Sunday, 15 July 2018

Ace of Wands

Devotees of British supernatural TV of the 60s and 70s have become grudgingly used to the idea that many of the shows of the time are lost to us due to the cost cutting practise of 'wiping' and the lack of a system for safely archiving.  Amongst those lost to time are some 90 odd episodes of Doctor Who, much of the first series of Quatermass and the entire first two series of early 70s supernatural detective series 'Ace of Wands'.

Created in 1970 by Trevor Preston and Pamela Lonsdale, Ace of Wands told of the escapades of stage magician and detective 'Tarot' (Michael Mackenzie), his pet owl Ozymandias and various assistants including antiquarian bookseller Mr Sweet (Donald Layne-Smith) and, in the third series, a brother and sister duo by the name of Chas (Roy Holder) and Mikki (Petra Markham).  Originally envisioned as kid friendly show about a flamboyant detective, over the three series, the show becomes progressively more concerned with the supernatural especially with the arrival in series two of writer P.J. Hammond.

Following on from his contributions to AoW Hammond would, of course, go on to create and write Sapphire and Steel but it is here that he first took his cop show chops (earned on shows such as Dixon of Dock Green and Z-Cars) and married it with a love of the odd.  His third series storylines - 'The Meddlers',  'Peacock Pie' & 'Beautiful People' - show hints of what was to come but truthfully with storylines that include people being turned into dolls the whole thing has a similar vibe to what Hammond would later create in S&S.  Ace of Wands walked a fine line between the ostentatious spy-fi, detective fiction of the ITC shows and the Earth bound sci-fi of Pertwee era Doctor Who whilst also tapping into the zeitgeist and embracing the supernatural shenanigans that would characterise much of the 1970s TV we love so much here at Wyrd Britain such as 'The Stone Tape' and 'The Children of the Stones' all the while managing to just about keep things kid friendly and rocking a killer theme tune by Andy Bown.

It is an absolute shame that so much of this series is lost to us but as the recent(ish) Doctor Who finds (of episodes from 'The Web of Fear' and 'The Enemy of the World') show there's always a chance that some of the earlier episodes will resurface but for now we have only the third series and that's certainly no bad thing.

Buy it here - Ace Of Wands [DVD] - or watch it below.

Friday, 13 July 2018

Adrift on the Haunted Seas: The Best Short Stories of William Hope Hodgson

William Hope Hodgson
Douglas A. Anderson (editor)
Cold Spring Press

William Hope Hodgson (1877-1918) is acknowledged as one of the undisputed masters of the sea story. There has never been a collection of his very best short stories offered to the trade. Hodgson's sea stories have unusual authenticity owing to his having spent a lot of time on merchant's ships-he left his family in 1890 at the age of thirteen to spend eight years at sea, where the experience of mistreatment, poor pay, and worse food was contrasted by Hodgson's immeasurable fascination with the sea. His obsession for the sea fills his writings. This volume collects the very best of Hodgson's sea stories-which has not been done before-with some of the most exciting and dramatic creatures of fantasy on the written page, exhibiting the sea in all her moods: wonder, mystery, beauty, and terror."This collection brings together the very best of his short stories, together with a sampling of his poetry. It includes a variety of his sea horrors along with two non-fantastic pieces: "On the Bridge," a journalistic story written immediately after the sinking of the Titanic which attempts to show some of the various factors which contributed to the tragedy, and the suspenseful nonfiction story "Through the Vortex of a Cyclone," which is based on Hodgson's own experiences at sea." - From the Introduction by Douglas A. Anderson

 Hope Hodgson's Carnacki stories have long been a favourite of mine and are at the centre of my love of a supernatural detective yarn but I never really had any real desire to read much else by him.  A year or so ago I listened to an audio of 'The House on the Borderland' which I thoroughly enjoyed  but again no real impulse to dig any further until I stumbled across this collection of his nautical horrors collected together by Douglas A. Anderson.  Now. part of the reason I'd not dug any further into Hodgson's stories is a disinterest in nautical tales but as it was in my hand I thought I'd give them a go.

As a young man Hodgson had spent a number of years at sea in the merchant navy and so the sea loomed large in his stories even featuring in one of his Carnacki tales, 'The Haunted Jarvee' which is included here.  A particular favourite of his was the 'Sargasso Sea', a legendary 'sea of weed' that ensnares unwary ships and holds them trapped as the crew either slowly starves or become food for the creatures that call it home.  Several of these Sargasso stories feature here and they range from the enigmatic ('The Voice in the Dawn') to the dynamic (the two parts of 'The Tideless Sea') to the dreadful ('The Finding of the Graiken').

Some of the stories such as 'The Wild man of the Sea', 'On the Bridge' and the fantastic 'Through the Vortex of a Cyclone' are fairly straight adventure fare - the latter sourced from experience - but for me it's the stranger stories that made the bigger impact such as the fungal body horror of 'The Voice in the Night', the unlikeliness of 'The Stone Ship' and the bittersweet final voyage of 'The Shamraken Homeward-Bounder'.

I must admit the constant nautical setting did wear at me somewhat and at times I found myself flagging a bit but Hodgson spins a good yarn and few of those included here hang around long enough to truly wear one's patience but as I said earlier nautical stories were never of much interest and whilst this did nothing to change my mind on that score it is a very recommended collection.

Buy it here - Adrift on the Haunted Seas: The Best Short Stories of William Hope Hodgson

Thursday, 5 July 2018

Keith Seatman - Disjointed Oddities and Other Such Things EP

I've had the great pleasure of being on the receiving end of Keith's promos for a good few years now and it's always been an absolute delight.  This new five track EP featuring four new tunes and a remix of a tune from Keith's earlier album - A Rest Before the Walk - by Wyrd Britain faves Revbjelde is no different.

Musically he walks a capricious, queasily disconcerting and idiosyncratic path.  With his sounds balancing on the edges of radiophonic playfulness and acid folk's twisted pastoralism filtered through the dark prism of Coil-esque post-industrial decay he has assembled another collection of deliciously serpentine and indefinably nebulous psychedelia fuelled by oneiric logic and arcadian phantasms.

Sunday, 1 July 2018

The House that Bled to Death

 Hammer House of Horror is a well remembered anthology TV series made and broadcast in 1980 by the venerable old studio in conjunction with ITC Entertainment (creators of shows like The Prisoner, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, Jason King & The Saint amongst many others).

'The House that Bled to Death' was the fifth episode and - due to one scene in particular - remains the most referenced of the series.  It's a haunted house tale with a twist in the tail that concerns a young family who buy a house notorious for being the location of a brutal murder.  Inevitably strange events begin to plague them culminating in the exuberant gorefest of the birthday party and as an aside for anyone unfamiliar with the scene who's troubled by that description of a children's party watch for the anticipatory relish on the faces of at least two of the kids moments before the blood starts flowing.

The cast consists of various UK TV stalwarts most of whom have done time in Doctor Who and assorted Brit soap operas all give reliably solid performances in an enjoyably callous story.

You can find another episode here - The Thirteenth Reunion.

Buy it here - Hammer House Of Horror - Complete Collection [DVD] [1980] - or watch it below.

Thursday, 28 June 2018

Star Kites: Poems and Versions

Mark Valentine
Tartarus Press

Mark Valentine’s first collection of poems draws on the sources that have inspired his acclaimed short stories—oneiric and otherworldly, and inexplicably beautiful. The poems evoke half-lit figures and images, seen in smoke, shadow, sun-haze and stone, and moments when the visible world does not quite cohere. Valentine writes of spells, oracles, myths and the fragility of memory.

Also offered are versions of poems by previously unheard European voices, including the Italian twilight poet Sergio Corazzini; the early mystical work of Ernst Stadler, a young, cosmopolitan poet killed in the Great war near Ypres; an Imagist homage to the Armenian poet and reformer Madame Sibyl; and a poem of Autumn by Ludmila Jevsejeva, exiled for her work in Esperanto.

Mark Valentine’s poems have appeared in Smoke, Sepia, Amoeba, The Fool, Mandragora and other journals and anthologies.

In his first collection of poems Mark Valentine has continued to develop many of the themes and ideas found in both his fiction writing and his non.  His poems explore memory and place, the phantasmal, the fantastical and of the joys to be found in the mundane.  As ever his writing is a thing of delicate beauty in which you can feel the care and deliberation he has taken with each piece and the way his ideas have a subtle way of insinuating themselves into your thoughts, taking up residence and leaving you pondering them for some hours afterwards.

In the second half of the book Mark presents 'versions' of poems written by obscure European poets.  It's unclear (to me at least) whether these are translations, adaptations of the works or, as I suspect, a combination of both but they are an interesting and compelling assortment that show the love and commitment to the literature of the fantastical that we've come to expect from Mark.

This is a rather wonderful selection that, after the delights of his short stories in 'The Uncertainty of All Earthly Things' and the fascinating articles that made up 'A Country Still All Mystery', offers us another glimpse into the worlds of this most captivating of authors.


Star Kites is available directly from the publisher - here.
Mark's Wormwoodiana website is here.

Saturday, 23 June 2018

Warren Ellis: Captured Ghosts

Warren Ellis is an English novelist, comic book writer, screenwriter and occasional columnist.  His work is primarily within the science fiction genre often concerned with transhumanism and the politics of technology and power.

Ellis has written for all the major US comic publishers often on their major characters including X-Men, Fantastic Four, Justice League and John Constantine:Hellblazer and with his Iron Man: Extremis storyline being the basis for the third Iron Man movie - whilst also maintaining a parallel writing strand of his own unique, creator owned projects such as the sci-fi gonzo journalism of Transmetropolitan (Buy it here), the spy-fi shenanigans of Global Frequency (Buy it here) and the - sadly so far unfinished - detective noir of Fell (Buy it here).

Ellis has occasionally turned his hand to other projects producing two novels - the joyously bonkers treasure hunt Crooked Little Vein (Buy it here) and the crime thriller Gun Machine (Buy it here), and a novella, the near future techno thriller Normal (Buy it here) - as well as writing the Netflix animated series Castlevania.

Whilst having worked for the majority of his career (so far) for the US comic industry much of his writing - particularly in recent years - is infused with the history and heritage of British science fiction and horror as can be seen in the John Wyndham-esque post apocalyptic FreakAngels (Buy it here) and the Nigel Kneale inspired  Injection (Buy it here) and Trees (Buy it here) - the former of which is populated with characters riffing on classic (wyrd) British characters such as Bernard Quatermass, Doctor Who, Thomas Carnacki, Sherlock Holmes and James Bond.

Below is the 'Captured Ghosts' documentary produced in 2010 by the Sequart Organisation, who have also produced documentaries on Grant Morrison and Neil Gaiman.    It features contributions from fans and colleagues such as writers Garth Ennis, Grant Morrison and Matt Fraction, artist Ben Templesmith, director Joss Whedon, actress Helen Mirren, comedian Patton Oswalt and pornographic actress and writer Stoya and offers a fascinating insight into the life and work of an author who has not only consistently produced some of the most intriguing, exciting, funny and just downright enthralling work it has been Wyrd Britain's pleasure to have read but who has used - and continues to do so - his various platforms to champion and support the work of writers, artists and musicians (myself included - here & here) and I am glad to be able return the favour as his is one of the most distinctive voices working in science fiction today and regardless of what he says at the end the documentary he is that good and he keeps on getting better.

Warren's always fascinating daily(ish) blog, 'Morning, Computer', can be found here and you can subscribe to his weekly 'Orbital Operations' newsletter here.

Thursday, 21 June 2018

Supernatural Tales 36

David Longhorn (ed)

I'm a bit late to this one as I completely forgot about it until I got a mailout mentioning #37 so I grabbed both and I'm very glad I did.  7 stories and a couple of reviews for a couple of quid makes this a very good investment of both time and money. 

Opening the book is scriptwriter and novelist Paul Lewis who I had come across a few years back through his contribution to a pretty good Doctor Who book.  His story here 'The Templar Cup' is a fairly old fashioned tale of familial obligations of the supernatural kind and the penalties for breaking with those obligations.  As said it's quite old school and if you've read much Edwardian / Victorian supernatural fiction  then you've read a story or three very much like this one but it's still an enjoyable take on the trope.

Tom Johnstone's 'The Chiromancer' is a gratifyingly frightful tale told over drinks in the great tradition of these things and concerns forgery, guilt, family and fortune. Again it has the feel of the classics about it and again that's no bad thing.

Distinctly less satisfying is 'Sacred Ground' by Nancy Cole Silverman which left cold with it's ugly little tale of greed and retribution via the co-opting of Native American lore and it all feels a bit 80s horror movie level tacky.

'In The Rigging' by Jane Jakeman gives us a teeny tale of a teeny boat with a gruesome cargo before Gary Fry tidies things up with his fun new riff on the ghostly tale featuring a spectral butler in 'The Tidier'.

In the previous issue there was part one of Michael Chislett's ' The Subliminals' which I skipped at the time but having now read both parts it's an oddly underwritten piece.  It feels like we've been dropped into a much longer and heavily edited piece that suddenly crashes to a deeply unsatisfying ending.

With the exception of a couple of reviews from the editor the book ends with a quick weird take from Malcolm Laughton in 'Long-Haired and Sickly Beautiful' that tells a story of an intersection between the ordinary and the extraordinary worlds.

Anthologies are almost always patchy affairs and this was so but happily very much weighted to the good and as such very recommended.

Supernatural Tales is available from the blog address at the top of this review.

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Nick Drake

Today (19th June 2018) would have been the 70th birthday of Nick Drake. A musician who, despite only releasing 3 albums during his life time to very little acclaim, has posthumously, become one of the most revered of his peers.

Drake was born in Burma in 1948 but grew up in Tanworth-in-Arden, Warwickshire, England.  His musical career was understated due in no small part to his reticence to play live or be filmed.  After releasing three albums between 1969 and 1972 - Five Leaves Left, Bryter Layter and Pink Moon - Drake's mental health had deteriorated to the point where he had to return to the family home where, on 25th November 1974, he took an overdose of antidepressants and died.

Since his death his music has been championed by musicians such as REM, Beck, Swans, Mars Volta & Norah Jones.  His three albums have become cornerstones of modern British folk and indie.

Buy them here...
Five Leaves Left
Bryter Layter
Pink Moon

Included below are two documentaries about Drake's life and music.  They cover much the same ground and are both very watchable but the first, produced by the BBC, has attained some notoriety amongst Drake fans for the slightly unflattering picture it paints whilst the second, a Dutch production, pays deeper attention to the music so I've included both to give you a choice.

Sunday, 17 June 2018

The Chemistry Lesson

Starring Alan Cumming and Samantha Bond 'The Chemistry Lesson' is an episode of the 1995 BBC anthology series 'Ghosts'.  The story concerns nerdy, needy (and more than a bit creepy) teacher Philip (Cummings) who turns to magic in order to seduce his married colleague Maddy (Bond) which soon spirals way beyond his control.

As you can imagine from the presence of the two leads it's fabulously acted by all involved with Bond playing an absolute blinder as the magic drives her in unwanted directions and takes a heavy toll on both her life and her psyche and Cumming increasingly lost as a man flailing against the extremity of the new reality of his callous lust.

The finished film is very much a modern take on the classic Hammer / Amicus witchcraft tale and in line with that there's a fairly 1970s sexual sensibility at work (perhaps also a reflection of the hideous 'lad culture' of the time).  The story (written and directed by Terry Johnson) builds beautifully with the tension rising unbearably to a harrowing climax that's only slightly spoilt by a vaguely heavy-handed coda.

NOTE - For those of you who are sensitive to that sort of thing please be aware that there is nudity.

Another episode from 'Ghosts', an adaptation of Elizabeth Jane Howard's 'Three Miles Up' can be found by clicking here.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

The Rituals of Infinity

Michael Moorcock
Arrow Books

It is nearly three decades since the discovery of the sub-spacial alternatives - twenty-four lumps of matter hanging in a limbo outside of space and time, each sharing the name of Earth.
Now there are only fifteen of them - the rest blown to extinction by the ruthless attacks of the D-squads. Even the surviving planets are doomed to a cruel, mutilated existence.
Standing between them and their final destruction at the hands of the merciless demolition teams is Michael Moorcock's zaniest hero - the brilliant, offbeat physicist Professor Faustaff.

In many ways I treat Moorcock books as a form of therapy.  They are one of the things I reach for when I'm feeling a bit down because they are fast, fun, are full of inventive adventure and are pretty much guaranteed to cheer me up.

'The Rituals of Infinity' or 'The New Adventures of Doctor Faustus' (which is an odd title as the main character is actually called 'Faustaff) is a multiple Earths story but not part of Moorcock's multiverse books.  Here we have a group headed by the aforementioned Doctor, a Doc Savage style pulp hero, dedicated to saving the now 15 Earths from another more shadowy group that seems hell bent on destroying them.  As he hops back and forth between Earths Professor Faustaff uncovers a conspiracy of cosmic proportions that results in a final act quite unlike anything else.

This is an early novel and it certainly isn't anywhere close to Moorcock at his best.  The story is pretty thin but the bonkers finale is a whole heap of fun and wraps the story up nicely.