Thursday 28 June 2018

Star Kites: Poems and Versions

Star Kites Poems and Versions by Mark Valentine from Tartarus Press
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: 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.

Warren Ellis at How The Light Gets In
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.


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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 me 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

Nick Drake

Despite only releasing 3 albums during his life time to very little acclaim English singer-songwriter Nick Drake 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 undistinguished and all 3 of his records - Five Leaves LeftBryter Layter and Pink Moon - sold poorly due in no small part to his reticence to play live or to engage with promotional opportunities.  After releasing his third album in 1972 Drake's mental health had deteriorated to a point that necessitated a return to the family home where, on 25th November 1974, he took a suspected 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. I've included both to give you a choice.


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Sunday 17 June 2018

The Chemistry Lesson

Ghosts: 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 (Cumming) 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.

Samantha Bond & Alan Cumming in Ghosts: The Chemistry Lesson
The finished film is very much an updated 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.

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


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Thursday 14 June 2018

The Rituals of Infinity

The Rituals of Infinity by Michael Moorcock
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.

Sunday 10 June 2018

The Cicerones

Robert Aickman's The Cicerones by Jeremy Dyson and Mark Gatiss
This short film by The League of Gentlemen's Jeremy Dyson is an adaption of one of Robert Aickman's 'strange stories' and tells of a traveller's encounters with four 'cicerones' (guides) inside a cathedral.

Mark Gatiss takes the lead role as 'John Trant' a reserved and slightly stuffy Englishman of indeterminate age sightseeing his way across Europe who, in the great ghostly tradition of M. R. James, goes off in search of a  MacGuffin - in this case a painting of Lazarus - and instead finds himself at the centre of a much more unsettling experience among the columns and crypts of 'The Cathedral of Saint Bavon'. 

Mark Gatiss as John Trant in The Cicerones by Robert Aickman and Jeremy Dyson
At only twelve minutes in length Dyson has mostly kept true to his source and this is a concentrated dose of Aickman ambiguity as we, along with Trant, are led deeper and deeper into the bowels of the cathedral as the tension builds from no overt source other than Trant's desperate need to find the painting before the cathedral closes, the macabre nature of the images he is confronted with and his reactions to the odd behaviour of the various people he meets.  As is the way of things with Aickman little is obvious, much goes unsaid and one is left very much adrift in exquisitely disquieting confusion.

If you wish to learn more about this most singular of authors you can find an interesting documentary about his life and work at this link and another (longer) adaptation of one of his strange stories - 'The Hospice' by clicking here.


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