Thursday, July 23, 2009

Mythago Wood sequel

I am pleased that Robert Holdstock's new novel Avilion is now available, from Gollancz. Twenty-plus years ago Mr Holdstock wrote the novella "Mythago Wood", which was soon expanded into the novel of the same name.

The wood is in Kent that, from the outside, seems more like a copse. But it is a magical place that is home to magical beings: mythagoes. Between then and Avilion Holdstock wrote and published other books using the same tropes -- but this new novel is the direct sequel. I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but I am delighted that Robert, whom I count as a friend (and fellow ex-immunologist), has a new book out. It's sure to be a gem.

At the Peake

I am thrilled that I can announce another Special Guest for FantasyCon 2009: Sebastian Peake, son of Mervyn, will tell us all about his famous father. Mervyn Peake is, of course, the author of the magnificent Gormenghast trilogy. Pop over to the FantasyCon website for details.

Madame Xanadu -- Review

I have said so before: “getting into” many of the better (ie, more intelligent) comic books is very difficult; you really have to start at the first issue. Even subsidiary arcs within a greater saga can be hard to break into. Take Madame Xanadu (Vertigo $12.99) for instance. Quite a few months ago I bought a couple of issues of the monthly comic. I liked what I saw, but could make little sense of it. So I waited for the graphic novel version instead. This I have now read and I must say: Wow!

Madame Xanadu is a tour de force of magic and history – from the time of Merlin, when Nimue is cursed by the old codger until mid-20th Century USA. Nimue is a nymph, a creature of good, in contrast to her sister of Morgana, mother of Arthur’s son. We know the story of Camelot – and it isn’t important if you don’t because there are so many interpretations. Arthur’s kingdom is destroyed. Merlin releases a demon into the world. And Nimue, as said, is cursed.

Time moves on and Nimue, now Madame Xanadu, is in Xanadu, the court of the Kublai Khan. There’s palace intrigue and Marco Polo. And Madame Xanadu flees for her life. And again, time passes and at the court of Marie Antoinette and King Louis she is once more at the centre of events. In Victorian London she is powerless to stop Jack the Ripper. And so on to 1940s USA, the time just before the age of superheros…

All her long life Madame Xanadu struggles to do what is right. Yet she is also fixated on a figure that appears at important junctures in her history: the mysterious Phantom Stranger. She thinks him callous and uncaring. In the end she entraps him, to force him to act for good. But Xanadu blunders in ignorance.

Interspersed in the book are references to other DC characters: the Green Lantern; the Spectre; Zatara… Maybe others. But it doesn’t matter if you know nothing of these.

Madame Xanadu is a DC character who’s been around for a long time. She was/is a mystic, someone with magical abilities. I don’t know anything of her earlier incarnation and adventures. And it just doesn’t matter. This is because Matt Wagner (writer) and Amy Reeder Hadley and Richard Friend (artists) have created a story that is self contained, that works within its own context. The writing is intelligent and passionate. Wagner makes you believe in Madame Xanadu. Couple with the beautiful artwork, which has an air of innocence about it, it is so easy to feel sympathy and empathy for our heroine. The stories are engrossing and at times edgy – especially the Ripper chapters. This collection is highly recommended, and I’m sure will appeal to fans of Fables, Books of Magic, Lucifer…

© Peter Coleborn, July 2009

Monday, July 20, 2009

FaceSpace and MyBook

Well, I have finally registed with FaceBook. I'm not sure why it took so long. It did look tricky to set up, but once that was navigated everything appears (so far) relatively easy to use. I like its immediacy, compared with MySpace. But it is so easy to get distracted by the dozens of comments that appears on one's Wall. I'll keep my MySpace pages as well as this blog. Now I just need the time to update them all regularly.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

FantasyCon 2009 update

There has been a lot of activity behind the scenes. If you don't believe me, check out the FantasyCon website, plus the MySpace and Face Book pages. Not long to go, so I'll start panicking soon.

Ho hum...

The Turing Test Wins Edge Hill Prize

Chris Beckett's collection, The Turing Test, from Elastic Press, has won the prestigious Edge Hill Short Story Prize, earning Chris a remarkable £5,000 cash prize. The judges said:

"I suspect Chris Beckett winning the Edge Hill Prize will be seen as a surprise in the world of books. In fact, though, it was also a bit of surprise to the judges, none of whom knew they were science fiction fans beforehand. Yet, once the judging process started, it soon became clear that The Turing Test was the book that we'd all been impressed by, and enjoyed, the most - and one by one we admitted it. This was a very strong shortlist, including one Booker Prize winner in Anne Enright, and two authors who've been Booker shortlisted in Ali Smith and Shena Mackay. Even so, it was Beckett who seemed to us to have written the most imaginative and endlessly inventive stories, fizzing with ideas and complete with strong characters and big contemporary themes. We also appreciated the sheer zest of his story-telling and the obvious pleasure he had taken in creating his fiction."

Andrew Hook (publisher of Elastic Press, and editor of the BFS's New Horizons) said: "Naturally, we're very pleased about this." Obviously he is overwhelmed!

Copies of the book are still available from Elastic Press. More on the Edge Hill Prize here.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Just Like That!

If you pop over to the Alchemy Writers blog, you can read all about the David Gemmell Legend Award ceremony (thank you Jen). I was there, in my capacity as official photographer. You can see pictures of the evening here.

The evening, although in formal attire, was very relaxed. Debbie Miller and Stan Nicholls were excellent at co-hosting the awards, even better than Judy and Richard could ever be. (Although things must've been fraught by the end: Debbie and Stan were are swords drawn!)

James Barclay did an ace job as auctioneer (bet he could even sell Dell's Reliant for a tenner!).

The Magic Circle is an amazing place and I regret that I didn't have time to examine all the exhibits. It is a small venue, however, and if the DGLA does grow it will quickly have to find a larger arena.

Jan and I stayed in a hotel about five minutes' walk away -- too close to take a taxi. Jan had to walk back in stocking feet -- women and their heels!

But the whole evening was great and it went ... just like that!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Toy boy?

A couple of years ago, driving home from a garden centre, we stopped off at a craft centre -- which seemed to be place that sold everything from locally-produced crafts to items made in China! Among the stuff on sell was a half-metre tall Dracula -- and a cuddly one, at that. And at only £10 ... well, I had to buy it. The store had just one otherwise I might have bought more.

If the batteries aren't flat, the eyes flash red. And it speaks, too!

Revisiting Cthulhu

I like Photoshop. It can turn an ordinary photo of a piece of artwork into something quite creepy. The above was created earlier today using a number of filters, etc. But when I tried to duplicate it with another image, the result was nowhere as good. Perhaps I should write down each step along the way.

The original piece of artwork is a stoneware (pottery) statue of you-know-who, created by yours truly.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Cheadle's Cult of Cthulhu

There can not be any doubt about it. Although they attempt to remain secretive, they failed; the Cheadle branch of the Cult of Cthulhu is alive and well, as attested by the above photo. No doubt the works is building a nefarious non-euclidean contraption...

John Kessel saves my sanity and wins an award

OK, an exaggerated claim. Yes, Kessel did win an award (more on this below) but not because of services for me. I mentioned a few posts ago that post-World Fantasy Award judging, I found it hard to find stories and novels that captured my imagination, and that I was starting an awful lot of books but finishing few of them. Well, the other day I pulled from my 'to-be-read' book case John Kessel's collection, The Baum Plan for Financial Independence (Small Beer Press, $16.00). And wow! Fantasy fiction once again has hooked me.

The Baum Plan consists of 14 stories published over the years 1998 to 2008, including one original to this volume. The opener, the title story, tells of Sid and Dot, two not-very-good criminals. Sid, recently released from prison, teams up with Dot, again, and they head off to raid a house that, according to Dot, holds a fortune. The house itself doesn't. But a weird trip takes them to a surreal place where their dreams may be rewarded. Just the first paragraph was sufficient to engage me -- and from then on I was captured by Kessel's assured fiction. He writes with an elegance similar to that of Graham Joyce; it's straightforward, clear, sparkling, and unencumbered.

And so it progresses throughout the book. The last story in the collection is 'Pride and Prometheus'. It doesn't take an Einstein to guess which two literary greats meet in this gorgeously funny story of love and redemption. A suitably strange mix -- and a poignant tale.

And the award? I am delighted to report that 'Pride and Prometheus' won the Nebula Award for best novellete, recently announced. Other award winners include Ursula Le Guinn for Powers in the novel category. Find out more here. And if you want to learn more about John Kessel (you should), go here.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Fantasycon Update

Information for advertising in the FantasyCon 2009 Souvenir Programme book is now available. If you wish to advertise your wares to a targetted audience, email for details.

There have been some chair shifting on the Fantasycon committe. Due to changes in the BFS committee, Guy has stepped down as FCon co-chair to concentrate on the BFS. That means I take over the FantasyCon chair -- but Guy remains on the committee, and I will greatly value his input.

And this year sees the return of the Art Show, long missed by the artists who wish to diplay their work. If you are interested, send an email to the above e-address.

Jack of Fables. Volume 5: Turning Pages

It used to be that you could pick up any American monthly comic and read the whole story in 20 or so four-colour pages. But story telling grew up and story arcs developed that required several issues. Nowadays, this is clearly evident with the ‘mature reader’ themed comics published by the likes of DC’s Vertigo. And in theory this is where graphic novels -- compilations of the monthly comics -- come into their own, when you could buy and read a story arc in one go.

However, in some cases, even the graphic novel format proves to be less than satisfactory. Take Jack of Fables, for instance. Volume 5 has just appeared, which collects six of the monthly format (issues 22 to 27). Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges wrote the story; Russ Braun and Tony Akins provided the pencil work.

The first three ‘chapters’ in this compilation can be read in isolation. They have little to do with the ongoing Revise saga. These chapters detail a period in Jack’s history, when he ran a gang of outlaws in the Wild West of the 1880s. His murderous spree is only brought to a halt by the intervention of a sheriff from back East, one Bigby Wolf. There is practically no explanation of Bigby’s and Jack’s previous relationship; you really do need to read volumes 1 to 4 of Jack of Fables, plus the parent series Fables, to understand just what is going on, and what this particular story means in the big scheme.

When we get to the final three chapters, ‘Turning Pages’ (which is a delicious pun, by the way), ignorance of the Fable characters (beings derived from the realms of myth and legend), why they exist in the real world, who is Jack, etc, etc, is likely to detract seriously from your enjoyment. (A hint regarding Jack: think trickster gods!)

Several volumes ago, Jack was imprisoned by Mr Revise, a person seeking to eliminate all magical beings. Jack escaped; and Jack being Jack he seduced (or attempted to) Revise’s right hand assistants, the Page sisters. In volume 5 Jack's attempts at seduction continue and hence the title of this section. And as ever, Jack is scheming away with get-rich-quick plans. ‘Turning Pages’ is an amusing tale – I very much enjoyed it. But on its own, I suspect it is all but meaningless. If you want to read Jack of Fables – and I earnestly recommend that you do – buy volume 1 and start there. I also suggest that you read the Fables graphic novels.

As for Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges: their story telling over all these volumes is finely honed, mixing fairy tale and mythological characters in with us ordinary humans, in the same way that some people mix their metaphors -- seamlessly. The artwork has a charming simplicity to it which is, I think, absolutely appropriate for this tale of dark deeds and comical capers.

(c) Peter Coleborn

Monday, April 20, 2009

World Horror Convention announces its MOC

The World Horror Convention now lists five guests of honor plus one mistress of ceremonies. The GOH are writers Tanith Lee and David Case; artists Les Edwards and Dave Carson; and editor Hugh Lamb. All good enough reasons to attend. The icing on the cake is that the MOC is my long-time friend Jo Fletcher. She is Associate Publisherat Gollancz and has worked as an editor at several other publishers, including Headline and Pan. Jo has also edited and co-edited several books. She is an award-winning poet -- and examples of her brilliant and moving poetry can be found in Shadows of Light and Dark, co-published by the Alchemy Press and Airgedlamh Publications.

Copies of this book remain available -- but only a few. This book was designed by Michael Marshall Smith, has an introduction by Neil Gaiman, and is illustrated by Les Edwards and Seamus A Ryan -- and all of these, as well as Jo -- have signed copies of this limited edition hardcover.

If you would like a copy, at the special price of £10 inclusive of p&p in the UK, please email me at I accept payment by PayPal, if that helps. And the WHC website is here.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Fantasy Centre to close

Couldn't think of a silly title for this posting -- the news is too depressing. I've learned today that Fantasy Centre, that treasure trove of old SF, fantasy and horror books and magazine on Holloway Road is to close. I gather that they won't even continue in the virtual realms. It's all very sad.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

PS Publishing stands down from the BFS Awards

Pete Crowther and PS Publishing have decided to withdraw from the Small Press category of the British Fantasy Awards. This follows a string of award wins -- all deserved. However, I applaud this decision, which echoes Stephen Jones and David Sutton's similar decision with Fantasy Tales way back when. Besides, there is no other press in the UK that stands even close to PS. Pete and crew are, in addition, offering a financial prize to the winners of this award. Here is their press release:

For the past eight years PS Publishing has won the BFS Best Small Press award every year bar one (2005, when Elastic Press saw their hard work commended). Now, as the company reaches its tenth anniversary, Pete Crowther, PS founder and editor-in-chief has come to a decision: the company will no longer be eligible in the category.

“It wasn’t a decision made lightly,” he explains, “nor would I want anyone to think it represents an attitude of complacency on our part. When we started we published four books in a year; now that number is closer to forty. With the best will in the world, that’s not so small anymore! The support of the BFS membership has meant a great deal to us over those ten years but the time has come to stand to one side and instead help to acknowledge the great work being done by other imprints.”

With that in mind the BFS is joining forces with PS to rework the award. The PS Best Small Press Award will, as before, be voted on by the membership of the BFS and FantasyCon with the winner receiving not only their award but also a prize of £250 donated by PS.
“Running a small press can be a thankless and expensive task,” Pete comments. “Indeed, there have been many times for us when an extra £250 towards ever-increasing bills would have been a godsend. If our contribution helps in some albeit small way to maintain and promote the valuable work done by independent presses, then it will be money well-spent.”

Friday, March 27, 2009

2009 World Fantasy Awards Judges

Whilst on the subject of the World Fantasy Awards (see a previous post), I've learned that the 2009 judges, covering the 2008 award year, have been appointed. They are:

Jenny Blackford, Peter Heck, Ellen Klages, Chris Roberson and Delia Sherman

Vist the WFA for addresses, if you wish to submit material

2009 BBC National Short Story Award

The 2009 BBC National Short Story Award was launched on 26 March. This year's panel of judges are: singer-songwriter Will Young, broadcaster and journalist Tom Sutcliffe (chair), author Dame Margaret Drabble, Orange Prize winner Helen Dunmore and BBC Radio 4’s Editor Di Speirs. The shortlist will be announced on Friday 27 November with the five stories broadcast on BBC Radio 4 each weekday before the winner is announced. The five stories will also be published in a special collection. Entries are now open for the Award. The deadline for entries is 5pm on 15 June 2009

Go to the Beeb for details.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Here Comes The Judge!

I was asked by Jo Fletcher if I wanted to be a judge for the World Fantasy Awards a few months into 2008. The request came out of the blue and left me stunned. I've never considered myself an expert although I like to think I was -- am -- widely read. It was an honour, of course, and so I agreed. I soon found myself working alongside -- in a virtual world sense -- Robert Hoge, Dennis L. McKiernan, Mark Morris, and Steve Pasechnick. And pretty quickly the books started arriving. Sometimes they came singly or in parcels of two or three. Sometimes huge boxes arrived pack full of hardcovers and trade and mass paperbacks.

The judges soon agreed on a score-keeper, to whom we were to send comments and scorings. It sounds harsh, but it came down to marking a book or story or collection out of ten (plus a comment or two); there was no other way. I also kept my own notes -- a notebook full of them -- in order to keep track of everything. My dining room became a library, with publications stacked all over the place. And then all the books and magazines needed reading.

As far as I was concerned, I wasn't simply looking for stories, novellas and novels I liked and enjoyed -- I was looking for books (and stories and novellas) that stunned me. I believed that an award winner should be outstanding. Thus the daunting task wasn't quite as bad as I was able to pass on from one title to the next. Of course, the more I enjoyed a book the more of it I read -- all of the it -- which takes time (I am not the fastest of readers). Many books were put into 'I must read this book next year' heap -- interesting and intriguing titles, but not quite there.

I was impressed by the quality of the novellas. This is a story length that suits fantasy, I feel, and those I read demonstrated this perfectly. Novels that formed part of a series were more difficult to judge. It took a lot more work to get into the story, especially if a knowledge of the previous title was a prerequisite. I felt that this put series books at a disadvantage, but ultimately each volume had to be judged on its own, not as part of a trilogy (or whatever). Some publishers seemed to have sent everything they produced in 2007, some were more selective, and some didn't bother sending anything without a reminder. I was especially pleased with the overall quality of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, so much so that I've now subscribed to it (but to be fair, I used to read it when Andromeda Bookshop sold it ... when Andromeda Bookshop still existed, actually).

In due course, we judges completed our tasks and following many, many emails bouncing between us we came to our shortlists and winners. I am more than happy with the finalists, even if my own favourite didn't get the prize. talking to judges from previous years, my experience pretty well matches theirs, so I felt I did a good job. Alas, I didn't get to convention in Calgary for the Awards presentation last Autumn; I suspect the winners all had a good time.

A couple of issues from this process. One is that the judges were criticised for being all white men. The complaints suggested that the Administrators were lazy and didn't search hard enough for a 'balanced' jury. Before I saw these comments it never occurred to me that a World Fantasy Award judge would be swayed by a writers' gender or colour or, perhaps, sexual orientation or religion. Yes, these moans did annoy me. I was told by one of the Award Administrators that securing the services of a 'balanced' jury was proving to be more and more difficult because more and more of those approached decline due to the heavy workload demanded of a judge.

The other thing is this: early on in the process, Jo Fletcher warned me that several judges in the past had found it difficult to retain the reading habit. She was right. Since I no longer have to read books, I find myself starting an awlful lot of them, but finishing few. I seem to be picking up more non-fiction -- such as a book on quantum mechanics recently (and no, I still don't understand it).

But, at the end of the day, when all is done, when the fat lady had sung, etcetera, etcetera, it was an experience well worth ... experiencing.

To remind you, here are the winners:

Life Achievement: Leo & Diane Dillon and Patricia McKillip
Novel: Ysabel Guy Gavriel Kay (Viking Canada/Penguin Roc)
Novella: Illyria Elizabeth Hand (PS Publishing)
Short Story: "Singing of Mount Abora" Theodora Goss (Logorrhea, Bantam Spectra)
Anthology: Inferno: New Tales of Terror and the Supernatural Ellen Datlow, Editor (Tor)
Collection: Tiny Deaths Robert Shearman (Comma Press)
Artist: Edward Miller
Special Award—Professional: Peter Crowther for PS Publishing
Special Award—Non-professional: Midori Snyder and Terri Windling for Endicott Studios Website

For more information, visit the WFA website.

The Stokers

The Horror Writers' Association has announced the recipients of the 2009 Life Achievement Award. They are F Paul Wilson and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. The HWA's Stokers are also awarded in other categories. The nominations for Best Novel are:

COFFIN COUNTY by Gary Braunbeck (Leisure Books)
THE REACH by Nate Kenyon (Leisure Books)
DUMA KEY by Stephen King (Scribner)
JOHNNY GRUESOME by Gregory Lamberson (Bad Moon Books/Medallion Press)

The Stokers will be announced in Burbank, California, over 12-14 June. Visit the Stokers website for full details.

I was in Glendale and Burbank last November -- wish I could return this summer (although it may be just a tad too warm for this Brit).

Investigating Crime with Margaret Murphy

The Crime Writers’ Workshop, held on Saturday 15 March in Hanley Library, was a great success. About a dozen want-to-be writers turned up (including someone from London) and were entertained by, and learned from, Margaret Murphy. Margaret is the author of several crime novels, including The Dispossed and Now You See Me – copies of these two were available for purchase. We also discovered that Margaret is due to take over the Chair of the Crime Writers Association and that she was a founder member of the Murder Squad. The workshop was very relaxed and friendly... To read more, go to the SToW blog.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Fantasycon 2009 -- website

The Fantasycon 2009 website is improving all the time. Check it out for full info, including details of the banquet.

Alan Moore's The Courtyard

Alan Moore’s The Courtyard by Alan Moore, Antony Johnston and Jacen Burrows. Avatar $7.99. Reviewed by Peter Coleborn.

No doubt about it: Alan Moore was fundamental in the revamping and updating of the comics industry. His importance is highlighted in Garth Ellis’s introduction, and far be it from me to argue against him. Except… I don’t think that Alan Moore’s The Courtyard (that’s the full title of this comic) is all that cutting edge – and we come to expect material at the vanguard of the genre from the wonderful Mr Moore. Don’t get me wrong: this is an enjoyable comic story, nicely embellished with Jacen Burrow’s artwork, which presents the story mainly in portrait-style panels, two per page. And I guess that $7.99 isn’t too bad for 50 or so pages. Anyway, this is a Cthulhu tale (which they spell as ‘Cthulu’ in the introduction), so that should make many of you sit up. It tells of an FBI undercover agent investigating a series of bizarre murders with seemingly no links. But there is one: Club Zothique. The agent discovers a ‘drug’ but in an attempt to obtain it he is exposed and succumbs, with bloody consequences. I thought the story was a bit predictable, but then I’ve read some of this Mythos stuff for decades. I’m sure that younger comics fans will not spot the route so easily.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

WHC2010 Guests of Honour -- latest

Les Edwards and a younger Dave Carson
Photos (c) Peter Coleborn

The Guests of Honour line up for the WHC in 2010 now includes authors Tanith Lee and David Case and artists Les Edwards and Dave Carson. Les and Dave have been associated with the BFS and Fantasycon for many years -- sometimes working on my publications, such as Winter Chills and convention souvenir booklets -- and so it is a thrill to see them so honoured. I remember reading Tanith Lee's The Birthgrave when it was first published by DAW in 1975 and was blown away by its sheer energy. I met her again at Eastercon last year -- and she looked as great as ever. I've only met David Case once or twice and unfortunately never managed to get a really good photo of the man. I'm looking forward to meeting him -- and Tanith, Les and Dave -- next year.

WHC2010 takes place in Pinky's world, Brighton, in early spring. I suppose that will encourage attendees to remain in the confines of the hotel over the weekend -- although if the wind is strong enough, perhaps a gale, I'll need to go out to reminisce about a wind-swept afternoon in Littlehampton (not too far from Brighton) in the 1990s. Check out the convention's website for details.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Night Shade Titles

While browsing the Night Shade Books' website, I note that they are about to publish volume 5 of the Collected Fiction of William Hope Hodgson. This will be a 500 page hardcover, selling for $35, which isn't bad for this type of book.

NSB are also publishing five volumes of the collected fantasies of Clarke Ashton Smith. Volume 4 is due in April, and like the Hodgson this is a hardcover edition. The Red World of Polaris by Smith is another NSB hardcover -- a reprint of a difficult-to-find book.

And in a similar vein -- NSB also have Manly Wade Wellman's short stories collected into five volumes, plus some other of his titles.

All these volumes would be excellent and welcome additions to my book shelves. Maybe Sir Fred could pass onto me some of his millions...

And just in case you are wondering, Night Shade Books are not paying me for this publicity.

The Mall of Cthulhu

I quote: "When Ted stumbles onto a group of Cthulhu cultists planning to awaken the Old Ones through mystic incantations culled from the fabled Necronomicon, calling forth eldritch horrors into an unsuspecting world, he and Laura must spring into action, traveling from Boston to the seemingly-peaceful suburbs of Providence and beyond, all the way to the sanity-shattering non-Euclidian alleyways and towers of dread R'lyeh itself, in order to prevent an innocent shopping center from turning into... The Mall of Cthulhu."

Well, with such bumf, it's got to be a book worth a look ... I imagine! Check out further details on the NSB website.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Conrad's Competitions

Conrad Williams is running a competiton from his website. You have a chance of winning signed books, including a couple of rare items -- assuming you get the answer right of course ... and that you send in the best photo of yourself reading one of Conrad's books, in an exotic location. I suppose that rules out my patio.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

House of Mystery: A Review

House of Mystery #1: Room & Boredom by Matthew Sturges and Luca Rossie. Vertigo $9.99

Reviewed by Peter Coleborn

This graphic novel brings together issues 1 to 5 of Vertigo’s amazing fantasy series. There are two houses: the House of Secrets and the House of Mystery – and readers of Gaiman’s Sandman saga (and other astute folk) – will know where this is heading. The Sturges/Rossi collection focuses on the second house, but of course.

A mystery is always more exciting, and perhaps a lot more dangerous, than a mere secret. And mysteries are part of all good stories. Stories may have messages, for sure. They also provide an escape. The House of Mystery isn’t so obliging, especially for the five main protagonists of this series.

Fig is a young woman who dreamt of being an architect and dreams of a house, thinking it’s just part of her imagination. She runs from a spooky couple (their drawing reminding me of Buffy’s gentlemen). She enters a building, through a door, and into the House of Mystery, specifically into the bar part of it. There she encounters Harry the barkeep, Ann the pirate, Cress the waitress (and drama queen according to the blurb), and the Poet – all long-term residents. The house will not allow them to leave, and Fig soon finds herself in the same predicament.

But the bar is also full of itinerants, folk who pass through the watering hole – and payment for their drinks and food (there is always plenty of that, the house ensures) is through their stories. So in this volume, besides the overall arc by Sturges and Rossi, we have mini-tales by Bill Willingham, Jill Thompson and others. They work remarkably well. After all, story telling inside an inn isn’t that unusual.

The story boils down to this: Fig arrives and attempts to escape, and fails (it’s OK, I’m not really giving way the dénouement). The important aspect is the developing relationships between these five people and Fig’s coming to appreciate her situation. You’ll need to read volume two of House of Mystery, whenever that becomes available, in order to follow the tale further. I have, in fact, been reading this series the monthly magazine format and I must confess that the story – with its subtle sub-plots – works better as a bound volume rather than waiting a month between reading each chapter; this is no simple superhero comic.

Rossi’s artwork is tremendous. It is nice and angular and tastefully coloured. The characterisation is expertly captured and the faces are quite distinctive; and the three ladies do look rather sensual in some panels. It’s this kind of graphic novel that answers the common ascertain that comics are simply for young children. House of Mystery is definitely aimed at the mature-of-mind reader. Recommended.

Tim Powers book launch

For further information visit the BFS

Friday, March 13, 2009

Gone Away

This post has migrated to my new blog, A Bearded Star.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

WHC 2010

The second Guest of Honour has now been announced. David Case joins Tanith Lee as GOH. More information to come. In the meantine, visit: World Horror Convention 2010

Friday, February 27, 2009

Photo Gallery Now Open

I have finally bought space on the Flickr website, and finally-finally uploaded some of my photographs. At the moment, they are mostly pictures taken at various fantasy/horror/SF literary events. Anyway, go and have a look ... here.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Fantasycon 2009 Blog

I've set up a new blog for Fantasycon 2009. Pop along here for up-to-date details.

SF on the BBC

The BBC is to broadcast a number of SF/fantasy programmes on Radios 3, 4 and 7. The short season includes adaptations of works by H G Wells, J G Ballard and Arthur C Clarke. Full details can be found here.

Fantasycon 2009 update

Fantasycon 2009 has confirmed its three Guests of Honour: Jasper Fforde, Brian Clemens and Gail Z Martin. And of course, I've already mentioned that the Master of Ceremonies is Ian Watson. Fantasycon 2009 is scheduled for 18-20 September at the Britannia Hotel in Nottingham. You can find more information here.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

It's snow joke (ouch!)

As this picture shows, parts of Staffordshire suffered a dusting of snow this past week or two. Fortunately, the roads were not badly affected, and getting to work was never a problem. Pity.

Creatures of clay

Ceramics classes again. Needless to say, I'm still making things with very little resemblance to vases and bowls. Here are examples of recent creations. Both are in stoneware, which means that they are suitable for use in the garden. I must own up and say that the sculpture of the brown Green Man was based on a mould that Jan made. She, in fact, sculpted nine of these Green Men to my one (I got bored quickly).