Archive for books

Newsy stuff

Posted in News with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 3, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

First off,  I received a sci-fi book this morning (I don’t get many of those) for review, which I like the look and sound of, to wit:

Guardians of the Phoenix, by Eric Brown (Solaris)

Additionally, Gary Fry very kindly sent me a copy of the following simply for my reading pleasure:

The Impelled and Other Head Trips, by Gary Fry, with an introduction by Ramsey Campbell (Crowswing Books)

Thanks to Gary for doing so!

Next up is some news about the anthology I’m involved with: first off, it will no longer be called The Big C, as there’s a US television series with that name, so it would be politic to change it to avoid confusion. Several names have been suggested and, as of this writing, nothing has yet been finalised. Will let everyone know when the title’s been agreed on.

Secondly, the provisional line-up of writers is as follows (although this could change at any time):

Ramsey Campbell

Guy N Smith

John Shirley

Allyson Bird

Steve Savile

Steve Duffy

Simon Kurt Unsworth

Tim Lebbon

Gary McMahon

Steve Lockley

Scott Nicholson

Johnny Mains

Stephen Volk

Quite a stellar line-up, I think.

Thirdly, I have suggested that the original artwork that I’ll be producing for the cover to be auctioned off , so that the charity(ies) supported by this worthy anthology can benefit with a little extra money (always a good thing). Most likely this will happen at one of the conventions next year – not only will it make a great present but you also get to help with the search for a cure for this devastating disease. Start saving NOW, people!


Books to review: two additions

Posted in Books, News, Reviews with tags , , , , on November 3, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

Okay, in my haste to sort things out book review-wise yesterday, I overlooked two that I most definitely wanted to include on the list, which are:

When the Door was Closed, it was Dark, by Alison Moore (chapbook)

Black Country, by Joel Lane (chapbook)

These I will get to in-between some of the other books.

I also forgot to mention where all these reviews will appear: they’ll be shared out between Bookgeeks, Beyond Fiction and Ramblings of a Tattooed Head. That way, there should at least be some momentum flowing, unless I am specifically asked to write a review for one of these sites.

New books for review are still expected, but they will be fewer than hitherto.

Books to be reviewed: priorities…

Posted in Books, News, Reviews with tags , , , , on November 2, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

Okay, here are the books that I will be reviewing over the next three to four months, in the order I will be doing them more or less:

The Weirdstone of Brisingamen 50th anniversary edition, by Alan Garner (currently being done)

With Deepest Sympathy, by Johnny Mains (as part of a broader essay on the revival of interest in older styles of horror)

The Moon of Gomrath, by Alan Garner

Of Time and Dust, by Steven Savile and Steve Lockley

Nemonymous Ten: Null Immortalis, by various

Knuckle Supper, by Drew Stepek

Dark Matter, by Peter Straub

Shock Totem #2, by various

The Demi-Monde, by Rod Rees

Under the Poppy, by Kathe Koja

Let me Die a Woman, by Alan Kelly

Blonde on a Stick, by Conrad Willams

Once and Future Cities, by Allen Ashley

The End of the Line, edited by Jonathan Oliver

Veins, by Lawrence C. Connelly

The Lost Books of the Odyssey, by Zachary Mason

Vipers, by Lawrence C. Connelly

The Oz Suite, by Gerard Houarner

Dancing Jax, by Robin Jarvis

Tales of Horror and the Supernatural, by Arthur Machen

Unpleasant Tales, by Brendan Connell

Gaslight Grotesque, edited by Jeff Campbell and Charles Prepolec

The Technician, by Neal Asher

This Way to Egress, by Larence C. Connelly

Black Swan Rising, by Lee Carroll

Feral Companions, Simon Maginn and Gary Fry

House of Canted Steps, by Gary Fry

Wolfsangel, by MD Lachlan

When the Night Comes Down, edited by Bill Breedlove

Mr. Shivers, by Robert Jackson Bennett

A Painter of our Time, by John Berger

Corker’s Freedom, by John Berger


Late addition:-

In the Rain With the Dead, by Mark West

Okay… there are THIRTY-ONE books there to review…. I have necessarily omitted some but I will get all these done as fast as I am able to… those I have left I will endeavour to review as well… but when I have time… sincere apaologies to all those who have sent me material and I have failed to review them in a timely manner… if people send me more I will be rigorous in what I choose to review…

Please bear with me while I get these done, and I thank you in advance for your patience…

Old vs New

Posted in Books, Film, General Musings with tags , , , , , , , on October 28, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

A couple of blogs back, in my review of the final episode of BBC4’s A History of Horror with Mark Gatiss, I intimated at the end of the first paragraph that my tastes in horror have changed over the years. Thinking about it since, I have come to realise just how much they’ve actually changed, more so than I thought. Which, I happen to think, is a very good thing.

Wind back about 20 – 25 years ago. Then, I wasn’t much of a horror film fan, although I loved reading horror – Brian Lumley, Ramsey Campbell, TED Klein, HP Lovecraft, and Clive Barker were amongst my favourite authors. I absolutely revelled in the verbal bloodshed. Films, however, were a different matter. I was incredibly squeamish, and always had been. I remember a particular event, when I was around nine or ten, when one of the Sunday colour supplements ran a feature on open-heart surgery, accompanied by photographs of the operation. I distinctly remember feeling dizzy and nauseous after reading it, almost fainting in the process. My parents laughed, obviously thinking it was highly amusing.

Don’t get me wrong – I did watch horror films occasionally, but they were mostly the Universal/RKO Pictures ones. I loved all those oldies, principally because I owned all of the Aurora ‘Monsters’ model kits, with their glow-in-the-dark hands and faces. I was an avid collector of those things, much to the dismay of my parents, I should imagine. Even in my early twenties, my preferred horror-fare was print based, along with those fairly ‘safe’ b&w films.

Then, sometime in my mid-20s, a friend introduced me to Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead film, championed by no less a figure than Stephen King himself. That first time I barely made it though the first twenty minutes, in part because of the expectations I’d gained from reading the video cover hyperbole. A couple of months later, I rented it out, and got a little further in this time, but still bailed out way before the end. Third time, some months later still, and I got through it all, and you know what? I loved it.

Then, of course, I wanted more – much more. And the more horror films I saw, the more horror I wanted to see. After a time, simple scares were no longer enough. I started buying Fangoria magazine on a regular basis, and I learnt about all these films that were available over in the US, the stills of which seemed to imply that much bloodiness abounded in them. Some of these films, I discovered, were almost impossible to get over here because of censorship issues, or those that were available were heavily cut. I was adamant that I would only see the uncut versions. Eventually I found a video search service that not only found them for me, but also supplied me with many of the banned films (including the so-called ‘video nasties’).

And so, that was the pattern of my film viewing for years thereafter. I went looking for more and more extreme films, just to push my boundaries. Then, no more than a couple of years ago, I started to tire of it all – in fact, I got to the point where I could barely watch any kind of film ( something which occasionally still happens today). Over the last year especially, my horror reading tastes have also changed – mainly, I think, after having become a book-reviewer, where I’ve come across the more subtle and imaginative takes on what horror can be. Additionally, I’ve started reading older authors (older as in beginning of last century rather than anything to do with a writer’s age) and reading them has given me a greater appreciation of how they were able to imply horror effectively, without recourse to gory pyrotechnics.

I think it’s got something to do with age and growing up, this whole shifting of tastes thing. Don’t get me wrong, I still think there’s a place for the Saw-type films of this world, but I have to say that such things no longer have quite the same appeal for me as they once did. Certainly, in the wake of Mark Gatiss’s recent series, I am inclined to go back to all those old films and watch them again. I think it’s also got a lot to do with the peculiar atmosphere and ambience, qualities that appear to be better created through b&w films than colour (that’s not always the case , of course, and is an entirely subjective opinion). Plus, the cut-away at the very last second in some scenes suggests something more horrific than that which was probably intended. I like having to use my imagination, rather than having it served up on a platter to me.

I’ve no doubt a certain amount of nostalgia for the old-style of film-making plays its part, too. In these days of CGI and ultra-realistic effects, it’s far too easy to make things look so real that it could be a documentary. You know, however, that it’s all done very cleverly with computer trickery, and that knowledge often blunts the enjoyment. It takes the fun out of it. Those b&w films can be genuinely creepy and horrific in a way that’s missing from modern horror.

I realise that today’s horror films reflect current concerns and are extrapolations of them, and therefore most definitely have a place. But I can’t help thinking that, even given that, I get far more enjoyment and a lot more spooky thrills from the old ones. Plus, in some ways, the lack of ‘sophistication’  in those oldies (but only in comparison with modern films – many b&w films of yesteryear were very sophisticated in their own way) lends them a certain charm. Some of them worked very cleverly within the range of the restrictions placed on film studios back then, bypassing them in surprising and innovative ways. I sometimes feel that present-day audiences dismiss them too readily out of hand, simply because a) they’re old, b) they’re shot in b&w and c) they don’t show things explicitly enough. Perhaps modern horror films (or maybe cinema in general) has taken the edge off of our ability to bring something to the viewing experience.

This new-found appreciation of more subtle horror will manifest in ways other than just in my film-watching and reading tastes – I’ll be doing much more than that. If things go to plan, then I’ll be more than just reacting, I’ll be returning the pleasure that stories and films like those old b&w ones have given me. Keep your eye out on this blog for more information as and when it becomes available – good times are ahead….

Are reviews useful?

Posted in General Musings with tags , , , , , , , on October 27, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

In this blog-post, I want to talk about something that I’ve been pondering for a little bit – whether reviews affect sales in any way, either positively or negatively. Here, I am not talking about my reviews in particular, but just about reviews generally. There’s a specific reason why I’ve pondering this, which I will explain below.

As many of you know, until the beginning of this year, I ran a record label, an enterprise which I’d started in 2007 – 2008. As is the nature of such things, one of the ways in which to broadcast your product’s existence to the world is to send out review copies to magazines, webzines and radio stations, in the hope that some of them will do a write-up on them. And so, when I released the very first CD, from Swedish noise outfit Keplers Odd, I sent a goodly number of them out, here, there and everywhere. And indeed, within a month or two, the reviews started coming in.

And every one of them was a positive one. Even some nationally- and globally-distributed magazines thought that not only was the music itself good, but the whole package spoke volumes about the careful thought that had gone into every aspect of the release. One or two reviewers even hailed FracturedSpecesRecords as a promising new star in the underground music firmament, with a bright future ahead of it. Needless to say, the elation (and the vindication) sent me off on a high.

Every subsequent release had exactly the same thing happen – universally positive reviews (except one for the very last release – but that was still only one out of something like a hundred reviews altogether…). And each one of those releases I thought would be the breakthrough CD, the one that would kickstart FracturedSpaces into a regularly-selling concern. In parallel I was also running a small online webshop, selling not just my own CDs but those from other labels as well – with the uniformly positive reviews then it would only be a matter of time before more people would be visiting the website and that would be helping to pay for itself, too.

Alas, even after two years and a lot of money spent, the dream of making even a small living from the business turned into something of a nightmare. Sales were abysmal, even with the universality of acclaim for the label. A lot of the blame for its ultimate failure must be laid at my door – I admit that. Inadequte understanding of the market, for one. Releasing too many CDs for another. But there were other factors involved, like bad timing – launching a record label at the start of a recession wasn’t one of my better ideas.

But still, I would have thought that a good review would have had some positive influence on sales of the CD, in just the same way that a bad review would dent the figures negatively. I have had a few people say that one of my book reviews has actually persuaded them to buy it, for instance. So, the fact that even with good reviews people were still reluctant to buy the CDs (recession notwithstanding) came as somethng of a surprise. Perhaps those who buy music are either incredibly fussy or just more careful with the money they have. If they’re faced with an unknown quantity, they go for what they’re familiar with instead.

The experience has taught me some valuable lessons – this is why, for instance, Spectral Press is going to be on a much smaller scale. Additionally, the writers on the roster are either well-known or are starting to become noticed. They already have track records and fan bases. My ambitions this time are quite modest. I have plans for the imprint, but they will only come to fruition if things take off.

What I am asking you out there, both writers and publishers, is whether reviews have affected sales of your books either way. Also, have the readers among you ever been influenced by a favourable review of some book, enough to persuade you to go out and buy it? Is it, perhaps, just a case of  the markets in question simply being two very different demographics ie, the music-buying public is very different to the book-buying one? Therefore, that priorites are different as well. Also, did the depths of last year’s recession bring in an added sales-depressing effect, regardless of any positive reviews garnered?

By the way, I am not denigrating the efforts of reviewers here – quite the opposite, in fact. Publishers rely on them to do two things: make the public aware of new publications and to grade the quality or otherwise of the books in question. Sometimes, it’s a thankless task, because you occasionally get sent books which are so bad they’re practically unreviewable. I am not saying that reviewers can make or break a book (or CD), but that they can affect how it’s received and perceived by potential purchasers. How do any other reviewers feel about the points I have touched upon here?

Next year I will once more be putting myself (and my writers) at the mercy of the reviewers, as well as the book-buying public. I am hoping, of course, that Spectral Press will be an unqualified success for all concerned, and that any good reviews forthcoming will positively affect the sales. Being on this side of the table has given me an indication of how it all works, but my experience with FracturedSpaces necessarily affects how I see things as well. I do feel that book buyers, with horror book buyers in particular, are distinctly different to those who are more into their music. Only time will tell, though – and, whatever happens, I am excited to see what the future holds for Spectral.

Book and some news

Posted in Books, News with tags , , , , , , , on October 21, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

Okay, a book plopped on my doorstep this morning that I’d actually forgotten about, but was immensely pleased as it reminded me that Joseph D’Lacey had promised to get it sent to me when I met him at FantasyCon2010 just over a month ago:

When the Night Comes Down, by Joseph D’Lacey, Bev Vincent, Robert E. Weinberg and Nate Kenyon (Dark Arts Books)

In other news, as broadcasters are wont to say, this blog will be featuring more exclusive reviews in the future, reviews which won’t be posted anywhere else. This is simply because I would like to build that side up on this space – I enjoy writing reviews and I just thought it was time to expand the blog to include them rather than ‘reprint’ ones that have already been posted elsewhere. Plus I have a fair amount of books to get through, so another venue will certainly help me in getting them out there.

I will be starting to take Spectral Press subs/pre-orders very soon, within the month in fact. I’ll be setting up the promised bank account the weekend after this one coming, as I had to make an appointment to open one – but there you go and it’ll be getting sorted out very soon.

Right, main dish of the day coming up once I’ve worked out what I am going to write about. =)