Monday 19 August 2013

Falling Over.

Falling Over is a collection of short stories written by James Everington and is the first time I’ve encountered his work. It won’t be the last. It’s a special moment when you read a new author and immediately get the feeling that you’re onto something special and such was the case here. The stories in this collection are evidence of great talent at work, both emotionally and intellectually stimulating.
The first story gives the collection its title and is one of the best stories I’ve ever read about paranoia. (And I don’t just say that because they will probably read this). Written in first person – as it had to have been – it’s a marvellously ambiguous tale that slowly builds an - ultimately almost unbearable - atmosphere of confusion and mistrust. There’s a hint of Bodysnatchers about it but the premise is presented in wonderfully written prose that allows the reader to tap into, and experience for themselves, the paranoia of the narrator. An unreliable narrator? Probably. Maybe. Possibly not… An uncertainty that adds another layer of enjoyment to the story. It’s an intelligent, thought-provoking piece of writing and a strong start to the collection.
The theme of paranoia is also evident in Sick Leave (which riffs on ring-a-roses, another reference to falling over) but which also throws fears of sickness and death into the mix along with a hint of alienation, the latter something it shares with New Boy which incorporates an extra measure of guilt for good measure. (And which also features a fall…)
Fate, Destiny and a Fat Man from Arkansas explores themes of – well, fate and destiny as it happens, the eponymous American a manifestation of the unavoidable karma meted out on two burglars who choose to break into the wrong house.
Light relief comes in the hundred words of Haunted which delivers everything you could possibly want from a piece of flash fiction with great aplomb.
The Time of Their Lives presents another view of mortality and is cleverly written from the perspective of a young boy, unable to grasp the reality of what is happening in the hotel he is begrudgingly staying in with his grandparents. The central theme will call to mind a couple of films which I won’t name for fear of spoilers but I will mention that the atmospheric writing conjured up images of sequences in Kubrick’s The Shining for me.
I personally believe that one of the circles of Hell (one quite near the centre actually) is made up entirely of thousands of suburban neighbourhoods, each with their own residents committee setting the standards of what’s required in order to "fit in" with the community. If you’re of a similar mindset then you’ll probably end up rooting for The Man Dogs Hated – an individual who falls way outside expectations in this tale which exposes the petty mindedness and hypocrisy of those who cast judgement on others, those who fail to conform to their own version of what’s right and proper.
The last two stories in the collection are perhaps the darkest. Drones is another first person narrative (and all the more effective because of it) from a soldier whose job is to carry out remote attacks by UAV, witnessing the death and destruction via computer monitor. This distancing effect has a profound effect on him, desensitising him to the terrible acts he is committing, rendering the act of killing automatic and emotionless. It’s a descent into madness tale which – if I was being overly-analytical – could have something to say about video gaming but, whether this was the intention or not, the ending is very dark, and very effective indeed.
The final story has the ironic title Public Interest Story – just how ironic it is becomes apparent as you read. It’s basically a (well deserved) diatribe against the British Press and the monumental hypocrisy of that institution. It’s not press intrusion that’s the theme here, rather manipulation and the horrifying ease with which public opinion can be influenced by untruths and prejudices presented as facts. There’s another theme running through the story too, that of mob mentality - the two feeding off each other to bring about a conclusion horrifying as much for its inevitability as what actually happens.

Falling Over is a fine collection of intelligent, thought-provoking horror which I thoroughly recommend that you buy. You can do that here.

Monday 12 August 2013

The Hole.

The Hole is the latest novel from William Meikle and is published in a variety of formats by Dark Fuse.. It tells of the bizarre happenings in and around a small town in America where a strange humming noise brings about headaches and nosebleeds in the local population. It brings about much more besides however, namely huge holes in the landscape into which large parts of the town – and its inhabitants – topple.
As if this weren’t bad enough, creatures begin to emerge from the hole, to terrorise the survivors…
Oh, and the Government have set up barricades manned by military personnel around the town with orders to let no one leave…
So the scene is set for another tour de force of pulp fiction from the imagination of the best purveyor of out and out genre fiction currently plying their trade.
The Hole cracks along at a fair old pace (and is relatively short for a novel) and I devoured it in three sittings. Even though the narrative hurtles along, there’s still room for character development which makes you care about what happens to the protagonists despite their genre cliché origins – no mean feat in itself and testament to William’s skill as a writer.
The story’s influences are many and varied, strongest I guess is Invasion of the Body-Snatchers but I also felt the resonance of Stephen King’s Under The Dome and The Mist with their themes of isolated groups of people under the threat of something beyond their comprehension. The Hole is very much its own beast though, using – and acknowledging - these themes and influences but adding a hefty dose of originality to produce an end product which is a heady mix of science fiction and horror with some genuinely creepy set-pieces. There are contemporary cultural references too, HAARP, CDC and FEMA get a look-in and, as a resident of the “desolate” North East of England, I was pleased to see fracking getting a mention too.

On his website, William explains that he writes as an attempt to escape and that’s exactly what I did when reading The Hole. It’s a thoroughly entertaining book, one that took me back to the novels and films that first captured my interest in the genre. You pretty much know what you’re going to get with a William Meikle book which I say not as a criticism but as something positive as, without fail, they always meet – if not surpass - those expectations. I like to think that he has a whale of a time writing his books, I know I do when I’m reading them.

Monday 5 August 2013

Differently There.

Differently There is a new novella from John Llewellyn Probert and is published by Gray Friar Press. It tells the story of Paul Webster, admitted to hospital on the night prior to his operation to remove a cancerous tumour. The nature and location of the lesion mean that the operation is a risky one, the outcome uncertain and it's this enforced confrontation with his own mortality that provides the context for the story which unfolds.
Anyone familiar with John will know that he has faced a similar situation himself recently and this experience obviously informs the writing which, as expected, is a joy to read. The subject matter means that this is indeed something different from John, a more contemplative, melancholic piece but in so being, proves just how good a writer he is, whatever the style or theme of the story. There is a touch of whimsy at the beginning of the tale, with descriptions of the mundanity of the room in which Paul finds himself and the furniture therein. It's actually a very effective device and it was nice to see it reprised at the story's conclusion.
The novella is written in the present tense which works beautifully and is entirely appropriate given the storyline. As Paul drifts in and out of consciousness, he dreams of past experiences, gradually realising as the night progresses that there is a significance attached to them and also that there is something more to them than merely reminiscence. The memories he has are subtly altered, at first it seems by his love of fantasy and horror somehow merging into them but in reality by something a lot more sinister.
To describe more would be to give away too much but the truth of what is really happening is slowly revealed and leads to a moment of decision that is the most important of Paul's life.
Differently There is an exploration of how the decisions we make, the memories we collect influence our lives and make us who we are. It's about the mistakes we make and how we respond to them. It's about optimism and, dare I say it, the human spirit. It's a love story - or, if I may be so bold - a love letter. John's own love of horror and science fiction shines through and it's significant that special mention is given to Alfred Bester's The Demolished Man.
It's a fabulous piece of writing - I use the word in its most literal sense as well as its more colloquial. There's a moral for sure but it's written with so much style that it's nowhere near preachy. It's ironic that a story whose subject matter is death and mortality is actually such a life-affirming piece of writing. I had goosebumps when I finished reading Differently There - and yes, I had to wipe away a little moisture from my eye. (I think the bloke sitting next to me on the train believed me when I said I had some grit in it). It pretty much goes without saying that I recommend it most highly.