Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Ringstones and Other Curious Tales

Sarban
Tartarus Press

Ringstones and Other Curious Tales ‘have a curiously-imparted quality of strangeness; the feeling of having strayed over the border of experience into a world where other dimensions operate.’ So said one of the original reviewers of these unique stories, first published in 1951.

John William Wall was a British diplomat who worked in various Middle Eastern contries and who published three books under the pen name Sarban.  'Ringstones' was the first of the three and collected five stories , two set in the Middle East, one in Greece and two, including the title piece, set in the UK.

I'd been intrigued to read Sarban for a while having first discovered him by accident having uncovered a hideously lurid paperback edition of his 'The Sound of His Horn' with a drawing of a cross-eyed cat lady on the cover.  Indeed the cover art was so bad that I found I couldn't read it and so traded it in and used the proceeds to buy two nicer Tartarus Press editions.  Memories of the awful art are still too fresh so I decided to delve into Ringstones first, with the thought of a stone circle helping make my decision.

Opening the book is the quick and slight 'A Christmas Story' about a pair of Russian aviators stuck in the middle of nowhere as winter starts to bite who have a close encounter with a creature of some sort.  For me the framing device here was of more interest than the story and felt a little more considered than the story within.

'Capra' is a far more interesting prospect that builds slowly from an almost unconnected opening act into a nifty little tale of vapid society life and old gods.  It's filled with vibrant characterisations and a real sense of crushing inevitability.

The surprise gem of the book proved to be 'Calmahain' a beautiful, bittersweet tale of two children taking refuge from the restrictions of their home life in a deeply imaginative fantasy.  I was however much less enamoured of 'The Khan' which while boasting the delightful prose I've come to now expect was just a weak and unexceptional tale, particularly after the wonders of its predecessor.

The book's title piece, also its longest, proved to be another wonder.  Sarban seemed to be at his strongest when dealing with stories that embraced the myths and legends of, not necessarily his homeland, but those he would have grown up with.  Here a young lady is hired for the holidays to act as tutor and governess for a trio of children at Ringstone Hall.  Over the course of a preternaturally sunny summer she is slowly drawn under the spell of the young boy and embroiled more deeply in his play until the actuality of her dilemma finally dawns.  It's a wonderfully enchanting piece spoiled somewhat by a coda that seemed heavy handed and unnecessary.

As a whole though the book turned out to be a revelation.  Wall's prose is captivating and his ideas are gently terrifying and occasionally achingly beautiful.  There is a common theme of confinement and of being trapped that runs through the stories that one can't help but relate to the writer inside the diplomat but it's very pleasing to know he did occasionally break free.

Buy it from the publisher at the link above.

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Sunday, 28 June 2020

The Monster Club

The 1980s wasn't exactly what you'd call a golden era for British horror movies.  There were some good TV series and some good novelists but the horror movie industry in the UK mostly gave up and stayed home.  It did though occasionally pop its head out from under the bed and give us the goods.

Very loosely adapted from stories written by British horror writer R. Chetwynd-Hayes, 'The Monster Club' is, in the great tradition, a portmanteau featuring three tales told inside a framing story which in this instance involves a vampire named Eramus (Vincent Price) taking the human author also named R. Chetwynd-Hayes (John Carradine) that he's just chewed on for a drink at the titular club. 

In the club we and Chetwynd-Hayes are treated to four musical performances by The Viewers, B.A. Robertson, Night and The Pretty Things and three stories about a shadmock, a vampire and a ghoul.

Like the music the three stories vary wildly in terms of quality.  The story of the lonely shadmock (James Laurenson) with its murderous whistle being robbed by heartless villains Barbara Kellerman and Simon Ward  feels like a filler story that has fallen out of one of the Amicus anthologies which is hardly surprising given that this particular movie was produced by that company's founder Milton Subotsky and directed by the great Roy Ward Baker who'd made two of them ('Asylum' & 'The Vault of Horror').  The vampire tale is played strictly for laughs featuring a frumpy looking - if such a thing is possible - Britt Ekland and The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water himself Donald Pleasence as a civil service vampire hunter. The third story, and according to Chetwynd-Hayes the only one to resemble his source material, is the most effective and tells of a horror movie director searching for locations who happens upon a mist shrouded village where he is set upon by corpse eating ghouls and has to take refuge on holy ground all to a lovely, haunted synth tune called 'Ghouls Galore' by Alan Hawkshaw and some fantastic John Bolton illustrations.


'The Monster Club' was a flop on it's original release in 1981 and it's not hard to see why,  even at the time it was horrendously dated looking, the monster costumes laughably cheap and shoddy, the stories daft and the acting hammy but to me all those things sound like positives and I have long loved this film since I first saw it on my old black and white portable TV with both me and the television set hiding under the blankets because it was on late on a school night.

Buy it here - The Monster Club [1980] [DVD] - or watch it below.



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Saturday, 27 June 2020

Here and Now: Floating Anarchy

Here and Now were a band formed in the early 1970s that embraced the psychedelic, space rock and punk sounds and lifestyle and blazed an idiosyncratic path through that decade and beyond.  Armed with instruments and a bus the band toured extensively playing for free both as part of the nascent free festival scene and on their own count.  They toured and recorded with Daevid Allen as Planet Gong, provided bands such as The Fall and Alternative TV with early tours all the while occupying that truly interesting area between genres and way outside the mainstream.

Still active today and with a discography that is a diverse as it is elusive the band have recently been the subjects of this lovely little documentary made by Hayley Allardyce in memory of her father, synth player Gavin da Blitz, that offers a fascinating glimpse back to a time and a scene now sadly long gone. 



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Tuesday, 23 June 2020

Elric

Michael Moorcock - Elric books
Michael Moorcock
Grafton

Elric the albino emperor of Melnibone an island of decadent elven-ish sorcerors has long been the most beloved of Michael Moorcock's creations.  Armed with his black soul-eating sword Stormbringer  Elric is one of the aspects of Moorcock's Eternal Champion charged - whether they like it or not - to maintain the balance between order and chaos across the multiverse.

Apart from the first book (published in 1972) the stories were originally published in the pages of Science Fantasy magazine in the early 1960s as a series of novellas and then collected together into the series of books below with their iconic Michael Whelan covers in the 1970s.

My partner bought me the almost set of the Grafton Elric books for Xmas after we found them in a junk shop last November.  It was unfortunately missing the first book and it's taken me several months to track a copy down.  I've long had a hankering to re-read the full series and once I finally had the set in my hands I dove right in and read the lot in a week and thought I'd lay them all on you in one go.

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Elric of Melnibone Michael Moorcock
Elric of Melnibone

This is the tale of Elric, later called Womanslayer; of his love for Cymoril and of the rivalry with his cousin Yrkoon, a rivalry that was to bring the Dreaming City crashing in flames, destroyed by the reavers of the Young Kingdoms.
Elric, red-eyed, albino, the inheritor of waning powers, his strength precarious, sustain by arcane drugs. A hero seemingly unfit for his role. His story treats of monstrous emotions and high ambitions, of sorceries and treacheries, agonies and fearful pleasures - an adventure that Elric was to remember on in his darkest nightmares.

Elric, the fey albino king of a fading island power, Melnibone, is beset by challenges on all sides.  From without by the humans of the 'young kingdoms' jealous of Melnibone's wealth and vengeful for its past despotism and from within by his covetous cousin Yrkoon who believes Elric unfit to rule and it is he who drives the story.

As Elric strives to foil the usurper we are introduced to mythology that feels real and which is lacking in the tedious cod-Arthurian / Robin Hoodisms that make much fantasy literature such a bore.  The Chaos Gods seem suitably quixotic without being tediously evil and even at this early point there feels to be a fully developed and complete vision of all levels of the world.

The story itself is fairly slight and tells quite a straight forward story but that's not the joy here.  The joy is the invention and the bold vision that has created so singular a character as the albino king.

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elric The Sailor on the Seas of Fate Michael Moorcock
The Sailor on the Seas of Fate

Leaving his cousin Yrkoon sitting as regent upon the Ruby Throne of Melnibone, leaving his cousin Cymoril weeping for him and despairing of his ever returning, Elric sailed from Imrryr, the Dreaming City, and went to seek an unknown goal in the world of the Young Kingdoms where Melniboneans were at best, disliked.

After rescuing Cymoril and rather stupidly placing his treacherous cousin on the throne of Melnibone Elric begins his year long odyssey to try and understand the new world.  Unfortunately fate has other plans for him as he finds himself aboard a strange boat alongside other incarnations of the Eternal Champion, Erekose and Corum.  It's a quest book but one with a bit of a difference as Elric is a truly unwilling participant especially after events take on a bafflingly cosmic turn.

The second of the trio of tales here is by far the weakest.  Indeed in the time between reading the book and writing this review I had completely forgotten about a large section of the story where Elric and his new companion Smiorgan rescue a young girl who may or may not be the reincarnation of someone from an ancient Melnibonean myth from someone who was actually there.

The book ends strongly with a journey into the history of Elric's race as he accompanies explorers to his race's ancestral homeland.  Again the story is a pretty linear journey, a from points A to B sort of deal, but one that feels like a crucial step in the development of the overarching story.

Another fun instalment with a not unenjoyable middle section buoyed up by the two very enjoyable tales either side of it.

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elric the weird of the white wolf Michael Moorcock
The Weird of the White Wolf

"We must be bound to one another then. Bound by hell-forged chains and fate-haunted circumstance. Well, then - let it be thus so - and men will have cause to tremble and flee when they hear the names of Elric of Melnibone and Stormbringer, his sword. We are two of a kind - produced by an age which has deserted us. Let us give this age cause to hate us." 
Imrryr, the dreaming city; Yyrkoon, the hated usurper; Cymoril, the beloved... all had fallen to the fury and unearthly power of the albino prince and his terrible sword. An Elric faced at last the fate that was to be his in this haunted era - that he must go forth, sword and man as one, and havoc and horror would be forever at his forefront until he found his Purpose that was yet obscured to him.

The third Elric book finds him suddenly heading back to Melnibone all tooled up with an army of Young Kingdom fighters at his back to exact revenge on his cousin who had been just as awful a ruler as everyone except Elric had predicted.  The raid has typically tragic consequences but a depressed Elric is soon drawn into another quest.

This time out he again tangles with the minions of chaos and makes a friend in the shape of Moonglum a cheerful little chappie who provides a perfect foil to Elric's morose nature.

Like the previous book this is essentially several novellas detailing adventures along the way of Elric's life which makes them fast and fun to read as they refuse to allow themselves to get bogged down and instead revel in their pulpy glory.

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elric the vanishing tower Michael Moorcock
The Vanishing Tower

Elric of Melniboné, proud prince of ruins, last lord of a dying race, wanders the lands of the Young Kingdoms in search of the evil sorcerer Theleb K'aarna. His object is revenge. But to achieve this, he must first brave such horrors as the Creatures of Chaos, the freezing wilderness of World's Edge, the golden-skinned Kelmain hordes, King Urish the Seven-fingered with his great cleaver Hackmeat, the Burning God, the Sighing Desert, and the terrible stone-age men of Pio. Although Elric holds within him a destiny greater than he could ever know, and controls the hellsword Stormbringer, stealer of souls, his task looks hopeless - until he encounters Myshella, Empress of the Dawn, the sleeping sorceress.

The fourth of Moorcock's Elric novels continues the albino's pursuit of the of the magician who had plagued him in the previous volume.  This time across the three novellas that make up the book Elric battles him at the world's end, in the city of the beggars and in Tanelorn the eternal city beyond the battle between chaos and order.

We get to meet several aspects of the Eternal Champion - Corum and Erekhose - and learn slightly more regarding Moonglum and the nature of his link to Elric.

As ever Moorcock delivers a super fast and very readable romp filled with hacking and slashing and soul stealing which is, as always, great fun.

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elric the bane of the black sword Michael Moorcock
The Bane of the Black Sword

Elric returns to Yishana, and finds peace at last. Meanwhile, at the world's rim, dragging red horror in its wake, a horde unimaginable moves on the fabled, gentle, impossible city Tanelorn.

Continuing directly on from the fourth volume Elric is once again being plagued by the twin threats of the sorcerer Theleb K'aarna and his spurned once lover Queen Yishana a reckoning with whom brings the albino back in contact with the remnants of his former people.

The second story finds the albino falling rapidly in love with a stranded maiden, Zarozinia, in the hellish Forest of Troos where he and Moonglum are forced to fight the dead.

The third tale tells of a break in Elric's newly idyllic existence in the arms of his new lover as he is once again forced to take up his sword to defend his new home.

The book ends then with an epilogue that allows us to revisit the land of Tanelorn and those that live there as the beggars of Nadoskor march on the city to take it for Chaos.  It's a lovely little diversion from the Elric stories and gives us a glimpse of the wider world of the Eternal Champion that exists in Moorcock's mythos and the ways in which he thinks of the roles of Order and Chaos within his tales.

As with the other four books, these Elric novellas are fleeting and fun twists on the whole girded loins, hack 'n' slash brand of fantasy with the added extras of Moorcock's deliciously anarchic sensibilities at the helm.

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Michael Moorcock Elric Stormbringer
Stormbringer

The epic tale of Elric of Melniboné, albino prince of ruins, moves to its awesome conclusion - with the whole of the natural and supernatural world in mighty conflict - the final conflict, Armageddon. Elric holds the key to the future: the new age which must follow the destruction. To turn that key he must sacrifice all that he loves and risk his very soul.

Stormbringer is the final part of the original Elric stories and tells of the final battle between the albino misery guts and the forces of chaos that are rapidly turning the world into tentacles and ooze.

As with the other books in this run Stormbringer is split into several (four) novellas each telling another step in Elric's journey to the final reckoning

As an end to the series it's quite satisfying but there are a few hiccups along the way, two of the turning point battles are very much glossed over with both using unwielded floating magic swords to win the fights.  It does feel very much like Moorcock has lost interest in that side of things which I suppose is entirely understandable, I imagine there's only so many ways you can write about Elric stabbing someone.

It does though come to an entirely apt conclusion.  The end when it comes is definite and true to what has gone before and wrapped the legend of Elric up perfectly right up until Moorcock decided to write some more.

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Sunday, 21 June 2020

Ghost in the Water

Ghost in the Water 1982
Based on the 1973 novel of the same name by Edward Chitham this ghostly tale was only ever screened the once on UK television - BBC1 at 4:40pm on New Year's Eve 1982 - and then disappeared into obscurity.

Directed by Renny Rye (who would later make 'Box of Delights') the story revolves around Tess (Judith Allchurch) and David (Ian Stevens) and their history project into the death of a young local girl named Abigail Parkes in the 1860s who begins to haunt Tess with visions of her life and ultimately of her death.

The two young and untrained actors are a delight helped in no end by a strong supporting cast and a script that delivers both on story and on quiet humour particularly from Tess' mum played by 'Last of the Summer Wine' regular (appearing in 273 episodes over 27 years) Jane Freeman.

Ghost in the Water 1982
Rye obviously has an eye for the supernatural, opening the film on a dark and rainy night with the two kids rooting around in a graveyard from which he cuts to a purpose made horror movie on the family television and including not one but two drowning sequences one of which features Tess simulating the experience in her bath which must have been an unexpected and shocking experience for anyone watching in its original tea time slot and not a scene you could imagine in any modern children's drama.

Drowning aside 'Ghost in the Water' is a fairly gentle film with a real warmth to it that plays off the relationship between the two kids, their classmates and Tess' family.  The narrative rolls along nicely and Rye makes good use of the limited run time to tell a concise story and one that is unexpectedly impactful and it's a real shame that this film has been mostly forgotten.

Buy it here - Ghost In The Water [DVD] - or watch it below.




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Friday, 19 June 2020

Alice in Wonderland (1903)

This fabulous film version of Lewis Carroll's classic tale dates from a mere 38 years after the novel was published in 1865.

From the BFI's description...

The "adaptation was directed by Cecil Hepworth and Percy Stow, and was based on Sir John Tenniel's original illustrations. [...] Hepworth cast his wife as the Red Queen, and he himself appears as the Frog Footman. Even the Cheshire cat is played by a family pet. With a running time of just 12 minutes (8 of which survive), Alice in Wonderland was the longest film produced in England at that time. Film archivists have been able to restore the film's original colours for the first time in over 100 years."

The film was obviously a labour of love and I can only begin to imagine the time, effort and skill that went into making it.  It's a stunning piece of work and I am in awe of, especialy how well they did the 'Drink me' scene, and I'm so pleased that the BFI took the time to restore it as it's an absolute joy to watch.



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If you enjoy what we do here on Wyrd Britain and would like to help us continue then we would very much welcome a donation towards keeping the blog going - paypal.me/wyrdbritain

Tuesday, 16 June 2020

Jerusalem

Alan Moore Jerusalem Knockabout
Alan Moore
Knockabout

Begging comparisons to Tolstoy and Joyce, this “magnificent, sprawling cosmic epic” (Guardian) by Alan Moore—the genre-defying, “groundbreaking, hairy genius of our generation” (NPR)—takes its place among the most notable works of contemporary English literature. In decaying Northampton, eternity loiters between housing projects. Among saints, kings, prostitutes, and derelicts, a timeline unravels: second-century fiends wait in urine-scented stairwells, delinquent specters undermine a century with tunnels, and in upstairs parlors, laborers with golden blood reduce fate to a snooker tournament. Through the labyrinthine streets and pages of Jerusalem tread ghosts singing hymns of wealth and poverty. They celebrate the English language, challenge mortality post-Einstein, and insist upon their slum as Blake’s eternal holy city in “Moore’s apotheosis, a fourth-dimensional symphony” (Entertainment Weekly). This “brilliant . . . monumentally ambitious” tale from the gutter is “a massive literary achievement for our time—and maybe for all times simultaneously” (Washington Post).

When this came out in 2016 I knew I'd read it at some point when I was less preoccupied with things like relearning how to walk and it was too big and too pricey for me at the time.  Roll on 3 and a half years and there's a hardback first edition sat in the shop and I have a discount card so the time had come.  All told it's taken me most of about 7 months to read it as I began by deliberately limiting myself to only reading a chapter and interspersing themwith other books but when lockdown hit I got my head into it and read about 900 of its 1174 pages in the ensuing fortnight.

So the burning question is "What's it like?" and the answer quite simply is "It's Alan Moore."  It's pure unadulterated Moore unfiltered by corporate diktat, unsullied by collaborators and unhinged by choice.

Like Moore's first novel, 'Voice of Fire', 'Jerusalem' is set almost entirely in his home town of Northampton, in particular it's set in a neglected and working class area called 'The Burroughs'.  It follows the fates of various members of one family - the Vernalls and later the Warrens - from the Victorian era to, well, to the end of time but mostly to around 2006 and from Lambeth and St Paul's Cathedral to the afterlife, the upstairs or 'Mansoul' as it's called.

The Vernalls / Warrens are eccentrics and artists touched by the Angles, they are the keepers of the boundaries even if, for the most part, they don't know this.  The story tracks various generations along with various folks both living and dead with whom their lives intersect over a couple of fateful days in 2006.  We meet Snowy and the two Mays, we meet Alma (essentially Moore himself) and her / his younger brother Mick, we meet cousin Audrey, Marla the saint, Lucia Joyce (in a painful chapter written in the style of her father's 'Finnegan's Wake' which I'd never wanted to read and now want to even less), John Clare, Thomas and Samuel Becket(t), former slave and now ghostly mayor Black Charlie and assorted other ne'er do wells and luminaries (sometimes simultaneously) but mostly we meet The Burroughs.

Jerusalem is a love story between an author and his home town, it's a travelogue, a love letter and a homage, albeit one with an entire second book set in a ghostly heaven where children run riot and Arch-Angles knock seven shades of gold out of each other with their billiard cues in a gloriously unrestrained cosmic Enid Blyton romp.

At the book's end I was exhausted but fizzing, there were parts that had me laughing aloud, parts that gripped my heart and parts that I'd pay money not to ever have to read again.  I've been reading Moore since I was a kid and in that time he has produced books that hold special places in my affections - DR & Quinch, Miracleman, V For Vendetta, From Hell,  Lost Girls, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and so many others - books that I love dearly.  I will essentially follow him anywhere he wants to go and to my mind he's more than earned the right to do whatever the fuck he wants and if that's a 1200 page cosmic exploration / meditation / conjuration that puts Northampton at the centre of the universe then I'm very happy to go along for the trip because you know that that's exactly what it's going to be.

I'm never reading it again though, that thing was really bloody heavy.

Buy it here - Jerusalem

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Sunday, 14 June 2020

Spectre

Spectre (1977) Gene Rodenberry, Robert Culp, Gig Young
In 1977 Gene Roddenberry co-wrote (with Samuel A. Peeples) and produced this pilot episode for an unrealised TV series about an American criminologist and occult detective called William Sebastian (Robert Culp) who, with his colleague Dr. "Ham" Hamilton (Gig Young), comes to the UK at the request of Anitra Cyon (Ann Bell) who worries that her brother has come under the influence of malign forces.  Unfortunately for them the gloriously pompous Sir Geoffrey (James Villiers) is quite happy as he is having surounded himself with a coterie of glamorous beauties to attend his every whim and who seems quite determined - for some unfathomable reason - to foil their investigation.

Spectre (1977) Gene Rodenberry, Robert Culp, Gig Young

Rounding out a strong cast are luminaries such as 'the First Lady of Star Trek' Majel Barrett-Roddenberry, a very young looking John Hurt fresh from playing Caligula in 'I, Claudius', and Gordon Jackson who was to take on the role of George Cowley in The Professionals that same year.

Spectre (1977) Gene Rodenberry, Robert Culp, Gig Young
Directed by Clive Donner it's got the look of a US TV show to it and whilst it makes a valiant attempt at evoking the glory days of British gothic horror it all looks far too bright and clean and 'made for TV' to really succeed and the bacchanalian black mass at the finale - to which they added plenty of bare breasts once they knew it wasn't getting picked up - is (unintentionally) very funny indeed.

I am though a real sucker for an occult detective yarn and combined with some fabulous incidental music by the wonderful John Cameron ('Psychomania' and 'Kes') this is always going to attract my attention.  Truthfully it's not up to much and it's not hard to see why it never made it to series but it does have it's charms and if nothing else is a fun way to while away 90 minutes.



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Saturday, 13 June 2020

The Rise and Fall of the Trigan Empire vol.1

The Rise and Fall of the Trigan Empire vol.1 don Lawrence Rebellion
Mike Butterworth
Don Lawerence
Rebellion

The first of a four-volume series reprinting The Rise and Fall of the Trigan Empire - a landmark 1960s science fiction series which rivalled Game of Thrones in popularity and was the precursor to every mythic sci-fi adventure to come!
Under the leadership of Trigo, the Vorg tribesmen band together to resist the Lokan invaders, forming a new country, The Trigan Empire. This is the epic story of its rise and fall.
Featuring an extraordinary combination of the Roman Empire and ancient Greece, Trigo’s story is told in ground breaking fully painted artwork. This is the first in a series collecting all the stories painted by the legendary Don Lawrence.


The Rise and Fall of the Trigan Empire vol.1 don Lawrence Rebellion
I first came across The Trigan Empire back when I was a kid and Hamlyn released a big beautiful hardback collection that I adored.  Over the years I've treasured that one and the later Hawk Books edition spending many, many hours poring over them.  Fast forward to 2020 and Rebellion (home of 2000ad) has embarked on a reprint of the entire series in 4 big, bold and beautiful collections.

Now it's got to be said that the strength of this series doesn't lie in Butterworth's scripts, they are workmanlike at best and hackneyed and repetitious at worst.  There's a reason why whenever Trigan Empire is discussed it's in reference to Don Lawrence's stunning artwork but the writing is what it is and I've grown up with these stories - this book being mostly identical to the two older volumes I have - so I'm fairly inured to it and enjoy it for what it is.

The world of The Trigan Empire is one that mixes Roman tropes and spaceships, horseback warriors and hover tanks, sailing ships and giant robots.   It was the perfect showcase for the artist's skills and he delivered again and again and again with artwork that you can lose yourself in for hours, his beautiful panels lifting the story to new heights.

It makes me so happy to see this book back in print and I'm ridiculously pleased to be getting to finally enjoy the complete saga

Buy it here - The Rise and Fall of The Trigan Empire Volume One

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If you enjoy what we do here on Wyrd Britain and would like to help us continue then we would very much welcome a donation towards keeping the blog going - paypal.me/wyrdbritain

Wednesday, 10 June 2020

Moorcock and Moore in conversation

alan moore and michael moorcock in conversation
Dating from 2006 and convened to mark the publication of his 3875th novel* (that week) 'Vengeance of Rome' (the fourth of the Pyat Quartet) this video shows Michael Moorcock and Alan Moore engaged in a wide and free roaming conversation about Moorcock's life and work that takes in his post-war childhood, his editorship of 'New Worlds', modernism and the modern author, Jerry Cornelius, being left wing in Texas and of course, due to the occasion, Colonel Pyat and the holocaust.

It's fascinating stuff that finds these two fantastic writers, counter cultural icons and, I think most crucially here, friends really connecting in a way you don't often see in these sort of things. 

*please note that it wasn't actually his 3875th novel.  No one actually knows the true number of Michael Moorcock novels as it's potentially greater than mathematics can accomodate.



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Tuesday, 9 June 2020

The Far Tower: Stories for W.B. Yeats

Mark Valentine - The Far Tower (Swan River Press)
photo by Brian J. Showers
Mark Valentine (editor)
Swan River Press

"All Art that is not mere story-telling, or mere portraiture, is symbolic . . . " – W. B. Yeats

Stories of magic and myth, folklore and fairy traditions, the occult and the outré, inspired by the rich mystical world of Ireland’s greatest poet, W. B. Yeats. We invited ten contemporary writers to celebrate Yeats’s contributions to the history of the fantastic and supernatural in literature, drawing on his work for their own new and original tales. Each has chosen a phrase from his poems, plays, stories, or essays to herald their own explorations in the esoteric. Alongside their own powerful qualities, the pieces here testify to the continuing resonance of Yeats’s vision in our own time, that deep understanding of the meshing of two worlds and the talismans of old magic.

Poet and mystic W.B. Yeats was a key figure in Irish literature and his poetry has retained it's place at the heart of the discipline with its mystical nature providing an inspiration on all those featured here.

Editor Mark Valentine has compiled this companion piece to Swan River's recent Oscar Wilde volume and invited various authors to contribute.  Amongst them we find familiar names such as Ron Weighell who tells a tale of a Yeats scholar who unlocks a hidden spell and finds himself in a torrid love affair with a beautiful and enigmatic woman, John Howard who finds inspiration in the moon as seen from atop a tower and Reggie Oliver whose melodramatic and farcical tale is perfectly suited to the seaside actors and charlatans he peoples his tale with.

Alongside them we find D.P. Watt with an intriguing tale of visions from elsewhere and Rosanne Rabinowitz continues that theme as an old friend of the poet is 'visited' from beyond the grave.  Caitriona Lally's tale of the problems with a self sufficient hermit-like existence was fun but a little insubstantial whilst Timothy J. Jarvis maintains a galloping pace with his fairy tale like story of the poets remains and the influence they exert.

I must admit my previous exposure to Derek John's writing, in 'The Pale Illuminations', hadn't blown me away but his story here of an unwelcome spirit at a seance was a lot of fun.  Lynda Rucker provides a nicely enigmatic tale of a world on the verge of catastrophe that felt almost too relevant as I'm sat here unable to leave the house due to the coronavirus and the book ends with Nina Antonia's exploration of the role of Yeats' relationship with the fairy folklore of Ireland and it's place in his work.

With a couple of exceptions I've never been much of a poetry buff and so my knowledge of and exposure to Yeats is very limited, barely more than knowing that The Waterboys used his words in a song, but the stories here have left me intrigued.  It's an excellent read that will, I think, prove a tantalising aperitif to newcomers like me and also a satisfying digestif for those who have a more experienced palette for the poet's offerings.

'The Far Tower' is available from the publisher at the link above (tell them Wyrd Britain sent you)

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Sunday, 7 June 2020

The Night Caller

'The Night Caller' (or 'Night Caller from Outer Space' or 'Blood Beast from Outer Space') is a UK science fiction film made in 1965 and is the story of aliens (from Jupiter's moon Ganymede) kidnapping young women via an ad in the pages of 'Bikini Girl' magazine to breed with in order to repopulate their devastated home.

Directed by John Gilling who would, a year later, go on to direct Hammer's 'Plague of the Zombies' & 'The Reptile' with, in the grand tradition of 1960s UK science fiction, an American lead this time in the form of the always reliable John Saxon (Roper in 'Enter The Dragon') accompanied by ITC regular Patricia Haines, Maurice Denholm ('Countess Dracula' & 'Night of the Demon') and Alfred Burke who provide a rock solid core at the heart of the drama.

Like the Quatermass movies this is a take on the cold war analogous red menace alien invasion movies of the 1950s but unlike Quatermass it doesn't have Nigel Kneale writing it so it just isn't as good but few things are so we're not going to hold that against it.  What it is is a big, silly, rubber-suited and jaguar driving alien monster (called Smith) sci-fi movie that feels as joyously dated as it actually is.

Buy it here -  Night Caller from Outer Space - or watch it below.



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If you enjoy what we do here on Wyrd Britain and would like to help us continue then we would very much welcome a donation towards keeping the blog going - paypal.me/wyrdbritain

Friday, 5 June 2020

Grant Morrison: Talking With Gods

Grant Morrison is a Scottish writer most well known for his work in comics where he has written some of the biggest selling titles - Superman, Batman, Justice League and X-Men -from the big two companies. Here in the UK he made his name writing the pop star superhero Zenith (buy it here) for 2000AD.

Over the last three and a bit decades he has amassed both an impressive body of work and a fearsome reputation within his field both for rejuvenating tired old titles and providing innovative new creations of his own.

I remember first reading Morrison when he appeared in 2000AD where the work he was producing immediately marked him out as a writer to watch.  With his move to the US based publishers his output inevitably slewed towards the superhero genre that is those companies' bread and butter.  Happily his take on the spandex botherers was altogether new and he immediately hit the ground running with the post modern hi-jinx of Animal Man (buy it here) and the gloriously strange Doom Patrol (buy it here) which I read in my late teens and early twenties as a newly psychedelicised young fella and which perfectly complemented my other reading of things like Tom Wolfe's Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (buy it here), provided me with my first exposure to David Rudkin's Penda's Fen (Penda's Fen (DVD)) when he quoted it - Child be strange, dark, true, impure, and dissonant. Cherish our flame. Our dawn shall come. - at the end of the 'Brotherhood of Dada / Magic Bus' storyline and which has recently become an enjoyably daft TV show.  Morrison's creator owned work has, for a superhero ambivalent like me, been a source of reliable enjoyment with titles such as WE3 (buy it here), St. Swithin's Day (buy it here) & the Moorcockian magical anarchists of The Invisibles (buy it here) a series I've returned to again and again over the years.

The documentary below was produced by the Sequart Organisation who also made the Warren Ellis documentary 'Captured Ghosts' and as you'd expect provides a thorough overview of Morrison's life and career with contributions from a cavalcade of comic luminaries and along the way investigates his key work, his parents, his alien abduction and his interests in chaos magic and psychedelics.




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If you enjoy what we do here on Wyrd Britain and would like to help us continue then we would very much welcome a donation towards keeping the blog going - paypal.me/wyrdbritain

Wednesday, 3 June 2020

Merlin's Wood

Robert Holdstock
Harper Collins

Martin and Rebecca return to the outskirts of Brocéliande, an enchanted forest in Brittany where they grew up as children approximately 15 years earlier. They have returned for the funeral of their mother. Despite being warned to leave by family and local friends, they stay to settle the estate and take up residence in their childhood home.

The first two books of Holdstock's 'Ryhope Wood' cycle were a real revelation to me so I've been keeping an eye out for the other parts of the series.  'Merlin's Wood' is the fifth book in the series and takes the story out of England and into France.

We know from the first book that other magical woods exist in other countries and so here we find ourselves in the French equivalent, 'Broceliande', the resting place of Merlin.  In the outskirts of the Wood the children of the town have long danced in the ghosts fleeing the wood but for Martin and Rebecca their return to the area brings only heartbreak when their son, born deaf, dumb and blind, begins to slowly suck the life out of his mother as he's consumed by another spirit within the Wood.

This one isn't nearly as successful as the other two.  It gets off to a very slow and uninspiring start and despite improving as the story progresses it never seems to quite find it's rhythm.  It's a shame as the whole songs and ghosts ideas were really strong but Holdstock just didn't seem to get a firm grip on either his idea or of its telling.  Holdstock is generally eminently readable and this one is no different but it never really comes close to hitting the heights of the first two.

Buy it here - Merlin's Wood (Mythago Wood Book 5)

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If you enjoy what we do here on Wyrd Britain and would like to help us continue then we would very much appreciate a donation towards keeping the blog going - paypal.me/wyrdbritain