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Saturday, 16 September 2017

Thoughts on 1968 movie HANG 'EM HIGH

Watched the Clint Eastwood Western Hang ’Em High (1968) last night – only the second time I’ve seen it. The first time, some decades back, I was sorely disappointed; I think I was expecting something more like the Dollar films, or High Plains Drifter, while this offering is more traditional (although I’ve seen it described as revisionist, which I’d dispute). I thought I’d be fair and give it another go.

It’s not as bad as I remember it – but it’s a long way from good. With an almost 2 hour (sometimes too leisurely) running time it could benefit with at least half an hour snipped off. The mass hanging scene, especially, feels interminable. I appreciate the director wanting to convey some of the inappropriate carnival atmosphere such an event would have generated, but it could have been conveyed just as well – or maybe better – with the judicious application of scissors. The story line meanders too, and feels unfocused.

There’s a parade of familiar and famous faces – such as Dennis Hopper, Alan Hale Jr., Bruce Dern, James MacArthur and Ben Johnson – but too often they’re little more than extended cameos or filler material; their characters flitting across the screen in the service of Eastwood’s, then discarded as though the writer/director had grown bored with them. All Hopper is given to do is escape from a holding cell and get shot down in the street for his trouble – not exactly stretching his talents. And Johnson’s Marshal Bliss – after cutting down Eastwood's hanged but still living Jed Cooper and delivering him to Pat Hingle’s Judge Fenton – is written off in a couple of lines of dialogue (killed in a gun down, off-screen). Alan Hale Jr. fares little better. And the inevitable love interest, in the shape of Inger Stevens, feels just as incidental, her own tragedy denied any type of closure.

The film was, of course, an attempt to cash in on Eastwood’s rising star and, since he’d come to fame in an Italian Western trilogy, what better than to cast him in an American Western. At the time, Variety described it as “a poor American-made imitation of a poor Italian-made imitation of an American-made Western.” Which is a bit harsh (many Americans felt the Italian cinema was trampling all over a beloved art form and only the US should be allowed to make Westerns), but close to the truth. For a while Hollywood, recognising the box office appeal of so-called Spaghetti Westerns, tried to copy their style, with little success. It occurred to me that the film has a slightly unfinished feel to it, as though rushed out to capitalise on Eastwood’s name (after all, they probably weren’t to know he’d still be a major earner almost half a century later: movies and their audiences are fickle things). Judicious editing and overall tightening would make a better film – although still not a great one. Those were still in the future.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017


Somehow, I find myself on three panels in this year's convention. And all on Saturday. What did I - and you, dear attendee - do to deserve that?

Saturday 12 Noon (Panel Room 1)
With Dave Brzeski (mod), Mike Chinn, John Linwood Grant, Chico Kidd, Autumn Barlow, A. K. Benedict, Ben Aaronovitch.
Arthur Conan Doyle popularised the concept of the series character in detective fiction with Sherlock Holmes. It wasn’t long before authors of supernatural fiction swiped the idea and invented their own investigators, who didn’t share the Great Detective’s disdain for all things paranormal. There are now as many variant types of these ghost-breakers and monster hunters as there are ab-natural threats (as Hodgson’s Carnacki would have put it) for them to protect humanity from. Our panel discusses these variations and their experiences. Join us for an enlightening conversation.

Saturday 1.30pm (Panel Room 3)
With ​Peter Coleborn (mod), Andrew Hook, Tej Turner, Mike Chinn, Tracy Fahey, Jacey Bedford.
Weaving memories, true life experiences and human responses into the fantastic, the monstrous and the alien can really bring life to strange characters. Join us to explore examples of how strange characters can relate to us through human experience and how real life can be a source of inspiration for genre fiction.

Saturday 5pm (Panel Room 1)
With Juliet  Mushens (mod), Tim Major, Colleen Anderson, Mike Chinn, Rose Drew
The relationship between an editor and a writer is intimate and essential. Our panel of editors will discuss some of the difficulties that can arise during this relationship, without breaching any doctor/patient confidentiality! Along the way, you may find some tips on how to best manage your part in a writer/editor relationship.

Monday, 26 June 2017


Back in 2009 I wrote in this ’ere blog about it being over ten years since THE PALADIN MANDATES was published by The Alchemy Press, and how a review of same in THEAKER'S QUARTERLY DIGEST provoked me into writing a sparkly fresh Paladin story: “Sailors of the Skies” for DARK HORIZONS #55 (The British Fantasy Society, 2009).
Paladin himself had been born many years earlier, in “Death Wish Mandate” published in KADATH #5, by Francesco Cova. He’d had a long gestation.

Ever since he drew SWORD OF SORCERY for DC Comics (1973), I’ve been a fan of Howard Chaykin. In 1975 he wrote and drew the first two issues of THE SCORPION for Atlas/Seaboard Comics. Set in the 1930s, it pitted an apparently immortal character – Moro Frost – against slightly more mundane villains. At the time I didn’t know much about the rich history of masked avengers who had graced the pages of pulp magazines back before the Second World War (with the exception of Doc Savage and the Shadow), so I was pretty ignorant of where Chaykin was coming from. After THE SCORPION ceased publication, he took the idea over to Marvel and created, with a slight change of costume and dropping the immortal bit, Dominic Fortune. Despite my ignorance of history, there was something about both characters that sparked an interest in me. I wanted to do something similar. But what, and how? I couldn’t quite nail it.
It took a phone call from David Sutton to crystallise the idea. He told me that Francesco Cova wanted to do an occult detective issue of KADATH, and there was space left if I wanted to submit. That was all I needed. An occult detective – of course! Set in 1930s New York, and dressed in a style not unlike the Scorpion. Over the following years I wrote a few more Paladin tales – selling a couple – before The Alchemy Press collected them for their first publication in 1998.
The character went into something of a hiatus for over a decade, until his resurrection in DARK HORIZONS. Again it was just the spark I needed. I wrote several more Paladin stories, including: “There’ll Be A Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight”, for an expanded Kindle edition of THE PALADIN MANDATES (The Alchemy Press, 2012); a cross-over with Nick Nightmare (co-written with Nick’s creator, Adrian Cole) “Fire All of the Guns At One Time” for the British Fantasy Award winning NICK NIGHTMARE INVESTIGATES (Alchemy Press/Airgedlamh, 2014); and the Christmas-themed “Deck the Halls” in OCCULT DETECTIVE MONSTER HUNTER (Emby Press, 2015).

And finally, in 2017, almost treading on each other’s heels, OCCULT DETECTIVE QUARTERLY #2 included “The Black Tarot” (in which I sneakily introduced the world to a brand new masked vigilante character – having learned a little more of the Pulp tradition in the intervening years), and Pro Se Productions published the eagerly-awaited (well – I was all agog anyway) collection/portmanteau novel, WALKERS IN SHADOW: six new tales of adventure, plus a revised “Sailors of the Skies”).
So what’s next? Well, there are plans to re-issue PALADIN MANDATES in expanded form, and “The Black Tarot” is intended to be the first in a new bunch of adventures for Paladin, Leigh Oswin and his expanding repertory company.

One thing’s for sure: the world shall hear from Damian Paladin again.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Collective Lunacy

Up until three years ago it had never crossed my mind to have a collection of my short fiction published. Over the decades I’ve sold something like sixty-plus short stories, but even my closest friends – at their most charitable – would agree the earlier stuff isn’t worth collecting.

Yet, in a moment of uncharacteristic optimism, I selected eighteen pieces and approached The Alchemy Press. In 2015, GIVE ME THESE MOMENTS BACK was published (a title which, I am told, Alchemy Press supremo Peter Coleborn keeps wanting to correct to something less poetic and more grammatical). The contents were, typically, somewhat – shall we say, eclectic? I’ve always been something of a gadfly: hopping from one genre to another without any obvious plan or direction, and the collection reflected that. I’ve no idea if, from a marketing standpoint, it was a good thing or not.

Then, as 2016 tailed off, it occurred to me that I actually had sufficient material for a more horror (or dark fantasy, if you prefer) based collection. I put together sixteen dark tales – two previously unpublished – and asked David A Riley of Parallel Universe Publications if he’d like to take a look at RADIX OMNIUM MALUM & OTHER INCURSIONS. Next thing you know, I have a sale; and better yet: David A Sutton agreed to write the introduction (to my embarrassment, making me sound like some kind of Renaissance Man). 
However, at some point in the past I think I must have irritated the gods of publishing. When I was editing SWORDS AGAINST THE MILLENNIUM for The Alchemy Press, the signature sheet for the limited edition hardback got lost in the post, delaying publication; a few years later Amazon questioned whether Fringeworks had the rights to publish my Sherlock Holmes steampunk mash-up, VALLIS TIMORIS and held it up; and just as RADIX’s publication was announced, Amazon took that down for some reason. I began to detect a theme.

Luckily the problem was resolved quickly, and the book back on sale in a day or two.

But for now I’m all out of material. The next collection will have to wait until I’m rich and famous. MIKE CHINN: THE FORMATIVE YEARS, and all that early stuff.

Thursday, 7 July 2016


Peter Tennant did a mammoth review of  titles from The Alchemy Press in Black Static #50. Below is the review for GIVE ME THESE MOMENTS BACK.

Mike Chinn[...]'s collection GIVE ME THESE MOMENTS BACK (Alchemy Press pb, 266pp, £9.99) opens with ‘Welcome to the Hotel Marianas’ in which a submersible with idle rich passengers voyages to a hotel built in the depths of the Mariana Trench, only to find that something monstrous is waiting. It’s a story that’s written with a feel of momentous events taking place and increasing unease as they unfold, the characters well drawn and the idea of the ultimate in adventure holidays coming across strongly, all of which can’t obscure the fact that ultimately it is just a gotcha story, one in which everything, all the careful preparation, leads up to the moment when the big bad jumps out.

There’s a genuinely creepy feel to ‘Facades’, with a couple on holiday in Venice getting on the city’s bad side, though you suspect that the fault lies as much in their natures as in that of the city. The atmosphere of menace builds gradually and surely, with Chinn showing a fine sense of place and grasp of his characters’ motivations. 

The scientist protagonist of ‘A Matter of Degree’ tries to prove the worth of the suction cups he’s developed by scaling an unfinished bridge building project. In a weird dislocation of reality his attempt at exposure backfires, though he does achieve immortality of a kind in a twist ending, the story entertaining with its gonzo ideas and the portrait of ambition warped badly out of true.

In ‘All Under Hatches Stow’d’ a group of foresters become stuck on a boat in the middle of a lake when their work unleashes a plague. Again, the sense of place is strong, with Chinn meticulously filling in the background picture, but the perils of the plague are overshadowed by the warped personalities of the people on board the boat, monsters in human form whose ire is directed at the only woman in their party. There’s a sense here of something else going on, something that hovers just out of the reader’s view, possibly related to Prospero’s Books, a film one man watches obsessively, and comparisons with Shakespeare’s The Tempest are there to be made.

Resurrected musicians play to adoring crowds in ‘Be Grateful When You’re Dead’, but the reality of their condition repels people when the music ends. Underlying all this is a subtext about how the dead hand of the past can be an end to future and present creativity, the suspicion that all our idols have feet of clay and only their untimely deaths prevents us from realising this.

Japanese whalers are lured into strange waters and attacked by a terrible beast in ‘Kami Ga Kikoemasu’, a story that has about it something of the weirdness of Hodgson’s nautical tales, while at the same time raising vital questions about our lack of respect for the environment and nature.

An advertising executive with a novel idea on how to promote a beauty product finds herself on the receiving end of the attentions of an otherworldly entity in ‘All Beauty Must Die’. The story explores our obsession with beauty and the things we might be willing to do to preserve it, while also casting a jaundiced eye over the advertising industry, all of which contributes to the ultimate horror of what is taking place. 

Set in Victorian times, ‘Parlour Games’ has a guest at a dinner party whose host is renowned for his unusual entertainments finding that he is to be the subject of tonight’s diversion, the story engaging and with a nasty sting in the tail. 

‘Cold Rain’ is perhaps the most oblique story here, with Adam wandering through a watered down landscape, one in which it’s never really clear if he is a ghost or haunted by others, the surreal feel of it all unsettling, but at the same vaguely dissatisfying, more mood piece than story.

In ‘Once Upon an Easter’ treasure seekers in Mexico fall out among themselves, with gunplay and treachery all in a day’s work, the story an exciting read that doesn’t outstay its welcome, but I suspect won’t be remembered long after the reading is done either. 

A brother and sister on vacation together have an unusual encounter in ‘The Appalachian Collection’, a story which is beautifully written but for my money is a tale where the payoff simply doesn’t justify the trip there. With its strange museum and overly obliging moteliers it reeks of the outré and weird, but on this occasion better to travel than arrive, as it feels like an assemblage of effects rather than a story. 

‘Just the Fare Back Home’ gives us the tale of a scam, with a man masquerading as a police officer and his partner a hooker in all but name. It was fun to read, with some decent characterisation and a fine comeuppance for the two deserving victims, though from the point of view of Molly for all practical purposes she is prostituting herself, so I’m not sure what purpose the scam served and I couldn’t really see any point to the betrayal by her partner in crime.

Tarl Genin and his fellows live in the Belows, surviving on whatever scraps fall from the world above, but in the story ‘Harbour Lights’ their numbers are being thinned by an unknown killer. Chinn excels here in the creation of a blighted world, one in which human beings are little different from the vermin with which they co-exist, and he wraps it up in an exciting and gripping story, one that revels in madness and bleak characterisation, but ends on a solitary note of hope. 

‘Like a Bird’ is the story of photographer Connor, taking publicity and promotional shots in the Azores, guilt ridden over the death of his wife, finding sexual consolation with two very different women who work at his hotel. It’s an erotically charged story, but one with something far more sinister going on in the background as the original inhabitants of the islands return to fill it with their progeny. At the heart of the story is the concept of taking responsibility for our actions, and what the failure to contain lust may result in.

A chance encounter with a woman from his past, results in a catastrophe for the protagonist of ‘Give Me These Moments Back’, the story intriguing but ultimately a little too off the wall for my liking, the feeling that we’re only being given clues which don’t quite add up. 

There’s a noir feel to ‘Brindley’s Place’, with a man taking a stripper to a gangster’s crib, but the real slant of the story is in the background details and the picture that finally emerges of our protagonist, a man who made one mistake and has been paying for it ever since. As if to underline the point, Chinn offers no happy ending, no way out from under, with our hero having to settle for the occasional gesture and sparks of verbal defiance that mock his fate.

Written in the form of daily diary entries, ‘Holding It In’ tells of a retired TV personality who works as Father Christmas at a local garden centre, his big secret that there is a kidnapped girl kept prisoner in his basement. The thrust of the story lies in the disconnect between the man’s rambling, self-indulgent memoir and the reality of what he is doing, with occasional lapses into reality where his real motives come to the fore and the reader is appalled by what is seen through the bars of the narrative. 

Ending the collection is the fantasy romp ‘Saving Prince Romero’, a gloriously entertaining melange of wizards and flying boats, swordplay and double dealing, with larger than life characters and some surprising twists in the plot. It’s an exuberant and fun note on which to end this assemblage of work by a writer who wears his influences lightly and seems to find inspiration in every corner of the genre and its culture.

Reproduced with kind permission of the author. Copyright 2016 Peter Tennant and Black Static.

Monday, 9 May 2016


Pauline Morgan has recently reviewed VALLIS TIMORIS for the Birmingham SF Group's newsletter, and she has very kindly allowed me to reproduce it here.

VALLIS TIMORIS by Mike Chinn and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Fringeworks, Kindle edition £3.86, £11.99 paperback, 289 pages.
ISBN: 978-1-909573-24-6
Copyright is a tricky minefield to navigate. Different countries interpret it differently. Once an author dies, there is a period of time before their works become out of copyright. It means that the publications can be reprinted without any royalties paid or permission required from the estate. It also means that characters created by the out-of-copyright author become available for further adventures involving them to be penned. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is out of copyright and his most celebrated character, Sherlock Holmes, is in the public domain. As a result, the BBC have created a modern version of Holmes which worked brilliantly.

Adrian Middleton has taken advantage of the situation by creating a series of books under the general heading of the Moriarty Paradigm. The brief for his authors includes using the original Doyle text and not only adding to improve the flow for a modern reader but to place the story in a parallel universe. The basis for this treatment by Mike Chinn is THE VALLEY OF FEAR.

The first thing to note is that this alternative Holmes is set against a steampunk background with a network of aerostats (dirigibles) across the world. Man has also reached the moon. Otherwise, it sticks very closely to the original concept for the first two sections of the book.

In both VALLIS TIMORIS and THE VALLEY OF FEAR, Holmes receives a mysterious letter from one Porlock. This is a coded warning which actually arrives too late since Holmes and Watson are shortly summoned to investigate the death of John Douglas of Birlstone Manor House. In both books, this investigation takes up the first part of the book. Chinn, however, deviates from the original script by adding a race across the English countryside between a train and an aerostat.

The next section in both is an account of how Douglas made the enemies who pursued his from America to his English retreat in order to seek revenge for a perceived betrayal. While Doyle’s account is set in a god-forsaken corner of America, Chinn has transposed the action to the moon. Same story, different place. Doyle finished his short novel with an epilogue. Chinn takes that and folds inside it an expedition by Holmes to the moon to seek the missing pieces of the puzzle.

The question is not whether this book is well written – it is – but whether it enhances the body of work that already surrounds Doyle and Holmes. The steampunk development works well and since the movement has its roots in Victorian technology it is entirely possible to envisage Holmes and Watson inhabiting this universe. For those who are not intimately familiar with Doyle’s stories, then his version is enjoyable. The purists may wonder why, since almost the whole of Doyle’s text has been incorporated into this volume. I have yet to be convinced that this is a worthwhile approach. Having said that, I did enjoy Mike Chinn’s additions.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Nick Nightmare Wins BFS Award

Reblogged from The Alchemy Press

We at The Alchemy Press are thrilled to announce that Adrian Cole’s collection Nick Nightmare Investigates was awarded the Best Collection Award presented by the British Fantasy Society. The news was announced over the FantasyCon 2015 weekend, and was presented to Adrian my Mistress of Ceremonies Juliet E McKenna.
Nick Nightmare Investigates was published late 2014 as a signed limited edition, and involved several people behind the project. We offer deep gratitude and thanks to Adrian, editor Mike Chinn (who also co-wrote one of the book’s stories), artists Bob Eggleton and Jim Pitts, designers Michael Marshall Smith and Stephen Jones, as well as Airgedlámh Publications’ Stephen Jones and David Sutton.
Photo of Juliet E McKenna and Adrian Cole © Peter Coleborn