Archive for August, 2010

Quandaries, eh?

Posted in General Musings on August 31, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

Yes, I admit that I find myself in a small quandary. The reason is the accompanying miniature of the poster for the film I am dithering about going to see: The Human Centipede. Now don’t get me wrong – I am not in the least bit squeamish about watching films like this, at least, not normally so. However, the film itself has been termed ‘torture-porn’ and there’s something vaguely unsavoury about that epithet that leaves a sour taste in the mouth.

I’ve seen a good proportion of the so-called ‘video nasties’ in my time, and very few of them left any impression on me or upset me in any way ( the only exception to that was Cannibal Holocaust and that was mostly for the scenes of animal cruelty in it, which just seemed totally pointless and completely unconscionable in its search for realism). Most of the nasties, to my eyes, seemed poorly made with all-too-obvious special effects and painfully amateurish rubber prosthetics. A few were genuinely nasty, and deserved their reputation.  However, as I stated in a previous post (the one I wrote on Evil Dead recently), some of the choices that were blacklisted left me scratching my head as to why they had achieved their dubious status. Perhaps it was the subtexts rather than the actual gore that earned them their notoriety. Who knows…

The Human Centipede, however, strikes me as very different. It seems deliberately aimed at a sector of the market that likes to be grossed out just for the sake of it. Nothing wrong in that per se, but it seems that this particular examples straddles that fine line between providing genuine shocks for entertainment and just plain nastiness. There doesn’t seem to be any point to this film other than to be as violent and misanthropic as the film-makers are able to get away with, and to induce the viewer’s stomachs to churn endlessly.

You could argue that it’s a complete and utter fantasy, and I would agree with you up to a point, but only insofar as it’s hardly likely to ever be done in real-life. Even so, it begs the question, just how far do you take things in the search for that ultimate gore-thrill, before it becomes not only pointless, but fodder for those self-appointed guardians of culture or morals when they call for such ‘depravity’ to be banned outright, for instance? In reality, I doubt that it would ever get as far as a complete ban on horror and such, but it would certainly set back our claim that we’re just ordinary folk who get our kicks through the precarious thrill of being scared witless.

I guess the only way I can ever resolve the issue in my own mind is to actually go and see it. I certainly refuse to be counted amongst the numbers of those idiots who complain and protest against something without ever having either seen the film or read the book in question (an all-too favourite activity of certain ignorant types, sadly). Additionally, I would never presume to stop anyone from going to see the film (or read a particularly nasty horror book, for that matter) just on the shaky grounds that I find it objectionable, if that’s their thing. I will , however, admit to more then a smidgeon of curiosity and intrigue about The Human Centipede that is gently shoving me in the direction of the local cinema (if they ever show it, that is), plus I wonder if I can watch it without feeling total disgust. I can guarantee, though, that it’ll probably still leave me wondering….

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Books and newsy-type bits

Posted in Books, News on August 31, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

Before I delve into the main post of the day (which I am still in the process of thinking about), here are some bits and pieces to keep you temporarily occupied with. First up, I received a couple of new books for review:

Veins, by Lawrence C. Connolly (Fantasist Enterprises)

Vipers, by Lawrence C. Connolly (Fantasist Enterprises)

Lawrence is also a musician and accompanying Veins is a soundtrack, a CD of which arrived with the books. Will be interested to see how it fits into the atmosphere of the first novel….

Secondly, my Imagination is a precious thing… blog, which I posted some weeks back, has been reproduced in House of Horror webzine #15, and the article can be found here (thanks to Sammi Cox for that!). While you’re there, why not have a look around at the other articles and stories contained therein, as well as the ones from previous issues. It’s definitely worth it…

Thirdly, Beyond Fiction wants YOU! Or more precisely we’re looking for reviewers:

“Would you like your name spread all over the internet? Do you like writing reviews of books, films and games? Do you sometimes think, I could do better than that when reading a review of your favourite book or film?

Well, now’s your chance. Beyond Fiction is recruiting reviewers for these pages and we’re inviting YOU to send samples of your work to us. We’re looking for top quality reviewers, who can provide us with in-depth write-ups of genre material, with a love for media, an excellent command of English and an ability to write clearly. You will also be encouraged to interview the writers and creators of some the best in popular genre media today.

Please send us a sample or two of your reviews (max 500 words each), along with a covering email telling us if you’ve already been published (and which magazines/websites your work appears in) or if you’re a new reviewer. Please email to:

beyond.fiction.review@gmail.com

We’re waiting to hear from you, and good luck!

You never know – it could be worth a try…

That’s all for now – back soon with the main feature of the day… =D

Something for the future

Posted in General Musings, News on August 30, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

As some of my Facebook friends know, my wife Liz and I are moving to Scotland next year, specifically to the northern/northeastern coast – to the county of Caithness. We already have a piece of land in mind, a 2-acre plot in a village called Barrock, which is situated somewhere between Wick, Thurso and John O’Groats. We’re building our own little house, a Scandinavian Log Cabin to be precise (take a look at the picture here), and in addition we’ll be purchasing two other cabins, like these, one of which will be a writing den for me and the other one a place for Liz to do her sewing and whatnot. We will also be putting a yurt up on the land, too, which will serve as the guest accommodation. We’ll be as self-sufficient as it’s possible to be, growing our own vegetables and rearing chickens and goats. This is mostly because we’ll be fairly isolated and it just makes sense to have as much to hand as possible.

Now, apart from the prospect of moving to and living in such a beautiful part of the country, there’s also the fact that there’ll be inspiration aplenty up there. Barrock is a few miles from the most northerly point of the British mainland, which is Dunnet Head (not John O’Groats), and we’ll be within sight of the Pentland Firth and the Orkney Isles. West of it, on the road towards Durness, is some of the most spectacular scenery that anyone is ever likely to set eyes upon, composed of rolling muirs (with deer roaming across it), pristine lochs and mountains. The last time we were there, last October, the lovely landlords of the cottage we were staying at (John and Bev) drove us out to Melness, situated on the banks of Loch Eribol, with Benn Hope looming over it, and that’s where both Liz and I really fell in love with the place. I, for one, have never been so moved by the scenery as I was by Melness.

BUT, there’s more, and this is the main reason why I am writing this post. Liz and I have been thinking about the possibility of holding Writer’s Workshops on our land. Maybe once a month during the spring, summer and autumn seasons we will invite professional/semi-professional writers to come and hold court at our little retreat from civilisation, imparting their knowledge to five or six paying students. Meals will be included, all cooked by Liz, and made with the vegetables and produce of our land. Already, my good friend Simon Kurt Unsworth has offered his services as teacher (even down to the wearing of a brown corduroy jacket [his idea!]), which will be an added attraction. Plus there will be the chance for fireside festivities (readings/storytelling?) during the evening, as well as opportunities for walks and rambles on the coast and over the muirs. No doubt there’ll be some who will want to visit the Orkneys – ferries go from Scrabster (Thurso) to Stromness every day. And, in winter, we will be holding little ‘festivals’ for friends and family, where much good food and drink will be consumed.

We are also looking at writer’s retreats: an author renting another cabin on our land so that they can get away from it all to get that novel/story written. Meals, again, will be included. There’ll be peace and quiet in abundance, plus more time and space than anyone could wish for. The surrounding scenery will provide more than enough inspiration.

This, at least, is what we are currently planning. We both happen, however, to think that these plans will work. The isolation, plus the beauty of the landscape we’ll be in, have a great deal of appeal to the artist and writer in all of us. However it pans out, life, as it hard as it might be from a freehold standpoint, will be infinitely better than living in a city, at least from this writer’s perspective. Whatever, I would like to hear people’s thoughts on the subject, as to whether it’s a viable idea or not.

On a personal note, it’s been a dream of mine for over two decades to move to Scotland, ever since I first set foot there in 1988 or so. For some inexplicable reason, I always feel like I am coming home when I travel there. I never imagined that I would actually make the move, but things have been set in motion down here that will make the dream a reality. Liz had never been north of the border until I suggested we have a holiday there a couple of years ago. As soon as she got there, she knew it was exactly where she wanted to be. So now, we are more than following the dream, we’re making it happen.

Hope to see some of you come and join us up there!

(The photo above depicts the rocky arch of Thirle’s Door, Duncansby Stacks, Duncansby Head, Caithness. Although not seen in the photo, the Orkneyslie to the north, and to the west are Dunnet Head and John O’Groats. This is just the kind of spectacular coastal scenery that abounds in the north-east of the Scottish highlands.)

Books and stuff

Posted in Book Reviews on August 28, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

More books popped through my door today… which were:

How to Make Monsters, by Gary McMahon (Morrigan Books)

Rain Dogs, by Gary McMahon (HumDrumming)

Also, a couple of  PDFs plopped through my email inbox:

Conjure, by Mark West (Rainfall Books)

Morpheus Tales Dark Sorcery Special, by Various (Morpheus Publishing)

Plenty to occupy myself with in the evenings now that they’re starting to draw in… =)

The Terror, by guest reviewer Paul Kane

Posted in Film on August 28, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

As an experiment, and to broaden the scope of Ramblings of a Tattooed Head, please let me introduce the first in what I hope is an occasional series of reviews by guests. To kick things off we have a review of Roger Corman’s 1963 film The Terror, written by author Paul Kane.

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The Terror (1963, Pegasus Entertainment DVD) Out 9 August. £5.99

Not to be confused with Dan Simmons’ masterly novel from a couple of years ago, The Terror is actually one of Roger Corman’s pretty much forgotten early movies –  worthy of note because it features not only Jack Nicholson and Boris Karloff, but also a very young Dick Miller (Gremlins) as a butler. The movie marked Nicholson’s third appearance in a Corman flick, after 1960’s The Little Shop of Horrors and 1963’s The Raven, but also led to the actor going behind the camera – in an uncredited directing capacity (along with Francis Ford Coppola, Monte Hellman and Jack Hill). Ever the opportunist, Corman reportedly shot footage of Karloff and other actors walking across sets (most notably those left over from AIP films like The Haunted Palace) in the hopes some kind of story could be woven around it later. Little wonder then, that the whole thing has a certain disjointed quality to it.

Separated from his regiment on the north German coast, Napoleonic soldier Lt Andre Duvalier (Nicholson) collapses from his horse onto the beach and sees a vision of a beautiful woman. After helping him, the mysterious Helene (Sandra Knight) walks into the water and vanishes. Duvalier follows, but quickly finds himself out of his depth and is this time rescued by a strange old woman, Katrina (Dorothy Neumann): the local peasant witch. Once recovered, his efforts to find out who Helene is take him to the castle of Baron Victor Frederick Von Leppe (Karloff), who is convinced she’s the ghost of his dead wife, Ilsa, coming back to haunt him.

As Duvalier investigates further, he uncovers the truth about what happened the night Ilsa died – and why she might have reason to plague the Baron. But at the same time there seems to be something else going on, a revenge conspiracy that is fated to backfire on the person initiating it. Can Duvalier get to the bottom of who Helene really is, and help save the Baron at the same time?

Though not as slick as Corman’s other offerings in this vein – how could it be when there were five people filming the picture? – and while it doesn’t quite have the charm of the Poe films he’s probably best known for, this is nonetheless an intriguing and hypnotic film. Somehow the filmmakers manage to come up with a genuinely surprising twist at the end, that throws everything we’ve learnt up to then into confusion, and some of the horror set pieces – in particular one where a man gets his eyes pecked out by a bird – still hold up today (although fans of more modern shockers will no doubt snigger at a few of the other, cheaper effects). Nicholson hasn’t really come into his own by this time, though there are hints of the OTT performances to come, but the ever reliable Karloff more than makes up for this: a master of drumming up suspense and tension in a scene. The lack of extras are a pain, but this one’s definitely worth getting your hands on if only for nostalgia value alone.

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Paul Kane is a professional journalist and author of horror/dark fantasy short stories and novels. He is also the author of the critically acclaimed book The Hellraiser Films and their Legacy.

I also encourage others to submit reviews of films, books and other media. Leave a comment on here with your proposal and I will get back to you as soon as I can!

White Cat, by Holly Black

Posted in Book Reviews on August 27, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

Seamlessly integrating magic believably into a real-world setting is a hard task to accomplish. It has to be introduced into a story in such a way that we accept it without question as readers, inducing that famous ‘willing suspension of disbelief’. It has to be said of Holly Black that she manages to do just that in her latest YA novel, White Cat (the first of a trilogy), where the use of the outlawed ‘curse-working’, as she’s termed it, is so flawlessly ingrained into the world and milieu she’s created that the reader doesn’t actually realise that there’s anything weird or fantastical about the premise.

Cassel is the youngest son of a curse-working family, a family which also just happens to be one of the five big crime families in America. There’s only one big problem in his life, however: he’s the only member of his family who isn’t a curse-worker, and as such is a big disappointment to his family, especially to his two older brothers, Philip and Barron, who positively hate him for it. The book opens with Cassel waking up at night on the roof of the exclusive school he attends, Wallingford Academy, having apparently sleepwalked up there from his dorm while having a dream of following a white cat. It’s an act that manages to get him excluded from school for a while: however, the cat isn’t a figment of his imagination – she’s very real and is just about to make his life very complicated indeed.

As the title implies, the cat is central to plot of this story which mixes the faintly supernatural and the exploits of mobsters. Black carefully reveals all the little secrets and puzzles of Cassel and his family drip-by-drip, as his life gradually unravels and he’s not quite as certain about the way things are as he used to be. The narrative threads don’t really start to mesh together until roughly a third of the way through, but from then on the story clips along at a good pace. However, a clever reader will be able to start putting all the pieces together long before the end comes together if he/she has been paying attention. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – even if the reader DOES figure out what’s happening there’s still a solid enough and well-written story behind it to keep the reader fully engaged.

The idea that magic can co-exist with technology like computers and mobile phones seems, on paper, to be a recipe for disaster, or at the very least a jarring juxtaposition. However, Black subtly weaves the idea throughout the story and, although it’s a major component of Cassel’s world, it isn’t overplayed to the point where it’s constantly pushed into the reader’s face or becomes a jarring note, or even becomes an attempt to spice up an otherwise prosaic story. In addition, curse-working brings together and neatly explains the plot threads and the action nicely and consistently.

Bearing in mind that this is a YA novel, don’t go looking for anything deep or meaningful here – it’s just a good story, competently told and with the characters drawn as much as they need to be. Admittedly, this reviewer found the adult characters somewhat more interesting (if, maybe, a little stereotypical), with Cassel’s school friends being less easy to engage with or relate to. Our erstwhile hero’s character, however, does grow a little over the course of the novel, if not in confidence and stature, then at least in awareness of the true nature of what’s going on around him, knowledge that is at times very painfully bought.

A good solid premise, marred a little by some fairly typical characterisations. The latter is not enough to deter this reader from following Cassel into the next volume, Red Glove, which is due out next year.

The original review can be found here.

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Reviewed by Simon Marshall-Jones

Publisher: Gollancz

Publishing date: 17th June 2010

ISBN: 0575096713


Guest-blog: CARL FORD

Posted in Guest-blog on August 26, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

Way back in the day, when the internet was nothing but a twinkle in Tim Berners-Lee’s eye, we had things called ‘zines to keep us going. One of the very best that came out in the late 80s was Dagon, run and edited by Carl Ford. The ‘zine was a mix of game scenarios, articles and fiction, all based around the vision of one man – HP Lovecraft. For me, it was a regular fix of info and stories – I wasn’t so bothered with the gaming sections for Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu, as there weren’t any others where I lived who were interested in role-playing games. It was, however, where I read some of my favourite authors for the very first time. Here, Carl talks about the genesis of Dagon, and of his love of weird fiction in general.

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Confessions of a Geeky Goth

There’s an element of synchronicity floating around in my life right now. So when Simon asked me whether I’d like to write a guest blog about my reminiscences of publishing Dagon, despite the fact that it’s been some 23 years since I last published an issue, it wasn’t a total shock when, coincidentally, another website asked me for the same, that very day. Having agreed to write for Simon, and a perennial sufferer of writer’s block, I politely declined the second offer.

For the record, Dagon was a small press ‘zine that I first published whilst at college at the start of the 80s. Knocked out as single-sided photocopies, I think the initial print run, intended for friends and a couple of the guys in the original Dalling Road branch of Games Workshop, amounted to 10 copies! The original format combined my love of the recently-published role-playing game by Chaosium entitled Call of Cthulhu and my enthusiasm for the writings of HP Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos. At the time, Lovecraft’s writings were all out of print, but I’d been steadily collecting horror novels and shorts as a pre-teen. My introduction to the Mythos came via battered copies of a 1963 Panther paperback of Lovecraft’s The Case of Charles Dexter Ward (editor’s note: which, in another example of synchronicity, I just happen to reading at the moment) and a Consul edition of The Mask of Cthulhu, given to me by my grandfather who helped out on a second-hand book stall in the Shepherd’s Bush Market. The stall disappeared by the mid-70s, but I still have the two hoary books, which I will always cherish.

The 80s were a great time for those who liked the dark side: punk was morphing into the gloomy shadows of goth and the girls looked great. Alas, being a wimpy-looking geek with the sexual allure of squashed roadkill meant that the only thing I ever pulled was a muscle delivering copies of the local Informer door-to-door. In fact, I’d been doing that only a couple of days when I went down with pains in my stomach. Following numerous tests at the hospital, it was revealed I had cirrhosis of the liver resulting in my spleen being twelve times normal. Apparently, the spleen had been taking up all the good things in my diet (including hormones) and converting them to waste. Upon admittance to the hospital my height was 5′ 3″: shorter that the average girl and slimmer than the average lamp-post. I decided to immerse myself into geekdom, hang out with other guys who couldn’t pull, and put sex on the backburner.

The early issues of Dagon were knocked out on an old Corona typewriter as stick and paste jobs with editing courtesy of Tippex. I’d write most of the material, mainly gaming scenarios and filler that included articles on the Mythos and Lovecraft’s circle. By issue 11 I had started to attract a small cult following and word got around. At the time, Dagon was the only British ‘zine devoted to the subject, and contributors from the Lovecraftian stable soon agreed to supply me with material. Authors such as Ramsey Campbell, Neil Gaiman, TED Klein, Thomas Ligotti, and Brian Lumley began to contribute fiction,and prominent Lovecraftian scholars that included Peter Cannon, Robert M. Price and ST Joshi, followed suit. I was also fortunate to acquire the illustrative services of Dave Carson, Allen Koszowski, and Gahan Wilson for the despicable artwork. This collective of big names helped Dagon to garner several British Fantasy Society awards for Best Small Press, and I was fortunate to pick up an award for Most Promising Newcomer (formerly the Icarus Award) for editing/publishing.

Alas, fame was not to be. I’ve never been the most confident of people, and my hellraising is almost legendary. Following the publication of 27 issues, a couple of projects involving a portfolio of Dave Carson’s Lovecraftian artwork, a chapbook by Brian Lumley, entitled (here it comes again) Synchronicity, or Something, and a string of illnesses including life chronic pneumonia, meningitis, and the side-effects associated with cystic fibrosis, and not forgetting numerous nights on the London tiles and a short dalliance as vocalist for a forgettable two-chord punk band (we had one song concerning the Cthulhu Mythos entitled Madness of Madness) meant that life was too short to sit behind a typewriter long into the early hours with just the ghouls for company. Lovecraft was now becoming big business and I’d done my little bit for fandom. I soon discovered girls, goth and clubland, and didn’t miss typing the address labels for a 500-strong subscriber base and packing several hundred issues for shop sales.

Dagon had proved an amazing experience and introduced me to a new circle of friends from the worlds of fantasy and horror, some of whom remain dear friends to this day. The publication itself has something of a cult following, and copies (especially the earlier ones) have changed hands for silly prices. Oddly, the day after Simon asked whether I’d contribute this piece, happened to be the 120th anniversary of Lovecraft’s birth – synchronicity again, or something far more sinister. Perhaps the stars have finally come right.. Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn, or maybe he’s awakening once more…

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Thanks to Carl for this really enjoyable article, and also for bringing back great memories of sending off a postal order every two months and then waiting patiently for the new issue to arrive by return of post. In fact, I recently contacted my brother in Wales to see if those old issues are still packed away somewhere – would be absolutely brilliant if they were still there. It’s like waiting for the new issue all over again….. =)