17 Reviews (2 New)
A Dark and Scary Place
Karen Tandy is a young woman who develops a large tumour on her neck in just two days. She sees an expert, Dr Hughes, who discovers through x-rays that it consists of tissue and bone, and shifts its position sometimes. He arranges for a surgeon to cut it out the following morning. That night she visits Harry Erskine for help. Harry is a charlatan clairvoyant, preying on the insecurity of rich old ladies. Karen tells him about a recurring dream or nightmare she is having involving a village of huts and a distant threatening galleon. Feeling that she is genuine, Harry urges Karen to take a note of her surroundings and the flag on the ship when she has the nightmare that night.
Harry visits Dr Hughes the next day and relays the dream to him. Initially skeptical, Hughes admits he has run out of ideas, and agrees when Harry suggests finding a medium for some answers. Mrs Karmann holds a seance for Harry and two friends, but an evil spirit comes through, materialising as a head rising out from the centre of a wooden table. It resembles a Red Indian. Harry learns that medicine men had great powers and could be reborn. Meanwhile, Karen Tandy is under the control of the thing on her neck. She has to be isolated because she is becoming threatening, speaking somebody else's words and moving around when she shouldn't be able to.
An anthropologist refers Harry to Singing Rock, a modern day medicine man, who tells him that Gitche Manitou is the Great Spirit. What they are dealing with here is, in the same sense, the manitou of a powerful ancient medicine man. They can be reborn a limited number of times, becoming more powerful on each occasion. This is Misquamacus from the mid-seventeenth century, who wants his revenge on the white man race which slaughtered his people. The ship in Karen's dream was that of Dutch settlers who made promises to the Native Americans before slaughtering them.
Misquamacus is born stunted in growth by the earlier x-rays taken of Karen's neck. Disoriented, he still has the power to summon the Star Beast, which Harry is forced to face alone. But that is the least of Harry's problems. As his power grows, Misquamacus summons The Great Old One. Singing Rock tells Harry that if they don't do something this will be the beginning of the end. This is like the Christians fighting Satan himself. The Great Old One is also known as the Great Devourer, which speaks for itself. They return to the basement of the hospital to confront it.
Singing Rock has explained that there is a spirit in everything: the water, the earth, the air, and even the rocks - and these can be used to aid us. Harry reasons that if there is a potentially helpful spirit in everything then they must also be present in objects. He proposes to fight ancient magic with modern science by attempting to call the manitou of the large and knowledgeable police computer - Unitrak. Singing Rock attempts to summon Unitrak's manitou, but admits it is white man's magic. Harry is obliged to improvise. He implores in every way he can, and just as Misquamacus and the Great Old One reach him the blinding light, electricity and numbers of Unitrak blasts forth, sending the Great Old One back to whence he came, and turning Misquamacus into a blackened husk.
It is over. Against all the odds they have survived, and so has the human race. Even Karen is still alive - although it will take time and patience for her to heal, both in body and mind.
For this revisit to early Graham Masterton horror novels we go right back to the beginning. This is where it all started. The Manitou showed its pedigree, having an immediate reaction by becoming a bestseller and spawning a 1978 film adaptation starring Tony Curtis as Harry Erskine, Susan Strasberg as Karen Tandy, Michael Ansara as John Singing Rock, and Burgess Meredith as Doctor Snow (another Doctor). This is the first time that Masterton delved into world mythology, bring 'impossible' situations realistically into a contemporary setting. This proved to be a deep fountain of knowledge that he would return to regularly.
It's a novel idea that if all natural things have a spirit, then why shouldn't modern man-made objects. It opens-up a potential new world of terrors and previously unknown allies. The book's prose flows pretty smoothly, with little or no time for reflection. Therefore, don't expect any padding. It gets in, tells the story and gets out again. There is a mention in the book that the Great Old One is the terror of faces that appear in the grain of wooden wardrobes. This is an early reference to what would become the sequel, Revenge of the Manitou. The Great Old One's appearance in The Manitou is described as squid-like, which is undoubtedly a homage to H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu.
I have been enjoying these re-reads of Graham Masterton's early horror output, and am very happy that, after a few years of writing police suspense thrillers set in Ireland, that he has returned to horror with books such as The House of a Hundred Whispers, and The Children God Forgot.
(Original Review Ty Power 2021)
“I wonder what normal people do on a Sunday morning?”
Titan Comics releases The Philosophy of Spider-Man, a full-colour hard cover book of 128 pages exploring the day-to-day approach to extraordinary situations of a – albeit highly intelligent, learned and resourceful – high school teenager. It achieves this with the chapter titles: I Am Spider-Man; With Great Power…; Spider (Fashion) Sense; Family Matters; Media Frenzy; Romancing the Spider; To Kill a Spider; Ten Crazy Spider Fights; Web-Tastic Team-Ups; Enter the Spider-Verse; and Culture King. That means very basic information on Peter Parker and what happened to change his life, his abilities, his costume variations, his family (only Aunt May is mentioned; no mention of Uncle Ben or his missing parents in my review download copy), his photography editor at the Daily Bugle – J. Jonah Jameson (Spider-Man hater), his true love Mary Jane Watson and other weird relationships, a plentiful supply of super-villains, ten top fights (including three misunderstandings with other heroes), team-ups with other heroes, other Spider-Men in the Spider-Verse, and cultural references.
Spider-Man is easily my favourite Marvel character. For a while, as a kid I couldn’t get enough Spider-Man comic-books. I even collected a number of graphic novels years later of big storylines and notable writers and artists, such as Stan Lee, John Romita, Tom McFarlane, and J. Michael Straczynski – a few of which I still possess. Spider-Man was the first superhero to have normal everyday problems that readers could relate to. He also quipped because he was young and unsure of himself, although very intelligent in the field of sciences. He is a small-scale hero who often finds himself involved in large scale events. He has the proportionate strength of a spider, and can walk on walls, but his web-shooters are his own invention and it adds to the suspense of stories when he runs out of web fluid at a critical moment, or they become clogged with water. By now you know I love the character; however, as far as this book is concerned, that is where the problem lies.
Anyone who is already a fan of Spider-Man is going to consider this ridiculous. It’s obviously targeted at very young children, but even they are going to learn next to nothing. We are in a new age now. Kids mature more quickly than they used to. I saw a youngster once in a pram quite happily playing with an i-phone. It’s the wrong way to interact with a young child, although it does remind you that we are living in a highly technological age, into which kids are born. Consequently, even as tots they are going to prefer the big budget Hollywood movies (There have been some pretty good Spider-Man movies that tell you all you need to know). If they then decide to delve more deeply into the 60 year history of Spider-Man, they are more likely to seek out the aforementioned graphic novels, or maybe the classic animated serials. This whole concept seems contrived. Copyright aside, I would have no trouble putting together a significantly more entertaining and informative book for potential new fans just from my own knowledge, without the need for research.
Most of Spider-Man’s comic-book quips are mildly humorous, but the best this offering can present is “If I save enough lives by the weekend, Sunday’s washing day!” Sadly, it’s a missed opportunity.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2021)
John Hyatt, a sanitation inspector, is visited by an old man called Seymour Wallis who has bought an old house and is convinced it is breathing. Taking along a colleague called Dan, he visits the house that night. They hear the breathing , and when the phenomenon is challenged the breathing becomes quicker and heavier, culminating in Dan being thrown across the room. Visiting his work colleague in hospital, John learns that Dan has been breathing heavily at odd moments. For an instant he has intense red eyes.
John calls in on his friend and one-time lover Jane Torres where she works in a little bookshop. He persuades her to visit the house, along with the hospital doctor and another colleague engineer called Bryan Corder. Seymour tells them the breathing has stopped. It has transferred to Dan, who is now in a coma. They search the house - passing a large bear with a woman's face that Jane finds vaguely familiar - and Bryan checks out the chimney. He hears a non-human heartbeat, before becoming trapped and screaming in panic. When the others pull him out his entire head has been stripped of flesh. John is later told the man is still alive, but only through his strange irregular heartbeat. Looking for the missing Jane, John goes back to speak with Seymour, only to find him hugely bloated and apparently dead. The post mortem shows he has twenty-two pints of blood in his system. The blood of some species of dog.
Jane has been looking into the Red Indian legends of Big Monster and First One To Use Words By Force. They had a motto that translates as 'Return', meaning they will come together again piece by piece. It seems that something has been smuggling itself out of Seymour's house a bit at a time. First breathing, then heartbeat, and now blood. Jane is advised to go to Round Valley and talk to one of the medicine men. John goes along. The old medicine man is George Thousand Names. He confirms Jan's research and states that the Bear Maiden was the catalist. He gives the vital advice to separate the three parts into different hospitals, use the painting in the house to locate the hair (and keep it away from FOTUWBF), and to keep women away from the parts - as the Red Indian demon trickster Coyote is partial to female flesh.
The drive back to the hospital and, while George Thousand Names is trying to convince the police lieutenant of the very real threat from Coyote, Dan and Bryan - whose physical forms have conjoined together - break through the isolation glass. A policeman and another doctor are killed by the incomplete Coyote, before the others escape. The strange concoction of flesh and bone passes them by to search for his blood, currently in the body of Seymour. George Thousand Names tells the others that if Coyote doesn't get within one moon's rising he'll be banished back to the underworld.
Jane has been sent to the house to try and remove the wolf-like door knocker - the face of Coyote. Coyote manages to fine his blood at the expense of Seymour's body. Meanwhile, George Thousand Names freezes and shatters the door knocker with a ritual, but Jane has been attacked by Coyote and become the Bear Maiden. All George and John can do now is to prevent Coyote getting Big Monster's shorn-off hair and becoming whole.
They trace the location - through pictures in the house - to the cables of the Golden Gate Bridge. But Coyote is at the house, too. Coyote traces Big Monster's powerful hair to the bridge, where it is entwined in the cables. He is now all-powerful and immortal, but John lures the demon with the Bear Maiden, before snatching the hair and placing it on his own head. The power almost destroys his mind, but he controls it long enough to send Coyote back to hell, and then throws the hair into the waters below.
Here we are with another random choice in my marathon re-read of Graham Masterton's early horror novels. Again, the pace is relentless. The author returns to the Red Indian culture of The Manitou (and to a lesser extent The Wells of Hell). It is also the start of a running theme of featuring a wolf's head door knocker in many of his books. This, I believe was a nod of recognition to his regular readers.
Many of Masterton's books contain such vivid scenes that you can picture them instantly in your mind. Consequentially, they would make great films - particularly now that legendary monsters and spiritual beings has be competently created using CGI. The narrative flows very smoothly, making this relatively easy reading, and has lost none of its impact over the years (41 and counting!). Although the characters are very much of their time - smoking like troopers and drinking lots of whisky to settle the nerves - the book emerged in a era of creature horror fiction which he and James Herbert helped create, and is the real deal amidst a then sea of bandwagon mediocrity.
(Original Review Ty Power 2020)
Dan Cook is an American cartographer who is in France researching for a friend's book on the Normandy D-Day landings. He comes across a long-abandoned rusting Sherman tank which has the rural locals living in fear. They say it causes bad luck. Madeleide is a farmer's daughter who is convinced the tank was responsible for her mother's death. Many others say they hear voices emanating from within. Dan talks to father Anton, a priest in his nineties, who informs him that at the bridge of Le Vey in July 1944, thirteen mysterious black tanks smashed through the German lines, killing hundreds of Hitler's troops, before moving on. At no time had any of the hatches opened, and it was discovered afterwards that they were sealed - as is this one which was left behind.
When Dan suggests opening up the tank to see what is inside, he is warned of the consequences - least not by Eloise, Madeleide's father's housekeeper. Others are grateful for his strength to do something about the evil they have lived under for years. Madeleide and Father Anton go with him. Eloise chooses not to go, but gives him a ring of hair from a firstborn child who was sacrificed to Moloch centuries ago when devils plagued Rouen. It shows that you have already paid your respects to the evil.
Dan uses tools from the farm to chisel away the welding from around the turret. Inside, he finds an ancient sack which feels like it contains loose bones. Father Anton instructs him to put it in a medieval chest he has in the cellar of his house, and they lock it in for the night. Dan later hears a disturbance and checks on Father Anton. The priest's entrails have been ripped-out and the demon from the tank uses the man's body like a puppet. When Antoinette, the priest's housekeeper, runs from her room, every knife and blade in the vicinity flies towards her and she is killed.
The demon announces itself as Elmek - sometimes known as Asmorod - the devil of knives and sharp edges. It threatens the life of Madeleide, telling Dan they must transport the chest to England and find the Reverend Taylor, with whom Elmek has past experience. The plan is to find the brethren twelve demons and, when they are together, to raise the more powerful Adramelech.
Dan and Madeleide find the Reverend Taylor in England. He gives them an English language version of L'Invocation des Anges, that describes the identities of the thirteen demons and how to invoke their corresponding angels. The other demons are in an unofficial military building in London, so - threatened by small demonstrations of Elmek's power - they push on. The building is in the charge of Lieutenant Colonel Thanet. The sacks are laid out in the cellar. Madeleide seems to come into her own. She tells Dan she will release each demon, thereby identifying it, and he should read-out the passage in the book invoking the appropriate angel to combat it.
When they have all been revived and the demons have called-up Adramelech - the Grand Chancellor of Hell - Thanet tries to bargain with it. When he realises he can't pay the price he runs for the stairs and is engulfed in flame. Madeleide finally understands her purpose when she learns she is the reincarnation of the martyred girl given to Adramelech by General Patton in exchange for help against the Germans, using the tanks. But this time she is possessed by the deceitful angel Hod, who can bring down the invoked angels. The demons are destroyed but only a mortal can banish Adramelech with proof of the existence of Christ. Eloise had given Dan the last help she was able, and Dan steps forward and banishes the master demon by opening the tin and throwing the ashes of Christ's seamless robe over it. Dan is informed by Hod that Madeleide will be reincarnated again, with no memories of these events. She deserves a happy life, free of fear and responsibilty.
This is the second random choice (Following The Wells of Hell) in my marathon re-read of Graham Masterton's early horror novels. In my opinion, he is unsurpassed in reliably writing a string of outstanding and gripping horror tales - the majority of which are unmissable. His writing style is fast-paced and tightly edited, with no padding and unnecessary exposition. In this one, the demon presence is mainly made known through its actions and influences. It is only seen in its real form in the climatic scene in the cellar. By doing this Masterton keeps the villain hidden - or at least faceless until the end.
It's quite a psychoanalytic horror. The fact that the locals had been living in fear of the evil in the tank, most seem uncharacteristically ready to open the tank - even though it might unleash an even greater evil on them. When Dan and Madeleide are crossing the English Channel, Dan briefly has the idea of throwing the chest into the sea. I think this would be the logical solution for most intelligent people, and there isn't a proper explanation why this isn't done. Ironically, in a subsequent unrelated novel, Masterton returns to this quandary and this time offers a convincing argument - almost as if this moment had been playing on his mind.
You could be excused for calling this a book version of a road movie; however, it isn't so much a journey of discovery as a threatening obligation. The main character is very much a product of the 1970s, as he hardly ever eats but smokes like a trooper. This is both comfortable and compelling reading. I have off-loaded many of my books over the years - as I have so many - but I've held onto my favourite authors and still have all the original paperbacks of Graham Masterton, among others. Like records, they form a part of your life. Masterton was one of the writers that you could say I grew up with. Do yourself a favour and share in the experience by downloading a copy.
(Original Review Ty Power 2020)
"The Brigadier's going to shoot you, Jo," the Doctor said grimly, "and then he's going to shoot me. Both of us are going to die."
I was excited at the prospect of reviewing a Missing Adventure featuring the third Doctor, Jo Grant and the Brigadier's UNIT. This is my most loved and familiar territory in the programme's history; the period I hold in the highest regard. Perhaps this makes me more likely to criticise anything not adhering to the appropriate format. It's only natural. I remembered the writer, Paul Leonard, who had also penned, in my opinion, the worst of the bunch so far with the first Doctor story, Venusian Lullaby - a tale which possessed no obvious point of interest and little direction. So, it became a meaningful exercise to discover whether my previous disregard had been targeted at the author's style of prose or simply the story itself.
Fortunately, either Paul has improved in leaps and bounds, or it was quite obviously the latter. This book is quite simply excellent. Everything a novel length Doctor Who story should be. Aside from the stilted lines of the Prologue, comparative to the aforementioned Venusian Lullaby, the narrative is straightforward and consistent throughout, avoiding the common pitfall of 'clever' sentence structure. The characterisation of the regular central players is instantly recognisable through both the dialogue and the relevant actions. We are also allowed into their minds; given insight into their feelings in a shown rather than descriptive manner, which is unfortunately so rare in good fiction.
Even the plot is distinctly original, the majority taking place in the Arab country of Kebiria, proving that not every alien infestation takes place in London! A journalist called Catriona Talliser (an assertive Sarah Jane type without the loud mouth) is there to report on the on going war. Whilst with the Giltaz, who are fighting for the independence of their lands, a runaway jeep nears the camp. At the wheel, a dying UNIT soldier who has been half turned into a stone-like creature that smells strongly of roses and cloves. She is told of a legend where their people were aided by stone-like warriors in battle, but were betrayed by one man. Now hundreds of soldiers at a time are vanishing. Both sides are claiming these as victories, although no real fighting has taken place. Catriona manages to get a message about the dead soldier through to UNIT before being arrested and thrown in a cell. Here, she is beaten; a scene which would never have been allowed to be detailed on TV. Jo accompanies Captain Mike Yates, Sergeant Benton and soldiers to the country, where she is immediately arrested.
The intricacies of the plot are gradually unraveled, revealing one danger on top of another: the Doctor's disappearance, the soldiers, the mild scenes of torture, the alien presence itself. Then there is a problem much closer to home. An early scene in the book has the Doctor's Personal Time-line Prognosticator - something similar to the first Doctor's in The Chase - predicting and graphically displaying the future in which the Brigadier coldly shoots Jo and the Doctor. The Doctor decides they should remain apart, communicating only by means of a left recording device. He then leaves in the TARDIS, making the others believe he has abandoned them to their fate. This problem is left hanging over their heads, and it would be cruel-hearted of me to give away the conclusion.
I have to say that based on the releases thus far, the Missing Adventures have proved to be an imaginative broad spectrum of innovative ideas.
(First reviewed by Ty Power for DreamWatch Magazine 1995)
"If I am right, Lethbridge-Stewart, the people of this planet face one of the greatest dangers they have ever encountered."
I'm glad to see this release marketed as a Missing Adventure, rather than the novelisation of the impending radio play, as was the strategy with The Paradise of Death. But the advantage of the radio connection is the lack of preamble in the book. There is no scene setting to hinder its progress from the starting blocks, and essential descriptions are given along the way, which is as it should be.
Mario Verconti, the elderly owner of the Italian island of San Stefano Minore off Sicily, invites his only distant relative, the Brigadier to help him fight off the aspirations of American mobster Max Vilmio. When a number of apparitions appear in and around the ancient castle (the ghostly Lady in White falling from the cliff tops has been done to death - no pun intended), the Brigadier summons the Doctor, and they team up with Sarah and Jeremy who are coincidentally (!) on holiday. A psycho-physical shock has ruptured the barrier to Null Space, which is widening to the point where all the negative energy will flood through into this Space. The Doctor and Sarah find a way to visit N-Space, and travel back in the TARDIS through the history of the castle, where they discover Max as an alchemist seeking spiritual immortality by combining the earthly body with the N-body.
If N-Space is an intermediatory universe between the realms of the living and the dead, why does its inhabitants possess clothing? If they retained the shape of their mortal bodies after death, they would surely be naked. Perhaps Barry Letts considered the concept of the two leading characters in this condition to be extending the bounds of decency. But I still feel that nondescript but naked humanoid forms would have been more appropriate. Letts has Sarah realise the question of clothing, but it is all swept under the carpet with the Doctor's brief and cryptic sentence, "It's all a matter of belief."
Indeed, the plot is riddled with holes, all of which are recognised by the author. However, highlighting the inconsistencies is no explanation for their presence. Better to say nothing and hope no one notices!
Undoubtedly, the most redeeming quality of this book is the working of the players. This is a reminiscent stroll down memory lane, familiar territory for me. I held my breath, but Letts manages to avoid simply stereotyping. The characterisation of the third Doctor is spot on - formal but convivial - as is Sarah Jane and the Brigadier, as you would expect from someone with several year's familiarity of the TV portrayals of Pertwee, Sladen and Courtney. Fortunately, this also extends to the majority of the others. Jeremy, a companion from The Paradise of Death, is an annoying, bumbling adolescent, and the fact that the character manages to irritate the reader - at least this reader - attests to the author's skillful ability of development. Everybody possesses an inherent Dark Side, so purely pleasant characters are simply not realistic. When in N-Space, even Sarah Jane is concerned when she discovers the Doctor can read her mind. The Brigadier's distant uncle Mario Verconti is an endearing energetic old man who seems to have based his English on the childhood books of Lethbridge-Stewart, left behind years ago.
There are a couple of exceptions. Maggie is an unimaginative stereotypical image of a gangster's moll, who turns against the American Max Vilmio. Roberto, an Italian Elvis impersonator is totally superfluous to the plot. Even the final attempt to make him an integral part of the proceedings, fails to justify his presence. Why do so many writers, particularly for TV, find it necessary to include someone overtly stupid? A person can be of low intelligence without outwardly acting imbecilic.
The Ghosts of N-Space is a ghost story with science fiction elements. Letts creates an intelligent myth from established accounts of near-death experiences and spiritual sightings. It is competently written, but I felt at its conclusion that it could have been so much more. There are far too many instant answers and solutions from the Doctor (witness the assembly of the spirit gun, the ruptured barrier detector, and the beds and wires contraption), and I would have preferred the main characters to discover the existence of N-Space together.
(First reviewed by Ty Power for DreamWatch Magazine 1995)
"When the Earth turns over in its sleep and the rain turns to stone, then the Keth shall come again."
When I later realised the reptilian humanoid of the cover has lost an eye and is not in fact winking, it was slightly easier to accept the leather-clad punk rocker reptilian humanoid, who is roasting the Doctor on a spit. It was not a good omen, and nor was the first chapter title of Planet of Death. But I am not very superstitious and seldom judge the book by the cover. Which is fortunate, because this is a cracking good read.
With Ace temporarily left on the neighbouring planet of Massatoris, The Doctor and Bernice check out the ring system of Betrushia. There they find two reptile races, the Ismetch and the Cutch fighting a pointless religious war. They are finally obliged to join forces against the legendry Keth, who devastated their world in the distant past. But the enemy comes from two quarters, and the Doctor discovers that the planet's most famous natural phenomenon has artificial and essential origins.
Mark Gatiss structures the story well, unveiling layers of plot intriguingly, so that there is always something new happening. The threat is progressively increased for the Doctor and Bernice. First there are the Ismetch and the enemy Cutch reptiles; then the earth tremors and rock falls from the ring system; the evil and sadistic Magna from the Chapter, and finally the Keth. He sensibly begins with something we can all grasp: a fruitless First World War style religious battle between two very similar races.
Many of the central characters are believable, and some even possess certain individual qualities which are essential to the familiarisation process. In other words, I cared about them. Ace comes in for some implied nasty mind-bending treatment, but I discovered there was no sympathy here. Like many others, I feel the character of Ace is well past its sell-by date. Roll on the departure. I wonder if my sentiments are shared by Mark; Ace is missing from half of the book. It's ironic really; the only character unreal, that inspires no feelings, is one already established. In fact, this novel is extremely character driven, but in this instance it aids the progressive pace.
The concept of a genetically engineered organism turning malevolent is far from original. However, I did like the dark threat of the Chapter committing religious xenocide, using two artificial suns - the St Anthony's Fire of the title, and the connection with the Earth of the future. There was a tangible similarity of motives between the planet-based battle and the planet-wide death and destruction emotionlessly dished out by the cathedral-like spacecraft of the Chapter. The majority of wars through the ages on our beloved world have been inspired by religious conflict, and I appreciate the fact that the folly of this has been highlighted in the book. Mark implies combining fanatically as a single belief could be far worse.
As an incidental, we are introduced to chameleonic fluctuation, which is described as the TARDIS exterior shape gradually dropping off. This explains the long-time disappearance of the St John's Ambulance badge on the door, which has now returned.
Normally, I prefer to read at a leisurely pace, as it's easier to immerse myself in the plot. But in this case, a 'required by yesterday' deadline made speed reading necessary, so I was grateful the writing style of this offering made comfortable, easy reading.
I must confess I'd almost given up on the New Adventures. There has been so much mediocrity and so little worthy material. St Anthony's Fire falls easily into the latter bracket, standing with such noteworthy material as the two Terrance Dicks contributions, Blood Heat and Gatiss' previous piece, Quatermass ... I mean Nightshade! It's not the best - that is reserved for Birthright - but it has restored my faith in the feasibility of this series of books. It just proves to me that, with the recent introduction of The Missing Adventures, there is still sufficient room for the New Adventures.
(First reviewed by Ty Power for DreamWatch Magazine 1994)
"Like all organics you are unwilling to provide the data I need. You would rather see me destroyed. That is why you must die."
I cringed involuntarily and perhaps inevitably when I noticed on the back cover that this Missing Adventure is set immediately after The Ultimate Foe. A living nightmare leapt unbidden to the forefront of my mind. Yes, Mel. However, although there are a couple of references to undoubtedly the most unsuited character in the programme's history, she thankfully does not make an appearance in the story. I am eternally grateful for Steve Lyons' discretion; it prevented me reaching for the sick bowl! There is nothing wrong with Bonnie Langford, it was the character as portrayed at the time.
Her temporary replacement is Angela Jennings, a citizen of Torrok, a dilapidated planet whose peoples are controlled by perpetual satellite broadcasts to the entire Meson system emanating from the MBS station. Avoiding the clutches of both the Watchers and the Peace Keepers, she escapes its confines with the Doctor, and the two materialise on a seemingly empty ship heading directly for the station. Whilst the Doctor transmats to the satellite, Angela is 'altered' ,adopting the characteristics and memories of Krllxk, another life-form. To even brush-over the many intervening escapades would take an age; suffice to say that Time of your Life borrows heavily from the overused Virtual Reality scenario and futuristic soaps and game shows. A cross between Stephen King's The Running Man, and science fiction writer Larry Niven's Dream Park. It concludes with a battle against a malevolent techno-organism - what was Angela and the Network computer virus.
In early conversation with the Doctor, Angela's humour and mannerisms are so similar to that of Peri, it was difficult to imagine it was anyone else, and I wondered why Peri had not been utilised for the portrayal in the first place. I felt the sixth Doctor was wasted, for much of the time being secondary to the plot. His character read more similar to Bill Baggs' Stranger than Doctor Who, and is terribly underused. He is dispatched on this mission by the Time Lords, but I wondered at the requirement for urgency, especially as he spends much of the time doing nothing in particular. I've always felt that Colin Baker's sixth Doctor wasn't given ample opportunity to shine on TV, so it would have been nice to see his character exploited to the full.
There is an attempt at a certain cleverness, with less than subtle references to events immediately outside the realms of the actual Doctor Who TV storylines. The station secretary, Giselle, is the incarnation of a certain ex-BBC employee with an in-bred dislike for Doctor Who. Cornerstone submits a proposal for a feature to replace the popular money-making Timeriders. She rejects it without consideration. She hates science fiction! And in practically the same breath, she, "considers how the Doctor's termination might best be approached." Ring any bells? Furthermore, Miriam Walker is a persistent and vehement programme critic, a la Mary Whitehouse, and there is a passing reference to a Vulcan nerve grip - albeit occasionally used by the third Doctor - completely out of context. Some individuals might be pleased by the recognition, but I'm afraid they only made me grimace. Steve can be forgiven for trying to make a statement after the fact, but I see little justification for doing so.
The padding in this book is immediately evident. I progressed more than halfway through before recognising any events which might be integral to the plot. There is a considerable amount of excess running around, in addition to many superfluous characters and needless exchanges of dialogue. I received the impression of a six-parter which need not have been elaborated beyond two. I subtract nothing from his writing style and ability; however, the plot is rather long-winded.
Time of Your Life has two saving graces. Firstly, the plot does finally come together, just when you are wondering if there is any purpose to the infernal maze-mouse and cheese game. Secondly, the prose is straightforward and so makes for easy reading. Not one of the better Missing Adventures, but definitely not out of place in amongst the previous releases.
(First reviewed by Ty Power for DreamWatch Magazine 1995)
Rick Dellatolla is an antiques specialist who lives with his wife Sara and their young son Johnathan at Rancho Santa Fe, in North San Diego County. They are well-off, so when an antiques house clearer turns up with a van full of unnoteworthy items, he gives the man short thrift. But he has an extraordinary mahogany chair with a smirking, wolf-like demonic face, interlinked snakes and apple, and a back incorporating countless terrified falling figures. Rick can see the potential value of the item, but is somewhat surprised and suspicious when the seller, Grant, is prepared to let it go for well below its worth. He attempts to authenticate the house clearance by phone, but all knowledge of the chair is denied. He returns outside to find his wife and son in a mesmeric state, and no sign of Grant or his van.
The heavy chair is dragged into the garage and locked-up, but the next day it is in the house's library. Grant has been killed in an accident, and his lawyer threatens legal action if the chair is returned. The snakes of the chair come alive as Rick attempts to return it to the garage. Eight hours pass in an instant, and all the vegetation around the house withers and dies. Rick drives the chair to a lake and throws it from a height. He nearly goes over, too, when his hands suddenly become attached to the chair.
An English collector called David Sears arrives at the house and takes a great interest in the chair - which has returned of its own accord, none the worse for wear. Rick tries to let the man take it, but the family dog is killed by a strange scuttling bug which then disappears down the back of the chair. He sets about destroying the chair by swinging an axe at the wolf face. However, there is a scream as a deep cut opens on the boy Jonathan's face. Through shock, the boy falls into a coma. A malevolent voice in Rick's head tells him he will never be rid of the chair until he accepts what the chair has to offer.
It seems the chair originates from the 18th Century, when it was commissioned by a nobleman destitute gambler to give him 'The Luck of the Devil'. He became rich thereafter, and each known owner has become a success, but has had to suffer the hideous death of someone close to them. David Sears still wants the chair. His ulterior motive is to ask the chair to make his dead wife alive and well again. In return, he will use his influence with the Defence Department to borrow a missile for testing purposes, and then fire it at building full of Convention Delegates.
The chair is prepared to release itself from Rick into Sears's hands, as this will give the devil almost enough souls to exert his dominion over the Earth. Johnathan wakes up in hospital, but another - this time belevolent - voice tells Ricks that the child has been protected. Apparently, the devil cannot influence an 'innocent'. The voice pointedly informs Rick that the chair cannot control an innocent boy such as Johnathan.
Rick, Sara and Johnathan bluff their way onto the property of David Sears. The chair is there, and so is the missile ready to fire. There is mere moments left after it is fired before hundreds of people are killed. Rick leads Johnathan to the chair, and the boy knows instinctively to sit in it. Helped by an undisclosed force of good, the chair's power is negated and the missile redirected back to strike the house. David Sears is killed, along with his aids in the devastation. The chair and most of the building is destroyed. Now Rick and Sara just need to tell a believable tale to the authorities to explain what has happened.
This is another title in my marathon re-read of early Graham Masterton horror novels. The Heirloom is another gem. I remember not being able to put this book down the first time I read it, and I'm happy to say that my reaction is pretty much the same all these years on. It's a rollercoaster ride of love, oppression, fear and self-sacrifice. Again, there is absolutely no padding. A succession of increasingly anxious events ramp-up the terror, as one man attempts to protect his family from events well beyond the realms of everyday life. Rather than resort to clichéd characterisations of protagonists hitting the bottle or delving into depression, Masterton has Rick Dellatolla as an ordinary - if upper middle-class - father doing what anyone realistically would to rid his life of this evil.
There are several nice touches in this story which help widen the threat whilst maintaining a claustrophobic atmosphere. One of them is the paintings in Rick and Sara's house which subtly change and become more eerie as pressures rise. There is a scene wherein a priest tries to help but is killed by the chair, and David Sears uses blackmail to get Rick to help him. Everything is portrayed very realistically until the last moments when Johnathan is used by a force for good to scupper the devil. Many films have used this ambiguity since that perhaps God or one of his agents has intervened - but we shall never know for certain.
Graham Masterton's output was prolific during this early period in his career, and so it's quite remarkable that his novels were regularly of such a high standard. I can't wait to re-read another from his back catalogue.
(Original Review Ty Power 2020)
Eibonvale Press publishes The Illiterate Ghost (Fictions of Fear, Absurdity and Madness) by Alan Price, with Cover Art by David Rix. This is a Chapbook of only 62 pages, incorporating 16 mostly very brief tales on wide-margin pages. Alan Price, from London, is a poet, scriptwriter, short story writer and film critic (and impending novelist). He has had a TV Film broadcast on BBC2, and won a film festival award...
I’m not a fan of Chapbooks, as you’re unable to invest any time or commitment to the prose. I prefer short stories of upwards of 5,000 words, wherein you can relate to the protagonist, and there is time and opportunity for plot development and characterisation.
Of the stories on offer here, only two are longer than four pages (sides) of fairly large print. 'Egg Timing' sees a man arrange for his ashes to be placed in an egg timer and sent to his daughter who has moved away – so that he can be closer to her. 'Okura’s Tree, William’s Bridge' follows the sexual relationship of a Western man and an Asian woman. The premise here is that if a part of the body is fixated on to the point that it disappears, then the couple would be obliged to bond in other ways more social and intellectual.
Other tales include: 'Death of a Pig', wherein a human is put on trial by a court consisting entirely of animals; and 'Swimmer', which explores the phobia of another swimmer bumping into you and potentially causing your drowning. The ideas are there, but it’s all too fleeting. Personally, I wouldn’t purchase something like this. I prefer much more meat on the bone. I have considerable respect for books and am horrified if I witness a person mistreating one in any way. This, I’m afraid, will not encourage people to cherish the wonder of a book – one of the greatest gifts there is.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2019)
Bantam Press publishes the colossal hardback The Living Dead, by George A. Romero and Daniel Kraus. The latter is probably best known for co-writing both the Oscar winning The Shape of Water, and the Emmy Award winning TV series Trollhunters with the great Guillermo Del Toro. The late Romero needs no introduction, having set the template for zombie movies with the original black and white classic Night of the Living Dead. He carried around the film in his car boot, trying to publicise and sell it, and was ground breaking by featuring a black actor as the main protagonist. He was involved in both TV and movies, and went on to cement his reputation with Dawn of the Dead, The Crazies, and Day of the Dead...
There is no doubting Romero’s credentials. However, although this is a valiant attempt to reveal the entire story from the initial breakout of the virus – through various different locations and perspectives – to an ending of sorts, this weighty tome proves to be disappointing. I believe the main problem is that it jumps all over the place, offering alternative scenarios and personal tales of the afflicted and the confusion and terror of the victims/survivors. There is the medical examination of a body, an African American and a Muslim fighting newly-risen friends and family, and Navy personnel on an aircraft carrier pursued by the dead. These are just a few examples. The moment you begin to empathise with the characters you are torn away and sent scuttling off to another location. This would work well in a short story collection, but in a novel it becomes disjointed. The only associate player you can hook onto here is the sheriff – ironically, the one character who kills the exhausted main protagonist in Night of the Living Dead, because from a distance he believes him to be a zombie.
One of the scenes centres on a cable news station broadcasting the latest information to the survivors out there, while zombies attempt to break in and devour him. It’s more than possible that two separate writers can come up with this scenario independently of each other, but it appears on the face of it to be lifted directly from Pontypool. Having said that, Dead Air has a similar premise.
On the press release there are complimentary quotes from such horror aficionados as Clive Barker and Joe Hill (son of Stephen King). This book is not without merit, but it takes some getting into; plenty of time and commitment is required. It is the Prog Rock of the horror world, with plenty of meandering and a certain amount of misdirection. Some of it works and some of it doesn’t, making for uneasy reading (in both senses of the word!). However, the denouement is worth the wait, with a more than conventional end. This is the last word on zombies from the master, so it is worth adding to your home library simply for that fact.
(Original Review Ty Power 2020)
Bloomsbury Sigma publishes Making the Monster: The Science Behind Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to coincide with the 200th anniversary of the first publication of Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, one of the most influential and moral novels of all time. It is said to have single-handedly kick-started the genre of Science Fiction and, along with Bram Stoker’s Dracula, spawned more adaptations than any other book. This offering explores the background and influences of the masterpiece of fiction, referencing breakthroughs of the time. It is written by Kathryn Harkup, a professional chemist and author who splits her time between talks, demonstrations, and writing for The Guardian. She is the bestselling author of the mystery tale A Is For Arsenic. This is a very nicely presented hardback book with a striking red and black cover design depicting Doctor Frankenstein’s tools of the trade.
This book is split into three parts – Part 1: Conception (Enlightenment, Development, Elopement, Nascent); Part 2: Creation (Education, Inspiration, Collection, Preservation, Construction, Electrification, Reanimation); Part 3: Birth (Life, Death). There is also an Epilogue, and a Timeline of Events.
After an introductory overview of the book, I would have to say that the early sections are much more enjoyable. These read like a biography, telling a linear timeline of events from Mary’s origins and upbringing, her relationship with Shelley, through that fateful meeting of minds and the horror/ghost story competition, the reactions to her tale, and the ultimate publication of her ground-breaking book. But it also goes beyond this point. Although the background to the story is reasonably well-known, it is significantly more in depth than we are accustomed to without ever becoming dull. For example, there was a real Castle Frankenstein. Although there is no evidence she visited the castle, Mary would have passed nearby on her travels and certainly heard the tales of illicit attempted experiments to transfer souls.
The latter sections cover body science through the ages. It wasn’t just electricity and the power of sunlight/solar energy. Experimentation was the key here, much of it clandestine but without which we would be much more in the dark. Breakthroughs are explained, along with the problems surrounding them. Unorthodox methods were more common than anything authorised. But then tampering with the human body was at that time tantamount to playing God.
This is a book of two halves, for the reasons I’ve just pointed out. The science of Frankenstein takes a backseat to Mary Shelley’s story, so treat this as her biography and you won’t be disappointed. However, I don’t think casual horror fans will see much of interest inherent. Better that they just read Frankenstein; it’s an all-time classic which deserves to live forever.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2018)
DK Publishing releases Marvel Avengers: The Greatest Heroes, a little book with a big heart. It is a presentation for World Book Day UK 2018 and is priced at only £1. An introduction for young readers to the Marvel universe, it presents full colour artwork and background descriptions for all the superheroes you would expect: Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Hulk, Falcon, Black Widow, Hawkeye and Scarlet Witch. But it also includes lesser known characters like Luke Cage, Blue Marvel, Captain Britain (which I read as a kid, along with Spider-Man), Quicksilver and Captain Marvel.
There are also mentions for Spider-Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange and S.H.I.E.L.D. You would think that would be all there is space for in a £1 booklet; not so. We then have a villains section with Loki (Thor’s evil half-brother), Ultron (Iron Man’s biggest mistake), and Thanos (the biggest nemesis to The Avengers). There is also a gallery of lesser known bad guys. The book finishes by quizzing the reader on what has gone before, and adding some adverts for larger tomes for the kiddywinks to progress to.
The artwork is very good, the data concise and informative. What’s not to like? The World Book UK organisation has distributed 290 million £1 book tokens for young children; what better way to spend it and get reading? This is a shrewd move by Marvel and DK. The ankle biters of today are the serious comic book readers and film-goers of tomorrow.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2018)
Ad Lib Publishers Ltd. (based in London) releases Serial Killers at the Movies: My Intimate Talks with Mass Murderers Who Became Stars of the Big Screen, by Sunday Times Bestselling True Crime Author Christopher Berry-Dee. He is a noted writer and criminologist, and the country’s number one true-crime author. His previous books include Talking With Psychopaths and Savages, Talking With Serial Killers, and Talking With Female Serial Killers. This is a 218-page very nice solid paperback format, with a striking cover image by Alamy. The cover design is by Simon Levy Associates...
My Immediate reaction to seeing this book was to assume that it covered fictional as well as true life killers. Consequently, I wanted to know why Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger and Chucky were not included. However, the main purpose of this book is to compare a selection of high-grossing movies with the true life facts which inspired them, to reveal which ones are close approximations and which are grossly exaggerated or total re-imaginings. For this concept Christopher Berry-Dee utilises his experiences interviewing various ‘serial killers’ and researching the crime investigations and forensic evidence. Essentially, the idea is intriguing, because we all know that the truth is seldom allowed to get in the way of a good story. Some of the films covered are The Silence of the Lambs, The Amityville Horror, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Psycho, Seven, and Zodiac.
It sort of works whilst failing in some aspects, too. For example, a few very different films have been based on the exploits of Ed Gein. So, there are two chapters based on the same killer, for the reason of exploring the movie aspects. I think it would have been better to flip this idea upside down, so that each chapter concentrated on a killer or a murder, and then to study the books and films supposedly based on the subject. The way it is now, it appears obvious the author knows much more about some movies (it’s only natural), whilst skimming over others and not touching on some at all. Similarly, some incidents are explained in detail, while others are barely mentioned. It offers a rather unbalanced whole.
Nevertheless, this volume is not without merit. Although I already knew some of this data, the devil is in the detail. I was surprised by some revelations, and the book kept me interested. It is clear that Berry-Dee wears his heart on his sleeve, because at times he is rather opinionated in the text, rather than the impartiality I expected. In the chapter about The Amityville Horror, you can feel his seething anger at his determination that there was nothing that happened in the house apart from a man killing his family. I have mixed feelings about how this book is constructed, rather than the content itself. However, it is worth reading.
(Original Review Ty Power 2020)
At a cocktail party for the new Secretary of State, Gene Keiller meets a stunning and emmaculate woman called Lorie Semple. He immediately wants to get to know this mysterious and exotic conundrum, but finds her polite and a little standoffish. She reluctantly agrees to Gene driving her home, albeit following her watchful chauffeur Mathieu, an expert in the martial art of Kravmaga - using any means necessary to utterly destroy your opponent. They stop in front of some gates, So Gene doesn't even get to see the house. Curious, he later tries to climb the gates and gets over the top, only to be driven back by vicious guard dogs.
Becoming obsessed with seeing her again, he instructs his Private Secretary and ex-partner Maggie to find out everything he can about Lorie and the family mansion. To him, she is being very guarded, like there is something of value or a terrible secret harboured by the family. Lorie is part-Egyptian but describes herself as Ubasti. Her businessman father died. Gene decides to sneak into the grounds at night to see if he can catch a glimpse of what Lorie is being so secretive about. He manages to get to the house and begins to climb the ivy when ravening beasts pull him down and attack him.
He wakes up the next day in the house, injured but otherwise intact. He is being nursed by Lorie's mother, a striking woman in her own right. She doesn't want any publicity and neither does Gene, so they decide to pretend the incident never happened. Lorie's mother believes her daughter should enjoy herself and date more. Gene takes Lorie to a politician friend's house party. When all of the women are talking together, Gene confides in a psychiatrist pal, who concludes that she must have a nasty or even traumatic experience in the past and is trying to avoid this relationship going down the same path. She had told Gene that he must never ask her to marry him, so the psychiatrist logically concludes that directing the relationship in this unwanted direction is the only way of revealing her stigmatism.
Lorie has a good time at the party, and Gene drives them to his apartment to have hamburgers and salad, and drinks. Gene sees Lorie through the crack in the kitchen door shoving raw meat into her mouth like a ravening beast. He decides to overlook the event, as even he likes rare steak. They are relaxing afterward when Gene professes his love for her. She leaves, but Gene later receives a phone call from her mother telling him that her daughter loves him too.
They later marry, but Lorie is reluctant to undress in front of him in the evening. When she does it is to reveal three sets of breasts, the second pair half-size, and the third the beginnings of breasts. This, she says is what it means to be Ubasti. Gene is stunned. He stops by work and gets Maggie to research what she can on the Ubasti. It dates back to Egypt in the dynasty of Ramases III and the origin of the Sphinx. They were said to have bred from the joining of lions and women. The female offspring had physical and practical characteristics of both.
Gene returns to the mansion and lies next to Lorie at night, his mind in turmoil. Lorie thrashes around in her sleep and becomes very feral. Scared, Gene backs away across the room and watches as Lorie pads on all fours across the room and leaps out of the window, disappearing across the grounds.When he reluctantly allows her back into the room, she is covered in blood. She has attacked and eaten a sheep to avoid hurting him. Disgusted and wanting to leave, he is persuaded by Lorie and her mother to stay. He still loves her but can't quite trust her yet. There is a secret which the women still won't share with him, and Matheiu attempts to warn him on a couple of occasions.
After a visit to the circus at the request of Lorie, Gene is taken to see the alpha lion and she venerates herself before it. Via Maggie, Gene learns about the Lion God Bast who sought to preserve the race by having the Ubasti women mate through generation alternately by lion and human male. Lorie's mother mated with a human male - who turns out to be Matheiu. It is Lorie's turn to mate with a lion. As Gene tries to escape, Lorie and her mother - in bestial form - pin him down, and he soon learns he is to be a gift for the alpha male lion.
Unfortunately, they is very little horror content in this one. It was a rare dip in the otherwise very high standard of Graham Masterton's work. He had began to dabble in political thrillers and historical sagas, and this feels more like an amalgamation of the two than an outright horror. The premise would have lent itself well to a short story, but is far from sustaining enough for a full-length novel - and as a result feels a little stretched-out. Not the lightening-fast pace of The Wells of Hell, The Devils of D-Day - or indeed The Manitou which started it all.
My feelings and ultimate opinion from the initial reading all those years ago have not changed, and I'm left a little cheated because I'm aware of the very high standard of the majority of his other horror novels. of course his writing style on this one is as smooth and strong as the others. Gene is a chain-smoking character, which was very common in those days. There is also an outdated look on women, who are only there, it seems, to support powerful men. This was not Masterton's own opinion but an insight into accepted attitudes at the time. Don't blame history just because we live in enlightened times. There is though the delicate touch that Gene's perfect partner is right there in front of him all along, in the form of Maggie.
I would assume that Masterton quickly learned not to mix genres. From this moment he kept the aforementioned genres very separate. To some extent they were even targeted at a different readership. Bear in mind that this was released in 1978, the year before The Devils of D-Day, The Wells of Hell, and Charnel House.
(Original Review Ty Power 2020)
Susan Randall is a crime reporter for the LA Tribune. Whilst riding along with a police patrol car she becomes mixed-up in a gangland shooting. Both policemen are badly injured, and Susan suffers a minor gunshot injury to a leg. In hospital she witnesses an early morning visit by a friendly man to a woman in the bed opposite, but staff later tell her she must have been mistaken.
Back at work, Susan investigates the serial killings of people living on the street, and learns that the victim's hands are being sliced-up by a sharp utensil. When interviewing one of the relatives she spots the man who was at the hospital, and hears that he helped recover a parent's child from a dangerous religious cult. Raymond confirms a nearby desecrated church conducive with the previous killings. Susan sees Raymond at a victim's funeral - watching from a distance - and gets his I.D. from a car number plate. The address is a P.O. Box, and the owner says that Raymond "helps people" in trouble.
Eventually meeting the man, Raymond tells her he is seeking the killer, who he knows is possessed. Susan believes him a nut, but after the killer attempts to meet with her and she is trumped by a professional rival who is killed for his trouble, Raymond reveals a number of clues unknown to the public - including a theory that having killed five lower class and five middle class, the killer will now move on to upper class victims.
A street dweller reveals to the pair that on the night of the first murder he was nearby. The temperature dropped drastically, thousands of insects appeared and just as quickly disappeared, and there was the sense of an immense shadow. After Raymond is spotted at a victims funeral, a police photo-fit is released and leaked to the public. He is recognised in a supermarket, assumed to be the killer and shot in the arm. Susan takes him to his home where she finds a doctor friend of Raymond's tending to his wife, who has been in a coma since she and their daughter (now dead) were shot by a gunman on a pier.
Via her police contact, Mike Devereaux, she manages to convince the authorities that Raymond Weil is not connected to the killings. However, when Raymond unleashes his unorthodox theories on her about the killer's intentions to strike on a spitual level, she decides to find out more about him. It turns out he worked as a 'for hire' mercenary for some years, but something happened to him in a jungle which left all of his fellow soldiers dead. Afterward, he served with the church and spent time in a psychiatric hospital, talking about the existence of the "Other" in a person. He was reluctantly diagnosed with personality disorder.
Susan reports him to the police, but Raymond gets wind of this and goes into hiding. Later, when Susan is recovering from the death at the hands of the killer of her more 'off' than 'on' partner Larry, she sees an advert in the paper for an interfaith convention. She remembers Raymond's theory of a spiritual attack and races there with Mike. Once they are inside, the venue is sealed-off by the killer, causing a mass panic from the people. Mike spots Raymond and tries to shoot him, but is himself shot in the hip. Now Susan is stuck with Raymond and enough explosive to blow the building sky-high. Is Raymond effectively hunting the killer personality within himself, or is there really another killer, possessed by the "Other"..?
I have to begin by saying this book is badly edited by the publishers. There are countless typos, even though this mass market paperback otherwise looks good. This is horror only in the loosest sense. Being closer to a psychological thriller opens this release up to a more mainstream crime readership - and possibly making it more likely to be optioned as a film (or at least a TV movie).
There is mention of Shadows, though not in the corporeal sense (the Shadows was the name given to the relentlessly warlike race in Straczynski's Babylon 5). The "Other" is a loose link to the writer's excellent novel Othersyde. Although not as compelling or original as Othersyde, it does tiptoe around the supernatural without ever conforming its existence. Nevertheless, it does at time have the feel of a Twilight Zone story about it. More recently, J. Micheal Straczynski has returned to writing books. They are mostly non-fiction, including his own amazing autobiography, but hopefully he will turn his hand to more fiction in book form.
(Original Review Ty Power 2020)
The next generation of comic book writers get their turn in the spotlight. With in-depth contributions from those responsible for some of the biggest selling comics titles on shelves, and including behind the scenes info, anecdotes and untold stories...
Writers on Comics Scriptwriting 2 is a book of long interviews with story scriptwriters who work (or have worked) in the comics industry. It's cited as a sequel to the top-selling original version, but not having seen that one I can't compare the two. What I can do is weigh it up against Comics Creators on Spider-Man, also from Titan Books, which I reviewed in June. In that book Tom DeFalco, a major page in the character's legend himself, put together interviews with most of the comics writers involved with the webslinger. There was continuity, background, and story reactions. Furthermore, there was a guaranteed audience, because Spider-Man has a huge following. Herein lies the main problem. Writers on Comics Scriptwriting 2 has nothing on the cover other than a lot of names, most or all of which nobody will have heard of. I recognised five of the seventeen names, but I think I might be in a minority.
The writers collected here come from different walks of life, work for different companies, and have written for or created many various characters, so you get the impression of disconnection, sporadic mutterings instead of various slants or interpretations of the same subject. That is not to say this won't be a valid reference book for those in the trade or avid fans of the comics in question, but this won't appeal to the casual reader. A much better idea might have been to keep the character continuity and interview many of the writers who have worked on Batman, Superman or the X-Men, but only one of the characters at a time.
Of course, this might prove priceless to anyone wishing to get into the business and learn more about their chosen trade. As someone interested in the mechanics of writing, I found the most intriguing parts to be the discussion of layouts and plotting, but with no definite context for what is briefly being explained it soon lost its appeal. I loved the Spider-Man book, but couldn't get on with this one.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2004)
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