Friday 30 January 2015

Scarlet Traces

Ian Edgington & D'Israeli
Dark Horse Comics

It was the cover of the first of the two Scarlet Traces books that caught my eye.  A Lovely deep mottled green, the blood splattered title, the small blue planet sat neatly within a square frame and most crucially of all the D'Israeli.  That one name meant I was sold but reading the sentence across the top of the cover, 'A murder mystery sequel to H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds' certainly didn't put me off.

I've been a fan of the artist since way back when he drew the Warren Ellis book 'Lazarus Churchyard'.  I'm a sucker for nice cartoony art which is something that delivers in spades and never more so than here.  The writer, Ian Edgington, is someone I've been reading on and off for years now mostly through his work for 2000ad.  He's not someone whose work I seek out but is someone who I generally enjoy when I do find something.

Scarlet Traces

The story in 'Scarlet Traces' takes place 10 years after the events of the classic H.G. Wells novel, 'War of the Worlds'. The after-effects of this war are obvious throughout the course of the story, as alien technology is evident everywhere you turn.

Scarlet Traces is a steampunk romp set some years after the Martian invasion.  It tells the story of Major Robert Autumn and his batman Colour Sergeant Arthur Currie as they investigate Currie's missing niece in a world where the Martian technology left over from the war has been reverse-engineered to make England the most affluent and powerful country in the world.  Their investigaton leads them inevitably to a corruption within this brave new world worse than they could have imagined.

The world, it's technology and it's denizens are rendered beautifully and the story flows effortlessly to it's conclusion.

The War of the Worlds

In the closing years of the nineteenth century, the genteel tranquillity of Victorian England is shattered by the arrival of an invasion force from the red planet-Mars! Methodical and merciless, the Martians are intent on nothing less than the conquest and subjugation of the human race.
Told from the point of view of an ordinary man caught up in the carnage and chaos, we witness firsthand how the then-greatest empire in the world is brought to its knees by the Martians'cool alien intellect and the implacable heat ray!

Following S.T. the pair went the prequel route and told the story that triggered the whole thing.

I'm not a huge fan of adaptations. I much prefer originals but this one is beautifully rendered - have a look at the sheer size of the martian capsule he's managed to convey in this illustration

- and the text has been translated to the comic medium with a delicate, respectful and expert touch.

Wells' original book was a sparse and tightly plotted novel and the adaptation is the same.  There's a lovely continuity between the books that show just how prepped Edgington and D'Israeli  were before embarking on S.T. and the little hints and references to characters featured in the previous book help to tie everything together.

The Great Game

The front line of the War of the Worlds has been taken to the red planet itself! After almost four decades of conflict, the British invasion of Mars has ground into a bloody stalemate. The nation is cracking at the seams, and liberties are being revoked as Prime Minister Spry struggles to maintain order at home while waging war another world away. What does Spry have up his nasty little sleeve? Robert Autumn, aged gentleman adventurer and hero of Scarlet Traces, is determined to find out!

The final volume returns us to future and Britain and it's colonies are fully committed to and thoroughly embroiled in the invasion of Mars.  

Major Autumn,  now much older and in drastically altered circumstances from how we left him, recruits crusading photo journalist Charlotte Hemming to investigate and expose the truth behind the seemingly endless war and the brutal government regime that maintains it.

The scope of this book is considerably wider than it's predecessor and although maybe a little too fast in the telling, probably due to it's limited page count, it is a glorious end to a very satisfying romp to Mars and back again.

BTW - should you be interested there's also a website dedicated to annotating the references and allusions contained within the series.

Wednesday 28 January 2015

Doctor Who: Tales of Trenzalore

Various authors
BBC Books

As it had been foretold, the armies of the Universe gathered at Trenzalore. Only one thing stood between the planet and destruction – the Doctor. For nine hundred years, he defended the planet, and the tiny town of Christmas, against the forces that would destroy it.
He never knew how long he could keep the peace. He never knew what creatures would emerge from the snowy night to threaten him next. He knew only that at the end he would die on Trenzalore.
Some of what happened during those terrible years is well documented. But most of it remains shrouded in mystery and darkness.
Until now.
This is a glimpse of just some of the terrors the people faced, the monstrous threats the Doctor defeated. These are the tales of the monsters who found themselves afraid - and of the one man who was not.
(Tales of Trenzalore documents four of the Doctor’s adventures from different periods during the Siege of Trenzalore and the ensuing battle:
Let it Snow by Justin Richards
An Apple a Day by George Mann
Strangers in the Outland by Paul Finch
The Dreaming by Mark Morris) 

Four short tales from the end of the 11th Doctors life and the 900 years he spends deending the town of Christmas.

Justin Richards pits him against the Ice Warriors in a nifty little story of clever word play and the power of sound.  George Mann proves himself a dab hand with the up-beat and perky Eleventh by pitting him and an eager child against the Krynnoids in a nice little tale. Paul Finch, the only author here I hadn't previously read, delivers an action tale against the Autons before finally the book ends with Mark Morris absolutely nailing the Eleventh's voice, mannerisms and idiosyncracies with the arrival of the Mara.

A really quick read - an afternoon - but a fun one.  Not really a book to be savoured but one to be enjoyed as a good time filler.

Friday 23 January 2015

Conjugal Rights (The Adventures of Brenda and Effie: Book 3)

Paul Magrs
Headline Review

No matter what she tries to do, trouble has a way of finding Brenda. It's hardly surprising with secrets like hers. When her old adversary Mr Danby starts filling the airwaves with his late night phone in show it can only mean one thing - and sure enough best friend Effie soon finds herself up to her neck in it. But that is only the beginning; fate has an even bigger surprise in store. Romance is in the air for Brenda and, do what she will, she cannot deny that she and her man were made for each other - literally. But as usual, Brenda and Effie will face up to whatever dangers come their way with fortitude and grace: even if that means journeying to places beyond their wildest dreams.

This is the third Brenda and Effie and it all kicks off mightily as, thanks to the really rather unpleasant Mrs Claus, Frank's in town and he wants his wife. Brenda's, strong, objections to Frank's insistence on what he sees as his long overdue nuptials sends the two of them quite literally to Hell via a long drop over a large cliff. Effie and Robert are having none of it and soon, with Sheila Manchu in tow, follow her via the Bitches Maw into a Hell that bears an uncanny similarity to the Whitby they'd just left and so, on familiarish ground they soon manage to get back together with Brenda. Things don't necessarily go exactly too well but thanks to Brenda's selflessness the friends, along with Frank and Alucard, escape Hell in a fabulously unorthodox way.

Magrs is a writer with a gloriously silly imagination and the chops to back it up with a series of referential and (ir)reverential stories.

Buy it here - Conjugal Rites (Brenda 3)

Sunday 18 January 2015

The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)

There's not been anywhere near enough Peter Cushing in these pages of late so I'm going to put that right with one of his turns as the great detective.

Directed by the great Terence Fisher for Hammer in 1959 it also features AndrĂ© Morell as Doctor Watson, Christopher Lee as Sir Henry Baskerville and John Le Mesurier as Barrymore the butler alongside a host of familiar looking character actors of the time. 

I'm sure most, if not all, of you reading this will be more than a little familiar with the story and for the most part this one sticks closely to the source and what we have is a great story realised beautifully by fantastic actors utterly at home in the roles.

Many years later Cushing returned to play Holmes in the 1968 BBC TV series but this is him at the top of his game fully embracing the chance to play a character he was a fan of and making him his own.


The Hound of the Baskervilles 1959 full movie by ursula-strauss

Friday 16 January 2015

Something Borrowed (The Adventures of Brenda and Effie: Book 2)

Paul Magrs
Headline Review

Brenda must face her demons, but first she needs to get to the bottom of the sinister goings-on that threaten to overcome an all-too-quiet seaside town.
When poison pen letters start flying around the quiet lanes of Whitby, trouble is in store for Brenda and Effie. And with Jessie the Zombie Womanzee, trips down memory lane and amorous ghoul hunting, literary minded and strangely youthful professors of Icelandic history, as well as a terrifying encounter with bamboo wickerwork gods from the dawn of time, even Brenda’s ample cup is running over. But her most challenging battle is the one she must fight with herself – or, at least, parts of herself…

This is the second in the continuing adventures of Brenda and Effie as they guard Whitby against nefarious goings on.

As with the previous book in the series there are several short tales embedded within the longer story. In this instance though they serve to provide more insight into Brenda's past and present. We are introduced to one of her ex beaus - a monster hunting Cambridge don and Sheila Manchu - wife of a certain aged (and now deceased) oriental criminal mastermind. These two play central roles in the unfolding menace of an ancient alien bamboo god called Goomba who so desperately wants to go home he's putting everyone under a spell.

As with the first it was a good fun read although it was considerably less gung-ho than it's predecessor.

Buy it here -  Something Borrowed (The Brenda and Effie Mysteries Book 2)

Wednesday 14 January 2015

Doctor Who: Engines of War

George Mann
BBC Books

"The death of billions is as nothing to us Doctor, if it helps defeat the Daleks."
The Great Time War has raged for centuries, ravaging the universe. Scores of human colony planets are now overrun by Dalek occupation forces. A weary, angry Doctor leads a flotilla of Battle TARDISes against the Dalek stronghold but in the midst of the carnage, the Doctor's TARDIS crashes to a planet below: Moldox.
As the Doctor is trapped in an apocalyptic landscape, Dalek patrols roam amongst the wreckage, rounding up the remaining civilians. But why haven't the Daleks simply killed the humans?
Searching for answers the Doctor meets 'Cinder', a young Dalek hunter. Their struggles to discover the Dalek plan take them from the ruins of Moldox to the halls of Gallifrey, and set in motion a chain of events that will change everything. And everyone.
An epic novel of the Great Time War featuring the War Doctor as played by John Hurt.

I was so excited when I heard about this book. The War Doctor was such an intriguing character and John Hurt brought him to life so perfectly that this was a delicious prospect.  Add into the mix an author whose work I've enjoyed in the past and I was pretty stoked.

It didn't really live up to it's promise.  The book is an enjoyable enough Who tale but, with one exception where he uses the TARDIS as a bullet he is the same Doctor he's always been.  He's meant to be the one that's willing to go to places his other regenerations wouldn't but he just doesn't come across as such; he's too caring, he's too considerate, he's too Doctor.  If anything I kept picturing him as a slightly world weary second Doctor roped into fighting on behalf of the Time Lords prior to his enforced regeneration.  He just seemed, well, nice.

One of the main problems is that the dialogue given him simply doesn't sound like John Hurt.  The man is in many of my favourite films so his voice resonates in my head but - with one exception at the bottom of page 120 - I just can't hear him speaking the words he's given.

I'm not panning it; I enjoyed it.  It's a light and readable Who novel and that's perfectly fine but it isn't the darker hued, battle hardened, grizzly veteran, gravelly grandad one I hoped it would be.

Tuesday 13 January 2015

Never The Bride (The Adventures of Brenda and Effie: Book 1)

Paul Magrs
Headline Review

Brenda has had a long and eventful life and she has come to Whitby to run a B&B in search of some peace and quiet. She and her best friend Effie like nothing better than going out for tea at the Walrus and the Carpenter or dinner at Cod Almighty and keeping their eyes open for any of the mysterious goings on in town. And what with satanic beauty salons, more than illegal aliens, roving psychic investigators and the frankly terrifying owner of the Christmas Hotel there are no shortage of nefarious shenanigans to keep them interested. But the oddest thing in Whitby may well be Brenda herself. With her terrible scars, her strange lack of a surname or the fact that she takes two different shoe sizes, Brenda should have known that people as, well, unique as she is, just aren't destined for a quiet life.

Magrs (pronounced Mars) is a Doctor Who writer (amongst other things) and it really shows as this whole book has a lightness and playfulness about it that made it compulsive reading with ideas straight out of the ‘Who’ grab-bag.

The (not a) Bride of the title is named Brenda and is the owner of a B&B in Whitby who, along with her neighbour, junk shop proprietor Effie, investigates strange goings on in her strange little town.  Brenda’s true identity becomes evident very early on in the proceedings and she is slowly revealed to have been ‘guided’ to Whitby to become the guardian of the place against the portal to Hell opened there.

Magrs makes use of War of the Worlds, Most Haunted (one of the most shameful programmes ever to appear on UK television) and Whitby’s most famous visitor and weaves them into the tapestry of Brenda’s world to produce a joyful, rollicking read full of good, old fashioned, unadulterated fun.

Buy it here -  Never the Bride (The Brenda and Effie Mysteries Book 1)