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Thursday, 7 July 2016

Peter Tennant Reviews GIVE ME THESE MOMENTS BACK

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

VALLIS TIMORIS Reviewed

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


IMG_5404a02
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

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Interview

I've just been interviewed by author Nancy Hansen for her Writing From Home blog. More frank admissions about writing, editing, TV submarines and guinea pigs.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Video killed ... something or other.

Once, in a previous life, I used to assemble short videos (we always called them that - even when they were on DVD) for teaching purposes. Seems that particular skill is needed again: creating promotional videos for The Alchemy Press. Naturally, the first one I slung together was for my own forthcoming collection (if I made a balls-up, I had no one else to blame) so I could polish up the rusty talents, and get used to software that - whilst adequate - wasn't quite up there with what I'd previously used.

video

I'm reasonably happy with the results (just like everything, it's a learning curve) and any mistakes made here won't be inflicted on the next, innocent author.

Whoever it may be.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Batman without the Batman: the Gotham TV series

Finally watched Gotham last night and it’s … okay. Little more than an average police procedural, with lots of gratuitous name-dropping (or should that be bludgeoning?).
 
That pointy-nosed fellow with the umbrella was called ‘Oswald’ enough times (and then ‘Penguin’ a couple more just in case we missed the subtleties) that even someone who didn’t have a clue about the Batman universe (and why should they even be watching in the first place?) would be feeling over-informed.
 
A young girl with an obvious thing for plants declared “I’m Ivy!” in a clear, strong voice – just in case those at the back didn’t get it. Young Bruce Wayne – even though traumatised at witnessing his parents’ deaths – managed to give Jim Gordon a description of the murderer that was forensic in its detail. A young girl dressed in black – with an uncanny climbing ability – was the only one who wasn’t verbally identified, but her feeding a stray cat with stolen milk might just be a clue.
 
Everyone’s future characters were underlined in such lumpen, clumsy fashion that it felt like I was constantly being nudged violently in the ribs and winked at whilst the programme makers shouted “You get it?” loudly into both ears.
 
And why is Sean Pertwee talking in a lousy Mockney accent? Does he think he’s going to grow up into Michael Cain, or something?
 
In fact the most intriguing facet of the whole unsubtle shouting match was the physical resemblance shared by Alfred and Jim Gordon – I can’t believe it was accidental. Someone trying to say something about the two surrogate fathers in Bruce Wayne’s/Batman’s life?
 
It’s early days yet but at the moment the programme is managing to be arch whilst at the same time too much on the nose. I’ll keep watching, of course, in the hope that like Agents of SHIELD and Arrow it’ll grow stronger as the series progresses. Then again, it could be the next Smallville; that’s a depressing thought…

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Graham Joyce 1954-2014

Yesterday, I learned Graham Joyce had died. Whilst the news didn't come as a shock - he had been seriously ill for some time - it was no less saddening.
I first met Graham many years ago at a SF convention in Birmingham: Twenty-One Con, if my memory serves me right. I was sitting in the bar with Peter Coleborn and David Sutton when Stephen Jones introduced us to this new star in the writing firmament. I don't think any of us attended a single event at the convention that day: just sat in the bar drinking, talking; Graham happy to keep a bunch of weirdoes he'd never met before amused with tales of Greece and teaching.
 
Later we all went to a Chinese restaurant just off Hurst Street in Birmingham's China Town, crowding around a circular table which sported a tiny vase in the centre, containing a single flower. The talk and laughter continued. On a nearby table a bunch of girls kept glancing over at us - maybe in admiration, but more likely in alarm at the subject matter.
 
At the end of the evening we all stood to leave - except David, who was trapped at the back of the table. Graham snatched up the single flower, handed it one of the girls, saying: "It's from him." He pointed to a bemused David - and legged it.
 
My earliest memory of Graham, and one that's always stuck with me: the grinning, irrepressible joker. The world's a dourer place at his passing.
 
Photograph copyright 2007 Peter Coleborn.