Friday 31 October 2014

Halloween III: Season of the Witch

Of all the horror genres the one that has always interested me the least is the slasher genre.  The whole lone psychopath thing that dominated horror in the 80s and which is still rife with things like the Saw movies bores me to tears.  People have been telling me for years how great Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th and the (first) Halloween movies are but I just can't see it.  OK, the last one there has it's moments but generally they move me not.  I will however always be grateful to them for this one little oddity of an attempted reboot.

'Halloween III: The Season of the Witch' has absolutely nothing in common with any of the other Halloween movies.  Out goes Michael Myers and in his place we have factory owner Conal Cochran (Dan O'Herlihy) and his dastardly plan to celebrate the old Celtic festival of Samhain by melting children's heads inside masks containing a piece of...well, watch it and see.

Based on a first draft screenplay by one of the godfathers of Wyrd Britain, Nigel Kneale, this is by any definition a real piece of 80s horror schlock but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Kneale's original script was worked over by director Tommy Lee Wallace to make it more graphic but you can still feel much of Kneale's own personal brand of science fiction horror in the finished article.

Enjoy and Happy Halloween

Wednesday 29 October 2014


Bryan Talbot
(Jonathan Cape)

Grandville is set in a steampunk world, featuring steam powered motor vehicles, air transport, robots (known as "automatons"), telephones (known as "voicepipes") and televisions. In this world, Britain lost the Napoleonic War and was invaded by France. The British Royal Family were guillotined. Britain was later given independence from the French Empire following "a prolonged campaign of civil disobedience and anarchist bombings." Following independence, Britain became "The Socialist Republic of Britain". 23 years later, Britain is linked to the French Empire by the Channel railway bridge, and Paris is the biggest city in the world, known by the nickname of "Grandville". In Britain the English language is only spoken in rural communities, with the main language spoken in the country being French. The vast population in Grandville are anthropomorphic animals. Humans do exist, however. Having evolved in Angoulême, they are referred to by the French as "doughfaces", have never gained citizens' rights, and are considered menial workers. They are not allowed passports and so have never made it to Britain. The main characters in the series are Detective Inspector Archibald "Archie" LeBrock, a large, heavily-built badger; and his assistant Detective Roderick Ratzi, a monocle-wearing rat.

Brian Talbot has long been a favourite here. I'll get around to reviewing some of his related earlier work (the 2 Luther Arkwright books) at a later date. In the meantime here is the first of his series of anthropomorphic steampunk books - the very wonderful Grandville.

This first Grandville book concerns LeBrock and Ratzi's attempt to investigate the murder of a British diplomat. The investigation leads them to Grandville where they find themselves involved in a plot bigger than they could ever have imagined.

Anyone who has followed Talbot though the years will know that he is a consummate storyteller in both word and image. His plots are tight and plausible, his characters utterly human (or in this case, animal) and his illustrations perfectly paced and beautifully executed with a warmth to the art that radiates from the pages. The world of Grandville is sumptuously illustrated and beautifully reflects the opulence of the city with the world at it's feet. The technology is interwoven into both the storyworld and the narrative with seamless ease and in LeBrock and Ratzi we have two characters who are compulsive viewing. Ratzi in particular has become a firm favourite.

Even with all this going for it Grandville is a hard sell. Growing up reading comics funny animal books were always a particular dislike of mine and that view hasn't changed. Even knowing I would love what was inside it took me a small while to invest the necessary readies and take the plunge into it's covers. I'm certain I'm not the only one who shares this reticence for anthropomorphism. It is however a reticence that is worth putting aside (at least in the case of Grandville) as one soon forgets about the furry / scaly / hairiness of the participants and is swept along in the wake of a cracking whodunit.

Grandville really is something wonderful and worth both your time and your money.


Grandville: Mon Amour
Bryan Talbot
(Jonathan Cape)

Convicted psychotic killer and extremist fanatic Edward "Mad Dog" Mastock violently escapes the guillotine's blade in the Tower of London to once again terrorise the Socialist Republic of Britain. But dogging Mastock's bloody footsteps is his longtime adversary and nemesis, Detective Inspector Archie LeBrock, at odds with Scotland Yard and intent on bringing Mastock's horrific murder spree to an end, once and for all. Aided by his friend and colleague Detective Roderick Ratzi, LeBrock follows the trail of carnage to Paris, otherwise known as Grandville, the largest city in a world dominated by the French Empire that is the prime target of Mastock's sadistic terrorism. Can LeBrock capture the Mad Dog before he can mete out his final vengeance, or will LeBrock's own quest for redemption be dragged to ground by the demons of his past?

This is the sequel to the fantastic first book in Talbot's anthropomorphosised steampunk series.  Detective Inspector LeBrock is back home after the events that led to the deaths of both Napoleon and his beloved Sarah.  He's in a bit of a slump having locked himself away and drunk himself into a stupor.  It takes his friend and partner (the frankly magnificent and dapper) Detective Ratzi to drag him from his torpor in time to investigate (unofficially) the escape of his old adversary Edward 'Mad Dog' Mastock who, having escaped from his execution in the Tower of London has headed for Grandville (Paris) and begins a murder spree against the cities prostitutes.  LeBrock and Ratzi soon discover a link between these killings, the escape and events that lead to the very top of the new British government.

As I mentioned in my write-up of the first volume I am a long time Bryan Talbot fan having read his work for pretty much as long as I've been reading comics.  This series is amongst his finest work.  It is stunning!  the characters are real, which is saying something considering the main characters are a gun wielding badger and a rat with a straw boater and a monocle.  

It's unashamedly a pulp romp filled with ne'er-do-wells and heroes but that doesn't preclude it from being tightly plotted and filled with the most gorgeous eye-candy artwork.  As before it's a sumptuously realised piece of work that is as beautiful to look at as it is to read.


Grandville: Bete Noire
Bryan Talbot
(Jonanthan Cape)

The Badger is back! At Toad Hall, lair of multibillionaire Baron Aristotle Krapaud, a cabal of industrialists and fat cats plot the violent overthrow of the French state by the intervention of horribly beweaponed automaton soldiers.
Meanwhile, the brutal murder of a famous Parisian artist, mysteriously stabbed to death in his locked and guarded studio, is subject to the investigations of the tenacious Detective Inspector LeBrock of Scotland Yard, placing him and his faithful adjunct, Detective Sergeant Roderick Ratzi, in pursuit of the mysterious masked assassin stalking the cut-throat commercial world of the Grandville art scene. Bete Noire signals the welcome return to anthropomorphic steampunk detective fiction of master storyteller and graphic novel pioneer
Bryan Talbot with the third stand-alone volume of the Eisner and Hugo Award nominated Grandville series. As the body count mounts and events spiral exponentially out of control, aided by his brilliant deductive abilities and innate ferocity, LeBrock battles against outrageous odds in this funny, high octane thriller, an adventure shot through with both high art and comic book references, a glorious illegitimate offspring of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Ian Fleming - with animals! Follow the Badger!

In the previous 2 volumes of Grandville LeBrock had dispatched the King of France an the then both his Chief Inspector and the Prime Minister.  This leaves him with a fairly large space where potential enemies could be in this 3rd volume. In actual fact we get LeBrock versus the middle class industrialists and their plot to overthrow the revolutionary government that has taken over France since the death of the king. And, we get a sneak preview of who is going to be the villain of the fourth book.

As with the first two volumes this was superb, maybe even better than the previous.

LeBrock is asked by his friend the French Chief Inspector to assist after the murder of an artist.  LeBrock is soon hot on the trail of the killer through the artistic community of Grandville (Paris) and also the abundance of machinery / robots that are suddenly all over the place.  He also revitalises his relationship with the feisty Billie who proves herself more than equal to him both intellectually and physically as she helps defend the barricades, alongside the always fantastic and very dapper Roderick Ratzi, whilst LeBrock is off tackling those at the root of the plan.

It keeps on getting better and better this.  Full of action and intrigue but with well defined characters who are becoming even more so as they reveal themselves on the page.

Sunday 26 October 2014

Reign of Fire

Released in 2002 Reign of Fire tells the story of a group of survivors scraping a living amongst the remains of a Britain that has been devastated by dragons. Yep, that's right, dragons.

When workers on the London Underground tunnel through the wall of it's cave a huge fire breathing Dragon wakes from it's millennia long hibernation, fertilises some eggs that it had been storing for just such an eventuality and then proceeds to set fire to the world in order to eat the ash.

10 years later, in a ruined castle in Northumberland, Quinn (Christian Bale) is the leader of a half starved bunch of survivors scratching a living in constant fear of dragon attack.  The arrival of, in the words of Creedy (Gerard Butler), the "one thing worse than a dragon, Americans" complete with a very large tank and a helicopter complicates matters. The Americans, led by Denton Van Zan (Matthew McConaughey) and helicopter pilot Alex Jensen (Izabella Scorupco) have a, frankly ludicrous, method of killing dragons and a plan for getting rid of them once and for all.  As is always the case though things inevitably go awry and so it's up to our hero to finally revenge himself on the beast.

It's a load of preposterous tosh filled with scenery chewing ham acting and a script that is hoping and praying you don't pay it too much attention.  It is however pretty enough to look at and the Dragons are nicely realised.  It is very much the modern equivalent of a Doug McClure movie and if you treat it as such there's every chance you'll find something to enjoy.

Torridon Gate

(A Year in the Country)

This third album from London's finest manipulators of magnetic tape, Howlround, is a slow burning, deeply atmospheric corker.  Produced entirely from recordings made from the gate referenced in the title, the duo of Robin (the Fog) and Chris (Weaver) have coaxed a dizzying array of unsettling and even sorrowful sounds from this most functional of objects and have layered them to astonishing effect.

The Howlround modus is based very much on that of the early years of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and as such they record their sound sources onto loops of tape of varying sizes which are then played via three tape recorders with all processing and editing done within the machines.  In this way the composition that the two have persuaded the tapes to reveal is as otherworldly and queasily creepy as it is beautifully earthy.  There's a gritty texture that evokes stories of the gate's history, it's place and it's age but through all that there is movement. The sounds expose themselves, transform and meld producing a piece of music that is at times introspective, at times vociferous and in a constant state of resurgence and restless agitation. 

The end result as presented here is a piece of music that whilst acknowledging the debt it's playful manner of execution owes to the workshop of the 1960s, is, in conception, timeless and really rather fun.


Friday 24 October 2014

Doctor Who: All-Consuming Fire

Andy Lane
Virgin Books

Landing in Victorian London, the TARDIS crew is surprised to meet up with Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.

And so we arrive at the single geekiest thing in the known universe as the Seventh Doctor (along with Ace and Bernice Summerfield) teams up with Sherlock Holmes and John Watson to combat the agents of H.P. Lovecraft’s elder gods.

The two groups come together over a set of missing books from the Vatican’s secret library of banned books, The Library of St. John the Beheaded.

Thanks to Mycroft and the Diogenes Club (via a cameo from the Third Doctor, a mention of Kim Newman’s Charles Beauregard character and an even elder Holmes brother and an alien of his acquaintance) they find themselves travelling to India in order to stop an invasion of the alien’s world by nasty brutish humans.

If this all seems a little pat then you’d be correct and things soon take a turn for the malign as plans within plans are exposed.

Lane has a nice touch. The plot is speedy and he handles the variety and volume of principles well. The dialogue is spritely, especially between Bernice and Watson as they flirt with each other. There were things I didn’t like, primarily the addition of the elder brother, but they certainly didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the book.

Wednesday 22 October 2014

A Slight Trick of the Mind

Mitch Cullin

It is 1947, and the long-retired Sherlock Holmes, now 93, lives in a remote Sussex farmhouse with his housekeeper and her young son. He tends to his bees, writes in his journal, and grapples with the diminishing powers of his mind. But in the twilight of his life, as people continue to look to him for answers, Holmes revisits a case that may provide him with answers of his own to questions he didn’t even know he was asking–about life, about love, and about the limits of the mind’s ability to know. A novel of exceptional grace and literary sensitivity, A Slight Trick of the Mind is a brilliant imagining of our greatest fictional detective and a stunning inquiry into the mysteries of human connection.
Behind my head as I write this is a shelf with about 20 Sherlock Holmes books plus various DVD adaptations / versions. It would be pretty safe to say I'm a fan. I am not however even remotely precious about it. Amongst those 20 odd books and sat alongside the canon are a number of pastiches, some are downright silly - the 'War of the World' one springs immediately to mind (written by the magnificently named Manly Wellman). Another features Holmes teaming up with a young Teddy Roosevelt, whilst a third pits him against the gentleman burglar Arsene Lupin although he is called Herlock Sholmes in that one. There's even a first edition of Michael Chabon's masterclass of a novel featuring an elderly Holmes, The Final Solution. So basically, do what you want with him. The character is malleable and durable enough and I'm enough of a fan to go along on the journey and see if it's going somewhere interesting.

In 'A Slight Trick of the Mind' Mitch Cullin takes Holmes somewhere very interesting indeed, to the end. Cullin places the nonagenarian Holmes in two very different settings and the younger version into what at first seems like a rather nondescript case that eventually takes on much deeper meanings.

Mitch Cullin
Switching effortlessly between his life amongst his beloved bees in the company of the housekeeper's son, his beekeeping protégé, and a trip to postwar Japan ostensibly to search for prickly ash but also to satisfy a young man's curiosity regarding his estranged father whilst also being drip fed the resolution of the earlier case; Cullin's book is that rarity, a literary pageturner. It's beautifully written and reveals it's heartbreaking secrets both far too soon and frustratingly slowly. The carefully crafted links between the various stories are given the time and space to allow their tales to tell and to allow us to more fully understand what it means to be both Holmes at the height of his powers and Holmes at their decline.

For many people this will no doubt be an ill fit alongside the canon but those people will be missing the point. This isn't a book about Sherlock Holmes the great detective; he is simply the principal in a book about loss both great and small. Loss of friends, loss of family, loss of a child, loss of love, of memory, of things, of direction and ultimately loss of self. Holmes is ourselves wit large and as such any loss is both magnified and intensified. Through him we are shown what it means to be ultimately, inevitably, inescapably fallible.

I found this to be a beautiful and poignant read that took me to a place I've not visited in a while and brought me back filled with questions for which the answers can only be experienced when the time comes for them to be asked.

Heartily and resoundingly recommended.

Tuesday 21 October 2014

Sapphire & Steel (novelisation)

Peter J. Hammond
Star Books

When a rip appears in the fabric of Time, the stability of the entire Universe is threatened. Two strange 'experts' appear out of nowhere and take control of the situation. No one knows who they are. A beautiful, remote woman and a terse, efficient man - real, yet with an air of unreality about them. Coolly combating the negative forces of Time out-of-control, endowed with incredible powers beyond human comprehension, they are unnerving but fascinating. They are SAPPHIRE AND STEEL.

I've been hunting down a copy of this novelisation of the first Sapphire and Steel assignment for years; I know I could have easily bought it from eBay but where's the fun in that.

This is one of only two Sapphire and Steel books that were published.  The other was an 'annual' (more on that one soon) whilst this is simply the first story redone as text.

Peter J. Hammond
In those pre video recorder days when missing a TV show meant that you didn't get to see it, the novelisation was a very popular way of catching or reliving a TV show.  Indeed, the BBC provided novelisations of almost every Doctor Who storyline via Target Books often written by the original scriptwriters. Although commissioned for a different channel and issued by a different publisher this practise is this books ace in the hole as Hammond, as series creator and principal scriptwriter (he wrote every assignment except the fifth which he co-wrote), is perfectly placed to ensure that the characters as presented here are absolutely accurate.  Indeed there is a passage early in the book that describes the pair (from the perspective of the 12 year old boy, Rob) and you can see exactly how these descriptions were carried over into the series.

'Rob stared at them.  The woman was the most beautiful person that he had ever seen.  She had long, fair hair and she was wearing a dress that seemed to shimmer and shift and flow upon her slim figure.  She turned to close the door and, to Rob, it seemed as if there was an aura of blueness about her presence, there in the hallway.  In later years, whenever he remembered her, which was often, his first thought was always the colour blue.
The man had moved to the foot of the first flight of stairs and was looking up at the landing above. He, too, had fair hair. But, as the woman expressed blueness, so the man suggested the colour grey.  His smart suit, shirt and tie were somehow neutral. His whole appearance and manner seemed cold, almost metallic.'

The pair investigate the disappearance of two adults from a house full of clocks where Time and it's entities are breaking through.  They are odd, intense, aloof, professional and enigmatic. Little is explained and nothing is given away.

I've always thought this first assignment had the weakest of endings and it isn't much improved in print.  The rest of the book though is nicely written and maintains just the right side of strange.  Like Rob we are left confused and pulled along by forces we do not understand although truthfully I think it's a lot more fun for us.

As far as I know this was Hammond's only novel and that's a real shame as I'd have loved to have read more. 

Sunday 19 October 2014

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

First there was the radio series, then came the books and then in 1981 the BBC television people finally realised that they really should get in on this intergalactic guidebook lark and turn it into a series. 

For the most part they kept to the cast of the earlier radio play although both Ford Prefect (David Dixon for Geoffrey McGivern) and Trillion (Sandra Dickinson for Susan Sheridan) were recast.

It tells, as I'm sure you know, the story of Arthur Dent (Simon Jones) who, on the day the local council decide to demolish his house in order to build a bypass, discovers that not only is his friend Ford an alien from a small planet somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse but that the Earth is also about to be destroyed in order to make way for a hyperspace bypass.

Instead of the little lie down he thinks he needs, Arthur finds himself rescued from the doomed Earth and catapaulted across space and time.  Along the way he discovers the importance of towels, visits numerous planets and meets a whole host of people of various sizes, shapes, colours and configurations including a very nice girl that he had previously failed to get off with, the ex-Galactic President; the two headed, three armed hedonistic semi-cousin of Ford's called Zaphod Beeblebrox (Mark Wing-Davey), Marvin, a clinically depressed robot (Stephen Moore), a man with an unimportant name who designs fjords (Richard Vernon), the manifestations of a race of hyperintelligent pan-dimensional beings on an aeon long search for the Ultimate Question about life, the universe and everything and the officious and deeply unpleasant Vogons; all of which he does with a fish that disproves the existence of God in his ear.

To help him better understand where he's ended up Ford gives Arthur a copy of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy an electronic and somewhat eccentric book (voiced by Peter Jones) which, via little animated entries, provides him with snippets of information about the galaxy.

I was a bit too young to catch the radio play so this series was my first exposure to the glory that is Hitchhiker's and it's still my favourite of them all.  From the cast and the acting, through the animation and Paddy Kingsland's incidental music to the wonderful and inventive script, I love it all.

Buy it here - The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy Special Edition [DVD] [2018] - or watch it below


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 -

Thursday 16 October 2014

Thomas Carnacki: The Gateway of the Monster

William Hope Hodgson

This is an audio version of one of my favourite of Hodgon's 9 Carnacki stories, read by Ian Hodgson (of Moon Wiring Club) with (fabulous) music by Jon Brooks (of The Advisory Circle) and can be heard and downloaded - for free - as part of the Weird Tales for Winter series curated by Jonny Mugwump.

Carnacki was an Edwardian era supernatural investigator who appeasred in 9 short stories in the early 20th century.  This particular story concerns a haunted room which Carnacki is engaged to investigate.  He unwisely spends two nights in the room. On both occasions being attacked by a giant spectral hand from which he only narrowly escapes.

For those unfamiliar with the joys of Carnacki this will be a fun first encounter and for those in the know this will provide an enjoyable re-acquaintance.

Above and beyond the words though is the frankly astounding incidental music from Jon Brooks.  Here he has produced a set of steampunk radiophonics utilising contemporary instruments such as the harpsichord to produce music that is both utterly at home in the story and deliciously and decidedly creepy.

part 1
part 2
the music

Tuesday 14 October 2014

A Study in Emerald

Neil Gaiman

Now this is one of my favourite things. I first came across this in my copy of Fragile Things but the version here is the audiobook read by Gaiman.

The story re-imagines the Holmes universe in line with a Lovecraftian setting whereby the old ones have returned and have dominion over humanity. The story finds a returning soldier (from Afghanistan) take up lodgings with a 'consulting detective'. He becomes the detective's companion and they are soon embroiled in the investigation of a death of a member of the Bohemian royal family.

The story borrows strongly, liberally and enjoyably from the Holmes mythos to produce a tale that is a ridiculous amount of fun.

I'm having to go out of my way to avoid giving anything at all away here so you'll please excuse if this review is brief but because Mr. Gaiman is a gent the story is available as a free pdf here (which for extra geek points looks just like that image at the top of this post) or as a pay for downloadable audio from here -

Sunday 12 October 2014

The Tripods

The Tripods - Will, Henry and Beanpole
The Tripods is a 1984 adaptation of the first two novels in John Christopher's series of novels, 'The Tripods'.  It tells the story of a world ruled by the 'Masters' in their huge metal three legged walking machines (the Tripods) and the adventures of the three young men who rebel against their 'capping'  - the method by which the Masters assert their control over the populace - and travel across the UK and France to join the free men in the 'White Mountains'.

The first series of 13 episodes tells of Will (John Shackley) and his cousin Henry (Jim Baker) who for fear of losing their independence as a result of the capping flee their English village home after meeting a 'vagrant' who tells them of the free men in the White Mountains of France.  Along the way they are helped by another young man Jean-Paul or Beanpole (Ceri Seel) who then travels with them to their destination.

The second series follows Will's exploits within the city of the Masters as he attempts to gather information that will help to defeat them.

Tripod machine from The TripodsWith the third series never coming to fruition the show ends on a somewhat anti-climactic note but don't let that put you off.  The Tripods is a lovely piece of 1980s British sci fi television.  Like other sci fi serials of the time (Day of the Triffids, Quatermass) it's qualities belay the stylistic and technological drawbacks of the era that hit other series so hard (Doctor Who).  The Tripods themselves are reasonably accomplished, as are the Masters and their city.  Some of the acting from the predominantly young cast is a little naive but improves over the course of the two series. There are moments where things get a little bogged down - their stay in the chateau goes on for far too long - but there are other times where you wish they'd lingered longer - the devastated remains of Paris - but the show gains kudos for remaining pretty close to it's source material and providing a cohesive and focused narrative over the course of so many episodes.

The playlist below contains all 25 episodes which should help you while away an afternoon or three or you can buy it here - Tripods - The Complete Series 1 & 2 [DVD]

Once you've finished you may also want to check out this little documentary on the series.


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 -

Saturday 11 October 2014


Formed in 1969 and still very active today (in a number of incarnations) Hawkwind are and always have been a band that polarised opinion.  For some they are the quintessential underground band; the weirdest of the weirdos riding a psychedelicised riff as far into space as it can possibly take them.  For others they are the quintessential underground band; the weirdest of the weirdos riding a psychedelicised riff as far into space as it can possibly take them but for some reason those people think that's somehow a bad thing. 

They are the sci-fi fixated hippy space rockers who fused the power of the riff with the freedom of the jam, drenched it all in that new fangled electronic wibbling that suddenly became available towards the tail end of the 1960's and then filtered the whole thing through a cocktail of psychedelics.

Since they formed in Ladbroke Grove in London by Dave Brock, Mick Slattery, John Harrison, Terry Ollis, Nick Turner and Dik Mik the band have had a revolving door of members over the years.  Indeed so many different musicians have passed through the band that the list of Hawkwind members has it's own Wikipedia page -

Theirs is a singular story.  There has never been another band like them. Through their almost 50 year existence they have been embraced by hippies, metallers, punks, crusties and ravers whilst seemingly ignoring them all and continuing to tirelessly walk their own unique path.  They are the ultimate peoples band equally at home playing in a concert hall as they are playing in a Somerset field whilst the sun rises over them.

Here is a fabulous BBC documentary from 2007 called 'Hawkwind: Do Not Panic' that traces the history of the band and features interviews with all the main players with one crucial exception.

Missing from the doc - due to ongoing friction between various members - is Dave Brock the only original member of the band still in the line-up.  So, in order to provide some sort balance here's a long interview with him talking about the history of the group.

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 -

Friday 10 October 2014

The Devil's Piper

Susan Price
Puffin Books

I've seen Susan Price's name a lot over the years as my partner is a fan of her series of 'Ghost World' novels. They've never appealed to me but when I saw the beautiful cover art (by Errol le Cain) of the Puffin edition of her first novel I had to have a read.

Written when she was just 16, 'The Devil's Piper' tells of the arrival of a leprechaun (or 'luchorpan' in the story) named Toole O'Dyna into a small village in the North of England after it awakes from a 200 year sleep. Upon waking O'Dyna wastes no time in consolidating his magic by acquiring an entourage of followers and in making itself at home by reshaping the environment before embarking on a revenge two centuries in the making.

It's a fabulous read. Price, even at the tender age of 16, has a magnificent written voice. Her storytelling is compact and sinuous, her characters are real and behave in ways that are entirely believable even when performing the most fantastical actions and the way she illustrates her narrative with clear and imaginative details (such as her description of Miss Jenns' first trip out with her camera) makes each page a joy.

This is a book that ought to be read by everyone with an interest in folklore or British rural horror as it is dripping with inventive authenticity and a real sense of both place and time and is written with wit, intelligence and artistry.

Thursday 9 October 2014

BBC Radiophonic Workshop - Out Of This World

As an LP this re-released collection of sound effects conjured up by the wizards at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop is perhaps a little less satisfying than the wonderful Doctor Who album I reviewed recently but that is simply due to track lengths.  

The pieces here range in time from the briefest at 3 seconds to a mammoth prog inspired 1 minute 22 seconds.  In themselves they are the most wonderful cavalcade of joyously fantastical sounds but as an album it is more than a little bitty.

Truthfully though, how could you ever go wrong with an album containing track titles like, 'Andromedan War Machine', Magic Beanstalk Grows', 'Two Terror Twangs' & 'Three Terror Bangs' made by people called Brian, Delia & Glynis (amongst others)?

Wednesday 8 October 2014

Doctor Who: Shada

Douglas Adams & Gareth Roberts
BBC Books

Inside this book is another book - the strangest, most important and most dangerous book in the entire universe.
"The Worshipful and Ancient Law of Gallifrey" is one of the Artefacts, dating from dark days of Rassilon. It wields enormous power, and it must not be allowed to fall into the wrong hands.
Skagra - who believes he should be God and permits himself only two smiles per day - most definitely has the wrong hands.
Beware Skagra. Beware the Sphere. Beware Shada.

Back in 1979/80 a strike at the BBC meant that the Douglas Adams penned Doctor Who story, Shada, never got completed.  A few scenes were shot but after the stoppage the team decided not to go back and finish it.  a small scene from it was used to cover Tom Baker's refusal to appear in the 5 Doctors and in 1992 it was released in a truly dreadful version with linking commentary from Baker.  Both BIg Finish and Ian Levine have made versions - audio (featuring the 8th Doctor) and animated - but both are really rather poor.

This one however is rather fantastic.  This is Gareth Roberts, a Who regular, novelising Adams' script for the episode, much of which Adams reworked into the first Dirk Gently novel.

Here Professor Chronotis is a retired Time Lord at the end of his regenerations who has opted to spend the remainder of his existence surrounded by his books in the anonymity of Cambridge academia.  Into this idyllic dotage comes the Doctor and Romana, answering a distress call that Chronotis doesn't remember sending, and also Skagra, a petulant young man with designs on godhood for which he needs one of Chronotis' books which will allow him access to the Time Lord prison of Shada and the key to success in his plan.

It is a rollicking good read.  Funny and pacey and typically Adams.  Kudos to Roberts as he kept himself as quiet as possible, which can't have been easy.  There's a joke in Gallifreyan and a frankly horrendous (and wonderful) Latin pun so tremendous that whoever thought of it ought to be both pilloried for it and fed cakes by the nubiles of their choice.

I absolutely loved this book.

Buy it here -  Doctor Who: Shada

Tuesday 7 October 2014

The Burton & Swinburne series

Mark Hodder

A fantastically detailed and imaginative steampunk world very much within the tradition of British authors of the scientifically weird and wonderful such as Michael Moorcock.

Burton & Swinburne in The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack
It is 1861, and Albertian Britain is in the grip of conflicting forces. Engineers transform the landscape with bigger, faster, noisier and dirtier technological wonders; Eugenicists develop specialist animals to provide unpaid labour; Libertines oppose restrictive and unjust laws and flood the country with propaganda demanding a society based on beauty and creativity; while The Rakes push the boundaries of human behaviour to the limits with magic, sexuality, drugs and anarchy. Returning from his failed expedition to find the source of the Nile, explorer, linguist, scholar and swordsman Sir Richard Francis Burton finds himself sucked into the perilous depths of this moral and ethical vacuum when the Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston, employs him as 'King's Spy.' His first mission: to investigate the sexual assaults committed by a weird apparition known as Spring Heeled Jack; to find out why chimney sweeps are being kidnapped by half-man, half-dog creatures; and to discover the whereabouts of his badly injured former friend, John Hanning Speke. Accompanied by the diminutive and pain-loving poet, Algernon Swinburne, Burton's investigations lead him back to one of the defining events of the age: the brutal assassination of Queen Victoria in 1840; and the terrifying possibility that the world he inhabits shouldn't exist at all. 

Quite frankly this novel turned out to be one of the best books it's been my pleasure to read in a very long time. For his debut novel Hodder takes that heaviest-weight of 19th century adventurers, Richard Burton, partners him with an obscure and largely unsung poet, Algernon Swinburne, and weaves them into a riveting romp through an irrevocably altered Victorian (now Albertian) period. The catalyst for this change and the unorthodox partnership is the mysterious Spring-Heeled Jack whose mythos has been seamlessly interwoven into the narrative.

Burton is a dynamo of energy and it's surprising that he has not been utilised more in fiction of this kind in the past. His real life adventures are audition enough to make his adoption of his role in the narrative utterly plausible. Swinburne's very obscurity for the reader (or at least this reader) allows him the opportunity to become anything Hodder desires of him.
The partnership are assigned a new role of secret investigators for the King in this brave new world of rampant technological and biological advances. Some of which are maybe a little too major for the sort of timelines hinted at but it all goes to serve the tale so I don't really care too much.

As a villain Jack offers much and the seamless way in which Hodder has woven the folktales surrounding this Victorian enigma into the story is an absolute joy. His presence augmented by the maniacal villainy of some other familiar historical faces whose fates, like Burton and Swinburne, have been irrevocably changed by this interloper.

As I said earlier, it's been a while since I enjoyed a book as much as this and that this is a debut novel is nothing short of astonishing. The recommendation on the front from Michael Moorcock (saying pretty much the same as I did in that last sentence) is very apt as it is he that is most brought to mind in Hodder's writing, the characters almost ooze a Moorcockian presence and solidity that enables them to utterly exist within the storyworld no matter how deranged. This is Hodder's baby though and he does have a voice that is very much his own and is both engaging and compulsive. He takes no shortcuts and never leaves the the reader to flounder in unnecessary world-building, wool gathering or naval gazing. The plot is tight, the characters well rounded and engaging and the setting is one I wish to visit again and again.

Burton & Swinburne in the Curious Case of the Clockwork Man
It is 1862, though not the 1862 it should be...
Time has been altered, and Sir Richard Francis Burton, the king’s agent, is one of the few people who know that the world is now careening along a very different course from that which Destiny intended.
When a clockwork-powered man of brass is found abandoned in Trafalgar Square, Burton and his assistant, the wayward poet Algernon Swinburne, find themselves on the trail of the stolen Garnier Collection—black diamonds rumored to be fragments of the Lemurian Eye of Naga, a meteorite that fell to Earth in prehistoric times.
Can the king’s agent expose a plot that threatens to rip the British Empire apart, leading to an international conflict the like of which the world has never seen? And what part does the clockwork man have to play?

The first of these Burton & Swinburne books was one of my highlights of last year.  This one has set the bar terrifically high for this one.
Chronologically there's only a small gap between the two but mention is made of a few other cases i n the interim.  This story is based around the story of the Tichborne affair - a real life court case regarding a claim to the Tichborne fortune.  In this version however it is the Rakes (dandy anarchists) faction, under the sway of some ghostly woman, who are attempting to replace the missing heir as part of their wider plan.  Their claim is blatantly fraudulent yet for some reason people, including Swinburne, are falling for it hook line and sinker. It soon becomes evident that this is linked with the theft of some black diamonds that Burton was investigating earlier.

As the popularity of the monstrous Tichborne claimant spreads among the working classes of London things start to look decidedly violent and grim.

I really like the way Hodder easily juggles a large cast most of whom have some basis in real Victorian life.  Easily my favourite addition to the roster this time off is the philosopher Herbert ('Survival of the Fittest') Spencer.  I'm so glad he's staying on board for the duration as he was a delight as a character.

Gripping and enthralling throughout with an ending both satisfying and intriguing. I am so very glad that there was a sequel to Spring-Heeled Jack but also that there's another in the sequence due later this year.

Burton & Swinburne in Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon
It is 1863, but not the one it should be. Time has veered wildly off course, and now the first moves are being made that will lead to a devastating world war and the fall of the British Empire.
The prime minister, Lord Palmerston, believes that by using the three Eyes of Naga—black diamonds possessing unique properties—he’ll be able to manipulate events and avoid the war. He already has two of the stones, but the third is hidden somewhere in the Mountains of the Moon, the fabled source of the Nile.
Palmerston sends Sir Richard Francis Burton to recover it. For the king’s agent, it’s a chance to redeem himself after his previous failed attempt to find the source of the great river. That occasion had led to betrayal by his partner, John Hanning Speke. Now Speke is leading a rival expedition on behalf of the Germans, and it seems that the battle between the former friends may ignite the very war that Palmerston is trying to avoid!
Caught in a tangled web of cause, effect, and inevitability, little does Burton realize that the stakes are far higher than even he suspects.
A final confrontation comes in the mist-shrouded Mountains of the Moon, in war- torn Africa of 1914, and in Green Park, London, where, in the year 1840, Burton must face the man responsible for altering time: Spring Heeled Jack!

Burton and Swinburne’s third adventure is filled with eccentric steam-driven technology, grotesque characters, and bizarre events, completing the three-volume story arc begun in The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack and The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man.

 The third chronicle in the adventures of the explorer Richard Burton and poet Algernon Swinburne.  This follows on from almost immediately from the second volume where the defeat of the Russian interlopers and the acquisition of the second of the Naga diamonds has prompted / necessitated a return to Africa and the area of the source of the Nile in order to find the third diamond.

In this the two, along with their phalanx of friends are opposed by Burton's rival John Speke and the Prussians who are both supporting him and eugenicists.
The story unfolds in three different time frames; the present time of the expedition, in 1914 some 20/30 years after Burton's death in an Africa devastated by a terrible war that the British have lost to the rampaging plant and animals of the Prussians and in a 3rd time that I'm going to avoid discussing.

For me the book didn't sing as loudly or as clearly as the previous two.  It was, like the expedition, a bit of a slog in parts.  It never let up the pace and was quite fantastic for pretty much it's entirety but I adored the others and so this one even though it fell short of that level of love was still head and shoulders above most of the stuff I read to get me through the day.

I'm not sorry if this is the end of the series - even if the end was a little odd.  It's been a trip and I very much look forward to where Hodder goes next.


(As it happens since I wrote these reviews a little while back I've discovered that this was not the end of the series and another has been published since with a fifth on it's way.  Once I've found the time (and the cash) to read them I'll get back to you.)

Sunday 5 October 2014

The Last Train

The Last Train is a British post-apocalypse TV series first shown in 1999.  It tells the story of a disparate and argumentative group of people who survive a devastating meteor strike through being lucky enough to share a train carriage with a scientist carrying a cannister of cryogenic gas.

They wake years later to find a destroyed world seemingly devoid of human life.  Reluctantly following the advice of the scientist, Harriet Ambrose (Nicola Walker) they travel across this hostile environment looking for 'The Ark' where her fellow scientists were holed up, sleeping through the end of the world.  Along the way they encounter various inhabitants of this very different Britain including a pregnant teenager - Hild (Caroline Carver) - on the run from her people who travels with them.

Along with the scientist the group consists of the standard assortment of TV stereotypes; a dodgy geezer (Treva Etienne as Mick), a copper (Christopher Fulford as Ian), a cowardly businessman (Steve Huison as Colin), a woman escaping an abusive husband (Amita Dhiri as Jandra), a cute and perky kid (Dinita Gohil as Anita), a very, very, very annoying teenager (Sacha Dhawan as Leo), a handyman (James Hazeldine as Austin), a pregnant woman (Zoe Telford as Roe) and a matronly neurotic (Janet Dale as Jean).

For the most part the series is a bit of a bomb.  Almost every character is deeply unlikable - Colin and Leo in particular - so ultimately it's hard to care about them, there's some truly desperate acting and a script that is fairly pedestrian.  I do however love these post-apocalypse romps and this one had a bit of a budget so looks quite nice and with only a few minor detours - was the boar hunt really worth the episode time spent on it? - keeps it's head down and moves resolutely towards it's climax and so it holds a small spot in my affections.



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 -

Affiliate links are provided for your convenience and to help mitigate running costs.

Saturday 4 October 2014


Here are two videos filmed by R.B. Russell of Tartarus Press. If you have a love of the work of either of the gentlemen involved, classics (and otherwise) of weird or supernatural fiction, books in general or you just like watching engaging films made by and featuring people talking about their particular passions then please pull up a chair.

 First is the very lovely Mark Valentine giving a tour of his enviable collection of books of the weird and the supernatural.

and here is Ray himself talking about his book collecting.

Classroom Projects

This newer Trunk Records release of music by children lacks the sheer gonzo insanity that made it's precursor on the label - 'Music For Children' by Carl Orff & Gunild Keetman - such an amazing and compulsive listen but has much to recommend it in it's own right.

Collated from a variety of recordings made by school children between 1959 and 1981 it features folk songs, experimental oddities and a version of 'Bright Eyes'.  For me the definite highlights are the moments of avant-garde wonderfulness scattered throughout the album courtesy of a music education book and album by the name of 'Sound & Silence' such as  'The Lyke Wake Dirge' (see below) but there are many moments of simply sublime music littered across the album, and a version of 'Bright Eyes'.

I was in primary and secondary school through the 1970s (indeed, the year of the latest recording here is the year I started senior (comprehensive) school) and so this sort of free and rather bucolic approach to musical education brings back some strange memories and raises some odd feelings (even though the songs we sung in school were in Welsh).

It is a wonderful selection of tracks that manages to hold that sense of wistful nostalgia whilst also remaining vital and entertaining even on a version of 'Bright Eyes'.