Where I Was For The Last Few Weeks-October 13 2012

And then two months passed, we moved across the Atlantic to Nottingham, Marguerite started attending law school and I wrote these things. How have you been?

 

Starting with Blogbusters,the last two months have seen us caper up and down the genre lines like a chilli-tailed rat…or…something. We’ve discussed who the best Nemesis relationship in genre fiction is, who should helm the Justice League movie, the best sidekicks in science fiction, what we’d all desperately like to see in the Whedon-fronted SHIELD TV show (First letter ‘c’ rhymes with ‘pool son’), looked at genre fiction deaths we’d like to see reversed, talked about heroes that are difficult to love and looked at zombie bug out bag inventory.

 

I also interview uber-talented comic writer Si Spurrier about his new superhero post-apocalypse series Extinction, the unending horror of Wish You Were Here, the Crossed webcomic he’s writing and his work on the various X-titles. In a moment which my 14 year old self is still squeeing about I then interviewed the magnificent John DeLancie about his life as Q, his upcoming documentary on My Little Pony fandom and his plans for the future.

I also reviewed the second issue of phenomenal digital comic, Amelia Cole and the Unknown World. Finally, I participated in a look at the 25 worst TV shows of all time. I remembered Manimal, so you don’t have to.

 

On the right hand side of the page, I reported back from the extremely entertaining Tracy Hickman panel at GenCon about his book, Wayne of Gotham. I also wrote about the trailer for the new Martin McDonagah comedy thriller Seven Psychopaths and, having seen the filming of the season finale way back at the top of the year, gave my five reasons to stop worrying and look forward to Red Dwarf X.

Over on the left hand side of the page, I reviewed the second issue of Amelia Cole and the Unknown World and the first issue of the Gambit relaunch.

 

 


We put out another of our popular Flashes from the Borderlands with (Black) Arts & (Dead) Letters, featuring the graceful body horror of Dancing by Donna Glee Williams, the horror of creativity in Lost for Words by Kenneth Yu and the brutal tempo of city life in Music on the Michigan Avenue Bridge by Mort Castle.

Just Outside Our Windows, Deep Inside Our Walls by Brian Hodge was next, mixing the fascination of art with, again, the horror of creativity and creation, as two lost children find a very different way of looking at the world.

The Squat by Sean Logan followed, a neatly balanced combination of punk attitude and Cthonic menace. And then the fun began, as, in the run up to our 300th episode, we began posting a short history of the show. It’s a very odd, very funny audio experiment and a testament to our astounding sound editor Graeme Dunlop. Parts 1, 2 and 3 can be found here. I may briefly feature introducing the second one of those too.

Of Ants and Mountains by Charlie Bookout followed, and it’s one of my favorites from the year. You often find surprising, and awful, things when you turn over rocks or look where you shouldn’t. When Mother Natures does that for you? Well, that’s when things can get very nasty…

The Long Road To The Sea by James L Sutter opened September for us and did so in style. An unusually hopeful piece of post-apocalyptic fiction from one side, a tragic story of post-human discrimination from another and a love story from any angle, it’s another one of my highlights of the year.

White As A Bedroom Door by Nathaniel Lee is intimate horror, polite, even mundane horror. It’s artfully crafted, beautifully written and drawn from the worst place you can draw these stories from; experience. It’s not an easy listen by any means but if I had to pick a story of the year, right now I’d pick this one.

Episode 300, a milestone by any lights. The Step by EF Benson is an old classic, but one with sharp teeth and a predator’s eye. This was the perfect capstone for this hundred, and it was an honor to introduce and talk about. Here’s to the next 300, eh?

The road to that next milestone began with The Last Man After The War by Erich William Bergmeier. I’m a sucker for post-apocalyptic fiction and this measured, calm, weary approach to the world’s end is a haunting and massively effective one.

Singing by the Fire by Jameson Ridenhour was our next episode. A classically designed, elegantly crafted ghost story this is another one of my recent favorites.

Most recently, we delivered more Flashes from the Borderlands with our 13th edition, Responsible Parties. A Murder of Crows by Tres Crow opens the episode in stark, effective fashion and is followed by Magnitude Seven by David Glen Larson, that explores the horrific combination of natural disasters and the supernatural. Finally, Always Grinning by Nathaniel Lee is a classic piece of apocalyptic fiction.

 

Finally, I pitched in at the last minute for Escape Pod, who’d had a narrator fall through. The narration itself isn’t ideal (Immediately post strep throat, huge ceiling in the room) but the story’s massive fun. Techno-Rat by Brad Hafford is the story of two car thieves in near future London, on what will either be the best or worst night of their lives. I had a blast reading it, especially as I’d just got back from seeing The Sweeney.

Want to talk to me about the article? Come see me on Twitter at @alasdairstuart or email me.


Hell Comes To The Midlands-Dave Jeffrey’s Necropolis Rising

The dead are rising, literally. The lazy way to put it would be that zombies are the new vampires but the truth is both a little simpler and a little more nuanced than that. Zombies, like vampires, are a concept that’s beautiful in its simplicity; a human corpse, still wearing the physical and emotional accoutrements of its life, animated and seeking living flesh. Zombies rise with satire and commentary hard-wired in and you only have to look at the variety of approaches taken to the concept, from the brutally dark comedy of both versions of Dawn of the Dead through to the quiet, English apocalypse of the 28 Days Later diptych to see that the zombie can be whatever we want or need it to be. This is the monster as blank canvas, inviting and daring authors to do something different with them.

 

Necropolis Rising does two very clever, very pulpy things with its central conceit. Here the action is moved to Birmingham, England’s second city and the last place anyone would expect Armageddon to begin. Jeffrey has a nice eye for human for detail and the events that destroy so many lives are started here by nothing but good intentions and bad luck. It’s a ‘for wont of a nail’ kind of approach and it works well, especially coupled with the gentle, almost polite descriptions of Birmingham. It’s a nice city, one where normal things happen and Jeffrey has great fun turning that on its head, especially in the sequence where an entire football stadium of fans, killed and resurrected, assaults the main characters.

Jeffrey also uses this normality to emphasise how abnormal the situation is. There’s a palpable sense of panic to a lot of the scenes on the ground, and Jeffrey again has a nice eye for detail as two separate teams of characters converge on one location for very similar reasons. This gives the book’s action sequences, especially the climactic ones, a real sense of scale as one group of characters witness something that the other has caused, or the consequences of one person’s actions are felt by everyone still standing, regardless of whether or not they have a pulse. Jeffrey thinks big and that action movie sensibility, combined with the unusual setting gives the story a unique tone balanced somewhere between macho chest beating and desperate pathos.

This is further accentuated by Jeffrey’s smart character choices. The principles are a group of thieves who’ve been hired to extract something from Hilton Towers, the building at the centre of both the story and the disaster. It’s a nice idea, juxtaposing the discipline of the armed forces with the shambling anarchy of zombies and it’s given an extra twist here by the characters’ backgrounds. Kevin O’Connell and Stu Kanaka, the two leads, are ex-Royal Marines driven to their life by making a difficult, and right, choice. Neither man is a saint, both have blood on their hands but both are trying to use their past rather than make amends for it. These are good men who do bad things for a living and Jeffrey uses the Birmingham disaster to bring this to the fore again and again. O’Connell in particular is a fascinating character, a man with infinite compassion and infinite capacity for violence, both of which lie at the heart of his relationship with his team. O’Connell is pathologically incapable of walking away from someone in need and this colours his interactions with his team, in particular Suzy Hanks, his girlfriend. O’Connell is a troubled man, certainly, but he’s fiercely loyal and Jeffrey cheerfully uses that loyalty as a stick to beat his hapless hero with. No one wins in Necropolis Rising, people just get lucky and far fewer people than normal at that.

This willingness to take pulp archetypes and situations and turn them on their head is what lies at the heart of the book. Jeffrey lays out all the usual toys for a story like this; shadowy corporation, different types of zombie, lone survivor, traitor in our midst etc and uses all of them in very different ways. Some of it is groundwork for the sequel, certainly, but the interaction between O’Connell’s team and the Royal Marines sent in to extract the only survivor of the Hilton Towers experiments is very unusual and pleasantly surprising. Likewise that survivor, Thom Everett, is an odd combination of every-man and potential monster and it’ll be interesting to see where Jeffrey goes with him in the sequel. There’s a lot of ground work wrapped around Thom but his abilities are neatly tied to his dreadful childhood in a way which balances empowerment with vengeance. Thom could go either way, and that sense of jeopardy, of contained threat is something which Jeffrey uses to tremendous effect. The finale in particular is a colossal action sequence with one genuinely unique high spot, all of which is wrapped around a very strong emotional core. This is a zombie apocalypse story, certainly, but the people on the front line are just that; people. Flawed, desperate, human and very mortal.

 

Necropolis Rising is a neatly balanced combination of action, polite English apocalypse and smart, tightly designed pulp. It’s assured, tightly plotted and consistently surprising, marking it out as something very different in an increasingly crowded market. If you like your thrills undead, then you need to read this.