Thursday, February 25, 2010


I've just received word from Scott Andrews, editor of Beneath Ceaseless Skies that he wants to use my story 'And Other Such Delights' in an upcoming issue.

I am rather pleased about this for a number of different reasons: firstly because BCS is a wonderful magazine and the story will mark my second appearance there. Secondly because Scott is a great editor to work with (and has already made a bunch of useful suggestions and line edits that improve the story immeasurably) and thirdly because it is another in my Shining Cities Sequence and I am very attached to the various stories that I have written in this particular setting.

Rather Pleased 2: Electric Boogaloo.

Friday, February 19, 2010


I am rather pleased to say that the very fine webzine Aphelion has a new issue out. In the current issue fiction editor Robert Moriyama has chosen his Best Of for 2009 featuring not one but two stories by myself (The Glass Cage and Pale Nations of the Dead, both of which are part of my Shining Cities Sequence).

I am, to say the least, rather delighted!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


THE LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES (1974). Dir: Roy Ward Baker. Starring Peter Cushing, Robin Stewart, Julie Ege, David Chiang

It’s no secret that I have a fondness for some of the more esoteric outposts of British horror cinema. In previous posts I have waxed lyrically about the joys of such films as Psychomania, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, Dr Jekyll & Sister Hyde and (of course) Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter.

But one film stands head and shoulders above this frankly rather odd cinematic collection – The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires, "the world's first kung-fu horror spectacular".

With the fortunes of Hammer Films on the wane in the early 1970’s the studio sought new and ever more bizarre ways to attract audiences. There were lesbian vampires (Lust For a Vampire, The Vampire Lovers, Twins of Evil) gender-bending adaptations (Dr Jekyll & Sister Hyde), updates of the Dracula story (Dracula AD 1972, The Satanic Rites of Dracula) and, not least, the cross cultural/ cross genre extravaganza that is The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires.

A Hammer/ Shaw Brothers co-production, The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires has Count Dracula (played here by John Forbes Robertson since, by this stage, Christopher Lee was thoroughly sick of the role) making his way to China in the body of vampire priest Kah to take over as head of a vampire cult.

Inconveniently for him, but conveniently for the plot, his old adversary Professor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) just happens to be lecturing in China on the subject of the vampire and his kith and kin. Before you can say ‘expedition to find the vampires’ an expedition is organized to find the vampires as Professor Van Helsing, his son, assorted martial arts experts and the rather pneumatic Julie Ege set off to investigate the cult and its legends.

Cue some high octane fight scenes, some eerily slow motion vampires, a culture clash like no other, good conquering evil and everyone home in time for tea.

To be brutal, The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires is very silly and its blend of martial arts, genteel English gothic and Rider Haggardesque adventure never really gels but nonetheless the film has much to recommend it.

Taken out of its usual ‘back lot at Elstree’ surroundings, the Hong Kong locations give the film a much different look from the Mittel Europa so beloved of Hammer, the Golden Vampires and their zombielike minions are effective villains and their slow motion attacks (reminiscent of Amando de Ossorio's Blind Knights Templar) are rather unsettling. Added to this are the talents of director Roy Ward Baker (a man more than capable of turning a sow’s ear into a rather silky purse), Hong Kong action star David Chiang in fine 'chopping them up and chopping them down' form and, of course, the great Peter Cushing who refuses to treat the film with anything less than his usual professionalism and who provides the whole thing with a solid and dependable anchor.

On the negative side is poor John Forbes Robertson as Dracula, saddled with an atrocious make-up job that makes him look less like the Prince of Darkness and more like a panto dame (and let’s face it, Christopher Lee’s shoes were always going to be hard to fill). Lackluster supporting performances from Julie Ege – really just in the film for set decoration – and Robin Stewart as Leyland Van Helsing don't help either.

On the whole, however, The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires is quite good fun, with its mildly exotic locations, top-notch fight scenes in classic Shaw Brothers style and some deft directorial touches from Roy Ward Baker.

It was never going to save Hammer or revitalize their creative output, but The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires is a delightfully bonkers example of British fantasy cinema and most certainly the sort of thing that would never be made these days.

Saturday, February 13, 2010


The Dream of X by William Hope Hodgson

In terms of apocalyptic vision, there are few novels that can match the sheer imaginative and doom laden power of William Hope Hodgson’s 1912 novel The Night Land.

Set in a far flung future where the sun has ceased to shine and the last few million humans are huddled in two vast pyramids – The Great and Lesser Redoubts – it is a world where, to paraphrase Hodgson, olden sciences have disturbed the Outward Powers and allowed grotesque and horrible, Creatures, Monsters and Ab-Humans to either materialize or develop upon the sunless world and for “certain dreadful Forces to have power to affect the life of the human spirit.”

Briefly, the plot of The Night Land concerns an unnamed narrator who, in his dreams, travels from his present into the far flung future in search of his long-lost love who, like him, has been reincarnated at the end of the world. When the Lesser Redoubt is overwhelmed by dreadful forces he elects to travel from the Great to the Lesser Redoubt to rescue her. As a plot devise this allows Hodgson to explore his strange new world in detail and bring its horrors ever closer to the fore in much the same way that they draw ever closer to the Great Redoubt.

In it depiction of a hostile and uncanny earth, The Night Land has few peers amongst dying earth fiction - here there is none of the baroque romanticism of Jack Vance or the sense of the end of the world as playground in Moorcock’s Dancers at End of Time sequence - only Clark Ashton Smith’s Zothique stories come close to matching Hodgson’s bleak vision of Earth’s final years. But even Smith’s macabre sensibility hardly matches the overwhelming horrors of Hodgson’s Night Land.

Here the great creatures of the earth – the Watchers – are not gods but malevolent, barely understood, entities, and even the lesser creatures The Silent Ones, Night Hounds and Beast Men are at best ambivalent and more usually downright hostile to the inhabitants of the Redoubts, their destructive force only kept in check by an ever dwindling Earth Current.


For all its brilliance The Night Land is not an easy novel. Hodgson’s chosen style, a sort of cod gothic, is often impenetrable and at its heart the novel has a cloying sentimentality that, in its own way, is as horrific (albeit unintentionally) as any of Hodgson’s other concepts.

“And as the Dead went upwards, there was a very great Silence over all the miles of the Country of Silence. But in a little while there came from afar off, a sound as of a wind wailing; and it came onwards out of the distance, and passed over the Hills of the Babes, which were a great way off. And so came anigh to the place where I stood. Even as the blowing of a sorrowful wind did it come; and I knew that all the great multitudes did sing quietly; and the singing passed onwards, and left behind it an utter silence; even as the wind doth rustle the corn, and pass onwards, and all fall to a greater seeming quietness than before.”

The Night Land is a long novel – nearly 200,000 words long, in fact – and is an often frustrating read. Whereas the gothic sensibilities and wordiness of, say, Charles Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer or Matthew Lewis’ The Monk, are fundamental to the novels themselves, the prose style of The Night Land merely serves to create a barrier between novel and reader.

A masterpiece, certainly, but a deeply and critically flawed one.

However, as chance would have it, there is another more accessible version of The Night Land which retains all its power and startling imagery but is, quite simply, easier to read.

When The Night Land was first published a British writer could not be copyrighted in the United States unless typeset and printing were performed by an American shop. In order to secure his own copyright, Hodgson rewrote, revised and reorganised his massive opus into a much condensed form, cutting the original from nearly 200,000 to some 20.000 words, and had the edition published in the USA under the title of The Dream of X. (or, more accurately, as part of a small anthology entitled Poems & The Dream of X which contained a number of Hodgson’s poems and a further novella, Mutiny).

The restructured novel - purported to be the rescued fragments of a manuscript recovered from the ashes of a fire in the narrator’s house - is a no less remarkable piece of work than The Night Land itself, stripping the story back to its bare bones and allowing its imaginative power to shine.

Although the language is still dense and sometimes difficult, it nonetheless seems more appropriate here, almost as if cod gothic has become the language of the future and the horrors of the Night Land itself are more immediate when the novel has been shorn of its more meandering aspects. So what had once been a flawed masterpiece suddenly became a condensed masterpiece that retained its original power but now welcomed readers in rather than holding them at arms length.
Rediscovered and republished in 1977 with an introduction by the legendary Sam Sam Moskowitz and with superb illustrations by Stephen Fabian (which are almost worth the price of the book in themselves) The Dream of X is something of a lost classic but one that deserves to sit on the shelves of any SF and F aficionado.

If you have the time, patience and stamina, I would heartily recommend The Night Land in all its flawed glory (sure, it’s a difficult book but one that rewards perseverance) however, if you simply want an imaginative tour-de-force then you should make The Dream of X your next fictional stop.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Some writers work quickly, some work slowly. On occasion, I do both.

Very often, the first 1,000 - 1,500 words of a story come rapidly to me, a flow of images and situations – what I like to refer to as the ‘launch pad’ scenes – but the inevitable moment arrives when that initial outpouring stops. Sometimes it slows to a trickle, at other times it halts dead in its tracks. Which is when I reach the ‘what the hell happens now?’ moment and have to start thinking about back story and the ‘six serving men’ that Kipling spoke of : "I keep six honest serving-men/ (They taught me all I knew);/ Their names are What and Why and When And How and Where and Who." )

Depending on the story in question and how deeply I have thought about its structure, character motivations and conclusions the next stage of writing can also come either rapidly or slowly (slowly more often, to be honest) until I reach the moment when I can safely write the words The End.

It’s rare, however, that those words actually mark the end of the writing process. In reality, they simply mark the moment when I have to go back, take the story apart and begin to rebuild it. There is a wonderful nugget of advice in Stephen King’s book On Writing (actually, there are many wonderful nuggets of advice in that particular book) given to him by Algis Budrys (I think) that ‘second draft equals first draft minus 10%’. It’s a good rule, akin to ‘murder your darlings’, and one that gets a writer thinking about what is absolutely necessary in the story.

Of course, it’s up to the individual writer to determine exactly what is necessary and what isn’t. With me, imagery and mood are just as important as the movement of plot – particularly since, as Robert Heinlein once noted, there are only a strictly limited number of plots in the world anyway (somewhere between 3 and 36 depending upon who you listen to). But even within those parameters, the right images are important, the right mood is paramount, or to put it another way, it’s about finding the right words for the story.

The business of drafting a story is, for me, a continuous process, and can sometimes run to as many as six or seven drafts depending on the story and what I am trying to achieve with it. With short fiction every word is precious and every word needs to fulfill its function, whether is sets a scene, a mood, describes a character or his/her actions, or simply gets the character(s) from point A to point B in the narrative.

Of course, there are as many different ways to write a story as there are writers to do it and no method is necessarily better than another, but I think that the real importance of redrafting is getting the writer to think about the story and the words that he has placed upon the page. Even if you are eager to move on to the next story and to tell your next tale (always a good thing, I feel, since if you aren’t excited by your work then how an you expect anyone else to be) it’s always worth it to take time over your work and make sure that everything fits together the way it should and the way you want it to.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

“There was once a boy named Milo who didn’t know what to do with himself – not just sometimes, but always.” So begins Norton Juster’s wonderful book The Phantom Tollbooth, a tale of adventure, words, numbers and, above all, the joy, frustration and sometimes sheer bafflement of education.

When Milo receives a mysterious present – the phantom tollbooth of the title – it leads him and his little electric car into the Kingdom of Wisdom where he meets amongst others Tock the Watchdog, the Humbug, The Spelling Bee (s-p-e-l-l-i-n-g) King Azaz the Unabridged of Dictionopolis and the Mathemagician of Digitopolis.

You see, the Kingdom of Wisdom is in turmoil since the Princesses Rhyme and Reason were banished to the Castle In the Air and it's up to Milo, assisted by Tock and sometimes hindered by the Humbug, to bring them back so that harmony can be restored.

What follows is a series of colourful and clever adventures as Milo attempts to complete his quest – his meeting with the world’s smallest giant, the world’s tallest midget, the world’s fattest thin man and the world’s thinnest fat man (all of whom just happen to be the same person), a trip to the Island of Conclusions (which you can only get to by jumping) Dr Dischord and the awful DYNNE and ultimately a trip to the Mountains of Ignorance and a meeting with its terrible demons (including the Triple Demons of Compromise – one tall and thin, one short and fat and the third exactly like the other two).

First published in 1961, The Phantom Tollbooth has along since been acknowledged as a children’s classic – a book to rank along Alice in Wonderland or Watership Down in terms of its wit, invention and steadfast refusal to talk down to its readership.

I confess that I have only read it quite recently (which is a shocking oversight on my behalf) and was totally captivated by The Phantom Tollbooth. There are moments of genuine terror for young Milo as well as moments of sheer joy and utter hilarity. Norton Juster’s delight in both words and numbers is never less than infectious and his boundless imagination takes everyday things and phrases and breathes gloriously new literary life into them: the banquet where everyone literally eats their own words, the not-so-wicked Which and the aforementioned awful DYNNE are just some of the delights awaiting readers both old and young.

One of the joys of good children’s literature is its ability to reach across the generations, something that The Phantom Tollbooth manages with deceptive ease. If you’ve never read it, read it now, if you’ve read it before, read it again. Your smile will thank you.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


Innsmouth Free Press (a very fine ezine of fiction in a Lovecraftain vein) has a brand new interview with Charles R. Saunders - author of the Imaro and Dossouye novels - in its current issue.

Among other things, Charles discusses Imaro, Dossouye, his influences, the state of modern fantasy and talks a little about his plans for future fiction.

Well worth checking out.