Hel’s Eight by Stark Holborn
(Titan Books, 2023)
Reviewed by Nick Hubble
Hel’s Eight is the sequel to Stark Holborn’s 2021 space western Ten Low and, while it could be read on its own, readers would probably benefit from reading the earlier novel first. There has been some debate as to whether describing these books as westerns is selling them short but that rather depends on people’s attitudes to westerns. If like me, you are a fan of the spaghetti and revisionist westerns of the 1960s and 1970s, and especially trippy counter-cultural westerns such as Alejandro Jodorowsky’s El Topo or Monte Hellman’s The Shooting, then you will relish the feverish intensity of these novels. As an upgrade, the traditional gender politics of the western have been long outrun here so that we have in Joanne Harris’s words ‘a wonderful fusion of Firefly and Joanna Russ, with an Ennio Morricone soundtrack’. This is the kind of future that I used to dream about in my wildest fantasies but somehow the twenty-first-century grind of capitalist realism has driven such visions away from us. Therefore, the first task of this review is simply to register gratitude for Holborn’s implicit invitation to readers to completely unfetter their imaginations again.
Review from BSFA Review 21 - Download your copy here.
Hopeland by Ian McDonald
Hopeland is a huge novel in every respect, coming in at nearly 650 pages, spanning locations including the UK, Greenland and the Pacific Islands, and encompassing a time period running from the 2011 London riots to a climate-ravaged early 2030s. However, its full temporal scope is even bigger than this summary suggests, stretching back into the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and forward to a future, millennia hence, as it poses the question of whether a family might outlive the Anthropocene by lasting for 10,000 years.
The Last Storm by Tim Lebbon
(Titan Books, 2022)
Reviewed by John Dodds
In the realm of post-apocalyptic novels, of those I have read, at any rate, I would argue that The Last Storm stands head and shoulders above many of them with its original ideas, crystalline prose, clever fantastical ideas that are both plausible and questionable. I say “questionable” in a positive way, because of the superficially technical elements (the rainmaking machine) and the mystical (the otherworldly powers needed make said machines work) combine in a way that makes for a highly original premise, though also of course requiring a willing suspension of disbelief.
Review from BSFA Review 20 - Download your copy here.
What Moves the Dead by T. Kingfisher
Reviewed by Andy Sawyer
T. Kingfisher seems to have cornered the market in an intriguing subgenre: novels not exactly re-writing classic horror stories but visiting their worlds. The Twisted Ones collides with Arthur Machen’s “The White People”, while The Hollow Places owes quite a lot to Algernon Blackwood’s “The Willows” and C.S. Lewis’s The Magician’s Nephew (specifically that novel’s “Wood Between the Worlds”). Each novel contains some very chilling scenes, marred by others where the narrator tells us that we are in a horror novel (“Oooh look, this is just like Algernon Blackwood/C.S. Lewis!!!—and I only very lightly paraphrase). Each, however, can be recommended for fans of the originals. “Sequels by other hands” of well-known stories, of course, are legion, but these are playful encounters with scenarios we know rather than pedestrian rip-offs.
The Unknown: Weird Writings, 1900–1937 by Algernon Blackwood (ed. Henry Bartholomew)
(Handheld Press, 2023)
Reviewed by Kevan Manwaring
Master of the supernatural tale Algernon Blackwood (1869-1951) has long had his devoted acolytes, but in recent years the British writer of Horror and Weird fiction has had something of a resurgence of interest, with more of his work—once tracked down like uncanny beasts in the backwoods of obscure bookshops—in print now than ever. The British Library’s ‘Tales of the Weird’ imprint has republished many of his classic tales; and now joining this wave is Bath-based small press, Handheld Press, which specialises in republishing lost classics.
Atom the Beginning 03 by Osamu Tezuka
Concept: Masami Yuuki
Artwork: Tetsuro Kasahara
(Titan Graphic Novels, 2023)
Reviewed by John Dodd
It begins in a reactor going critical, as the robot designated Six saves several humans from the blast but is caught up in it and damaged, with the remains of it going on to form the basis of an experiment into whether or not robots can develop emotions and become truly intelligent.
This in turn leads to interested parties wanting to kidnap the scientists who are responsible for the advances being made, which in turn leads to the robot defending them and a chase ensues as the villains seek to hunt them down, only to find that Six has developed skills that were never programmed into it, and has decided to download information that it shouldn’t have had access to in order to improve itself.
Bloodborne: The Lady of the Lanterns #4 by Cullen Bunn
Artwork: Piotr Kowalski
(Titan Comics, 2023)
The problem with coming in at part 4 is that you don’t know what happened in the time before, and given that this issue is effectively the big fight scene at the end of a Marvel picture, I can’t make informed comment on what the build up to this has been like.
This issue however, well, there’s a lot of guns, a lot of eldritch monsters, a gatling gun, blood, shotguns, blood, pistols, monsters, magic, guns, blood, and flames.
M.O.R.I.A.R.T.Y. Clockwork Empire by Fred Duval and Jean-Pierre Pecau
Pencils and Inks: Stevan Subic
Some time ago now, there was the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (LXG), a retelling of the stories of old where all the fantastical creations of that bygone age came together to form a group that could take on any foe and stand a chance of beating them.
In the beginning, the Clockwork Empire very much has the feeling of that story, when Hyde is found rampaging and Sherlock Holmes finds himself on the case, to find that rogue automatons and strange cults are afoot and nothing is quite what it seems. The feel of this Holmes is very much one more akin to the more modern Holmes stories, where he feels a need to explain what he’s doing and what he’s found, how he reached his conclusions and how easy he found it. On the one hand, it makes it more accessible to those who are not familiar with the methods of the great detective, but on the other hand, it does mean that there’s no sense of mystery as there was in the earlier books.
No Gods, No Monsters by Cadwell Turnbull
Monsters are real, and they’re here, and they’re living amongst us. This is the line that draws us into the book, the promise of something different and strange, of a place and time where the supernatural exists hand-in-hand with the ordinary world.
This starts with a killing, a killing that won’t be explained till much later in the book, but at its heart, something that should have been clear from the beginning. Laina’s brother Lincoln is shot by the police, the reason is not given, and it’s not till a sixth of the book in that we find out that there was more to it than just a random act of police brutality. It was because he was a monster, and not even that, just a shape shifter, and it raises the question for those reading of whether or not there was more to the killing than just him being different.
Mr. Breakfast by Jonathan Carroll
(Melville House, 2023)
Reviewed by Dave M. Roberts
It is quite normal to wonder how life may have turned out if different choices had been made. Would following that hobby as a career have made us happier, or relinquishing ambitions for the sake of a relationship? It is somewhat unusual to be presented with that opportunity. After a spur of the moment decision to get a tattoo, Graham Patterson is offered exactly that. He is drawn to the artwork in a tattooist’s window and in particular a strange and multi-layered piece called Mr Breakfast. After receiving the tattoo, he is told that he can now experience three different versions of his life, one his current life, and two others resulting from different life decisions. He can switch between the lives for a very limited number of times, but must ultimately choose one. From this slightly disappointing and somewhat contrived premise, Carroll spins up a deeply affecting story that explores the way that we choose to live our lives and what is really important to us. Not just that, but how our life decisions affect those around us. Trying to do the right thing does not always work out, and what is actually the right thing when the choices you make ripple out and impact on a great many people?
19 Beech Green