certainly to a classic post-holocaust SF scenario of everyone apparently dead or unconscious except herself with possible premonition of King’s Dome… leading tellingly to a Pilgrim’s Progress / Huxleyan vision that, inter alia, touches on cruel words – cruel when used by by some people about different  people – but affectionate when used by those different people about themselves…

The mixed power of words that this anthology (any anthology) would no doubt hope to deploy.

Eula Mae. Enola Gay?

“…the sound must have been heard throughout the thin-walled building.” (27 Sep 10 – another 2 hours later)


A Flowering Wound by John Howard

“I turn away from the balcony.”

But not before it collapses on me – or under me.  This very powerful story is full of meaning for me. But does it mean anything to other people? It reminds me of the classic story, ‘The City In The Rain’, by Mark West that I reviewed here.

This is about the  gathering into tribes. We are each in our own tribe. A tribe of people-that-are-us.  Even if the tribe-of-people-that-are-us tread cruelly upon the tribe-of-people-that-are-not-us, we can countenance that because we are blinded to those relativities by the ‘golem’ of the tribe to which we belong. This is what I discover from this book’s gestalt so far.

Sometimes we are  in a tribe of the aspirationally tribeless.  Fascism can potentially bud in each branch of politics, tribeful or tribeless.  It takes something akin to complete non-committedness to become unfascist, neither tribeful or tribeless, perhaps. To cease name-calling is the first step, because names as well as words can be interpreted separately from their semantics. It takes fiction to depict the flowering wound of each ‘y*d’ or ‘n*g*er’ or ‘f*s*ist’ gibe or jollity. (27 Sep 10 – another 4 hours later)


Sense by Tony Richards

“Someone set fire to the local mosque that night. Which saddened him, not least because he could still remember when it had been a synagogue.”

I am a great admirer of Tony Richards’ fiction, his memorable ghost stories etc. This, however, is a near future ‘diary’ with little point other than to underpin more obviously the thoughts that I wrung out above from the previous more successful (oblique, poetic) ‘story’.

Fiction when it becomes overtly or overly didactic ceases to be fiction, I feel.

“Us people? He meant white.” (27 Sep 10 – another hour later)


In on the Tide by Alison J. Littlewood

I enjoyed this Scottish sea community story about facing the same conflicts as adumbrated piecemeal by each previous story and as also assumed (I guess) to be more commonplace in urban societies.  A clever fable to depict that foreignness is relative and everywhere – and that we are all fallible in our needs to be in a recognisable tribe while also needing eventually to explore (and obviate?) our own fears of the ‘unknown’.

A brown pricked-out winkle from its shell is just more flotsam (my words) … and the ‘cathedral’ of souls (my words) that Churchill submerged off the coast there in the war? Obliquenesses that have no meaning other than to accentuate the meaningful? (27 Sep 2010 – another 3 hours later)


Decision by R.B.Russell

I am intrigued by this truly compelling tale of apparent unconnected consequences, a tale that seems to arrive eventually at an inscrutable ending that paradoxically then equally seems – in the context of this book so far – to give a final, satisfying ending that is not inscrutable at all!  A clever trick. 

The actual anxious path sets off with a similar sense of disorientation like that at the start of ‘In the Arcade’ as the protagonist experiences a tripping fuse-box, a slightly disappointing business meeting, a headache healing by a woman stranger named Lottie Rainbow in a pub, then urinating, danger, terror, missed appointments and more headaches.

‘Decision’ leaves me with a decision.  To ring-fence it forever as a gratuitously enjoyable story and not worry to make a decision about it at all. Or to ear-mark it with an aide-memoire tattoo and put it in abeyance awaiting a decision. Only  a real-time reviewer is faced with such decisions, because only a real-time reviewer retains hope that the tale’s plot elements will – deliberately by virtue of the reviewer’s skills or autonomously without his intervention – resolve themselves into a pattern when seen in the round of the whole book, the reviewer meanwhile remaining in denial about the fact that the plot elements sometimes don’t ever resolve themselves. 

Life is rarely a pattern. While fiction always is.  And the decisions themselves will not be resolved until the reviewer has read the whole book and – before he goes of to the pub with his headache to meet whoever he meets there – he’ll recite his little prayer: “May we find leitmotifs where there are some / May we find leitmotifs where there are none / When the great gestalt is found we are done.”  LOVED this story, by the way. (27 Sep 10 – another 3 hours later)


‘Decision’ has also decided me not to worry about any superstition embodied in the book’s overall title (with me probably splitting the reading and the reviewing either side of a fast-looming round-trip of 16 days to foreign lands): i.e. consequences will connect or unconnect in accordance with the ‘Synchronised Shards of Random Truth & Fiction’ not with superstition. (28 Sep 10)


South of Autumn by Mat Joiner

“…advertised their policies on street kites strung from lamp-posts and balconies.”

The world of ‘A Flowering Wound’, ‘The City in the Rain’, and Ex Occidente Press’ Mittel Europa – this story is a splendid nocturne (not Debussy this time, not Chopin, but Scriabin perhaps?), words made  into secret unexpressible music without calling it music, a threnody of political activists in nostalgic dream (or nightmare) – with a timely ironic warning how easy (self-indulgent?) it is to transcribe everything into Fiction.  Sometimes things should be left real as they do not deserve being made into fiction. But here they are well deserving and well served.

” ‘How many years had you stopped seeing us, except as folk tales, or in your books? Which I’ve never read, by the way’ “ (28 Sep 10 – another 2 hours later)


Survivor’s Guilt by Rosanne Rabinowitz

“Who says words can’t change things?”

As a perfect complement (complement, not compliment) to the previous story, ‘Survivor’s Guilt’ is an ingenious portrayal of nostalgia in real-time, nostalgia again tinged with the dream and nightmare of past political activism Europe wide, and today’s version near the Thames, but so utterly poignant as past and present stare at each other head-on with little recognition on one side, in fact distracted… It is tantamount to an activist’s ‘Molly Bloom Monologue’, here with an accessibly shining yet narrative stream of consciousness within the memories together with a real believable vision of the present moment playing out in front of the narrator and intertwining with her form of memory’s monologue. There is also a very clever brief touch that emerges from the Horror genre that gives a needful oblique resonance.  This story, for me, honestly should win literary acclaim given the right exposure beyond the Horror genre.  But that is endangering its own built-in activism of spirit, the spirit of being simply itself without fear or favour regarding what praise and whence such praise is given.

“…like listening to music full of defiance, made all the more powerful by notes of loss and melancholy.” (28 Sep 10 – another 2 hours later)


Rediffusion by Rhys Hughes

No disrespect to any of the previous stories, but this is a palate-cleanser.

It evokes a brilliant absurdist concept of Kafkaesque crime and punishment in tele-moto-perpetuo-miniaturitis.

For me, it also complements ‘Decision’ in its game of consequences and, by inverse serendipity, seems to extrapolate upon what I said above about ‘South of Autumn’: “Sometimes things should be left real as they do not deserve being made into fiction.”

[I have been fruitfully exploring the various aspects of the word ‘diffusion’ in honour of this story.] (28 sep 10 – another 3 hours later)


A Place For Feeding by Simon Kurt Unsworth

“…and only then did she come out of the cupboard. She went quickly, carrying Shaun against her front like her badge and shield and armour.”

[From the gent’s loo cupboard, reflecting a larger restaurant elsewhere – in the sixties, because these days there are proper baby changing-rooms…?]

I really feel for this lady trying to breast-feed her child in an eating-area, then becoming beset by the increasingly ugly-looking faces of ‘fascism’ (if that word can be extended to such a phenomenon as human intolerance about breast-feeding in a public place). This is highly compulsive reading. I thoroughly enjoyed it.  It makes strong points without making them too obvious. As an aside, it also resonates with the Huxleyan vision of ‘In the Arcade’ – and with a more pliable golem as it ‘latches’…? (28 Sep 10 – another 3 hours later)


Night They Missed the Horror Show by Joe R. Lansdale

“Across the forehead the wrapping had turned dark. Down by the mouth and chin was an ad for a fish sale.”

This takes the catch from “In on the Tide” and puts it right down your gullet. A simple message from ultra-foooooKing prose – full of gang-sputching – where centrifugal dogs are spun to smack you rotten. There’s been talk elsewhere today on the Fishing-Net about a stanger story in the 7th Black book-of-horror. This one, though, here, whirrs like a spin-doctor who knows how to foul things up and leave a stickleback for your cumin-jar.  Ni*g*r or dog? Which comes first? This leaves a bad bad taste in every respect. No spinning out of that one. Never never again. (28 Sep 10 – another 4 hours later)


THE REST OF THIS REVIEW WILL CONTINUE HERE FROM TOWARDS THE END OF OCTOBER 2010. This will include my face-value impressions of the stories below – as I have already done with the stories above – followed by my appraisal of the whole book’s gestalt pre- and post- my first reading of its Introduction.  I hope, but cannot guarantee, that all this is eventually found to be worthwile to the reader picking up the book just to read its fiction as well as to the book’s goal itself. (1 Oct 2010)


I shall now shortly be resuming this review. I have been mulling over the book (which was too heavy to take with me) during the last two weeks while making a ground-level tour – and an opportunity for a fact-finding mission – in the cities of Berlin, Warsaw, Minsk, Novgorod, Moscow, St Petersburg, Helsinki, Stockholm and Copenhagen. A stressful but enjoyable holiday, or, rather, rite of passage! I shall now read the following stories for the first time and review them. (18 Oct 2010)


Ghost Jail by Kaaron Warren

“She reached for him but he leapt over the balcony, over so fast he blurred in her eyes.”

Like the story itself. Complex and ungraspable. But some work better that way – like this one. When in Minsk, Belarus, a few days ago, I saw high-rise blocks of flats being built as new, their upper floors still unfinished, as if they were being ‘destroyed’ by some retrocausal holocaust. You don’t see them being built as new like that any more where I live in UK, unless one travels back to the nineteen-sixties. The clinging ghosts, breath cancer, and the facile fascism of the word (where media often controls governments),  and Ghost Jail – in this reader’s personal context – resonates brilliantly.  (18 Oct 10)


The Torturer by Steve Duffy

…after a chaotic and terrible caesura […] …an apostrophe in the day’s frantic diatribe, a turning aside to the secret sharer, the hidden self.”

This is a masterpiece of ‘self’ horror. I can say little about it, as I am quite stunned, but I will report that the only fiction I read when abroad in the last two weeks was ‘The Secret Sharer’ by Joseph Conrad…as if in dress rehearsal for reading ‘The Torturer’. A sister story, if ever there was one. The super-text of ‘The Torturer’ is society run by torture but that is not as important as its sub-text. Its ‘Beneath The Ground’ ethos. (19 Oct 10)


I think an additional story should have been placed here at this point in the contents of ‘Never Again’: i.e. ‘From The Hearth’. (19 Oct 10 – ten minutes later)


Methods of Confinement by Gary McMahon

“Had life simply become such a gaol to David that he’d decided to change cells?”

Whether the author intended it or not, this is a striking play on two words: ‘confinement’ as both prison and birth, and gaol/goal of one’s DNA or ‘cells’. Destination unknown. A tunnel towards the submerged cathedral. Not the most overtly typical McMahon, but good enough for my own strict requirements regarding the soul of flesh-opening fiction I now expect from him.  Gives this book another onward boost.

Each story a cog in a gigantic complex or a numinous machine the existence of which possibly even the editors only half-sensed without fully realising what they were compiling. I do not yet know what the end gestalt will be.  This book needs to be savoured with trepidation. (19 Oct 10 – another 8 hours later)


Damned if you Don’t by Robert Shearman

“But turn your head to the side and you could see the soul…”

Another palate cleanser to rediffuse with the absurdist crime-and-punishment of Rhys Hughes’ story – melding in my mind with my anthropomorphic memories of ‘The Terror and the Tortoiseshell’

It is a telling fable that lightens as well as enlightens the foregoing fiction and flows as sweetly as the crazy concepts to which falling in love with Hitler’s dog can only give a single clue among many others. Hell is a prison that ‘Methods of Confinement’ acts as immediate backdrop and, retrocausally, becomes a different story by reading this story straight after it, and vice versa. Damned if you don’t, so glad I did. (19 Oct 10 – another 90 minutes later)


Relevant to at least the previous two stories and others – included in my aforementioned trip that split this review in two were: the tour of a prison in St Petersburg where I entered the ‘cells’ that were used for political prisoners, touching a preserved part of the Wall in Berlin, listening at length to an 84 year old Pole in Warsaw about what he and the city had gone through in the 20th Century, seeing the ‘blind faith’ within Russian Orthodox Churches with the altar ‘walled’ away by the iconostasis, seeing the double headed picture of a Russian and American soldier at Berlin’s Checkpoint Charlie, hearing ad hoc crowds praying at night in a Warsaw street, Moscow’s Red Square, the history in the museums and galleries &c &c  More to remember, perhaps, later.

And today, the UK Government announces the ‘cuts’. We would not wish to be where we are at today (by whatever or whosever fault), but ‘cuts’ are surely needed; it’s just we wince at them because they are to be administered by millionaires like David Cameron and George Osbourne?

Didactic, moi? Never Again. (20 Oct 10)


Machine by Carole Johnstone

“That thundercloud hanging over the country might well have finally burst – voiding bile and fury that had too long festered…”

Incredible. Having previously this morning written above in italics some thoughts of mine about my trip and current politics, I now reach this story and read it for the first time.  I cannot prove I have done this, but this is absolutely true.  It is difficult to separate the personal from the objective. I’m pretty sure this is a great story as a separate entity (language, style, imagination, ethos) but I can’t be quite 100% sure because of the intervention of the personal aspect. This story seems to encapsulate the book so far – an onward tread of a real Machine (worse even than the internet itself as depicted by EM Forster’s ‘The Machine Stops’ (1909)), i.e about reality stemming from fabrication or the parthenogenesis of truth from artifice  – a theme park in an alternate world (?) one depicting the horrors of what I see as 20th century Europe and current politics. While on my trip, I saw the world outside my means of conveyance as a fabrication: a theme show or film-set. [I wrote a story during the trip, one depicting, inter alia, that feeling of fabrication.]  Also Carole Johnstone’s story seems to me to belong locationally to the area where I live, a sea-side resort opposite Holland and Belgium.  ‘Aghast’ is indeed the word, and, yes, incredible.  And meanwhile, I’m convinced, it is a great story. (20 Oct 10 – another 2 hours later)


After the Ape by Stephen Volk

” ‘Thirteen million unemployed. Almost every bank is closed. People are losing their farms, homes, businesses. You have no money, no hope…’

And today in real-time, UK suffered the severest cuts…

This story is an Art Deco exquisition, a cinematic ‘genius loci’, whereby the love of Hitler’s Dog in a previous story is paralleled by a much larger love within a prehensile mythos, again via the parthenogenesis of truth from artifice. Very impressed, too, by the whole narration and dialogue and character interaction: “…all about getting the Story.”

The sensual interface between Mittel Europe represented by a Thirties youth in face with older American style (in subtle tune with that two-faced emblem at Checkpoint Charlie).

A skyscraper of a fiction. It really is. And I can’t help thinking again of where we came in: that submerged cathedral: an inversion of life, “a graveyard upended.”  And compared to that love of anthropomorphic animals, we must think back, too, towards a spinning morning-star in the form of a ‘centrifugal dog’ that an earlier story smashed into my face. (20 Oct 10 – another 4 hours later).


Zulu’s War by David Sutton

“…a barrier from the intrusions of the dead.”

Like the iconostasis in some churches…

This seems to be a well-researched, well-characterised, well-written skunksight of the Iraq War, its immediacy and its aftermath back home in UK – its mingled religions, so mingled that even Sunday School images in UK are like visions of Iraqi people where, after all, Christianity finds its basin.  And, in tune with the mock-stylised ‘zombies’ (refugees from Hell) in Robert Shearman’s story, we have here a memorable vision that conveys all the underlying implications of such a war without being too didactic. (20 Oct 10 – another 3 hours later)


Death of Dreams by Thana Niveau

The author’s name itself reminds me of the ‘submerged cathedral’ or Volk’s ‘graveyard upended’; Thanatos being a personification of death and ‘niveau’ a level. The death level. More later… possibly because, as I notice, the Ramsey Campbell story (as yet unread) is called ‘The Depths’.

[‘Thana’ is also a police station. A death cell?]

” ‘No one has the right to gawk at my personal demons’. “

Which is perhaps a strange theme in a story from an anthology of ‘Weird Fiction’.

Thana Niveau’s story is a neat (and, for me, original) story about a ‘dreamcatcher’ device used for surveillance or spite.  In a Pan Horror mode.

Niveau again, please. (21 Oct 10)


Beyond Each Blue Horizon by Andrew Hook

” ‘In a world of illusion, you only see what you feel.’ “

Hence the dreamcatcher again – and a meaningful reality in a name (Khali) similar to the process I just made with Thana Niveau.

Now and again, one comes across stories that one knows will stay in the mind, somewhere at least, forever. This is an example of that.  The mountains of the city as iconostasis (“walls of the hourglass“) best seen from an underused balcony, politics as essential cursor (as well as bore – JJ?).  A realistic view of didacticism, its power and its weakness.  Love as ‘Nothing’ (see  the John Travis story of that name and the cover of his book, reviewed HERE) – and just too many resonances to count or even to identify. Loved it. (22 Oct 10)


The Depths by Ramsey Campbell

I have a sense I read this story years ago. It is possibly the lynch-pin of this book’s ethos: inasmuch as catharsis of simply writing about things solves those same things.  This is an iconic modern horror story, one I sense this book has been gagging to present to its readers as its central spike. A Horror writer, at story’s end, meeting his marathon ‘wall’ as iconostasis – and we can soak in its resonances with the rest of the book as if in a deep bath of warm blood:

“On the roof of a pub extension gargoyles began barking, for they were dogs.” – “It was as if he kept struggling out of dark pit, having repeatedly forgotten what was at the top.” – “Night had bricked up all the windows.” -Machine now as Collective Unconscious in onward tread amid “festering nightmare.” 

A classic of its kind. A synaesthetic indulgence in the visionary physicality of words. But too easy an emblem for this book?  (22 Oct 10 – nine hours later)


Malachi by Simon Bestwick

“God knows what you catch.”

We are in on the tide, now. A coda. This story is not one that speaks to the reader directly but it does speak to the rest of the book, I sense.

I recall that 84 year old man who spoke to us at great length in Warsaw a week or so ago about what he went through.  And he kept using the word ‘manifestation’. I still don’t know what he meant by that. But by not knowing one knows much.

And that must be what one takes from this book.  It is a morning star, a great swingeing collection of Fiction. Not Weird Fiction. But Fiction. And if it sells well, I trust that the causes that the editors support by dint of the cover’s banner will also do well. I trust in these editors’ choices because I have met them and I do trust them. I do not need to read the introduction to know that.

I fear that reading the introduction (which I haven’t) will tarnish the effect. Fiction should be pure, undidactic. That way it works best. Fiction is like praying in a submerged cathedral. (22 Oct 10 – another hour later)



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