Saturday, 31 August 2013

ST#24 - reviewed


Alex Lugo, guesting at the Arkham Digest, has some good things to say about the latest issue. He singles out three stories for specific praise - those by Lynda Rucker, Michael Abolafia, and Sam Dawson. But he's very complimentary about the whole magazine.

Supernatural Tales #24 is an excellent journal of consistent, disturbing, well written supernatural fiction. Although the aforementioned tales shine a bit stronger than the rest, there really isn’t a poor story in this issue. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Ghosts & Scholars update

The new G&S M.R. James Newsletter is a rollicking good read. As well as news and reviews - lots of good stuff there - you get new stories by Jane Jakeman and Peter Bell. There's also information on how to enter the next competition to win a place in the 2014 G&S Book of Shadows. You can subscribe to the newsletter by contacting Ro Pardoe via her excellent site.

And here's a question for Monty James fans. The cover pic below is by Alisdair Wood - but which MRJ story does it illustrate?


Building a Spooky Library - Dalby Surround

It would be absurd - albeit a lot of fun - to try and buy a book by every ghost story author of note. Apart from anything else, many such authors are 'one hit wonders', known for one significant story - 'Thurnley Abbey' by Perceval Landon is a good example. Other writers may be an acquired taste (just wait till I get onto Aickman) and buying a possibly-pricey collection that you struggle to finish is a mite disappointing.

So we obviously need good anthologies. This means that editors matter, and Richard Dalby is one of the most important editors of ghost stories. The Dalby name on the cover guarantees that a genuine expert in the field has chosen the contents. Of the dozens of books Richard Dalby has edited down the years, the obvious one to go for (in my opinion) is the Virago Book of Ghost Stories.



There is a complicating factor, here. The above volume deals with 20th century stories by female writers. There is also a Virago anthology of Victorian ghost stories, again by women. Both are excellent, but I prefer the more modern tales (i.e. those written within the last hundred years). Oh, and I'm referring to an earlier hardback edition - it has been updated with some new contents and is now available in paperback.

Having got that out of the way, let's consider the contents. I'm indebted to the Vault of Evil for providing a list I can lazily cut and paste:


They Took Our Ghosts Away

They came and took our ghosts away;
We stood and let them do it, to be fair.
Some grumbled, but most simply looked away.
A few gave way to rage, and then despair.

They told us it was for the common good;
Our ghosts were old and out of style.
The moans and cold spots, and the pools of blood,
The wraith that haunts the old ancestral pile...

All silly, shop-worn, or just overdone,
Or so they kindly told us. Come the day
We thought to question them, they had all gone -
The ghosts, and those who took our ghosts away.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

The 14 Scariest Ghost Stories?

Ooh, that's a provocative title, isn't it? But I was prompted to quite literally type those words onto the interwebz because someone did indeed write this: 'The 14 Scariest Ghost Stories'. Which is asking for trouble. Not least because of the obvious question, 'Why 14, Smartarse?'

The article, to be fair, is a Hallowe'en piece from last year that someone recently raised on Facebook. It's typical of its kind. I suspect it was one of those 'Quick, we need X,000 words!' jobs, employing a writer with no particular expertise other than an ability to hit a deadline.

My suspicions were aroused partly because I hadn't even heard of some of the authors concerned, and partly because the synopses of the stories are... Well, if you read 'em you'll note they don't actually say anything that couldn't have been quickly cut 'n' pasted. Here, for instance, is the perfectly reasonable but essentially useless (in the context of the article) bit about M.R. James.
A thorough reading of ghost story literature quickly reveals that there has been no greater influence on the genre than Montague Rhodes James (1862-1936), arguably the greatest writer of ghost stories who ever lived. While he was a don and provost at King’s College, Cambridge University, it became his custom every year to write a new ghost story, then gather a group of friends and colleagues to a room on Christmas Eve, where he would provide a dramatic reading of it, taking great pleasure in acting out all the roles. “Oh, Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad” was first published in Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (London, Edward Arnold, 1904).
Hmm. Then there's the obvious point that some aren't ghost stories at all. W.F. Harvey's 'August Heat' is a supernatural thriller, but there's no actual ghost. 'The Open Window' by Saki is about someone telling a ghost story, sure, but that's not the same as the genuine article. Wilde's 'The Canterville Ghost' is arguably scary if you are a nervous hamster. And so on.

But making lists of the Scariest, or the Biggest, or the Stupidest, is just one of those internet things, and we shouldn't expect too much from the Huffington Post, which rather scandalously (to me) doesn't pay most contributors despite having a huge volume of traffic. So, as just another unpaid blogger, what would I consider to be the 13 Best Ghost Stories?

It's a stupid question! For a start, I don't have nearly enough expertise outside English-language fiction. And, more importantly, individual tastes vary so widely that a story one person finds terrifyingly effective will leaved another cold. So, let's go for 13 Good Ghost Stories instead. If we confine ourselves to printed tales, to readily available works, and to short stories (as opposed to novels), we can have:

1. 'Thurnley Abbey' by Perceval Landon. To some a ludicrously contrived load of old tat, but to me and others a genuinely disturbing tale with a twist, if a bit OTT. While not especially well-written, it has a physicality that often transforms a good ghost story into a great one.

2. 'One Who Saw' by A.M. Burrage. Another tricky one, as many would class Burrage as a bit of a hack who churned out acceptable but not especially original work by the yard. However, I think the finale of this one makes a well-structured tale into a little classic. And again, there's that physicality...

3. 'Smoke Ghost' by Fritz Leiber. A story that straddles the borders of the genre and is arguably science fiction or fantasy. It's also a piece that foregrounds the author's thoughts on ghost stories, which might put off some people. But to me it's a remarkable example of how a gifted writer can put a new spin on an old theme and 'keep it real'.

4. 'Mr Humphreys and His Inheritance' by M.R. James. I'm deliberately courting controversy, there's no getting around it. Some find this feeble in the extreme, but to me it's a classic thanks to excellent ingredients, enigmatic plotting, and the fact that the protagonist is not required to be an idiot who ignores obvious warnings. Also, to be honest, I like stories with mazes.

5. 'The Waiting Room' by Robert Aickman. A fairly straightforward tale from a writer not renowned for his accessibility, this one is definitely about ghosts. It does have a recognisable twist ending that makes immediate sense in the context of the story, too. Most importantly, though, it argues for the enduring humanity of the dead and for compassion over vengeance - interesting themes for a ghostly tale.

6. 'The Face' by E.F. Benson. A variation on familiar themes of the 'demon lover' and haunted picture, plus a story that relies upon dream revelations to get up steam. But there is still a core of power in this one, not least in the way a female protagonist is offered no choice when it comes to a rendezvous with a very nasty piece of work.

7. 'A Christmas Carol' by Charles Dickens. Yes, I know, but bear in mind that Dickens was working within a well-established tradition of spooky storytelling when he wrote this as an antidote to bland, forgettable Yuletide fair. And it is undeniably a ghost story - one that lies at the heart of our conceptions about our Victorian past.

8. 'Pollock and the Porroh Man' by H.G. Wells. Arguably a borderline case with a rather silly title, this is one of those tales in which all the weird stuff could well be happening in a character's head. But for me the clincher is that the eponymous anti-hero is such a brutal, crass git that he seems unlikely to have simply imagined his haunting.

9. 'Ancient Sorceries' by Algernon Blackwood. Here a man is haunted not by an individual ghost by an entire town. While the tedious John Silence (psychic detective) offers an explanation in the original collection, the story is far better read in isolation. It's also a classic example of an author who sets out to describe malign forces at work but can't stop himself from acknowledging the sensuous allure of the witch-cult (as he and other Victorians imagined it). Blackwood later tried to excel himself by having a magician conjure up an entire ghost culture, in 'Sand', which only shows that sometimes an author doesn't know when to quit.

10.  'The Moonlit Road' by Ambrose Bierce. I've always liked this one, though it's a bit oddly proportioned and depends upon a bit of light Spiritualism to deliver its denouement. As with the Aickman above, the reader is more likely to say 'Alas! Poor ghost' than be horrified, though in fact the events related are quite disturbing. It's arguably a proto-feminist tale, too, which is not what one might expect from Bierce.

11. 'The Yellow Wallpaper' by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. This is considered to be a classic feminist text, but can be interpreted in many ways. Suffice to say that, as a description of someone who may be haunted, going insane, or the victim of persecution it's hard to beat. A genuinely good ghost story must be a good short story in its own right, one that transcends mere gimmick or twist. This one qualifies.

12.* 'All Hallows' by Walter de la Mare. Some of this author's works are obscure to the point of tedium, as if the poet - when free of the constraints of rhyme and metre - found it impossible to state anything clearly in prose. But this story strikes a perfect balance between obscurity and precision, as a lone traveller is guided around an isolated cathedral that has started to show signs of supernatural restoration.

13. 'The Guide' by Ramsey Campbell. A tribute to M.R. James by a modern master, the story's central conceit is that James unearthed a true ghost story in East Anglia. The plot centres on a curious annotation to the author's popular guide to Suffolk and Norfolk. The actual ghost is original and convincing, and the story - while playful - has the genuine frisson of half-glimpsed horror that James advocated.

14. Okay, then, 13 stories and a novel - The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. This book (and Robert Wise's 1963 film of it) arguably represent the zenith of the 'long form' ghost story. Yes, people continue to write ghostly novels, but Jackson got it right in 1957. Any subsequent efforts look amateurish and half-baked by comparison. The novel is not a natural medium for the ghost story but I had to include this one. It proves it can be done.

*With consummate skill I managed to miss this one out of my original post. See lynx-eyed commenter below...

Sunday, 25 August 2013

RIP Julie Harris, Farewell Eleanor Lance

I was sad to learn that Julie Harris, a veteran star of many films and Broadway shows, has died at the age of 87. For fans of supernatural fiction her greatest role was that of Eleanor Lance in The Haunting (1963), the first and by far the best cinema adaptation of Shirley Jackson's novel The Haunting of Hill House (1957). Eleanor, or Nell, is an interesting example of a traditional Gothic heroine in a modern ghost story. Naive and confused, she falls victim to Hill House but at the same it is implicit that she is - to some extent - helping to trigger or amplify some of the strange phenomena that assail the ghost hunters. The director, Robert Wise, made considerable demands on Julie Harris, and I think she delivered the goods, not least in scenes involving the character's unspoken thoughts. Here is the second spookiest scene from the film:


Saturday, 24 August 2013

Aickman Studies - Call for Papers

A new journal dedicated to Robert Aickman is due to be launched in the latter part of this year. The editor, Tom R. Baynham, is calling for papers. Who are we to disappoint him? If you would like to get in touch, here's the link.





Friday, 23 August 2013

Vote! All the way to the wire...

If you haven't already voted for Swan River Press in the Arthur Guinness grants poll, please do so. SRP is Ireland's only publisher dedicated to Gothic and weird fiction, and one of the very few we have that routinely produces excellent collections of new ghost stories. Brian and his team have done a lot for us readers, now e have a change to help them out! Vote here.

Swan River Press cover image

Free eBooks - classics and rarities, all for nowt!

The Fabulous Benson Brothers - as they were not really known - were all writers and all achieved some measure of success. E.F. (Fred) wrote many ghost stories, while A.C. (Arthur) wrote stories, too, but more famously came up with the words 'Land of Hope and Glory', upsetting poor old Elgar in the process.

R.H. (Hugh) Benson, the son of an Archbishop of Canterbury, changed sides and became a Catholic priest. His ghost stories are, I think, better than you might expect. But don't take my word for it - you can download a free eBook of RHB's collection A Mirror of Shalott here. (The author died in 1914, so it's well out of copyright.)

There are several other eBook collections at the same site, Mystery and Imagination, including Oliver Onions's Widdershins, and classics by Mrs Oliphant, E.G. Swain, Sabine Baring-Gould, and many others. Well worth a look!

Building a Spooky Library - Algernon Blackwood


Someone once likened Paradise Lost to a great cathedral that no one visits. Of course academics and students do read Milton, but I suspect that - when it comes to the average poetry enthusiast - old Milt is off limits. The same might be said of the average horror fan and the 'classics' of the genre. Lovecraft, yes, and we'll get to him later. But Blackwood - like Machen - is known to lovers of supernatural fiction thanks to a handful of much-anthologised stories. 


One problems is that Blackwood wrote a lot of mediocre stuff during a very long career. Indeed, he wrote so many stories that even he was unsure how many he'd produced. Born in 1869, this contemporary of M.R. James lived long enough to appear on post-war BBC television before dying in 1951. But his best-known stories were written before the First World War. 'The Wendigo' and 'The Willows' are highly praised by virtually all experts in the field. 'The Wendigo' has inspired at least two films.



A few other tales occasionally emerge from the fog of obscurity to take their place in anthologies - 'The Glamour of the Snow', 'The Damned', 'The Other Wing', 'An Empty House', 'Ancient Lights'. And the John Silence stories - uneven though they are - rightly occupy a significant place in the history of the occult detective sub-genre. But most of Blackwood's stories are - like his novels - neglected. But Blackwood remains one of those writers who are admired from a distance by most fans of the weird tale.

It's not hard to see why. As Lovecraft remarked, Blackwood was strong on ideas but could be very poor on execution. His laboured prose style is slightly reminiscent of Henry James, in that both seem determined to immerse the reader in a warm soup of words rather than simply state what's going on and why. If reading M.R. James is like a leisurely stroll through shady undergrowth, reading Blackwood is often like swimming through treacle.

Much of the problem is down to fashion. Blackwood began writing long before the terse, journalistic style of Hemingway and his many imitators transformed popular fiction. But he did himself no favours by constantly struggling to express ideas that are inherently difficult to put into a story because they seem more suited to mystical musings - hence a tendency to ramble and digress.

In addition, Blackwood's attitude to supernatural forces was pantheistic and owed much to Eastern thought. Nature, in his world, is imbued with great power but is also 'beyond good and evil', so the conventional confrontations and resolutions of the modern horror story seldom apply. Thus in 'Ancient Sorceries', the best of the John Silence tales, there is no sense of evil despite the over theme of the witches's Sabbat. Instead there is erotic excitement and even regret that the timid hero doesn't throw in his lot with the witches.

But for all its faults Blackwood's best work belongs on the shelf next to the other greats. If you can immerse yourself in 'The Willows' or 'The Wendigo' you will not regret it. Yes, they are rambling tales and take a long time to get going. But the imagery, once it arrives, is immensely powerful and sticks in the mind. When reading Blackwood you get the feeling that you are in touch with a truly original and complex mind (and, it might be added, a thoroughly decent human being).

For my money the best introduction to Blackwood's work is a paperback, the Dover Best Ghost Stories edited by E.F. Bleiler. Second-hand editions are relatively cheap. It's also available for Kindle. More expensive hardback collections are available, notably the excellent volumes from Tartarus Press, though these can be very pricey.

Best New Horror - Long Listed

Congratulations to ST authors who appear on Ellen Datlow's world-famous long list of Honorable Mentions. They are, in alphabetical order: 

Stephen Cashmore - 'The Badger Boy', ST 21

Stephen J. Clark - 'The Vigil', ST 22

Adam Golaski - 'Translation', ST 21

Derek John - 'The Blighted Rose', ST 22

Ian Rogers - 'Midnight Blonde', ST 22

and Steve Rasnic Tem - 'These Days When All Is Silver and Bright' - ST 21

Jolly good show!

You can read all of those excellent stories, and many more, by clicking away madly at the link to the left and purchasing a print or pdf copy of the relevant issues.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

The Badlands - Review Copies Available

Hello online world. A couple of months after publication Mike Chislett's novella The Badlands (see the link on the right) is not exactly selling like hot cakes, and that's a pity. Mike's a true original and his work deserves a wider audience, in my opinion.

So if anyone would like a free PDF review copy, please let me know and I will email it to you. If you like interesting weird fiction, I don't think you'll regret it. I just want to get the news out there and I think that if enough people read it there'll be some good word of mouth.

So, drop me a line - freebie to be had! You have nothing to lose but your vague misgivings.

The Komarovs - Review

He staggered to his feet and patted himself distractedly. "I hardly dared to hope," he whispered. Then he eyed me up and down. "You don't look like a necromancer."
"What d'you want, a pointy hat?" I retorted.


Chico Kidd's story 'Cats and Architecture' graced issue 2 of ST, waaaaaaay back in 2001. The story was the first published here to be anthologised in a 'Best of...' anthology. More importantly, it was also the story that broke a severe writing block for the author.

In that first story the Portuguese sea-captain, Luis da Silva, found himself in Venice and under demonic attack. The result was to make him a ghost-seer and necromancer - one with the power to conjure up those who've died before their time. Three and a half years later Luis takes his family to the fair in Lisbon, hoping to have a nice day out. Needless to say things do not go as planned. The result is a novella that's great fun, full of interesting ideas, and offers da Silva fans another heady dose of supernatural antics.

The Komarovs is, in genre terms, a hybrid of Buffy and Carnivale, or so it struck me. If you haven't seen one or both of those series, don't worry - one great virtue of Chico's writing is that she provides just enough character back-story to make them comprehensible, but doesn't clutter a fast-moving plot with needless exposition. Thus we soon discover that the beautiful but aloof young Siamese twins, the Komarovs, are Up To Something. Enter Harris, da Silva's first mate and a werewolf, who falls foul of a zombie (who smells terrible) and ends up strapped down and under the baleful influence of the wrong kind of incense...

Circuses, especially their odder sideshow attractions, are a familiar ingredient in horror fiction. But here the colourful historic setting and the liveliness of the story make shenanigans in a mirror-maze seem fresh and interesting. There's a clever twist involving said mirror, and the relationship between members of da Silva's crew are nicely dramatised, as is the captain's attitude to his family. There's also a touch of horror-comedy, as a zombie disintegrates in combat but continues to try and get the job done. They had a proper work ethic in those days.

The conjoined twins themselves remain rather enigmatic, but perhaps that's as it should be - this novella is obviously the prelude to something bigger and nastier, as the central premise is that apocalyptic events are coming. Overall, The Komarovs is a well-balanced novella, packing in more material than a short story could hold but still short enough to read in one sitting. The occult universe Chico Kidd has concocted for da Silva and his circle is now very well-developed. And, like all proper world-building, she's continued to add extra ingredients - in this case, a scholarly order called the Alexandrians who seem - on the face of it - to be goodies. Time will tell.

The Komarovs is an eBook from Alchemy Press, and the link above will take you to Amazon where it can be downloaded at a very reasonable price.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Building a Spooky Library - Ramsey Campbell

File:Demons by daylight.jpg



There is a suitably nebulous region where supernatural fiction overlaps with horror. It's not always necessary for a supernatural tale to be horrific, but many of the best ones are. It is also possible for a supernatural tale to be the length of a novel, but this is uncommon - the best examples of the genre tend to be short stories. Of the modern masters of the supernatural story, Ramsey Campbell is undoubtedly one of the greats, if not the greatest.

Campbell's career as a writer is a remarkable success story, albeit one hedged about with the problems that beset the vast majority of authors. His first anthology of Lovecraftian Tales, The Inhabitant of the Lake, was published by the legendary Arkham House in 1964. Campbell was in his late teens at the time (he was born in 1946). This remarkable debut was followed by a second Arkham collection, Demons by Daylight, in 1973.


Sunday, 18 August 2013

New books by ST stars!

Well, by star writers who've had stories published in ST. We begin with Chico Kidd, whose story 'Cats & Architecture' graced the very first issue. It also introduced the character of Captain da Silva, a Portuguese sea captain and demon-seer of the early 20th century. Chico has written a lot of da Silva tales. The latest is a novella from Alchemy Press, and I'm intrigued. It tackles a fascinating but difficult subject - the kind of people who were generally paraded as sideshow attractions.
Charley Zriny wished he hadn’t hired the Siamese twins. Sure, they were a great draw, but they acted as if they were queen of the damn carnival. And that’s just the start. Besides the zombie there is a werewolf, a necromancer and ghosts. A maze of mirrors. And more zombies. Captain da Silva is at the centre of this – and all he wanted was a day out with his family.
 


The second book, going to print as I type this, is a new collection by Steve Duffy. There are far too few books by Steve out there, so The Moment of Panic is quite an event. PS Publishing are taking orders. Steve tells me that one of the stories here is 'A Serious Piece of Metal', which first appeared in ST#5. That was in 2003, for Pete's sake! It's taking far too long to get Mr Duffy's emanations between hard cover, in my opinion.


The Moment of Panic [hc] by Steve Duffy


Well, there you go. A novella and a story collection by two very different, very gifted authors. I think that's our autumn reading sorted.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Building a Spooky Library - Introduction

On BBC Radio 3 there's a regular strand called Building a Library. This consists of advice for classical music dunces, like me, on which versions of famous symphonies etc to buy. It occurred to me that a similar strand on this blog might be helpful for those in search of essential texts in the realms of the supernatural.

Like many people, I take it for granted that other people know what I consider to be the 'standard texts' of the ghost story and early supernatural horror. But I'm sure that, just as others may not have read the books in my library, there must be major gaps in my own knowledge.

And then there's the time factor. Some people may have a great knowledge of contemporary authors but be a bit lost with, say, the Victorians. Others may have exactly the opposite problem - which of the moderns should they try? So I'm going to write about books that I have and consider essential, and invite others to suggest authors/texts that I may not have read or even heard of.


Monday, 12 August 2013

Vote as if your very soul depended upon it!

There's some serious voting going on, all day, every day.


See what I did there, with the time reference? But he wrote supernatural fiction too, so it's not stupid.



This is either 'The Tracate Middoth' or 'Number 13'. Or something entirely different.



Sweary feminists are the best feminists.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Supernatural Tales #24 - available to buy online

If you look over to the right you'll note that issues 17-24 are now available to purchase from Lulu.com. The print magazine costs just under a fiver plus p&p, while the PDF can be downloaded for just under two pounds.

This is the cover of the eBook version:


The art is by Sam Dawson, and I think it's rather nifty. There'll be more of Sam's artwork in future issues, of course. And he also has a story in the latest issue. 

Here is the list of contents of ST#24, with links to author blogs/sites where I could find 'em:

'The Wife's Lament' by Lynda E. Rucker

'The Boys With the Ball' by Stephen Goldsmith

'Majorlena' by Jane Jakeman

'A Life on the Stage' by John Llewellyn Probert

'Dollhouse by the Sea' by Sean Logan

'Omnia Exeunt in Mysterium' by Michael J. Abolafia

'Man Under' by Sam Dawson

This is an excellent issue, though I say so myself. I aim to provide as wide a range of supernatural fiction as possible, and I think I've found some unique and intriguing tales. The subject matter ranges from Anglo-Saxon poetry to accident on the London Underground via a disastrous Caribbean holiday, while among the settings you'll find a run-down theatre, an unfinished hotel, and a Middle East war zone. And there are terrors and mysteries at every turn, with enough surprises and twists to tickle the most jaded palate. In other words, you'd be a mug not to buy this one.

The Fall of the House of Usher (short silent film)


Ignore the Spanish subtitles, they don't last long! I think this is a really wonderful modernist effort. I particularly like the black-gloved servant, the weird imagery surrounding the coffin, and the way the fall itself is handled. But it's all good! As in weird...

Friday, 9 August 2013

Ring Around the Monty

In ST#3, now long out of print, I wrote the following essay on the Japanese film Ring(u), with reference to M.R. James. It may be of interest. It may not. Here it is.


Now here’s a funny thing – funny peculiar, that is. In which modern entertainment medium would you, gentle and discerning reader, expect to encounter the most imaginative and faithful treatment of the ghost stories of M.R. James? Did someone at the back mumble ‘the BBC around Christmas time’? O ye of narrow cultural horizons! By far the best attempt at a Jamesian spook story I have come across in recent years is a teen-orientated Japanese horror movie based on a saga originally published as an adult comic (or graphic novel, as hairy middle-aged blokes in death metal T-shirts insist on calling such things). The film is Ring, and it is available on video for rent or to buy, along with its sequel.

Anyone who doesn’t like films with subtitles should stop reading now. Anyone still with us needs to know a few things. Firstly, not all Japanese films feature frequent soulless copulation or crazy kung-fu violence. Ring has neither. Lest I should lose my audience entirely, what we do get is a well-paced supernatural thriller that works, in large part, thanks to understated direction, good central performances, and a plot that takes both its basic premise and some of its best shocks from the Provost of Eton’s tales.

The ring of the title is figurative – a group of schoolchildren circulate a mysterious video that one of them supposedly recorded by chance, while on holiday in a remote maritime province. Anyone who sees the video (which features a series of surreally-disjointed but not actually horrific scenes) supposedly dies exactly seven days later. An urban legend, of course; but kids do die, and the viewer is left in no doubt that Something is going on. A young journalist investigates, and a chain of events is set in motion that leads to revelations, terrors and a neat ending that leaves room for Ring 2.

Ring contains explicit nods to several stories by M.R. James: a claustrophic descent into a well recalls ‘The Treasure of Abbott Thomas’; the arrival of the deadly ‘thing’, Sadako, suggests ‘The Diary of Mr Poynter’; and the actual process whereby people are successively doomed is a straight lift from ‘Casting the Runes’, perhaps by way of the British film Curse of the Demon. James is not the only influence. There are nods to Lovecraft, science fiction B-movies, and Japanese folklore. You’d think this would make for a terrible mess, but instead Ring is a remarkably coherent and effective film. It is also very engaging, especially as the implications of the video curse become clear to the reporter, who has a small son.

Ring 2 is not quite as good as the first film – perhaps inevitably. However, this is not because of the simple problem of ‘sequelitis’, the curse of so many Hollywood shocker franchises. While there is a sense that good ideas from the first film are being rehashed, the real problem is that the story virtually marks time. In Ring we are told that the terrifying Sadako’s father was not human, and Ring 2 repeats the claim without adding any extra data. Something Lovecraftian here, methinks, but what? The set pieces, while well-executed, are less shocking, with one exception – a cracking scene in a video editing suite, which returns to Jamesian horror on the individual level. Overall, though, we get a Nigel Kneale set up – scientists tampering with dark forces, as in The Stone Tape and Quatermass and the Pit. Indeed, both Kneale’s classics are more than hinted at, particularly in a well-executed but rather predictable finale. Ring 2 is eminently watchable as science fiction, but I hope that the next instalment (if there is one) returns to the darker terrors of the original.*

*It didn't.


Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Getting there...

Supernatural Tales #24 is finally ready for lift-off, post-out, and generally going places. Overseas' contributors' copies are now on their way. British authors and cover artist Sam Dawson will receive their copies in a day or two, with luck. Then come overseas subscribers' copies, review copies, UK subscribers' copies... It's a crazy old time here at Valdemar Towers and no mistake.

Friday, 2 August 2013

Meanwhile, in Dublin...



I know it's a pain to be asked to vote for things online, what with the logging in and clicking, and having to sit down in your own home while doing it. But this is really worth it, if only to stop Brian posting video of a full Irish lunch. And he may just do that regardless.

(Does he seem a mite overdressed to you, for someone trying to get money on the internet? Just a thought.)

NB Brian-Of-The-Shapely-Ankles (as he is known in Irish epic poetry) would like me to point out that you can vote once a day for Swan River Press - so this really is a case of 'vote early, vote often'!

Thursday, 1 August 2013