Daily Archives: March 23, 2011

Allison Hewitt Is Trapped by Madeleine Roux

Allison Hewitt is Trapped

by Madeleine Roux

Published by Headline 2011.

Just about the only way you are going to make any impact these days with a post apocalyptic zombie novel is to have a unique selling point. This book certainly started off that way, Madeleine Roux originally unleashed this novel as a serialised blog written from the titular hero’s perspective. This confusing mix of reality versus fiction was a powerful thing and the blog quickly gained popularity, the issue is whether that online originality survives into its publication as a novel.

We first meet Allison through a blog post explaining how she is trapped in the break room of the bookshop where she works with a few colleagues. The world has suffered some kind of mass infection leading to “the outbreak” and the bulk of the population have been turned into “groaners” (that’s zombies to you and me). We follow the adventures of Allison and her friends through a series of chapters framed as blog posts, complete with comments illustrating the plight of others in the catastrophe. It’s not long before the group are running short of supplies and they decide to break out of the bookshop to a new location. We follow them through a series of adventures as they attempt to make it to Liberty Village, a sanctuary where Allison thinks her mother might be.

What we have then, is a typical zombie novel, but with a spin. The blog post idea works well initially, but you soon find yourself questioning it. The idea that when you are being chased by a mad pack of zombies, you would retain enough wits to keep your laptop and charger safe seems a bit far fetched, the idea that you would have access to power and mobile internet signals even more so. And the blog posts themselves are not blog posts, they are in fact well written chapters full of descriptive prose and dialogue, sure there are a few comments bolted on to the end of each chapter but the conceit of these being actual posts doesn’t last long.

When you strip away the facade of the blogging zombie tale you are left with a well written but rather unoriginal zombie adventure. Fast paced initially and with a tense climax the book is also let down by a rather drawn out and much slower middle section where the characters suddenly get involved in rather tortuous romantic interludes. So kudos to Madeleine Roux for trying something different and for the ability to write a perfectly fine zombie adventure, but it fails to stand out from the swarming hoards of similar titles in the way you might expect, so comes across as a bit of a missed opportunity.

Rating 3 out of 5

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The Twilight Hour by Simon Marsden

The Twilight Hour – Celtic Visions From The Past

by Simon Marsden

Format: Hardback, 128 pages

Publisher: Little, Brown. 2003

If you are a fan of the horror genre (and if your not you may be on the wrong blog!) then I am sure you will be familiar with the work of Simon Marsden. There is a good chance you may never have heard of him but you will know his work. Sir Simon Marsden is the foremost photographer of gothic, fantastic and supernatural places in the UK (probably the world) and his work has adorned book, magazine and even album (that’s CD kids) covers for the likes of Cormac McCarthy, Phil Rickman and the delightful pop combo Cradle Of Filth.

This collection brings together some of Marsden’s iconic photography with extracts from classic celtic supernatural literature from the likes of Arthur Machen, W.B.Yeats, Bram Stoker and Edgar Allan Poe. What makes Marsden’s style unique is his preference to shoot on black and white infra-red film, followed by hours of post processing in a darkroom. This creates a unique atmosphere in his photography, producing a grainy, black and white image where vegetation is rendered in pale (almost white) tones and the blue sky takes on a dramatic dark and brooding appearance.

Within this collection are some of Marsden’s most famous shots including such magnificent works as Gothic Window, Castle Barnard pg 119, Eccelscreig House pg 69 and Duntulm Castle pg 26. You can see many examples of Simon Marsden’s work at his website and I would urge everyone to try and get hold of a copy of this book.

The images in this book truly transcend the average illustration and imbue the text with an atmosphere completely in tune with the tone of the stories. Here the Photographs and text work together to create fully formed pieces of art. Marsden’s own experience of the supernatural means he is not purely working at a technical level here but is truly exploring “another dimension – a spirit world”. As an aspiring amateur photographer I can only stare in awe at the technical and aesthetic skill required to create these images, to succeed on page after page is testament to a truly great artist and one I highly recommend you check out.

Rating 5 out of 5

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The Whisperer In Darkness by H.P. Lovecraft

The Whisperer in Darkness: Collected Stories Volume 1

by H.P. Lovecraft

Format Paperback, 384 pages

Publisher: Wordsworth Editions, 2007

 

Clearly Lovecraft was a genius, his ideas, his mythos, his visions were all vastly ahead of his time, totally bizarre constructions, and of all of them the Cthulhu stories are some of his most extreme examples. The ambiguity comes in his ability to consistently form these dreamlike visions into a coherent, readable story. When he is good, he is a genius but when he is bad….

This is the first Lovecraft collection put together by Wordsworth Editions in its immensely enjoyable Tales Of Mystery & the Supernatural Series and as far as I can see is the cheapest way to get hold of some classic and also rare Lovecraft stories as printed books. This collection concentrates on the Cthulhu Mythos, Lovecraft’s crowning glory, an entirely made up mythology (or is it!) based on the writings of the Necronomicon and telling tales of races and gods from before and indeed beyond our time and space.

Remarkably Lovecraft never managed to write a novel, concentrating instead on the pulp fiction short story market for the likes of Weird tales. Now this is a shame as undoubtedly a novel may have helped raise his profile during his life but on the evidence of this collection and it’s longest piece “The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward” it’s probably just as well, here all of Lovecraft’s flaws come to the fore. His lack of a strong plot, his use of bizarre language (cyclopean, polyphemus, shewn, and my favourite cacodaemoniacal), his inability to write cohesive readable dialogue and his need to cram words onto the page so we get whole pages without a single paragraph break make this story extremely hard work.

Luckily we also get some of his strongest short stories such as “Dagon”, “The Hound” and “The Festival” each of which succeeds either because of the excellent descriptive nature (Dagon) or the use of an intriguing plot (The Hound), The Festival manages to succeed on both levels. “The Nameless City”, “The Call Of Cthulhu” and “The Dunwich Horror” also manage to work as cohesive description driven well plotted stories.

Finally we get two of (in my opinion) Lovecraft’s strongest stories anywhere. ” The Whisperer In Darkness” is an excellent example of Lovecraft’s ability to portray a growing paranoia and unease and to infect the reader with a little bit of those feelings in a realistic setting. “At The Mountains Of Madness” also achieves this but manages to up the pace delivering an event led timeline of the MIskatonic Universities expedition to Antartica and their discovery of the presence of other life. Containing magnificently descriptive writing, some characterisation, believable dialogue and a superb backstory this is Lovecraft at his best and is the antithesis of Charles Dexter Ward.

So should you buy it, well of of course you should, £2.99 is a bargain for “At The Mountains Of Madness” alone but with 4 or 5 other excellent stories it becomes almost a required purchase, so Lovecraft remains an enigma wrapped up in a mystery (to misquote Churchill). His inconsistency was perhaps his downfall and the reason why he is not held in the same esteem as many of his peers but he deserves to be widely read as a pioneer in weird and speculative fiction and as a man who created a mythology which is still being used today. A flawed genius sure, but a genius without a doubt.

Rating 4 out of 5

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